It’s hard to imagine the stakes being higher for Final Fantasy VII Remake, considering this is a recreation of arguably the most iconic PlayStation role-playing game of all time. Resident Evil 2 proved without doubt last year that it’s possible to resurrect PSone classics for a new era, retaining all original charm while appealing to a fresh audience at the same time. But with expectations larger than protagonist Cloud Strife’s infamous Buster Sword, can this return to Midgar realistically satisfy a demanding audience?
First and foremost, it’s important to determine what Final Fantasy VII Remake is. While this won’t tell the original title’s full tale, it will have a runtime equivalent to any other numbered entry in the long-running series, according to veteran producer Yoshinori Kitase. This means that you should expect anywhere up to 50 hours of gameplay, but the game will end once rebel faction AVALANCHE escape Gaia’s capital city. Future sequels will further the familiar fiction, but for now Square Enix has focused on fleshing out the story involving the Shinra Electric Power Company and its Mako Reactors.
We got to play over four hours of the PlayStation 4 timed exclusive, beginning with the notorious bombing run and various other hand-selected sequences from the opening 10 chapters of the game. The first mission, which has been well documented now, acts as a kind of anime-infused introduction, with Cloud and crew thrust into an explosive objective. These first few minutes can be overwhelming, as the title throws exposition and controller prompts at you like they’re going out of fashion, but the sheer bombast of proceedings will keep you engaged.
For those of you who don’t know, combat has been completely reworked for this remake. Where the original was an entirely turn-based affair, the developer has opted for a mixture of real-time action and menus for this revival. Playing as Cloud, for example, you can mash the Square button to strike enemies, building up his Active Time Battle meter. Once this is full, you can halt time and switch to a more traditional menu system to unleash devastating attacks. You can also map some of these moves to the controller, adding an MMO-esque feel to proceedings.
It’s a lot of fun, but the skirmishes really come into their own once you’re able to take control of other party characters, such as Barret Wallace. Where Cloud excels in close-quarters situations, his beefy accomplice offers ranged abilities, utilising his arm cannon as a means to pick off flying and faraway foes. You can switch between all the heroes in your party on the fly, and issue commands from a tactical perspective. This adds depth to an otherwise button bashy format, and it maintains the traditions of the original game while introducing something completely new. There is a Classic option available, however, if you want to play the title entirely in a turn-based style.
Unfortunately, while the release has taken great strides in combat, the level design from the sections we played leaves a lot to be desired. Most of the environments are frighteningly linear, meaning even an extended trip through the city of Midgar feels restricted and one-dimensional. There are small detours you can take, and these are often rewarded with chests harbouring key items and materials, but generally you’re funnelled through the world like you’re riding a roller-coaster. A second Mako Reactor assault is so samey that it feels like the area has been constructed out of the kind of tiles you’d expect to find in a procedurally generated world.
In fact, it’s this mission that left us with some concerns. While the opening is as bombastic as humanly possible, the slick cut-scenes are replaced here for much cheaper, in-game story sequences. To make matters worse, objectives include finding keycards hidden in plain sight, and an embarrassingly anticlimactic side-quest where you must push and pull levers in a weirdly imprecise minigame that grates within seconds. It may not be representative of the final product at all, but we can’t help but wonder why Square Enix opted to showcase it if not.
To be fair, the publisher appears to be pinning everything on the combat, and once you’ve got Aerith and Tifa in your squad, you can really feel the differences between each hero. Aerith sits back and uses magic to both deal damage and buff teammates, while 7th Heaven’s bustiest barmaid utilises some extraordinary martial arts moves to deal devastating damage. It’s chaotic in the same way as Final Fantasy XV, but the addition of tactical elements adds some order to the frenetic fighting unfolding on screen.
It looks and sounds incredible too, with the music being a particular highlight. Motifs from the original game run through the background, popping out at opportune moments just to remind you that this is a reimagining of a stone cold classic. The character models are similarly impressive, with each hero instantly recognisable from the original. The script is shocking, and the voice acting is cringeworthy at best, but no one was expecting this title to rival The Last of Us: Part II in the storytelling stakes.
Ultimately, we’re both excited and concerned. The combat seems excellent, but will it be enough to carry a largely linear campaign that’s been padded out with some tedious objectives? Square Enix was very specific about the sections that we saw, so maybe it’s saving the most exciting parts for fans to discover on launch day in a couple of months. But why wouldn’t it want to put its best foot forward? Maybe the enormous expectations resting on this remake’s colossal shoulders need to be re-calibrated just a little bit.
What are your thoughts on Final Fantasy VII Remake right now? Will you be picking up day one, or waiting for additional information? Are you a fan of the original, or are you a newcomer to the franchise? Launch your Limit Break in the comments section below.