With the recent rise in discussions of accessibility over the past few years, I was interested to see if the developers of Final Fantasy VII Remake (FF7R from here on out) had taken any of that knowledge onboard to craft an experience that as many people as possible can enjoy.
Having only heard the soundtrack to and knowing a few details about the original game, I was definitely curious to see what had changed in terms of the story as well from what I knew beforehand.
With that brief introduction out of the way, let's find out how accessible FF7R is as a gamer without sight.
My hunch about the game and my decision to work with a sighted copilot proved to be well-founded as, even on this early screen, there was no narration to "press any button to continue."
In fact, there is no narration for menus or the UI at all which, with the amount of progress the industry has made in the past 5 years, is surprising and disappointing in equal measure.
The next thing I noticed, frustratingly, is that the vertical menus wrap and, when changing options in the options menu, you have to go into (usually) another vertical menu to alter the settings, which also wraps.
This makes it difficult to tell where you are in the menus and at times, until I moved my cursor again, my sighted CoPilot couldn't tell what I was highlighting. This meant that when saving and loading games with the manual save system, I unintentionally loaded the game instead of saving it because of these wrapping menu structures which, though in this case it didn't have any lasting impact, it easily could've done.
Elements of the game's combat and item usage revolve around a "commands menu", which allows you to work with spells, abilities and items amongst other things.
With this in mind, the aforementioned options allow the cursor to stay on the last option you used or reset to the default position every time depending on your choice, both in and out of combat. I opted for the default behaviour of forgetting the cursor position as I could then attempt to memorise my way to specific commonly used options.
The confusion starts with the easy difficulty referring to the player being able to enjoy the story "without having to worry about battles". Myself and my sighted copilot sat for a solid 3 minutes just trying to figure out whether to go for that or play on normal difficulty just because of this rather ambiguous wording.
Thinking that the wording wasn't saying that battles would be absent completely, especially given the real-time combat-focused gameplay I'd seen, we opted for easy and, as you'll read shortly, I'm definitely glad we did.
This set of circumstances did seem to come and go though, with the epic fanfare that accompanies the game's title being perfectly fine in terms of volume, but the score before it seeming to be slightly lower than intended, for no easily discernible reason.
Whereas most games give you a tutorial to find your preference as to whether you want your look to be inverted (pushing the analogue stick down looks up) or not (pushing up looks up), FF7R opts just to throw the options at you when starting the game. A slightly unexpected approach but one that gives you no issues afterwards with something that might feel forced.
Earlier, I talked about the opening, which leads me onto my next topic of discussion, cutscenes. FF7R is full of great sounding and well-scored story beats, whether they be small walking or traversal sequences where we get to know the characters we play as or that inhabit the world around us, or large-scale boss fights that have multiple phases. Regardless of the occasion though, the fact remains constant: This game could definitely use audio description to its advantage.
On a cutscene-specific note, whilst in some games you can pause cutscenes and adjust the music volume, FF7R doesn't allow you to adjust any options until much later in the game, once you've passed a few tutorials. Once you get to a tutorial that mentions pressing the options button on PS4, you can go to "system" and then "options" where you can adjust settings as you did in the main menu. This is also where you can change the difficulty, which will be covered later when discussing classic mode.
However, unlike, say, God Of War, which uses the surround channels to play both the game's audio and the score to great effect, FF7 does not take advantage of this. This is a shame as either the music feels too confined or the audio almost too large for the physical room, with no way to alter the situation. If you're sitting right in front of your speakers you should be able to adjust to this, but if I were playing on a sofa several feet away I don't know whether I'd get as much enjoyment out of this setup.
Speaking of the audio and by extent the voice acting as well, the detail and dedication in all facets of the audio is instantly clear. All lines are delivered well and all the jokes I've heard so far land solidly, with emotional dialogue seen throughout also having the desired impact. Having never played the original and only having a transcript to go on, I'm uncertain as to how much of the dialogue is new, but it's clear that a large amount of hard work went into this game regardless.
Unfortunately, it seems as if the haptic feedback used periodically throughout the game didn't receive the same attention, as on numerous occasions I wondered if my controller was malfunctioning. One of these instances came when explosives were used in close proximity, something that you'd think might trigger vibrational feedback. However, this wasn't the case, but hopefully these sequences could be patched to add haptic support during an update.
Previously I'd mentioned tutorials and, as you might've guessed already, they aren't narrated, much like the menus and rest of the UI. Given how much useful information is within these, it would be great if they were.
Selecting targets, on the other hand, is not as straightforward as, though it does (predictably but still unfortunately) rely on being able to aim at your targets visually, it is also not narrated meaning you won't necessarily know who you're targeting without sighted assistance in the first place.
All that being said, combat is a fun and enjoyable experience, even if I couldn't tell the enemies apart save for when they constantly blocked my attacks, indicating they were using a shield.
Fighting enemies on easy difficulty turned out to have been a good decision as, even though I understand the combat mechanics in what capacity I can, the lack of clear audio cues for enemy attacks does make it more likely that you'll die even at lower levels.
Whilst completing various objectives, I kept hearing an interesting "ping" sound but wasn't sure what it was. It turns out, unexpectedly, that this is when you receive a new objective, called "scenarios" by the game's text. As with numerous elements of gameplay this isn't narrated either, but it's useful to know when you've been given a new task.
During the first chapter, you encounter a laser security system. After going through the first few, I noticed that the lasers have a pulse to indicate when they are firing, but it's relatively subtle. You'd have to sit there for a while and watch each individual laser to get the timing down and, with the aforementioned lack of navigational audio cues, you wouldn't be able to tell where to go to progress in the first place.
Fortunately, my theory was correct and, continuing from the beginning of chapter 2, this difficulty change did not appear to introduce any issues even though we were using an existing save. However, when we did enter combat for the first time in this new difficulty, we were presented with information that essentially, the game would attack and defend for us, leaving commands as our only real concern.
It turns out, as you might expect, that you can also control the character as well should you need to, so essentially, the game doesn't change that much unless you just leave Cloud to fight his own battles and occasionally activate commands when needed.
That being said, Classic mode does not assist with navigation, only make the remake play a little closer to its 1997 PlayStation counterpart.
In all, Classic mode wasn't that useful as a gamer without sight and, for me at least, it made the game less enjoyable as I was able to sit back and just wait for opportunities to activate commands, instead of triggering them dynamically. I can, however, understand that there are gamers with disabilities or otherwise who could utilise this system to their advantage.
As a CoPilot experience, however, it's definitely an interesting game and an enjoyable adventure. As someone who has never been able to play the original game, this remake is everything I'd wanted in terms of immersion, even if the lack of narrated menus/UI, the wrapping of said menus and no cues for navigation amongst other elements do leave me feeling frustrated.
For gamers without sight who are interested in picking this game up, though it's a PS4 exclusive at the time of writing, I highly recommend waiting to pick it up on Xbox One as you'll then have access to simultaneous control, via both CoPilot (if you have a local friend who enjoys the game) or Share Controller (if you want to stream the game and know a sighted player willing to assist you over the internet).
I'm very much looking forward to completing the rest of the game when I can and, should anything significant change with this title in terms of accessibility, I will endeavour to update this review accordingly.
Back to the main Reviews, Guides and Articles page