The Final Fantasy VII Remake is real. It’s actually coming out, and I actually played it. A new version of one of the most iconic JRPGs in history has been teased in some shape or form since as early as the start of the PS3 generation. When we got an official announcement of the remake back at E3 of 2015, it seemed almost too good to be true. And that was, partly, because it was. Square Enix had barely shown anything of the game since then, and ony began showing snippets of the remake back in 2017 after they restarted development with an in-house team. It finally actually feels like things are full steam ahead for the massive remake, as Square Enix showed how far along the game is with a playable demo at E3.
Outside of the vastly more modern graphics, the biggest change in Final Fantasy VII Remake is that it ditches the turn-based tactical action of the PlayStation 1 original for flashy real-time action combat. Final Fantasy XV tried this and I personally wasn’t too impressed. The combat in that game felt really floaty, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was just mashing the attack button and watching things happen instead of actually doing them.
In Final Fantasy VII Remake, I was doing things. The demo had my party consisting of Cloud and Barret, and I could swap between the two whenever I wanted. You’ll end up swapping often, because each character has a surprisingly different style of play that can turn the tides in certain situations. Cloud has fast and weighty sword combos that dish out heavy damage at close range and reward you for closing the distance as fast as possible. Barret, however, is all about keeping your distance and unloading a barrage of bullets on your opponents. Airborne enemies and long-range targets are best dealt with by Barret, and I always ended up happily handling them myself instead of waiting for the AI to do the job for me.
Despite turn-based combat being gone, the ATB system of the original game is still a part of Final Fantasy VII Remake. During battles, an ATB meter slowly fills up over time for each character, but fills up much more quickly if they’re dishing out attacks. With a full ATB bar, you can press X to pause time, access a classic action menu, and choose which character ability, spell or item you want to use. It’s so simple, but it creates an incredible loop between basic combat and special abilities that naturally deters you from just mashing buttons. Your best actions are always these ATB spells and abilities, so putting them behind this menu forces players to think at least a little bit about their next action.
This system is perfectly shown off in the demo-ending boss battle against the Guard Scorpion. You can chip away at this giant enemy with regular attacks, but your best course of action is to use stun-inducing abilities from Cloud and lightning magic from Barret in order to disable its movement and exploit its weaknesses.
The boss goes through various phases during the battle, each of them preceded by flashy cutscenes that pull out all the stops. The visual fidelity and detail in this game is breath-taking, and easily rivals or even exceeds Advent Children in terms of graphical quality.
It’s still hard to believe, but this game really is coming. Whether we get one disc or three, the content is bound to be worthwhile if this brief demo was any indication. The decision to shift form turn-based action to something more real time will remain contentious for devout fans, but it’s inventive and rewarding. Square observed the flaws of their action combat from Final Fantasy XV, and improved on every part of it. Having gone hands on, I now can’t wait for even more when the game launches in March 2020.