After twenty-three years of waiting, the reunion is finally at hand. We’re actually able to play a working build of a fully remade and modernized version of the iconic Final Fantasy VII. After such a long wait, FF7 Remake has a lot to live up to in the eyes of fellow FFVII fanboys and girls everywhere — myself included. But for now, I’m content to lasciviously pore over the contents of the demo for this highly-anticipated blockbuster. I’ve been trying to piece what I’ve seen in the marketing together with what I’ve played in a vain effort to construct a mental image of what the full game could possibly be like. Here are four of my key takeaways from what I’ve played this afternoon.

This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Final Fantasy

When I was a young warthog, I watched my dad play Final Fantasy VII on the original PlayStation well before I gave it a spin myself. One of my dad’s biggest complaints about the game was that the combat was too slow and deliberate. He gave up just before the point where FF7 Remake ends. Turn-based strategy was a foreign concept to my dad, who was never an avid gamer and grew up on Mario and Zelda. Ironic then, that as his gaming senses have dulled, the version of Final Fantasy VII that he probably pictured it to be back in the 90s is finally taking form.

Combat is action-packed and full of tangible feedback and verticality. Enemies won’t wait for you, nor will you for them. Gone are the days of statically waiting in place for your ATB gauge to fill up for an attack. Instead, we have a straight-up action game with turn-based RPG elements elegantly woven in. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is entirely up to your personal taste, as games like Dragon Quest XI and Persona 5 have shown us that turn-based RPGs are not an obsolete art form. But that doesn’t mean the game is all hack, slash, and button-mashing. Several enemies I came across hit hard, and exhibit behaviors that can and should be exploited to be overcome. Just rushing in and swinging your sword is certainly enough for the rank-and-file, but you’re soon introduced to foes with more dynamic and unpredictable attack patterns, which gives me hope for an experience that is both action-oriented and tactically engaging.

In this demo, we’re given control of both ex-SOLDIER Cloud Strife and eco-warrior Barrett Wallace. The developers are very proud of their work with making multiple characters playable, and I became embroiled in several encounters where switching between the two party members was less of an option and more of a necessity to surviving the situation. What instantly struck me about the ability to switch between our two heroes was how satisfying they were to play.

Taking potshots at enemies from the backline with Barret, while Cloud rushes into the fray is a totally viable way to approach combat situations, engaging, and most importantly, fun as frick. Making all of the playable characters equally fun and effective was clearly a priority for the dev team. This is good for veterans like me, who really only ever played through the original FFVII using Cloud, Tifa and Barret and rarely found a reason to switch my party up. Imagining how different Yuffie could play from Aerith, or how Vincent’s shooting style could differ from Barrett’s just gets me hype as I type this out.

Grinding May Be a Non-Factor?

One thing that any long running JRPG is known for is the requirement for players to continually get into battles, random or otherwise, as a means to strengthen their team enough to tackle the next leg of the adventure. This is known as grinding, and it’s been a staple of the genre since before I was born. Some people loathe running aimlessly in circles fighting the same rotation of enemies, which is why recent games like Persona 5 and Octopath Traveler have introduced different systems to make battles feel less like busywork, while preserving the core of what a turn-based JRPG is known to be.

During my time with the demo for FF7 Remake, it was worth noting that 100% of the battles were scripted. I know that this is the tutorial area, but I was surprised at how linear the game was when it comes to getting into fights compared to the original. I can’t help but wonder how they’ll handle grinding in a game with such a heavily detailed environment. Perhaps in the full game, enemies will respawn as you leave and re-enter areas, similar to Kingdom Hearts? If every battle is scripted, then the game runs the risk of feeling like less of an RPG and more like a linear third-person action game. After all, even for the more action-oriented games like the Tales of series, building your character at your own pace is a staple of the genre.

FF7 Remake Respects the Fans’ Love for the Lore

If you’re a lore nerd like me and love FFVII — also like me — one of the most exciting aspects of the recent marketing push for the remake was the addition of what looks to be a brand new SOLDIER 1st Class character. Outside of Cloud, Zack, and Sephiroth (we don’t claim Angeal and Genesis, sorry) there was always a thick veil of mystery surrounding this elite unit in the original game. FF7 Remake seems like it’ll sheds more light on the chunky pieces of lore that fans obsess over, and it looks as if the writers know exactly where to strike.

“He can use magic? Where the hell did he get the Materia?” yelled a security officer as I completed the tutorial on using magic. Another moment has Cloud snarkily commenting on the naive eagerness with which a new type of enemy assails your team. He remarks that it’s always good to see a ‘rook’ get their first taste of the action, indirectly speaking to his own experience and composure on the battlefield, while also implying a familiarity with ShinRa’s military operations. If all of that sounds like complete gibberish, don’t worry — you’ll get your crash course soon enough. But for fanboys like me, there’s a real sense that the writing team really gets what makes the world of FFVII so cool, and are pulling out all the stops in the remake. Moments like those are peppered throughout the demo, so I can only imagine how much fan service the full game will have.

Nobuo Uematsu Opts for a More Orchestral Score

One of the defining pieces of FFVII’s identity was its soundtrack. Uematsu created something special when he composed it for the original game. In addition to “modern” percussive instruments, musical themes had the sounds of hissing pipes and clanking hammers woven into the melodies, a choice that really brought this incredibly unique steampunk world to life. Thanks to Uematsu, FFVII‘s Gaia remains one of the most distinct sounding worlds in gaming history.

I definitely appreciate the talent and effort that Uematsu poured into re-imagining the soundtrack for the re-imagining of this iconic, genre-defining game. The decision to have an adaptive, dynamic soundtrack for certain areas that switches from atmospheric to intense depending on the situation has been seen before in games like Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Fire Emblem Fates. It was a great decision for this title, and only serves to make combing through the areas in the demo that much more immersive. The singular new track for battles in the Mako Reactor is freaking dope, and I really cannot wait to hear more of it in the full release.

However, I can’t say that I really love the decision to replace the steam-punky instruments with epic choirs and swelling strings. The intimidating bells and intermittent hisses of steam from the Mako Reactor theme in the original gave off the feeling of infiltrating a cold, inexorable, industrial beast — something far larger than yourself or your companions. In FF7 Remake, that same track just sounds like a simple re-orchestration and, in my opinion, fails to exude the same power, or invoke the same atmosphere.

Don’t get me wrong; the music in the remake is beautifully composed, but many of the remixes so far really struck me as something that I would love to listen to as say, an audience member at a Distant Worlds concert, not something that fits the frenetic gameplay action and grimy world of Midgar. Am I being a nit-picky A-hole? Well, maybe… most likely. That said, I can’t help but feel excited for what Uematsu has up his sleeve for the rest of the game as well as its sequels. There are so many tracks I’m looking forward to hearing re-imagined, orchestral or otherwise.

Twiddling My Thumbs Until April

Final Fantasy VII Remake is set to be many things. It’ll be the culmination of many long years of work, reworks, ideas both scrapped and new, clashing with the equally daunting wave of fan expectations. Maybe it was a good idea to release this demo early, so that no one can claim they didn’t know what to expect. Either way, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve seen so far, and this demo has got me more excited than any pre-release trailer could have. Personally, I can’t wait until April.

How did you feel about the demo? Did it hype you up for the full game release next month? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re interested in more of our FF7 Remake-related content, stay tuned to Culture of Gaming!