Final Fantasy VII holds a special place in my past. I have fond memories of sitting with a friend, eating a whole family-sized bag of crisps, drinking a litre bottle of diet fizz and taking turns playing through the story. So, when Square Enix revealed they were releasing a remake of the cult classic, of course, I was excited, but also extremely worried. This game was not only something I held dear, but a game that I know a lot of my friends held dear as well. What if they changed it too much? What if Barret doesn’t have the same Dad charm as before? What if Cloud didn’t look as good dressed as a woman in HD?
Luckily Square Enix must have known we’d have these questions, because, before the official release of the game on 10 April 2020, they released a fully playable demo. This hour-long marvel quenched my thirst just long enough to satisfy me; however, if the game gets delayed again, I am expecting another hour-long demo to tide me over.
If you haven’t played Final Fantasy VII, I would seriously recommend that you do. As far as Final Fantasy games go, it’s up there in the top three. As a standalone game, the storyline keeps gamers coming back for more. The story follows a young, spikey-haired mercenary called Cloud Strife. In the beginning, he has been paid a high price to team up with a group of eco-activists called Avalanche (this team includes lovable characters such as Wedge, Biggs, Jessie, Barratt and Tifa). Together, they’re tasked with taking down an evil corporation called Shinra. This company is draining the planet of its life force in order to fuel not only the city’s power supply but also their own hold on power over the people.
The remake is almost a frame for frame replication of the original opening, but Square Enix have added some meat to the bones that was the original sequence. Aerith now doesn’t just appear from nowhere; she is panned into the shot. And allow me to digress slightly, I would be remiss if I were not to point out that the character models and visuals are absolutely stunning. We’ll get more into that later. Shinra now has more vibrancy to it; there is more hustle and bustle than there was before, and it feels more alive. The train sequence, as always, is a pleasure to watch, but more so in the remake, as Cloud does his typical anime style overdramatic flip off the train. Again, when the camera slowly zooms into his features, I can quite happily confess that I’ve never been more attracted to a video game character. That jawline!
The sound design in this remake deserves a whole article in itself. Final Fantasy VII was always great in the way that the music seemed to flow throughout each section of the game. With only slight pauses between each score, it never allowed the mood to become stagnant. In this remake, they have replicated that beautifully. The music seamlessly flows from one score to another without ever losing momentum. Yes, the score does miss that certain charm that 8-bit sound gives, but Nobuo Uematsu has outdone himself with the use of strings and vocals within the game’s soundtrack. Each note had me shivering, my skin prickling with goosebumps, eager to see what was next in store. The music in the remake is an orchestral marvel, for those that love the original score, it’s an homage to it. For those that simply love music, do yourself a favour and download the OST, it’s perfect to just sit back and listen to.
The voice acting is obviously new to Final Fantasy VII. The original version opted for the unforgettable blue boxes of text, with that familiar sound when continuing through the dialogue. As someone who read the lines in each character’s distinct voice in my head, I hoped that they would all sound how I imagined them. Not only did they sound how I imagined, but their voices fit them perfectly. Granted, I haven’t yet heard Tifa, Aerith, Red XIII or any of the other characters,but Barret and Cloud are bang on the money. Barret’s voice is a smooth baritone with a rough edge which is exactly how I expected him to sound. However, Cloud is a bit different. With the release of Advent Children (the film sequel of Final Fantasy VII), his voice was shoehorned into Steve Burton’s vocal cords. Now, don’t get me wrong, it works. But I imagined him a little more pompous and egotistical than what I was given. Still, the voice acting is on point, and the writing as well is just perfect. At one point, Barret mentions that he can hear the planet crying out in pain, to which Cloud responds, “Get help.” The back and forth that these two characters have during the demo is brilliant.
The gameplay itself is very reminiscent of the original Final Fantasy: essentially running around and finding the next fight; however, the combat style has been changed drastically from the original. It is no longer the turn-based combat that we know and love (although you can revert to classic turn-based combat if you wish). Square Enix has brought some of the combat style from Kingdom Hearts 3 into the mix, making players fight in real-time and allowing them to move around the enemy to search for a weak spot. Don’t fret, though, for those of you loyal to turn-based combat, the game does allow you to slow down time and select your next ability, magic, or summon with ease. You can either choose this from a menu, or you can bind these to buttons for the true real-time combat experience.
As fast-paced as the combat is, the strategy is still clearly visible in its elements. You can choose which character to control to allow for certain enemies to be dealt with more efficiently. For example, when going through the mako reactor you are greeted with security cameras that Cloud is unable to reach, so you are encouraged to switch to Barret to allow yourself to easily shoot them down. You can do this, or you can simply cast magic using Cloud’s abilities – it all depends upon how you want to play.
The only thing that did get on my nerves was the camera. During this specific sequence, it became difficult to control the character and the camera simultaneously. And every so often the camera would become stuck behind an object or not get high enough for me to see where I was supposed to be aiming with Barret’s guns. It wasn’t enough to ruin the gameplay, but it was enough for me to moan about it whilst I was playing.
At the end of the demo, you are treated to the ever-epic Scorpion Sentinel boss fight. Once a static show of turn-based hokey pokey, this fight is now an ever-changing encounter that uses the environment to its advantage. From the Sentinel climbing on the walls to take cover from your fire or you having to duck behind pieces of debris to hide from its retaliation, the fight is one that I would gladly play repeatedly until the full game comes out.
Unfortunately, the full release of the game will not be an exact replica of the original Final Fantasy VII. The remake will be set solely inside Midgar, and it will allow the player to delve deeper into the city they are fighting for. However, this does mean that we will have the pleasure of getting multiple games as Final Fantasy VII remakes. This not only allows us to delve deeper into the story, but also allows the game developers enough time to truly put their heart and soul into a project that deserves it most. However, as it is being released in parts, this does mean that we will not be able to play as one of my favourite characters (Red XIII) in this release, as he is introduced just before the escape. Naoki Hamaguchi revealed that as he was introduced too late, he will only be in the game as an A.I. controlled character, not a playable option.
Now, the graphics are stunning. Simply stunning. Each character has been lovingly crafted into what we imagine those 3D squares to look like in our heads. They all have fingers, and Cloud’s hair is more luxurious than ever before! However, it was a given that the characters would look good based upon their remade looks in Advent Children. What surprised me the most is how in-depth and beautiful the environment looks. The original was played from multiple angles, the most used being a slightly angled top-down look on the environment. In the remake, you are taken into third-person mode, which shifts your perspective, literally and figuratively. I felt so much more in tune with the environment and the feel of the city, it allowed me to really immerse myself into the game more than the original ever did. Plus, the remake has implemented a technology which allows the mouth of the character to perfectly sync with the voice coming from it. So, whether you are playing that game in English, Japanese, French or German, the characters’ lip movements will match the words exactly.
Now, this was only a demo; however, I can quite happily say that I will be playing this on repeat until the full game comes out. It transports me right back into the world of Midgar, fighting with Cloud and the rest of the gang. The music is perfect, and the atmosphere feels like a warm hug at the end of a long day. Cloud, you look picture perfect and fight like a dream. But I am holding out my hopes for Reno, I’ve always had a thing for redheads.
– The graphics are beautiful
– The sound design is perfect
– Although the combat style is different, it works for the remake
– The camera can be a bit difficult during combat