Being of the “Boomer” generation my video gaming “career” started way before the original PlayStation (PSOne). Needless to say, 1995’s release of the Playstation in America was on my “career path”. Back then I was the father of a 7-year old, 6-year old and 4-year old so gaming time was precious. In fact, I still own my original Playstation. Two games developed for that system left a mark on me today. First, Final Fantasy Tactics released in the States in 1998. And the second, being my first taste of the Final Fantasy mythos, the legendary Final Fantasy VII, my personal favourite of the series, though many Final Fantasy fans will refute this with their own pick.
Fast forward to 2015 where I was elated, and nearly fell out of my chair, when a “Final Fantasy VII Remake” was officially announced at E3 2015. That announcement seems ages ago! It seemed like there were a few hiccups along the way but thankfully the Final Fantasy VII Remake release date is nearly upon us! Square Enix is scheduled to release, what might be the biggest game of the year, next week on April 10th albeit exclusively to Playstation 4 users, for now. We got our hands on the game a bit sooner and we’re excited to talk about our first impressions at this point. Since this is such an important release for gamers this year we’ve taken a multi-part review approach. Here now is our Final Fantasy VII Remake review in progress which discusses what to expect the first many hours after you jump into the game.
After the game’s initial E3 2015 announcement I personally became deflated as we heard more details on the release. I was a bit disappointed in the decision to be more of a refactoring versus being a remaster. Couple that with the decision to be an action RPG versus the turn-based combat I love and I became a bit jaded. I also might be the only Final Fantasy fan who never tried the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo that hit on March 2nd, so I went into this review with no prior “hands-on” experience.
Early Decisions, How Do You Want Your Battles?
The first choice you’ll need to make when you boot up the game is to choose a difficulty setting. To the game’s list of strengths, you can choose your level of battle interaction and even change it during the game. “Classic” is for those looking for less real-time battle micro-management. “Easy” is for those less interested in battle who want to take in the story with less stress. I went, reluctantly, with “Normal” mode and to be frank I’m quite glad I did.
Combat is responsive and fluid. You have buttons to also “guard” and “dodge”. Depending on the character, “guard” actually has some inherent benefits of frequent use. During battles, the camera and point-of-view swing around fluidly. We did not see any FPS issues at all.
“Normal” mode also allows you to control when to use “Active Time Battle” (ATB) moves, which are gauge/bar based. The gauge fills up as you use enough normal attacks.
This difficulty mode also allows you to issue party commands in real-time. It also has a pause button which freezes the action and allows you to select an attack, magic spell, or item to use, e.g. potions. Though I’m not the best action gamer this “pause” option was exactly what I needed to make battles challenging but do-able.
What I’m Learning Something?
Final Fantasy VII Remake does an excellent job of working in a tutorial for the first several hours of the game. When an important concept needs to be communicated the game will pause for you with details, resume at your convenience.
Right from the start, you’re placed in the heat of battle where you’ll primarily use Cloud Strife as your main playable character. As the story progresses your party size will fluctuate. During battles, you can change which party member you control on the fly. This swap can be made typically with one button press, making for very engaging play!
Early on you’re also introduced to side-quests which are presented as reputation quests. While they are varied, many seem to take place in the same “arenas”. The side-quests that have “mini-bosses” are quite challenging enough that you’ll enjoy completing them. These quests are more entertaining than typical “fetch” quests.
Engaging Story Telling
Speaking of story, Final Fantasy VII Remake appears to tell a lot of it. The game does a great job of balancing spoken dialogue with quests and battle sequences. If you’re a gamer who is more about non-stop action then this game is probably not your best choice. If you’re up for the full experience then remain calm.
From what we’ve seen so far, you’ll be treated to some beautiful animations and graphics. Graphics are detailed enough that you’ll notice freckles on Cloud’s face. The animations and facial expressions are engaging. You’ll find yourself frequently pausing to enjoy the background scenery.
Non-player characters in town are about going about their business. You’ll see and hear their conversations as you walk or run by. They’ll also later respond to your good deeds by changing up their background dialogue. A lot of times you’ll also “bump” into people. All of this attention to detail adds to the experience.
There are spots in the environments where auto actions are performed for you like crouching, jumping, etc. making it so there are fewer button presses to remember. The environment can be interacted with as well, in a limited sense. You’re encouraged to scout each area as you’ll find loose “materia” (the material used to learn and perform magic spells or apply passive abilities). You’ll also uncover chests that typically give you valuable potions, “Moogle Medals” (new exchange currency) and sometimes equipment. There are also Shinra boxes to destroy that restore health and magic points but also might contain potions, etc.
Bringing Favorites To Life
Voice acting is impeccable and does a wonderful job bringing voices and personalities to these characters that we’ve loved from the original game. The spoken dialogue has just the right touch of occasional humour. Our heroes’ spoken dialogue will also react to battle conditions as well. For example, when one of your party members is low on health that party member will say something like the paraphrase, “oh boy I’m not feeling well here”. Or when you switch your active party member, “I’ve got ya covered”. This random camaraderie really adds a nice touch to the game. You’ll even be given the opportunity to pick some dialogue choices, but we haven’t been able to determine if a choice impacts the story yet.
So Many Things Done Right!
A lot of the things you’d expect from a Final Fantasy game seem to be included here. You can upgrade your weapons with skill points (SP). As you earn “Gil”, standard in-game currency, you can buy better weapons and equipment. While characters’ weapons seem to change their look we’ve not seen the same in upgraded equipment. Final Fantasy VII Remake will even auto-load your materia for you to new weapons. And there are of course Limit Breaks in combat with spectacular animations. You can also collect “music discs” and load and play them on jukeboxes, like picking your own background soundtrack.
Eventually, you’ll be able to “assess” your opponents to learn their weaknesses and origin. Taking part in “Battle Intel” will allow an NPC to take these learnings and create new materia types for you to buy. “Battle Intel” is gained by completing “mini-achievements” in-game, e.g. perform “x” on “y” enemies.
Game saves are a breeze as well. You can perform a manual save and load whenever you want. The main menu screen even has a “quick save” button on it. You’ll also have your typical map screen but there’s also a cool 3-D version of the map as well!
Minor Complaints Aside
The things we can complain about at this point are few and far between. Environments are not completely destructible in some areas as you’d expect. On the in-battle Items menu, you need to use the gamepad versus being able to use the left stick. And last, is the occasional swearing, mostly S* word and “bastard” which might be a problem for some parents.
Right now Final Fantasy VII Remake has been a joy to play. We’ll continue to delve further into the story and enjoy the dialogue and animations. Come back next week where we’ll finalize our review… but at this point, all signs point to “must play”!