Final Fantasy VII Remake has a real-time battle system with strategic elements. The player controls one party member, and can switch to the others on-the-fly. Party members use normal attacks to build up their ATB (Active Time Battle) gauges. ATB charges can then be consumed for a wide variety of abilities and spells provided by weapons and materia fitted on weapons and armor, in addition to items. Once a party member's limit gauge is filled, they can unleash a powerful limit break ability, and in some battles, it is possible to summon a powerful ally.
Party members are customized by selecting their weapon, armor, accessory, and materia. Though each character has different strengths and weaknesses, the equipment setup can drastically change their playstyle and role in combat. Beyond simply changing the attributes of characters, different weapons also give different weapon passives that can greatly affect playstyle.
Though Final Fantasy VII Remake has a real-time combat system, the ATB gauge, equipment, materia, summons, and limit breaks are all reminiscent of the original Final Fantasy VII. The battle system fuses mechanics from the original with mechanics introduced in later entries. These include learning abilities by mastering weapon proficiencies (from Final Fantasy IX), controlling one party member with the ability to issue commands to others (from Final Fantasy XII), a focus on staggering the enemies to leave them vulnerable to increased damage (from Final Fantasy XIII), and real-time combat system (from Final Fantasy XV). The combat also vaguely resembles Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII-, which itself is a real-time combat system with emphasis on materia to unlock abilities.
The battle system remains largely the same across each difficulty mode, though it changes in Classic Mode where any actions in-between using command menu abilities are automated, though the player can still take over and control them if they wish. On Hard Mode, the player can't use items.
Final Fantasy VII Remake has real-time combat in which the player controls one of up to three party members. With their currently controlled character, the player can use normal attacks () and unique abilities () to build their ATB gauge, as well as guard () to reduce damage, or dodge () to avoid it entirely. Opening the Commands Menu () enters Tactical Mode where time is greatly slowed down to select an ability, spell, or an item to use (items are locked for Hard Mode). If available, a monster can be summoned, or once the gauge is filled, a more powerful limit break can be used (at no ATB cost). These abilities can also be assigned to a character's shortcuts menu ().
While one party member is controlled, the others will be controlled by AI, and normally play defensively. Players are encouraged to switch between party members frequently. In addition to taking advantage of the wildly different playstyles and making use of their different combat strengths, this is often a more efficient way to optimize the use of party members, building their ATB gauges faster and allowing them to use different abilities.
Party members who are not being controlled will play defensively, and usually guard while inactive. Commands can still be issued to them from the Commands Menu if they have ATB charges available, and the and buttons can be used to open their menus directly, as they will never expend ATB on their own. Beyond this, Synergy Materia, Auto-Cure Materia, and Provoke Materia can be used to control non-controlled party members' actions somewhat. Enemies normally favor attacking the player-controlled character, meaning switching party members can avoid the current leader being overwhelmed.
When a party member reaches 0 HP, they are incapacitated until revived with either a spell or an item. If the incapacitated character is the player character, another party member becomes the controlled character. When all party members are incapacitated, it is Game Over, and the player has the option to return to a previous save file or to repeat the battle.
Enemies have various types, which determine their elemental weakness. Flying enemies are fought with aerial attacks from melee characters, if available, or must be targeted with ranged attacks. Another core aspect of combat is the stagger mechanic, in which players must attack an opponent to fill up their stagger gauge. Staggered enemies are vulnerable for a brief period and take increased damage, and select few abilities also boost the damage % further than the base 160%.
Each party member has two ATB gauges, which can be filled and expended to use an ability, a spell, an item, or summon/command a monster. The ATB gauge fills slowly on its own as determined by the character's Speed, but fills faster when characters use normal attacks or unique techniques on an enemy, or guard against damage. Dodging or taking damage without guarding halts ATB gain for the duration.
Abilities typically cost one ATB charge, though some cost two and Barret has abilities that consume his his whole gauge. Much of the skill behind mastering the combat system involves learning how to build up ATB as quickly as possible with uninterrupted ability uses.
An ATB charge is expended when an ability is selected. If a character is interrupted while in the middle of charging an ability, such as the animation taken to cast a spell, they lose their ATB charge even if they do not perform the ability. This makes it crucial to either perform the ability in a safe position with no fear of interruption, to use abilities that grant armor that prevent a party member from being interrupted, or to use faster abilities to leave an enemy vulnerable and set them up for a stronger ability that takes longer to charge. This also makes paying attention to enemy attack patterns key to effectively using ATB without being retaliated.
