It has been 23 years since the original Final Fantasy VII graced the public and what a journey it was. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are my favorite film franchises but Final Fantasy is certainly the top gaming franchise for me and has been since childhood. Any time a new game comes out, I get excited for it and yet Final Fantasy VII is of an altogether separate category. Growing up I played more hours than I know how to count of the original game. I remember one holiday when we visited my cousin in Canada and tried to speed run the game as quickly as we could. I don’t recall if we finished or not but we stayed up all night playing on more than one occasion in pursuit of our goal. I cannot tell you how many times I have played it all the way through but I can tell you that Sephiroth has met my wrath dozens of times. That shirtless turd never stood a chance
With the release of the full game on April 10th, this surprise demo was an exciting announcement. The original release date of the game was tomorrow 3/3/20 so being able to get a taste today was an absolutely unexpected delight. Hearing the opening menu music alone had me nostalgic and it ran in the background while I worked for about an hour doing nothing more than build my anticipation to play. That hour felt like days and finally the time came to play the demo. Would 2 decades of hype ruin the experience or would it be everything I hoped for an more? Luckily it was the latter. I have never done a reaction video but I imagine it would have been a fun one to watch had I recorded my reaction. I grinned the ear to ear nostalgic grin of a man in his early thirties who grew up with this game. I hooted, hollered and made a fool of myself I’m sure. It’s a good thing my wife wasn’t around cause she would have been embarrassed more than likely.
Gameplay and Combat Impressions
The opening cut scene concluded and the moment came to control Cloud for the first time in updated and stunning visuals like these. I’ve done this exact mission many times in the original and seen the demo a fair view times as well but this was the first time being in control and it was liberating. Despite all my prior experiences, controlling Cloud in this high graphical version was surreal to say the least. The buster sword moves in a flurry of light and elegance that only the hero of this story can accomplish. It felt right and immensely gratifying. The updated combat is divisive for sure but I, for one, absolutely love it and cannot wait for more.
I admit that at first I wasn’t sold on the combat. I was enjoying myself but it felt basic. With each new room, the developers added a new facet to the combat however and it felt more and more engaging until the moment of the first boss fight when it hit a new level of fun. I played the demo twice, once on normal and again on classic/easy. I can confirm that normal is the best way to play of the options in this demo. It presented an adequate challenge to where I had to revive Cloud with a Phoenix down at one point but it wasn’t so hard that it felt like a chore. I imagine that a hard mode will be in the full release and that will offer a unique challenge that requires an even more strategic approach for those who want it.
Sadly classic and easy offered absolutely zero challenge and felt like they should be more of a “story” mode rather than easy. I have recently been replaying Horizon Zero Dawn on story mode (my save file got corrupted and I need to level back up to play the DLC) and the story mode there is extremely easy but intended to be such. There is a place for this type of minimal difficulty but I think that Final Fantasy VII is a little off on their balancing for now. Easy should be a tad more difficult and they should call the current easy difficult “story mode”. That said, this is a demo and the developers have likely already tweaked the game a lot to where what I am saying may already have been addressed.
I made my way through the level on normal until the boss. The Scorpion Sentinel is a classic boss in Final Fantasy VII and fighting him here felt so satisfying. In the original, this boss was quite simple ultimately. It was certainly possible to die if you didn’t heal but it wasn’t an overwhelming challenge and defeating him didn’t feel like an accomplishment. The opposite can be said for the remake’s version. This boss felt imposing and powerful. I knew that if I got too comfortable, it would pummel me and make me regret it. I needed to be on my toes and fight for my life. Managing my HP, ATB gauge and attacking enough but also keeping my distance was a beautiful dance that spanned about 15 to 20 minutes during a three phased fight. I was enjoying myself before the boss fight but was on the edge of my seat and enthralled in the experience once this fight got underway. It required you to use all the skills you had learned thus far. Switching between Barret and Cloud, using the correct attacks to build up the stagger meter, and keeping a balance of defensive vs offensive play were were all crucial tactics.
Triumph over the Sentinel eventually comes (quite quickly on easy I might add) and then the time arrives to exit the reactor. The evacuation is redone from the original to be more tense, cinematic and exciting than ever before. The technology of 1997 pales in comparison to 2020 and it shows throughout the demo but shines the brightest during the evacuation. Players have the choice of a 20 or 30 minute evacuation but I found that I was out within 10 minutes so the choice didn’t really matter. I suspect that players will be more rewarded for choosing 20 minutes as opposed to 30. In the demo, the only payoff is what Barret says to you as a result of your choice.
Story and Character Impressions
The combat is one highlight for sure but the redone characters and story are fantastic as well. I won’t dive into the story in case you are sensitive to spoilers aside from saying they are already taking this a different direction than the original. Personally I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I want to be surprised by what the remake has to offer and, as much as I love the original, the story is convoluted and could use some fine tuning anyway.
As for characters, Barret and Cloud remain the same as I remember them. Cloud keeps to himself and doesn’t really care about anything other than turning a profit and Barret is skeptical of the ex SOLDIER and almost serious to a fault. Meanwhile, and more interestingly, we get to learn more about the personalities of Biggs, Wedge and Jessie. All are interesting but Jessie is by far the best and gets the most screen time. I have to admit, I would be inclined to push for a Jessie/Cloud romance if it weren’t for what we know of the story and these three characters. Again, we don’t know what is going to happen but I suspect their fate will be the same as it was in the original. It will just take longer to get there.
With only a month down, this demo gave me the taste test I was hoping for. It leaves me wanting more and even more hyped than I already was. I may pick up the demo once more before the final release but I don’t need to. Final Fantasy VII Remake appears to be heading in the right direction with what I have seen so far and I expect to give it a good score on my final review when the time comes. The first hour could be the top point for an otherwise mediocre game though. Only time will tell. Until then, I will be building the hype with my fellow fans.
Until then, you can check out the Final Fantasy VII Remake Demo for free on PS4. For more nerdy talk about video games, movies, TV, and comics keep it tuned to Couch Crunchers on Youtube and your favorite podcast platform of choice and don’t forget to like us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well.