Final Fantasy 7 Remake demo review: the good, the bad, and the voice-acting
A reader takes a humorous look at the free demo for Square Enix’s keenly awaited remake and how it compares to the PS1 original.
I had the day off work last Monday and Square Enix must have gotten word of it because, almost completely unprovoked, they treated me to a demo of their new blockbuster Final Fantasy 7 Remake. I asked eagerly if I could sign a non-disclosure agreement to underpin my importance, but it turns out they made the demo publicly available, probably just to avoid the paperwork.
We’re not thrown right into the action, as we’re first encouraged, in a profound opening cinematic, to ponder the plight of one of those people who wander up to your table at outdoor restaurants and try to guilt trip you into buying your wife a flower for a tenner. For obvious reasons, I assume this is the main villain in the game, so it’s a really effective opening but it’s not long before we’re stylishly introduced to our own wacky cohort.
Helping his clients on a presumably noble mission, our hero’s first requirement is to… kill four men so he can jump the ticket barrier on the tube. The group seems to be led by Barret, who must be so overpoweringly keen to build us all new homes it somehow makes him uncontrollably angry at everyone. His rage is matched only by the comical indifference absolutely everyone seems to have towards it. A devoted environmentalist clearly based heavily on Greta Thunberg, the surface similarities are only partly obvious, which is to say if Greta has a minigun for a right arm, she definitely underplays it.
Anyway, despite the quickly established tensions within the ranks, it becomes clear that teamwork is the order of the day, as it naturally takes four fully armed and extremely fit people to open a series of doors one by one while one skinny gymnast kills about 20 men and two dogs. Some of the team members seem particularly hostile towards Cloud, though, so we can assume they really could’ve used that fifth pair of hands to help stand next to all the doors instead.
Mechanically, the demo felt a lot to me like Mass Effect, with satisfying combat that operates in real-time but with the ability to substantially pause proceedings and select your special abilities, allocating them to a target.
If fighting in the original felt like line dancing to Billy Ray Cyrus, combat here is like bouncing to The Clash in comparison; unregimented, unfettered and punchy. I played on Normal difficulty and it all seemed to work very well without much complication.
More important to me is whether the random battles would be preserved and how the seams between combat and non-combat play would work. I wasn’t a fan of how even the most trivial of battles in the original opened and closed with a fanfare and a bunch of separate screens to wade through. Here both the randomness and transition elements appear to be done away with, as you barely register the switch to and from combat. Combined with the Mass Effect style mix of real-time and menu based combat, I found it all much more intuitive and enjoyable.
That also applies to the welcomingly simple menu system, albeit this is very early in the game so everything might currently be very streamlined. The concern that things might have been dumbed down since 1997 will naturally unsettle purists but my limited experience of the PlayStation original made me feel like the only reason to bother with the convoluted menus and systems was because you’d paid 40 quid for it and you didn’t want to chip off your first Japanese role-player. Or you wanted to make the most of my little cousin’s pirated copy while he was over for the weekend.
Instead, potentially the biggest issue for me so far stems from the voice-acting and dialogue. The main thing I can say about the over-enthusiastic delivery, especially from Barret, is it chalks up another victory for text-only dialogue in games. Maybe I could get used to it in time, but nuance and subtlety appear as welcome as Cloud himself does to his team-mates here. It’s probably a symptom of the Japanese development but stuff like this only works for me in something like Resident Evil, where the game doesn’t really take itself seriously. Story and character are obviously important in this instance, potentially more so than any other game ever made, so we really shouldn’t be finding ourselves in a position where tone, delivery, and quality of writing risk destabilising those elements.
It also commits the modern sin I associate most with Ubisoft games: not knowing when to shut up. Whenever anything happens in the game, someone always seems to have some pointlessly obnoxious one-liner that doesn’t serve anyone’s character in any way. A bit of restraint to limit the chatter to some of the otherwise empty walking sections, where not much else is happening, would’ve been preferable. We’re expected to spend dozens of hours with these characters, which seems at odds with the insistence that every possible opportunity should be taken to clumsily convey some facet of their personality.
I suppose the other big focus is going to be the game’s environments. I’m reluctant to bring it up again, because they seem such weird points of comparison, but following the demo my take on the city setting is that the treatment will be similar to the style of the Resident Evil remakes and Mass Effect. It might be wrong to read too much into an early game segment, although it does feel like there probably won’t be (m)any open environments as such, but rather a collection of fairly narrow play areas with a city facade.
There didn’t seem to be a great deal of interactivity with the world, with the odd item and box laying around, but that’s probably not an issue given the genre. In fact, much like the menu system, I welcomed the simplicity and as long as there’s a decent challenge and compelling enough story, I could easily live with the sort of nice, trimmed gameplay we see in the demo. Applying more free-roaming elements probably wouldn’t work if the only purpose is to convey scale at the expense of focus.
My overall thoughts are largely positive, then. Having only played as far as the end of Midgar in the original, the demo does encourage me to look forward to the final article, or at least the first chapter of it. If nothing else, it has plenty of foreshadowing for a satisfying payoff later on, probably involving Cloud sliding his tremendous weapon into a massive oven to present some sort of awe-inspiring pepperoni sour dough number.
With the gradual introduction of role-playing elements in action adventure games and the antiquity of turn-based combat from the PlayStation era, the Final Fantasy 7 Remake could almost represent an entire change of genre from the original. While at the moment I’m not massively confident that either game will ever really qualify as a front runner for best game ever made, I feel pretty comfortable in saying I’ll be a lot more likely to see the modern incarnation through to its conclusion, distant though that’s likely to be.
By reader Feeders Reacher
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