Preview: Final Fantasy 7 Remake – everything we wanted it to be
Back when it was first announced, the Final Fantasy 7 Remake felt like a miracle; a dream project that would never find its feet in the modern landscape.
Reimagining such an iconic, beloved and recognisable staple of gaming history felt impossible, too ambitious in its vision to ever live up to expectations. Now, it’s become a reality, with Square Enix keenly aware of the weight placed upon its shoulders.
Planned as an episodic project, this first chapter will still be a vast, all-encompassing epic that follows Cloud and company on their journey across Midgar and beyond. Even after a few short hours with it, it’s clear Yoshinori Kitase and Tetsuya Nomura’s vision for the adventure is astronomical.
I was invited to an event by Square Enix to play the game’s opening and a few later chapters, gaining a solid idea of how the game looks, plays and compares to the 1997 original. Having such a beloved passion for it, I ventured into the remake with utmost scepticism, and came away more smitten than I ever expected. There’s a few archaic design choices to take issue with, but everything else is curated with such dedication to the source material that it’s impossible not to be impressed.
Scenes and battles once rendered by only a handful of polygons are now beautifully gargantuan, towering over the player with both literal and symbolic significance. It’s a nostalgic sight to behold, yet it supersedes that emotional constraint, carving its own identity as an experience for the new generation.
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The story follows Cloud Strife, a young mercenary who finds himself joining the infamous terrorist group known as Avalanche. Together, they’re tasked with taking down an evil corporation that’s draining the planet of its life force in order to fuel its corrupt, power-hungry society.
The RPG begins with a gorgeous reimagining of the opening cutscene, enhanced with additional locales, booming music and a greater focus on building up this world as something truly formidable. It’s absurd how well it adapts the music and overall atmosphere of the original. This is the Final Fantasy 7 you remember from all those years ago, ready and waiting to tackle a whole new audience.
I’m thrown into the action within seconds, given only moments to breathe as a gaggle of soldiers rush towards me. It’s immediately clear the battle system is fast and nuanced, setting itself apart from everything that came before it. You attack with a single button, slicing enemies to pieces with Cloud’s sword as their health bars whittle away in seconds. At first, it feels strikingly similar to Kingdom Hearts 3, but establishes far more depth than the overly trivial Disney crossover.
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While combat play out in real-time as you run around foes, attacking them from multiple angles while aiming for a weakness, the original’s turn-based origins are still alive and well. At any time, you can press a button to slow time to crawl, bringing up a menu which allows you to pick from spells, abilities, items and other commands. This means it’s easy to escape the action and analyse your surroundings, nailing the best strategy for emerging victorious with minimal scratches.
It’s the best of both worlds, adapting the combat system with modern sensibilities while blending in classic turn-based mechanics which have aged wonderfully. As a result, battles feel oddly reminiscent of the original, while simultaneously incorporating a refreshing modern take. One of my only qualms with combat is the camera, which doesn’t play nicely when you find yourself in tight spaces. Your perspective often feels too confined, and I’d love an option to draw the camera out, gaining a better look at all my party members simultaneously as I dished out orders.
You can switch between characters at any moment once they’ve joined your party, offering a vast array of combat options to experiment with. Sometimes its necessary to make the jump, with Barrett capable of dispatching foes from a distance while Tifa can break shields with her iron fists. Alternatively, you can slow down time and dish out orders remotely if folks are in desperate need of healing or activating their limit breaks.
Square Enix has broken down the body of Final Fantasy with this remake, but has bottled up the spirit and sprinkled it onto something completely new. It’s so exciting to witness, and see what mechanics have changed and evolved over 23 years. Limit Breaks and Summons return, although the latter appear much earlier in the game than before, acting as mythical beings that fight alongside the player before exploding into a stupendously deadly finishing move.
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I’ve been asked not to delve into some of the deeper upgrade systems that Final Fantasy 7 Remake will offer; you’ll have to discover those for yourself. However, hardcore fans will be happy to learn that the Materia system has returned, and remains largely untouched. For the uninitiated, Materia is Final Fantasy 7’s equivalent of magic.
