When the Final Fantasy VII Remake was first announced during E3 2016, I lost my tiny mind. A gorgeous, modern, and completely from the ground up remake of one of the greatest RPGs of all time – not to mention one of my personal favourites – was a dream come true.
But then the project went dark for years, and doubt began to settle in, as it so often does. Would the game being split up into various parts work? Was the combat a little too generic looking? Had Square diluted the essence of a classic in favour of a dull action game?
In the absence of any official information, these were the questions that plagued me. Then E3 2019 rolled around, and we got a fairly substantial look at gameplay, along with the confirmation that this first game in the Remake series would be a full-sized standalone title that greatly expands the original RPG’s Midgar chapter. I was interested, but cautious.
I was then invited to an off-hands demo for press that showed off even more, and I started to let myself believe that Final Fantasy VII Remake could actually be… good.
But hands-off demos are a tricky beast. You can’t really judge a game until you’ve gotten your own dirty mitts on it to see how it plays for yourself. Fortunately, I got to go hands-on with Final Fantasy VII Remake on my final day at E3, and I can confirm that it is absolutely fantastic. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s my personal game of E3 2019.
My 20 minute demo will be a familiar scene to anyone who played the original game. It starts just as Cloud and Barret are about to head down to the Shinra Mako reactor core, plant their bomb in the name of Avalanche and all that is good, and get the hell of there for drinks with Tifa and a bit of light brooding.
The game looks stunning. I don’t need to tell you this. You’ve seen it. It’s a Final Fantasy game. As I descended deeper into the grimy, steampunk interior of the Mako reactor, it just felt right.
It sounds silly, but Remake looks exactly how the original game looked to me when I was a wide-eyed nine year old. A number of the original team returned to work on the Remake, and it really shows in the detail that’s gone into recreating Midgar.
If the game is a treat for the eyes though, it’s an absolute feast for the ears. Final Fantasy VII had some incredible pieces of music back in the day, and they’ve all been recreated with a similar level of passion. Hearing an orchestral take on the battle theme as I sliced through enemies with Cloud’s Buster Sword was a joy.
Final Fantasy VII Remake might look and sound utterly glorious, but none of that means a damn if it plays like crap, of course. As I’m sure you’ve already worked out from the general vibe of this piece, it does not play like crap. It is very much anti-crap.
Any fears I had about Square turning my beloved Final Fantasy VII into a generic hack n’ slash died the minute I picked up the controller. The team has managed to blend the Action Turn Based (ATB) system of the original RPG with a more dynamic, action-oriented focus in a way that made me want to cheer out loud.
Cloud and Barret can attack, dodge, block, and sprint around the battle field just like you would in any action game, but this is simply a means to and end to fill up your ATB meter, which will usually reach its limit after a few well-placed strikes.
Once full, you can hit X to slow time to a complete crawl and enter a tactical menu that resembles the Final Fantasy VII we all know and love. From here, you can use items, target specific enemies or weak spots, cast spells, and use special attacks such as Cloud’s Braver strike.
The result is an immensely satisfying blend of old and new that, by all accounts, really shouldn’t work. The fact that it does work – and works damn well – is completely ridiculous in the best way.
As I took on the robotic guard scorpion boss, switching between Barrett and Cloud at the press of a button, combining a barrage of bullets and swift sword strikes before slowing down time to follow up with devastating lightning attacks and heavy hits from Cloud’s extra AF sword, it occurred to me that I was playing something genuinely special.
I still have my fears about whether or not segmenting the story into separate games can work, but for right now, I’m just thrilled that a remake of one of my favourite games somehow has managed to still feel like the game I remember, while doing some exciting new things.
In that respect, it’s probably actually a lot like the Resident Evil 2 Remake, which took the essence of the 1998 original and did away with the dated mechanics that didn’t really have a place in a modern game.
Final Fantasy VII purists need not be concerned. I think Square Enix is onto a real winner here, and I can’t wait to play more. God help me, I’m right back on the hype train I was riding nearly four years ago, but it feels great.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.