It's been a long time coming, but we finally have our first proper taste of what the Final Fantasy VII Remake will look and feel like to play in the real world. On the day the game was originally due to be released — March 3, 2020 — Square Enix graced us with a demo consisting of the first level and some tutorials to get you fired up. But was it everything we hoped for or did this new version of a classic fall short?
Let's start at the beginning
As far as I can remember, the opening of the demo and the opening of the original are shot-for-shot perfect matches. It starts with your first glance at Aerith, and you are instantly taken back to the emotions you had when you first played the game. The difference, though? She looks amazing. Graphically, the remake is so far beyond the original game it's incomparable. A better comparison might be with the 2005 movie Advent Children, and even then, the remake looks better.
Regardless of how we feel about button-mashing combat, it's here to stay, and it is done surprisingly well in the demo.
Once you pan out over Midgar, you are treated to the arrival Barret and his team and the entrance of our brooding hero Cloud Strife. I have to admit to jumping up and down in my chair a little when I first saw him land in his superhero landing. It was a moment that took me back to a time I could immerse myself in games in a way I haven't been able to in years. Playing for hours on end so that you can absorb more of the fantastic story being told to you is something to cherish.
All of these feels hit you before you even get to control your character. As you stand there enjoying the cinematic, the game seamlessly takes you into the gameplay with no discernible difference in graphical fidelity. Whether you are watching a cutscene or you are deep in combat, the graphics in this game are breathtaking, especially on the PS4 Pro.
As the last few seconds of the cutscene die away, you are immediately thrown into combat, and if you haven't played a Final Fantasy game since the original VII, things have changed in the world of combat.
The combat is all new to Final Fantasy VII
We've known for some time now that the original turn-based system of Final Fantasy VII wouldn't be making a return in the remake. Instead, we have the now-familiar mix of button mashing and ATB gauge filling attack powers — as seen in Final Fantasy XIII and refined in Final Fantasy XV. There are plenty of people who dislike this new combat style — and I do understand why — but regardless of how we feel about button-mashing combat, it's here to stay, and it is done surprisingly well in the demo I played.
While the button mashing can feel a little unskilled, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had by using the different fighting moves and learning when to use your ATB abilities. The ATB gauge still plays a massive role in this game, as it controls your most devastating move sets, your spells, and even your ability to use items. When Barret joins the party, the ability to switch characters on the fly is where skill comes into play. Like FFXV, you don't just play your main character; you play the whole team and can switch between them instantly. It's frantic, explosive, and immensely fun when you get into it.
This demo was, of course, very light on ATB abilities, but you can expect to see a lot more become available as you learn new spells and when you start gaining materia. When you look at the back of Cloud's buster sword, you can see the slots for materia, so I can only assume they are in the game.
The demo did allow me to play in "classic mode" that is somehow supposed to represent the original game, but it doesn't really. All it does is let your characters fight in "auto-mode" until the ATB gauge is full, then pauses to allow you to choose which ability they should use. Unfortunately, while you are waiting for the ATB gauge to fill, Cloud is being controlled by some pretty stupid AI who can't seem to dodge or block at all. You are better off mastering all the moves yourself if you want to progress through the game.
What does the demo tell us about the full game?
The beginning of the demo is very clear that this is still a work in progress, but with a release date just one month away, this has to be very close to the final look and feel to Final Fantasy VII Remake, and I am fully onboard the hype train. I've played through the demo three times now — for work, you understand, not for pleasure — and each time the game feels more fluid and comfortable, and the nuances in the combat start to shine through.
Playing the demo has changed my opinion of the Final Fantasy VII Remake, but only in the best ways.
Still, there is a lot of game missing here. So far we can only control Barret and Cloud, not the rest of the team, and we don't know what story changes they have added to the full game. This demo felt very close to the original opening level, so if it is anything to go by, you can expect a story that you love, tweaked to make more sense in today's high-powered gaming world.
There are legitimate concerns that the full game may be short due to the episodic nature, or that the game may feel spread out so Square Enix can eke out some more money from us, but I don't think that will be the case. Even if this first installment only offers us 40 hours of gameplay, that's still a heck of a lot of awesomeness for $60.
Playing the demo has changed my opinion of the Final Fantasy VII Remake, but only in the best ways. I went into it expecting it to feel alien and just plain wrong to be playing a different style of game in a world I love so much, but it didn't. It felt like comfy slippers and new running shoes all at the same time. The demo did the job it was meant to do; it made me ache to get the full game in my hands as soon as possible.
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