In 2015 a small rumour surfaced prior to the Sony Press Conference. Square Enix had finally caved in and was working on a complete remake of their legendary title from 1997. All YouTubers, media outlets and common folk dismissed it as pure wishful thinking. Yet, around the halfway mark of their widely praised press conference, Adam Boyes of Sony Interactive Entertainment finally revealed what everyone had only dreamed would happen. The original creative trio of Yoshinori Kitase, Tetsuya Nomura and Kazushige Nojima were back at the steering wheel, creating an entirely new version of the beloved seventh chapter in the Final Fantasy universe.
That happened four years ago.
Jokes about delays, cancellations and an inability to finish games were quickly filling up the Internet until Square Enix finally revealed the game once again in May of this year with a "more to come at E3" teaser. The world was finally going to find out exactly what Kitase-san and his teammates had been doing for the last four years.
Accordingly, Square Enix invited us and a limited number of other journalists to a personal presentation with Kitase-san. The event began with a small introduction repeating the major points of their press conference from the night before, such as there being enough content for two Blu-ray discs, Midgar being centre stage, and the basic gameplay mechanics. Regarding the game being split into more than one, Kitase-san assured the attendees that work on the second part already was underway as well. The presentation ensued with a faithful recreation of the original intro and the protagonist, Cloud Strife, making his iconic entrance on the train platform next to a mako reactor. Unlike the original version, however, the area around the train station feels alive and can be fully explored rather than being the static, pre-rendered images of 1997. As the presentation went on with Cloud exploring new areas of the station and reactor, Kitase-san said they were rendering elements of the world, which had been a key part of their intended vision during the creation of Final Fantasy VII.
Despite the 1997 release being without voice acting, the game featured many iconic lines - "Let's Mosey" is a classic example - and from the few cutscenes we witnessed from the remake, much of the original dialogue is still in the game. Hearing the reimagining of Barret yelling some crazy talk about the planet or Jesse talking to Biggs about Cloud, brought sheer joy to many of us. Old fans will repeatedly be able to recite the dialogue along with the characters, which should make for a truly magical experience for those of us who grew up with the characters and imagined what their voices and movements would be.
The same thing can be said about the music, which is a great mix of the classical score and a more contemporary interpretation thereof. Reworking the music to fit the remake had been a challenge according to Kitase-san, since the original game had very defined transitions between battle and exploration. When playing the remake and entering a battle, the battle theme is excluded and replaced by a more intense version of the one already playing.
Continuing the notion of blurring the old with the new, ever since Square Enix decided to move away from classic turn-based combat, one thing that has seen much discussion around the web has been the combat-system. Having tried the game ourselves and seen the developers explain everything in detail, we are quite confident of Square's ability to perfectly blend action combat whilst keeping elements of the turn-based system. During battle, the player can change between playing slow and tactical and full-on action - basically, it's a more complex version of the system found in Kingdom Hearts II. We experienced the former to be the most satisfying and in keeping with the spirit of the original. In the heat of battle, the player can freely attack with the Square button and perform a tactical slow-motion pause when having garnered enough ATB (Active Time Battle) points. In his slow-motion state, Cloud can subsequently perform a variety of spells and abilities to inflict some serious damage on the enemy.
Kitase-san and his team used the presentation to reveal Cloud has different tactical modes - a detail absent from the press conference. If one plays in 'punisher' mode the attacks become far more lethal, yet also slowed down significantly compared to his default 'operative' stance. Shifting between the stances is not exclusive to Cloud and varies significantly from one character to the other. When we tried the game for ourselves, wrestling with the intricacies of the controls and tactical depth was difficult to get the hang of in the beginning. After having played a while, however, it felt extremely satisfying - despite the battle modes not being a part of the demo.
And that notion of being extremely satisfying fittingly sums up the experience of playing and hearing about the remake. Midgar and the character models are gorgeous to behold in their new adventure, the attention to detail is astonishing, and the gameplay a blast to play. If the E3 2019 demonstration is any indicator of what is to come, then March 2020 can't get here fast enough.