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Review: Final Fantasy 7 Remake

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.

Legion PvP Equality

[Blaugust Day 19]

Remember all those PvP questions we had last time? Well, Blizzard answered most of them:

  • There won’t be gear with Resilience, PvP Power, dual item levels, or gear specifically made for PvP.
  • When you enter a battleground or arena, the game will set your stats from your spec, not your gear. This means all of your stats will come from a template specific to your spec. If one spec isn’t doing well in PvP, their spec’s template can be tuned individually.
  • Trinkets, set bonuses, and enchants will not be active in PvP.
  • The CC break trinket has become very important in PvP, so adding it as a PvP talent will offset the loss of active trinkets. There will be some other options in that row that might be useful, such as reducing CC times by 20%.

This is an incredibly bold move, even if other games have done it before. I mean, we have had PvP gear purchasable with currency since at least Season 2 in TBC, more than half of the game’s entire lifespan. I am not super convinced that the PvP “progression” system of unlocking talents will actually motivate people to queue on the same scale as normal PvP gear (especially in Arena), but I applaud the gumption just the same.

Plus, just imagine how many less botters there will be. Some might stick around simply because someone else will pay real dollars to skip “grinding” talents too, but the time difference is likely to be staggeringly less.

That said, Blizzard decided to continue answering questions and thereby ruin everything they just built up:

  • The team hasn’t decided exactly what they are going to do with the Human racial. They could leave it alone and offer a different talent in that row to Humans. The racial plus the new options could be too good.

At this point, I am convinced that Blizzard is tip-toeing around the Human racial issue simply because they see how many race change sales it generated and they’re afraid of poking the bear. The fact that the Human racial is the only one we’re having this discussion about should be somewhat of an indication for how stupidly powerful it is, and thus should be changed. You have already disabled trinkets generally (!), just disable racials; these half-measures are only going to make Humans even more dominate.

  • As you get better gear, your stats are increased a smaller amount. For example, every 5 item levels may give you a 1% stat increase. This way gear still will increase your power, but it won’t give you a huge advantage.
  • There are plans for players to be able to get great gear from PvP, but it may not be as easy as it is today. It may be easier for high rated players to get better gear than more casual players.
  • You won’t have to raid to get the best gear for PvP.

/sigh

Why? Why? No, really, Blizzard why? Of what possible value do the designers see in completely removing PvP gear from the equation, going so far as to disable trinkets and enchants and set bonuses… but then keeping this token level of item scaling? You already have “templates” to make gear irrelevant, just use those. In the land of equal stats, the +1%er is king. Unless you are handing out raid-level gear to PvPers, it will be considered “raid or die” to all players who are remotely competitive. And I don’t see how giving PvE raid-level gear to those to score high in Arena is going to be particularly palatable in the other direction.

Do you know what happens when you try and split a baby? A bloody mess, that’s what.