Sitting down to play Final Fantasy 7 in 2019 is a surreal experience. At E 2019, Square Enix prepared a small slice of gameplay from the upcoming remake, which we now know will encompass the Midgar section in its first episode.
For our Final Fantasy 7 Remake E3 2019 demo, we were able to play a short sequence that saw Cloud and Barret descending a series of platforms, fighting a few soldiers along the way, before eventually facing off with a boss at the Mako reactor.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake Gameplay
Immediately, the look of Final Fantasy 7 Remake is striking while still feeling like FF 7. The visuals have been bumped up to modern gen graphics but there is a thematic through-line that is present in the look and feel of the area and the characters. Barret and Cloud look exactly like they did in your memory, when graphics required a lot more imagination to “fill in the gaps,” but are a far cry from the polygonal figures of the PS1 era.
Admittedly, the Mako reactor isn’t as much of a visual showpiece where environment design is concerned, but there is enough going on with lighting and different textures to make this feel both familiar and new. Again, if you’re familiar with Final Fantasy 7, even casually, you should be right at home.
Combat in Final Fantasy 7 Remake is the biggest deviation from the original game with most changes made to deliver faster-paced, active combat. Players can switch between Cloud and Barret at any point using the d-pad and they can give orders to the other for some strategic takedowns.
When controlling a specific character, though, the focus is on the ATB gauge. By pressing Square, the player will do basic attacks (Cloud uses his Buster sword for slash combos, Barret fires his machine gun arm) to build ATB faster.
Once at least one ATB bar is full, players can pull up a menu to select from a few options: Abilities, Spells, and Items. Each action costs at least one ATB bar (the demo gave each character two bars to fill) and most are in service of dealing big damage. For example, Cloud can do his signature Braver attack to hit an enemy with a flipping, overhead slash.
Scorpion Sentinel Boss Fight
As a result, there is a tactical approach to combat that is more than basic button mashing. The button mashing is in service of getting to the more strategic elements of combat, which include using spells to exploit enemy weaknesses and finding ways to generate a lot of quick damage.
Key to that is the Stagger meter, which functions similar to its Final Fantasy 13 iteration. Basic attacks will build an enemy’s stagger meter over time, but spells and abilities can give bigger jumps towards stagger. And once an enemy is staggered, the player’s attacks will deal extra damage.
For the boss battle, the Final Fantasy 7 Remake E3 2019 demo had us facing off against the Scorpion Sentinel boss at the base of the Mako reactor. Like most Final Fantasy boss fights, this is a protracted affair that requires careful consideration. Luckily, the player characters have a block and dodge move to avoid damage. Presumably, you could go through a whole boss fight without ever taking damage, which is rare for Final Fantasy.
On the whole the boss fight consisted of basic attacks, using abilities, switching to Barret when it clung to a wall at a distance, and avoiding as many attacks as possible. Eventually, though, things change up as the Scorpion nears death and begins firing a deadly laser. In order to avoid it, you needed to duck behind cover (that randomly appears on the battlefield) and wait until the blast ends. This “puzzle” mechanic helps break up the monotony of endless attacking but it isn’t anything totally new.
Eventually, the Scorpion Sentinel will start to break apart and its legs will become weak points. Focusing on those will lead to a situation where the mech falls to the ground and is vulnerable, which should result in a kill.
Because it was such a short gameplay demo, it’s hard to tell how the Final Fantasy 7 combat expands with new enemies and bosses. There are hints of that in the new gameplay trailer, but for a small playable slice, the demo helped communicate what Square Enix is going for while showing that there are still opportunities for battle planning a la the original game. Most importantly, though, it feels exactly like what the development team is hoping to deliver, a modern remake of Final Fantasy 7.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake releases March 3, 2020 for PS4.