Party members have two ATB gauges by default, and always start the battle with two. However, the Refocus Materia grants the Refocus limit break, which allows a party member to extend this to three ATB charges for the remainder of the battle. Doing so also increases the rate at which their ATB charges.
The Speed attribute is typically used to determine the rate the ATB gauge builds. The Haste buff boosts the rate the ATB gauge fills (both passive gain and gain from attacking/blocking/etc), while Slow lowers it, and Stop halts it entirely.
Many materia can be used to increase the rate that the ATB gauge fills. Steadfast Block Materia and Parry Materia allow increase the wearer's ATB gauges when taking defensive measures, First Strike Materia allows one to begin the battle with ATB filled somewhat, Skill Master Materia allows one to fill ATB by cycling skills often, and ATB Stagger Materia increases the rate that attacks build ATB against staggered enemies. Both ATB Assist Materia and the ATB Ward abilities also grant ways for one character boost the ATB of allies. Lastly, the ATB Boost Materia instantly grants one ATB bar, on a cooldown. Of accessories, Clarity Pendant fully fills ATB when using Refocus, and Whistlewind Scarf allows the wearer to start a battle with ATB already filled, and also stacks with First Strike.
Each party member and enemy has a variety of attributes, or stats, that affect their performance in combat. These stats are improved by leveling up and boosted by equipment and some abilities. All units have an HP, determining how much damage they can take before being incapacitated, and an MP, determining how many spells they can cast.
The Attack Power determines the amount of physical damage dealt by attacks and abilities. This attribute is determined by the core Strength attribute, as well as the equipped weapon. The Magic Attack attribute works similarly, determining the amount of magic damage dealt by a user. This is derived from the weapon and the Magic attribute.
Much like the damaging attributes, defensive attributes work similarly, determining how much a character resists damage. Defense determines the amount of resistance to physical damage, and is derived from the equipped armor and the Vitality attribute. Likewise, Magic Defense determines resistance to magic damage, and is derived from the equipped armor and the Spirit attribute.
The Luck attribute determines a characters' chance of dealing a critical hit (both physical attacks and magic spells can critical), or successfully stealing from enemies. The Speed determines how fast a characters' ATB gauge charges.
There are four elements in Final Fantasy VII Remake, each with an associated Magic Materia. Enemies can either be weak, resistant, or immune to an element, though different enemy types are generally weak to a particular element. It is important to know the traits of different enemies to exploit their weaknesses, which can be ascertained through Assess Materia.
The elements are as follows:
- Fire, associated with the Fire Materia. Humanoids are normally weak to it.
- Ice, associated with the Ice Materia. Biological enemies are normally weak to it.
- Lightning, associated with the Lightning Materia. Machines are normally weak to it.
- Wind, associated with the Wind Materia. Flying enemies are normally weak to it.
The Elemental Materia can also provide both durability against elemental attacks, or add elemental damage to normal attacks. Several weapon passives can increase the added damage dealt.
Status effects are typically referred to as either buffs, positive status effects providing many benefits, or debuffs, negative ailments that can cripple a party member in battle. Buffs and debuffs are often opposing: in these cases, applying one status will remove the other, but will not replace the other, and the status must be applied again to have an effect.
Status effects are as follows:
- Regen, providing HP regeneration over time. Opposed to Poison.
- Barrier, halving physical damage taken.
- Manaward, halving magic damage taken.
- Shield, granting immunity to physical damage.
- Reflect, causing spells to bounce off a target onto another.
- Haste, increasing the rate the ATB gauge fills. Opposed to Slow and Stop.
- Resist, granting immunity to debuffs.
- Poison, providing HP damage over time. Opposed to Regen.
- Silence, preventing spells from being cast.
- Sleep, preventing a unit from acting.
- Slow, reducing the rate the ATB gauge fills. Opposed to Haste.
- Stop, freezing a target in place. Opposed to Haste.
- Toad, dramatically weakening a unit's damage and limiting their abilities.
- Berserk, increasing the physical damage they take, but also increasing physical damage they deal.
- Fury, increasing the physical damage they take, but also increasing the rate the limit gauge builds. Opposed to Sedate.
- Sedate, reducing physical damage taken, but reducing the rate the limit gauge fills. Opposed to Fury.
Enemies may have resistances or immunities to several debuffs, though in cases where bosses are not immune to a debuff, exploiting this vulnerability can be critical to winning the battle. Resistance to debuffs among party members can be provided through accessories, through the Warding Materia, as well as weapon passives.
After defeating all enemies in a battle, rewards are earned by the party. These include EXP, gil, any item drops, weapon proficiency, and AP. EXP is used for increasing the characters' level, and is shared across all party members, while AP is used for leveling up materia and is shared among the currently equipped materia of all characters in that battle. Weapon proficiency is used to permanently learn the weapon's ability.
