Historically, when it comes to Final Fantasy games, there has been a bit of a sliding scale of gameplay types on offer, depending on which game you try playing. At one end you’ve got your top down traditional turn based RPG entries in the series, focused more on taking time to pick from menus, and on the other end you have games like Final Fantasy XV which at times felt more like an action adventure title with its real time combat system requiring you to dodge attacks and position yourself around the enemy.
Having now had a chance to go hands on with Final Fantasy 7 Remake ahead of its release in March 2020, it feels like Square Enix are trying hard to create a title that bridges the gap between those two distinct types of Final Fantasy game. You have the ability to stop time and pick commands from a menu, but they also want you running around timing dodges correctly and positioning yourself relative to the enemy. I think the combination gameplay system works, but with a few caveats.
So, how does Final Fantasy 7 Remake play moment to moment? Well, when you’re running around environments, you do so in true 3D space rather than the original game’s predetermined angle views. The camera is pulled in a little too close and low behind the player character for my taste, with the character generally taking up a bit too much of the screen and making it hard to see what’s in front of you, but you traverse around like you would in an action game. You can sprint, crouch, lock on to targets, or stealthily approach enemies.
Once you get into an enemy encounter, which now appear visibly in the game world rather than functioning as random battles, you’ll need to manually attack them with basic light attacks which vary by character. For cloud, these are simple sword swings, while for Barret holding down the attack button fires a round of machine gun fire at enemies which may be harder to reach. These basic attacks do some damage, but that’s not the core reason why you are using them. Pulling off basic attacks fills up a meter, which allows you to activate abilities from a more traditional turn based combat menu. These attacks do much more damage, as well as being able to target specific areas of an enemy, or deal effects like increased stun on bosses. These, plus the magic options in your turn based menu, are the closest thing Final Fantasy 7 has to a turn based battle element in the default game mode.
Of note, while not available in this demo, Square Enix have suggested there will be a way to play Final Fantasy 7 Remake in a more traditionally turn based way, I was not able to try that out at this time.
While FF7 Remake feels like a reasonably different experience as a result of this change in mechanics, it’s one that I personally really enjoyed. I know it’s likely to be a little divisive, but as someone who really enjoys games like Xenoblade which combine menu based actions with 3D movement during combat, this felt impressive.
During the short section of game I was able to play, the highlight was very much the boss fight, where Cloud and Barret fought a giant robot inside the Mako reactor from the original game. The fight made use of cutscenes to emphasise phase shift where the boss would gain new attacks, move around the environment, require new techniques to avoid such as hiding behind rubble when big attacks were being charged, and switching party members on the fly to react to where the boss was.
Honestly, my big take away from playing the game is that if the whole of Final Fantasy 7 is eventually remade to this level of quality detail, this is going to be a phenomenal way to bring a classic which has aged a fair amount back to modern relevance. I can see why the remake is being split into multiple releases, because my goodness Square Enix seem to have really gone all out making the game an elaborate and at times excessively grand remake. The biggest issue I had with the demo was the camnera being too low and close behind the character you’re playing as, and when that’s the worst thing I can think to say about a game demo, that’s a pretty positive sign.