Monday, March 02, 2020
From the very first moment we set eyes on flower girl Aerith in the slums of Midgar, and heard that unmistakable theme tune, Final Fantasy VII Remake raised goosebumps that still haven't gone away. Immediately, it's clear to see that this particular remake is set to be something very special indeed, resurrecting a cast-iron PSone classic 23 years on from its original release. Like any remake worth its salt, however, Final Fantasy VII, on PlayStation 4, feels like a completely new experience.
It seems we're currently in the midst of a golden age of PlayStation remakes with Resident Evil 2 and 3 showcasing what's possible with a total reimagining, and Final Fantasy VII Remake is poised to repeat the trick, although the label 'remake' almost feels reductive – this is a much bigger and more ambitious revisit to a beloved game than we've ever seen before, evident in every facet of FF7 we've seen so far. It's not that it simply looks gorgeous (obviously, it does); there's a lot more to it than that.
Square Enix is fully aware of Final Fantasy VII's cultural impact. Few games are held in such high regard among fans, and, whether you like it or not, it was VII that made the majority of people aware of the franchise. It was the reason that the 2001 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within CG movie ended up in cinemas, as the studio looked to capitalise on the phenomenal popularity of the series. And it's the reason Final Fantasy VII is being remade and reintroduced to a whole new audience, as well as nostalgic players who grew up with the 1997 original.
Crucially, the remake goes beyond nostalgia. This first episode delves into far greater detail and depth than the original game, as you explore the sprawling city of Midgar under the imposing shadow of the Shinra Electric Company's massive Mako Reactor. During our hands-on time, getting to grips with the first few hours reveals combat that's not a million miles away from the battling systems in Final Fantasy XV. It's accessible and intuitive but deceptively deep, marrying the tactics of a turn-based RPG with fast-paced, immediate action.
While you can choose to play with the original turn-based system via 'Classic' mode, the way in which the ATB system has been adapted and modernised makes for the best of both worlds. It's a system that feels fresh yet familiar, delivering searing lighting effects and sparks as Cloud unleashes combos with his Buster Sword, Barret lets rip with his arm-mounted minigun, and Tifa performs acrobatic martial arts moves. Battles in Final Fantasy VII Remake are not only a visual spectacle but genuinely thrilling and pitched at just the right level of challenge.
Hit X and you can pause the action to queue up special abilities, spells, or items – like potions, ethers, and Phoenix Downs – as long as you have the requisite filled ATB gauge to do so. Limit Breaks are back, too, providing a devastating salvo of strikes to soften up or dispatch your foes, as are jaw-dropping summons, like Shiva, Ifrit, and Leviathan. Rather than being passive abilities that simply play out and then disappear, however, summons are yours to command for a limited time until they take their leave. They're context sensitive too (usually popping up during boss encounters), which presumably means there'll be no more spamming of the Knights of the Round for guaranteed flurries of 9999 damage. Dammit.
Don't expect the aid of summons to make life easy for you, then. As showdowns with early bosses like the Scorpion Sentinel demonstrate, a great deal of attrition is required to see them off. The three bosses we faced during four hours with the game all demanded a concerted effort across multiple phases, with certain body parts available to target in a bid to hobble them and gain an edge. The Airbuster, in particular, is a boss encounter preceded by a sequence wherein you'll sabotage its capabilities before fighting it, deciding which components you want to remove from it. Will you dispose of its bombs so it can't rain explosives on your party, or limit its AI programming to slow it down?
Meanwhile, the Abzu boss is your standard monster throwdown that has Aerith joining our party to provide invaluable healing support and offensive spells. Switching between characters on the fly is a simple d-pad press away, while hitting L2 and R2 cycles through allies you can issue orders to. Low on health? Get Tifa to cast a cura spell on you. Need Barret to weaken a mechanical foe? Have him chuck a shot of thundara their way. Everything is wonderfully intuitive and bound to satisfy fans of both action games and RPGs – in much the same way that Final Fantasy XV did (in gameplay terms, at least). You can block, dodge roll, charge your attacks and even parry. It’s enormously gratifying.
Those already enamoured with Final Fantasy VII on the strength of nostalgia alone are going to lap up FFVII Remake, but that it feels like a completely new game should ensure that any player – old or new – will find themselves wrapped up in hero Cloud Strife's journey. Don't let the episodic approach (the fact that the game is being released as an anthology comprising multiple chapters) put you off – taking into account what we've played thus far, Final Fantasy VII Remake is going to be well worth waiting for.
Final Fantasy VII Remake will be coming to PlayStation 4 on 10th April, and a Chapter 1 Demo is now available to download from the PlayStation Store now.
Monday, March 02, 2020 @ 02:08 PM
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