Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth preview: Cloud's Strife
When I previewed Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth back in September, I noted how familiar it felt. The more time passed, I began to worry if I was overfamiliar. To say Rebirth is just more of the same may be damning it with faint praise, but where does one go after leaving Midgar, Buster Sword, companions, and a fantastic combat system in tow?
After playing a much more sizeable chunk at a recent preview event, I’m confident that this second slice of Cloud’s adventure is going to improve on the first game’s few shortcomings while offering another unmissable adventure.
They think it’s Jenova
This time around I was able to spend a little more time in Nibelheim with Cloud, returning home as a SOLDIER, accompanying Sephiroth on a trip to the Mako reactor nearby, and led by local tour guide and cowboy hat enthusiast Tifa.
Nibelheim is a pivotal section of the original Final Fantasy 7, and while many no doubt remember seeing Sephiroth in the flames, or seeing him uncover the truth behind his birth in Shinra Manor, I loved the feeling of having the blinkers removed.
This is a town abuzz with excitement for its returning hero and his legendary cohort, cheering in the streets. Cloud’s mother, Claudia, fusses over him, and the Mayor begs Sephiroth to join him for a meal after the mission. A fun touch is that Cloud can adjust how the flashback unfolds somewhat through dialogue choices, like telling Tifa he went to find her, or explaining how he spent time playing the piano.
The whole section had me wanting to avoid climbing the mountain, knowing what could be next.
Of course, climb the mountain Cloud must, and despite the changes made to the story in Remake, Nibelheim remains just as much a flashpoint as it ever has. That same powderkeg takes a little while to burn here, as Sephiroth sequesters himself to the bowels of Shrinra Manor, unearthing the secrets of the Jenova Project. Still, when it burns, it burns, and seeing Nibelheim laid to waste after having seen so much peace and excitement there just an hour or so before feels devastating on a whole new level.
The scary thing is, depending on how the main story of Rebirth plays out, that could be the least of my worries come launch.
Emerging from the flashback, Cloud and his team are in Kalm, only the village is much larger than it was back in 1997.
It’s here that Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth begins to unfurl its deeper RPG systems. One criticism many had levelled at Remake was a lack of depth, but it’s clear that this is something Square Enix is looking to improve on this time around.
The weapon upgrade system returns, with equippable skills that can also be automatically upgraded for those not keen on diving into menus, but there’s a new Folio system, too.
Initially looking like just another skill tree, the Folio system is focused on the Synergy Skill system whereby party members work together in battle. Some are specific to a certain party member, while others are restricted by type.
You can unlock additional skills by increasing the party level or finding manuscripts, and players can respec any time to encourage experimentation. For anyone who wanted more depth within Remake, this should scratch that itch and then some, particularly when tied in with the ever-flexible Materia system that lets you switch your skills regularly.
It wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy game without some surprising side content, and I was impressed by the new card game, Queen’s Blood.
Players rack up points by placing cards in horizontal lanes, adding to a lane total. More cards means more places to add additional cards, too, almost like forming a pattern as you work your way through, ramping up to allow more powerful cards as you do.
It’s a little Marvel Snap, a little Inscryption, and I’m excited to play more of it, even if just for the satisfying sound of the “points” clinking onto the scale on the side of the board, Inscryption-style.
With The Golden Saucer making an appearance, I’m hopeful of even more minigames. For now, Queen’s Blood is a great start, and I can definitely see it reaching Gwent levels of popularity.
Towers, cyborgs and serpents, oh my
One of Rebirth’s biggest changes is in its open world, and while I got to experience hunting some bigger monsters in my last preview session, I was able to roam much more freely this time around, up to an area where I needed a Chocobo to cross a lake.
Upon leaving Kalm via a secret exit once Shinra arrived on the scene, Cloud and Co are free to head off in any direction. Within minutes I found a Chocobo farm and was able to take on some quests there to earn my very own feathered friend.
I also bumped into Chadley again, the Materia-developing cyborg wunderkind from Remake. While he’s always down to help collect combat data, this time around he wants Cloud to access Remnawave towers throughout the open world.
It’s not quite climbing them a la Assassin’s Creed, and it’ll help identify natural resources and more powerful ‘Fiend’ encounters, dubbed ‘World Intel’. It’s pretty much busy work, but here’s hoping it proves useful as the world opens up further.
Still, Chocobo gained, I attempted to cross the aforementioned lake only to end up tackling the huge snake boss, Midgarsormr, that was once just a few pixels underneath the world map - how times have changed.
While I’d consider myself a pretty dab hand at Remake’s combat, Midgarsormr makes Hell House from the last game feel like a pushover. Not only does it dive beneath the lake for cover, but it coils itself around trees and unleashes area-of-effect attacks with alarming regularity.
I’m sorry to say that it gave my party more than a few “Game Over” screens, but on the plus side, loading back up is much faster than it ever was in Remake when I played on PS4, essentially negating the one last criticism I had of the last game.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a tough act to follow, but by opening up the world, adding additional RPG depth, and reuniting me with the characters I’ve loved since 1997, launch at the end of the month simply cannot come quickly enough.
Previewed on PS5. Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth launches on February 29, 2024.