Final Fantasy VII Remake Demo Impressions

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Final Fantasy VII was a fine game. I didn’t love it or hate but it didn’t resonate with me like it did for so many other people. I recognize the game’s significance though and I totally understand why there were so many spin-offs and eventually a remake. The Final Fantasy VII Remake demo was very impressive. It’s the most polished Final Fantasy game that I’ve seen since Final Fantasy XIII on the PlayStation 3. There’s a refinement to the presentation that exudes confidence. Based on what I’ve played in the demo, I think that confidence was warranted. 

The opening bombing of the Mako Reactor 1 is iconic. I’m certain it’s one of the most memorable and familiar openings in all of JRPGs. I’ve only ever played Final Fantasy VII once and I still remember the major beats of that opening. Fighting Shinra soldiers, running along side Avalanche gang, and wondering why Barrett is so intense; they reinterpreted all of that for 2020 and it holds up. The drama, the dialog, and the mood is decidedly from 1997 but it’s not a shot for shot remake. The characters were expanded upon. They were given more lines of dialog but they still retained their essence which was important. 

The biggest departure was the combat. By default, the combat is action packed with character switching and the ability to cast spells via a menu. It reminded me of Kingdom Hearts. I haven’t played Kingdom Hearts III but I felt Square Enix have made some strides on the action RPG front. I thought it felt good enough but it certainly wasn’t going to stack up to the likes of a Platinum Games’ lead effort like Nier: Automata’s combat. The one knock I have against the default combat is the amount of time it takes to take down an enemy. I was exploiting weaknesses and staggering the Scorpion tank but I felt the fight dragged on for a tad too long. Perhaps those fight times will reduce with practice and familiarity though. 

It was a looker and certainly a step above the likes of Final Fantasy XV. I was equally impressed with the level of performance as well. I didn’t notice any significant drops in framerate and the image was pristine and stable on the PlayStation 4 Pro. It’s certainly one of the most impressive Unreal Engine 4.0 games to date. My only nitpick of a concern are the cutscenes which are not real time and showed noticeable visual artifacts. It’s a lot to ask for realtime cutscenes, so I’m just hoping the final game has higher bitrate videos. 

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the Final Fantasy VII Remake’s demo was. I had no idea what to expect and came away with mostly positive impressions. It’s been a good long while since I played a Final Fantasy game (I still haven’t played FFXV), so what better way to get back into it by revisiting a beloved classic by way of a promising remake? 

LTTP: Dragon Quest VIII [3DS]

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I started Dragon Quest VIII on the Nintendo 3DS over a year ago – it may even be closer to two years at this point. It didn’t keep my attention like Dragon Quest VII. I visited a new town, move the plot forward a bit, and eventually put it on ice for a month or so before repeating the cycle again. It took the pending release of Dragon Quest XI for the Nintendo Switch before I got back on this horse and rode it towards the finish line.  

It was surprisingly easy to get back into the groove of things after each hiatus. The story was exceptionally simple to follow and didn’t require much of my attention. I felt the main story arch and side quests in this game paled in comparison to Dragon Quest VII. It was a far more intimate story from the outset which kept me engaged early on. Each new character’s introduction invigorated the story but it wasn’t long before everything began to wane. I didn’t expect the game to be filled with a large number of character introductions and backstories, but I expected something else to take the baton. I expected intriguing side quests and a strong main story to pick things up. Each new town or area gave the game a fleeting jolt of excitement but when there’s more hours left than content, the game felt like a struggle to wade through. 

Accelerated battle speeds and the use of A.I. Tactics made the game’s numerous combat encounters tolerable. I eventually over-leveled via Metal Slimes and lived in the veil of Holy Protection during the back third of the game but I generally didn’t care enough to involve myself in the battle system. A 50/50 mix of “Fight Wisely” and “Focus on Healing” took me through the final boss with relative ease. I felt like I was more of a party manager taking care of the strategic side of things and only involving myself when it was absolutely needed.  

Jessica’s outfit was ridiculous back in 2005 and it’s still ridiculous today. Her outfit was doubly stupid in the snowy mountains when everyone was shivering. It was blemish in an otherwise beautiful game. Toriyama’s art and cel-shaded technology was a marriage that stood the test of time; the game still looks great on the Nintendo 3DS. 

The voice acting was a big deal 14 years ago but it’s a slog today. Every spoken line of dialog was excessively slow and I ended up thumbing past much of it. I didn’t miss much. I really could have done without the “COR BLIMEY”. Bless them for trying to make it work with the Toriyama aesthetic though. 

A functioning day-night cycle with puzzles and events tied to the time of day made highlighted the fact that this feature must have been another technological advancement at the time. The handful of use cases were well done but contrived.  

The PlayStation 2 version of Dragon Quest VIII was the first game of this long running franchise that I ever laid hands-on. I barely scratched the surface of it before laying it down for more tantalizing games at the time. My journey throughout this Nintendo 3DS re-release was filled with similar diversions where other games easily drew me away. For all its charm and elegance, waning narrative hooks left me with too many natural departure points. The story started out strong but there just wasn’t enough worthwhile threads or beats to keep me going. I felt there were many charming novelties that elevated an otherwise middling JRPG.  

