So how does FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE actually play?

In an extended demo, Producer Yoshinori Kitase walked us through the fine details of the game, from the basic controls to some of the more advanced techniques
By Duncan Heaney
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Square Enix recently held an extended behind closed doors demo of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, hosted by Producer Yoshinori Kitase himself.

He provided an extended look at the famous bombing mission that opens the game, which follows the activist group AVALANCE as they attempt to destroy one of the evil corporation Shinra’s energy reactors.

As the demo progressed, Kitase-san provided commentary, explaining the reasoning behind some of the new features in the remake, demonstrating the sheer breadth of the tactical options available in the game, and delving deep into the nitty gritty of what you, as a player, will actually be doing.

How does FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE start?

The demo opens with a scene that fans of the original game will instantly recognize. A train pulls into the Sector One station in Midgar, with some unexpected stowaways aboard - Biggs, Wedge, Jessie and, of course Barret.

The group exit the train, making quick work of the surprised security officers. Then, leaping from the train, we’re introduced to everyone’s favorite SOLDIER 1st Class, Cloud Strife.

It’s a faithful reinterpretation of an iconic opening - as Kitase-san said: “How else could we start the game?”

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE - basic combat

More Shinra security arrives and the AVALANCHE members book it, leaving Cloud and his massive Buster Sword to handle them.

The square button controls Cloud’s basic sword attacks. Strikes can be chained together to create spectacular looking combos, though the damage output of these assaults is somewhat limited.

But these attacks have a dual purpose - they also fill the all-important ATB bar. Once this gauge is full, you can perform a special move, cast magic or consume an item - and these can cause serious damage.

So long as you have a full ATB bar, you can make a command in Tactical Mode. Simply bring up the command menu appear and slows time to a crawl. You can do this regardless of what your character is doing.

Kitase-san explained that this is so that people who like to take their time and consider tactics have time to make decisions in combat.

But as a bonus, it does look extremely cool - and highlights the amazing animation work in the game. We suspect we’re going to be popping that menu a fair amount when the game’s released - purely to make Cloud look as dramatic as possible.

Special attacks

With the ATB full, Cloud is able to perform one of his numerous special attacks. In our demonstration, he used a leaping attack called Braver. It’s a name that will be immediately familiar to fans - it was a Limit Break in the original game - but here it’s a special move that can be brought out whenever you have ATB meter to burn.

Cloud jumps into the air, and slices down onto an opponent with a satisfying thwack. It makes quick work of the woefully outmatched Shinra guard and Cloud continues deeper into the reactor.

Combat survival tips

More Shinra troops attack, and Kitase-san takes the opportunity to tell us about two more essential components of combat: blocking and dodging.

Holding R1 causes Cloud to hold up his massive Buster Sword, and essentially use it as a shield. Attacks ding off the powerful blade, and our spiky-haired SOLDIER takes significantly less damage.

Of course, rather than reducing damage, it’s often better to take no hits at all. A tap on the X button sends Cloud rolling in the direction of your choosing, allowing him to evade his opponent’s strikes, and retaliate when they’re open with a barrage of his own.

It’s useful to combine dodges with the lock-on, which is activated by clicking in the right stick

Staggering enemies

Cloud and his cohorts enter the next area of the facility, with the game shifts smoothly from cutscene back into gameplay. That was a big focus for the team, according to Kitase-san - the importance of story to FINAL FANTASY VII, means that they wanted the player’s experience to be as seamless as possible.

He also introduced another big mechanic of the battle system: staggering. As you deal damage to enemies, a bar begins to fill. When it reaches maximum, the enemy is staggered and susceptible to massive amounts of damage.

We get a chance to see this in action in the demo, when Shinra brings out dangerous guard dogs. After landing a few hits, the previously powerful pooches are staggered, and start to take 160% damage. In other words, Cloud’s attacks are suddenly 1.6 times more effective and the bad dogs are put down fairly quickly.

Kitase-san explained that the enemies in this starting area are fairly weak, but later in the game staggering will be vital to prevail in combat.

Shortcuts

Here’s another useful tip Kitase-san gave us: shortcuts.

Those who prefer faster combat, can map abilities, magic and items to different command shortcuts, and use them in combat without having to pause the game.

You can assign up to four shortcuts, and access them by holding L1 and pressing one of the face buttons.

A punishing operator

The final control that Kitase-san demonstrated was the ability to switch modes. With a simple press of the triangle button, Cloud switches between two states: Operator mode and Punisher mode.

As an Operator, Cloud delivers quick, fluid strikes, taking down weak enemies in quick succession.

A quick tap of the triangle button, and Cloud flips to Punisher Mode. Now, his sword swings are much slower, but damage output is visibly increased.

Elevating the characters

Just as in the original FINAL FANTASY VII, the group battles their way to an elevator that will take them down to the reactor’s core. Barret takes the opportunity to lay out the facts of the situation to Cloud - Shinra’s sucking up Mako energy, the lifeblood of the planet.

It’s a scene that highlights just how much deeper the interactions between characters go in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE. Jessie’s look of resignation as Barret’s launches on his passionate tirades is a perfect example - an incidental detail that speaks volumes about those characters and their relationships.

This is another thing the development team wanted to make sure was right, Kitase-san says. When the original game was released, they didn’t have access to features like motion capture, voiceover and camerawork.

Now they’re using all these tools to make characters more detailed and compelling.

Barret Wallace enters the battle

The group exits the elevator and Barret joins the party as a playable character. Here, we get to see how distinctive each character will be.

Pressing up and down on the d-pad switches between characters - you can also assign them orders via the command menu when their ATB bars are full.

Rather than taking on foes up close, Barret deals damage from a distance with his gun arm. That’s useful because the reactor core is riddled with turrets that Cloud’s blade can’t reach.

There are other subtle differences too - pressing triangle activates a powerful charge shot rather than switching to a different mode. This fills the ATB bar much faster than his regular attacks, but it has a cooldown, which forces you to think strategically about when best to use it.

So while characters share the same basic controls, their playstyle and utility looks to be very different, allowing for interesting and challenging combat encounters, and lots of options of the player.

And that was pretty much the end of the show. Any further, and we would have seen the famous scorpion boss - and we’d already shown that extensively at E3.

Perhaps the strongest message we took from the demo is that the combat system has been designed to give the player choice in how they play.

Tactical Mode is fantastic for players who want to take their time, consider their strategy and exert maximum control over their party’s actions, while shortcuts keep the action flowing for people who want to keep the action fast-paced and flowing.

Hopefully that was some useful insight into what you’ll actually be doing when you play FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE.

The game is due to release on March 3, 2020, but you can preorder right now.

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