Final Fantasy VII Remake – A Golden Shiny Wire of Hope

After playing the EGX 2019 demo, Tim weighs in on his most important upcoming release of 2020.

According to the saying, you can’t have your cake and eat it. Besides that being weird – cake is meant for eating after all – it seems Square Enix will not only let us eat cake, but they will continue to feed us more, and more, and more.

Excuse me whilst I sit down, and drink my goddamn tea.

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And just like that, a dream comes true.

Wow. Ok. Deep breaths. Where to start with this?

Final Fantasy VII is my favourite game of all time. It is a game that taught me the potential this medium had for storytelling and showed me that videogames could be so much more than just something you played to fill time.

This game changed my life. Never before had a videogame challenged me with complex themes, complex characters and the most evocative music I’d ever heard. This was not “press right to win” as I’d previously experienced in so many Mega Drive-era games. Here, I had to talk to people, learn their motivations and personalities. I had to explore in not only the physical sense, but also socially and emotionally – in game and in myself. The only thing that has ever captured my imagination like Final Fantasy VII was when my grandad introduced me to Star Wars as a young boy.

I remember everything about this game. Right down to the smell of the box. I’ve played it so many times that it’s one of the few games I feel I’ve truly mastered, yet replaying it never gets old for me.

As I type this, I’m still trying to process the sheer majesty of playing the demo at EGX 2019. I was shaking when I left that dangerously comfortable gaming chair, struggling to find words or process precisely what emotions I was experiencing.

Firstly, I think it goes without saying that having one of your favourite things ever remade is enough to leave anyone cautious. Mieke will testify that I’d essentially sealed myself in a little box of self-preservative denial regarding the remake, and with good reason. (Editor’s note: see? I told you it hadn’t been cancelled, but would you believe me? Like hell you would! *facepalm*)

Outside of wanting to protect my beloved FFVII from meddling harm, I needed to be real here too: Square Enix is a radically different company from the Squaresoft of 22 years ago. Hell, the gaming industry itself has changed drastically in that time. I didn’t want to get all wrapped up in hope and hype, only to be presented with a shameless cash-grab and a half-hearted effort to prettify a game that is so, so dear to me.

Final Fantasy XV was good, but not good enough considering how much time Square Enix took to deliver it after such a choppy development period. Frankly, the so-called final product at release was still incomplete. Many patches and DLCs later, and XV is almost the game they wanted to put out. However, no matter how much I may love the Chocobros, I have to concede it’s still a game that’s full of holes and, though I’ve not played it in full, I’m hearing similar disappointment levelled at Kingdom Hearts III. It seemed to me that the FFVII Remake could suffer a similar fate.

Forgive me for jumping the gun here, but if the E3 and TGS footage was anything to go by my skepticism was hugely misplaced. What I saw in both the trailers and gameplay reveals, was absolutely a labour of love for the development team. And now, having played the EGX demo, I can safely say that this goes so far above and beyond a new engine and better graphics.

FFVII always felt deep, deeper even than what we originally saw, and the remake brings that depth front and centre. From the interplay between Cloud and Barrett to the sheer bewildering scale of Midgar, what was implied and hinted at in 1997 is brought vividly to life and expanded upon further still.

It’s honestly hard for me not to gush here, to not be overwhelmed and blub about what a gift from the gods the remake appears to be. It’s not just a return to form; this is Final Fantasy VII as it’s meant to be. I’m in disbelief at the fact that I just typed that.

In terms of specifics, one of the things that impressed me most is how dangerously cool the combat system is. Combing both the traditional Active Time Battle for abilities, and real time attacks, the result is something completely unique. You’ll likely read and hear a lot of analogies, but I honestly don’t believe they fit. This is something altogether new and so, so much fun. This is not hack ‘n’ slash FFVII, strategic combat is an absolute must: timing and placement of specific attacks are critical. Proper execution of those attacks is intensely rewarding.

The cast of Final Fantasy VII always felt as though they were powerful but the combat here 100% empowers the player, making you feel the strength of Cloud and Barret through your controller whilst still offering a challenge. Mieke in particular noted the significant and satisfyingly different playstyles between the two characters. For my part, they felt right. Of course Barret is tank-y and bulky, heavy-hitting and aggressive, with Cloud coming in with swift, punchy sword swipes.

