The Return of Classic Fantasy
Well not quite. Final Fantasy VII Remake will have the same action-based battle system regardless, but this week it was revealed that Square Enix has implemented a ‘Classic’ mode which attempts to make this battle system less painful for action averse players. In normal circumstances the battle system requires that the player go ham on enemies, beating them down with button mashy controls in order to build up their ATB meter before they are able to use the Command menu to issue strategic commands. As an aside, can we just stop to ask why Square Enix is still calling this an ATB? It is no longer a measurement of time, so then how can it be an Active Time Battle meter? Regardless, once the player has filled their Static Time Battle meter by wailing on enemies, they are then able to expend an increment of this meter in order to open the command menu, and strategically access commands such as magic, items, and physical abilities.
The way that ‘Classic’ mode changes things up is by it making the characters auto-attack enemies in order to build up the ATB gauge without the player’s input, freeing them up to focus on using the command menu.
The ‘Classic’ difficulty mode will have all party members move around the environment, attack and guard automatically during battles. Players will only have to focus on inputting commands for spells, abilities and item use when the ATB gauge is filled—emulating the style of classic menu-based RPG combat.
One’s initial thinking was that completely removing attacking from the player’s control would probably make the game a whole lot duller, but then Caspius pointed out that it was really no different than setting up auto-attack gambits in Final Fantasy XII. In fact this might be just the thing for any player intent on cycling through their entire party to enter commands on a per character basis.
In a lot of action RPGs cycling through characters can feel kind of awkward and bumbling, as it can interrupt combos that a character was right in the middle of – yet if the combat is automatic then this should not be a problem. One only hopes that the player is able to turn off the party AI’s ability to use commands, so that the player has an excuse to cycle through his entire party to make use of commands as they become available. If that is possible, and if the process is intuitive, then Classic mode could very easily end up being the best way to play the game. At any rate, it is hard to know exactly what to expect when all we have to go on are translations of a brief exchange during TGS. Let us hope that Square Enix shows off Classic mode in full sooner rather than later.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Is Looking Amazing
What is the definition of insanity? If it is doing the same thing while expecting different results, then this author may be losing his marbles, because one is starting to get seriously hype about this game’s 2020 release. It is totally not this author’s fault, okay? Square Enix know how to put together amazing trailers that are able to completely bypass one’s critical faculties, so that you only realise that the game is shit once it has already been purchased. However well the game turns out, what is certain is that it looks absolutely beautiful, both technically and artistically. It is not since 2006’s Final Fantasy XII that we have seen a Final Fantasy game that is hands down the most attractive game on its platform (at least insofar as home console entries are concerned), but Final Fantasy VII Remake certainly is that. The game does amazing things with coloured lighting and particle effects, and the image quality is just looking so refined that it had this author questioning whether it was even running on PS4 hardware, as opposed to a PS5 dev kit. After some deliberation it does seem that the game probably is running on PS4 (at least the footage taken from on-floor demos of the game is), but that just goes to demonstrate the magnitude of the achievement that Square Enix have under their belt in creating this game using Unreal Engine 4 on current generation technology.
The game might be shaping up to be a real looker, but it is no slouch in the audio department either; at least where the game’s soundtrack is concerned. The game’s remixed audio sounds absolutely gorgeous, or at least that is the impression that one gets from the handful of tracks that have been heard so far. The voice actor for Barret is absolute perfection, and sounds just as one imagined he would when playing the game for the first time way back in 1997! Mark Hamill has been cast in the game, which is far bigger news than a bunch of Teen Wolf losers, and he will be playing the man himself, Don Corneo! From the brief clip of Corneo that we saw from the TGS trailer, it looks like Hamill has done a splendid job bringing the sleezeball to life, though to be fair this is one area where the Japanese casting has the English dub beat – as the Japanese Corneo sounds just like a drunk and sleezy middle age Japanese salary-man, which is perfect. If only we could choose dubbing on a character by character basis. As far as the rest of the cast goes, Caspius has a big problem with a number of the casting choices, mostly due to their accents. As an Australian, this author does not have enough familiarity with American accents for regional accents to really be especially irksome, and as such one thought they all sounded fine. Caspius is not the first person who has had a problem with these voice actors though, so readers mileage may vary.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Has Made Some Smart Changes
In terms of gameplay, there were a few things which stood out. Characters can now only equip one summon each. When a summon is cast they now stick around and do their own thing like the AI Summons in Final fantasy XII, and once their duration bar runs down they do their big signature move just before they depart. While these summons are mostly apt to do their own thing, they can also be given commands, as one would a party member. This is kind of cool, though to be honest one prefers summons to just be one single powerful magical attack, as they were back in the day.
