In 1997, the world was introduced to the stoic ex-Soldier Cloud Strife. Blond anime hair and rocking a giant sword which was comparable to some of the heavy hardware seen in Kentaro Miura?s Berserk, the world fell in love with the first Final Fantasy title not on Nintendo?s platform. Some would say Final Fantasy VII was a key aspect to helping Sony?s fledgling PlayStation become the gaming juggernaut we have come to know. As the years passed gamers still yearn to revisit that world and SquareSoft and later Square Enix would oblige with side stories like Dirge of Cerberus or Crisis Core, however fan thirsts would not cease.
As gaming headed into the HD era, Square Enix stoked the fires of a remake by producing a tech demo which replicated the game?s intro. Finally at E3 2015, the company gave the fans what they wanted by announcing a remake for the title. Details of development would be scarce and fans began to worry, but glimmers of hope would appear periodically. Eventually a release date was announced, however every step forward has it?s step back as the Square Enix would delay the title months before the first reported date.
On the eve of the remake?s original release date (3/3/2020), players worldwide were finally able to get their hands on the 1st chapter of the game, in demo form. This was a boon to those who did not attend E3 2019 or waited on long lines at the recently passed PAX East 2020. Finally a small slice to confirm if the wait was worth it. Upon starting the demo the player is offered a variety of options such as camera controls and difficulty. The difficulty options were as follows: “Classic”, Easy and Normal. Normal would mean you have full control of the experience, Easy would mean enemies would take more damage and deal less damage. “Classic” mode would be a weird compromise for players who felt the shift from turn based combat to the more action based combat of Final Fantasy XV. The game would manage to action combat and in theory the player would manage menu commands (it should be noted players can take control of action combat if they feel the AI?s performance was underwhelming). Another oddity about “Classic” mode is the difficulty of the battles was the same as Easy.
Once these choices were made we are treated to a gorgeously rendered intro, we are introduced to an unnamed flower girl dress in vibrant hues in a world which looks dreary and drab. The camera eventually pans out to show the city of Midgar and we see it is a bustling city with cars crisscrossing it?s highways. The action then focuses on Mako Reactor 01, where the Eco Terrorist group Avalanche is staging a daring plan to take down the generator in hopes of buying time for a dying planet. The group is joined by a mercenary…our large sword wielding Ex-Soldier, Cloud. Once we gain control, Cloud is able to run around…you can knock over traffic cones, swing your mighty sword (although there is a slight cognitive dissonance as the mighty sword can at best toss the cones around). Run forward and two ShinRa security officers spot Cloud and the leader of the Avalanche group. Rather than the familiar swirl into a battle sequence, everything happens in real time. Run circles around your foes, or finish them with no mercy, there are no menus unless you decide to use a stock of your ATB (Active Time Battle) bar. While the ATB bar in the original let you take one action, in this remake the ATB is a two section bar that starts to fill at the beginning of a skirmish.
As soon as it reaches the halfway point, the player can then hit the X button to open a menu that allows players to perform certain actions such as use abilities, spells or items. Enemy HP always appears when they are being targeted or attacked, what is new for the remake is a second bar beneath enemy HP bars. The pressured bar gets filled as the enemy takes damage. Depending on the enemy, some attacks will increase the rate at which the bar is filled. Once filled the enemy will enter a staggered state, where they are unable to move and you can really start wailing on them. Battles also end without the menus we?re accustomed to, however attentive players will hear the victory theme hummed by one of the characters as an Easter egg.
As the group makes its way into the facility, the game officially introduces character modes. Cloud?s mode chances his stance which increases damage, but causes him to move slower and have less defense against non-melee attacks. Barret?s mode is a volley of strong shots which has a cooldown time. This cooldown time can be reduced by hitting the triangle button repeatedly.
At the core of the reactor, the duo encounter Scorpion Guardian FKA Guard Scorpion. Along with its new name, the robotic arachnid boss? encounter is a lot more dynamic. It will bound and walk along walls, generate shields and even grab your character if you get too close to deal massive damage. However the more things change the more stay the same as it is mech is vulnerable to lightning magic. Since this is a lengthy battle, your limit break gauge will completely fill and you can use it to deal additional damage to the boss using Cloud?s Cross Slash or Barret?s Charge Shot. Once mech has been dealt and the group has escaped the reactor, we are treated to an exterior shot of the destruction of the reactor as lights are extinguished now that Sector 1?s reactor had been successfully destroyed. Once the safety of the Avalanche crew and the ex-soldier is confirmed we are treated to a short montage of things to come and the final screen of the demo offers the player a quick and easy means of buying the title on the PS Store.
While it features familiar characters and story beats, the remake changes things up with the way the game is played. The action oriented combat offers players a more hands on approach to gameplay. The pressured/stagger system gives players an opportunity to be strategic with their attacks. Character modes add a new layer to combat and I?m fascinated to see what modes the other cast members will have. Visually the in game character models look like they would only exist in cutscenes in past generations. There?s a lot less reading and a lot more listening as a majority of the conversations are voiced. The voice acting actually helps endear me to characters which were originally bit characters (I certainly hope Jessie gets more screen time). The chatter is also very noticeable during the boss battles as the historically quiet Cloud actually bantered with Barret. All and all the presentation is top notch and well worth the wait.
The wait is almost over and we will soon get our collective hands on the first part of a multipart remake. One can only hope that the subsequent parts will not take as long as this inaugural segment. Prospective owners of the title should make an effort to download the demo as a PlayStation 4 theme will be gifted to people who have downloaded and played the demo.