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Final Fantasy VII Remake: Everything we learned at E3 2019

Coming to you in March 2020 -- in two parts.

Square Enix

When I think of Final Fantasy VII Remake, I think of its announcement at E3 2015. I remember watching it at my desk, quickly spiralling into hysterics as it became evident the onscreen trailer was for a Final Fantasy VII Remake. It was a big day. It wasn't just me who was excited, many more were losing it. And now at E3 2019, and Final Fantasy VII Remake has returned.

Here's what we've learned so far during E3 and Square Enix's press conference

  • Final Fantasy VII Remake hits the PlayStation 4 on March 3, 2020.
  • The game will be split into two Blu-ray discs.
  • The first part will take place entirely in Midgar.
  • Gameplay footage showed off its new combat system, which combines real-time and turn-based elements.
  • We got a new cinematic trailer and a look at Tifa and Sepiroth.

If you've never played the original or weren't around at the time of its 1997 release, you may be asking...

What's the deal with Final Fantasy VII? 

Final Fantasy is the most famous RPG franchise ever, and Final Fantasy VII is the most famous Final Fantasy game ever. It's sold 11 million units, according to creator Square Enix, making it the highest-selling game in the franchise. For reference, 2016's Final Fantasy XV, which was a huge success, stands at around 7 million in sales.

The game was also a smash hit among critics, holding a 9.2 rating on Metacritic. GameSpot, our sister site, gave it a 9.5 upon release.

It may seem crazy looking at it now, but Final Fantasy VII was a technological masterclass in 1997. Cinematic cutscenes were modelled in full-motion video, and the blocky 3D models moved around in pre-rendered environments that blew minds at the time.

ff7-battle-3-scale-800-700

You see this? These graphics were mind blowing.

Square Enix

Then there's the story. Final Fantasy VII follows Cloud Strife, a member of the feared SOLDIER group. He's joined by a ragtag group of memorable characters, including Tifa, Vincent and Barrett, and is eventually set on a course to meet Sephiroth, who's since become one of gaming's most iconic villains.

Combine an illustrious cast of heroes and villains with an expansive world and a deep battle system and it becomes easy to understand why Final Fantasy VII has had such an enduring legacy.

One last plot note: If you haven't played the original, do not read up on its story. You'll have one of gaming's most famous moments spoiled.

Why do people want a remake?

People have had a thirst for a Final Fantasy VII Remake thanks to the efforts of Square Enix itself. The company teamed up with Sony in 2005 to give fans a huge tease. At E3, when Sony was unveiling its PlayStation 3 for the first time, this "technical demo" was shown:

Those bastards showed us what Final Fantasy's intro would look like on the PlayStation 3, when they had no intention of pulling through. Imagine George Lucas shooting a trailer for a Star Wars: A New Hope remake, flush with 2019-level cinematics and cinematography, but saying that it was only a demo and that no actual release was planed. That's how Final Fantasy buffs felt for 10 years. Teased and unloved -- until E3 2015, at least.

What should I play before Remake?

If you haven't played the original Final Fantasy VII yet, at this point, it's best to just wait until Remake hits. We don't know when exactly that will be, but hey, you've made it this far right?

Although, there are a bunch of other Final Fantasy VII spin-offs out there. These include Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, as well as a film, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.

You can skip almost all of these. Dirge of Cerberus was a poorly-received game set after the original, and it follows Vincent, one of the two secret characters in Final Fantasy VII. Advent Children is cool, as far as video game movies go, but it's also set after the original game, so it won't make much sense.

That said, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was a fantastic game. It's a prequel, following Zack Fair, who was Cloud's mentor in SOLDIER. Playing it won't spoil much of Final Fantasy VII's story, so it's absolutely worth doing. The downside? It's only available on PSP, so you'll need one of those lying around.

crisis-core-902x507

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was great, but it's only playable on PSP. Other Final Fantasy VII spin-off titles aren't worth fussing over.

Square Enix

What do we know about Final Fantasy VII Remake?

First and foremost, we know the remake will be drastically different to the original. That's immediately evident in the combat: While Final Fantasy VII was completely turn based, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a real-time action game. You won't have to go through menu systems to swing your sword, you'll just swing it. 

That said, as we saw at E3, there are some turn-based elements. When your Action Time Bar (ATB) builds up, you can slow the action down to a tactical bullet time from which you can cast magic, use items or unleash Limit Breaks. However, it was also noted that players who prefer faster-paced combat can eschew this by assigning shortcuts to these actions on a menu at the bottom left on the screen, which makes the action more Kingdom Hearts-esque.

Check out the combat below.

The action is from the first segment of the game, where Cloud and Barrett attempt to destroy a Shinra Corp. MAKO reactor. The combat looks similar to how it did in the reveal trailer all those years ago, but menus have been updated and character designs tweaked. (Cloud has been hitting the gym, apparently.)

In another significant structural change from the original, Final Fantasy VII Remake is to be segmented in multiple installments, each of which will be the size of Final Fantasy XIII, according to producer Yoshinori Kitase. Kitase, in the same interview, said the game the company's creating is just too big to play in one installment.

At E3 Kitase explained the game would take place in two parts, over two Blu-Ray discs, but did not indicate these parts would be released at different times. 

It sounds like the team is recreating the hell out of this game, as Nomura and Kitase, in the few interviews they've done, make reference to its immense scale. Another clear theme: The duo aren't interested in a straight remake. The changes they're making aren't just to the combat, or to the vastness of the world, but to the story as well.

"I don't want the remake to end as something solely nostalgic. I want to get the fans of the original version excited," Kitase said to Dengaki, again translated by Gematsu. "We'll be making adjustments to the story with this thought in mind."

Nomura added to this, enigmatically saying, "I hope that [fans of the original] can be surprised once again."

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Release date?

After much speculation, Square Enix announced, a day before its E3 press conference, that VII Remake would hit the PlayStation 4 on March 3 2020. That's 23 years after the original's PlayStation release.

It's the remake season

Final Fantasy VII Remake is gaming's most famous remake, even if it's not even out yet, but it's not the only one. In the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 generation, HD remasters were all the rage. God of War, Kingdom Hearts and Okami, all popular PlayStation 2 games, were among those that benefited from a HD touchup. But since then, many developers have gone for full-blown remakes, and have stuck the landing.

The two that come to mind are Shadows of the Colossus and Resident Evil 2. The former, released last year, was universally praised upon release, scoring a 9/10 at GameSpot for its stunning technical reconstruction of such an artistically imaginative world. Meanwhile, Capcom's remake of Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield's escape from Racoon City enraptured fans, and the game shipped over 4 million copies since its February launch.

These two games proved that remakes can be as magical as fans hoped. That's a good omen going into the Final Fantasy VII Remake.