Twenty-three years on, our application to join AVALANCHE has finally been accepted. It’s the ecoterrorist group trying to save its planet’s energy from being sucked dry, and we’ve stepped into the ex-SOLDIER boots of Cloud, a superpowered swordsman who’s been enhanced by that very same energy and now turned against the organisation he worked for, Shinra, the corporation that rules the steampunk-inspired city of Midgar with an ironclad grip.
Midgar is a marvel at a glance, but mired in its own issues. With a dense population, the upper class literally living above those who dwell in slums beneath the main city’s plates, Shinra has to keep everyone in line. Not that Cloud is worried about that. He’s just helping out AVALANCHE for the mercenary paycheque, or so he says.
Our extensive hands-on demo has us playing from the very beginning as the team carry out a bombing on one of the city’s Mako reactors. Seamlessly moving from cutscene to action, this is an absolutely gorgeous remake that thankfully retains the visual stylings of the PS1 original. Where FFXV was often beautiful, too many times assets felt like they’d been plopped randomly onto the world. Here everything is immediately cohesive, Midgar towering around you, beautiful in its neon hum and oppressive in its overbearing structures.
Hopping off a train alongside the other AVALANCHE members, Cloud immediately has to chop his way through guards using his impressively oversized sword, following his comrades through train ticket barriers, waiting as they cut through a fence to get into a warehouse, and then clearing rooms so the others can hack the computer consoles to get into the reactor itself. It feels like a real place. We recognise the geometry of the original game many times during our playthrough, but it’s been completely refreshed. It’s marvellous how the remake plays on our nostalgia while delivering so much new to the senses.
Once inside we’re joined by Barret, AVALANCHE’s gun-armed leader, and we fight our way past sentries to get to the reactor’s core. In the original you could spec characters to have different skills, but ultimately they all handled the same in the turn-based ATB (Active Time Battle) system. Here, party members feel much more discrete, and have become more robust since the last time we went hands-on. Barret’s gun ensures he can attack from a distance, getting the drop on mounted turrets on enemies that can hover out of the way. Simply holding down r unloads a clip, with w letting him unleash a burst attack that charges over time.
"EVERY BOSS IS EXTRA-SPECIAL – TOUGH AND CINEMATIC.”
As you might expect from his massive sword, Cloud is much better up close. Tapping r has him use a single-target autocombo, while holding it down performs a group attack. It’s a simple twist but it works, as busier fights can get chaotic. Using w switches him from Operator mode to Punisher mode, slowing him down massively but allowing for much stronger attacks and counters.
Later on in our demo we’re also given access to Tifa and Aerith’s combat flavours. The former has a variety of close-quarters martial arts strikes, while the latter can use damage-dealing magic and support skills from a distance. As you damage enemies you build up their stagger, eventually filling a meter that will leave them vulnerable for a time, which is when you can deal them heavy damage.
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