Having completed Final Fantasy 7 Remake in around 40 hours, I wasn’t done with Midgar. Reaching the end unlocks the ‘Chapter Select’ option and the more challenging ‘Hard Mode’, where items are prohibited and MP recovery is virtually impossible.
After completing the 18 tougher chapters and proudly beating the Top Secrets challenge at the very first attempt (honest), here are my top tips for defying fate and surviving hard mode.
Polish up missed weapons and materia on normal mode first
The good thing about Chapter Select is that it can be used to revisit chapters on any difficulty. Before braving hard mode, it’s advisable to make sure you have the best equipment and some of the important missable materia.
For example, chapter 16 has easily missable weapons for Barret and Tifa, and the car park section at the start is good way of building up AP for some of your most important materia (more on that below).
Tifa’s final weapon is collected on the ground floor of the Shinra building after she’s fallen from the lights. After hopping across the first set of platforms, there is a set of bars before you climb your first ladder, leading to a chest containing the Purple Pain gloves.
For Barret, speak to the Mayor’s assistant when you leave his room and pay him the 10,000 gil he asks for. He gives you some pretty useless information, and the EKG Cannon.
Meanwhile, there is a second elemental materia that can pass you by at the end of Chapter 14. You must complete all available quests, and there’ll be a note on the floor just before you reach the chapter’s end to shoot off the grappling guns. This isn’t as noticeable as a normal orb of materia, and if you missed it, even if you completed the quests first time around, you have to start the chapter again and do every single one of them all again. I learnt that one the hard way.
Another common miss is Aerith’s Bladed Staff in Chapter 11, which can be stolen from the end boss Eligor. This is the only weapon that needs the Steal materia, and grants the Lustrous Shield ability.
Really, hard mode often comes down to your materia setup and tactics. The most important materia during my run were as follows:
- Prayer – it may cost two ATB, but it’s worth it to save the precious MP. I had Prayer mastered on everyone at all times, so there were no frustrating moments where my healer was killed or being pummelled by an enemy.
- First strike – in long boss battles, I tended to unequip this, but it’s hugely useful for regular battles so enemies can be dispatched quickly with moves like Triple Strike. Getting on the front foot stops you getting in trouble and wasting MP.
- ATB Assist – on Tifa, this is a great materia to have mastered. Tifa’s ATB charges up quickly, and using consecutive Unbridled Strength moves is common, along with consecutive True Strikes (more on this below), giving everyone else a big boost to ATB that can turn the tide of battle.
- Time – this is useful in two ways. Haste magnified can be a good way to start a boss battle, but the Stop spell is where the Time materia really comes into its own. Lots of enemies, including bosses, can be inflicted with Stop whilst they are staggered, which freezes the countdown and gives you greater opportunity to finish them off.
- Healing – obviously mastered healing materia is crucial for those tight spots when you’re on low HP and don’t have the ATB for Pray. After all, even mastered, Pray doesn’t heal HP to full and is best used to keep topping HP up. Healing is for when you’re in real trouble.
- Revive – it’s too risky to have just one revive, or even two. There’s nothing worse than having one character left standing who has no means of healing their teammates from KO. Every character should be equipped with revive materia at all times, unless of course it’s a solo section where it is a waste of a slot (logic that also applies to Magnify and ATB Assist).
- Elemental – this is a great thing to equip for any boss that has a specific elemental weakness. See the ‘know your opponent’ section below for more on this, but don’t forget it works on armour too. For example, equipping elemental to lightning armour against Reno renders some of his attacks useless. There are two elemental materia, and although they can be difficult to master, hitting the second level with them is enough to make a big difference.
- Magnify – it seems Square Enix realised how overpowered ‘All’ materia was in the original game. Instead we have just one magnify materia, which you could really do with mastering. This is best combined with Barrier, Time or Healing in my view, with Barrier my usual preference.
- Steadfast block – a great materia as it doesn’t just reduce damage, but increases ATB further upon blocking as well. Although you’ll usually want the AI to be doing the blocking, this is handy to have on Cloud who can block and counter in punisher mode.
- HP Up – two mastered HP Up on everyone is best. The maximum boost is 100% and for lower HP characters like Aerith and Tifa, it’s advisable to have a boost of at least 70%.
- MP Up – for obvious reasons, it’s worth having one or two of these. I don’t think it’s actually as important as some of the others, as the best way of succeeding in hard mode is by getting into the habit of not using MP, but it doesn’t hurt to have an increase. Also, if you’re at the end of a chapter and find yourself on low MP, equipping MP Up increases your current MP relatively with your maximum MP.
Use MP only in emergencies
Offensively, you can comfortably win 99% of regular battles with ATB abilities alone. With the materia setups above, it’s fairly easy to reach the boss of most chapters without using much MP (it does also regenerate slowly in battle). The key is to dispatch opponents quickly with First Strike, and then use Pray to keep your health topped up. Since Pray is only usable in battle, be smart. If there are three enemies and you’ve killed two of them but have a chunk of health missing, rather than going all-out, attack conservatively or just wait until everyone’s ATB is full to heal up for free before you finish them off.
