The Final Fantasy franchise is in rude health after the great reception of Final Fantasy 16 earlier this year, and now fans have the second part of its mammoth remake of Final Fantasy 7 to look forward to – Rebirth.
I was invited to a hands-on session with Rebirth earlier this month, to play a couple of sections from its huge-looking storyline, and to get a sense of what to expect when it comes out in February.
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Polished RPG fun
From the hour or so I played, Rebirth looks like a superb continuation of this remade trilogy. It’s snazzy and polished, but still silly and recognisable, but will clearly pack in plenty of twists for even the biggest fans. This could be something special.
- Gorgeous visually
- Clearly taking story in interesting directions
- So many party combinations
- Sounds way bigger than Remake
- Only got to play for an hour
- Hard to tell the real scope of open areas
From the bombastic trailer that it showed during a State of Play earlier this month, it’s clear that Square Enix is going big with Rebirth, as the game’s party of characters flees the more restrictive environs of Midgar.
Cloud, Tifa, Aerith and the rest will be heading out into the open wilds, and that will bring correspondingly bigger areas to explore, with more side quests and minigames to discover.
At its preview event, I got to play through two discrete slices of the Rebirth. One, a mission called “The Fated Mt. Nibel” was a flashback to Cloud’s younger days.
In it, I was investigating an abandoned facility with Cloud’s then-mentor Sephiroth, guided by an also younger Tifa (the first time she and Cloud have met, in fact).
Later, we played some of a section called “The Open Wilds of Junon” as the party approached the armoured city of Junon and hunted some beasts along the way.
The first mission, that flashback, is perhaps the juiciest from a story point of view since it’s an expansion of a much thinner section in the original game, and this time features a far more playable Sephiroth in combat.
He dices and slices with Cloud, dispensing slightly ominous wisdom along the way. The second mission gave a taste of the sort of open area that Rebirth will offer up, with mobs of monsters to dispatch before we made our way to Junon’s undercity.
Both ended with spectacular boss fights and gave a good sampling of Rebirth’s combat with some story sprinkled over the top.
In reality, you can learn more about how Rebirth’s story is shaping up from that juicy State of Play trailer embedded above since it glides over a much wider slice of the game than what I played – but where gameplay is concerned, I got a good look at things.
It’s all about synergy
In practise, Rebirth doesn’t feel drastically different to Remake and Remake Intergrade – which is no surprise at all, since it’s clearly built on the same foundation.
Outside of combat, you’ll control Cloud moving around areas and levels, picking up resources when you find them, with a little more exploration possible than before.
Rebirth hasn’t quite got a jump button, but a contextual command will let you hop over hurdles and small gaps, although the fact that it isn’t a dedicated button does make it slightly janky.
Still, the real heart of Rebirth – or the sections I played – is in its combat system, which is drastically expanded. Whereas the first game gave you a handful of fighters to swap between and command (Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, Barrett and Yuffie in Intergrade), Rebirth will up that count with more controllable party members.
I was able to experiment with Red XIII and Sephiroth in addition to the characters from the last game, and both were fun additions to the roster.
Clearly, Sephiroth is likely to be controllable only in brief sections, but he’s super powerful and serene-feeling, just as you’d hope, with powerful slashing and thrusting attack options.
Cloud is a safe standby at the centre of your team, and after a few minutes remembering the flow of things, combat becomes rhythmic and satisfying just like in Remake.
There are now loads of combination attacks to explore, too (after their addition in Intergrade) – when two characters build up enough charge you can unleash joint attacks that have pretty ravishing visuals to go with them.
The camera occasionally lost track of these around the edges of whatever arena I was in, but that was the only real (minor) issue I encountered.
With a huge range of magic-altering Materia to slot into equipment slots per character and an expanded set of possible combinations, it’s clear that Rebirth will offer up a whole bunch of control for those itching to min-max their party system.
If Remake was a superb late-life showcase for the PS4, and Intergrade was a good demonstration of the PS5’s added beef, Rebirth is a continuation of that upward trend – from what I played, this is a ravishing game to look at.
We could only sample the game’s quality mode, at 30FPS (there will be a 60FPS-targeting performance option, too), and on that setting, both the caves of Mt. Nibel and the plains outside Junon looked simply great.
Entering the undercity of Junon (and sneaking into some shops despite a pressing objective elsewhere) demonstrated that this will be another fantastically rich and detailed world, even at a bigger scale overall.
Shelves are crammed with items and every corner seems to feature bespoke assets. In outdoor exploration, things were perhaps less minutely crafted, but the visual quality is still excellent overall.
I moved around the Junon plains on a Chocobo, for which I could choose (and earn) custom armour, and the plumage was another great example of how impressive this game’s models are.
Combat, meanwhile, is an explosion of gorgeous particles and smooth animation, with the newly added combination attacks in particular, smoothly and bombastically stitching together the action.
There’s also a tell-tale leaning toward the camp and fun that will serve Rebirth well – my Junon mission ended with a boss fight vanquished with the help of a dolphin, and a rainbow-soaked sunset to cap it off.
What I played of Rebirth has me very excited for the next slice of Cloud and his pals’ story-rewriting adventure. It’s already looking like a much bigger game than Remake, but the fact that it also looks better and has more gameplay options makes for a heady mix.
With the promise of dozens of hours’ worth of side content, minigames and collectables to uncover, along with what will clearly be a polished approach to its melodramatic story, this looks set to be a blockbuster in early 2024.