Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is the second installment in the three-part remake of the 1997 classic, and the hype for the title continues to build as we inch closer to its recently announced February 29 release date. Kotaku Australia recently had the chance to try out a preview build of the game, and based on our first impressions, the upcoming release rebuilds the original from the ground up in a way that pays homage to the world of Gaia, while bringing open-ended gameplay becoming of any modern-day RPG. In short; Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is good fun.
Many fans of the franchise associate the game with the nostalgia of sitting in front of a CRT TV with a PlayStation 1, annoying siblings clamouring to have a turn, or backseat game. I associate FFVII with being said annoying sibling, watching my older sister navigate Midgar and beyond (and becoming part of the generation of players to be traumatised by that iconic scene). As a result, my coming to the table of the second part of the remake doesn’t hold many of the hangups on classic mechanics as some Final Fantasy oldheads have (beyond my loyalty to the ATB system).
Jumping into the preview build for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, I was struck by just how crisp the graphics are in the first cinematic scene encountered – The Fated Mt. Nibel Mission, featuring Sephiroth, and a younger Cloud and Tifa. Facial expressions and micro-expressions translate perfectly, down to narrowed eyes and furrowed brows. Given Square Enix’s legacy of ahead-of-the-game realistic graphics even at the turn of the millennium, it’s exactly what I’d expect to see in line with the first part of the remake, and the high quality of the graphics is a welcome return.
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Combat
While I could wax lyrical on how Tifa’s pores or strands of Cloud’s hair bring a level of realism to the visual identity of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, the hands-on first look at the game provided a wealth of new details and opportunities to try out facets of the game beyond this.
Combat in particular is one of the key areas where the game really shone in the preview, with the blended real-time combat system paired with the Tactical Mode to allow time to consider actions, use items, and (for those who miss turn-based combat dearly) take time to strategise. While combat mostly sticks to the format that worked in Final Fantasy VII Remake, there is the new addition of Synergy Skills – that is, teaming up with allies to perform special abilities that don’t use ATB charges.
These Synergy Skills chop and change depending on which character is being actively controlled, and who is in your party at any given time in battle, and help to break up combat from a hack-and-slash fest into what feels like a truly dynamic, fluid encounter. Limit Breaks, of course, make a return to add to the grand-scale feel of battles, particularly in tense moments against bosses – who have a number of tricks up their sleeve that keep you on your toes, including grappling and trapping party members (much to my slow reflexes’ horror).
Combat doesn’t just serve as a means to an end in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, though – in the second portion of the preview, Cloud and his companions (at this stage of the game, Tifa, Aerith, Barret, and Red XIII) travel on the road to Under Junon, at which point I got to see a more open-world side to the title, as well as the inclusion of World Intel missions. These points of interest cropped up on the map as Fiend Sightings, and involve fighting a group of fiends and gathering intel on them by achieving different objectives (such as pressuring or staggering enemies or stopping a certain foe’s ability from activating, all within a time limit). World Intel data collection certainly already feels like a salve for the burnout of grinding your way across the map in JRPGs and introduces a new way to experience enemy encounters that don’t only involve defeating foes.
Exploration and Identity
World Intel areas of interest are one of many new, perhaps minor to some, inclusions to the world of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth that make the game feel much more open than the rather linear predecessor (and indeed, many installments in the franchise). Exploration is encouraged in a whole new way, and the second part of the demo was where this was really showcased, all by way of Chocobo transport. Beyond the fiend sightings, there were chocobo stops to fix (in the vein of fixing the Hudson’s building materials signs in Tears of the Kingdom), stores to visit, materials to collect to transmute into potions and other items, and items for your Chocobo to sniff out and scour the ground for. This is just a small cross-section of the little additions players can expect to see in the full release of the game, apparently – but already, based on this one small area, it’s pretty clear FFVII Rebirth is looking to lean into more player freedom and open exploration than previously seen.
While, of course, the mechanics are important, the overall identity and personality of the game are equally important (at least in my opinion). Does this feel like a Final Fantasy game, let alone Final Fantasy VII? Yes, absolutely. What about the game makes it feel this way? It’s not just how it looks, or the magic, or gameplay – it’s also the heart and soul of the game itself.
While, of course, it won’t be until February 2024 that we get a full picture of the soul of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, from the hour and a bit of time I spent with the demo, it definitely felt like I was getting a glimpse at the soul of something deeply rooted in and inspired by the ‘golden era’ of the franchise. One of the specifics that stands out to me from the preview is from the demo’s ending, once the boss has been taken down. During a brief end-of-battle cinematic, Cloud cuts down the marine enemy once and for all, before wading in the water and staring off into the ocean – only for a particularly friendly dolphin to pop up right next to him, otherwise entirely breaking the tension. On its own, this seems like a non-event, but I think it ultimately speaks to the sometimes goofy, lightheartedness woven into classic Final Fantasy games alongside heartfelt, intense, dramatic story beats.
Overall, based on the Final Fantasy VII Rebirth first-look demo, the second installment in the iconic game’s remake trilogy is shaping up to bring the core DNA of the original, updated to provide all of the best parts of modern RPGs – choice, freedom, and of course, cinematic scenes that go hard. There’s already so much to it, more than any one article could cover – but count me excited to step back into the world of Gaia once more (while internally mentally preparing for the unconfirmed possibility that the game will re-traumatise a generation should they opt to include that scene).
Oh, and yes, you can pat the baby chocobos.
Want more Final Fantasy VII Rebirth news? Head to our FFVIIR news hub, where we’ve collated everything we know about the game so far!
Lead Image Credit: Square Enix
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