Gaming

Everything We Learned Playing The ‘Final Fantasy VII’ Remake

Final Fantasy

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Much like the opening act of the original SquareSoft game on the PlayStation 1 in 1996, the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake is the bomb dot com.

It’s Happening. It’s Finally Happening.

The Final Fantasy VII Remake might have only been announced in 2015, but any buster sword-wielding cosplayers at anime conventions can tell you fans have been wanting this for a while, so in many ways, a lot is riding on this project. In 1997 and beyond, Final Fantasy VII introduced a whole generation of gamers in the West to stupidly big swords, spiky anime boy haircuts and adorably fluffy chickens called chocobos, but also set a benchmark for fantastic characters, music and story in the golden PS1 era of Japanese Role Playing Games.

Much like the original game’s three discs, it’ll release as a series of standalone games with the first centering around Midgar and spanning two BluRay discs. As producer Yoshinori Kitase explained to Junkee, recreating the original 40-hour story, its many varied environments, set pieces and the world map in one game would be too difficult, costly and time-consuming of a task, and Square Enix wanted to get something playable out in the wild and of a decent quality as soon as possible.

In the original game, the Midgar sequence lasts roughly five to six hours and is just before you gain access to the world map. It’s arguably the perfect finite chunk of the game to end on if you were to split the game into a trilogy, and the team are stretching it out by introducing a sprawling open world bustling with towns, side quests, NPCs, dialogue choices and new enemies. 

In the first episode, you’ll be able to play out the events of the game’s iconic opening Bombing Mission, meet the mysterious flower girl Aerith, break into Shinra Inc. HQ and recruit a talking genetically-enhanced dog called Red XIII, make an epic escape on a motorbike and crossdress as a pretty girl to sneak your way into a dirty rowdy inn in the dodgy parts of town. It’s all been modernised for a new audience but still true to the goofy charm of the original game, in a stupidly pretty new visual style reminiscent of Advent Children if it were running in Unreal Engine 4.

Combat in Final Fantasy VII Remake is a modernised more action-packed reimagining of the original’s ATB system. In the original Final Fantasy VII, battles were fought in semi-real time: you’d wait for each of your party members’ Active Time Battle gauges to fill up before being able to make an action and decide their next move in real time. Your characters stood in one place and would only move to an enemy to make an action before jumping back to their previous position, so you were unable to dodge out of harm’s way freely. 

Here, however, you can freely move around, using basic attacks that build up an ATB-like gauge you can spend on more powerful commands like magic and abilities. Magic and abilities still cost MP and are assigned to special rare gems you equip called materia and look gorgeously animate and explosive. Final Fantasy VII’s iconic ultra-powerful special moves called Limit Breaks also look cool as heck here, and use up all of your ATB fully charged.

Probably the coolest feature in this new combat system, however, is the fact you can play as any of your party members, each with their own playstyles and enemy affinities. Cloud is naturally a close-combat specialist and can switch between a slow but powerful fighting style called Punisher mode and a standard fast but not as strong sword style called Operator mode, and his abilities deal heavy amounts of damage and have a wide attack radius. Barrett uses his gun-for-an-arm to fire a barrage of bullets at medium to long range, can charge up his attacks in an Overcharge mode, and uses abilities that debuff and stagger enemies. 

According to what Kitase showed us behind closed doors, Tifa and Aerith felt pretty true to their original fighting animation. Tifa is a classic martial arts expert, punching, kicking and suplexing enemies, while Aerith wields her iconic stave and is seen casting much-needed white magic. We’re a bit curious to see how less conventional characters like Red XIII and Cait Sith would play out in this battle system and more realistic visual tone, but if it’s anything like our hands-on time, it’ll feel like a shiny recreation of the original animations.

And boy, oh boy, do battles look and play great in this remake. Swinging my buster sword to pushback enemies and before switching to Barrett to charge up a big ball of energy at a group of clustered enemies, all to the tune of a live-recorded “Let the Battles Begin!”, everything felt like set pieces from an epic live-action fantasy film set in a grungy dystopian cityscape.

Hands-On

As Kitase showed us the opening moments of the original recreated in breathtaking shiny new visuals, Junkee’s hands-on demo saw us fight the game’s first boss, the Scorpion Sentinel. In the iconic Bombing Mission, pretty mercenary boy Cloud and the ecoterrorist with a gatling gun for an arm Barrett break into a corporate facility and reactor that harvests the planet’s life source, set some timed explosives and get out before they go off, but are stopped by the colossal multi-legged robot drone with a scorpion tail. 

Our fight with the Sentinel Scorpion had three stages. First, it scanned the area and locked onto me to launch a series of missiles, unleashed an electric shockwave attack and swiped me with its claws. As I staggered it a few times with a charged up attack as Barrett, cast powerful thunder spells and used Cloud’s iconic Braver Limit Break on its core, it started to crumble. It climbed on the walls and ceiling to recover before crashing back onto the bridge we were fighting on to charge up for a powerful beam that we had to hide behind cover to avoid.

Then, as fire and smoke began erupting from its wires, it went into a chaotic frenzy, spitting sparks, rockets, flames and electricity our way, the bridge in flames and falling apart as I targeted its legs to cripple it and destroyed its core. 

All while this was happening, Cloud and Barrett argued over tactics, Barrett’s trust in Cloud and which one of them knew how to beat the robotic behemoth they were fighting. It was all excellent and gave me hope that this remake will deliver on the silly quips and 90s-style vibe that was what partly made Final Fantasy VII so beloved, even without the cute chibi and stocky polygon character models to support it. 

Unanswered Questions

Naturally, we still have a few questions left unanswered after our demo. How many episodes will it be? When will we be able to play the complete remake story? With the first part releasing so close to an alleged PlayStation 5 console release, could the series be cross-gen? If so, how would players be able to transfer their data between versions on different consoles? Given Square Enix have made several Final Fantasy VII spin-offs, including a sequel film, a PSP prequel, a PS2 sequel, anime shorts and a series of short story novels, could we see other characters and moments not from the mainline game pop up in this remake? 

And, why, in Cloud’s name, is Derek from Teen Wolf playing Sephiroth, the One-Winged Angel and perhaps the most iconic video game villain of all time?

According to GameSpot and Kotaku, Square Enix doesn’t know when exactly the project will be completed, how many episodes it’ll be or any of these other questions, but will have more answers for us as they continue working on the project. We expect to hear more news at the Tokyo Game Show in September. 

The first chapter of Final Fantasy VII Remake will release on PS4 on March 3 next year.

Julian Rizzo-Smith is a freelance games and pop culture writer. He wants you to know that the best Final Fantasy game is and always will be Final Fantasy IX, and expects a remake from Square Enix soon, regardless of what they keep telling him. He tweets @GayWeebDisaster.