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Once More, With Feeling – Final Fantasy VII Remake – Coming Attractions

“So, our objective here is nothing less than creating a new, definitive, benchmark RPG.”

Since its initial release in the pre-centennial year of 1997, Final Fanatics have been clamouring for more content relating to the world of VII. And, to their hope, they were met with some. Crisis Core told us a story from the past, and Advent Children wove one from the future; yet, the initial story continued to draw passion. So much so that one brief glimpse, a tech demo in the era of the PS3, sparked a rallying cry that crystallised into one word: Remake. Now, what does this mean for people who care not for my faux-losophical ramblings? People want them some Final Fantasy VII. They want it shiny and chrome, pushing their consoles to the limit, reminding them of all those fond experiences they once had as children. Now, I say “they” because I am one of those who slipped between the cracks, who never played the original VII; so, consider my opinions as nostalgic-by-contact, a testament to how ever-present this title is in the world of gaming. If even one who has never played this particular title is excited by the potential of a remake, I can only imagine the fervour in those who first joined Cloud 23 years ago. Such fervour is also clearly present in the hearts of the creators, as may be made apparent by the italicised quotes of FFVIIR Producer Yoshinori Kitase (translated by Gavin Poffley), to whom I was lucky enough to speak. And now, without further ado, let’s chat about some Final Fantasy VII Remake.

“We’re going that much deeper into the world of Final Fantasy VII this time, drilling down into the characters and the setting, and showing even more of them than you’ve ever seen before.”

Now (for everyone who skipped my nonsense to get right to the good stuff, and the few who did not), I was lucky enough to sit down and actually play a fair amount of Final Fantasy VII Remake. From the beautiful opening cinematic, through the initial chapter of the title (and a little beyond), it’s plain to see that this is a sight to behold. A marriage of the implications of its original and the graphics we have come to expect from the Final Fantasy franchise. I mean no disrespect to the original game, we all knew exactly what was happening and felt the weight of dramatic moments, but…you can see the imperfections in Cloud’s leather suspenders. I mean, that’s pretty darn impressive. I know you all probably want to hear about the game itself, but let’s just take a moment to appreciate the finer details that we will become accustomed to in the midst of explosions, plot developments, and swords bigger than any sword has the right to be. The character models look great, simple as that. Surprisingly, however, this was most noticeable to me with the appearance of one or two antagonistic presences. Let’s face it, we all know what Cloud looks like; however, as great as he looks in Remake, how many of you have pondered a current-gen design of Heidegger? It may sound silly, but seeing more than the core party realised in this new style immediately added a sense of completeness to the experience. Because, while Cloud has branched out beyond his initial outing, joining the ranks of Dissidia and even Kingdom Hearts, characters such as Heidegger are inherently VII alone. It just…it just really cemented that this remake is happening.

“This game has the same volume of content, volume of gameplay as any other numbered Final Fantasy.”

Oh, can I also highlight the fact that technology now lets the character model’s mouths sync with the dubbed dialogue? Because it does. And it’s awesome. Now, the fact that anything other than the original Japanese dialogue never fully meshed with pre-rendered cutscenes never personally bothered me that much; but, I know that this development will lift a hefty weight off some player’s shoulders. Now we can all just enjoy the cinematics together, without having to actively ignore a technological limitation. So, before any of us can acclimate and come to take this facet of gaming for granted, I want us all to give a respectful nod to those who spent their time working on this process; much in the way a stoic RPG ally will finally show a hint of emotion after a long, perilous journey. I guess the real treasure was the decisions that were made before we even knew anyone was making them…that and, like, friendship.

“What I really wanted to show…was the actual, everyday lives of the people of Midgar.”

Speaking of new developments, the combat system in Remake has received quite the hefty overhaul. For comparison made simple (to those who have played later Final Fantasy instalments), fighting takes a page out of XV’s book and allows players to actively control their character. Utilising simple attacks (i.e. slashing and punching), players are able to fill up a gauge that grants access to more powerful, pre-realised strikes; such as Cloud’s Braver. Though not overly complicated on paper, constant influxes of enemies and allies make alternating between these options a bit of a balancing game. It’s like, I get it, Barret, you’re being smacked around by a Scorpion Sentinel; let me activate Punisher Mode. Oh, Punisher Mode is this thing where Cloud gets real hit-y with his big sword; and don’t even get me started on managing Potions. Still, even with the chaos of keeping our heroes alive, this game is fun. Sure, combat is never not tense, but said tension never crosses the line into frustration; at least, it never did when I played, and I’m discernibly mediocre at playing games. Heck, I even survived the fight with Abzu…

“We felt that rather than taking [Cloud’s cross-dressing] to an extreme, over emphasised, over-the-top kind of portrayal – that we maybe had in the original – we make it more natural; and, if we’re showing it in an earnest and natural way, then people would accept that…that was a thing that we took a lot of care with.”

