Final Fantasy 7 Remake is almost here, and I spent around three hours with the game recently when the game came to Sydney as part of a global press tour. The preview was enough to play through the first two chapters, boss fights and a section later on in the game. Here are five things about the remake that I loved, and one that has me worried.
You can watch a cut of gameplay below, and below that you’ll find more precise thoughts after that.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s combat is fluid, once you get used to it.
One of the kickers with Final Fantasy 15 was finding the right flow for combat, getting accustomed to the physical rhythm of combos, quick commands for companion abilities, dodging and disengaging, before doing it all over again. The combat system in FF7R is all in real-time. But actually playing it and getting the rhythm of the constant slow-motion delays as you trigger different attacks, swap up your positioning, switch characters mid-fight and juggle potions/items/spells, is another thing altogether.
It’s fun, don’t get me wrong. It seems simple enough at first when you start out just with cloud and you can hold down the square button for some basic combos. But fairly quickly you’ll run into groups of enemies, and you’ll want to plan your abilities ahead of time so you can minimise the amount of time you spend dodging/taking damage. It’s not something you need to worry about in the first couple of chapters, but by the seventh chapter you’re dealing with shielded enemies, attackers at range and others constantly trying to fight in close quarters, so having a handle on what everything does is key.
There’s a little more judgement required with your abilities too. For the most part, Cloud and Tifa, when you get to play as her, will warp into range with their various attacks. But it’s not always a surefire hit, so you need to mess around with it for a bit just to get a feel for the range.
The flashbacks are really well done.
We got a little taste of harking back to Tifa and Cloud’s past in the FF7R opening cinematic. It was an obvious win for Square, since the remake is a great opportunity to further flesh out the backstories of all the characters, the main cast especially.
The first reactor gives you a little more taste of Tifa and Cloud’s home as you’re carving up the first reactor, and it’s a lovely touch. It’s all through cutscenes, of course. But it offers a stark visual break, which the chapters inside reactors desperately need, and hopefully the rest of the game has more.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake has some clever AI tech that took years to develop.
In a presentation before our session began, FF7R producer Yoshinori Kitase explained that the game had lip synching technology so the character’s facial expressions would match their language. “It will dynamically pick up on that, use AI to work out where the emotional emphasis is on the different words in those languages, and then adapt the facial expressions to fit with that naturally,” Kitase said through a translator. “Depending on the voice data it’s picking up on it will make them seem angry or sadder of wistful and it can really can adapt that to set us up in the mood.”
AI’s also used in the cut scenes as well for the camera. “That’s also supported by an AI system behind the scenes, which works out the best position for the camera depending on who’s speaking at the time and what’s being shown in the scene, and puts that together,” Kitase added, mentioning that it was all work that “hopefully you’ll never notice”.
In a follow-up interview, I asked what the internal justification was for putting so much work into systems that won’t necessarily be obvious to players. Kitase said it was an easy battle to convince upper management to make the investment, because the tech will save a lot more money in the long term.
“It’s actually not a difficult thing to convince upper management about at all,” Kitase said, “and the reason for that is, because OK there’s an initial cost in developing that and doing the R&D on these AI systems, but after they’re created they actually save on costs because it’s automating stuff that artists and creators would have had to do labouriously stage by stage by hand before.”
Kitase couldn’t explain how long precisely, but he added that it took several years to get it right. “I can’t give exact numbers here, but it’s about the same kind of time it would take to develop a single game in its own right, so a good several years,” he said.
Tifa is fun as hell
The best thing about the time skip during the preview, however, was the ability to play as Tifa. And despite the obvious differences with range between a sword and her fists, Tifa’s skillset is surprisingly well suited for tackling airborne characters.
That’s super handy, because it means you don’t have to switch to Barrett as much as you’d otherwise think. I’m not the biggest fan of his skillset: you’re largely just firing a weak machinegun, since the more useful strong attack forces you to mash the triangle button for a faster reload. It’s visually uninteresting, and while you’ll still need Barrett to deal with turrets miles away, Tifa’s far more interesting to roll with.
Whirling Uppercut gives Tifa a basic launch ability, which can then be followed up with a dive kick with True Strike. You can then quickly get Cloud or Barrett to fire off some abilities on other targets so Tifa can focus on a single target, or you can use the window her combo creates for Barrett to recharge, get Cloud in or out of harm’s way, and so on. Cloud’s capable of staggering enemies as well, but Tifa’s got a lot more style. Most importantly, her moves create a lot of space, which is crucial with how FF7R‘s combat works.
Yes, Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s summons are awesome.
There wasn’t any summons available until the very end of the preview session, but the wait is worth it to see Ifrit and co. rain down. There wasn’t much opportunity to really play around with these. But the cinematic entry is nicely done and fighting with summons in real-time adds an awesome sense of scale to battles.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake might have a padding problem.
With the entire game set in Midgar, everyone wondered: is FF7R going to be unnecessarily padded? And while it’s impossible to judge off a few hours, there’s definitely a layout problem in the seventh chapter that’s worth cataloguing.
Midgar has nine different reactors in the game, and in the seventh chapter you’ll be running through a reactor once more. It’s a different layout to the first reactor, although there’s not much little visual difference: a lot of grey pipes, walls and grates everywhere.
There’s a fun moment where you walk into a control room in the lead-up to a boss fight, and you’re given the opportunity to disable one of its two major abilities. I’ll speak more on that later, but what’s annoying is that not long after entering the room, you go through a tilted corridor into a U-shaped area.
That corridor leads to another control room that looks almost identical to the one you just left. Then it’s another corridor, another room with the same basic layout, and another control room similar to the last two.
It’s the main worry I had about focusing so much on Midgar, and probably the main concern surrounding FF7R generally. I’m hoping the city itself and other chapters don’t reuse level geometry too much.
The opening movie for Final Fantasy VII starts with a field of stars, fades into Aeris, pulls back to reveal the city of Midgar, and then follows Cloud and Barret’s train to its destination. The Final Fantasy VII Remake opening does that too, only prettier and with a lot more Midgar.Read more