Verdict:
It was okay 

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (PS4)

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Life is Strange was a captivating game. I genuinely enjoyed the tale and dark twists weaved by Dontnod Entertainment. I expected Square Enix and company to forge a sequel but when I heard a prequel by Deck Nine — a different studio — was on its way, I was very skeptical. Life is Strange: Before the Storm fleshed out the lives and events Life is Strange cast members prior to Max’s return to Arcadia Bay. It gave insight into Chloe Price and how she evolved and it gave Rachel Amber a voice. But were these good additions to the Life is Strange story thus far? I’m not certain. 

I found Before the Storm to be a surprisingly excellent self contained story of teenagers dealing with the real world. The influence of peers and parents were explored through the stories of Nathan Prescott and Drew North. They showed how familial pressures lead people down the wrong path or negatively warp their personalities. Some influences were direct while others were unfortunate circumstances.

Showing the origins of Chloe and Rachel’s relationship was fascinating and cute but it just raised more questions. Before the Storm spanned the nascent stages of their relationship but it didn’t address how Rachel and Frank Bowers got involved. The bonus episode, “Farewell”, explored the fateful day when Max left Arcadia Bay for Seattle but it didn’t share why she didn’t stay in touch. Situations and story threads left dangling like this highlighted more opportunities for Square Enix to introduce another sequel in-between but I think that would be a mistake. Some questions are better left unanswered.

Three full length episodes (about 3 hours each) and a one hour bonus episode was just enough time to explore the Max-less life of Chloe Price. Max’s time rewinding mechanic was replaced with a forced and unnatural feeling argument system where Chloe and I can start shit talking people to get our way. I think the only instance where it felt natural was within the tutorial.

For the most part, Before the Storm served to shore up my feelings and impressions of the characters from the original game. I felt a bit more sympathy here and there but as a whole, my feelings were largely unchanged. Max and her faceless parents, though? They altered my opinions of them quite a bit. Max failed to keep her promise to stay in touch and eventually gave up altogether. And considering the circumstances that preceded her departure from Arcadia Bay and how close Max and Chloe were, I was shocked that Max and her family didn’t even visit. They spent so much time together and to just disconnect like that was odd to me. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised by Chloe’s sense of betrayal by her friend.

One of the most impressive aspects of Before the Storm was how seamless the switch from Unreal Engine 3.0 to Unity was. If that Unity logo didn’t make itself known, I wouldn’t have noticed that they were running on a completely different engine. I wasn’t too keen on the game’s performance on the default “resolution” mode but it ran quite well with the “performance” option. I didn’t fathom 30 FPS would be a problem in an adventure game like this but I was wincing during those camera pans.

I went into Life is Strange: Before the Storm filled with skepticism and left just the same. Was it necessary to delve this deep back into Chloe and Rachel’s lives? I did enjoy their rendition of the Tempest but did I need to see someone remark on that wine stain in the Price living room again? I was glad to see Nathan Prescott before he walked down his dark path but what happened to Samantha? For better and worse, answers and questions ping ponged themselves throughout. While its relevancy and necessity can be debated, its quality was undeniable to me. Deck Nine’s contribution to Life is Strange was solid.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

Checkpoint: E3 2018 Edition

E3 2018’s press conferences are finally over. I actually liked that the big publishers and platform holders got out of the way of each other and spread out a bit.

It gave me more time to digest it all and meant I was spending less time binging on the barrage of news and announcements that didn’t leak beforehand.

There were many leaks this year including one from Walmart Canada that spoiled so many publisher’s fun. It didn’t spoil my fun though, knowing a game’s existence isn’t the same as seeing the titles in action.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts I had on the press conferences that I watched since Saturday, June 9th.

I graded them with entertainment, news, and games shown in mind. Was it a fun watch? Despite leaks, did they shed light on anything interesting? Did they show games that I wanted to play?

Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts’ press conference was awkward. It was good to see Anthem in action but they took such a long time fluffing it up.

The Battlefield V was a looker but I have very little desire to revisit realistic World War II shooters like Battlefield V or Call of Duty: WW2. Maybe I’ll give it a go when a multiplayer beta hits but as of right now? It’s a non-starter for me.

No one is expecting Electronic Arts to make a real-time strategy game in 2018. So what can EA do? A MOBA? They tried in 2014 with Dawngate. So seeing Command & Conquer Rivals in action makes a lot of sense to me and it was the big surprise coming out of EA’s event. And that’s disappointing.

The reveal of Origin Access Premier and a peculiar interview with Vince Zampella about his team’s upcoming Star Wars game does not make up for the fact that EA’s offerings were poor this year.

D-

Microsoft

Microsoft brought it this year. They’ve been refining their formula for the last couple of E3’s but I felt they nailed it when came to reassuring people that Microsoft is committed to the Xbox brand. I don’t know if announcing sequels to familiar first party properties is enough to sell people on the idea of buying an Xbox One but their future looks brighter with their recent studio acquisitions.

But if you ignore hardware sales angle and focus on reasons to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, I think Microsoft did a bang up job.

