A Late Game Boss Fight Shows Final Fantasy VII Remake At Its Best

Final Fantasy VII Remake’s combat kit-bashes the series’ role-playing battles with the hefty action of a game like Monster Hunter World. Part action, part tactics, it usually works even if some camera woes mess things up from time to time. One fight later in the game—a fight that wasn’t in the original 1997 classic—highlights everything good about the Remake’s combat.

Final Fantasy VII Remake, unlike the original game, gives you direct control over where party members stand on the battlefield. You don’t just select attacks from a menu, you position yourself and wait until you have enough resources to spend on special attacks or item use. The original game’s “Active Time Battle” system is fantastic, but as modern sensibilities push toward more action-packed battles it was inevitable that Remake, particularly under the partial leadership of Kingdom Hearts director Tetsuya Nomura, would move into real-time combat. It might take a bit of time to get used to, but the change serves the modern retelling well. Characters have special functions: Barrett attacks from a distance with his gun-arm, Tifa’s punches and kicks cause enemies to stagger more quickly. While the original game offered highly customisable functions for each character, Remake seeks to better define their roles. You’re moving around a lot but you’re not running around like a headless chicken. There’s a purpose.

That said, in some moments it breaks down: tight rooms where the camera can’t follow the action, encounters where status effect spewing turtle-men attack a little too quickly, and moments when characters can’t easily use their special abilities. Some of the toughest fights in Remake are rooms of turrets or encounters with flying enemies who hover out of reach or who you can’t quite target as well as you’d like. But when everything comes together? It’s fantastic. To understand the combat system’s strengths, it’s best to look at a single encounter: the fight with Jenova Dreamwalker near the end of the game.

This isn’t a fight from the original game. The party doesn’t fight Jenova, the strange alien-entity, until much later in the PlayStation version. Purists might bristle—the story sequences in Shinra Tower certainly have more than enough boss fights—but this one fight does everything right. From the charged context and presentation, to the arena design and how you achieve fight progress, there’s possibly no better encounter in the game than the battle against Jenova. Why is that?

Well, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first: It’s just badass. Cloud and his team have come all this way to Shinra Tower, the heart of the evil corporation, to rescue their friend Aerith. Throughout the story, Cloud has been hounded by the mysterious Sephiroth. When the party confronts President Shinra, Sephiroth strikes. He kills the president and seemingly kills Barrett. The stakes are high, and then? Jenova, a horrible monster beast that pulls the team into a deadly illusion. Fire, acid. The battle’s final phase uses an amped-up remix of her original boss fight music. From scenario to presentation, there’s a lot to love. Heck, you even have a guest party member around to help out: the intelligent wolf-dude Red XIII.

But looking at the fight itself, it’s also very well-designed.

To start, there’s the battle arena. It’s huge! Remake works best when you have plenty of room to manoeuvre. Cramped arenas suck the fun right out of combat, but spaces that allow you to dodge and react quickly in the moment help stress the benefits of having direct control over your character. It also means that you can better “position” your party, if only for a few moments. Characters outside of the player’s direct control act automatically, but if you move quickly enough and swap around it’s possible to time furious attacks from both sides or split up the party to address smaller threats.

That last part is important, as Jenova summons multiple tentacles throughout the fight that litter the room and attack the party as well. While they don’t have a lot of health and you can take them out with one standard combo or ability, they serve a few important functions. The first is practical: They grant charge for the characters’ limit breaks. As characters attack and take damage, they build meters they can spend on a large special move. The tentacles help ensure you can charge and use your Limit Breaks.

More subtly, they offer miniature moments of success throughout the battle. Jenova is a tanky boss and she doesn’t react too much to your hits. You’ll be smacking her with your Buster Sword for maybe 10 minutes on your first playthrough. Phases where you fend off the tentacles offer small victories that create a sense of forward momentum. You’re hacking the monster to pieces, you’re fighting the Hydra and cutting off head after head. Since the tentacles spawn all over the room, you need to rush around and actively pay attention to your surroundings. You can’t simply tunnel vision on Jenova. The reward for being attentive isn’t simply additional safety but a sense of progression.

The large space and multiple attack targets provide you with options. By this point, characters will have powered-up magic, multiple unique abilities unlocked, powerful summons, and more. This is a chance to use all of them freely and with spectacular results. Jenova can inflict multiple status effects on the player ranging from Poison to Stop, and can grab characters until other party members rush in to free them. There is always something to do, some reason to dig into your bag of tools.

Remake follows up this fight with boss battles that restrict player options: Cloud’s duel against Rufus Shinra punishes aggressive play with nasty counters, Aerith and Barrett battle against a Shinra mech that constricts space by summoning walls of fire. But Jenova gives you a chance to be bold, and damn does it feel good.

The battle is a playground. A fierce playground with monsters and techno-music that gives players space to express themselves. Other battles constrict and press in. That’s a great way to create a challenge but every now and then you gotta cut loose. What better time than against the nightmarish projection of an ancient alien monster?


Comments

    For me this was one of the worst designed fights and the fact that it was followed by a generally mediocre boss rush after kind of left things on a "meh" note. The whole fight mostly just boils down to a lot of running around and hitting things. Add to that invulnerable phases and it all just drags on and makes for an incredibly boring fight compared to the more dynamic and "A short fight is a good fight" design of what comes before.

    Then you get "Only one viable move" Rufus followed by "You better have the weakness equipped" health sponge tank. This all segues into the "Clever but one note" Roller Ball fight. With a small breather in the rush you then get "Smash through these three guys several times in a row" which was fun the first couple of times but went far too long.

    Ultimately it all culminates in the fight you've been waiting for and I was ready for a clutch fight but in the end it was pretty much like every other fight where you just run around after an enemy and attack from time to time. I think the main problem is that although the combat is more dynamic, it's still fairly limited and there's only so much you can do with it before you either have to start being cheap or deal with power creep. Hopefully they give it a bit of an overhaul in the next game.

      "Only one viable move" Rufus? I discovered I could knock him down and pressure him with a simple Bio (not even a level 2 or 3 poison, just the level 1 spell). This gave me a few seconds to get in some free hits. So what I did from there is deliberately build my limit break then when it was full, used Bio, knocked him down, then smacked him upside the head with Ascension. It basically one-shot him and the fight was over.

      Poison was the materia I happened to have equipped at the time so I'm unsure if other spells would have done the same thing, but that's what worked for me.

      I agree, I think these points are fair. This particular boss fight didn't exactly feel that exhilarating to me, it was kind of boring, to be honest.

      The most frustrating boss fights I can think of is Rufus Shinra, followed by the fight after the Midgar highway escape.

    The mech fight with Barrett and Aerith was great too (pre- Cloud riding down the stairs on his bike). I thought that was a nice strategic little fight.

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