“We’ve just released the free #FinalFantasy VII Remake demo on PlayStation Store. What are you waiting for? Download it now and experience the beginning of the story for yourself!”
That was the message at 4 am EST Monday from the official Square-Enix Twitter account. Coming at a rather unexpected time and a few months following the leak of the demo, fans finally have a chance to see the fruits of their years long wait for a remake.
The download itself was not large, at around 7 GB for around 45-60 minutes of gameplay. Familiar Final Fantasy music accompanied the main screen, with three difficulty settings available depending on the level of comfort someone has with the battle system. More on the battle system later.
The demo opens with a beautiful cinematic recreating the intro from the original. There’s equal love for new and returning fans here, as the original game is clearly given honors here while the graphics and shot composition keep the feel sleek and modern.
Gameplay begins with the start of the legendary bombing mission where Cloud, Barret, and the rest of AVALANCHE seek to destroy Mako Reactor No. 1 in the foreboding city of Midgar. Control feels smooth and responsive as the game quickly transitions to combat, which to me felt like a blend of Final Fantasy XIII and Kingdom Hearts. There is a hybrid system of real-time action and menu combat, with cloud having access to two special attacks and a Fire materia. As an aside, the materia can also be seen clearly in his iconic Buster Sword, a nice touch to detail.
Players have access to a shortcut menu that strongly reminds me of the already mentioned Kingdom Hearts. That menu allows players to choose abilities, items, and spells without stopping the action. Cloud can also use light and heavy attacks via stance changes and stagger enemies (a nod to Final Fantasy XIII) for more damage. There is unfortunately no jump button which does make the combat seem a little restrictive considering the spectacle they are trying to create. Overall the combat felt good, though controlling Barret to target some elevated cameras did feel a little finicky given the fast pace of the combat.
Through the fight to the Scorpion Sentinel boss, players can also hear the new music and voice acting on offer. The music clearly takes from the original soundtrack and while it does sound excellent I’m not fully on board with the orchestration of all the tracks. The boss theme in particular feels like it has its very identifiable melody somewhat diminished by the expansive sound of the remade track.
The voice acting is passable, with Cloud and Jessie having the best performances of the demo. Barret, on the other hand, had a somewhat monotone delivery of yelling every line, making him feel like a wrestler out of WWE than a real character. It will be interesting to see how the character delivers on some of the quieter moments of the game.
As the group escapes the exploding reactor in the tail end of the demo players can clearly see the love for the new visual style. The cold greens and blues of Midgar give way to the oranges and reds of steam and fire, almost distracting from the rest of the action on screen. The attention to visual detail is my takeaway for the strongest aspect of the game currently.
The demo closes by asking you to pre-order, stating that the premium digital edition comes with actual in-game summon materia. With that and the planned episodic release of the game, some gamers are surely going to be turned off by an early purchase. However, I suspect fans of the franchise will come in droves as they finally get a chance to relive the magic of one of the legends of gaming.
The Final Fantasy VII Remake launches April 10 and is available on the PlayStation 4.