I got a chance to go hands-on with Final Fantasy VII Remake last week, and what I saw looked incredible. I’m a massive fan of the original game and recently played through the Midgar portion in anticipation of the hands-on event, and my mind was blown by the added depth Final Fantasy VII Remake brings to the table.
I was allowed to play Chapters 1 and 2, which cover the first Mako reactor mission and the escape afterward; Chapter 7, during which the Sector 5 reactor mission takes place; and the boss fight with Abzu. The three hours I spent with the game was all too brief, and left me wanting for more.
Few remakes have managed to draw me in like this, and Resident Evil 2 is the only one that comes to mind. The sad truth is most remakes end up chasing the nebulous quality that made fans love the original, only to come up short. Final Fantasy VII Remake doesn’t make this mistake. In particular, the segments I played which took me through Sector 1 in the aftermath of the reactor explosion, and mission to the Sector 5 reactor showed that the developers are willing to vastly expand story and gameplay elements within the framework of the original.
The result is something that is wholly new while feeling intimately familiar. It’s like the gaps between 9-year-old me’s imagination of Midgar and the limitations of the PS1 are being filled in to make FFVII feel as complete and magical as it did when I first played it in 1997.
As the Reactor 1 aftermath and Sector 5 mission have some significant deviations between the original and the remake, I’m going to concentrate my preview there. Chapter 1, the first bombing mission, is exciting, but it mostly hits the same beats as the original, albeit massively scaled up. It’s after that mission that Final Fantasy VII Remake starts to weave its own path.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Hands-On Preview | Collateral Damage
Midgar is the largest city on Gaia, the world of Final Fantasy VII. While that fact is made evident in the original game, due to the limitations of the PS1, we only got a hint of the massive scale of the city. Fortunately, FFVII Remake seeks to rectify this.
In the original Final Fantasy VII, the action focuses almost entirely on Avalanche. This is exemplified by the aftermath of the destruction of the Sector 1 reactor. Cloud and the gang escape the reactor, make their escape by train, and very little is shown of the carnage that such a huge explosion would cause.
Final Fantasy VII Remake has you face the fallout of the explosion face on. To escape Sector 1, you have to traverse the area to make it to the train station. Along the way, you see citizens of Midgar who have been injured, whose houses have been destroyed, and who are seeking their missing loved ones. A minor plot clarification makes it obvious that Shinra was responsible for the reactor explosion, and Avalanche’s bomb was a dud, but the fact remains that the group is in part responsible for the deaths and displacement of innocent civilians.
Seeing Sector 1 also makes the class divide between those who live on the upper plates and the citizens of the slums more pronounced. In contrast to the support Avalanche receives in the slums, those who live on the plate are firmly pro-Shinra. This means that Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s portrayal of the group may not be so morally clean-cut as in the original.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Hands-On Preview | Expanding the world
In the original game, the Sector 5 Mako reactor is mostly a copy and paste of the original. Sure the lighting is different, but you take a very similar route in and out. In Final Fantasy VII Remake, the Sector 5 reactor has been expanded and also houses a Shinra weapon development facility. This, in turn, expands the Air Buster boss’s role in the game.
Instead of being a random enemy that President Shinra tosses at you as you exit the reactor, Air Buster is the center of your escape. When Cloud and the gang set the bomb in the Mako storage room, Shinra blocks the path they came from. So, to escape, you have to make your way through the weapon development facility.
As you enter the facility, you find out Shinra is arming Air Buster to block your escape. However, the weapon still isn’t prepped yet, so you get the opportunity to interfere with the arming process. As you fight your way through the facility, you’ll find rooms that contain parts of Air Buster’s armament. Using terminals spread throughout the building, you can make selections to send some of Air Buster’s components to be disposed. You can choose from M Units, which contain items that can help you, Big Bomber Shells, which allow Air Buster to perform a devastating attack, or AI Programming Cores, which allow Air Buster to counter your attacks with an annoying stun laser.
The items you dispose of influence the later boss fight with Air Buster and strengthen your party if you choose to visit the optional disposal room to collect them. This sort of choice is absent from the original game and gives the Sector 5 reactor mission its own unique spin that it lacked in its first incarnation.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Hands-On Preview | Fighting Fantasy
The combat in Final Fantasy VII Remake is deceptively simple when you’re dropped into the Sector 1 reactor trains station. However, as you make your way through the game, the fighting becomes more and more layered and requires more strategy.
Your run-of-the-mill Shinra soldier falls pretty quickly to Cloud’s default attacks, but you soon meet enemies that don’t go down so easy. Range plays a more significant role in FFVII Remake than it did in the original, and you’ll have to switch to Barret or use magic to take down foes that aren’t at arms reach. You’ll also find enemy mixtures that keep you on your toes. During my flight through Sector 1, I often fought a group of Shinra regulars and soldiers equipped with riot gear. When Cloud’s sword slams into a riot shield, it stops his melee combo in its tracks, so you have to continually switch tactics even within the same enemy group.
The fight with Abzu exemplified the complexity of the game’s combat system. Abzu uses environmental attacks, so you have to dodge spewing sewer pipes while keeping your party healthy and doing damage. The only qualms I had with the combat came in this fight. You really have to babysit the AI sometimes because they won’t heal themselves when necessary. You can only use spells, items, and abilities when you’ve filled a bar of the AP gauge by performing regular attacks, and I often found myself having to switch over to Tifa or Aerith, fill their AP gauge, and heal because they wouldn’t do it themselves. Luckily, you can also use Tactical Mode to pause the action while you give commands. Otherwise, it would become overwhelming.
The Stagger system also adds nuance to the fighting in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Each enemy has a stagger bar, and if you fill it, your foe will be unable to act and more susceptible to damage for a short period. Staggering an enemy can make the difference between success and failure, but attacks that cause increased stagger aren’t necessarily your most powerful. This means you have to balance the idea of potentially staggering your enemy or causing the most damage in the shortest amount of time. Regular Shinra grunts aren’t too hard without using stagger, but using it against bigger foes can help prevent your party from getting KOed.
I’ve seen some comments comparing the combat in Final Fantasy VII Remake to that found in Final Fantasy 15. However, I’d say it’s closer to the fighting in Final Fantasy 12 or 14. There’s a lot more thinking about things like enemy aggro, weaknesses, and the stagger gauge as well as a lot of party management. I played on Normal difficulty and found the boss fights to be challenging, and even some of the battles against large amounts of grunts got pretty hairy.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Hands-On Preview | Midgar or bust
My hands-on with Final Fantasy VII Remake raised my enthusiasm for the final product even more. I loved the original game, and I’m thrilled to see it remade and expanded. I still have some questions, I wasn’t able to play any side quests or exploration sequences, so I hope they’re as high quality as the segments I played. I’m also anxious about the multi-episode release plan for the game, especially since Square Enix hasn’t revealed any details on just what that’ll entail.
If the rest of Final Fantasy VII Remake is as good as what I played at the hands-on event, it’ll be a strong contender for game of the year. I’m incredibly impressed with what I’ve seen so far, and I can’t wait to get the opportunity to do a full review.
You can play Final Fantasy VII Remake on PS4 on April 10, 2020. Buy it now on Amazon.
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