Final Fantasy 7 Remake: what has changed since its reveal

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Image credit: Square Enix

The latest trailer for the Final Fantasy 7 Remake landed in May. What we saw was a veritable feast for the eyes; the result of four years of bite-sized nuggets of information, ominous news of third-party companies being dropped and rumors that production had been halted (or even restarted entirely). All of this not long after the game was first teased at E3 in 2015. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the remake was going to nestle nicely into the ninth circle of development hell and become fast friends with Final Fantasy Versus XIII. In other words, things seemed to be slowly unravelling into another one of Professor Hojo’s experiments gone awry. 

A collective sigh of relief could be felt following the release of the most recent trailer, during PlayStation’s State of Play. It served as a sweet anodyne to the silence and, with E3 2019 just around the corner, we were ecstatic to finally see some signs of life. 

Combat redesign

Cloud is back in black. (Image credit: Square Enix)

Cloud is back in black. (Image credit: Square Enix)

We knew from the start that Final Fantasy 7’s combat had been changed from turn-based to live action. In December 2015, a second trailer showed us how this live action combat would look. Jutting out from the left of the screen was a typical ‘Attack’, ‘Summon’ and ‘Item’ commands menu befitting such an approach, much like in Kingdom Hearts. 

We also seen a basic display of character names, the unmistakable Limit Break bars, HP and MP pool numbers and, interestingly, what could’ve been a rough draft for an Active Time Battle gauge (ATB).

These early designs have since been overhauled. The stylish new look aside, you’ll notice menu actions are now linked to button inputs. Seemingly moved are the options of ‘Magic’, ‘Summon’ and ‘Defend’.

Cloud and Barret fight Shinra troops in a plaza. The original menu design shows basic 'Attack', 'Summon', 'Item' and 'Defend' options. (Image credit: Square Enix)

Cloud and Barret fight Shinra troops in a plaza. The original menu design shows basic 'Attack', 'Summon', 'Item' and 'Defend' options. (Image credit: Square Enix)

Before the redesign, Square Enix teased an early draft in 2017 of an ATB gauge linked to the PlayStation’s Triangle button, while also having three separate bars for a Limit Break. Not only that, but the minimalist Battle HUD on the left was still in the same format as from 2015, but we have seen a ‘Materia’ option replacing ‘Summon’.

The latest system shows names of an entirely overhauled combat system. Brand new abilities are married to a simple button layout. One such ability is ‘Punisher’, activated by pushing Triangle. Square is attack and Circle opens a Command Menu which sports two small bars underneath; perhaps letting you expend the mysterious blue gauges under your HP to use even more abilities. 

Overall, the combat looks remarkable different to what we were first shown. We’re especially thankful that Square Enix has toned down the exaggerated special effects and heavy blue streaks seen in earlier stages of development, opting instead for a more visually pleasing style; making attack impact animations wonderfully reminiscent of the original game. 

No holds Barred

The new in-battle menu shows the shortcut function, allowing easy use of items and abilities in combat. On the right we see the limit break bar and other gauges. (Image credit: Square Enix)

The new in-battle menu shows the shortcut function, allowing easy use of items and abilities in combat. On the right we see the limit break bar and other gauges. (Image credit: Square Enix)

Earlier depictions of Final Fantasy 7 Remake showed a system which appears to fill up a bar the more hits connect to foes, which now seems to be scrapped; perhaps it was an even earlier ATB idea which was tied to unleashing more powerful attacks. In its place, two blue bars can be seen under each character’s name plate.

Whether this is now linked to being able to use party member’s special attacks, like Cloud’s ‘Punisher’ or Barret’s ‘Backblast’ shown in May, is still unknown. What we can see is that the Square button is your basic attack and you must press it repeatedly to combo, unlike the boring action of holding it down from Final Fantasy XV

A further change is the inclusion of a ‘Shortcuts’ menu. Activated by L1, you now have easy access to more commands. It draws heavy influences from the exact same function seen in Kingdom Hearts and they are truly a welcome sight to the overall systems. Shortcuts we see are for ‘Braver’ and potions, so items and abilities alike can be placed there. 

Also located in the shortcuts is the option to use L2 and R2 to switch between party members. While we don’t see it used, this confirms not only speculation from the 2015 PSX trailer, but also reports from 2017 that the game would allow you to change which character you control. This means you won’t always have to play as Cloud, but whether this is exclusive to battles and not the overworld, remains unknown.

Overall design

The first look at the new design of Aeris Gainsborogh as she offers a flower to Cloud, recreating the iconic scene from the start. (Image credit: Square Enix)

The first look at the new design of Aeris Gainsborogh as she offers a flower to Cloud, recreating the iconic scene from the start. (Image credit: Square Enix)

The E3 2015 reveal didn’t show any actual gameplay, but the cutscene was enough to drive fans into a limit-breaking frenzy with a mere glimpse of Cloud and Midgar. It wasn’t until December that year that we got to see Final Fantasy 7 Remake in all its newly rendered HD majesty. 

At first blush, Midgar retains its bleak aesthetic from early development. But, it also looks more vibrant than ever before as small environmental details ebulliently litter the already nostalgic areas. Be they machines, like the guard scorpion, or generic Shinra soldiers; there’s a wondrous amount of variation giving the impression of grand faithfulness to the source material.

Once again we’re greeted by our beloved eco-terrorists. Biggs looks obscenely cool. Wedge is charmingly rotund, while everyone’s favorite gun-armed badass Barret is sporting some shades. The AVALANCHE squad appear wonderfully re-imagined from their nightmarishly appealing pixel forms of the original game. Barret's chest hair, anyone?

Cloud and Barret (Image credit: Square Enix)

Cloud and Barret (Image credit: Square Enix)

Dubiously missing from everything we’ve seen so far is Tifa Lockheart. Appearing for the first time (in name only) in the 2019 teaser, she’s expected to be revealed at E3 2019. There have been worries that her original, over exaggerated design will be changed for the remake, but we can only wait with bated breath to see how she’s going to appear.

The lack of Tifa doesn’t matter to us. Because in the most recent trailer, released in May, we’re finally graced with the true best girl: Aeris Gainsborough. Not to overstate this, but she looks angelic. Subtle changes to her clothing hearken back to her appearance from the film Advent Children, and her whole design and outfit look absolutely magnificent. We’re certainly ready for Final Fantasy 7 to break our hearts all over again.

Looking to E3 2019

The brand new battle menu features button-linked abilities, streamlining the interface for a more action-based combat system. (Image credit: Square Enix)

The brand new battle menu features button-linked abilities, streamlining the interface for a more action-based combat system. (Image credit: Square Enix)

Rumors swirl and dance about the Final Fantasy 7 remake like water in a weir. People are convinced the game will be playable at the event and, if that’s the case, we feel there’s a strong case for a release date being around Christmas time this year. The first episode, at the very least. 

It will be fascinating to see if there have been any changes to the user interface and battle menus just one month since their last reveal, but we are expecting a lot of details to come, especially regarding the episodic release. Alongside this, we can most likely expect to get our first proper look at Sephiroth, who has only been briefly glimpsed from behind as of yet.

Nomura-san and Kitase-san, if you’re reading this then please listen to our story; this may be our last chance. We are fully anticipating the combat to be fun but not much else, we even expect some story elements to be changed for any number of reasons. But for the love of the Lifestream, if you make the entire world of Gaia; Midgar and Wutai especially, fully and completely explorable, then that will be a job well done from us. We await your reply at E3...