In the original game the player does not have reliable access to Ether until quite a ways in, and so rationing MP expenditure becomes important. One gameplay change that this author is entirely onboard with is that while exploring the player can now smash metal boxes and be rewarded with small amounts of MP – the demo showed values of 3 MP and 5 MP being restored. It is important for magic to have a cost, as these are some of the most potent attacks in the game. At the same time having to ration MP can make players a bit overly frugal with how they use their mages. As such, this sort of incremental MP restoration seems like just the thing to get players using their magic a little more freely – which will be all the more important when playing on Classic mode.
During TGS Yoshinori Kitase also demonstrated the squats mini game, and it was honestly pretty neat to see all the visual polish that this throw away mini-game was given. One really is getting the sense that Square Enix are sparing no expense when it comes to the development of this game, which is as it should be given the way they are preparing to milk it. Honestly, while the visual splendour is very welcome indeed, the changes made to the squats mini-game seem less so. In the original title this was one of the mini-games that actually worked pretty well – there were three buttons, each tied to a motion which formed part of a squat, and the player would have to time these presses to successfully out-squat their opponent. After a little practice the player would get into a rhythm, and it all worked as it should. In Final Fantasy VII Remake this has been changed into a generic ‘press the button when the cursor is over the target’ kind of game, and worse still the GUI fades out to become invisible a short way in, and the player just has to guess at the timing. This is going to become frustrating, since the player lands right on their ass every time they mistime one of these button presses. The in-game squats opponent looks so inept that most players likely will not have any problem in drubbing them, but it is still no fun being dumped onto your ass every ten seconds. It is also kind of telling that Square Enix felt the need to make the opposition borderline retarded in order to provide a fair challenge to players in this broke-ass mini-game!
In terms of narrative there have also been some other quite substantial changes in evidence at TGS. The first is a rather clever adjustment to the way that President Shinra attempts to handle the Avalanche situation, which seems ripped right from today’s headlines. In the original game President Shinra decides to drop the Sector 7 plate in order to squash Avalanche, and then attempt to spin what happened in order to blame Avalanche for the plate’s collapse. This is fine, if a tad simplistic. In the remake President Shinra also makes the claim that Avalanche are working with Wutai in order to attack Midgar, which is genius in its simplicity. It is much easier to galvanise (and thereby control) a population against an external threat, rather than a domestic one. This is why you see China blaming America for the Hong Kong protests, and why you see mentally damaged Democrats shrieking about Russia being to blame for the election of President Trump. So with a very minor adjustment Square Enix have managed to bring Final Fantasy VII Remake right in line with today’s world.
Another way in which Square Enix are boosting the storytelling in Final Fantasy VII Remake is through utilising modern hardware in order to better tell the story through non-verbal means. Case in point, there is a scene in which Cloud sees Aeris and seeing her causes his pupils to dilate. Sure it is the modern hardware which makes this possible, but Square Enix had to think to use it in this way, so full kudos. It is often said that about 90% of human communication is non-verbal, and for someone as taciturn as Cloud it might even be more than that. Cloud is probably not the type of guy to wear his heart on his sleeve and confess his affections for a girl he has only recently met, but through the subtle dilation of his pupils the player is able to see exactly how he feels about Aeris without him having to say a word. This kind of superior visual storytelling is also on show on a much larger scale during a brief scene depicting the tragedy and desolation of Sector 7 following the destruction of its upper plate. Back in 1997 the full extent of Squaresoft’s depiction of the aftermath of Sector 7’s destruction was the fact that a previously accessible entrance was now blocked with debris and wreckage – so the depiction of what should be a tragedy is functionally reduced to being a closed door to the player. We never see more than that. Needless to say that, while the loss of Biggs, Wedge, and Jesse was a bit sad, the massive loss of life of all the people who died in Sector 7 really failed to hit home. A few short years after this America would come under attack by Al Quaida, and in a post 9/11 world you really cannot get away with treating such large-scale carnage as an afterthought. We all know what it is supposed to look like, and so do Square Enix it would seem, as the depiction of the Sector 7 aftermath seems significantly more impactful this time around – or at least that is the impression that one got from the admittedly brief clip seen in the TGS trailer.
One change that this author is not so crazy about is a scene where Avalanche can be seen parachuting down into Midgar, shown during the TGS trailer. We all get it, parachuting into Midgar is a cool thing to put into the game – but doing so at this early juncture ruins one of the most epic moments of the late game return to Midgar. Come on Square Enix, you are cannibalising your own game!
Overall one is very, very impressed by what has been shown off at TGS. That said, all of the awesome things to come out of TGS do nothing to solve one of the most fundamental problems facing Final Fantasy VII Remake. The game is remaking a five hour section of the original game into a 30-40 hour full scale RPG. Even if the game is padded out with really good and smart world-building narrative, that does not change the fact that it has very few essential plot points to work with, and so it (seemingly) cannot help but to damage the game’s narrative by watering it down with throw-away B-plotlines.