It’s hard to believe that it has been almost four years since the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake. While I look back upon that game fondly, that four years has been enough time that my memory has faded a bit. I remember getting out of Midgar at the end of the game, but the exact circumstances around that escape have become a bit fuzzy in my mind.
While the narrative and performances were some of the stronger points of FF VII Remake, I do remember my mind wandering, spacing out a bit towards the end, as the game skipped from one climactic boss battle to the next over its waning hours. I’m on record in my review of Remake as not being terribly fond of the Midgar portions of the original Final Fantasy VII, and while I felt that Remake improved upon that section of the Final Fantasy VII story immensely, I was still a bit weary by the time it all wrapped up. I remember a lot of fighting Sephiroth, and everyone being generally confused about what was happening between him and hero Cloud Strife as the Avalanche team escaped Midgar through a whirl of tornadoes.
Playing as Red XIII is just what you want it to be: a flurry of claws and magic.
I’m happy to report that if you, like me, have forgotten some of the finer details of Final Fantasy VII Remake, you don’t have much to worry about when you are sitting down to play Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, the second game in the remake cycle. I had a chance to play through the first two chapters of the new game at a recent press event, and found that it got me right up to speed, and within a few minutes of pressing the “Start” button, I was fully engaged. In fact, from what I’ve seen, FF VII Reborn is everything that I had hoped for when I first heard that Square Enix was taking on this project. All of my nitpicks about Remake feel rectified here, and I spent my precious four hours with FF VII Rebirth feeling entranced and delighted.
This new game does a great job of pulling you right back into its world, and the opening story beats feel narratively crisper somehow, less garbled with a bunch of heavy lore. The stage has been set, and now the game can get down to business. During the opening hours of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, I was already far more entranced with the story than I was with its predecessor. There is some seriously hot stuff going down, right out of the gate.
I was surprised at how little the opening off FF VII Rebirth rehashed what came before in the previous game, instead just jumping right into the story mid-stream (you can watch a recap on YouTube or from the main menu if you so desire). The game opens with the team (including new addition Red XIII) bunched up together in an inn in Kalm on the evening of their escape, looking to Cloud for some explanation about who Sephiroth is.
The game then reveals Cloud’s history with Sephiroth through a series of playable flashbacks. Throughout the first chapter, Cloud and Sephiroth undergo their fateful mission to Nibelheim, which starts out as a routine trip to examine a malfunctioning Mako reactor. Joined by a young Tifa – who serves as their guide – Cloud and a playable Sephiroth make their way through the mountain passes towards the reactor, a segment which also serves to refresh the player on the game’s combat mechanics.
When Sephiroth goes bad, he goes insanely bad. Homie just wanders around casually stabbing people.
Of course, Final Fantasy VII fans know what happens when the team reaches the reactor core. Sephiroth makes some mind-shattering discoveries, breaks bad, and goes on a town-burning-townspeople-slaughtering rampage. No slight on the classic original game, but seeing this familiar series of events play out in such a modern, cinematic way really brings home the tragedy. It’s one thing to know that Sephiroth killed everyone in Cloud and Tifa’s hometown; it’s quite another to see it all play out in 4K realism.
What's interesting about this first chapter is how heavily it leans into the "multiverse / is-this-the-same-group-of-people-as-the-original-game" narrative that got so much attention when players started reaching the ending of the last episode. I don't want to spoil anything, but with just a few lines of dialogue, the game had me questioning everything. I was even unsure if these were the same characters I had led through Final Fantasy VII Remake, or if they had somehow been scrambled up with other versions of themselves from multiple worlds. Different people remember events very differently from one another, and Cloud isn't the only one walking around with big holes in his memory. It's all fascinating, and I can't wait to see where it goes.
While that first chapter is a tight and fun reintroduction to the game, the second chapter is when Final Fantasy VII Reborn pulls the blinders off and reveals what the player is in for in this game. During a brief period of calm in Kalm (see what I did there?), the player is further reminded of how things work in these games. Stuff like weapon upgrades, character levels, and a fabulous new card game named Queen's Blood are quickly laid out in a series of brief and informative tutorials.
But Cloud and the gang aren’t entirely safe in Kalm; Shinra is still mighty displeased with Avalanche’s Midgar shenanigans. Before long, a team of merc arrives to search the town for Avalanche, and the team has to make yet another quick escape. And then it happens.
