TGS 2019 - Final Fantasy VII Remake Hands-on
I went into the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo with a certain amount of apprehension. The original is one of my all-time favourite games, but I was quite content with it remaining in the past. I certainly wasn't clamouring for a remake.
Re-imagining such an iconic game sounded like a thankless task. If you keep it faithful to the original, then what's the point of remaking it? However, if you make wholesale changes you risk infuriating the fan base. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Updates were scant following the initial announcement and we all assumed, perhaps correctly, that Square Enix were struggling with their golden goose. However, SE broke its silence earlier this year, and we've since been treated to new footage and demos which have, for the most part, been warmly received. Still, I was reserving judgement until I'd tried it for myself.
So I headed straight for Square Enix at the start of TGS Day One, and I was very happy with what I found. It managed to hit that sweet spot, being both familiar yet fresh. It felt worthwhile, respectful of the original but not restrained by it.
From what I can gather, the demo was the same as at E3. Cloud and Barret are making their way through the Midgar Reactor, moving through groups of lesser enemies on their way to plant a bomb. However, they soon bump into the Guard Scorpion and a boss battle ensues. It was a short and straight forward hands-on, which nevertheless revealed plenty about Remake.
As I'm sure you already know, random encounters and turn-based combat are gone, replaced by a more modern and immediate real-time system. The transition between combat and exploration is smooth, encounters were brief, and I was constantly being pushed to the next beat.
There was little of substance between the battles, aside from the odd treasure chest slightly off track, but I suppose that's not too surprising for a demo. However, I do wonder if this linearity and the bareness of surroundings are things that will continue throughout, or if they are just related to this specific location.
And then there's the combat. Aside from regular attacks, you're mostly filling gauges that allow you to access magic, items, guard breaking attacks, and other unique abilities. Some have cool-down periods, whereas others are directly linked to the damage you dish out. And of course there are Limit Breaks, for when you really need to fuck someone up. It all felt intuitive, the command lists were easy to follow, even in a second language, and the fights flowed nicely. There was enough required input to prevent it from feeling repetitive, but not so much that it felt overwhelming. Like most things I've played or seen of Remake, the balance is just right.
You can move around the battlefield at will, and are able to switch characters at any time. Barret has access to the Thunder spell, so I regularly swapped to him during the boss encounter, as everyone knows that's the Guard Scorpion's weakness. I could switch from Cloud and take full control of his partner, or I could momentarily pause the battle and issue commands to him, without relinquishing control of Cloud.
Everything looked very pretty and polished. The inside of an industrial reactor is never going to be the prettiest or most inspiring of settings, but the character models look great as do the in-battle effects. As for the music, it set me off on a nostalgia trip. It's as perfect today as it was back then. Hearing the reactor music and then the battle theme transported me back, allowing me to reminisce about the old while enjoying the new.
The demo was well received by everyone I've spoken to, and the subsequent trailers further suggest that SE knows exactly what it's doing. As I write this, I've got one eye on a TGS Live stream, where producer Yoshinori Kitase is talking us through the infamous squat scene. It's looking good - they have retained the absurdity, yet made it look like it belongs in a modern RPG. If they can pull that off, then the sky's the limit for the rest of the game!