E3 2019 existed in something of a strange space this year. Although there were plenty of interesting developments that emerged from the show, whether it be the reveal of Xbox Scarlett to the masses or the surprise announcements of games like a Breath of the Wild sequel, there was also a tangible sense that everyone was holding back. Beyond Sony's absence, Microsoft also appeared to temper its game reveals somewhat, failing to produce any of the slam dunk showcases that could have captured the imaginations of gamers for the better part of 2019. With a new console generation looming, it makes sense: new games are likely being developed on those platforms instead, which is both why Sony and Microsoft had so little to show overall while Nintendo, in the beginning of the Switch life cycle, was able to hammer home several exciting exclusives due out soon.
Despite that, some non-Nintendo games managed to stand out, perhaps none more than Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Square Enix's re-imagined look at one of the most iconic games of all time. Final Fantasy 7 Remake was first announced during Sony's E3 2015 presentation and has largely been mocked for its lengthy development time since, with only one trailer to sate fans in a nearly four year period. With many beginning to wonder if the game was still on track, Square Enix delivered not only one of the most exciting Final Fantasy trailers in history, but also the gameplay to reinforce that anticipation. During E3 2019, attendees were able to go hands-on with a build of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and the extraordinarily long wait time to do so as the convention wore on spoke volumes about the word-of-mouth positivity that spread across the showfloor regarding the title.
Luckily, Screen Rant was able to play the Final Fantasy 7 Remake demo as well, and it's a near-perfect example of how remakes should be handled. Square Enix has hardly missed a beat on features that improve the game's playability, but crucially, the developer has also been adamant about retaining the core Final Fantasy 7 features that were crucial to the original game's success and place in RPG lore. Here's our takeaways from our Final Fantasy 7 Remake hands-off gameplay demo and hands-on with the Scorpion Tank section, highlighting the best game on display at E3 2019 and a beautiful blueprint for future remake attempts to follow.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake's Characters Have So Much More Personality
Final Fantasy 7 had restrictions. It was already a multi-disc game, and it had a lot of content to cover, which meant that some side characters really didn't get the treatment they deserved. For being relatively unimportant to the plot of the game, Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge were all beloved personalities whenever they had a chance to flash a little of their wit, earnestness, or cynicism. Even Cloud and Barret had trouble emoting early, with Cloud coming off much more brooding than perhaps intended while Barret seemed to scream at everything that moved. The constraints of no voice acting, coupled with limited time to expound on each character's early impressions, left a lot to be desired in what is otherwise an immediately recognizable and well-designed opening segment.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake completely changes the game for the better. Jessie is a flirt and witty, serving as a much-appreciated comic foil to Cloud's intensity while also indicating much more strongly that she has feelings for the ex-SOLDIER mercenary. Biggs and Wedge interact with Cloud in small but meaningful ways, offering him moral support or a chastising for his unwillingness to engage. Barret gets the benefit of a subtle and well-acted voice performance, lending his character a lot of emotional depth that belies the screaming that came to characterize his early gameplay in the original. And Cloud, finally, gets to have an engaging personality from the get-go, offering some deadpan humor on top of his stoicism. It's a winning blend and creates investment in the cast of heroes.
Even the enemies get in on the fun, for what it's worth. They're much more animated, which gives them a bit of personality. Scorpion Tank's boss fight is an epic affair, and one that gives the mech a bit of flair, too. Between its shuddering anger at being damaged and its relentless, lurching pursuit of Cloud and Barret, the game's first boss is at its most intimidating in Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake's Combat is As Good As The Franchise Has Ever Seen
Final Fantasy 15 was divisive. Not only did it spend over a decade in development, but when it released, it was also criticized for being something of a half-finished game—some parts of the title were beautiful, others full of half-executed ideas that never really felt like they belonged. The combat, though, was refreshing, even if it turned some fans off. Being able to maintain a quick pace in battle while creating a dynamic interface with which to cast spells and abilities was probably the best thing to come out of Final Fantasy 15, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake borrows heavily from that, keeping the fun hack n' slash pacing that makes skirmishes much more compelling than traditional turn-based RPG combat.
That said, however, Final Fantasy 7 Remake also gets it right precisely because it's more willing to embrace the classical designs that made its original so popular. The tactical mode, which slows time down to a crawl and allows players to select abilities, magic, and items to use for any character they wish, is a return to turn-based that works in the modern era. It's visually dynamic and allows for strategic planning, even in the midst of a fight that sees Cloud and friends scrambling to survive. The coordination that comes with tactical mode and the ability to switch between characters during combat means that, while the action-based elements of Final Fantasy 7 Remake are deceptively simple, the strategy and gameplay is anything but.
The ATB system also makes a triumphant return as a way to store charges of key abilities and magic. Managing the ATB doesn't seem particularly hard based on the hands-on, as it fills generously to make sure players have access to their crucial skills more often than not, but it does add another layer of strategy. It's also interesting to note that Barret had abilities that consumed both ATB charges while Cloud's seemed to only expend one, which made managing them slightly more fascinating. Hopefully further characters like Tifa and Aeris also provide small elements that can add layers of complexity to battle. Players can also assign their favorite skills to a shortcut menu, making accessing them on the fly easier. Mapping those out for boss fights, particularly more difficult ones, might also be a nice touch for players looking for multiple UI options when it comes to the game's challenges.
Finally, without question, Final Fantasy 7 Remake's combat looks the best of any title in the series. Guarding, dodging, slashing, and abilities all look crisp and visually engaging. Watching bullets ricochet off Cloud's buster sword in tactical mode, or the way the arc of his swing comes down on an enemy, is a thing of beauty. At one point during the hands-off demo, tactical mode snagged a gorgeous shot of a guard dog mid-lunge attacking Cloud, mouth agape, ready to chomp down on our hero. It was stunning. More of this, please, from both Final Fantasy 7 Remake and the genre as a whole.