Before this year's E3, I doubted Square Enix's ability to actually make good on its promises for Final Fantasy 7 Remake. The trailers seemed too polished, too beautiful to be something a studio could actually deliver; they promised an impossible dream, not a video game.
I was wrong. What I've seen and played of Final Fantasy 7 points to a remarkable design achievement; one that caters to long-term fans while ensuring that faithfulness doesn't get in the way of quality or playability.
As you've likely seen from the highly polished footage released thus far, Final Fantasy 7 Remake has a hybrid combat system - one that swaps frequently and fluidly between typical action game sword attacks, all delivered in real time, with the ATB system that will be familiar to any franchise veteran. While it's hard to make combat encounters flow as smoothly as those shown on the livestream, swapping between combat modes and playable characters is nonetheless both tactically rewarding and surprisingly intuitive.
Indeed, the hybrid system establishes a cadence that wasn't in the original game as you swap between its two modes, and is was absolutely the star of the playable demo. For one thing, it's easy to keep track of - personally I've always found Final Fantasy games a little fiddly and I've struggled to really get the knack of knowing when to get certain characters to perform certain actions. With the remake, however, your job is very simple from moment to moment; if you aren't committing an ATB charge to an ability, spell or item, you're hacking and slashing which, effectively, moderates the amount of time you need to spend thinking tactically.
On entering tactical mode and slowing the action to a crawl, you have the time to make a swift tactical assessment. Where are you in relation to your enemies? Which one needs taking out first, and how can you spend your charge to the greatest possible effect? Entering tactical mode is like sticking your head above the parapet for an isolated, considered action rather than constant menu management.
While the hybrid combat system's tempo is undoubtedly beginner-friendly, that's not to say Final Fantasy 7 Remake lacks tactical depth. You can use tactical mode to issue commands to other characters, allowing you to initiate particular abilities or spells without having to swap perspectives (although it has to be said, the animation that governs a character swap has a smooth dynamism to it that's pretty cool). Issuing commands comes in really handy when you want to make use of a particular character ability, but you're right in the middle of doing something with another. It makes for a sense of coordination that's undoubtedly pleasing.
That said, if you aren't fussed about manipulating menus in tactical mode, you can assign favourite abilities and spells to quick shortcuts, meaning you can go through entire combat encounters in real time rather than slowing the pace of the action.
The ATB system, in other words, is very much the beating heart of the Final Fantasy 7 remake, but it's tempered and augmented by other, more fluid mechanics, making for an ersatz system that manages to be beginner friendly while also adding tactical depth to your options on a fight.
What I'm trying to say here is that there is a scope to Final Fantasy 7 Remake that goes above and beyond what Square Enix could have happily got away with. You don't need me to tell you it's beautiful, but I'm pleased to be able to tell you it handles extremely well.