Final Fantasy VII Remake hands-on preview – the biggest JRPG ever

GameCentral plays the reimagined version of Square Enix’s epic Japanese role-player and speaks to producer Yoshinori Kitase.

Final Fantasy VII Remake might just be the most ambitious video game ever made. So much so that the team behind the project has revealed that the story will stretch across multiple games… and even they don’t know how many titles that will eventually encompass.

The first of what will be a multi-game series, Final Fantasy VII Remake – the first extended gameplay footage of which was unveiled at E3 this week – is so huge that it will be spread across two Blu-ray discs when it is released on 3 March 2020.

‘It has taken a huge volume of work and a massive amount of data to reimagine the world at this scale,’ producer Yoshinori Kitase told GameCentral. ‘And for that reason, the first game in the project is going to be a two Blu-ray disc set.’

The team are already working on the follow-up game and it’s expected to take less time than the first instalment, which has been in development since 2015: ‘Whilst the development team finish the first game in the project they are planning the volume of content for the second. Due to the work already done on the first game, we anticipate the development of the second game will be more efficient.’

As a reimagining of the seminal 1997 PlayStation game, Final Fantasy VII Remake will take place in the city of Midgar, which was also the first location in the original. ‘The reason we chose to focus on Midgar for the setting of the first game is because it really represents the world of Final Fantasy VII as a location better than any other place’, revealed Kitase.

Exploring Midgar ourselves, the E3 demo retells the familiar plot from the original – our crew of eco-mercenaries are on a mission to plant a bomb inside a reactor which is being used by big-business power company Shinra to drain the planet of Mako, its vital life force. ‘They’ll keep sucking every bit of life from the planet until nothing is left,’ warns character Jessie.

Swinging Cloud’s famously gigantic sword is enormously satisfying, slashing enemies with force in fast-paced, close quarters combat. And it’s super simple, too. Though being strategic with battles is the way to master the game, you can unleash a basic attack with an easy button tap.

But as Jessie tells players before our demo starts, ‘It’s not the size of your sword. It’s how you use it.’

Button-mashing a big sword will only get you so far. Your ATB gauge, a classic element of the Final Fantasy series, is the key to unleashing the game’s most powerful moves in combat. For the unfamiliar, this charges up over time: when it has fully charged up ATB allows you to use your characters’ magic and individual special powers.

Crucially, for such a huge-scale blockbuster, it’s easy to play Final Fantasy VII Remake without having ever played the first game – or having much of an understanding of Japanese role-players at all.

Combat is simple to pick up, and in just the demo alone, understanding the use of spells and tactical use of your range of characters comes quickly, in a way which is gratifyingly straightforward for newbies.

Your party in the full game will be made up of up to three members, which you can switch between at any time for optimum use of each character’s specialties. In the demo we controlled a party of two – Cloud and Barret – and alternating between them, based on their individual skills, is where the role-playing tactics come in.

Cloud’s abilities are best used for close-quarters melee attacks (see: big sword), while more damage can be unleashed with special attacks like his classic Braver ability, which increases his power but slows down his agility.

Barret, meanwhile, with his signature gun-for-an-arm, is best for blasting enemies at a distance in long range attacks.

The team members themselves have been completely overhauled from the blocky characters of the original. Every pore and freckle is on display in every close-up, every whisker of stubble and sheen of sweat visible in glorious high definition.

The fleshing out of the characters goes beyond just the CGI looks though, since for the first time everyone has voice-acting and motion-captured performances.

‘In the original Final Fantasy VII, obviously we didn’t have access to things like voice-acting and motion performance, or any close-up camera work outside maybe the cut scenes’, said Kitase.

‘For the Remake there is a greater emphasis on the characters themselves and the storytelling… this really does enhance not just the characters, but also the levels of immersion that you get from their performances.’

Kitase also reveals that previously minor characters like Jessie have had their part in the plot expanded upon.

Despite the upgrade, some scenes, such as the one of the Avalanche crew in an elevator en route to the reactor mission, will be instantly recognisable to fans of the original, having now been reimagined as beautiful, fully acted, cinematic scene.

So, if Final Fantasy VII is already renowned as one of the greatest games ever made, and Final Fantasy VII Remake pushes the world beyond what we’ve ever seen of it before, does that mean this will be THE greatest game ever made?

‘I hope it will be!’, laughs Kitase.

It’s big talk. But it’s not the size of your game, it’s how you play it.

By Rebecca April May

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