I admit, I wasn’t sure how to feel about Final Fantasy VII Remake before it came out. Splitting the original game into multiple parts with completely new action-based combat could have been disastrous. Thankfully, my many concerns were misplaced. It was a joy to explore Midgar more thoroughly, and the combat was surprisingly excellent — feeling fresh yet true to Final Fantasy VII. I didn’t need much convincing to get excited for this go-round for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. But that didn’t stop Square Enix from again blowing away my expectations at a preview event (much like they did with Scott back in October), where they showed off how Rebirth adds to and sharpens what was great about Remake.
I got to experience a few of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth‘s early hours, and everything about the gameplay set up so many options for the future, already offering plenty of customization for the party with a ton yet to be unlocked. Rebirth also features a more open world than Remake, which makes sense, leaving behind the claustrophobic confines of Midgar. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth‘s atmosphere is the opposite of Remake‘s dingy, depressed slums and the oppressive cover of the “giant pizza” perched overhead. Rebirth is a world of vast, colorful landscapes and open space to run free in. There’s tons to see and do, and despite getting ample time to explore, it felt like I was only scratching the surface of the first area. It feels as though the design philosophy for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth was, “Let’s make it as flippin’ huge as we possibly can.”
If you were skeptical about how Square Enix could fit in all the familiar pieces of the story and were worried Kalm wouldn’t make the cut, well, that’s where Chapter 2 of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth begins. There are some story alterations, but, as in Remake, they’re primarily additions. The overall experience is also sharpened for better pacing. Kalm serves as a tutorial town, setting up the new character progression system and a few other new features. Even the short time I spent in Kalm felt more consequential than the small rural town was in the original story, leading me to expect that the rest of the Final Fantasy VIIR series will be just as thorough in adding more detail to the many places this story runs through.
While some sections I saw were embellished or trimmed for effect, so far, it’s a faithful retelling of the FFVII story post-Midgar. There were points when my anticipation would build, knowing what was coming next, and how things play out now was consistently above and beyond my expectations. The DualSense controller’s haptics raise the intensity even higher in some key moments. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth doesn’t lose the newfound sense of humor from Remake. Cloud is as aloof as ever, and Tifa and Aerith are becoming pals. There are also a few points in Kalm, and presumably other towns, where Cloud can talk to other party members hanging around to boost their relationship. The game assured me this would change parts of the story, and I can already imagine what this could mean for some golden nights. Using team attacks in battle also improves relationships. In my playthrough, Cloud already wound up on a date with Aerith, and I’m curious whether that will turn out differently when I play that section again.
Speaking of character progression, the character growth system has received a complete overhaul since Remake. In the prior game, this system was tied to weapons, while in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, progression is focused on the characters themselves. Final Fantasy X fans should get excited, as the skill tree — called folios — looks extremely similar to the Sphere Grid, though each party member has their own, rather than sharing one massive grid. I had to choose between new team attacks and other types of boosts as I made my way around the tree. For each of the five characters that were playable in my demo, there were wide-open empty spaces in their folio, where I could only assume more stuff would eventually unlock. Thankfully, the returning characters already have a few of their abilities carrying over from Remake, so it kept that feeling of continuity rather than sending you back to square
Enix one. Perhaps you’ll be able to mold characters to fill traditional FF-style jobs, giving party members more individuality than the original’s classless system afforded them. Whatever the case, it’s not just a more open landscape; there’s a whole other world of character customization to explore.
Did I say team attacks? Pairs of characters have several potential abilities they can perform together, some of which are unlockable in the folios. There’s a lighter move that behaves similarly to a normal attack. There are also powerful Synergy Attacks that do something bigger and behave similarly to Limit Breaks. In battle, party members have charge slots that can be filled by performing abilities, and each team member needs to fill up enough individual slots to unleash their combo. It’s not that easy to do, and especially with run-of-the-mill enemies, I typically defeated them before I got close to pulling one off. But I had to strategically fill up those slots for an epic battle with the Midgardsormr, as I wouldn’t make it without them. I like how Final Fantasy VII Rebirth emphasizes party makeup, making preparations outside of battle much more critical, especially when you’re about to take on a boss. My favorite Synergy Attack was Overfang, which reminded this X-Men fan of the famed Fastball Special, where Barret launches Red XIII at your foes.
Red XIII is playable in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, compared to his guest-like inclusion at the end of Remake. He was one of five already available to me, and I didn’t even get to see Yuffie, Cait Sith, or whoever else shows up. Red’s combat portfolio focused on an ability that allows him to perform a special counterattack. It wasn’t simple to pull off, and I suspect utilizing him well may take more practice.
Again, the greater Midgar area is much more open than any location in Remake, so, luckily, you have help finding your way around. Chadley is back, and he has jobs for you. One of those is finding towers that, when activated, fill up your map with points of interest, though you can skip the towers and explore on your own if you’d rather. Those points of interest are pretty spread out, and I only got to check out about half of the area before my time was up, but I found some helpful things for my party. One of the things I discovered offered a power-up for a summon that I didn’t even take the time to get, but there are many types of bonuses you can find at these locations. It was a scenic ocean cliffside area to explore, too, featuring colorful plant life — essentially, those sights we imagined we were supposed to be seeing when we ran our distorted giant Cloud around the world map way back when.
Another feature that helps you get around the world of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth faster is Chocobos. Rather than finding them randomly in the wild as you did in the original FFVII, each area has a legendary Chocobo to catch. Once you’ve found one, you have to wrangle it in a short sneaking minigame that I’m guessing will get more complicated later. It’s good to have the big birds around, as riding Chocoboback is more fun than exploring on foot.
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is home to a plethora of minigames, but the most substantial addition is Queen’s Blood, a new card game. If that conjures fond memories of Triple Triad, then this might be your new obsession, as it’s kind of a cross between that Final Fantasy VIII card game and Gwent from The Witcher 3. Beyond collecting cards and tinkering with your deck, Queen’s Blood involves building up your scores over three lanes. There’s much to do with managing space and building up to make more powerful cards playable. My first opponents went easy on me, but I’m intrigued to see how Queen’s Blood gets fleshed out with more advanced cards and rivals.
There are plenty of new battle features, exploration rewards, minigames, and so much else packed into Final Fantasy VII Rebirth that I got to see in my hours with the game, and undoubtedly many I haven’t stumbled onto yet (it was only Chapter 2, after all). But I’ll leave you to discover the rest for yourselves. I already think it could take me until part three comes out to see everything part two has to offer. If it wasn’t clear, I’m ecstatic about everything I got to see and that we’ll all get to explore this month! Final Fantasy VII Rebirth will be a leap-year baby, set to release on February 29th for PlayStation 5. Keep an eye on RPGFan for more news about the game. It’s mind-blowing to be close enough to release that I can sensibly promo our eventual review! Wark!
If any of this sounds good to you, there’s a preview out for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth right now! Go check it out and let us at RPGFan know what you think. Everyone around here is just as excited to check it out as you are!