Final Fantasy 7 Remake does everything right.
Everything. From the characters to the battle system to the top-of-the-line graphics to the familiar-but-modernised music, Square Enix's next RPG just gets it all right.
It seemed like an impossible task, leveraging nostalgia and modernity, slotting the two enigmatic concepts together like materia into a weapon.
But Square Enix has done it. In a three-hour session with the game, a carefully curated demo showed us the opening crawl to the remake, a section from a bit deeper into the game, and a boss fight with a mid-game beast.
Those opening minutes, resurrected and rhythmic with the traintrack rhythm of Bombing Mission giving that intro crawl all the urgency it needs, grab you by the throat.
If you're familiar with the game, it feels like Remake casts a spell on you there and then. It's thrall begins; Cloud and Aerith and Tifa and Barrett all get reintroduced to you with the frictionless ease of meeting old friends, and you kind-of just pick up where you left off.
If you're new to the series and have been tempted to the city of Midgar because of all people talking about the game like it's an old relationship – and often 'the one that got away' – you start to see why.
First up, everyone in this game is gorgeous. Graphically, this game is doing things more in line with what we were expecting from early next-gen graphics that the PS4/Xbox One era.
Square Enix's decision to move to Unreal Engine 4 and modify the hell out of it is paying dividends already – the way the gunmetal alleys of Midgar reflect the green light so emblematic of the city is nothing short of awesome, the fuzzy hem of Cloud's high-necked sweater looks at once itchy and cosy, the steel of his iconic sword gleams with intent in the low light.
It sounds dumb, gleaning that kind of feeling from these textures – from these rendered items – but so complete is the visual correctness that it's hard not to summon up these ideas in your head when you recollect it.
The characters – once ugly amorphous blobs stuck to a gorgeous pre-rendered world like thumbed-on gum – now truly belong.
Their clothes, their weapons, their skin … it reflects Midgar and all its grime, all its gorgeousness, and more than ever your gang of ragtag environmental terrorists feels at home in the city.
Better yet, they're brought to life with better scripting than the PSOne game's… questionable…. localisation ever allowed them to be.
The central cast are tense, focused on their mission, but more human than they've ever felt – expressive facial rigging and finely-tuned body language elevating them from passable protagonists to fully fleshed-out heroes.
Complete with full voice-acting, only a handful of lines come off awkwardly or don't quite land. Not bad for a Square Enix RPG, right?
But a Final Fantasy game lives and dies on its combat.
Final Fantasy XV – the last mainline, single-player release in the series – lost a lot of power in battles that somehow managed to feel floaty and thrashy all at once, the arrhythmic in-and-out of menus preventing you from ever, really, feeling powerful
But that felt like a prototype for Final Fantasy VII Remake and what it'd become.
The way you can weave in and out of selecting commands and laying down powerful moves with your cast is arresting, a fluid mix of tactical and reactive that has taken Square Enix so many years to perfect.
But now, ordering Barrett position himself at the flank to suppress with covering fire, getting Cloud to cast offensive magic in the mid-range and taking control of Tifa as she pounds a Scorpion Tank into submission… it's the Final Fantasy vision we've been promised since XII.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake release 21 new pictures with Red XIII and more
Even though RPG tropes raise their heads – multi-phase boss fights, repeated rooms for the sake of puzzle solutions, intermittent awkward dialogue – it can't dull the experience of Final Fantasy VII Remake.
It's hard not to look at this game through a rose-tinted monitor, and drink up its joy because it's familiar, but I'm a Final Fantasy fan that can fully admit the games have had their issues (and my favourite is VIII, too, not VII…)
Square Enix's latest blockbuster release will be as appealing to new fans as it will be old, because it delights in making players familiar with its cast, it revels in making them feel powerful and tactical in combat and Kitase and his team have clearly moulded this project with as much love for the source material as any fan out there – if not more.
Final Fantasy VII Remake, without any doubt, will be remembered as one of the all-time PlayStation greats.
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