With fresh gameplay, Final Fantasy VII Remake looks great and plays great.
There's a certain surrealism inherent to playing the demo of a game that you've been doggedly following for five years.
Going into the demo for Final Fantasy VII Remake, I knew exactly what to expect—After all, the demo was first playable at E3 2019, and videos of second-hand playthroughs have been on YouTube ever since. I knew that the demo covered Cloud's first mission alongside Barret and the eco-terrorist group, Avalanche. I knew that I'd get to slash the sh!t out of some Shinra goons. I knew that a giant metal scorpion waited for me at the Mako reactor's core.
But as the opening cinematic—which I'd already watched at least ten times—came to a close, I still could hardly believe it when the camera lingered on Cloud instead of skipping me to another YouTube video. After five years of actively waiting, at long last I was actually playing the Final Fantasy VII Remake.
For a solid three minutes, I ran Cloud around in circles, wildly swinging the Buster Sword in the air. Each thrust had a nice weight to it. In shoddier ARPGs (action role-playing games), weapons tend to feel weightless, so it's always a good sign when your character's giant, heavy sword actually feels like a giant, heavy sword.
Eventually, I decided it was time to move on from the empty corner I started in and proceed with the mission. In a larger sense, the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo is clearly designed as a gameplay tutorial for people who are already familiar with the franchise. While it gives some helpful insights into Final Fantasy VII's sprawling story (and even fleshes out a plot point from the original), the demo's primary focus is throwing enemies at Cloud and teaching you how to mow them down. That was definitely the right call.
Pretty much everybody who is even mildly familiar with video games already knows that Final Fantasy VII has one of the most beloved narratives in the history of the medium. So the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo doesn't need to sell the promise of a narrative—It needs to sell fresh gameplay that sets the reimagining apart from the 1997 original beyond just incredibly updated graphics.
Thankfully, the Final Fantasy VII Remake combat system plays phenomenally, blending modern ARPG combat with more classic JRPG elements like a real-time, menu-based system for magic, specials, and items. The resulting system feels incredibly distinct and entirely new, yet so obviously inspired by the original.
Better yet, even at its simplest, there's an inherent complexity to the gameplay that will almost certainly deepen and expand with the addition of Materia, summons, and new party members in the larger game. One of my biggest worries going into Final Fantasy VII Remake was that it would feel more like a generic hack-and-slash than a Final Fantasy game, but the demo puts all those fears to rest—This is a game that looks great and plays great.
One of my favorite parts of the demo was stepping into Barret's shoes. As cool as it is to swing the Buster Sword willy nilly, I've played as Cloud in everything from Super Smash Bros. to Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring on PlayStation 1. Firing a slew of bullets from Barret's machine gun arm felt like a fresh experience and, most surprisingly, his ranged gameplay flowed perfectly with Cloud's close combat style.
Switching between characters with such distinct play styles can oftentimes lead to a sense of dissonance, but the Final Fantasy VII Remake battle system manages to feel cohesive whether you actively switch characters or just stick to one and dish out commands. In fact, there's so much variety to the potential gameplay tactics that the 45-minute demo actually has a substantial amount of replay value.Thus far, I've only played the demo once, but I have a feeling that I'll be spending a lot more time with it before Final Fantasy VII Remake's full launch on April 10th. The only thing more exciting than a game with a story I love is a game that compounds a great story with a great gameplay system, too. Final Fantasy VII Remake is shaping up to be the whole package, and after so many years of anticipation, it actually seems to be worth the wait.
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