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‘Final Fantasy VII Remake’ hands on: Newcomers will feel welcome

When Square Enix first announced that they were remaking Final Fantasy VII nearly 5 years ago, people lost their minds in excitement. It is, after all, the game that many have dreamed of for generations – the 7th main installment in the monumental Japanese role-playing game franchise recreated and reimagined with today’s graphics and technology. 

But I was quite reluctant to jump aboard the hype train just yet as I did not have much of a connection to the original game or the series as a whole. Despite owning a PlayStation back in the day, I never got around to playing the original game. Admittedly, I was probably too young to appreciate what it brought to the table when it first released in 1997. I have not played any of the other main entries in the series since then, which span multiple console generations. 

So, it’s worth noting that when I was asked to play the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo at a recent Tier One and PlayStation event, I went in with completely fresh eyes. Now that that’s out of the way, here’s my take on it:

Putting the ‘action’ in action-RPG

The very first thought that popped into my mind when I played the demo was that Final Fantasy VII got the Resident Evil 2 treatment  – a game rebuilt from the ground up to create a modern experience that maintains a sense of familiarity for fans of the original. 

In the same way last year’s Resident Evil 2 remake trades the clunky tank-like controls of the original for an over-the-shoulder third person view, Final Fantasy VII Remake overhauls the turn-based combat of the original in favor of a more action-oriented system, giving you more freedom with how you could control your selected character.  

Speaking of the game’s characters, main protagonist Cloud and the gun-arm-wielding Barret were the 2 playable characters featured in the demo, and they felt distinct from each other. The former is a melee character, who uses his big sword to slash away at his enemies, while the latter is a ranged character, who keeps his distance and fires his gun from afar. 

Instead of going through menus to issue commands, characters are controlled in real-time, meaning you have to hit buttons to attack, dodge, and block. However, this doesn’t mean you can hack-and-slash your way through the game just by mashing buttons. There’s actually still a bit of strategy involved in combat as the game – in what seems like a callback to the original’s turn-based system – includes a Tactical Mode that lets you pause the action and select your next move.

When in this mode, you can pick a special move to use next, command your ally, use an item, or just take a breather as you try to find an opening against your enemies. 

While this hybrid system of sorts is quite a departure from the original, I think it makes combat more engaging and adds a bit of dramatic flare to the action. For instance, the demo had me battling the game’s first boss, the so-called Scorpion Sentinel. In the original’s system, I would be issuing commands and watching each one of them play out. But here, I’m in full control of the action, making for a more thrilling and, arguably, rewarding experience. 

Breathtaking visuals

The other thing I took away from the demo is that the game looks and runs extremely well. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the game looks from the facial animations in cutscenes to the texture detail of the in-game character models and environments. The game also has a very cinematic presentation, helping a lot of what’s happening in the game be just as fun to watch as it is to play. 

Visually-speaking, there tends to be a lot of things occupying the screen at any one time, including particle and smoke effects from characters’ flashy special abilities and damage counters that tell you how much you hurt your enemies, but it never became too overwhelming or distracting, even for a series newcomer such as myself. 

What’s most impressive, however, is that the demo was running on a base PlayStation 4, and not a PlayStation 4 Pro. Of course, this is just a short segment of the game that was probably optimized for the console for this very purpose. But if the actual game looked and performed this well when it releases, then it will surely blow people’s minds. 

Final Fantasy VII Remake releases for the PlayStation 4 on April 10, 2020. – Rappler.com