I jumped straight into hard mode after playing Final Fantasy VII Remake on Normal. I simply needed more, and was eager to challenge myself. I didn’t realise beforehand that Hard mode prevents the use of items, and that you can only recover a minor amount of MP via breaking boxes, but I think it’s those elements that helped me enjoy it just that bit more.
They may sound like frustrating restrictions, but I enjoyed having to tackle the game differently, and with more tact than I had before. I had to conserve my MP, and wisely use it to stagger enemies and heal only when necessary. It forced me to play around with Materia and different weapons, and I used characters in different ways. Tifa’s ability to greatly stagger became more important, as did Aerith’s Pray ability and her generally large pool of MP. Cloud’s parry was a lifesaver against melee bosses, and Barret’s range helped to consistently whittle down enemies — his Overcharge is no joke!
There is one particular boss which gets a new bag of tricks on Hard mode. And that is the Hell House. Already one of the toughest bosses in the game, Hell House is home to more than what it once seemed. Beginning your fight, it opens its doors to release three Tonberry’s — they’re weaker than the solo one you fight as part of a side-mission, but they’re still fully capable of using Chef’s Knife to one-hit kill you, or stun you in place with Scourge. In a battle with only two characters and danger from every angle, these attacks can quickly take you to the ‘game over’ screen. You get some nice dialogue from Scotch and Kotch, though.
Of course, Hell House is the last opponent in a string of battles at this part in the story, and there’s a good chance you’ll have been forced to use a good chunk of your MP prior to this fight. I won by the skin of my teeth, thanks to Aerith’s basic attacks, and both characters having Pray. Pray is considered an ability rather than magic, so it uses two ATB bars rather than MP. It’s a lifesaver — if you play on Hard mode, please make sure you’re running Pray on at least two characters!
It’s Aerith who helped carry me through my toughest battles. Being the only character who attacks with magic as part of their basic attacks, Aerith was invaluable. Her high MP pool and magic made her the best character for healing and staggering enemies, and she would usually be far away enough from the enemy that I could distract them with someone else. Her limit break’s were incredible too, with her second limit break granting a level of immunity to the entire party. Her first limit break isn’t to be shied away from either, as it can heal a great chunk of the party’s HP. Aerith is also the only character who can use Arcane Ward, which allows a chosen character to summon two attack spells in a row. Aerith comes in with the clutch, time and time again.
On Hard mode, even the most basic of enemies pose a threat. Shinra soldiers can whittle your health down in seconds, and you’re interrupted from combos far more often. A pack of guard dogs can tear your party to shreds, forcing you to rely on parry to get a counterattack in. Again, Aerith comes in handy here, as her basic attacks split off to hit surrounding enemies — she can wipe out a pack of enemies fast, as long as she’s not left alone to be harassed the moment you take control of her. The enemy tends to focus on whoever you’re controlling, so switching often is key to victory.
Hard mode is the only way to get access to a bunch of new Shinra VR challenges, and completing them gives you a little extra story on Chadley. They also provide amazing items to ensure you’re an absolute powerhouse on any subsequent playthroughs.
Once you get the hang of it, Hard mode proves to be a fun challenge. It is truly difficult, and you need to think ahead where MP conservation is considered, but I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’m currently on my second Hard playthrough. If you’re disappointed that you’re unable to play first on Hard mode, please note that it’s built around you being a max level character, with strong Materia. You’ll need it, and it would be entirely impossible to beat Hard mode from square one.
That said, are you ready to set foot in a more threatening Midgar?