It's kind of wild to think that the last time I got excited about Final Fantasy VII coming out was when a plucky PS1 fighting game with art by Akira Toriyama (that wasn't called Dragon Ball) called Tobal No. 1 came out in 1996 and it had a demo for the soon to be released Final Fantasy VII. I wasn't old enough to attend E3 back then, so my hype was generated by magazines doling out information in month to month drip feeds. And now 23 years later, on a warm June morning in Los Angeles, my hype was reignited all over again. But this time, I've got a few concerns about the Final Fantasy VII Remake. Read more after the jump.
The short hands-on demo on the E3 show floor gave only the briefest glimpse of what to expect ahead of the March 2020 release date. Taking place late in the early bombing run mission, I join Cloud in the Barret in the middle of their mission deep into the heart of the Mako reactor owned by Shinra Electric Company. There's standard infantry in my way, and combat happens in real time, similar to Final Fantasy XV. A standard combo with Cloud is performed by repeatedly pressing the Square button, but when playing as Barret, holding the Square button down will empty his arm cannon, which is useful for hitting out of range enemies. Circle is used for a tactical roll (though I didn't find it very useful), and R1 is the designated block button, which needs to be used rather liberally, even in the early going.
Pressing the Square button to attack also fills the ATB meter, which previously indicated the time between attacks, it is no reserved for special actions. Pressing the X button puts the game into 'Tactical Mode' which pauses the action and allows players to queue up special attacks, whether it be magic spells, character abilities, or item use. It should be noted that item use can be performed outside of battle for free. While the action is paused in 'Tactical Mode' pressing the L2 or R2 button allows players to switch to other characters to assign commands to them. Or players can press Up or Down on the d-pad to manually switch to a different character and take control of them.
A few short battles in and I'm aware of one potential problem. While it is possible to lock-on to enemies, it's hard to get a full sense of everything involved in a battle, especially with enemies who might be out of range of melee characters. The camera seems to follow a little too close to the character being controlled. A few fights later I find myself at the Scorpion Tank boss that's going to stand between me and blowing up the Mako reactor, and it's a lot more cinematic than I remember.
The boss has a few distinct phases as it takes more and more damage. At the start I needed to be aware of its standard gun and missile attacks, along with an occasional AOE stomping attack. As it took more and more damage the fight began to change, the Scorpion Tank would start to grab a character, making them unable to attack, and required me to switch to the other character to free them with a powerful skill or a continuous attack. If I couldn't free them in time, they'd take massive damage.
The final portion of the fight started to get real hectic. The Scorpion Tank's tail laser started to get used on a regular basis, forcing me to hide Cloud and Barret behind some fallen debris. After a couple of well timed limit break attacks while the boss was in a staggered state (ala Final Fantasy XIII), the boss was defeated and the demo ended. All in all it took about 10 minutes from start to finish.
A couple of thoughts entered my head as I recounted my demo experience. How are they going to do some of the end-game bosses with this new battle system? The Emerald and Ruby weapons were massive beasts. What is running into the Midgardsorm going to be like? How many different motorcycle segments are we going to get? The latest trailer showed one with Cloud clearly carrying the Avalanche member, Jessie, on the back of his bike.
And then there were some more immediate observations. Visually this game is stunning, and looks like it's pushing the PS4 to its limits, so will this episodic adventure carry between console generations? I could very easily see this being re-released on the PS5. How are the different characters going to play? I really enjoyed what I played with the two characters and found them be distinct in their utility, and the combat was enjoyable, but I'm hoping that there will be different camera views to show everything going on in combat. For as short as the demo was, it still showed a lot of promise, and after all these years I'm cautiously optimistic that this wait will be well worth it. Hopefully there will be another demo between now and the game's release to give everyone who couldn't try it on the show floor a chance to enjoy it in their homes.