I have never played Final Fantasy VII, but Cloud made me gay when he appeared in the first Kingdom Hearts game way back in 2002. (I joke, one brooding anime boy can’t just make someone gay, but they can certainly help.) So when I heard about the Remake of Square Enix’s legendary title when it was announced way back in 2015, I couldn’t help but be intrigued! Taking a page from Beyoncé’s book, Square surprised everyone and dropped a demo in the PSN store on Tuesday ahead of its release on April 10th. After about an hour of swinging giant swords and shooting arm-mounted guns, I came away from the demo eager to play the first part of what might be a series of games telling a story that will outlive us all by the time the conclusion is released.
The demo opens with a gorgeous cinematic spotlighting not only Aerith’s hair, skin, and clothing textures, but also zooming way out to show the sprawling city of Midgar aglow with hundreds of lights. It’s a breathtaking shot that also sets some expectations regarding the size of this installment of the Remake series, depending on how much of Midgar is open to exploration.
In or out of cutscenes, the characters are lovely to behold. Though Cloud is lacking the cape and golden claws which made my young heart flutter, I found myself in awe of the rusty metal textures on his shoulder guard and individual eyelashes adding just a hair of edge to his expression. The metal contrasts nicely against the leather harness and knit turtleneck tank top which folds realistically against his skin. The buster sword has a nice gleam to its sharp edge that shifts in real time depending on the lighting. What I’m saying is the game looks expensive, and I can see where the years of development time came from. This study of our protagonist is one example that speaks to the visual fidelity of every character and environment in the demo. I can only imagine how much nicer the game might look on a monitor newer than my decade-old TV.
Fighting as Cloud is quick and smooth. Imagine the combat of Kingdom Hearts III, but without a jump button, and if it were made for the PS4, not PS2. From dodge rolling around to making Cloud’s comparably scrawny arms swing the buster sword to and fro, I was immediately taken with how light he handled. This was before I even tried switching between Operator and Punisher modes. In Operator mode, Cloud’s attacks are wide and while still quick, Punisher mode allows for a focused flurry of slashes that’s very satisfying to pull off.
Switching between Cloud and Barret already made me excited to have a full party. Barret’s slow barrage of bullets changes up the pace of combat a lot and I can already see myself switching characters in fights for the sake of variety, if not strategic advantage. The boss battle at the end of the demo made some attempts at incentivizing switching characters, but I also felt like I could’ve finished it as just Cloud or Barret in case players develop a preference. I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up playing as Tifa as often as possible when she becomes playable. What a queen.
The characters were all fairly likable, if not the most complicated on a surface level. Jessie is charming and sarcastic. Wedge is nervous, naive. Barret is abrasive, maybe a bit cartoonishly so. Cloud is a complete punk and his standoffish attitude clashes with Barret’s brash outbursts in a way that was funny, if a little hard to relate to. Again, I know some of the characters from via Kingdom Hearts. So, while the cast present in the demo didn’t completely capture my interest, I know I want to play more to see Tifa, Aerith, and the iconic and fabulous Sephiroth. Does he literally have one wing in this series like he did in the Hercules world? These are the questions with which I come to FFVII.
The demo was entirely linear and featured a light environmental hazard that provided no challenge at all. I will admit, some of the exploration felt a degree less smooth at times. This was most felt whenever Cloud needed to change animations after slicing open some boxes or when I needed a prompt to appear before opening a door. These are minor hitches, however, taking only a second or so. It does also seem like you have to explore as Cloud with the game switching back to him when a battle ends even if I was controlling Barret during the fight. I’m hoping there will be a way to set a different character as the party leader to play as them as much as possible, if desired.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with the demo a lot! The last story beat shown had a hint of intrigue that made me immediately recognize how the governing body of Midgar plays and I’m curious to see what comes next. I don’t think the demo blew me away quite enough to compel me to pre-order the game, but I expect I’ll be picking up a copy before the year is out. Cloud may be pretty, but not as pretty as my home is going to look in Animal Crossing, after all.