Final Fantasy VII Remake – First Impressions

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The Final Fantasy VII Remake demo is officially out!

Whether you’re a veteran fan of the entry, a gamer who never quite beat the original release, or someone who’s heard of the beloved game, but never experienced it for yourself, you can play through the first chapter of the game now on the PS4.

Read on for my take on the game’s demo, some tips and tricks, and even learn about a promotional theme!

Reservations on Posting

Ok, let’s clear the air with some confessions.

(Note: This section does not directly address the game’s demo. If you just want to jump ahead to the demo commentary, you can skip to the Demo Impressions and Gameplay sections.)

I enjoy playing the Final Fantasy series. The series is chock-full of memorable characters, fantastical creatures, and iconic musical themes.

Square Enix has developed and published some of my all-time favorite games, like The World Ends With You, Dissidia 012, FF VII: Crisis Core, and the Kingdom Hearts series, (especially Birth by Sleep, and yes, 358/2 Days).

So me writing about Final Fantasy 7’s Remake should be a no-brainer, right?

Well, not exactly…

Even with me having played the original Final Fantasy VII game, despite never beating it, I never intended to write about the game’s official remake.

And truthfully, that was the plan. I write on the Nintendo Switch. I enjoy my Switch most of all of the current-gen consoles, and the Switch is by far the easiest console for me to write about. Talking about a PS4 exclusive just didn’t vibe well in that, especially when I don’t have a PS4.

But Final Fantasy 7 isn’t just some game. It has meaning to a lot of people.

One of these people, Choebro of Ready, Set, Gemu! also happens to be a blogging buddy of mine.

After reading his post, and hearing two other people personally talk about the game, I decided to give the demo a try.

Switch game or not, they’ve reminded me of the impact this game has on others firsthand. Out of respect for that, that’s why I write this post.

But enough exposition! Let’s dig in to some first impressions!

Pre-Release Impressions

When I first heard about the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, I was skeptical. Skeptical, and a bit bitter. A remake was being developed for a game with a completed story-arc, while the Kingdom Hearts series was yet unfinished. But I digress…

I first heard about the Final Fantasy VII Remake from my sister, years ago. Apparently, 2015-2016. She was incredibly enthused about the game, and couldn’t believe that the game she grew up with in the past would be built from the ground-up in the more modern graphics of today.

But personally, I hadn’t heard anything about the game myself, only fleeting whispers about it.

Even when I saw screenshots from the game in article images, I quickly dismissed them as being clickbait-y photoshopped rumor mills.

“I’ll believe it when I see it.” I thought.

And when I finally saw it, I still didn’t believe it.

Warning: if you’re looking at the remake for the first time ever yourself, the visuals are simply staggering! (Pun slightly intended.)

It could have been the inner cynic in me, the lack of a release date, or the fact that Square Enix was working on a number of projects for the longest while, like Kingdom Hearts 3 or Final Fantasy XV — both announced far too early — but even with the official trailer, I just didn’t believe it.

“What? Why now? Square Enix already has too much in the works as-is. Besides, the game does look interesting, but even if it released, what good would it be for us? We don’t even have a PS4! And why is it a remake instead of a remaster, anyways??”

It took years of time, and occasional mentions about the game for me to canonize it as being real.

And seeing the remake, compared to the original game? I don’t think there’s ever been a more drastic difference between an original release of a game and its remaster.

Check out this fan-made comparison video below to see just what I mean.

It’s crazy to see just how much the game has changed in over 20 years, right?

Now, after years of letting it stew, I’m used to the visual difference. But looking back, I honestly couldn’t believe the amount of detail that went into the remake when I first saw it. The difference is as clear as night and day.

Seriously, if I had to use one word to describe how the characters looked in the original game’s overworld, the word would be… “lumpy”. At the time, the graphics were great! But now? Lumpy.

The backgrounds in the original game? My best one-word descriptor would be “flat”. My single-word response now? Realistic.

And the visuals weren’t the only change between the two releases. If the trailer was anything to go by, the remake wouldn’t be using a turn-based system like the original release, but instead use a real-time active battle system. The kind used in most of the Kingdom Hearts series, and especially so in Final Fantasy XV.

Now, fast forward to today, where after 5 years since the trailer released, the demo is free for all to play.

Hands-On Demo Impressions

Having played the original Final Fantasy 7 up to a point, I knew what I was getting into with the Remake demo. The biggest concern was waiting for the 7.56 gigs to download.

Once it finished, I was treated to a beautiful rendering of Cloud looking up to a Mako Reactor, and a heavily orchestrated rendition of the game’s prelude.

For the demo, I’ll be covering the demo’s difficulty, the visual changes, and even the gameplay.

