FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE preview: a closer look at combat

We go beyond the demo to look at the battle system in the full version of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE
By Duncan Heaney

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE is now just a few weeks away. Many of you will already be digging into the recently-released demo. If not, what are you waiting for: go download it now!

But the demo, while exciting, is just a small sample from the very beginning of the game. Some of you may be wondering - how does the combat expand from there?

The Square Enix Blog team recently played through more of the game - we experienced three meaty sections: the opening bombing mission and subsequent escape; the assault on Reactor #5, and a boss battle in the Midgar sewers.

With many hours of gameplay under my belt, I wanted to share some of my own impressions of how combat’s shaping up.

Combat beyond the demo

I’ve seen a lot of fans ponder about FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE’s combat system - how does it feel to play?

Honestly, it feels completely unique - to the point where I can’t really think of a reference point to compare it to. What I can say for sure is that it’s enormously satisfying.

It all revolves around ‘ATB’. As you battle, two ATB bars underneath the character’s HP indicator will fill. When one is complete, you can spend it to use a special attack, spell or item.

We’ve written about this before, and you can experience this for yourself in the demo, but having played much further into the game, combat opens up dramatically. Your options get deeper, battle strategy becomes even more important, and fights feel fantastically rewarding as a result.

To try to explain what I mean, here are some observations:

Each party member is unique

Every playable character in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE feels distinct. While they all share the same basic controls, the way they fight is markedly different.

You can switch between party members in battle, or just give them orders via the Command Menu. Either way, understanding how best to leverage their strengths will give you a massive edge in battle.

Here’s a brief summation of the core party:

  • Cloud - an effective fighter in almost all combat scenarios. His abilities are wide-ranging, from stagger-filling assaults to flurries of attacks that increase in power with subsequent hits. His Punisher stance (activated by pressing triangle), lets him counter foes after a block - not only useful, but so, so satisfying to pull off.

  • Barret - his signature gun-arm makes him a logical choice to take out enemies that are high up or far away, but he has far more utility than that. For example, his Steelskin ability means that he can’t be interrupted by foes when using magic or abilities - that saved my life more than once!

  • Tifa - capable of delivering astonishing amounts of damage and doing so very quickly - though she’s in serious trouble if she gets overwhelmed. Her speed and ability to pressure enemies means that I found her to be something of a wrecking ball against Shinra’s various minions.

  • Aerith - when it comes to magic there is no equal. She casts noticeably more potent spells than her allies, and many of her abilities play into that strength. For example, she can steal MP from opponents or drop a Holy Circle that allows the party to multi-cast (amazingly useful in the battle against Abzu). You’ll want to keep her far away from the center of the action though.

ATB is essential

Standard attacks exist primarily to add to the ATB gauge - they only inflict minor damage. So if you expect to win a battle by spamming the square button, you will die. Probably very quickly.

True, the standard Shinra security forces you face at the start of the game can be put down without much trouble, but for most enemies and bosses you’ll have to rely on abilities and spells.

I tested this out against a Riot Trooper. These shield-wielding foes shrugged off Cloud’s basic combos, and responded with brutal attacks of their own. Before long, SOLDIER-boy was down for the count.

But by spending ATB on fire magic, I was able to take these foes out in mere seconds.

Combat requires thought

Combat may be real-time in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, but I’d argue that the scraps are as much a test of the mind as they are of reflexes.

The game constantly mixes up its encounters - just when you think you’ve developed a foolproof plan, a new enemy type or composition of foes turns up to completely wrong-foot you.

I found that I constantly had to adjust my strategy on the fly - should I use attacks like Cloud’s Braver to inflict maximum damage? Should I focus on abilities to stagger the enemy so it’ll take more damage? Would it be more efficient to focus purely on elemental weaknesses?

A good strategy and a thorough understanding of your various options makes a significant difference to your effectiveness in combat, and it makes every encounter feel meaningful - and fun!

Bosses are brilliant - but they’re no pushovers

That depth carries over to the bosses, which are fantastic.

We fought against three overpowered foes: the Scorpion Sentinel, Air Buster and Abzu - every single one presented a unique battle that required different strategies to overcome.

And strategy is important because if you approach these fights without proper consideration, it’s likely you won’t make it out. These guys are tough!

You meet the Scorpion Sentinel during the opening bombing mission. Since it’s in the demo, we won’t dwell much on it, except to say electricity is your friend. Also, attack while its tail is up.

No wait - don’t do that!

The Air Buster is encountered during the game’s second bombing mission and it steps things up a notch. In this battle positioning is everything - the mechanized menace is surprisingly fast, and has vicious attacks that should be avoided at all costs.

For example, at points in the fight it can detach its hands, so they can attack independently. In you’re in the path of these flying fists (which I was far too often), you’d best be ready to whip out a Hi-Potion or Phoenix Down.

Fortunately, these attacks tend to follow a predictable path - if you’re paying attention, you can maneuver to a safe space on the battlefield. Not only have you negated the attack, you’re well-positioned to follow up with a coordinated counter-assault.

Finally, we faced off against Abzu in the sewers beneath Midgar. The slobbering beast tests everything you’ve learned so far. It charges quickly, it’s incredibly strong and it can use the environment itself against you - getting smothered by sludge from a sewer pipe is probably not how Cloud imagined he’d go out.

It’s a tricky fight but fortunately Cloud’s equipped with the Assess Materia, which provides valuable information about Abzu’s primary weakness (which I won’t reveal so you can work it out for yourselves in the full game).

This provides the first piece of the puzzle - but it’s actually Abzu’s reactions to these attacks that let you see the full picture. Using this knowledge, it’s possible to execute a plan that keeps the monster on the back-foot, and your party conscious.

That was just a brief look at the combat in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE. It’s a genuinely enjoyable system that captures the essence of the original game, while still feeling fresh and unique in its own right.

But now that the demo’s out, what do you think? Let us know in the comments, and on social media:

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE launches April 10, 2020 for PS4, and is available to preorder right now: