By now, I feel like we’ve all gotten over the debate surrounding the changes made to the core narrative of Final Fantasy VII Remake. However, similar to the events of that game, we must press on to follow our old friends into uncharted territory once again in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. I won’t sugarcoat the experience, I was able to play around an hour of gameplay, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. The demo showcased follows two moments of the story. Firstly, the flashback scene where Sephiroth, Cloud, and Tifa make their way to the Mako reactor in Nibelheim. Followed by a short walk, or Chocobo ride, to Junon.
During that time, I was able to explore, take out a few enemies, take on side-quests, explore some more, hang out with my friends, and fight a couple of bosses. While that experience was memorable, let’s go over what Rebirth brings to the table in this truly defining remake effort.
The demo opens with Sephiroth, Cloud, and Tifa making their way through the mountains of Nibelheim to the Mako Reactor. During this time, the interactions between Sephiroth and Cloud make them almost unrecognizable to who they are in the present time. They discuss the mission and help each other out, but more surprisingly, they smile. In fact, I’d say that Cloud is a totally different person in these moments, and Sephiroth calling Cloud a puppy only solidified my thoughts on the matter. Cloud is essentially gaslighting us, and through these scenes, we catch a glimpse of the extent that he went through to piece this entire story together.
This is when I really started to doubt Square Enix’s statements about this being a good place to start your journey. Please, don’t listen to them, and play Remake and maybe even Crisis Core before jumping into this game. There were just too many Easter Eggs to count in the short amount of time I was playing, and I couldn’t imagine what the final game would look like. This scene, when compared to the other portion of the demo, also showcased two different area types, a dungeon where you push through to the end and a large open area where you’re free to explore.
Playing as Sephiroth was surreal. His swift movements and sword abilities seemed to have been designed to set him apart from any other party member you control. Similarly, he has access to a few different finishers tied to Triangle, including Pierce and Sword Dance. Players can also enter Retaliation Stance, which allows Sephiroth to parry an incoming attack. New actions for this release include Synergy Abilities, where party members can unleash a coordinated attack, in the case, Double Helix.
The environments have a new verticality to them where you can use field actions to climb and reach new areas. It adds a new layer to exploration that was definitely missing in Remake. This also encourages you to explore to look for hidden Materia. I guess my only concern is what happens to the Materia you find in this flashback. I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.
When it comes to larger areas, gameplay changes a bit as your party members follow you across the field, and you look for hidden items or simply go to the quest marker. While exploring, you can summon your Chocobo at any time and even set up fast travel points as you make your way across the areas. On that note, I should say that I scrolled the map and found it to be quite large, I was then told that that was not the only map, so I can only imagine how big this game gets during its runtime.
Back to the open areas. Part of me couldn’t help by notice that the roads were a little small, and the Chocobos were huge, which made me figure the roads came before the Chocobo in this case. It’s not a problem, but there is a system where you can sniff out buried treasure and dig for it. Strangely, sometimes my party members would get in my way though, resulting in a failed dig. However, this was a huge deal for me. Chocobos can also be customized, which I’m sure will come in handy during the visit to the Golden Saucer.
There are side missions available as you explore where you are given goals for a fight, such as Stagger an Enemy or finish the fight in some amount of time. The rewards are nice, but this is also meant to be optional as you make your way through the lands, and the fights can be retried even if you previously completed them. Further, materials can be found to aid you in crafting items on the go.
If you asked me if this felt like Final Fantasy VII…well, my answer would be yes, 100%. Seeing Junon in the distance as I make my way through the outskirts, hearing the party discuss strategy, and getting to control Red XIII, I felt like I was playing an unreleased Final Fantasy VII movie. And then it happened, the madlads did it, the Dolphine has returned. Honestly, I feel like if you really hated the Remake, you wouldn’t be watching this video to learn more about Rebirth, so I’m glad we’re all of the same mind here and know this is awesome.
In battle, characters seem to be more in sync with attacks. There are even shortcuts for various skills. Red XIII plays a little differently from the rest of the party as successfully guarding fills his Vengeance Gauge, which allows him to enter Vengeance Mode, increasing his attack and speed. This new level of companionship extends into the Synergy Attacks shared between all of the party members.
This brings me to a pretty interesting facet of the battle system: There are a lot of gauges to keep track of. In execution, though, everything feels pretty seamless. Switching characters on the fly felt natural, and even controlling other party members to unleash skills was easy to execute. While I never minded the act of simply mashing Square for most of the fight, this follow-up has plenty of other actions for you to focus on, such as dodging and guarding, which is significantly satisfying.
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is already a must-play JRPG, and my experience with it so far has only made that more evident. The way it builds on the characters without overshadowing their significance and crafts a world that invites exploration is what we’ve been asking for. Final Fantasy VII Remake was just the beginning. If what I played of Rebirth has anything to say about the rest of the game, it’s that we are in for just as many twists but with that many more great memories with these characters.
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is coming to PlayStation 5 on February 29, 2024.
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