Final Fantasy VII was a killer title for the PlayStation in 1997 – except I didn’t buy it straight away, or was even vaguely aware of it. I only picked it up when my mum took my brother and me to a car-boot sale one weekend and we saw the title selling for cheap.
I remember her parking in the Tesco nearby to buy food while I remained in the car with my brother in the pouring rain, reading the manual to get a head-start as soon as we got home. Does anyone else remember games coming in cases with a full booklet? Perhaps that’s a little bit of development time saved for something else more significant.
It’s a strange memory to have but I feel it’s an important one I’ve always remembered because we fell in love with Final Fantasy VII almost straight away. I wasn’t used to playing RPGs or Japanese releases, so the turn-based gameplay was alien at first but the plot didn’t fail to draw us in. Joining Cloud on his journey from amnesia, to terrorism, and finally on the way to saving the world had us gripped. When a particular character died, it hit me hard emotionally as I hadn’t experienced such loss in a video game before. That’s because we didn’t play anything with as much depth in the story.
One last point to make on the original was that we didn’t actually finished the title the first time around. In the last moments of freedom before heading for the final area, I spent hours and hours levelling the characters, aiming for the maximum stats possible. This was futile; it would take hundreds of hours to do but that didn’t stop me constantly running around in circles in the forest at Mideel to trigger the random encounters. I did manage to complete it for the first time many years later once I convinced myself to finish it regardless, OCD-levelling be damned.
Fast forward over 20 years to today, when we’ve patiently waited for the promised remake to appear and meet our lofty expectations. No other entry in the Final Fantasy series has come close to VIII except Final Fantasy X as it introduced voiced characters, but still lacked the grit of the PlayStation original. We’ve also moved to a more active combat system instead of the original turn-based experience, which is a welcome change. I do miss the strategy of the older system where planning ahead was crucial but I understand the free-moving combat is much more accessible.
After queuing for two hours at gamescom, we finally got our hands on the remake and played from the middle of the opening sequence up to the Guard Scorpion boss battle. The demo is voiced in Japanese but subtitled in German and we were able to change it to English to understand what was going on. Cloud and Barret were playable throughout with the ability to switch between them in combat but only controlling Cloud out of battle, just like the original. The active combat was very much a button-basher using attack and block buttons until pausing the battle to use the combat menu.
The same options for abilities, magic or items return but with the addition of the action meter from XIV, which builds with basic attacks and spent on the use of abilities. The demo included a tutorial on staggering enemies by building a bar with repeated attacks which, when full, would stun them after landing a magic attack. Once in this state, the enemies take increased damage which is crucial for this boss battle as it would have taken much longer to defeat without it.
Those encountered in the run-up differed by whether they were a close-quarter or ranged attacker. The latter was inaccessible by Cloud and so Barret with his Gatling gun comes into play, with pressing up on the directional pad switches characters. While fighting you can issue commands to the other characters to help the battle flow without the need to switch between them continuously. It will be interesting to see how this works out with more than two, assuming four is the standard as in the original.
Sadly it wasn’t possible to play with the levelling system or Materia in the demo, but I did notice in the video while queueing that you can see the Materia slotted in the weapon in-game which is a nice touch. Some additional details regarding how the system will work in the remake are available online should you want to know more.
What I liked about the demo was finally seeing Cloud and Barret back in action again. Their characters are very detailed in the remake and now voiced, which is what you would expect from a recent release. It felt very much like Final Fantasy XIV in exploring the environment, looting chests and seamlessly battling enemies unlike the original. It’ll be good to hear the English speaking voiceovers which will no doubt add a bit more character than the voiceless protagonists of the late 1990s, especially Barret with his no bullcrap attitude.
I may have been playing the title wrong, but I didn’t quite enjoy the button-mashing basic attacks needed to build the ability and stagger bars. However, I mustn’t let nostalgia get in the way and should remind myself that the original game also included the need to spam the attack command over and over in some situations. Limit Breaks have returned and are as flashy as ever, with a variety of special attacks that are impressive to watch. Overall I was pleased with what I saw but won’t let expectations run too high as the attempt to modernise the gameplay will likely conflict with my memories.
Please leave a comment below if you’ve seen or played the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo and let me know what you thought. I’ve tried to not get too far into the details until I’ve got my hands on the finished version. Look out for my post tomorrow on another game I got my grubby mitts on at gamescom: Borderlands 3.