PAX East 2020: Hands On Final Fantasy VII Remake

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Holding the Final Fantasy VII Remake playable demo ticket was surreal. It was the golden ticket to a moment I’ve been waiting for since the game’s reveal at E3 2015. A chance to finally play one of the most anticipated games in the past generation, let alone 2020.

The Legend Returns

The PAX East 2020 demo Square Enix brought to the show lasted a solid 20 minutes. In it, I explored the gameplay and fine details of the build as much as I could. After putting down the controller, I was in awe. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. As a longtime fan of the original Final Fantasy VII, I kept thinking, “They’re doing it. They’re really pulling it off.”

The first note to strike the nostalgia and hype cords was, coincidentally, the music. The new version of the song ‘Make Reactor’ was instantly recognizable, but done with a more haunting feel. Of course, this theme is being played while Cloud and the Avalanche group are on their way to set the bomb to a Mako reactor. The area drew similarities to the original but redone completely to feel more alive and bigger in scale.

Standing close to the flat-screen TV, I noticed the visuals aren’t as polished as one would expect. However, a game’s polish is never done until development has wrapped, so I won’t focus on that aspect.

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Getting into Final Fantasy VII Remake’s Gameplay

Following the linear path, the controls felt responsive and clean. Despite wielding the Buster Sword, Cloud is nimble and quick on his feet. During combat, he’s your go-to for rush-ins and large, sweeping attacks. Barret, on the other hand, has more weight to his mobility. While Barret’s dodge rolls are slow, his ranged attacks are absolutely necessary for faraway enemies or to keep enemies at a distance.

After a quick adjustment to the controls, controlling Cloud and Barret in combat felt as smooth as butter. Switching to each character was a seamless transition that didn’t feel jarring. The transition also gave me a quick second to plan my next move. Whether it was using my ATB gauge to cast a spell or unleash a special move, the gameplay is all about planning your next move, much like the original.

Cloud and Barret aren’t as quiet as you think either. Both characters would converse back and forth pertaining to one another’s actions, making the battles even more immersive. The script and voice work here is on a whole other level of quality, and I’m happy we get to see that in Final Fantasy VII Remake. When Barret threw a sly remark after a mistake, I couldn’t help but think how awesome the small exchange was after Cloud responded. It’s small moments like that that make characters stand out. Instead of repeated one-liners or grunts, we’re getting authentic responses and character-driven dialogue.

Bring in Final Fantasy VII’s Guard Scorpion

Not long after, I’m faced with the Guard Scorpion boss battle. Using the full extent of the regenerating ATB gauge, I active Cloud’s Braver sword slash while commanding Barret to use the thunder spell on the giant mech. Since Cloud low on HP, I switched over to Barret, commanded Cloud to heal himself while activating another one of Barret’s special abilities. Doing a considerable amount of damage increases the boss’ stagger bar. Once that bar’s meter has been filled, the boss is stunned and open for easy damage.

That very sequence of events is what I mean about thinking two steps ahead. Yes, Final Fantasy VII Remake has core action gameplay, but it’s so much more than that. To maximize efficiency in fights, you’ll need to do some quick strategizing to make the most of your situation. Gaining ATB isn’t tough to accumulate either, so those resources will always be there as long as you plan ahead. I didn’t feel overwhelmed at the options either since combat was electric and got the gamer senses going. It also helps that the music is incredible and fuels that adrenaline.

The Guard Scorpion is known for its giant tail laser attack, and FFVII Remake definitely implements that. Noticing the scripted-placed debris, I take behind cover to avoid the supposedly high-damaging attack. As Cloud, I got back into the fray and started wailing on Guard Scorpion. Eventually, Cloud’s limit bar is filled, allowing me to activate his famous Cross Slash move.

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Wrapping Up My Time With The Demo

One thing Final Fantasy VII Remake is absolutely nailing is the battle effects. Hit sparks, flashy animations, impact and weight of the attacks; all of it is heightened to make it feel like you’re actually having some effect on the fight at hand. To end off the boss fight in style, I have Cloud do Braver, which defeats the boss and ends the demo.

If it wasn’t already clear, Final Fantasy VII Remake is shaping up to be something truly special. It’s a miracle that it’s getting made, and it seems impossible that it’s even a real video game. On top of that, it’s a real video game that runs fantastically and is so much fun to play. Embodying all meanings of the word “epic,” Final Fantasy VII Remake may just be the success story fans have been hoping for.

Final Fantasy VII Remake releases on April 10, 2020, but in a surprise announcement the demo is now available to play on PS4. We’d love to hear how your impressions lined up with our own.

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