It's been a big month for Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Square Enix's ambitious reconstruction of its most iconic RPG has gone from being borderline vaporware to one of E3 2019's most talked-about games.
Square Enix's E3 press conference gave us a deep look at Remake's graphics, voices, and battle system. A lot of our fears about the game were availed, and some of our questions were answered—but the trailers we saw gave birth to still more questions and observations. That's the Hype Cycle, baby.
When Square Enix released the first substantial Final Fantasy 7 Remake trailer last month, I deconstructed it and discussed what's new, what's old, and what's strange. I enjoyed the process, so let's do it again with E3's latest batch of Remake information.
The classic Final Fantasy 7 pan-out is present, and it shows us how much Midgar has changed: For my money, Final Fantasy 7 has one of the most iconic openings of any JRPG. The camera pulls back from Aeris to show us the entirety of Midgar, then zooms back in on the train where Cloud and AVALANCHE are hitching a ride. It's a very cinematic introduction for a genre that was never able to do much storytelling with camera angles until that point. Final Fantasy 7 Remake's trailer gives us the same grand pullback that starts from Aeris and goes back, back, back until we see the imposing monolith of Shinra headquarters. It hits me where I live.
Midgar is so much bigger and livelier: Final Fantasy 7 vanilla's opening shot of Midgar is impressive, but the city looks a bit cramped; in the '90s, we had to use our imaginations when characters spoke in awe of metropolis' size. But Remake's pan-out shows us a Midgar that really is a city. Cars race on highways, skyscrapers bristle on the edge of the Plate, and people are everywhere. Everything is lit up like Christmas, which really adds to the feeling Shinra's Mako reactors are parasites that enable a standard of living that can't possibly last.
Hmm. Topical? I really hope Square Enix doesn't shy away from environmental themes in Remake. We've come a long, troubling way from 1990's cheesy brand of sing-songy Captain Planet environmentalism. Saving our planet isn't a Saturday morning message anymore.
Heidegger appears to be more dignified in Remake: Though Shinra is a terrifying corporate entity in Final Fantasy 7, it's managed by a troupe of morons. Two particularly clownish members of Shinra's upper management are Heidegger and Palmer. The former is infamous for his goofy horse-laugh and the latter doesn't do much beyond drink tea with lard since Shinra canceled the space program he worked on.
We get a look at Heidegger near the start of the new trailer, and he looks much more imposing now. He's wearing military-style regalia (complete with signature Tetsuya Nomura buckles) instead of his usual ill-fitting suit. He doesn't strike me as a bumbling idiot who punctuates every sentence with a horse laugh.
Now I have to wonder what we can expect from Palmer. I seriously hope he's still allowed to be comic relief; Palmer getting clocked by Shinra Inc's truck during a botched getaway is still magical here in the Year of Our Lord 2019.
The gang's Midgar mission appears to be a lot beefier, with more to fight and explore: E3 2019 hasn't yet answered how long each episode of Final Fantasy 7 Remake will be. In fact, as far as episode divisions are concerned, Square Enix is mostly playing things by ear.
Most fans speculate the first episode will end around the time the gang has to high-tail it out of Midgar. In Final Fantasy 7 vanilla, getting through Midgar takes roughly three to five hours if you know what you're doing. That's obviously not enough content to fill up a whole game, which is probably why Midgar looks much bigger in the Remake footage. We can already see the Mako reactors are full-fledged dungeon levels, not simply a collection of a few rooms. There's also a scene in the trailer where Tifa engages with some drones on a train (not to be confused with snakes on a plane), a fight that's not in the original game.
I guess we can expect the towns we visit in Midgar's slums to be bigger, too. Three ramshackle buildings in one "city" isn't going to cut it anymore.
The battle system isn't just about hacking and slashing after all: There's been a lot of concern about Final Fantasy 7 Remake's battle system, which is much more action-oriented than in the original game. Turns out mindlessly slashing won't get you too far. The real goal of Final Fantasy 7 Remake's combat system is to build up your "ATB" gauges, power up your skills, and then use those skills after entering a kind of "Bullet Time" mode that slows down time long enough for you to make menu selections. Square Enix explained the system in detail on-stage. Moreover, Cloud and his pals all have certain strengths and weaknesses when attacking, which comes in handy during big boss fights. There are certain bosses that are only vulnerable to long-range attacks in the original Final Fantasy 7, and I guess Remake expands on that in a big way.
