As you may have noticed from some of our other guides on the Final Fantasy VII remake, FF7's Hard Mode isn't your typical advanced difficulty setting. Not only is it as punishing as the name suggests, but it makes big mechanical changes that force you to vary up your approach to the game.
In Hard Mode, every decision counts. Let's talk tactics.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Hard Mode Tips
Naturally, in Hard Mode, enemies in FF7 have more health, do more damage, and attack in different patterns than they do on any other difficulty. It generally seems to be tuned around the expectation that you're at or near the level cap, with at least some endgame weapons and Materia; unless you did some hefty grinding at the end of your Easy/Normal/Classic run, your first attempts at Hard Mode may get stopped in their tracks by the new, improved version of the Scorpion Sentinel.
You do have access to the Chapter Select function in Hard Mode, since you had to beat the game once to unlock it, as well as the EXP/AP multiplier that you unlock as a post-game bonus. Leveling, at least, is easy in Hard Mode, so if your characters aren't at level 50 by the time you start, you should hit the cap soon afterward.
Hard Mode also turns off your access to consumable items. You can't suck back half a dozen Potions and Ethers after every fight, or rely on a stack of Phoenix Down to keep your characters on their feet. Your recovery options are now at a premium.
Most importantly, MP is no longer restored when you rest at benches. You do still get your HP back, but MP is now a valuable resource. Without Ethers and benches, you can only restore MP by starting a new chapter, finishing side quests that restore your HP and MP as a bonus reward, or finding Mako Shards inside smashed Shinra Crates.
Aerith can also Soul Drain MP out of enemies, which becomes a serious point in her favor in Hard Mode. Between that and her Healing Wind Limit Break, Aerith is the most self-sufficient caster on your team, and you'll want to have her along whenever she's available.
Because MP is such a valuable resource much of the time (you can go whole hog with it on boss fights when you know it's the end of a chapter, but it's scarce at any other time), Hard Mode requires you to get the most out of the battle system. There are a lot of fights in other difficulties where you can muddle through by mashing Square, then shotgunning Potions afterward, but that's not an option on Hard Mode. Instead, you need to approach every fight with an eye towards resource conservation. Play defensively, dodge what you can, and guard what you can't.
FF7 already works pretty hard to incentivize you to stagger enemies, with benefits like the massive attached damage multiplier, but this turns into a potentially life-or-death option in Hard Mode. An enemy that you just sent reeling is one that isn't sapping your resources at the moment, and it's your cue to unleash everything you've got on it. You can use the Assess Materia, obtained from Chudley in Chapter 3, to scout an enemy's vulnerabilities and figure out exactly how to most efficiently stagger it.
One trick you can use to confuse the enemy AI is to switch characters frequently. You may have noticed it before now, but FF7 is hard-coded to prioritize your currently-controlled character as a target, rather than having any kind of "threat" system like you'd see in an MMO. During parts of the game where you have two or three characters in your party, you can exploit this to get a few free shots in on your opponents while they're switching targets. It's particularly effective if you swap from Cloud or Tifa, who'll naturally be right up in the thick of things, to Aerith or Barret, who tend to hang out in the backfield.
You should also get in the habit of only using the most efficient spells. Many fights in FF7 hinge on exploiting enemies' elemental weaknesses, such as using Thunder spells against robots, but that doesn't mean you have to use the most powerful spell you have every time. Your goal isn't raw damage here, but instead, to fill up the stagger meter faster, and a cheap Thunder spell does that just as well as a full-blown, expensive Thundaga.
Without items, you also need to put some real thought into your Materia setup, as abilities and spells are your only methods of recovering in the field if things do go south. The Revival spell, which is easy to buy off vendors, is the only way to get a fallen character back on their feet in Hard Mode, and it's worth having one socketed on everyone in your group for use in emergencies.
You can also socket the Chakra Materia for a healing option that doesn't cost MP. Similarly, if you find a Prayer Materia (available from the "Don Corneo's Secret Stash" side quest in Chapter 14), you can use it to turn ATB charges into a small but significant group heal.
Hard Mode lives up to the name, but you have to get through the game before you can unlock it. For some extra help along the way, we've got an assortment of guides for the FF7 remake, including:
- Where to find all the Manuscripts now that you're in Hard Mode
- How to reach and fight the two super-difficult bosses that are exclusive to Hard Mode
- If you can unlock the Gotterdammerung, everything else in Hard Mode is cake; here's how
In a lot of ways, when you play Final Fantasy VII on Hard Mode, it's basically a different game. You need to pay attention to a lot of mechanics that you could easily ignore your first time through. Check in with us to discuss Hard Mode's challenges on Twitter: @PrimaGames.