Elemental properties like fire and lightning can be applied to weapons, which proved crucial in the opening duo of reactors I infiltrated. While in the premiere battle you could dismiss this as a flashy button masher, it quickly grows into a challenging RPG with a multitude of features making it tick, many of which I came to learn over the course of three hours, and that I can only see growing more rewarding as the adventure progresses. Nailing the battle system is arguably Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s biggest hurdle, and Square Enix cleared it without issue.
The world of Midgar is a treat to explore, although I was sadly confined to mostly linear sections during my time with the game. The demo opens with Avalanche’s iconic raid on the Sector 1 Reactor. I battled through subway stations, guard-ridden tunnels and precarious walkways before finally arriving at the Reactor Core. Here, you face off against the Scorpion Sentinel, which utterly transforms an encounter I once thought irreplaceable in my memory.
Once static boss fights have been morphed into multi-faceted set pieces which transition seamlessly before your eyes. The Scorpion Sentinel springs about the environment, climbing on walls and firing from above before slamming to the ground in an explosion of lightning fissures and homing missiles. It’s a visual marvel, and forced me to stay on toes throughout the long, unpredictable battle. As the game’s debut boss encounter, it puts up a good fight, taking the better part of 15 minutes to take down.
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Stages are explorable, no longer pre-rendered backgrounds adding flavour to a static skirmish. It brings to life a vision that existed in my imagination as a teenager, depicting my internal ideas for these characters so accurately that it’s almost frightening.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake won’t be a strictly open-world affair, but will include locations where players can take on side quests and partake in optional activities. I’ve caught glimpses of these in trailers and screenshots, but didn’t see any during my time with the game.
The narrative is more relevant than ever, following the younger generation as they seek to overthrow a maniacal corporation that is slowly but surely killing the planet for monetary gain. It’s a thinly veiled metaphor for global warming and the dangers of capitalism, highlighting how a single elite class hoarding the world’s resources and leaving everyone else behind is a recipe for disaster. The world’s imagery is awash with the consequences of profound industrialism and corporate greed, expressed by a modernist steampunk aesthetic that puts technological advancement ahead of humanity’s basic needs.
It’s a powerful message, and Square Enix is using the remake’s evident ambition to expand on characters, themes and events that felt simplistic in the original. Events and dialogue that were once housed in supplemental material are now front and centre, while other moments have been reworked entirely. Context that couldn’t be shown in the original because of limited hardware is made perfectly clear here, such as Avalanche’s status as a terrorist group being televised, with Shinra controlling the narrative as you try desperately to free citizens from their clutches.
It echoes the “fake news” phenomenon we see in our media landscape, adding another feather to Final Fantasy 7’s hauntingly relatable cap. New flashback sequences and further refinement to existing sequences mean that characters that were already fan favourites feel even more alive. This should make eventual moments in this episode and further ones even more heartbreaking, especially since millions already know what’s coming. Despite all this, I’m keeping my lips firmly closed to avoid spoilers. Yes, the sequence where Cloud wears a dress is untouched.
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Many players are afraid that because this first episode will only cover the first of three discs from the original, there simply won’t be much content, although it seems steps are being taken to address that.
Square has said it will be equivalent to a mainline Final Fantasy title, with players able to explore a living, breathing world with plenty to do outside of the main story. The proof will be in the pudding, but I’m fairly confident this Remake will offer more than enough to keep players enthralled for 20+ hours, or even more if some endgame opportunities are introduced.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake – Latest Impressions
After spending three hours with Final Fantasy 7 Remake, it’s genuinely everything I wanted it to be. It changed me from an excitable sceptic to a full-blown convert in a matter of moments once it became clearly how dedicated Square Enix is to pulling this off. I’m not sure it’s impossible to surpass the original’s place in the cultural zeitgeist, but this new experience is more than ready to proudly sit alongside it.
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