Setup and Difficulty

A difficulty select screen from the game's demo. Players can choose from Easy, Classic and Normal.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

Before the demo starts off, players will be given a choice of what camera controls they want, followed by a choice of three different difficulty levels:

    • Normal:

The default difficulty of the demo, and also the hardest. For players who want challenging battles to go with the story.

    • Easy:

A difficulty in which the core experience is the same as Normal, but your characters take less damage, and,

    • Classic:

A difficulty in which your currently controlled character automatically attacks and defends, allowing you to focus on using your command deck as needed. Fights are equivalent to Easy, difficulty-wise.

Should you use classic mode, you will still have to navigate manually outside of battle, but can also resume control of your character when in a battle.

I’ve played a little bit of all the difficulties, and it all really boils down to how familiar you are with gaming and the Final Fantasy series.

If you know about magical resistances, staggering enemies, and have played other role-playing games, Normal is for you. If these topics sound familiar, but you aren’t entirely knowledgeable about them, you might want to stick to Easy. If everything I just said is Greek to you, then I’d suggest playing on Classic, and learn more about the nuances of the game’s combat that way.

I played on Normal the most for the demo, and the hardest part of it by far is the boss.

A heavy attack knocks out each of the security officers in a single hit, while the rest of the enemies can be dispatched relatively quickly with proper evading and magic.

But the boss? I nearly lost the demo fighting the boss the first time around. If you’ve yet to play the demo, just be prepared for a longer fight with a difficulty spike to match.

Visual Distinctions

Aside from the difficulty settings, the other aspect of the FFVII Remake I feel needs to be addressed are the visuals.

The game’s graphics are the most apparent change between its two releases, and honestly, everything about the game looks great. The characters look fantastic, the combat looks flashy, and Midgar looks both livelier and realistic.

Most of which can be seen from the game’s introduction cutscene.

Aerith picking up flowers in a bustling area of Midgar.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

While the opening cutscene isn’t 100% identical to the original release, the authenticity of the scene is all the same; it keeps the spirit of the original story, while adding in a few extras to give the game a more cinematic feel.

Chances are high returning players won’t notice anything different off-hand, and the smaller changes enhance the experience dramatically.

Another welcome change is that all of the characters are all fully-modeled and fully-voiced now, too, giving each character realistic appearances, and a better look into their personalities, while fleshing them out all the same.

Barret beams with delight as Cloud sets a bomb.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

And, because of the fully remodeled nature of the game, it’s more clear than ever to understand what’s happening, where you need to go, and who’s speaking in a particular moment in-game. Those were my biggest gripes with the original release, and with them addressed, It makes the game that much more enjoyable!

The demo's boss charges up for a last-ditch attack against Barret and Cloud.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

The only one gripe I have with the demo, is that the difficulty dramatically spikes when fighting the boss of the chapter. Part of that is due to the ATB gauge, which I’ll cover in the Gameplay section below.

Gameplay

Security Officers have a stand-off with Cloud.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

Alright, now to the nitty-gritty part of the game, the gameplay. In the demo, you’ll play from the start of the game, up to the end of the first chapter.

Unlike the original release, the game uses a real-time battle system instead of a turn-based system, so you’ll actively have to attack with attack buttons, instead of waiting for your turn and selecting a command to end your turn.

Sparks fly with every hit from Cloud's legendary Buster Sword.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

This naturally means, in the words of fellow blogger Choebro, that the game will be fast paced and action-packed.

If you’re familiar with games like the Kingdom Hearts series, or Final Fantasy XV, you’ll feel right at home. The combat is fairly similar to both, but with a few changes.

The standard controls are universal; every character has a regular attack button (Square), that performs light attacks when pressed, and a heavy or sustained attack when held. Dodging attacks is done with the Circle button, blocking is done with R1, while pressing (X) pulls up the Command Menu.

Unique Abilities

All of the above is largely standard fare for a Square Enix game, but the Remake introduces an exciting change with “unique abilities.”

An in-game tutorial pop-up explaining Unique Abilities.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

(Unique Abilities, despite the name, should not be confused with regular abilities, which require ATB gauges and can buff/debuff targets.)

Each character has a unique ability that only they can perform, and the Triangle button is dedicated solely to this purpose.

Cloud hitting three enemies simultaneously in Punisher Mode; his unique ability.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

Cloud’s unique ability, for example, allows him to switch from his default “Operator Mode,” into a more offensive-based “Punisher Mode.”

While in Punisher Mode, Cloud loses a lot of his mobility, but makes up for it with wide, powerful, and rapid slashes. He also counters any melee attacks while blocking. An easy favorite!

Barret defeating a Sentry Ray with his unique ability: Overcharge.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

Barrett, on the other hand, has “Overcharge,” which allows him to unleash a powerful flurry of shots, but the move needs to charge between uses.