Forza Horizon 4 looks like a spiritual successor to Test Drive Unlimited which is very intriguing. Gears 5 looks to continue the strong start of Gears 4. Crackdown 3 looks like dumb fun. And Ori and the Will of the Wisps is shaping up to be a fantastic sequel to one of my favorite games of the generation.

There will be another Halo game named Halo: Infinite. Not much else to say about that trailer besides that it looks pretty. Gears Tactics (title pending) looks like a match made in heaven; combining Gears of War with XCOM style gameplay sounds phenomenal.

Although they weren’t exclusives, the reveal of Devil May Cry 5, Cyberpunk 2077, The Division 2 and longer looks at titles like Kingdom Hearts III made for a very entertaining showcase.

They showed games and lots of them!

A

Bethesda

Bethesda sold me on RAGE 2 which I didn’t think was possible after the weird reveal. Did we need another post-apocalyptic title? Well, it turns out the answer is “yes” if they’re invoking the frantic pace of Doom (2016).

Teasing the existence of Doom: Eternal was welcomed and so was the reveal that they’re bringing out more Wolfenstein content with Wolfenstein: Young Blood. They also reminded me that I haven’t played Wolfenstein: The New Colossus yet which is shameful of me.

I doubt I’ll pick up Fallout 76 but seeing it in action was interesting. Were they going to ape other survival games? How much “traditional” Fallout are we going to see in this? It’s not going to be just another Fallout game which is intriguing for me but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The super early teasers for Bethesda Game Studio’s upcoming projects: Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI were a bit awkward. They sound very far off and I’m not sure why they needed to tease both of those titles so early.

C+

Ubisoft

Ubisoft knew how to have fun with their dance number for Just Dance. I thought that was a fun way to acknowledge that game’s existence.

I don’t know what to make of the Beyond Good & Evil 2 trailer. The CG trailer looks like a sales pitch to recruit the community to help generate assets for the game. I want to know how those assets are going to be used and if there’s a worthwhile game in there.

The Division 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey are known quantities. They look like newer and shinier versions of the games you may or may not like. I’m partial to The Division so more of it is okay with me. AC:O looks very pretty. Almost enough to entice me back.

I like seeing games continue receiving support but after Bethesda’s showcase, I was growing tired of seeing games I don’t play being trotted out again. I can’t say I’m particularly fond of seeing repeat appearances for games I like.

C

Square Enix

Speaking of known quantities, here’s Square-Enix showing off Kingdom Hearts III again. Little did we know, there would be three trailers shown across three press conferences. (Microsoft, Square, and Sony). I am not against this game but that’s a lot.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks like more of the same and since I haven’t even played Rise of the Tomb Raider yet, I don’t know if I want that. She looked like a ruthless killer though and a far cry from that reluctant heroine from Tomb Raider (2013).

Dragon Quest XI looks very pretty and it would be on my list of games to pre-order but I just started Dragon Quest VIII and barely put a dent in it.

Square Enix showed a lot of known quantities and while some resonated with me, I just didn’t see why they waited until E3 to reveal these.

C-

Sony

I missed the first half hour of Sony’s which meant I missed The Last of Us: Part II. That’s fine because I don’t need to be convinced to buy that game. I was already sold. Just like I was more or less already sold on Spider-man.

Ghosts of Tsushima was the big reveal and I thought Sucker Punch did one hell of a job with that demo. I was impressed with the reveal but I’m curious how it plays.

Death Stranding was weird and I’m sure it will abide with some internal logic that Kojima stitched together. I just hope this game is more than celebrity guest stars doing weird things.

Seeing Resident Evil 2 remake in action was eye opening because of how much effort Capcom is putting into this and seemingly nailing it.

Remedy Games are making another time manipulation third person shooter but this time it stars a red haired woman. I’m in. It reminds me of Quantum Break (which I haven’t played yet) but without all the bad TV science fiction.

In many ways, Sony followed Microsoft’s event but instead of showing new installment to the same old franchises. They showed off more of the same game that we’ve already seen. Death Stranding is just as weird as when we saw it last year. The Last of Us: Part II is still the Last of Us. And Spider-man is still Spider-man. They showed well and I will likely play them all but they’re still known quantities.

B-

Nintendo

Nintendo was the most disappointing only because it looks like their software lineup looks barren compared to last year’s. A new Fire Emblem, Super Mario Party, and another Smash Brothers with every single character should be enough for most folks but they’re not Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild.

Spending so much time on Smash Bros. Ultimate was exhausting. I can appreciate the changes they made but I don’t play Smash Bros. often enough to even notice. It seems like they were pitching to a very specific demographic of the Smash fanbase and that’s just a very weird thing to do on the “big stage”.

I will likely pick up Super Mario Party just to have a nice party game. And the same with Smash Bros. Ultimate but their lineup so far feels lacking from a first party perspective.

On the plus side, the release of Fortnite on Switch did out Sony for being scum bags on cross play.

C

A Decent E3

It was a decent showing as far as the press conferences are concerned. Lots of promising titles on the horizon and many of them debuting early next year. I doubt I will have time play all of them but this is a good problem to have.

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