Final Fantasy VII Remake hands-on: Already feels like the one for jaded JRPG fans

LOS ANGELES—I have not seen or played enough of Final Fantasy VII Remake to confirm exactly how the game will play out when it launches on PlayStation 4 consoles in March 2020. What I can say so far, at least, is that I'm far from a Final Fantasy or JRPG apologist, and yet 1.5 hours with the game's E3 2019 debut has me absolutely excited.

Really, I'm shocked to admit that. Yet familiar elements, new combat, and incredible polish across the presentation and dialogue have me convinced that I'll be a day-one FFVIIR player, no matter how good, weird, or poor the final game turns out to be. Thus, I'm here to talk about why I feel that way—and what remains to be confirmed or explained about this ambitious, murky, "first in an undetermined series" return to Square Enix's glory days.

Weighing in for a legitimate brawl

  • Once more into the belly of Shinra Corporation. Square Enix
  • Here, Cloud activates one of his special attacks in the middle of a battle, which requires pausing the real-time action, picking through a menu, and spending some of his "ATB" points (as explained below).
  • Even in the E3 demo's tutorial-like segments, Barret's ranged attacks are crucial for players to manage. Keep him focused on drone enemies and hard-to-reach weak points so that Cloud can more effectively wreak melee havoc.
  • It's hard to see in this explosion of fire, but the word "block" is hovering in there. Letting up on attacks is key when you're simply not going to roll out of the way of an attack in time.
  • In comparison to the last screen, this one shows Cloud actually successfully dodge-skating past a barrage of machine-gun fire. It's not Devil May Cry, but the maneuverability in FFVIIR is still pretty effective stuff.
  • I didn't get to see Tifa get into battle in any of my behind-closed-doors gameplay presentations, but this week's trailers hinted to her delivering combo-based martial arts damage.
  • The attacks have lots of particle effects.
  • Cloud is running.
  • Barret doling out some punishment.

Square Enix's Monday E3 press conference confirmed a few things about FFVIIR, from the refreshed visuals to the expanded story and its newly recorded, voice-acted dialogue. But first things first: how does it feel to play the darned thing?

The press conference made very clear that the game includes a refreshed take on JRPG combat, and the mechanical details we learned sounded fine enough as a sales pitch. But going hands-on with the demo helped confirm how good this feels in action—and how distinct it feels from Square Enix's other "action-RPG" fare (Final Fantasy XV, Kingdom Hearts).

Those other games let players use joysticks to run their characters around enemy-filled battlefields, but effectively, that movement doesn't change their core: turn-based, menu-driven combat that resembles JRPGs of old. In comparison, FFVIIR is truly a brawler. Mash a primary "attack" button for a default melee or ranged attack (depending on your chosen character and their equipped weapon). Tap one button to dodge-roll, or hold down the block button to withstand attacks that you're likely not to dodge. And however close or far you are from a foe really does have a risk-reward element, in terms of making you more susceptible to taking hits while also putting you in range to deliver damage (or, conversely, making sure you run your ranged characters away from combat so they can maximize their distant-fire potential).

Instead of offering a Devil May Cry-caliber array of attacks and combos, however, FFVIIR breaks its more dramatic attacks out to a "pause" menu tRead More – Source