Overcharge is a fairly powerful move, capable of one-shotting most enemies in the demo. And because it doesn’t require any ATB charges to use, it tends to be a reliable choice!

Every character will have a unique ability, so be on the lookout for where and when the best times to use them are!

The Curse of the ATB Gauge

Another change, though less enjoyable to me, is the implementation of the ATB gauge.

The ATB gauge isn’t exactly new; it’s something of a series staple. It’s existed in both turn-based and active time battle formats throughout the series, and overall keeps the games fairly balanced.

But in the remake’s demo, it’s a bit excessive and suffocating. Let me explain.

With the current battle system, all of your regular attacks are free to use, but all of your command menu actions require ATB charges to use. However, the command menu isn’t home to just powerful abilities, like Cloud’s Braver or Focused Thrust, but also magic and items,, too.

So, you’ll have to build an ATB gauge to do something as practical as healing with a potion, reviving a KO’d party member, or even just restoring MP with an Ether.

Cloud unable to use magic, due to not having an ATB charge.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

And don’t forget, Magic still costs MP, too! So you’ll still have to manage your MP while building up the ATB gauge required to cast! Talk about a double-whammy!

As for how to get ATB charges? You’ll have to land attacks, wait for it charge over time, or block incoming damage. None of which is ideal in a pinch.

Now, before anyone gets their pitchforks out, the game does mention this up front, albeit vaguely, but it’s hard to truly feel the impact of it until you reach the demo’s boss.

Nearly every enemy up until the boss battle is easy to take out. Security guards can be one or two-shotted with heavy attacks from Cloud, while just about everything else goes down in a matter of seconds.

Chances are you won’t need to use any ATB or MP for most fights, so you won’t notice anything. But during the boss fight, expect a lot of difficulty and confusion.

When your character is low on health, unless they, or a different party member has an ATB charge, you won’t be able to heal, at all. And if nobody in your party has an ATB charge, you’ll have to play incredibly risky, or hope that you have enough health to block and reduce the damage from an enemy’s attack.

Cloud falling unconscious, triggering a game over.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

If you weren’t prepared to have to use ATB to heal or do magic, you’ll be in for a rude awakening.

Tips and Tricks

Tip #1: Use your ATB or lose it!

With your ATB gauge charges, you’re very much in a use it or lose it situation; what you don’t use in battle isn’t stored for the next one, but gone entirely.

Since that’s the hand you’re dealt, why not play your cards while you can?

There’s a bit of overlap here with our next tip, but why not experiment in your battles? See what your abilities do, how effective your magic is, etc…

And don’t forget to issue commands to your party members, too!

Tip #2: Use Abilities when fighting tough enemies!

If you’re just starting out on the Remake, you might be content on using your regular attacks, unique abilities, and magic only, but you’d be missing out on abilities, too!

Abilities are powerful techniques that can give you the edge in battle the other commands can’t.

For example, while playing with Cloud, be sure to use Braver to deal massive non-elemental damage, especially on staggered enemies.

With Barret, be sure to use the Steelskin ability to reduce damage and keep Barret in fighting form.

Likewise, onto tip #3…

Tip #3: Use “Focused” Abilities to build the Stagger Bar!

If you’re familiar with Final Fantasy games, you’ll know that staggering an enemy is often the best way to pile on the damage. If you aren’t, well now you know!

While the specific method of staggering enemies varies depending on your foes, the FF7 Remake streamlines things a bit more with “Focused” Abilities.

From the looks of it, since Cloud has Focused Thrust, and Barret has Focused Shot, it appears each playable character will have a “focused” ability, designed to fill the enemy’s stagger bars.

The effects are greater if you can make an enemy pressured, but pressured or not, make sure to give these abilities a try on the more stubborn enemies you’ll encounter.

Tip #4: Restore your HP and MP between battles!

This tip can make your battling experience dramatically better.

The game doesn’t say so verbatim, but you can use your items outside of battle, without worrying about ATB costs.

Crates likewise can restore your MP, and even contain potions, too. Which leads up to tip #5…

Tip #5: Bust crates, and look for treasure chests!

Throughout the demo (and beyond), you’ll find Shinra crates and treasure chests. Both of which can be valuable aides on your journey.

Shinra crates can be destroyed, and often contain potions and Mako Shards, the ladder of which restore your MP.

And treasure chests always hold a variety of items, and should be searched for often.

You never know when the items from these could come in handy! Who knows, you may even find a rare moogle coin, too!

Tip #6: In a hurry? Hold Triangle to skip a cutscene!

I’m not the biggest advocate for skipping game cutscenes, but if you’ve seen a particular scene more than you’d like, you can always hold Triangle to skip it!

Tip #7: Remember to block!