For my part, playing the battle against the Guard Scorpion – the Scorpion Sentinel as it’s now known – was a mixture of emotions I can’t quite put my finger on. Nostalgia, yes, but also excitement, trepidation, satisfaction and outright joy, experiencing my favourite game anew.

The demo itself was brief, but deeply atmospheric, stepping what may well be best foot forward for the remake, showcasing the phenomenal new combat system. It’s unlike anything I’ve played, yet it is precisely how modern Final Fantasy combat should be. I know I should be more eloquent than this, but it’s just so damn fun!

Final Fantasy VII Remake electrified me in the best way possible, surpassing my expectations and leaving me quite literally shaking. It might seem too early to call, but there’s a solid chance FFVII will be my favourite game of all time.

Again.

April the 10th 2020 cannot come soon enough.

Recalling Memories Retold

On rare occasions a game comes out of the blue that completely floors you. This is one such game.

I will start and finish this article using the same phrase: 11-11: Memories Retold is the reason I love videogames.

On Monday 3rd September, my first official day as a games journalist, Mieke and I were lucky enough to get hands on with 11-11: Memories Retold at Bandai Namco HQ in London. I knew absolutely nothing about this game going in, and it completely blew me away.

Set during the First World War, 11-11 is a story of two individuals on opposite sides, each reluctantly thrust into war. Harry, a Canadian photographer voiced by Elijah Wood, and German zeppelin engineer Kurt, voiced by Sebastian Koch are drawn together as 11-11-18, when the Great War came to a close, approaches.

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Source: Bandai Namco

I’ve been gaming since the late eighties. A question that’s been on my mind of late is: “what makes a perfect game?” and 11-11 is a strong candidate to answer that question. Developed by Aardman Animations – of Wallace & Gromit fame – they truly understand the unique potential for storytelling that comes with an interactive medium.

Ultimately the reason I play games is immersive escapism. Being responsible for driving the narrative forward or, in some cases, actively shaping the narrative through gameplay-based decisions is where gaming trumps all other mediums. With books, movies or television the audience is merely a passive observer of events, but as gamers we become responsible for not just what is happening, but how it’s happening as well.

The ‘perfect’ game to me is one that understands that exclusive quality of the medium, where the focus on interactivity and immersion is first and foremost. 11-11 does this in a manner quite unlike any other. If you’ve ever wondered what an oil painting in motion looks like, then look no further.

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Source: Bandai Namco

At first, this totally original art direction threw me; everything looked blurred, with details deliberately out of focus. A few minutes of adjustment were all it took to settle in. This distinctive visual style not only singles the game out but serves a storytelling purpose as well. War is difficult to comprehend. It is overwhelming, terrifying and confusing, and that fact is reflected in a visual style that deliberately obscures details.

The sound design, too, is fantastic. The vocal performances are sincere and heartfelt, and the fact that an actual German plays a German character does not go amiss! The beautiful orchestral score and the often literally explosive soundscape all make for exceptional high quality, and an often harrowing experience.

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Source: Bandai Namco

I played this game for twenty minutes, and yet I am already fully invested in its world and its characters. Kurt, the German engineer, is compelled to go to war after he learns his young son is missing. Despite not being a father myself, I instantly felt an emotional attachment to his plight. Kurt is not a soldier; he is thrown into war because of the love he has for his son, hoping to find him.

Harry is an enthusiastic and naive young man, sold on the ‘adventure’ of photographing war. Very early on, he learns he was mistaken to believe the propaganda and promises of those who convinced him to risk his life photographing the battlegrounds.

After only twenty minutes with these two I absolutely need to see where their stories go and how they are connected.

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Source: Bandai Namco

Another important element of narrative-through-gameplay is that we don’t do what every war game has done thus far. We’re not soldiers here; this isn’t about killing the bad guys. We’re an engineer and a photographer, a father and a young man. We are not triumphant heroes or warriors. At one point we’re even a cat.

Yes, you read that right, 11-11 has you play as a cat (and how, I might add). This cat has the most cattish controls of any cat/cat-like character in gaming history. The animation and control scheme for the animal are *perfect*. This is genuinely difficult to admit as a dog lover, but this game really knows how to cat!

As for why we play as the feline? The developers have mentioned that it is important to offer a different – or rather, indifferent – perspective on human warfare. We’re set to play as other animals through the game too.

As promised, I will end how I began. 11-11: Memories Retold is the reason I love videogames. I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy and experience it in full.

11-11: Memories Untold has an initial release date of 9th November 2018, and will launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.