I completed Final Fantasy 7 Remake (FF7R) over the weekend. Astute readers will recall that this is a full two months since I originally purchased it. Considering how giddy I was when I started, you might wonder why it took that long to play through… approximately 25 hours of game. The reason? What I wrote about in my final paragraph of the first impression post:
Anyway, not going to let a little thing like a combat system interrupt my JRPG nostalgerbation. I am going to assume it gets better, or that I can change things around enough to make it so, or that it will not diminish the rest of the experience. Which would be quite the feat considering how much I am enjoying myself already just walking around.
Let’s just say the game devs indeed achieved that ignoble feat.
Before I get started, it is important to know that I love that this game exists. The original FF7 was groundbreaking in a lot of ways, including ushering in the era of mainstream RPGs, and seeing Cloud and Aerith and Midgard again is a goddamn magical experience to me. Looking at screenshots from the original game today makes you question whether your memories from 25 years ago are suspect. But watching the gang walk around the Sector 7 slums or the Shinra tower? The graphics on my screen right now in FF7R are what my mind saw back then, like some kind of reverse déjà vu.
I say this for two reasons. The first is to establish my inherent bias. The second is because if you are also a fan of the original game, I would suspect that you will feel similarly.
If you are not a fan of the original or never played it… well, it’s hard to recommend FF7R at all.
The short version is that the combat system is hot garbage. I thought I had been doing things wrong somehow, but nope, it’s really that bad. And by “bad” I mean unintuitive and punishing to a frustrating degree. I played the whole game on Normal difficulty, so perhaps things are better on Easy.
During combat you control one character (of up to three) and can run around, Dodge Roll, Guard, perform light/heavy attacks by pressing/holding X, and have a character-specific move with Y. You also have an ATB gauge with two segments that slowly fills over time, and fills more quickly when you attack or Guard against attacks. Once you have at least one ATB segment filled, you can cast a Spell, use an Ability, or use an Item. You also have Limit Breaks and the ability to use Summon materia on “bigger” fights. Sound good so far?
There are a few problems that pop up right away. For one, Dodge Roll is a completely useless noob trap – it convers no invincibility-frames and doesn’t move you faster than just running. Secondly, the ATB setup rewards momentum and punishes falling behind. For example, if you take a lot of damage, the only way to heal is… to melee more mobs until you can cast Cure or use an Item. Blocking will reduce damage and technically you can run around in circles to buy time, but in both cases you are praying to survive long enough to spend your one ATB action to heal. Your other party members have their own ATB gauges and could bail you out – you can either switch to them directly or remotely command them to use an action – but their ATB accumulates much slower than the active character.
Here’s the kicker though: your ATB actions can fail. The first time it happened, I couldn’t believe it. Cloud used his Braver ability to spin around in the air and bring his sword down on… empty pavement. The enemy had walked away, not even on purpose. All abilities have to specifically target a character, so this isn’t like I accidentally pressed the wrong button on my way up to melee range. There is no range-finder indication to suggest your attack will succeed or fail, so you just sort of hope for the best. Oh, and magic works the same way. Spells like Lightning hit instantly, but Blizzard has a sort of delay where an ice crystal spawns and then explodes – if the enemy has better places to be, nothing happens. Normally these differences would result in spells dealing more or less damage based on ease of use, but that’s not the case either.
By the way, surprise! Your characters can be interrupted. If you’re casting Cure, perhaps on yourself because you’re about to die, but get hit by whatever, the spell fails (!!), you lose the ATB charge (!!?), and even the MP used to cast it (!!?!?!). Technically enemies can also be interrupted in this way, but guess what, that typically requires you to be using ATB actions… which will probably be interrupted by whatever the enemy was doing in the first place.
I’m spending a lot of time on this because it really drags down the game. Simply put, combat isn’t fun, and only gets worse over time when you face enemies who are resistant to everything but particular elemental attacks. Dungeons are big, and while there aren’t random encounters per se, you already know there are dozens of fights you have to slog through. It got to the point where I would just Save & Quit right in the middle of a dungeon and play a different game entirely for the next week. Which of course makes it more difficult to get back into the game knowing you got this shit cake waiting for you.
