While it was impressive before, on PS4 the tiered city of Midgar is grittier and more believable than ever, its sprawling alleys teasing new stories and secrets we haven’t seen previously. It’s technologically advanced, and powered by Mako, the planet’s own life force. Its reactors are slowly killing the planet, not that that bothers Shinra, which rules the city and make a lot of money off the energy. That’s why the ecoterrorist group AVALANCHE wants to destroy the Mako reactors, and needs help from Cloud, a disillusioned exSOLDIER for Shinra turned Buster-Sword-for-hire, to do so.
As AVALANCHE takes on Shinra things quickly escalate beyond control, endangering everyone living in Midgar, as well as the planet itself. But the members of AVALANCHE aren’t the only ones who take issue with Shinra: Sephiroth, a mysterious silver-haired figure who shares a history with Cloud is also involved, and cares a lot less about who gets hurt in the crossfire.
While the original game’s Midgar section was an electric introduction to FFVII that took around four or five hours to beat, after which you were unleashed on the rest of the world, here it’s being expanded to the length of a fully-fledged standalone modern Final Fantasy. Everything we’ve seen so far of that unforgettable journey through the steampunk streets of the city has been given a ton of extra depth – AVALANCHE’s conflict with the Shinra President has received some extra complication thanks to him linking the group to the Wutai conflict the city recently engaged in; the Turks, the group hunting AVALANCHE down, has been given a lot of extra weight and menace; and a new SOLDIER, who is also trying to track Cloud and the gang, has been introduced.
Weight’s also been added to the relationships between characters, with the interactions between Cloud, Aerith, and Tifa being expanded throughout the infiltration of the mafia boss Don Corneo’s hideout, though things like the gym training minigame sequences remain intact (it’s a wild ride). And during the opening Mako reactor bombing mission, Cloud and Barret have plenty of extra time to banter while they explore the reactor in real-time – no flashing away to random encounters, just in-the-moment action.
While so far we’ve just seen the main party of four characters you’d expect for the Midgar-set portion of the story, we have spied some powerful summons such as Ifrit and Shiva, suggesting you’ll get a larger suite of combat opportunities earlier on in the remade game.
Most of what we’ve seen so far has had clear analogues with the original game, albeit with an extra coat of paint – Rude getting the jump on Cloud and Aerith near her home in Sector 5 for instance, or the chase through the ruined church where Aerith collects her flowers, or the tense fight around the crumbling Sector 7 pillar. That said, given elements like the new SOLDIER, extra scenes between Cloud and Sephiroth, and teased mysteries throughout the city’s streets, we know there’s going to be a lot of brand-new content to enjoy as well.
Not only do the moments we recognise have extra impact thanks to the incredible graphics of Final Fantasy VII Remake, but because of the way the gameplay has changed they now feel different to play too. Exploring the world is no longer in the abstract like the overworlds of the original; you’re completely AVALANCHE-boots-on-the ground here, exploring these environments, and fighting enemies using a mix of real-time combat and command selection.
Combat largely has the feel of Square Enix’s other, related, combat systems like Kingdom Hearts III’s or Final Fantasy XV’s, but it feels a lot more refined and tactical. The right character using the right skill at the right time can turn the tide of any battle. Cloud, for instance, can get up close and personal with his sword, dodging strikes with e, and attacking with r to build up ATB that can be spent on skills or magic. Barret operates similarly, but his gun arm can pick at opponents from a distance – perfect for enemies who are flying just out of reach. You access skills by entering command mode with q, which slows time so you can select from a traditional-feeling menu (where you can also give orders to other party members), or you can set certain commands to shortcuts with o to keep the action flowing. Everything meshes together well to produce the best real-time JRPG combat Square Enix has ever pulled off.
While the original game has been remastered several times (there’s a great version on PS4), the idea of a full-on remake has been mooted for quite some time, ever since the opening section was remade as a tech demo to showcase PS3 in 2005. But even the presence of “remake” in the title of the version we’re getting in 2020 is misleading. This is more a reimagining, a brand-new riff on that song we all lovingly remember from back in the day, with Square Enix unafraid to radically change things and reinterpret the core of what made the original what it was. It’s more or less taking the essentials and figuring out what the game would look like if it were made from scratch today. Which is a great choice, as that original will always exist – this is something fresh and exciting, whether you’re a Final Fantasy diehard or coming to the series for the first time.
By building on the original foundation and finding ways to make Final Fantasy VII work on more advanced hardware and for a modern audience, Square Enix constructing its future on its rock-solid past. In many ways, this remake is laying down a blueprint for other games in the archives to follow. Classic turn-based JRPGs do still have an audience, but with the Final Fantasy series Square Enix has always been eager to use the latest technology to push the whole genre further, whether that’s in the CG cutscenes and motorbike chases of Final Fantasy VII the first time around, or the stunningly realistic environments of the last major entry in the series, Final Fantasy XV. If the studio can successfully combine what made people fall in love with its classic games with the very latest innovations, then it can continue to evolve.
Square Enix knows sometimes we have to look back at our past to figure out where we’re going, and after playing Final Fantasy VII Remake, we reckon we’re going to Midgar and on into an exciting future.
OTHER RPG GAMES HITTING PS4
PERSONA 5 SCRAMBLE: THE PHANTOM STRIKERS
Painting the town red Format PS4 ETA 20 Feb 2020 (Japan) Pub Atlus Dev P-Studio, Omega Force
Omega Force’s take on Persona 5 is far from a simple Warriors reskin. The dev is known for its “one vs a thousand” Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors hack-and-slash series, and so was the logical choice to develop the Persona series’ first action RPG.
Six months on from their heart-taking adventures, the Phantom Thieves are taking a well-earned holiday when they have to tackle a menace threatening the whole country. This means taking part in large-scale battles in the Metaverse, with combat seamlessly incorporating the turn-based style of the main game in real time. A Gematsu Livestream showed the game in action, and it looks incredibly fluid even with dozens of enemies piling in to attack Joker simultaneously. It’s already captured our hearts.
PERSONA 5 ROYAL
Back at it again in Tokyo
Format PS4 ETA Q2 2020
Pub Atlus Dev P-Studio
As it did with Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden, Atlus has taken a look at its wildly successful 2017 JRPG and asked “what if Persona 5, but more?” This is a reissue of sorts that bolts masses of completely new content onto the original game, including a brand-new party member, a dungeon, another confidant, and a whole school semester – plus other tweaks and additions. If you missed it the first time around, now’s the time to jump in (or it’s a great excuse to double-dip).
Like anime in the wind
Format PS4 ETA 2020
Pub Koei Tecmo Dev Gust Co
There’s much more to this game-based-on-anime than simply appealing to diehard fans. It’s a full JRPG developed by the genre veterans at Gust that’s set within Fairy Tail’s magical world. As such, magic plays a key component in the turn-based battles – and you will be scrapping as you play through several story arcs based on the anime. Even if you’re not a fan of the source material, Gust is creating a fantastic JRPG that should be top of any genre fan’s wishlist.
THE LAST OF US PART I I
Big country, small details
Format PS4 ETA 29 May
Pub Sony Dev Naughty Dog
This sequel is going to be big. So big it needed one more short delay to polish the details, but we’ll give Naughty Dog the time; it’s in the developer’s DNA. Where the original game was a fairly narrow adventure that rarely strayed away from Joel and Ellie’s story, The Last Of Us Part II looks to have broader narrative strokes. The world is larger, and alive.
The surviving humans have begun to rebuild society. Camps have become towns, and there’s a semblance of normality in Ellie’s life – previous gameplay teases have shown us the warmth of this new world as she dances with her girlfriend, Dina.
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