7, but in the Remake it is the starting point for a demonstration of what this ambitious, multi-game retelling of the story can be. The Scorpion Sentinel boss preceding this moment speaks to a bigger and flashier version of 1997’s most captivating JRPG, but it’s when you’re beyond the perimeter of the North Reactor that the game’s new scope is made clear. This is a project exploring how better technology and modern ideas can change and redefine old perspectives.During a recent hands-on with Final Fantasy 7 Remake, I discovered that the escape through the streets of Sector 1 after the bombing of the reactor is a far cry from the somber sequence in the original. The slow, melancholic music is swapped out for the brasher Shinra Inc. signature tune. The streets are packed with people, colossal chunks of debris, and spreading fire, creating a scene that feels distinctly the product of a post-9/11 world. Rather than emerging from the mission a hero, Remake asks you to consider Cloud’s role as a terrorist as he picks his way through a mess of emergency service vehicles and devastated families.This change is initially jarring. The quiet track played during this scene in the original game is called Anxious Heart, and that title alone tells you exactly how the deathly silent streets of Midgar seem at that moment. It’s easy to feel as if its bombastic replacement is missing the point; the streets are not just filled with civilians, but also soldiers and riot guards ready to strike you down in extended combat encounters. Upon reflection, though, this offers a different angle on the same story, which is symbolic of everything Remake is doing.
The sequence uses the opportunity to add more detail to Shinra’s depiction. While in the original game it was obvious that the company was more than an electric power supply, Remake uses voice over to quickly establish that Shinra is a dystopic totalitarian regime. Loudspeakers shout commands at the population, telling them to leave their homes immediately and evacuate. As you run through residential streets you can see not just how immensely large and populated Midgar is, but also how Shinra has a terrifying stranglehold on everyone within its borders.
This expanded scope goes beyond being able to render locations as larger, more detailed, and with more life. The second bombing run in the Sector 5 Reactor also incorporates new gameplay ideas based around player choice. As Cloud, Barret, and Tifa storm through the cavernous, steel-plated guts of the building, there’s the opportunity to re-code a manufacturing line that is assembling the area’s boss, the Airbuster. Decisions here directly affect the kind of boss battle you’ll eventually face, although the effect is not quite as dramatic as the decision would perhaps have you believe (it’s about reducing the Airbuster’s resources, rather than denying it abilities altogether). Nevertheless, the mechanic does allow you to have more impact on what was once an entirely static world.
Changes such as these dramatically alter the story’s pace. It feels odd that places which previously took ten minutes to work through now take three times longer. But, importantly, this extended length seems to be made up of worthwhile elements rather than filler. Sometimes that’s via a new mechanical design like the Airbuster production line, or sometimes that’s through entirely new areas, such as the loot-filled storage vault that can be unlocked if you have the patience to do that simultaneous button pressing lock puzzle another handful of times.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Over 100 Screenshots
But, as demonstrated in the E3 2019 demo, it’s in the boss fights that Final Fantasy 7 Remake really shows off its flair for expansion. Like the Scorpion Sentinel, the Airbuster is now a multi-stage battle with cinematic presentation and more explosions than your average Marvel movie finale. It’s against this techno soldier that the new hands-on build finally provides a stage to test the limits of the Remake’s combat system with a full three-member party. And, somewhat predictably for this project, the results are remarkable.
Classic Final Fantasy boss battles that use the original Active Time Battle system can be tense and stressful in their own way, but Remake takes that feeling and runs a mile with it. (If you’ve yet to read anything about the system, we’ve got a full breakdown of it to help you out.) The combination of action elements, command menus, and the requirement to constantly swap between characters to remain efficient is surprisingly taxing in a boss fight scenario. This is not a criticism; after Final Fantasy 15’s streamlined approach, it’s a real thrill to creep further and further to the edge of your seat the deeper into a fight you get.