Blocking has to easily be one of the most under-used mechanics in any game, and the Final Fantasy VII Remake is no different.

Sometimes, there will be enemy attacks that just aren’t avoidable, no matter how hard you try. While blocking doesn’t negate the damage from these attacks entirely, it can make a difference in preserving your HP in the long run.

The best offense is a good defense, right?

Tip #8: Observe Enemy Attack Patterns!

An advanced tip, for sure, wizened players know that every enemy follows a certain pattern of attacks.

While you don’t have to commit these patterns to memory, it helps immensely to know when you should go all out on attacks, and when you need to take on a defensive position.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit harder to focus on learning these attack patterns in the Remake’s live action battling, but if you can pull it off, you’ll be giving yourself an immense advantage throughout the game.

Memorizing how often, and when enemy commands appear over their heads is key to understanding these attack patterns.

Tip #9: Scan your enemies with the touchpad! [Full Game]

The demo definitely doesn’t mention this, but if you’re a fan of scanning enemies as I am, the Remake does have this option, too!

By pressing the touchpad on the PS4 controller, you can see detailed information about your enemies. This includes weaknesses and resistances, health, and even a brief description of the enemy being scanned.

While you can do this on the demo, I didn’t ever see any of the information for scanned enemies update. So you’ll either need more battles against that enemy, a separate item, like a librascope, or something similar to fill in the blanks.

Unfortunately, I found none of this in the demo, so scanning looks like a feature that won’t be practical until you purchase the full game.

Tip #10: Prepare for the multi-disc nostalgia!

One of the things that makes the Final Fantasy series stand out most, in my opinion, isn’t the wonderfully fantastical chocobos or moogles, or the over-the-top summons, but the fact that the series often had multiple discs you’d need to switch to.

Most recently, Final Fantasy XIII on the Xbox 360 comes to mind, requiring 3 discs to play the entire game.

Likewise, the Final Fantasy VII Remake will require multiple discs for play, too. But not for nostalgia’s sake.

From the bottom of Square Enix’s Remake Demo email:

“The story of this first game in the FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE project covers up to the main party’s escape from Midgar. This first game goes deeper into the events occurring in Midgar than the original FINAL FANTASY VII did, and is a standalone game which comes on two Blu-ray Discs.”

I’m not too sure how this will work with the “always-install” nature of the current gen systems. And I don’t know whether or not the PS4 will truly require the second disc, or use it as an “installation-only” disc, either. But the fact remains, there will be two discs for the game.

Tip #11: (United States Only?) Download the Demo before May 11th, get a free theme!

This is less of a tip, and more of an incentive.

Apparently, if you download the demo before May 11, 2020, you’ll be able to download an exclusive theme starting on April 10th, 2020.

From the U.S. Playstation store:

“An exclusive theme will be available to download from 04/10/2020 if you download the demo before 05/11/2020.”

Non-U.S. visitors, I don’t know if this promotion exists in your region. You would have to scroll down to the bottom of your local PlayStation store’s Final Fantasy VII page and read for more details.

Update: this offer seems to have been available internationally, and the specific theme seems to be this Final Fantasy VII Remake themeFinal Fantasy VII Remake theme. (Australian PS Store). It may be pulled otherwise in other countries and PS Stores.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the demo looked absolutely fantastic. It was pretty fun to play, the story was far more engaging this time around, and for the first time ever, I felt I could really get a feel for Midgar and the rest of the game’s locales.

The game absolutely oozes with nostalgia, and a lot of it is faithfully recreated with love. Remember that easter egg in the beginning of the original release, where Cloud immediately levels up to 7 when he beats the first two security officers? That’s here, too.

Cloud Levelling up to Level 7 from the first fight; an easter egg from the original release.
©1997, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO LTD. All Rights Reserved. CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA / ROBERTO FERRARI LOGO ILLUSTRATION: ©1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

The Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a project of passion, and it shows.

2 thoughts on “Final Fantasy VII Remake – First Impressions”

  1. Great post. I appreciate your thorough review of the demo. I look forward to hearing more, as this game was very important to me as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult.

    Reply
    • Hey, Cameron! Thanks for reading the post! I really appreciate you stopping by, and I’m glad to hear the game has meaning to you!

      That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Re-imagining a classic game that’s touched so many hearts. Games can and do have a memorable impact on our lives, and that’s something I want to explore more on my site.

      The demo was great! I just wish it was a little bit longer, but it’s impressed me and my family. It looks like a title we’ll be getting at launch!

      And for those of you reading the comments, Cameron is a great guy, with a similar work ethic to mine! His blog, A Thousand Mountains, is a great resource for those tackling Anxiety and Depression, and this post of his has been very helpful in helping me blog. I am proud to call him a fellow blogger and a friend.

      Reply

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