Cloud wears the flower Aeris gives to him during their first meeting: It's not a big deal, really. I just think it's cute.
The inside of Shinra's offices look appropriately sleek and evil Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 (which should be on the Switch, hint hint Square Enix) gives us a good look at the inner workings of Shinra headquarters, but the PSP isn't capable of capturing the evil majesty of Shinra's immaculate floors. Never has a locale looked simultaneously spotless while still radiating industrial grunge. We even catch sight of Cloud running through Shinra's employee breakroom, which has a tree in its center. The tree looks normal enough in Final Fantasy 7 vanilla, but in Remake, we see it's encased in glass and supported by tubes and wires. I love it. It's an over-the-top reminder that Midgar is so polluted, so drained, it's incapable of supporting any kind of green outside of Aeris' flowers.
The chemistry between Cloud and Sephiroth seems to be turned up from "simmer" to "boil": Will it surprise you to learn Cloud and Sephiroth are an incredibly popular pairing for people who enjoy creating gay Final Fantasy content? I don't doubt Square Enix's taken notice by now. The emotional tension between the duo might be thicker than any other hero/villain pair in Final Fantasy history: Cloud idolizes Sephiroth until Sephiroth goes mad and burns down Cloud's hometown. Cloud also endures a great deal of mental stress and flashbacks throughout Final Fantasy 7, and it's not an exaggeration to say Sephiroth is at the core of his identity crisis.
Cloud suffers a strong flashback to Nibelhiem's burning in the Remake trailer, but Sephiroth doesn't simply glare at him through the flames this time. He asks Cloud to run away because "You have to live." Cloud shrieks "You bastard" and cuts at the illusion, which dissipates.
However you feel about the relationship between Cloud and Sephiroth, I don't think you can deny there's a powerful connection between them. Out of all the stuff being added to Remake, I believe the emotional strain between Sephiroth and Cloud will receive one of the bigger portions of HD upgrade superfood.
We can already see Square Enix isn't going to hand-wave AVALANCHE's acts of eco-terrorism: Even in the earliest days following Remake's reveal, I wondered how Square Enix plans to take on the topic of eco-terrorism. To reiterate, the first bombing mission you perform kills several innocent people, or so a couple of NPCs inform you.
Square Enix could do things the easy way and remove or edit these bits of dialogue, but instead it appears it's making modifications instead. For example, when Barrett and Cloud take down the scorpion robot boss at the end of the first mission, its death throes set off the countdown on the bomb Cloud planted—but never activated.
It's pretty much what I expected from the Remake, but when I viewed the trailer and game footage again, I noticed there seems to be more to the story. Before Cloud and Barrett are attacked by the scorpion boss, we see Cloud's finger is hovering over the red button on the bomb's remote, not the green button: He might've had his own change of heart about setting off the bomb before the attack interrupted him.
We also catch a snippet of Barrett scolding his teammates in the fiery aftermath of the explosion: "Y'all gotta look at the bigger picture here. Nothing worth fighting for was ever won without sacrifice." Later in Tifa's bar, Cloud asks Tifa if she's having "second thoughts." Tifa admits, "I know we have to think big if we want to make a difference. But not like this. I feel trapped."
I think AVALANCHE's moral struggle might wind up being a big part of Final Fantasy 7 Remake after all. I'm glad about it; like I said above, it's not as if "a massive corporation is rendering the planet inhabitable" isn't a relatable story point. Final Fantasy 7's world is on the precipice of destruction. Saving it requires drastic actions, and it makes sense the group feels conflicted about everything. At the same time, I can understand why Square Enix doesn't want one of its most marketable characters to literally push the button that kills innocent people in a massive explosion.
Ultimately, I think Square Enix will tackle some sticky political themes in Final Fantasy 7, but there will be compromises. It is what it is.
I have no idea how eggs and chips go together: Tifa's bar has a neon sign advertising it serves "Eggs and Chips." I can't stop thinking about this combination. Like, eggs and French fries? Eggs and home fries? Eggs and potato chips/crisps? What are we talking about here? Yeah, one's still a protein and the other is a starch, but it's just…odd.
Is this Square Enix's subtle way of telling us good food is hard to come by in Midgar's slums? Because I’m not going to lie, I always wanted to chow down on the Korean barbeque plate they serve at the Wall Market. Now I don't even know what it's made of. It's probably something like rice and pieces of shingles dropped by the Hell House enemies 'round back.
For lots more news, opinions, and impressions of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, visit our E3 2019 guide.