Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth: The First Preview – IGN

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth: The First Preview – IGN

Final Fantasy 7 Remake always felt like a marvel to me – an unlikely game I have a hard time fathoming that it actually exists. To take one of the most well-known and beloved RPGs of all time and rebuild it into a modern package seemed an impossible task, yet Square Enix somehow managed to rise to the challenge. With Rebirth, the second entry in the planned trilogy of the FF7 Remake project, the task seems even more daunting.

Going into Remake, it was unclear whether Square Enix would stay 100% true to the beloved original, or make plot changes to one of the most well-known storylines in all of gaming. The answer, it turned out, was a bit of both. Remake followed the structure of FF7 nearly to a tee, expanding out the original’s Midgar section into a full game of its own, while also making small but significant changes to key moments.

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth Summer Game Fest 2023 Trailer

And now, Rebirth has the unenviable task of picking up this new, almost-but-not-quite-same story as Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, Barret, and Red XIII emerge from Midgar on the heels of Sephiroth. I went hands-on with a short demo section of the PS5 exclusive, playing through a bit of the flashback sequence from five years previous where Cloud and Sephiroth approach the Mt. Nibel reactor, as well as a second section of the open area that the party explores before entering the military city of Junon.

At its core, Rebirth’s combat is nearly identical to the system used in Remake, combining active attacking and movement with issuing commands to your party members when their action meter is full. You still Pressure and Stagger enemies, building the gauge via skillful combat and doling out massive damage when it’s full. It’s a fun system that provides a good mixture of modern, active combat with the turn-based strategy that FF7 is known for.

There are some new combat options available at your disposal.

Fortunately, there are some new combat options available at your disposal. Rebirth introduces a new synergy system that lets you unleash multi-character combo attacks. Look out for synergy skills – basic combo attacks that can be used without an ATB charge – which you employ by holding R1 and then pressing Square or Triangle. These didn’t feel terribly different from just mashing Square to attack, but they do give you an additional way to vary your basic damage output.

Rebirth also introduces Synergy Abilities, which can be used when two characters have built enough Synergy Gauge, a new secondary meter that’s filled by using abilities. These essentially feel like additional Limit Breaks, giving you another source of big, flashy damage to dole out. Synergy Abilities vary depending on the characters using them, and have fun little mini-cutscenes, like Barret unloading a salvo of bullets and then throwing Red XIII at the target.

Synergy Abilities will be unlocked via a skill tree you’ll progress through when leveling up, though I didn’t get to play with this during my demo. There’s also new materia to expand your options in combat. In addition to ones seen in Remake, like Synergy, Magnify, and Assess, I encountered a Precision Defense Focus materia, which extends the input timing window for perfect blocking, a Lightning and Wind materia, which enabled both Aero and Thunder magic, and a Level Boost materia, which increases the level of the linked materia by one.

The demo also gave me a taste of how Rebirth will translate the expansive open world of FF7’s world map into explorable zones. It won’t be completely open world, but rather have large open areas that you’ll be able to explore. Fans of the original will remember the pre-Junon section as a relatively empty bit of world map the party traverses after emerging from the Mythril Cave. Here, it’s a large open area with cliffs overlooking a picturesque bay, with the imposing edifice of Junon looming in the background. In open areas like these, the party will explore on foot, in vehicles, and on the backs of chocobos.

This section I played was fairly walled off at the edges, but it’s unclear if these walls are actually hard separations from other zones, or if the world map actually is all connected, and you’re just limited by the modes of traversal at your disposal, as was the case with the original FF7 overworld.

I didn’t get to try out catching a chocobo for myself, but once you have one for that area, it can be summoned with R1. Chocobos will primarily be used for exploration and traversal, with specialized variants available in different areas. In the section I played, I only had access to a fairly basic chocobo that gave me some extra speed, but we’ve seen in the gameplay trailer one that can scale cliffs and another that can fly.

The open area also had some Hunt-like encounters that were marked on the map. These marked enemies seemed to be specialized variants that came with a list of tasks to complete while fighting them. In the demo these tasks were fairly basic: Pressure and Stagger an enemy, and defeat them within a certain time limit, etc., but I have to assume that more complicated challenges will be present in the full game. These fights could also be repeated, if you wanted to take an additional stab at knocking out all the objectives.

Story-wise, Rebirth again feels very familiar, and yet also different.

Meanwhile, the open areas are littered with crafting materials to pick up – little bits like “Laurel Leaves” and “Mist Seeds” and “Manifestations of the Planet’s Blessing.” These can be used to craft basic items like potions and phoenix downs. There are also chocobo stops to unlock, which serve as fast travel locations, letting you return to previous zones even after you’ve moved on.

Story-wise, Rebirth again feels very familiar, and yet also different. This is due in part to the tremendous difference in scale and presentation – here, like with Remake, areas that were previously sparse or bare are expanded out into lush zones to explore. But there are also little changes that are mostly inconsequential, but they still play out in different ways than fans of the original FF7 are used to. Climbing Mt. Nibel with Cloud, Sephiroth, and Tifa is effectively the same as people will remember it, right down to specific scenes like Sephiroth explaining how materia is crystallized Mako. And then you’ll run into something different, like needing to use a big honkin’ vacuum cleaner to hoover up some mako fumes before you can use an elevator.

Finally, there’s the question of bigger changes. The end of Remake retcons a character death with fairly significant implications for FF7’s story. Rebirth will cover through the end of the original game’s first disc. Whether the story-changing Whispers of Fate will show up again remains to be seen.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth launches on February 29, 2024. In the meantime, check out our interview with game director Naoki Hamaguchi, producer Yoshinori Kitase, and creative director Tetsuya Nomura.

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