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Final Fantasy VII remake

I played the demo for the Final Fantasy VII remake this weekend. My hopes for it weren't high. Final Fantasy VII is a classic, and any attempt to remake such a game runs the risk of failing to recapture the magic lightning in a bottle that was the original. Final Fantasy VII is a very dated game, and its mechanics and visuals haven't really held up super well (I'm looking at you: motorcycle, snowboarding, and submarine mini games!). Reproducing the original exactly as it was, but with updated visuals and voice acting would certainly be faithful, but replicating those dated mechanics at higher fidelity might not make for the best of modern gaming experiences.

On the other hand, if you change too much of the beloved original, you run the risk of fans complaining that the remake is "too different" from the original and not faithful. It's a tough tightrope to walk.

Don't get me wrong; it isn't impossible for either method to result in a good game that stands up to the original. In fact, we have fairly recent examples of both approaches being successful. The Shadow of the Colossus remake turned out to be very faithful to the original, even though I felt that it lacked some of the original's bleakness. On the other end of the spectrum, Capcom completely re-invented Resident Evil 2, and (despite my misgivings regarding some mechanical changes) that remake turned out well. Of course, neither of those reached the near pitch perfection that was the faithful remake of the original Resident Evil, but that remake is a rare gem.

Though Resident Evil 2 was a good remake,
I did have considerably misgivings about some of the design departures from the original.

And let's face it, Square-Enix's track record with Final Fantasy over the last 10 to 15 years has been rather shaky. The last Final Fantasy game that I actually liked was Final Fantasy XII. The company has been moving away from the strategy-heavy, party-based battles and deep, robust character customization of generations past, in favor of fast-paced spectacle action using a single character. My beef with the newer games isn't that they are real-time. Both Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy X-2 had real-time battle systems, and I enjoyed both of those.

Final Fantsy XIII and XV limited our control to one character.

Rather, I disliked that XIII and XV gave us so little control over the party as a whole. It didn't help that the action was also simple to execute. XIII was criticized as simply requiring the player to "press X to win". XV mostly boiled down to alternating between holding an attack button or holding a defend button. Yeah, there were other commands and nuances to the combat mechanics of both games, but when compared to other action games like Devil May Cry or an actual action-RPG like Dark Souls, I just didn't find the combat in either Final Fantasy game to be very compelling or engaging.

So when I got to the point in the Final Fantasy VII demo in which Barrett joined the party, and I was able to take full control over him, while still being able to pause the game to issue commands to Cloud, I was ecstatic!

It's hard to judge whether the remake of Final Fantasy VII will turn out to be good in the long run. The demo only allowed me to play with 2 party members. It didn't give me access to the leveling mechanic. Materia wasn't present at all. We also only got to play the opening attack on the Mako reactor, which is all just corridors. So we have no idea of when (or if) the game world will open up, or if it will be nothing but linear corridors like the first half of XIII and the second half of XV. Square-Enix appears to be carving some materia out of the game in order to sell it to players in the "deluxe edition", but I have no idea if Square-Enix is going to sleazily add unnecessary grind into the game in an attempt to get us to hand over our credit cards to buy materia in micro-transactions or lootboxes...

Both party members are fully playable and can still issue commands to each other.

... In any case, the demo gave me a very small taste of the final product, and it was a generally good taste.

The FFVII remake is not just "hold button to win battle". I had full control over all party members, and wasn't forced to control only one party member at a time. I could pause the battle to issue commands and make strategic decisions, while still having the actions available limited by the recharge of an ATB meter. It's actually not too far off of either XIII or XV's combat, but the FFVII demo seemed to get more of the nuance right. It was generally easier to tell what was going on in the heat of battle because the characters weren't constantly bouncing around like I remember them doing in XIII and XV. There seemed to be a full list of abilities and spells (instead of only being able to equip 4 abilities and spells, as was the case in XV), and Cloud and Barrett definitely seemed to have had very well-defined (and differing) combat roles.

And the script definitely doesn't seem like it's pulling any punches with the original's anti-corporate, environmentalist themes!

Even during the bombastic boss fight,
I could tell what was going on and felt in-control.

It seems like Square-Enix might have found a happy medium between Final Fantasy XII (the last good one) and Final Fantasy XIII (the first bad one), while also taking lessons from XV (the mediocre one). There's still a lot of unknowns regarding how the full game will turn out. In fact, there isn't even a full game yet, since the game is going to be released episodically (at $60 per episode!), and the first episode will only cover up through the escape from Midgar. That's a full sticker price for not even a quarter of the original game!

So while the demo has me feeling like this remake will be a better game to play than either of the last two main line Final Fantasy games, I'm just not sure if I want to buy the first episode when it releases. I might rather wait until the final episode is released so that I can play through the entire game. And that's assuming that I'll still be interested enough to bother. I mean, it'll probably take 5 years to get all the episodes out, at which point there will be a new generation of consoles, and I might chose to play the PS5 version. Hopefully, Square-Enix makes save files for the PS4 and XBox One versions of episode 1 forward-compatible with shinier PS5 and Series X versions of later episodes.

Bottom line: I may not actually play the game when it releases next month. But if you are interested in it, and want to know my opinion of how the game plays based on the demo: I give it tentative thumbs up. By all means, buy it, play it, and let me know how it is.

The first episode only covers the escape from Midgar, but is still a full $60 release.

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