What really galls me about this is how the devs split the baby. I could imagine an actual action-based combat system where Dodge Rolling was used to avoid attacks, you had to aim special moves, and interrupting was an important (explained!) mechanic. Instead, we have this pseudo-action nonsense.
[Fake Edit] As noted, I played the entire game on Normal. There is a “Normal (Classic)” mode available (along with Easy/Easy Classic) that I tried out for a few minutes after beating the game. Classic basically means your characters will attack, defend, and run around on their own with the player basically waiting around for ATB charges and deciding what Ability or Spell to use. While I would be curious how the AI handles some of the tougher boss fights, this did seem to be a viable option for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time mashing X. However, I can confirm that your characters can still be interrupted mid-action, Abilities can still miss when the target walks away during the animation, etc.
Everything outside of combat though? Great. Fantastic, even
I’m not going to talk about the story or anything, as I appreciated the fact that I somehow avoided spoilers for years. Suffice it to say, the Remake part of the title is not a misnomer, even if the main story beats are similar. Characters are expressive and interesting. I have heard some people complain about the voice actors, but aside from Barret (a faithfully recreated caricature) and Wedge, everyone else is perfectly fine or even great. Graphics are phenomenal, and Midgard really comes to life in a big way. Managing materia is just as fun as it was 25 years ago, even though your selection is somewhat limited.
Ultimately, I am glad that Final Fantasy 7 Remake exists. That it does is a validation of decades-long adoration on my part. It’s just a goddamn shame that the combat system is so bad. Not bad enough to prevent progression, but enough to dissuade me from recommending this game to people not already invested in the experience. This will hopefully change as the next two titles come out and the plot comes closer to fruition. At which point I would likely recommend just buying the Ultima(te) edition that has all the games at once.
I’m still making my way through Nier, and it’s an interesting experience to analyze in situ.
Aside from the moments when it turns into a bullet-hell shoot-them-up, Nier is an action game in the vein of Devil May Cry. You have a Light attack, a Heavy attack, a Ranged attack, and a special skill. There are technically combos, I think, but I’m not sure it’s especially more productive than just mashing buttons. The only real “decision” is when to press the Dodge button. Which, by the way, can be spammed with no penalty to essentially gain infinite invincibility frames.
The end result is a relatively simplistic combat system. And it’s… still fun? I guess.
One of the common complaints regarding older MMOs like WoW is that tab-targeting combat is boring. Or mindless. 111211131141. While Nier is certainly more active from a combat perspective, I’m not sure that it is less mindless. XXXYYYXXY with some RT in there (on a controller) to dodge. If I just stood there and didn’t dodge in Nier, sure, the enemies I’m fighting might be able to kill me; conversely, most enemies in WoW can be face-tanked. But does that really matter?
The whole situation kind of reminds me of the difference between driving to the movie theater and watching the movie. The action of driving somewhere is much more involved than watching the screen – there are thousands of more individual choices and reactions necessary to drive somewhere safely. But is it more engaging? At the end of the night, which do you remember more?
And really, this is a problem with Action games even in the absence of thousands of incidental enemies you have to mow down. Furi features action combat that focuses just on bosses. I played it for a few hours, got to the second boss, and ended up setting the game down. It’s just not particularly compelling. Sure, it feels good to be able to perform the button presses necessary to avoid death. That’s a sense of personal progression.
But… I don’t know. Just like with driving, I kind of zone out the experience when I’m killing enemies in Action games. Or rather, become so hyper-focused on the moment-to-moment reactions to stimuli that I lose the overall plot. Once I get to my destination safely, the process by which I got there exits my short-term memory and becomes no more than a fuzzy recollection of time spent.
