Freed from the dystopian metropolis of Midgar, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is shaping up to be an enormous game. Slated to be the second part of Square Enix’s trilogy re-imagining the seminal Final Fantasy 7 from 1997, Rebirth recently got a release date in February 2024, and Screen Rant had the opportunity to play two separate demos for the highly anticipated RPG. Although the full breadth of FF7 Rebirth‘s systems remains unclear, even these short glimpses show that it will build on its predecessor in nearly every conceivable way.
FF7 Rebirth is expected to pick up right where 2020’s Final Fantasy 7 Remake left off – with Cloud Strife and company leaving Midgar behind to stop Sephiroth’s still-mysterious plans to defy fate. While FF7 Remake is a lengthy game in its own right, playing Rebirth for just under an hour already made it abundantly clear that Remake is ultimately little more than a prologue. While this isn’t necessarily surprising – Midgar served a similar introductory purpose in the original game – it is rather impressive, because even the minute part of Rebirth‘s world map we got to explore was littered with side activities, hidden items, vendors, and more.
Ascending Mt. Nibel & Entering Under Junon
The two Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth demos came from two distinct parts of the game, though they were both clearly quite early in the story. The first of the two, “The Fated Mt. Nibel Mission,” was story-focused. It’s more-or-less what players might expect from a continuation of FF7 Remake, though it did introduce Cloud’s greater mobility through Parkour-like climbing and jumping. Rather linear segments are dotted with varied encounters, and plenty of chatter and cutscenes move the story along. Short, branching paths reward curious players with items and Materia, but the fairly straightforward 15 minutes of gameplay it provided culminated in an expected boss encounter.
“The Wilds of Junon” took roughly three times as long to fully experience, and feels as though it may be more indicative of what players will face during a majority of FF7 Rebirth‘s runtime. A much larger play area with sections cordoned off for the purposes of the demo provided a more open-ended experience. It was possible to head straight for the main objective in Under Junon, but we were encouraged to explore as much as possible. Similarly littered with groups of enemies, “The Wilds of Junon” was large enough to warrant riding a Chocobo around, a feature missing from Remake and significantly improved over its Final Fantasy 16 counterpart, moving at a much faster pace.
FF7 Rebirth’s Playable Sephiroth
Those who are familiar with the original Final Fantasy 7 will likely know the importance of “The Fated Mt. Nibel Mission;” it is a flashback sequence recounted by Cloud of a mission he embarked on as a SOLDIER, in which he accompanies Sephiroth, guided by Tifa, up Mt. Nibel to the Mako reactor at the summit. The key difference in FF7 Rebirth‘s re-telling of the event is Sephiroth being playable, rather than a computer-controlled ally. There are, however, the normal restrictions imposed on party members in Remake and Rebirth – Sephiroth can only be controlled in combat, with Cloud firmly the main character during exploration.
Playing as Sephiroth, even in this limited capacity, is exciting in itself. He’s got unique animations and his own abilities, even if he doesn’t steamroll every enemy. None of the fights in “The Fated Mt. Nibel Mission” were particularly difficult even when controlling Cloud, so much of the original game’s attempt at building up the myth of Sephiroth on Mt. Nibel is shifted away from a dominance in combat and into a confidence in dialog and cutscenes. Unfortunately, throughout both demos, equipment was locked for all characters, and Materia was only changeable on Cloud, so it’s unclear to what extent Sephiroth will be customizable.
FF7 Rebirth Combat & A Journey Across Gaia
“The Wilds of Junon” made two things abundantly clear: Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth will be relatively homogenous with FF7 Remake from a combat standpoint, but it will also be exceedingly larger in scope. Remake‘s real-time action combat with the ability to pause and issue commands to party members returns; it’s an engaging combat style that meshes well with the larger progression and versatility of equipment, Materia, and party compositions. The major differences, however, are a new variety of abilities that utilize what’s referred to as Synergy, and the freedom to select which two party members will accompany Cloud.
The demos had set party configurations (three were available in “The Wilds of Junon“), but we were told party members will be interchangeable in the full game. This will do wonders for FF7 Rebirth‘s depth as an RPG – characters not actively in the party were still visible outside of combat, suggesting they can be swapped in on the fly for different situations. The demo’s three preset parties could be quickswapped with L1 and R1 out of combat, and although it’s unclear if this will be possible, being able to set desired party configurations to these hotkeys would be incredibly helpful.
Synergy is yet another meter to manage during combat alongside the Active Time Battle (ATB) commands that return from FF7 Remake. Using an active party member’s commands in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth fills that character’s Synergy gauge, which can then be expended by two party members, each with an adequate amount of Synergy, in tandem for a Synergy Ability, which are most commonly powerful attacks involving short, dramatic animations. There are lesser Synergy Skills to be used by individual characters, but the Abilities seem to be more powerful generally, and are very satisfying to activate.
FF7 Rebirth adds more layers on top of Remake‘s combat, but the more readily apparent change in the sequel courtesy of the “Junon” demo was the sheer size of the game world. Remake‘s Midgar was adequately breathtaking, but it was given its grand scale by impressive vistas rather than its actual traversable area. The wilderness outside Junon, a city south of Midgar on Gaia’s eastern continent, was not staggeringly large in the demo, but further areas could be seen beyond roadblocks put in place for the purpose of the preview, and the world map itself was visible.
It shouldn’t be presumed that the entire continent visible in the world map is explorable, but even a couple dozen zones roughly the same size as the “Junon” demo’s, plus other important locales expected to appear in Rebirth, will amount to a game world with much more breadth and freedom of movement than that of Remake. Combined with the speed of the Chocobos (which have a variety of purchasable, customizable gear), the greater number of party members (including Red XIII and, presumably, Yuffie, who made a brief appearance in the demo), and the number of side activities shoved into one area (such as hunting specific monsters and repairing Chocobo Stops), it feels safe to assume Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth will be much larger than its predecessor.
Final Thoughts On A First Look At Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is definitively a sequel, which should be expected, and is quite welcome. It doesn’t radically change the formula laid down in Remake, but does enough to build on it that Rebirth still feels like a compelling next step. It’s also apparent that the two demos were selected to keep much of the game hidden – Junon jutting out from a cliff is rather awe-inspiring, and hints that other notable locales from the original FF7, like Gold Saucer, will be spectacular highlights. Similarly, the re-telling of the Mt. Nibel mission will clearly put a fresh spin on the relationships between Cloud, Sephiroth, and Tifa, but the short segment available in the demo wasn’t very forthcoming.
Undoubtedly, a primary draw of Rebirth remains in seeing what it’ll change in the original FF7 story. Remake has already twisted familiar threads into something unique, cleverly subverting what a remake typically entails. With details of the plot still under wraps, however, the highlight of Rebirth so far is the hint at its scale. Set loose from the confines of Midgar, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth appears poised to be a truly far-flung adventure, one which deftly leverages the foundation built by Remake to deliver an experience far more grand, without sacrificing the incredibly high production value.
Source: Final Fantasy/YouTube
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth releases on February 29, 2024, for the PlayStation 5. Screen Rant was invited to a remote, hands-on event for the purpose of this preview.