Published on March 3rd, 2020 | by Jamie Kirk
Final Fantasy VII Remake Goes Big (Hands On and First Impressions)
In the original Final Fantasy VII there is a small moment in the second bombing mission. In order to pass through a locked door Cloud, Barrett and Tifa must press a button at the same time. This little scene is where Yoshinori Kitase, producer of Final Fantasy VII Remake realised the scope of the project they were undertaking. “It’s a small little scene in the game, not even a minigame just a little gimmick” he says “When we were coming back to do that I really felt wow, this really is remaking all the little details, just done in a bigger more realistic way.”.
Fans and newcomers alike will immediately see the increased scope and attention to detail. The Remake version of the famous opening bombing mission hews closely to the original in terms of the main plot. Bomb a reactor, fight a boss, escape the reactor. But Remake is not content to just blindly follow its classic predecessor. Everything is more fleshed out. The locations are grander and feel more lived in. The relationships between characters also get more time to breathe, with a ton of extra dialogue and interaction between the members of AVALANCHE.
Remake introduces you to its biggest change very quickly. The combat has been the big question mark for long-time fans. The turn-based ATB system replaced by a more modern real time slasher. But it works brilliantly. Combat is fun, fast-paced and yet surprisingly tactical. Those who think that the new system will just involve spamming the attack button will be in for a brutal shock. They may also find their supply of Phoenix Downs dwindling quickly.
In this updated system, attacking enemies fills up an ATB bar. Once the ATB bar has filled characters can use special abilities, spells and items. Some fan favourites make appearances here, such as Clouds Braver attack and Tifa’s somersault. Enemies are staggered by exploiting weaknesses and dealing damage. Once staggered you can truly lay down a beating.
Like everything else, battles are also much bigger. The first major boss battle with the Guard Scorpion is long. It’s also much more difficult. Players will need to switch between Cloud and Barret to cover both close- and long-range damage. The environment also plays a role, allowing you to take cover from attacks. We got to play through three boss battles and none of them were a cinch. Yet the combat system is satisfying enough that the added time on these battles does not feel like a slog.
Kitase-san admits that a lot of thought went into the design of the battle system as there are different audiences with different expectations. “There will be people who have only played the original game, who love that old-style menu based JRPG combat. We can’t ignore them. But there’s also new fans, people coming in who are younger and are more familiar with modern action games. So, we really felt that we had to create something that would satisfy both groups”.
Fans of the original may also prefer to use the combat’s Classic Mode. Classic Mode was introduced later in the development cycle after feedback from E3. “We feel the hybrid style system is something that will satisfy all groups of players” Kitase-san says “But we can also add a slight variation on that to really go for what players of the original were looking for.” We were unable to use Classic Mode in our time with the game, but if it’s half as entertaining as the regular combat it should be a blast. The combination of fan service with more modern elements serves the game well, and is somewhat of a running theme.
Early on Square Enix show that they are not afraid to remix the much-vaunted plot of Final Fantasy VII. There are numerous little details that will get a reaction out of experienced players. In the first few hours of the game there are many plot elements that have been expanded or are entirely new. “Obviously we want the game to remain quite closely based on the original. The general story progression is very similar as the fans expect that,” Kitase-san explains “But we did pay attention to the idea of having new surprises and making it feel new to fans of the original. There are a number of extra scenes where the story is fleshed out, that you did not see in the original game but add more to the story as a whole.”.
In our playthrough of Final Fantasy VII we did not get a lot of time to explore Midgar. This was something Square Enix wanted to keep up their sleeves, but they promised a much bigger, more alive city than we’ve seen before. The little snippets I experienced seem to point this way. After the opening mission is complete there is a small section of the city to explore. It is teeming with life. The reactions to the bombing can’t help but make you grapple with your actions.
Kitase-san is excited to show players the new and improved Midgar. A great deal of care has been poured into recreating and updating the city. Nowhere does this seem more apparent than in the trailer depiction of the famous cross-dressing sequence featuring the Honey Bee Inn. As soon as Remake was announced fans were speculating about how this would be handled as 2020 is a very different time to 1997. “Over 23 years, the way society views things has changed and the way that these things are shown have changed” Kitase-san says “So we felt we had to be very careful. The way we approached it was rather than take it into an extreme over the top portrayal, we make it more natural and portray it in an earnest way. That was definitely something that we took a lot of care of.”.
After several hours with the game I’m pleased to say the Final Fantasy VII Remake is coming along nicely. It looks to be an expansive, sweeping re-telling of one of gaming’s most famous stories. It’s the little details that have been packed in that are most impressive, a fact Kitase-san seems proud of. When asked about what he’s particularly excited for players to see in Remake he laughs and tells us “The button press scene”.