Final Fantasy 7 Remake hands-on: I’m about to eat my words

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There are not many things I’m confident about in my life. It’s a short list and as the world continues to spiral into further absurdity, it’s only getting shorter. If you were to ask me what these convictions were, I’d say that I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sky is blue, tomatoes are disgusting and the Final Fantasy 7 Remake was never coming out.

Square Enix, the devilish buggers that they are, made me run a big black pen through the back end of that list as they revealed that Final Fantasy 7 was actually coming out next year. And if that wasn’t embarrassing enough for me, they invited me to get a hands-on experience at Gamescom, which I obviously attended. So not only was I wrong about FF7R never coming out, but as it turns out, it’s a damn good time.

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In many ways, the Final Fantasy 7 Remake is the marriage of the past and present. Sitting down for the presentation, it was clear that the developers on the project are fans of their own game. This new version is the perfect unity of the archaic combat systems of previous generations and the more cinematic action associated with modern role-playing games. The menu is present, just like in the original game, but rather than limiting your actions it serves as a way to boost your potential, never stifling your attacks but opening up brand new abilities to combo and juggle enemies.

Opening up the menu mid-fight slows the battle down to a crawl, meaning you can really take the environment in, assign roles to party members and make the best out of whatever situation you’ve found yourself in. It’s a mix of combat system that has no right being as fluid as it is and boy howdy does it look amazing opening up the menu mid-strike to see the sparks sprinkle off an enemy’s armour. It’s both strategic and spectacular in a way that many games often like to think that they are, but never really manage to pull off with so much flair.

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The project is a celebration of the old and new and I think outside of combat that’s mostly evident in the game’s writing. The cutscenes that dotted my time played out exactly as I remembered them, which might sound bizarre if you’ve seen anything on Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Let’s rephrase that, the game doesn’t look how I remembered it, but rather how I imagined it. Characters emote and animate in ways that are almost hard to believe; you recognise Cloud and what he looks like, but seeing him smirk? Frown? It’s outlandish in a way that kinda made my inner child giddy. The Remake is both incredibly fond of its source material but also so interested in expanding on it; no stone has been left untouched as Square Enix clearly wants to evoke the feelings many of us had when we first fired up FF7 all those years ago and to a great extent they’ve seemingly succeeded.

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The developers have said it before but after seeing the entirety of the first chapter, this project isn’t just a remake, it also functions as a Director’s Cut of sorts. The world of Midgar is perhaps the most iconic location ever featured within the Final Fantasy franchise, the twisted vision of steampunk dystopia always felt like it was hiding far more than it was willing to show and for good reason. Looking at a bunch of the concept art shown off, Midgar is sprawling and dense with a level of intricacy that the Playstation 1 just wasn’t able to fully capture. Remake is looking to fill in those gaps, both in terms of the environments and the narrative. No more sharp cuts with forced camera angles, the camera is within your control and you can scan the world to your heart’s content. Nothing is obscured by oddly placed shadows or a view that doesn’t quite look right which goes for the game’s cutscenes too.

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The original FF7 did the best it could with its narrative cutscenes, but they haven’t aged all that well. The blocky, stilted animations could only convey so much and while they’re charming in their own way I think a great deal of the narrative weight has been lost as more and more games have been able to tell stories with better technology. Which was always a shame because Final Fantasy 7 has probably one of the best (and most coherent) stories in the whole franchise that evokes a lot of political messaging and imagery that is still really powerful to this day, if not more so. To see that story, those beloved characters bantering in between dynamic camera shots was…well, it was a little bit magical, honestly.

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We can harp on about the death of originality in today’s media all day long; Lord knows I’m tired of pointless reboots and sequels as much as the next guy (except the MCU. They’ve earned their spot). Yet after playing the Remake project, I was reminded that there’s a reason people still read Shakespeare and Dickens: Some stories are just timeless. Sure, there’s always new stuff but the classics are classic for a reason. They’re important, ground-breaking and innovative in a way that will be remembered for years and years to come. Is the original Final Fantasy 7 Shakespeare? No, I wouldn’t say that. But I would say that it’s one of the most beloved games of all time for a reason – so why shouldn’t we revisit something that holds such a special place in the hearts of many? Why not reimagine that story and make it even better than we all remember? Why not just enjoy something a lot of people have clearly been extremely passionate and soak in a little bit of magic?

Last Updated: August 22, 2019

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