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Final Fantasy 7 Remake hands-on preview: Crank that, SOLDIER boy

Square Enix continues to astound with its reimagining of an all-time great RPG. Shacknews takes our last hands-on look at Final Fantasy 7 Remake, as we prepare for next month's release.

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To say Final Fantasy 7 Remake is one of the most anticipated games of the year is an understatement. People have waited decades to see this specific story remastered. Final Fantasy 7 is considered by some to be one of the all-time great RPGs. The wait has been excruciating. But now there's a light at the end of the tunnel. The game is just weeks away from release.

With just a short month to go before its arrival, Shacknews was given an opportunity to go hands-on with Final Fantasy 7 Remake. This was our chance to familiarize ourselves further with the various changes from the PS1 original to a more modern Square Enix RPG. It also gave us a chance to relive the unforgettable story and the game's colorful cast of characters, about 95 percent of which look to be unchanged. There's a new shine on them and that shine has never looked better.

Square Enix revealed the opening cinematic a few weeks ago and that was indeed what greeted us at the start of our playthrough. This segued into the opening chapter of the game. Those familiar with the original game should know what to expect. Barret leads a crew of eco-terrorists into Midgar's Mako factories, with the mission being to blow them up in order to stop their Mako harvests. Barret's joined on his mission by Jessie, Biggs, Wedge and SOLDIER mercenary Cloud Strife. And while Barret's on a mission to save the planet, Cloud makes it clear that he's in this solely for the money.

The rest of Chapter 1 unfolds essentially the same as our previous E3 2019 hands-on. Cloud plants the bombs and takes on a massive Scorpion Sentinel at the end. This serves as a lengthy tutorial, teaching players how to utilize Cloud's dual stances, his Magic, and the Active Time Battle (ATB) system. As our own Brittany Vincent observed, this is much closer to sister series Kingdom Hearts and more modern Final Fantasy efforts than the turn-based original. Although, there is a Classic mode available for those who would rather play this as a turn-based RPG more akin to the old-school PS1 effort. The key difference from previous demos is that this playthrough continued after the boss battle, tasking Cloud and the rest of the crew with escaping the factory before their bomb's timer expires and takes the whole thing down.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

Chapter 2 is where things start to feel a little different and also conveys how much effort has been put into the remake, with the Mako factory explosion leading to a massive power outage. Final Fantasy 7 was always a story of haves and have-nots and a story of the marginalized taking on an impossible battle against a powerful elite. That's made all the more evidenced by the cutscene that kicks off the second chapter, putting very human faces on those affected by the chaos. The start of this chapter focuses more on Cloud attempting to exit the scene of the explosion, giving players a greater chance to grow accustomed to the game's combat and also allowing them to utilize key elements like the game's map. Cloud will also find various items, like different Materia that can be used to upgrade his Buster Blade.

It was then time to fast-forward to Chapter 7, which looked somewhat familiar. Cloud was right back in another Mako factory, this time running a mission with Barret and Tifa Lockheart, the latter of whom brings along her arsenal of physical attacks to the party. The AVALANCHE crew had clearly learned from previous outings, this time making sure to tie their bomb to a detonator, rather than rely on a timer. Unfortunately for them, villainous corporation Shinra also learned from the past, having set a trap for the heroes to set the stage for another daring factory escape.

It was time to escape and this is where things got a little more interesting. President Shinra threatened to deploy a massive boss machine called the Air Buster. However, it needed some time to get ready. As Cloud and company made their escape, they could clear out rooms and collect key cards from different factory personnel. This would allow Cloud to hack the Air Buster's systems and remove one of its components, such as its machine guns or its area-of-effect bombs. This allows players to customize the upcoming boss battle, letting them tweak the Air Buster into something they're more capable of tackling.

That's not to say the Air Buster is easy. Oh no, it's still a tough fight, even with some of its toys neutralized. It hits like a ton of bricks and the party only has a few narrow scaffolds on which to fight it. This is a big test that gauges the player's ability to balance offensive skills, use defensive magic, and also switch from party member to party member. One thing that helped was knowing that the characters had leveled up significantly by this point in the story, to the point that Tifa had access to one of the game's Summons: Shiva. Shiva was able to pile on damage with ice attacks, helping stagger the Air Buster long enough to finish it off. Other Summons will become available over the course of the game and will prove to be a big help. For example, Cloud has access to Leviathan, the massive water dragon, which deals powerful blasts to surrounding enemies. And like the individual party members, Summons can be directed by each character to unleash specific attacks when cued up.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

The Air Buster battle offers a good idea of what to expect from boss battles, as does the Abzu boss fight that comes slightly later in the game. One major thing that Final Fantasy 7 Remake brings to the table is the ability to convey size and scope. In the specific case of Abzu, this giant sewer rat goes from a primitive polygon figure to a towering beast. And he's a beast who will use his environment to his advantage, moving across the sewers with ease and keeping his distance by leaping onto distant pipes whenever he's in trouble.

It's been over 20 years since Final Fantasy 7 first released on the original PlayStation. From what I've seen of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, this looks to be something truly special. And if there's any game that deserves to be made into something more special, it's this all-time classic. Remember that Final Fantasy 7 is a long and deep experience. Even with everything that Square Enix has shown off to this point, there's much more that the team hasn't revealed. And seeing those elements get the Remake treatment will be something to behold.

It's almost here. Final Fantasy 7 Remake is set to release exclusively on PlayStation 4 on April 10. You might have also heard that there's a free demo available right now for all PS4 owners.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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