Final Fantasy VII Remake: Reactor 1 to 7th Heaven, spoiler-free
That said, please pay attention to the first paragraph disclaimer.
WARNING: While I have kept this as spoiler-free as possible by not alluding to anything that doesn't occur in the original game (from the initial bombing mission to meeting Tifa at the 7th Heaven), there still may be details here you don't wish to know, or want to discover for yourself. Read with caution!
To my genuine surprise, a copy of Final Fantasy VII Remake dropped onto my doormat this morning. Now, I say my genuine surprise - I was expecting this to happen at some point. I did, after all, pre-order a copy directly after playing the very impressive demo. But my understanding was that Remake isn't supposed to come out until the 10th. Still, far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth. I drop-kicked the disc into my PS4, sat down and grabbed the pad. Then I carefully removed the disc and drop-kicked the second disc into the PS4 in order to actually play.
The first that struck me, indeed, is that Remake is a 100gb install. That's one-hundred gigabytes. That's one-fifth of my PlayStation 4's internal storage. Frowning, I uninstalled both Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back and Bubsy: Paws on Fire, and began the surprisingly fast installation process. There was no update to download, but I expect this to change come digital release day. What with your Day One Patches and all. Me, I side-stepped that by playing on Day Minus Six. Not that I'm bragging. Tee hee.
How does it play? Well, you already know. You played the demo, right? It's a fast-paced redux of the 1997 mega-classic; the Active Time Battle system is (on the default combat setting) handled by you filling up the bar with your default slashing attacks, making commands like the familiar Braver available to you as the battle wears on. With or without another member in your party, the system is enjoyable, hard-hitting and often genuinely exhilarating. It's a brilliant translation of Final Fantasy VII's feel, while amping the whole thing up.
In fact, "amped up" is a good way to describe the first few hours of Remake. Scenes you remember will play out differently, more bombastically, more intensely. This isn't necessarily a good thing, in all cases - remember the short sequence in the original where Barrett empties a train carriage? That's now a plodding five-minute cutscene in which multiple characters LOUDLY YELL THEIR MOTIVATIONS. For every longeur Remake introduces, though, there's something cool; the hunting of Cloud by Shinra soldiers following the reactor explosion is almost Call of Duty-esque - constant radio chatter, the spotlight and pounding blades of an attack helicopter as you dash through Midgar's beautifully realised streets, and a constant stream of assailants culminating in a brand new, small-scale boss fight that ensures you've really learned how to use that Punisher stance.
There are moments where the sheer fidelity of this recreated Midgar synchronises perfectly with the brilliant arrangements of the original music, and it's downright beautiful. That said, occasionally the soundtrack feels rather at odds with the increased realism of the graphics. Anxious Heart, for example, felt out of place to me as I moved through the expertly rendered train full of meticulously crafted passengers - but maybe that's simply because I'm so used to those heavily-stylised low-poly 3D models. It has to be said though, Final Fantasy VII Remake feels a lot more linear and less "RPG-y" (That is, quite simply, not a real thing - Everyone) than its roots. While the original's stretch from the beginning to 7th Heaven was definitely straightforward, Remake's is, by and large, completely lacking in NPCs to talk to or objects to examine, with its main focus being funneling you down a Final Fantasy VII-looking corridor. Often, camera control is wrested from you, to ensure that you are looking at the "right" thing - never mind taking in this sweeping vista of industrial destruction, you're supposed to be looking at Tifa!
VERY MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!
It's next to impossible to reveal any more of my thoughts without spoiling stuff. I suppose it's a spoiler in itself to say that there are spoilers at all! All I'm comfortable with revealing is what you likely already knew if you've kept up with the trailers; there are divergences from the original game here, and - cheekily - a major one takes place about two minutes after the end of the demo.
I'll have further impressions when the game releases, but I'm happy to say, three hours in, I'm not disappointed. It's not entirely what I expected, but I'm enjoying myself. I just hope I can say the same for the internet. Get ready for some f(Final Fantasy - Ed) meltdowns.