Thanks to the people over at Square Enix, I was given a fantastic opportunity recently to play a demo of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth and conduct a fantastic interview with Director Naoki Hamaguchi. You can check out the interview here to learn about a whole bunch of new gameplay information about Rebirth that you won’t find anywhere else, and hear Hamaguchi’s thoughts on various parts of the game. As always, I will try to keep the story spoilers to an absolute minimum unless it is to set the scene for my impressions, so for those wanting to avoid story spoilers, you can rest easy.
The demo we got to play was split into two sections. The first section included part of the Kalm flashback sequence on Mt. Nibel, where Tifa guides Cloud and Sephiroth up to the broken Mako reactor at the top. It started in the large materia room that many Final Fantasy VII fans are familiar with and tasked us with reaching the reactor. Since I have recently been replaying the original Final Fantasy VII (and streaming it), I can say that the dialogue between Cloud, Sephiroth, and Tifa essentially matches the original with almost no changes.
Playable Sephiroth, in MY Final Fantasy?
This part of the game was set up as a tutorial section to re-familiarize players with Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s combat system, and teach them new additions to Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. We were told that this section may not be the tutorial level in the final version, but I wouldn’t rule it out since it seems like a great spot for something like this. I say this partly because this time, Sephiroth is completely controllable and immensely powerful for what you are up against. For those who do not remember this section in the original FFVII, Sephiroth was overpowered and destroyed all enemies you faced, but to many fans’ disappointment, he was AI-controlled. No more — now you can swing his comically large sword at anything you wish. This doesn’t mean Cloud is useless during this section, but let’s be fair: when the game gives you a chance to play as its antagonist, even for a small section, it’s hard not to!
So, let’s get to the important part: Sephiroth is very fun to play and is incredibly strong for this section of the game. Thankfully, enemies survive more than one of his attacks, which allows you to enjoy playing around with his abilities. His mechanic basically works where the more you hit with your normal slash with the square button, the more you have access to his finishing strike attacks like Pierce or Sword Dance with the triangle button. You can even hold the square button down to unleash a ranged attack. Sephiroth also has access to Retaliation Stance with the R1 button, allowing him to parry incoming attacks with the square button if timed correctly. Sephiroth’s ATB skills are Zanshin, which sends energy waves at the enemy, and Hell’s Gate, an all-too-familiar ability to Final Fantasy VII fans as Sephiroth descends from the skies and impales the enemy. Overall, even though you only get to play as Sephiroth for a limited time, he is very cool to play and makes this section of the game unique.
Sephiroth comes with materia that very much matches his loadout in the original game: max-level elemental materia paired with Magnify, which is Remake and Rebirth’s version of the All Materia. While we couldn’t change Sephiroth’s materia, we could adjust Cloud’s slightly. He still has his First Strike Materia, along with some new ones like Assess, Synergy, and Healing to support the group. Along the path to the reactor, some other materia was lying on the ground that we could try out by equipping it to Cloud. We got to check out several new materia, and I am happy to explain them all to you.
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth‘s New Materia
First up is Spare Change, which grants you the classic Final Fantasy ability Gil Toss. The more money you throw, the more damage you do. The second new materia is the element combo, Lightning and Wind Materia. This materia allows you to use both Thunder and Aero without having to equip two different materia. It can reach level 3 as well, meaning these combo magic materia will be very useful throughout the game by allowing you to save materia slots and more easily combine effects.
Precision Defense Focus improves the timing for the perfect defense maneuver, gives it more stagger damage, and assists in blocking binding attacks. Level Boost allows the materia it’s paired with to increase its level by one without the need to level it up. However, this materia does not work with materia that is already max level; sorry fans, you can’t get level 4 magic by doing this. Auto Cast allows the AI to auto-cast the paired materia without player interaction for that character. And finally, Comet, which is the same as its original counterpart, allows you to summon comets from the sky to smash into your enemies. There were more during the Junon section, and I have included screenshots of most of them below.
Returning to battle for a moment, let’s talk about the new Synergy Skills in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. By holding R1 down while blocking, you can access additional team-up skills that do not require ATB. These change depending on who you are controlling at the moment as well. There seem to be many of these, and each is a unique way to counterattack or defend another character. Synergy Skills are not to be confused with the cinematic Synergy Abilities we have seen in the trailers. Synergy Abilities require the synergy gauge to be built up (represented by small vertical bars in the status menu) and, when used, deal out a ton of damage to your enemies. They are flashy, over the top, and awesome as hell to watch.
