Final Fantasy VII Remake Hands-On: A Classic, Reimagined
January 17, 2020 Andrew Cheng

No Final Fantasy game is quite as iconic as the seventh entry of the main franchise, so needless to say, Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of the most anticipated games this year. Developed completely from the ground up, FFVIIR seems to be a very promising JRPG, and I managed to spend some time with a demo of the upcoming game.

While I only played a brief portion of FFVIIR, I was left pretty impressed with the overall gameplay. Even though its release date has been delayed to 10 April from 3 March, I’m excited to see more of the game once it is out.

The FFVIIR demo I played through – the very same demo shown in the video above – takes place in the first Mako reactor, and it showcases one very important change: it’s a very, very fleshed out game. The boss fight (Scorpion Sentinel) in this sequence of the demo, for one, has a lot more depth now. What was once a straightforward boss fight in the original game is now divided into several phases, which involves the Sentinel frantically moving from one area to the next.

As I battle the boss, the fight will progress to the next phase once its health goes down a certain point. Naturally, the difficulty increases as its health gets even lower. All in all, it feels like a very dynamic boss fight, and that’s a good thing. Clearly, Square Enix put some serious thought into making the game feel like a brand new experience.

Of course, the turn-based combat system of the original game has been completely overhauled too. As with most modern JRPG titles, FFVIIR uses a real-time combat system. You can perform normal attacks by hitting the Square button, while dodging is done with the Circle button.

Despite this new combat system, there’s still a “turn-based element” here. Any time during combat, I can hit X to summon the Commands menu. Once I’m here, time slows down to a halt while I navigate the menu, which allows me to use abilities, spells, or items. When I’ve selected a target for my spell or ability, the game resumes.

Personally, I don’t quite like this system. I prefer a more “fluid” combat experience, and this menu disrupts the overall flow of battle. Thankfully, I can summon the shortcut menu with the L1 button. Here, I can perform four different actions instantly, eliminating the pause of accessing the Commands menu.

Another turn-based element present in FFVIIR is the need of Active Time Battle (ATB) to perform…practically every action except for normal attacks. If I want to use an item, spell, or ability, I need at least one ATB bar to do it. The bar will refill on its own gradually, but landing attacks will fill it up faster.

You can also alternate between different characters during combat. In the demo, I can switch between Cloud and Barrett by pressing up or down on the D-pad. Cloud is a close range attacker, so when I need some long distance attacks, that’s where Barrett is useful. Naturally, both characters have different sets of abilities and spells as well.

It can get a little overwhelming switching between these two characters (imagine if there were more!), and it feels quite clunky when I tried it out for myself. Then again, I imagine this is something most players can get used too in the long run with some familiarity.

In traditional Final Fantasy fashion, Limit Breaks are also present in FFVIIR. The Limit bar fills up as you get damaged or stagger enemies, and once it’s full, you can unleash a unique Limit Break for each character. Cloud’s Limit Break is Cross-Slash, while Barrett’s is Fire in the Hole. As expected, these attacks are very powerful and equally flashy.

Last but certainly not least is the ability to stagger enemies. Larger, more powerful enemies have a focus gauge right under their life bar, and once it’s filled, they will be staggered. In this state, enemies are defenseless, and they will take more damage. It’s the perfect time to unleash all of your characters’ Limit Breaks.

Overall, I dig the real-time combat system of FFVIIR. It’s easy enough to grasp in one sitting, and there’s enough depth here for more advanced players to explore. That being said, I do feel like it could be a tad more dynamic. As it is, it feels a little too rigid.

For example, once I’ve committed to an attack, it’s not possible to cancel it with a dodge. Sure, it would’ve been fair if I was using a special attack ability, but even normal attacks cannot be cancelled. There were a couple of times where I wanted to dodge quickly, but it simply wouldn’t register until the attack’s animation is finished.

It’s not certain if this quirk will be present in the finished game, but I’m hoping it wouldn’t be. Granted, it’s possible this is done on purpose to punish players that are reckless or those who overcommit to an attack. More methodical and careful players will be rewarded in this case.

Regardless, I really enjoyed playing through the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo. However, there are a number of issues that need to be pointed out, which isn’t all that surprising for an early build of the game. These include some performance issues, limited access, and…well, just how the game looks as a whole.

Throughout the demo, the frame rate doesn’t feel particularly consistent. While the game runs at 30 frames per second for the most part, the frame rate fluctuates at certain scenes or when I turn the camera around. As a result, there’s noticeable stuttering as I navigate within the first Mako Reactor.

It’s not a huge deal (especially for an early demo), but it does warrant some concern for the game’s performance in the final version. This is especially the case for those who plan to play it on the standard PlayStation 4 – I played the demo on a Pro system.

Besides that, the FFVIIR demo doesn’t look quite that great in the graphics department. Cloud’s hair is a bit of a blurry mess, the environment doesn’t look like it’s rendered in high resolution, and the character models aren’t particularly detailed. Again, it’s worth noting that this is merely a demo of the game. Hopefully, the finished build of the game will look a lot better.

Last but certainly not least is the limited access of the FFVIIR demo. While I can use a number of spells, abilities, and Limit Breaks of both Cloud and Barrett, a key element of the gameplay is missing: the ability to switch modes. Each character in FFVIIR have two modes; Cloud, for example, has Operator mode – the default one – and Punisher mode.

Operator mode allows Cloud to move and attack quicker, while Punisher mode slows down his sword swings, but increases his damage output. The ability to switch modes would’ve added even more depth to the combat system, so it’s unfortunate I couldn’t try it out for myself in this demo.

Even with these issues I faced in the demo version, I’m pretty darn excited to get my hands on Final Fantasy VII Remake once it is released on 10 April 2020. It would’ve been great if the game is launching on the original 3 March release date, but if an extra month is all it takes to ensure a better, more polished game, I’m all for it.

You can now pre-order Final Fantasy VII Remake on the PlayStation Store for RM243. If you want the Digital Deluxe Edition instead – it adds on a digital artbook, a mini-soundtrack, as well as several extra summon Materia – it’s priced at RM354.

Alternatively, you can also purchase the physical copies of the game for about the same price from your local game store or retailers on e-commerce platforms.