Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s first hour, currently available as a free demo on the PlayStation 4, is almost overwhelming in its embrace of spectacle. From the opening moments, which reproduce the full-motion video intro of the original Final Fantasy VII in lush modern CGI, it’s clear this remake is meant to be massive. You can feel the effort, and the money, that went into every second of this game, even in its unfinished state.
Set to be released next month, Final Fantasy VII Remake is, more or less, the next flagship Final Fantasy title. While it doesn’t have the proper numbering and is clearly a recreation of an older game, it has all the aesthetic and design hallmarks that one has come to expect of modern Final Fantasy. The combat, like in Final Fantasy XV, feels from its first hour like a mix of real-time action combat and slower sections of time for giving orders and tactical moves. As with the original Final Fantasy VII, it features an “Active Time Battle” gauge that fills up over time. In this game, it fills up more quickly as the player performs basic attacks, and can then be spent on more powerful moves and abilities. It feels slick but a little clunky, from the limited time the demo gives you with it, but also, along with games like XV, gives the sense that developer Square Enix is evolving a certain house style for its core RPG titles. Not quite fully action, but not the turn-based combat of old, either. Instead, it’s mildly tactical, mildly snappy, and incredibly flashy. This is modern Final Fantasy: not without substance, but clearly in love with spectacle.
The rest of the game’s aesthetics feel in line with that house style as well—bright blue fonts, crisp visual effects, and clear environmental signposting that uses things like arrows and lights superimposed on the game environment. This feels like Final Fantasy VII filtered, not just through modern sensibilities, but through the modern aesthetics of Final Fantasy itself, a game series that relied upon a sense of contemporary slickness to build a new identity for itself as its place in the vanguard of Japanese role-playing games fell away in the past two console generations.
So, is this the Final Fantasy VII you remember? In a sense, yes. It’s the same story, told similarly to the original, with just a bit of new flair. Cloud Strife is still a brash, obviously troubled mercenary teaming up with Avalanche, a heroic band of eco-terrorists trying to stop the corporation Shinra from literally bleeding the planet dry. And the opening is still a compact, riveting caper as Cloud accompanies Barrett, Avalanche’s leader, on a quest to infiltrate, blow up, and then escape from one of Shinra’s reactors. It’s not a subtle story, and this telling is bursting with fan service, from new efforts at foreshadowing to expanded character interactions and environmental details. Hardcore fans will get a kick out of poring over this version of VII‘s world.
But, maybe as importantly, it’s also a modern, high-production high-energy Final Fantasy product. It’s all smooth edges, with combat that’s fast but maybe a bit dysfunctional underneath. It’s an approach that has made Final Fantasy in its modern form controversial to old JRPG fans, and it’s one that will undoubtedly be divisive in the community around Final Fantasy VII in particular. I’ve only seen the game in action for a while, but it makes me think that the ultimate predictor of how you’ll feel about Final Fantasy VII Remake won’t rely on what you thought of Final Fantasy VII. It’ll rely on what you thought of Final Fantasy XV.
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