A Closer Look: ‘Final Fantasy VII Remake’ – Battle Systems, Exploration & More

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Credit: Square Enix

Earlier this week, Square Enix took E3 by storm with its massive Final Fantasy VII Remake showcase! And we mean massive! Square didn’t just give viewers a new trailer and developer insights, but also gameplay and boss battle walkthroughs! And for those attending E3, Square Enix also prepared a playable demo – which hopefully gets released to all players in the coming weeks. In short, there was A LOT of information to go through; but we did!

So if you have a question about how the new battle mechanics work, world traversal or the game’s division in general, this article is for you! As always, I’ll link the full press conference below; but this article will be dealing with more than just what is said. Extensive Demo feedback will also be factored in!

How Combat Works (Part 1) – Controls, Battle Stances & ATB Rates:

In my last article recapping Square Enix’s E3 presentation, I briefly mentioned that FF7R will actually combine real-time and turn-based combat. But there is so much more to go into! Let’s use PS4 as an example. You have your standard attack button as well as a button for guarding (R1) and another for evading (Circle). When it comes to attacking, each character has a stronger stance (Triangle). Cloud for example can toggle between ‘Operator Mode’ – his base – and ‘Punisher Mode’ where you attack slower; but they deal more damage. Similarly Barret has Overcharge where he fires one large shot instead of a continuous stream. Tifa and Aerith have ‘Bash’ and ‘Tempest’ respectively, but how they specifically function isn’t known.

You can attack freely or lock on to an opponent (R3) though enemies might not always be within range. This will force you to occasionally swap between characters (Up/ Down) so you can reach them. As you attack, you’ll build up your ATB Gauge – and this is where the real fun begins. A full ATB Gauge will allow you to freeze time and enter the Command Menu/ ‘Tactical Mode’ where you can select to either use an item, a spell or ability. These will be how you do the bulk of your damage. A quick note: Whether looking under your character displays (right) or Command Menu (left) you’ll be able to view your current available ATB charges.

I’ll do a deeper break down of all the Command options in the next section. Before that, it’s important to quickly note three things. (1) the ATB bar will fill slowly on its own, but attacking will make it fill MUCH quicker. (2) The demo shows two ATB gauges to start, but this could grow through the game.

How Combat Works (Part 2) – Command Menu, Spells & Limit Breaks:

When you start, Command Menu will usually be broken down into 3 parts: items, spells and abilities. Items and Spells are self explanatory; but it’s important to note that spells DO still rely on MP. The MP (and Limit Break) Gauges can be found towards the far right of a character’s display. Abilities are a bit more complex since they are made up of some old Limit Breaks as well as brand new techniques. Cloud for example has Braver (a former Limit Break), Focused Thrust and Triple Slash. Barret has Steelskin and Focused Shot. Each has their own uses/ applications such as (from the looks of it) bestowing buffs, hindering enemies or crowd control.

As for how Limit Breaks are done, once that previously mentioned ‘Limit Gauge’ fills a 4th option (Limit Break) will appear in the Command Menu to deal massive damage. As of the moment, the two known Limit Breaks are ‘Cross Slash’ and ‘Fire in the Hole’ for Cloud and Barret respectively.

Mastering the Command Menu is a must for this game; and remember this is only the start. As you progress, you’ll come upon various other types of Materia. Due to ‘Abilities’ being added, it’s unclear if some Materia types will be reclassified as well; but we can be sure that Summons will get their own category. It’s also important to note that you’ll be able to assign commands for other characters without directly needing to swap to them. Additionally – and if you so choose -, you can assign commands to a shortcut menu by binding them with L1.

How Combat Works (Part 3) – Enemy Range, Focus Gauge & Boss Fights:

With so many combat options available to the players, you know the enemies have stepped their game up as well. As I mentioned previously, some enemies might be ‘out of range’. I don’t simply mean they step back; but rather they could be out of reach all together. In one shot we see the Sentry Rays sitting above the battlefield. Similarly in the Scorpion Sentinel boss battle, it occasionally leaps out of combat onto far off walls.

This is why striking when the opportunity presents itself is a necessity. And to help that, the stagger system from Final Fantasy XIII has been implemented as well. Here it’s called the ‘Focus Gauge’ and once an enemy’s Focus Gauge is full, they’ll stagger and take bonus damage from all attacks. Additionally, some enemies will have multiple targets and weak points. This can be seen in the Scorpion Sentinel boss battle when you can target individual legs as well as strike its rear power core to drop its shield.

Barret fires at overhead Sentry Rays; Credit: Square Enix

As you’re probably quickly figuring out, boss battles are going to become far more challenging. In addition to everything we’ve already mentioned, boss battles will have stages to them where your opponent can set up barriers, remove themselves from the arena, destroy the arena and even heal themselves. If this can all be shown in the opening fight against Scorpion Sentinel, imagine how involved later bosses will be. You’ll certainly need to strategize like never before!

The World at Large – Exploration & Music:

As we saw in the original trailer, the FF7R will allow players to interact with the world like never before. You’ll navigate through long corridors and bypass debris all in a 3D style similar to more recent Final Fantasy games. Though despite this change in viewing the world, the world has been largely kept the same in terms of layout. Joe Juba from Gameinformer noted that “the map and layout of the reactor is practically the same as it was in the original version.” Speaking of the original, Joe also confirmed that randomly placed item chests will also be returning; but ‘you won’t be able to open them if you are in battle’.

This confirms that unlike the original, the game will flow seamlessly between combat and exploration. This seamless transition is also true when it comes to music. Jason Schreier at Kotaku notes that rather than there being a hard stop of one track and the start of another, “music swells in and out, transitioning between enhanced versions of classic Final Fantasy VII tracks based on your current state.” And whereas you can swap between characters during combat, once the battle ends, control shifts back to Cloud. As far as the story of Midgar is concerned, this makes a lot of sense. Although it’ll interesting to see if this changes during later installments when story events force Cloud out of action.

Expanded Stories – Storytelling & Game Length:

Speaking of story, it’s important to talk about how much this game adds onto the original in terms of content. Jason Schreier described it best when he said “the PS1 version of Final Fantasy VII was an outline and this is the final paper.” The trailers have already hinted at a much deeper dive into Cloud’s story and his hallucinations. We see this in the most recent when he seems to confront Sephiroth – or at least a hallucination of him. Joe Juba gives us a much better sense of this when he notes:

“The screen takes on a static-like visual and audio distortion when people mention things about Cloud’s past, like his relationship with Tifa, or his time in SOLDIER.” – Joe Juba, Gameinformer

Though it’s not just Cloud’s story the game expands upon. The dialogues are exponentially fleshed out and even minor characters like Biggs, Wedge and Jessie are given more personality. To get an idea of just how much this game’s been expanded, consider this. This game is the “story of Midgar” portion and will have two discs worth of content. In short, it’s the size of a full Final Fantasy game with about 60 hours worth of content. You could complete the ‘story of Midgar’ in the original game anywhere between 5 to 8 hours.

It’s a safe bet that the ‘no turning back’ point of the game will be you stealing that motorcycle and leaving Midgar! Though having this game end with you looking back at the city you just spent 60+ hours in – and looking ahead to the wide open world the next game will introduce – would actually be a REALLY great way to close out this game!

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