There’s unrelenting pressure to be using your ATB gauges as they become available in order to ensure your team is consistently unleashing a barrage of high-damage attacks. While you’re only ever actively in control of one character at a time, those temporarily controlled by AI do not use their special skills automatically and so must be frequently issued orders. This preserves the classic nature of Final Fantasy 7’s command-based battles, but its implementation in a real-time environment feels like a non-stop juggle rather than a deliberate rhythmic exchange. The end result is that these big boss battles can feel mentally exhausting and test the limits of your endurance. It’s almost akin to the biggest fights in a Platinum-developed game, just with a tactical rather than reflex-based approach.
The pressure of these battles can certainly be relieved by being properly prepared. The Sector 5 save game provided at the hands-on was set up so that the party only had access to one orb of lightning materia, and so exploiting the Airbuster’s electrical weakness was a tough job. The final segment of the demo featured the fight against Abzu (previously known as Aps) in the sewers beneath Midgar’s slums. For this battle, every member of the party was equipped with Fire materia, allowing Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith to bombard the beast with highly damaging flames. With the right equipment, it seems as if at least some of the bosses can be cut down in a matter of minutes.Aerith also had Ifrit summon materia (yup, summons are now available in Midgar, including Leviathan and Shiva), allowing her to call in the fiery demon to flame-punch the monster into submission. Rather than just elaborate magic spells, summons now fight alongside you on the battlefield, and can even be commanded using your ATB gauges. They cannot be called in at will, though; a bar appears the HUD and fills over time and, when full, can be spent to call in a summon of your choosing. Taking away the on-demand nature of summons does restrict their use as a tactical tool, but this new system does enhance the narrative that they are powerful entities that arrive when they believe you are in need of their gifts.
While party combat really comes alive in boss battles, there are new enemies specifically designed to make use of multiple team members. During Cloud’s solitary escape from the North Reactor, he faces a team of Shinra soldiers armed with riot shields that easily deflect sword swipes. It makes fighting them solo tricky, and their leader, a beefy guy called The Huntsman, is painfully laborious to defeat. Fight these guys with a party, though, and it’s an entirely different story. Cloud can tank them while Tifa runs behind and uses her Whirling Uppercut heavy attack to launch them upwards, which in turn opens them up to a salvo of Overcharged shots from Barret.
Regardless of your target, party members have a variety of returning and brand new skills to make use of. There’s significant focus on providing more non-magic options, and so there’s always something to unleash without the need for spending MP. Tifa, for instance, can deal big chunks of damage with fun moves like Divekick and Starshower, or buff her basic attack stats with the Unbridled Strength ability. Many of Cloud’s former Limit Breaks have also been turned into these standard abilities; Braver is the first one you’ll get, and later you’ll pick up Blade Burst, which is effectively Blade Beam.
Meanwhile, Aerith has been transformed into a full-blown white mage-style caster; her primary attack sees her hurl blasts of magic rather than whack foes with her staff, and her abilities are all based around support spells such as Soul Drain, which absorbs MP from enemies, and Lustrous Shield, which blooms a defensive barrier from magical petals. Additionally, all party members can be equipped with new purple materia that provides skills used in the action elements of battle, such as augmented dodges that follow up with damage.
It’s a dizzying array of additions and changes; enough to overwhelm and even incite just a little nervousness. Despite all the big moments being there and the experience feeling fundamentally true to Final Fantasy 7, Remake is a very different beast. There are moments when you’ll expect something to happen and it won’t, and what it does instead can cause confusion and a pang of disappointment. But those feelings are all short-lived, because no matter how great it would have been to see those classic moments exactly replicated in modern tech, it’s much more exciting to see how it’s all changed.
The remix presented so far seems well judged, but the most notable thing is how it all feels like the design equivalent of an entire battleship broadside salvo firing at once. This no-holds-barred approach creates the most absurdly entertaining boss fights I’ve fought in years in the Airbuster, but if the correct lines are not drawn, then the game’s more somber, thoughtful moments could be distorted and lose their impact. If restraint is shown though, and what’s here is representative of the quality of the whole experience, then there’s little more to say than: yes, they might really have really done it.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer. You can follow him on Twitter.