The Mt. Nibel section has you climb a much more fleshed-out version of the caves and reactor than in the original game. Cloud and Sephiroth tear through multiple enemies, with Tifa and Shinra grunts tagging along. Eventually, you reach a large cave and are greeted by the Materia Guardian, which acts like a tutorial boss, teaching you the Synergy Ability and Limit Gauge functions. It’s a very cinematic experience, much like most of the bosses in Remake were, and this demo ended upon the monster’s demise.
Exploring Junon in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth
The next section of the demo was the field area before entering Junon. The group emerges from the Mythril Mine and runs into a group of mysterious cloaked figures. They don’t pose a threat or engage the party, and hilariously, one of them gets snatched up by a giant Zu and dragged away. We were then free to explore the field area of Junon with the black chocobos we were given, but with some restrictions. There were definitely parts that were blocked off for the demo, and although the black chocobo will be able to climb the very obvious climbable wall with arrows on it, we could not do that in the demo. It’s a bummer, but also a telling sign that a lot of thought went into each area of the game, since you will likely need to return to these areas to explore them fully.
In this section, we had a main story objective and four mini-objectives. Each mini-objective meant a fight against a different set of enemies and a very cool explanation of each enemy from the portable computer terminal MAI. I assume MAI is something Chadley cooked up and tasked the party to use to learn about rare monsters in the field. What was cool about each fight was having those objectives to complete, and since no two fights had the same set of objectives (nor were you required to complete them), it kept things interesting.
Speaking of fighting, we had three team layouts to choose from. Cloud is in all of them, but the other two were either Barret and Red XIII, Aerith and Red XIII, or Tifa and Aerith. And to answer the question, yes, Red XIII is fully playable. In fact, the first thing I did in battle was swap to Red XIII to check out how he fought. He is quick and has a spin move by holding down the square button. His main mechanic is the Vengeance Gauge. Guarding builds up the gauge, and hitting triangle any time will strengthen his attacks and increase his dodge speed. All told, Red XIII is a very enjoyable character to play.
Exploring the field was quick and easy both on and off the chocobo (who can be called to your side with R1 at any time). The terrain is easy to climb and descend at your leisure, and you can swim in certain sections, even while on chocobos. Outside the demo objectives, there were tiny chocobo chicks to follow, leading you to rest stations and setting up fast travel points. And yes, you can pet the chocobo chicks, by the way. Crafting materials are scattered everywhere for you to find, which can be transmuted in the main menu into items and armor. There are even spots where you can use your chocobo to find hidden treasures, à la Chocobo Hot and Cold from Final Fantasy IX. It made riding around on the chocobo feel rewarding and valuable instead of just another mount you see in other open-world games. Also, there apparently was a spot where you could customize your chocobo with the items the chocobo chicks give, but I failed to find it in our limited time with the demo. I look forward to fully exploring this area (and all areas) come the full release.
The final section of this demo had us arriving at Junon proper and fighting a boss. After a few cutscenes upon entering the village under the metropolis, you are tasked with fighting the Terror of the Deep, or as he is known in the original game, Bottomswell. This fight was tougher than Materia Guardian, probably because of the lack of the overpowered Sephiroth, but still not super difficult. He has his signature attack of encasing a character in a bubble which you need to break them out of, all the while flying around the battlefield while ramming into your characters and firing water jets. After losing a certain amount of HP, he will dive under the platform and try a sneak attack with a pillar of water, which you must avoid getting sucked into. When he appears again, he will grab a character that must be freed before the battle resumes its first phase. The phases repeat till it’s dead.
Another exciting thing about this battle is that it was the first with all five members on the field. I went in with Cloud, Red XIII, and Aerith, but Tifa and Barret were cinematically there. You can even see Barret shooting Terror of the Deep outside of cinematics even if he doesn’t do damage. I am sure Tifa would do something too, if the boss got close to her. It was a super nice touch and didn’t give that awkward excuse for not having your other two party members there. I like small details like that. Unfortunately, the demo ends shortly after the encounter, and now there is the long wait till February to play the full game.
I won’t lie, I had a blast playing the Final Fantasy VII Rebirth demo. As many people know, I am not the biggest Final Fantasy fan. I enjoy the series immensely, but there are other RPG series I would put above it personally. I wouldn’t even put Final Fantasy VII in my top five Final Fantasy games. That said, I heavily enjoyed Remake for what it was, and I think Final Fantasy VII Rebirth will not only meet the same quality of Remake, but surpass it with flying colors. This demo was a super enjoyable experience, and everything they have adjusted since Final Fantasy VII Remake — both gameplay and combat-wise — is for the better. I can’t wait to play the whole game come February.
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is coming to PlayStation 5 on February 29th, 2024. Make sure you also read my interview with Director Naoki Hamaguchi to learn even more about the game!