For item drops, enemies have a chance for a normal item drop or a rare item drop. The rare item is more valuable, but has a lower drop rate, while the normal item has a chance to drop when an enemy is killed. Drop rates differ between enemies and between the items they hold. In addition to item drops when defeating an enemy, some items can be stolen using the Steal during battle, and the success rate depends on the Luck of the character using the ability as well as the steal rate of the item.
There are four party members in Final Fantasy VII Remake:
- Cloud Strife, a melee attacker who wields broadswords in battle. He focuses on dealing raw damage with his abilities, and his balanced attributes make him excellent both in a physical damage role and a spellcasting role. His unique ability allows him to switch between the balanced and mobile Operator Mode, or Punisher Mode in which he can attack harder and faster and counterattack melee attacks. His default ability is Braver, which deals strong damage to a single target.
- Barret Wallace, a ranged attacker who wields gun-arms in battle, with the option to equip melee weapons to change his playstyle. Most of Barret's attributes are below average, but his durability is the highest, making him excellent for drawing fire from enemies to himself to protect the party, especially with his Lifesaver ability. His special technique is Overcharge, allowing him to fire a burst of powerful bullets to quickly build his ATB gauge; with a melee weapon, this is replaced with Overrun, allowing him to charge forward and then slam the ground, dealing area-of-effect damage. His default ability is Steelskin, allowing him to reduce incoming damage and making him harder to interrupt.
- Tifa Lockhart, a melee brawler who fights with her fists and knuckles equipped. Her main strength is her high mobility, making her very evasive, and her ability to combo her abilities and techniques together to overwhelm enemies with fast single-target damage at close range. She also excels both at building up an enemy's stagger gauge, and is uniquely capable of increasing stagger bonus damage with her melee techniques, which can be cycled between using her unique ability, Unbridled Strength. Her attributes are balanced, but lean towards physical damage, and she has the highest speed attribute.
- Aerith Gainsborough, a ranged spellcaster who uses staves to fire homing magic projectiles from a distance. Aerith has the greatest magic attribute, and several supportive abilities that allow her to cast extremely potent spells that can burst down enemies, or buff and heal the party greatly. Unique to her, Aerith's limit breaks are supportive rather than damage dealing. Her unique ability is Soul Drain, allowing her to absorb MP from an enemy.
Each party member is available at different points in the story, and each is the main player-controlled character during a few quests. Cloud is the most frequently controlled, used by the player throughout most of the story.
Though not playable, Biggs, Wedge, and Red XIII appears as a guests periodically. Biggs and Wedge during the fifth chapter, "Mad Dash", and Red XIII throughout the final two chapters. In battle, the characters contribute simple attacks (a normal attack and a magic attack) and cannot be damaged.
Characters have access to a variety of abilities from the "Abilities" menu. Each party member has a default ability available from the start, and additional abilities are provided by the weapon they equip. Once an ability is used in a certain way (depending on the weapon), and proficiency with it reaches 100%, the party member permanently learns the ability. Abilities range from a variety of combat techniques to supportive abilities. These abilities are core to the character's playstyle, and are often best bound to shortcuts.
Another set of unique abilities are characters' limit breaks. Once a character's limit gauge is filled (which normally occurs upon taking damage, though certain accessories increase it in other ways), the "Limit" command is added to their list of commands. Limit breaks do not use any ATB, and are free to use. Party members also have two limit levels, where the second limit level takes longer to fill, but provides a more powerful ability. Most limit breaks are unique abilities to that party member, though the Refocus Materia grants a Refocus limit break that can be used by any party member.
In addition to character abilities, many abilities can also be provided by Command Materia.
Party members equip three pieces of equipment: a weapon, a piece of armor, and an accessory. Equipment pieces are found throughout the story by completing quests, or purchased from shops.
The weapon is the most important piece of equipment, and can alter a character's playstyle entirely, based on their attributes, passive abilities, and materia slots. Weapons are upgraded by spending SP (skill points), earned both from leveling up and from acquiring manuscripts. These upgrades grant various weapon passives that can alter how a weapon functions entirely.
Armor and accessories have different roles. Armor boost the defense or magic defense attributes, as well as providing several materia slots. Accessories provide unique effects. These may be simple attribute bonuses, but can also come in the form of immunities to debuffs, automatically granting some statuses, as well as providing enhancements to spellcasting or attacks.
The materia system is used to customize and tailor a party member's playstyle. They provide various improvements to a character, from granting them additional command abilities, to enhancing their attributes and strengths. Materia are equipped on materia slots provided either by their weapon or armor. Weapon slots expand as the weapons are advanced by upgrading them, though armor slots do not expand.
