Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth preview: We're not in Midgar anymore
Final Fantasy 7 is a special game for me, as it is for so many others. I'll admit to having some reservations when it emerged that the glossy remake would be chopped into a trio of sections rather than released wholesale.
It's been a long time since the first part of the Remake arrived, and with Midgar in the rearview mirror, Final Fantasy 7: Rebirth is coming up faster than a Chocobo racing at the Gold Saucer. I was able to go hands-on with the game ahead of Tokyo Game Show and fell back into its familiar world like slipping on some old slippers.
- Check out our review of Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
Mako a move
My demo was split into two portions, with one more focused chapter sending Cloud, Sephiroth, and a young Tina to investigate an abandoned Mako Reactor, and the other showing a little of Rebirth's open world.
That first, more linear chapter was a great way to stretch those combat muscles - after flinging the elements around as Clive in Final Fantasy 16, I'd almost forgotten how important managing your party was in Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
That meant cutting through fodder enemies while delegating tasks to Sephiroth, who feels just as powerful as you'd expect.
New this time around are Synergy Attacks, letting both characters combine abilities for smaller moves and screen-filling ones alike. That means another menu option, alongside items, spells, abilities, and Limit Break, but it wasn't long before I was staggering opponents with ease.
That didn't last too long, however, with a sizeable boss encounter requiring a couple of uses of my dreamy duo's Double Helix attack, complete with both of them looking wistfully into each other's eyes, mid-attack, in a shot that's likely to be memed to high heaven.
The boss needed to be knocked off of the ceiling at one point, a hint at further combat intricacies that it felt many of the first chapter's biggest battles didn't really lean into outside of the Hell House - something that resurfaced in the second portion of the demo.
- Check out our review of Mortal Kombat 1
Materia? I hardly know her
While the abandoned Mako reactor was certainly a very pretty environment, complete with a couple of lovely cliffside vistas, the second portion of our demo showcased just how high Square Enix has been able to push the bar in terms of visuals this time around.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake remains one of PS4's most graphically impressive titles, but having skipped the PS5 port, I had my jaw dropped by the detail in the areas surrounding Junon, one of the major cities in Rebirth.
With the industrial, almost steampunk grey and green palette of Midgar removed, this section showcased the crumbling beauty that exists between titanic cityscapes. Flowers are blooming, Chocobo chicks are roaming, and there are various pieces of ruined highways lying crumbled. It calls to mind the dusty tones of Chapter 15 from the first game, but this landscape has teeth, too.
This truncated version of what'll be in the full game offered a chance to hunt down a quartet of fiends; larger monsters, each with unique abilities and mechanics. Some fly, others charge, but all provide a middling challenge - particularly if you want to complete optional objectives such as felling fiends within a time limit. It's a fun distraction, as is seeking out vendors and Chocobo stops along the way.
New this time is the option to switch premade parties while exploring, meaning you can rotate your trio with a single button press. Doing so is encouraged, too, with Barrett's arm cannon ideal for flying foes, while more aggressive parties will want Red XIII to get up close while having Aerith available for healing.
As with the boss battle in the first demo, the climactic conflict here is mechanic-heavy. As a water monster encircles a hapless Yuffie, Cloud and party need to tackle it in a dock underneath Junon. It's a frantic fight, made all the more tricky by your party being locked in water bubbles until freed.
Let them all get caught, and you'll find yourself fighting the creature alone, but each one is best dispelled with magic. That creates an interesting push and pull of dealing damage to build your AP gauge, and then deciding whether to smite the boss or free a comrade. It all culminates in that kind of goofy cutscene that only Final Fantasy can offer.
- Check out our review of Pokemon Scarlet & Violet: The Teal Mask
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is a prettier, deeper version of what came before, and while that may sound damning with faint praise, when its predecessor is as good as it is, it should be seen as a ringing endorsement.
In my time since Midgar, I've played a lot of third-person action titles, but as soon as that iconic battle theme landed I was back in the zone - and I cannot wait to play more.
Final Fantasy 7: Rebirth launches on February 29 for PlayStation 5.