With the first installment of Final Fantasy VII Remake only a month away from finally being released into the world, Square Enix surprised fans with a demo release this past Monday that allows players to try the very first chapter of the game.
Since the original Final Fantasy VII was the entire reason I got into the Final Fantasy franchise in the first place, I rushed to download the demo as soon as I was able to, as I was far too impatient to wait for the full release. I wanted to relive the iconic opening cutscene in glorious high-definition graphics, and was curious to try out the new battle system and see any new changes that had been brought to the game, no matter how small or brief they might’ve been in the demo.
As mentioned above, the demo only covers the very beginning of the game, or the Mako Reactor 1 bombing mission. While I won’t go into the specifics in regards to the story — as it is only a demo and there isn’t much to discuss here — I will say that watching the entire first chapter unfold in beautiful detailed graphics and fully voice acted cutscenes was a rather surreal experience. It was like I was watching how I had imagined the original game to look when I played through it all those years ago, except fully realized on the Unreal Engine and playing out in front of me. Impressively dramatic lighting and angered expressions added an emotional impact to tense scenes, and the light-hearted banter and conversations between characters, and even some of the enemy’s combat dialogue, made the world around me feel alive.
The introduction of characters and basic plot-setup flowed together effortlessly, and newly added cutscenes and character reactions never felt out of place or forced. I thought the pacing was handled very well for the beginning, with the right amount of action and cutscenes that kept everything moving at a good and excitable speed. However, with the plethora of sidequests and updated character stories promised in the full version of the game, I am very curious to see if this will remain the case. Story pacing can easily go awry if not handled carefully, which can lead to lulls between main quests, and too many characters can cause a struggle for the spotlight when it comes to development and growth. However, what I have seen in the demo — the story pacing, the character interactions, the new scenes with Shinra Company — left quite a good impression on me.
The one thing I was most concerned about was the decision to change Final Fantasy VII from its roots in standard JRPG combat and shift it toward the more active combat style akin to Final Fantasy XV or Kingdom Hearts. I was worried that the change in battle formula would ruin the experience of the game in some way, be it from clunky controls or even not hitting those notes of nostalgia from a typical old-school Final Fantasy game. I warmed up to the idea gradually by watching trailers, and went into the demo with an open mind to give the gameplay a chance. I will be honest, it’s a lot to deal with at first, and the buttons seemed so haphazardly placed, which resulted in me using all the wrong abilities at all the wrong times quite frequently at the start.
But as I progressed toward the end of the demo, I had become quite comfortable with the controls and I feel this is entirely because the response time for actions are so immediate and so smooth. At the beginning of the demo, I fully expected each swing of Cloud’s Buster Sword to be sluggish and slow, resulting in more chances for enemies to strike. The bigger the sword, the slower the swing, right? This was not the case in the FF7R demo, at least not in my own experience. Hitting the dodge button or attacking never felt slow or laggy in response to my command inputs, and actions were dealt immediately, letting me roll into combat, swing a big ol’ sword around like it didn’t weigh anything without any noticeable lengthy pauses in-between different actions. It felt really, really good; so much so that I hadn’t realized how smooth the controls were until after beating the first boss and I noticed how the game was able to keep up with my furious button mashing.
I also really enjoyed the addition of the Matrix-style bullet time combat menu. Opening up the Tactical Mode menu slowed battles to a near halt and allowed me the chance to quickly plan my next course of attack or action: Such as using potions, casting a spell, giving a command to my party member, or executing a Limit Break. This pause in time really helped with how chaotic combat could get. With multiple enemies attacking you from every angle, a chance to briefly slow time for a second to look over your options was an incredible addition to an active-combat RPG like this one. I am looking forward to seeing how this style of gameplay feels in the full game and if the response time for command inputs remains as smooth as it was in the demo. I’m also curious to see how difficult battles will get later on, especially with the addition of another party member, new abilities and magic and when we inevitably face more and stronger monsters.
Gameplay and story updates aside, the game looks absolutely gorgeous and was incredibly smooth with no weird graphical lag. Cutscenes flowed into gameplay and back again without any noticeable load-screens, characters were very expressive both in their faces and postures, character models looked great in motion with no strange clipping or bugs. Everything in the demo felt and looked really solid and clean, and I hope this carries over into the full game and that the streets of Midgar look just as impressive and are as smooth-loading as the Mako Reactor zone had been.
Overall my first impressions with this demo were all good, save for when the game ended. Honestly I think my only complaint for this demo was that it was just too short. Right when I was at the edge of my seat, eyes glued to the screen after an exciting boss battle, the demo ended with a trailer. It was like getting to see a glimpse of a gift before it’s wrapped up and held out of reach until opening day. I know this was done on purpose, the entire function of a demo is to give a sample of gameplay, but still! It could have been just a little tiny bit longer!
The wait till April is going to be a long one…
Final Fantasy VII Remake is scheduled to release worldwide for PlayStation 4 on April 10, 2020. For more coverage, check out our previous articles.