How Final Fantasy VII Remake’s combat promises to balance fast-paced action and turn-based tactics

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How Final Fantasy VII Remake’s combat promises to balance fast-paced action and turn-based tactics

Hands-on impressions of the rebuilt combat mechanics of Square-Enix's RPG epic ahead of next year's launch

Alright friends, let’s get one thing straight: the combat in Final Fantasy VII Remake feels fantastic.

There’s been a lot of chatter online since FF7R’s initial reveal from die-hard fans who are skeptical of the remake’s transition to a more action-oriented battle system. It’s good to be skeptical — it’s a big shift for one of the most revered games of all time — but I am both thrilled and relieved to report that while combat looks fast-paced and action-heavy, in practice there’s far more of that traditional turn-based DNA embedded here than you might think.

In the hours following my hands-on time with the game, I found myself describing it to friends as a modernized approach to the original’s turn-based combat. Remember how much time was spent waiting for ATB gauges to fill in the original? Remake basically just gives you fun stuff to do while you’re waiting. Sure, your ATB gauges will fill up slowly on their own, but hammering enemies with standard attacks will accelerate the process. During gameplay this means more exciting combat that still feels faithful (perhaps even reverential) to the spirit of the original game.

Final Fantasy VII Remake on PS4Final Fantasy VII Remake on PS4

Allow me to elaborate. There’s a “standard attack” you can execute by hammering the Square button, and you can block with R1 or dodge with Circle. Sure, this all looks flashy and feels fun, but leaning on these skills isn’t going to get you through battles very quickly. The meat of the combat in Remake is Tactical Mode, which you can enter at any time by pressing X. When you go Tactical, time slows nearly to a stop and you gain access to a menu with options for Abilities, Spells, and Items. You have plenty of time to plan a course of action here — think of this more like a cinematic version of the turn-based combat from the original game.

Equipping Materia to a character’s gear still grants access to various spells, and elemental weaknesses seem to play a significant part Remake’s combat. When battling the iconic Scorpion Sentinel boss, I was watching Barret’s ATB bars like a hawk since I knew he could cast Thunder — an attack the Scorpion definitely did not enjoy getting hit by.

I found myself swapping between Cloud and Barret a bunch, getting up close with Cloud’s standard attacks to fill up ATB bars and slinging hard-hitting physical Abilities, then swapping to Barret to hit the boss with Thunder and keeping the party healed up with the Cure spell (and every so often tossing out a potion or ether, which also consumes one ATB gauge). Side note: Barret’s arm-mounted machine gun opens up interesting ranged combat options in this battle and in the moment-to-moment scraps against weaker foes.

Another gauge I kept an eye on during this boss fight was the Stagger gauge, displayed just below the boss’s health bar. Dealing enough damage to max it out staggered the boss, stopping its assault temporarily and increasing damage from all other attacks for a short time.

Sometimes one of your characters can get pinned down or otherwise restrained by an enemy, forcing you to swap to another team member to try and dish out enough damage to free your friend. This serves as a good reminder that you should swap between characters frequently, since they each have their own ATB gauges and powerful abilities to go with ’em.

And, of course, the Limit Break returns. Taking damage fills up your Limit gauge, and once that’s full your Tactical menu gains a new option: that beautiful, animated, rainbow-tinted “LIMIT BREAK” option. Let ’em have it!

A few other tidbits I noticed while playing Final Fantasy VII Remake (man, it still feels crazy to type that):

  • The music. My goodness, the music. I heard a few tracks during my short time with Remake, each a fully orchestrated arrangement of the original’s timeless tunes. Listen to the music in the , then imagine that treatment applied to some of the game’s other songs. Yeah.
  • Speaking of the music, it swaps seamlessly and dynamically between different versions of the song as you enter and exit combat. Such a cool touch!
  • Major QoL upgrade: You can slide down ladders by holding R2 or clicking the left analog stick.
  • Those same controls also let you sprint as long as you’re not in combat.
  • You can assign commands to other characters during combat by selecting them with L2 or R2 and navigating their Tactical menus.
  • After I killed an enemy with a multi-hit ability, Cloud automatically redirected the remaining hits of his attack to another nearby foe, ensuring the attack wasn’t wasted.
  • The Scorpion Sentinel boss fight had some really rad phase transitions — basically mini-cutscenes that played out completely seamlessly during the encounter. Even though I’ve destroyed this thing plenty of times in the past two decades, I was glued to the screen as I took it on this time.

That’s it for now! But stay tuned — I’m sure we’ll have plenty more to talk about as we draw nearer to Final Fantasy VII Remake’s 3rd March, 2020 release date.

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  • So basically it’s FF XV combat with a pause button. Exciting stuff..

    “the original’s turn-based combat”

    When did the original have “turn based combat”?

    “combat looks fast-paced and action-heavy”

    No it doesn’t, it looks exactly like FFXV/Kingdom Hearts spam to win easymode combat. Randomly, notice now everyone has 3x the health.

    “Remember how much time was spent waiting for ATB gauges to fill in the original”

    About a 1-1.5 seconds?

    “Equipping Materia*”

    *Some Materia sold separately

  • Don’t get me wrong the original game is awesome but that “Tacitcal” combat that everyone keeps going on about is mostly just selecting “Attack” and “Cure 1/2/3” when HP was low. These commands could pretty much get you through 90% of the game.

    I love turn based combat, and the original FFVII had alot of options but standard physical attacks especially with the 4 cut / 8 cut materia just made most of the options pointless.

    I think moving that command “Attack” to real time and making abilities feel more valuable was the right way to go in 2020. The combat in FF15 was god awful so I was very worried about remake, however at the moment this is looking like a great solution. Can’t wait to play it!

  • I’m a long time FF fan with VII being my favourite (if my avatar didn’t give it away) and I actually enjoyed FFXV’s combat! It took some of the difficulty out of the game, which with less game time I appreciated.

    VII’s new combat looks good but it was perfect in the original. I hope the materia system is still practically the same. I never used magic in XV at all. Hope it still has a place in this remake.

    • I think magic was just poorly implemented from a player perspective in FF15. I got the platinum but I rarely used magic unless I was all out of options. It just didn’t feel core and natural to use it.

      Which is a damn shame! Because it’s SO DAMN POWERFUL in FF15. The game just made it too easy to be lazy and melee your way through everything. I’d only use it when my party looked like they were in the final hours of a stag party.

      Having seen the footage of the new combat system, my view is it’s not really that far removed from the original. Instead of standing around getting hit waiting for ATB, you’re given the freedom to get cover and take some action to speed up the ATB. You only seems to do meaningful damage when the ATB bar actions are performed, it still has the spirit of the original ATB system in FF7. I think this will solve the problem FF15 had where magic was concerned.

      Really looking forward to this game!

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