Materia are earned throughout the story by completing different quests, though some can be purchased from shops. Chadley also grants the ability to obtain more materia through completing Battle Intel reports.
There are five types of materia:
- Magic Materia, used to grant magic spells, which require ATB and MP to be cast. These include curative spells such as Cure, offensive spells, such as Fire, and spells applying status effects, such as Haste.
- Command Materia, used to grant abilities that require ATB. These are typically supportive abilities, such as Pray or Steal.
- Support Materia, paired with other materia in a linked slot to enhance the materia or take advantage of the materia's properties.
- Complete Materia, granting passive effects to the wielder, such as improving their attributes, or improving a basic ability.
- Summoning Materia, granting the ability to summon a monster in certain battles. These are special materia that have a dedicated slot in the character's weapon, and only one can be equipped at said character at any given time.
A battle begins when a group of enemies found on the field first engage the party. At this point, the current party leader takes over, battle commands are available, and battle takes place until the party runs out of range of the enemies or all enemies are defeated.
Enemies have one of five types: human, mechanical, biological, artificial, or unreadable. Enemies of the same type have somewhat similar elemental affinities: human enemies are normally weak to fire, mechanical enemies are normally weak to lightning, and biological enemies are normally weak to ice. Though not a distinct enemy type, many enemies are flying, and are fought with ranged attacks or aerial attacks. These enemies are weak to wind.
Affinity to elements comes in the form of either a weakness, a lesser resistance (where they take less damage from an element), a greater resistance (where they take very little damage), an immunity (where they take no damage), or an absorption (where they are healed by an attack of that element). Similarly, enemies can be immune to some status effects entirely, but if not immune are vulnerable to being crippled by them. Players can use this to their advantage.
Enemies that have been fought are listed in the Enemy Intel. If they are Assessed, information on them is permanently revealed. This allows a player to identify the weaknesses of an enemy and how to best exploit them.
Behind the scenes
The battle system was conceptualized in early stages, but was not fully solidified until a year prior to the final game's release. The idea was to portray a modern evolution of the Active Time Battle system from the original game, and use real-time controls to achieve more immersive gameplay with higher-quality graphics. The team did not simply wish to have a hybrid of two systems, but rather for the action-battle elements to enhance and enable the ATB system to perform better. To achieve this, the developers used the rules of the original game's ATB system and included the ATB gauge, while incorporating action-battle elements that would enable the player to be more efficient in filling up the ATB gauge and create ideal moments to use the abilities. Much of development was spent exploring how the action-battle elements could complement the ATB system based on player technique.
Another challenge when designing the battle system was ensuring that mechanics were simple enough to allow more players to pick up the game easily, but complex enough to prevent battles becoming repetitive. Elements were carefully selected and implemented to provide depth without being too complex, and would be based on the pillars of action and strategy. One such of these features was the stagger mechanic, designed to prevent repetitive battles in which players would simply spam high-damage commands to defeat an enemy, forcing them to choose between commands that stagger enemies quicker, slow enemies down in preparation for stagger, or simply dealing damage.
The developers wished to preserve the high degree of customizability provided by materia system in the original game, but to also allow unique traits of the characters to be captured. To achieve this, the developers gave characters unique qualities and abilities as well as a distinctive feel and strategy in combat, while still allowing for the high degree of customization of these characters through materia setups. Co-director Naoki Hamaguchi considered the results his favorite part of the battle system, and felt the team were able to create a depth to surpass the original battle system.
For any mechanic in the original game's battle system that could be used freely, the developers had to ensure the battle system had been designed to incorporate pros and cons accompanying its usage. This would prevent said mechanic from simply being a sure-fire method for victory, thus leading to battles feeling repetitive. As a result, summons were made more limited. The goal with summons was also to make their use feel exciting, with the developers feeling they would be more memorable if experienced as a "fever time" where summons would stay and help the player. The MP cost was reduced to 0 to make up for this limitation.
- Joe Juba (May 21, 2020). Final Fantasy VII Remake Creators Answer Our Questions About Summons, Combat, And Dance Scenes. Game Informer. Archived from the original on May 21, 2020.
- Robert Ramsey (May 24, 2020). Interview: Final Fantasy VII Remake Producer and Co-Director on Development, Launch, and Being Grateful for the Fans. Push Square. Archived from the original on May 25, 2020.
- Jimmy Thang (June 30, 2020). How Square Enix leveraged Unreal Engine to modernize FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE. Unreal Engine. Archived from the original on July 3, 2020.