THE WASHINGTON POST – This isn’t your 35-year-old dad’s Final Fantasy.
The long-awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake is finally here, and it’s a much different game than anyone could have expected. It’s much more of an action game. There’s a new weapons system to learn and developer Square Enix added side quests.
The Remake retells and reimagines the first five hours of the 1997 role-playing epic, but this time, additional content has turned that stretch of exposition into a full, 40-hour experience.
Here are some quick tips and things you should know, and some things I wish I knew when I started out. Fair warning: There are some gameplay-related spoilers. But I won’t be discussing any plot points.
UPGRADE YOUR WEAPONS WITH ABANDON
You’re only going to hit harder and get stronger by upgrading your weapons, a new system introduced in the Remake. This also refocusses the weapons so the game isn’t just a conveyor belt of ever-escalating powerful weapons. Cloud’s beginning and iconic Buster Sword is a viable endgame weapon for the Remake.
Each weapon will gain skill points, regardless of whether you’re using them. Always check in with them to make sure they’re properly upgraded. You can tweak weapons to basically create character builds from your party. For example, my Aerith’s staffs all enhance her magic attack and magic point bank, while Tifa’s gloves are heavy on defence, since she’s mostly going in to stagger enemies.
And although each weapon has a limited amount of skill points, you’re far better off upgrading them than not. Every weapon’s skills can be reconfigured by paying a small price to a new character named Chadley, who you’ll meet in the game’s early hours. Even if you end up slotting them to skills you don’t necessarily want, you’ll notice the difference in battle.
USE ALL YOUR WEAPON ABILITIES
Each weapon has an ability or attack completely unique to it. However, using that skill enough times in battle will increase “weapon proficiency”. Once you’re proficient enough with a weapon, the character will permanently learn that skill, and it can be used with any weapon.
For example, the Hardedge sword gave me a powerful downward slam attack. After using it for several battles, that same powerful attack can be used by Cloud’s initial Buster Sword.
Weapon abilities will vastly increase your battle options, making them not only useful, but your battles that much more dynamic and exciting.
ROTATE OUT AND REPLACE MATERIA OFTEN
Materia works similarly as it did in the 1997 original. Use them more, and each orb will grant the character access to more powerful versions of its spell. Cure becomes Cura, and so forth.
But because this is a self-contained game, materia will level up faster than you remember, and you’ll quickly have the strongest cure spell available. Rotate it out. If you can afford powering down a bit, replace the levelled up materia with a spare that isn’t.
This way, you can have levelled up materia for all your party. And since there’s only four controllable party members in this game (sorry Red XIII), you’ll likely end up with spare materia.
Since money is a little hard to come by in this game, sell your leveled up materia to keep your wallet full.
SIDE QUESTS ARE MISSABLE UNTIL THEY’RE NOT, SO DON’T STRESS OVER THEM TOO MUCH
Extracurricular missions are a new addition to at least this section of Final Fantasy VII’s story. The game will alert you when it’s “side quest time”.
If you skip them and try to progress the main story, the game’s characters will go through great lengths that make absolutely sure you’re positive about this decision. The game makes it a big deal.
It’s not. By the end of the game, you’ll be able to revisit any part of the game with your items, upgrades and levels intact. You can work your way back to these “side quest” periods rather easily, and finish them off. The only catch is that you have to finish that entire chapter (when the next chapter’s title card appears) for it to register as a completed side quest.
So if you’re the type to only run through a game once, make sure to do the side quests. But if this is a game you’re going to revisit, don’t stress too hard about finishing them right now.
But they’re worth finishing anyway. Many of them are boring fetch quests, but they’re tied to new items, and more importantly, new character moments.
You only get these new scenes by finishing all the side quests in a designated area and chapter. Lore fanatics won’t want to miss these.
Japanese role-playing games famously created the “grind,” basically fighting low-level enemies over and over again until you level up enough to progress the game. The Remake nixes the need for this altogether. You can technically still grind, since the game offers some time and a few sections to explore for treasure and monsters. But going through the game’s story should be more than enough experience to tackle the game without any grinding halts.
I ended the game at level 38. The post-game activities offer much more experience if you want to max your stats and become a Midgar monster, but that’s reserved for the completionists.
GET USED TO SWITCHING CHARACTERS QUICKLY
The game’s bosses aren’t a cakewalk, and a few will absolutely require quick maneuvering of menus and character abilities.
Pay attention to the combat dialogue, as your party members will often shout out tips on an enemy’s weakness. Usually when this happens, it means more strategic play is required.
Learn to switch between characters and abilities early in the low-pressure battles. Fumbling between characters and menus will provide an early death once the difficulty starts to ramp up.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO KNOCK IT DOWN TO ‘EASY’ OR ‘CLASSIC’ MODE
Square Enix has attempted to make a “Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers” for some years now. So Remake’s “Easy” mode is very easy. Enemies will often go down without any of the strategy required above. And “Classic” mode is easy mode with less action fussiness.
You only worry about what special abilities and items your character is using.
The game will unlock a “Hard” mode for anyone looking for a challenge. But if you hit a wall, you can knock down the difficulty at any point in the game without penalty. It’s there for people to enjoy the story, so use it if that’s what you want!