WHAT IS A HANDS ON REVIEW?
"Hands on reviews" are a journalist's first impressions of a game based on spending some time with it ahead of our full review. In this case, we played through the first boss battle at Gamescom 2019. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to enjoy, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.
Final Fantasy 7 is one of the few games that has truly worked its way into the cultural lexicon. Releasing more than 20 years ago, this timeless JRPG completely transformed the way stories in games were perceived – at least in the mainstream. This game is responsible for creating one of the most beloved narratives of all time, along with a cast of unforgettable characters that are beloved to this day. So, Square Enix has a lot to live up to with Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
We got a chance to go hands-on with the Final Fantasy 7 Remake at Gamescom 2019, and while it was a very small slice of the game – essentially a boss fight and some change – we can honestly say that the title may end up living up to all the hype leading up to it. Of course, we won't know for sure until we get a chance to review the full game, but at least we got a taste.
Heading into battle
One of the biggest changes fans will immediately notice is that Final Fantasy 7 is no longer the turn-based JRPG they grew up with. Instead, the game uses a hybrid battle system that feels like a perfect mesh of action combat and slower tactical RPG gameplay.
Essentially, you attack enemies with the Square button, use Circle to dodge and the R1 button to block. By attacking enemies and blocking attacks, you'll build up your ATB gauge, which you can then spend using combat abilities and items. Don't worry, Limit Breaks are still in the game, and you'll build up your Limit Meter by taking damage, which you then spend on extremely powerful attacks.
In our time with the game, we go to face up against the first boss, the Guard Scorpion. And, well, its a lot different than we remember. Instead of the quasi-tutorial that the boss served as in the original game, this boss fight has teeth now. If you're not paying attention, dodging and blocking the gunfire, there's a real chance of failure – something we expect to be amplified during more difficult fights later on in the game.
One thing that really struck us was how good it feels to both switch between characters and issue orders. You see, whichever character you're not controlling will automatically fight, building up their ATB gauges for future attacks.
At any point, you can take control of that character and resume the fight as if you were building those points up yourself. Or, even if you just want to issue a quick command, you can just enter the tactical screen and issue a single command and continue fighting as a different character. It's a fantastic way to make up for the fact that you're not fully in control of every character like you were in the original game.
The planet is crying out
While the combat in Final Fantasy VII Remake is definitely going to be an important aspect, this is one of the most beloved stories in video game history, so there's a lot to live up to.
From what we saw at Gamescom, Final Fantasy VII starts out with the same iconic train cutscene the original did, but obviously with way more modern visuals. However, in the demo played before our eyes – we only got to personally play through the boss fight at the end of the demo – there is a lot more to the world. Rather than some mysteriously connected screens due to the hardware limitations of the PlayStation, everything seems to connect in a way that makes sense. It feels more like an actual city, as the developers didn't have to imply the spaces in between the screens.
But, what especially reassured us that Final Fantasy's story is intact (at least, so far), is a scene that plays out between Barrett and Cloud on an elevator, where the former tells the protagonist that Mako is the planet's lifeblood, and the planet is screaming out in pain. Cloud, of course, shrugs it off. Admittedly, in a story that will now take multiple games to tell, this is just a tiny sliver. It is reassuring, though.
We were told that Square Enix would be expanding the story in Midgar, a section of the original game that only took an hour or so to play through, to be its own game. We're not sure how exactly that's going to play out, but what we've seen so far was so intricately detailed that we're sure it will be done tastefully. And, the way we look at it, as long as the central themes of the original game are firmly in place, more detail really can't hurt.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of the most anticipated games of 2020. However, in our brief time with the game, we're now reassured that the game might be able to live up to that gargantuan level of hype.
Some JRPG purists might balk at the idea of turning Final Fantasy VII into an action RPG, but the combat system really does feel like the best of both worlds. And, beginners to the genre and series newcomers will have a much easier time getting into Final Fantasy VII than ever before.
At the end of the day, we can't wait to see how this new combat system plays out later in the game when you get some more powerful material.
Luckily, the wait is almost over, and you'll be able to get your hands on the Final Fantasy VII Remake for PS4 on March 3, 2020.