You know that moment in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy slowly opens the door from her dusty old house, revealing the fabulous technicolor world of Munchkinland? Can you reach back all the way to childhood to remember what that feeling was like the first time you saw the film? That surprise and awe you felt when you realized that you were now in a world of wonder, and nothing was going to be the same going forward? That is the feeling I had when I escaped from Kalm and realized that the entirety of Final Fantasy VII’s world was now open for me to explore.
I felt like a dog taken off it’s leash in an open field after a long winter, filled with the need to run and explore. It’s a tough sensation to describe. Just know that a couple of hours into Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, you might not be sure where you’re going, but you sure as hell won’t be in Midgar anymore.
In practical terms, the player finds themself in the picturesque farmland surrounding Midgar proper. Here a number of mechanics immediately are revealed, from the way you can collect crafting materials as you run by to the way you can search old ruins and other locations for hidden treasure. Though I was immediately overwhelmed with videogame wanderlust, I tried to hold it together for the purposes of getting through the full two chapters during my limited time.
But yes, when playing the real game, you will be able to spend as much time as you like wandering the countryside and killing monsters in Rebirth's enormous open regions, grinding and grinding to your heart’s content. As someone that takes a certain therapeutic joy in turning off my brain and simply going through the same motions repeatedly, I am delighted by the fact that I’m able to do so in the beautiful setting Final Fantasy VII Rebirth provides. It is also important to note that enemies can be clearly seen from a ways off, so if you are a grinding-averse player, you can easily avoid intermittent combat.
Some other fairly consequential events take place in these opening hours of Rebirth, not the least of which is the acquisition of the team’s first Chocobo. There is a swamp that must be crossed, you see. And in that swamp is a giant lizard-monster - the Midgardsormr. So the only way to cross safely and avoid the Midgardsormr is to procure a Chocobo. Of course, the team cannot afford to simply buy or rent a Chocobo, so the kids running the local Chocobo farm send you out on a wild Chocobo hunt to catch one. Not to worry, it’s not as tough as it has been in games past. I think I was able to nab my mount on my third or fourth try.
Once your Chocobo is gained, you can summon him (and really, a full Chocobo gang for your team) with the tap of a button. Chocobos are, of course, capable of traversing vast distances quickly, and it seems that they are also able to swim through shallow swamps (though, in the end, they are rather ineffective at avoiding lizard-monsters). You can kick in the Choco-afterburners by tapping the Cross button for a burst of speed, if your Chocobo isn’t moving as quickly as you would like.
The other major piece of the puzzle I was able to see is the reappearance of Chadley, the Shinra intern who was responsible delivering some of the best summon Materia in Final Fantasy VII Remake. In this game, Chadley is responsible for dotting your map with points of interest, sending the player out to investigate various phenomena in return for prizes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to pursue Chadley’s quests, but I will say that after talking to him my peaceful-looking map was suddenly dotted with a lot more destinations. It seems there is more going on in each zone than initially meets the eye. I did take the time to explore a second tower, only to find that it revealed even more points of interest on the map. When taken in combination with the fact that I saw several of these towers along the way, I think it is safe to assume that there is quite a bit to do in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth's open regions.
Chadley also brings back his Combat Simulator, which allows the player to battle powerful Final Fantasy icons in order to summon them into battle later.
At this point, I was running out of time (I got distracted for a bit chatting with the voice cast – who wouldn’t? The entire cast was just kinda hanging out at a table right next to where I was playing), so I made a beeline to the end of the preview. Chapter Two wraps with an epic battle against the above-mentioned Midgardsormr, and while I didn’t die while fighting him, I did have to pull out a number of heals and other skills to keep everyone on their feet. Suffice to say that the multistage battles from Remake persist in this game, and if anything, they are even more spectacular than the last time around.
I cannot wait to jump back into Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. It was almost painful to walk away from the preview build I was playing, as I already felt ownership over my save file. Even in the final moments of the portion of the game I got to play, I was still diverting myself to pick up materials for stuff I would never get a chance to craft. That’s the sort of hold Rebirth established over me almost immediately. In just about a month, I’ll get my wish along with the rest of the gaming community. Until then, all we can do is stare longingly at the trailers, and craft elaborate storyline scenarios. See you on the 29th.
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is scheduled for release on PlayStation 5 on February 29, 2024.
Travel and accommodations for this event were kindly provided by Square Enix.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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