Even within boss battles, I wouldn’t bother with too many curative spells until the red screen of panic descends. Pray was still very much my go-to method of healing and Curaga was only needed when a character was particularly low on health but I only had one ATB bar. By far my most common restorative usage of MP was with revive materia, preferably mastered to restore a fallen friend to full HP. Otherwise, it was the occasional Manawall (mastered Barrier), Stop, and whatever strong ‘-aga’ elemental spell the enemy was weak against.
Don’t think you are safe when you’re on half, or even two-thirds health. On hard mode, certain moves can absolutely devastate you out of nothing. Call me conservative, but if characters are on fairly high health but someone holds two full ATB bars, I think it is still best to use Pray and get everyone fully healed whilst your other characters plug away.
Some bosses can take a while with this method, but I even managed to beat Ghoul on my first attempt despite accidentally checking the wrong enemy on Enemy Intel and equipping the completely wrong materia…
Another tip: don’t do that.
Know your opponents
One of the most important materia in the game is Assess. I didn’t mention it in the above list because preferably, you’ll have assessed all bosses on your first playthrough, which will carry over into hard mode chapters and save you a crucial materia slot.
The data collected is in the Enemy Intel section of the menu, so you can check out a boss’s weaknesses and resistances when you know you’re about to face them, and tailor your materia accordingly. If you didn’t assess some of the bosses, you can always start the battle, assess, and re-load to adjust your materia.
When Airbuster is coming up, you’ll want lightning connected to your elementals. Abzu, on the other hand, is weak to fire so it’s fairly pointless equipping any other offensive magic. Although a lot of your core setup will usually be the same, your strongest magic should be tinkered regularly to adapt to who you’re facing. There’s never really a point of wasting a slot on extra offensive magic that isn’t as useful as the weakness element. If bosses don’t have a resistance to Stop, ensure Time materia is equipped.
Just as important is knowing the opponent’s moves. If you’re having trouble on a boss, it can be useful to have a pressure-free attempt at them and spend a bit of time not attacking. Instead, study their attacks and try to block, dodge or interrupt them. Once you’ve tested a few methods and know the best way of dealing with each attack, it doesn’t matter if you get a game over – you’re much better prepared for next time. I’ll be honest, Hell House took me by surprise when a group of Tonberries were released into the arena, but when you know they’re coming, and know they can be killed quickly, it’s straightforward.
Learn how to hugely boost the stagger damage bonus
When Tifa is in your party, you’ll want to exploit the massive advantages she can offer upon inflicting a stagger. She has many moves that can drastically increase the bonus, and using them at the right times can be the key to victory against a tough opponent.
The time to act is when the enemy’s stagger gauge is nearly full. At this point, make sure Tifa has used Unbridled Strength twice, so Rise and Fall is available for her triangle attack. Next, control Tifa and try to leave her with two more full ATB gauges at the time of the stagger – do not use the triangle attack before the enemy is staggered.
When stagger is inflicted, it’s time to kick into action. Control Tifa, use triangle attacks twice, hitting the opponent with Rise and Fall followed by Omnistrike. As soon as these have landed, activate two consecutive True Strike attacks which will increase the bonus even further. At this point, it’ll have risen from 160% to over 270% and if you have ATB Assist on Tifa, will boost the rest of your party’s ATB. Get Cloud into punisher mode and wreak havoc with everything you’ve got.
It’s worth noting that another True Strike with Tifa will get the bonus over 300%, which unlocks a trophy.
Once again, remember the Stop spell, available with mastered Time materia, also freezes the stagger timer provided the enemy doesn’t have a resistance to it. I’d suggest setting this on a different character so Tifa is not interrupted.
Switch characters constantly
Enemies often focus on the character being controlled, especially many of the bosses. This is something you’ll have likely figured out during your first playthrough, but it’s far more important to use this to your advantage in hard mode.
When you have multiple party members, blocking individual attacks is a waste of time (unless you are utilising Cloud’s punisher mode) as the AI can do it. The second you see a dangerous enemy’s attention turn your way, switch over to someone else. The AI will block, and you’ll be free to launch an attack for a few seconds. Shortly after, the enemy will change their mind and come after the new character you’re controlling. Switch to someone else and repeat the pattern.
Time your moves right
As I mentioned in my review, one of the most annoying things about Final Fantasy 7 Remake was the way the game could ruthlessly strip you of ATB bars and MP by having a boss transition to a new phase at the wrong time. As you’ve faced these bosses before, you’ll want to be mindful of this and ensure it doesn’t happen.
However, these things can happen during normal play by having a character attacked, and the loss of both ATB and MP can be all the more devastating on hard mode. Get into the habit of checking the surroundings whilst in the command menu, and only utilise the spells with the longest charge-time when you can be sure the caster is safely out of the way and of course, out of the enemy’s line of fire.
With these tips, Midgar’s baddies had better watch out. Are there any issues people are facing in hard mode?