…Abzu, oh how do I explain thee? Well, much further into the game than I thought I would be able to see, we meet a friendly fellow whose name I may or may not have just mentioned. It is a big monster and it likes to smack you all around its sewer home. Even with a party of three, Abzu puts up a fight to remember. Though elemental advantages play a part in the game up to this point (with lightning magic called out specifically as a weakness of the Scorpion Sentinel), the clash with Abzu really shows this off. More than simply increased damage, utilising fire magic forces the creature to dive into the charming sewer waters in an attempt to stifle its immolation. It’s pretty cool…in a macabre sort of way. I mean, we all know elemental type charts, but it’s so much more visceral to see an impact beyond increased damage. I’d almost feel bad for the creature, you know, if he hadn’t run into Tifa with the force of a locomotive. Still, the power of the elements definitely stood out more in this fight, though the two preceding boss fights had particulars all their own…which I shall now discuss.

“The way that the characters are realised, and so well designed and well written, fleshed out – I think might be one important part of why VII is so perennial.”

I’ve mentioned it twice thus far, but let us now speak of the Scorpion Sentinel; first boss and introduction to big things that want to hit Cloud in the face. As such, a bevy of weapons erupt before you and force liberal use of the dodge function. Still, there’s nothing too bizarre in this particular outing; though the laser that forces you to find shelter behind battlefield debris is a dramatic touch. Scorpion Sentinel is really there to get you accustomed to fighting a large threat, and does a mighty fine job of it. A later robotic threat, Air Buster, iterates upon this initial combat; alternating between a single body and smaller, separate forms. Even so, the most interesting facet of Air Buster occurs before the fight itself, wherein the march towards said foe opens options to weaken them. Once per room/wave of minions, you are able to remove a component from the Air Buster, who is still being prepped for battle. Though unable to completely deplete the robot of its armaments, you can choose to: limit its reaction time, lower its count of powerful ammunition, and mess with its targeting capabilities. Player choice factors in rather heavily as, rather than slightly impact each aspect of the fight, you can instead opt to go all in on hampering one function of the Air Buster. Don’t want it dropping Big Bomber shells? Take away as many as you can. Feel like fighting a slower robot? Dump that AI programming in the bin. You are also able to recover any components you remove, netting yourself some sweet, sweet gil…or a live, military-grade explosive shell. Dealer’s choice.

“That’s actually one other reason why we decided to do the remake at this juncture; there are a lot of people out there, younger gamers who would’ve seen Cloud in other games and other products – for example played as him in Smash Bros., or seen him in Dissidia – and they sort of got to know roughly who Cloud and Sephiroth are…but they’ve never played the original. So, to have a chance for them to experience the original story is another big reason why we wanted to do the remake.”

And I think that’s about it. I mean, there’s way more to talk about, but these are the points that I really wanted to talk about. The fighting is fun and frenetic, the bosses are big and burly, and the graphics are gorgeous and gratifying. Though my comparatively brief glimpse of the game only truly showcased the terse dynamic between Barret and Cloud, the hints of story and brief appearances of Tifa and Aerith present quite a cinematic tale. I know that isn’t groundbreaking news, but seeing the style of Remake and knowing the impact VII had…I just can’t be anything but excited. Like, Cloud wears a flower in his suspenders if he doesn’t rebuke Aerith when she wants to give him one. And that’s adorable.

“I’ve really got great memories attached to [the Sector 5 Reactor door unlock minigame]. In the very first Final Fantasy VII, I did all that – the constructing of that scene, the scripting, and everything for it – myself. For the remake, that was actually all me doing that on my own in Unreal 4; doing the scripting, doing all the programming. So yeah, I’ve got a great attachment to that.”

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