Day one of E3 2019 was a veritable cornucopia of nostalgia for me. Nintendo excited my inner child with titles like Luigi’s Mansion 3, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and Pokemon Sword and Shield. And Yu Suzuki showed off Shenmue III, which, in ways good and bad, feels a lot like its Dreamcast predecessors. But the biggest shot of nostalgia was my hands-on time with Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake, which blew me away.
Despite the game offering a ton of new gameplay mechanics, visual upgrades, and expansions in storytelling, the thing stuck in the front of my mind as I finished the 15-minute (or so) demo was, “Man…it really feels like Final Fantasy VII,” which is about as positive a reaction as I could have hoped for.
From the color palette to the way Midgar looks and sounds, to the detailed character designs, to the playful banter Cloud and Barret exchange as they wreck shop side by side, this feels like a lovingly made, definitive version of FFVII — not a bastardized cash-in that’s merely reminiscent of the original. The visuals are drop-dead gorgeous, but more importantly, they’re extremely evocative of and faithful to the original’s designs.
Character work is expanded too, with considerably more cutscenes and dialogue than before. Each character’s personality shines through thanks to solid writing and voice acting—even Jessie, a member of Barret’s eco-terrorist group, AVALANCHE, gets way more dialogue than in the original, which makes her feel way more fleshed out. You can tell Square Enix put a lot of heart and soul into expanding the original’s vision.
The demo took place in the first Mako Reactor, with Cloud and Barret taking out small groups of enemies mostly to introduce the overhauled real-time combat mechanics, which fall right in line with recent games in the series. I took direct control of Cloud and Barret, with the ability to switch freely between the two. Barret is best at attacking enemies at long range, while Cloud mostly takes care of the up-close hacking and slashing. You can evade and block, and light attacks fill up your ATB meters (two total in the demo), which allow you to pull off special attacks (like Cloud’s triple slash or Barret’s big shot), cast spells, and use items.
You can press X at any time to slow down time to a crawl, which allows you to be strategic with your commands. Light attacks really don’t do a lot of damage and are more so used to fill up the ATB meters as well as enemies’ stagger gauges which, when filled, allow for a limited window in which you can land unmitigated, extra-damaging attacks.
You’ve got to constantly be aware of your characters’ ATB meters, as switching between them as their meters fill is the most effective way to play. There’s a sense that you’ve got to be very deliberate with how you time moves and commands, which makes combat feel less arcade-y and more strategic. In a strange way, it feels a lot like the turn-based combat of the original game, just more dynamic, intimate, and action-oriented.
The demo ended with a reimagining of the classic encounter with the original game’s first boss, the Guard Scorpion. The fight is significantly more layered and complex than the original’s, with the Scorpion bounding around and sometimes creating distance by leaping to a far platform or even onto a high wall, forcing you to utilize Barret’s ranged skills. Sometimes, you’ve got to circle around to the Scorpion’s back to attack its weak spot, and when it unleashes its powerful tail electricity attack, you’ve got to take cover behind fallen debris. It was a really fun, epic, dazzling way to end what’s been my favorite demo of the show so far.
What’s most intriguing about the FFVII remake is that the entire first game of the planned multi-part remake series—which Square Enix claims will be as large as a normal numbered entry in the franchise—takes place on Midgar. In fact, the developers have expanded the Midgar section of the game so much that it’s going to be delivered on two discs.
The Midgar-only focus of the remake leaves A LOT of the original game yet to be remade. It’s unclear just how long it’s going to take for the studio to complete this new version of the story, considering Midgar didn’t account for even a quarter of the original game. Only time (likely lots and lots of it) will tell how this all ultimately plays out. But for now, this first installment of the grand FFVII Remake looks to be truly impressive and worthy of the hype.
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Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.