Perhaps this is less an indictment of Action combat generally, and more a specific Nier issue. Perhaps I should crank up the Difficulty slider up a notch. But I’m not sure that that would accomplish anything more than slippery road conditions would “improve” the driving experience. Common enemies would require greater focus, and yet the “reward” would be the same.
Maybe that’s just it: action combat is typically less overtly rewarding. Nier enemies drop currency and occasionally crafting mats, but it’s not on the same scale as a WoW mob. There are simply more and multi-faceted reward types in RPG-esque games than Action ones. Action games focus on the action, and generally try to reduce downtime. Go too far, and you end up the Borderlands Zone where you have to take a 5-second break after each gun drop to compare it to your equipped arsenal. That sort of thing completely breaks the flow in a way that, say, Skyrim does not.
I dunno. I’m not even through my first playthrough of Nier – New Game+ is apparently mandatory to see the rest of the plot – and I think that I had better buckle down and ignore sidequests from here on out. If I don’t, I think there is a serious chance that the combat becomes too boring to finish.
[Fake Edit]: Completed both A & B endings this weekend. Combat got more boring in B, which I didn’t think was possible. Let’s just hope C+ is a bit better…
How ’bout that character generator, eh?
I remember the hubbub from back before the US release, where the character generator was a sort of standalone piece of software. It is still quite impressive, all this time later, even if most of the options end up turning your character into nightmare fuel more often than not. Still, for those that care about proper placement of their character’s dimples, I am sure that this sort of refinement is welcome.
What the character generator did not prepare me for is the rest of the game looking… washed out?
To be clear, the game does not look bad. There is just a weird sort of dissonance between having an avatar constructed in incredibly minute detail… traversing a landscape with shrubbery that has a lesser polygon count than their eyebrows. The two simply feel out of place right away. As I was running around, all I could think about is whether or not Guild Wars 2 looked better.
Combat has been one-shot city thus far, and I think I’m technically level 17 at this point. It is certainly an interesting Action combat system, as it plays more like, well, Action RPGs. Hold Left-Click to perform a series of attacks, Right-Click starts another, LMB + RMB is something else, W + F is another attack, etc, etc etc. Technically there is also a hotbar you can utilize, but the in-game prompts warn you that it costs more resources (MP) to perform when not manually keying in the combo. Given that nothing has survived more than two hits of “hold down LMB,” I have not yet seen whether that’s relevant.
In fairness, the class I chose was Dark Knight. Which was selected based on the little video that play of the various classes and my research into what was Flavor of the Month. So maybe the class is just OP. Wizard/Witch were #1 and #2 in the FOTM ranking, but the experience of FFXIV’s abysmal Arcanist experience has soured ranged classes in new (to me) MMOs. Despite that, it was actually the Ranger that piqued my interest the most originally. Perhaps I’ll check that out later.
One factor that is going to limit my playtime right away is the garbage localization and questing. Quests are quests, but Black Desert has discovered a way to make them even less interesting. For most NPCs, you have to click on a Quest tab in a menu to bring up their quest, then they have two poorly-translated lines per screen to convey the information, and while they are “talking” they spout off their idle dialog that has nothing to do with the words on the screen. I suppose I shouldn’t expect much more from a game with an “auto-run to quest objective” feature built-in, but it’s a bit disappointing nonetheless.
I have not spent much time with the remaining game systems, including Node management and leaving the game running overnight/during work so you can AFK gain millions of silver for reasons. From what I understand, this absurd economy is mainly based around the principle that you’ll be throwing tens of millions of silver away in the gamble that is upgrading endgame gear. As in, to upgrade a 20 million silver sword to the next level, you have smash it together with another 20 million silver sword. Success means you get an upgraded 100 million silver sword. Failure means you get a silver sword one enchantment level less; not only have you lost the 20 million silver item, but you’ll have to buy more swords to smash together just to get back to where you were originally. Accessory enchanting works the same way, except that on a failure you lose both items.
Under that sort of insane rubric, being able to make millions while AFK fishing is OK.
…wait, no it isn’t. It’s still fucking nonsense, but whatever.