Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Hands-on Preview – A tantalising taste of what’s to come

Posted on September 21, 2023

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is the continuation of the remake series of the beloved seventh mainline entry for the classic Square Enix. When the first remake part of its 1997 counterpart released in 2020, it wowed us by simultaneously telling the age-old story in a new coat of paint while also subverting expectations and engaging in timeline reworking shenanigans. So, where does it go from there? Well, after spending time behind closed doors hands-on with the follow-up in Rebirth, we finally have at least some idea of what that will look like and boy, how tantalising it is.

I spent a little over an hour getting to familiarise myself with this new chapter of Cloud and friends, with two separate playable demos. The first is a flashback sequence where I followed more of Cloud’s escapades as a Shinra grunt. A younger Tifa leads an eager, more naive with stars in his eyes Cloud through a series of caves, cliffsides and the like to find a source of the valuable crystal known as Mako. She’s wearing that iconic cowboy fit you may know from the original Final Fantasy VII. Better yet, Sephiroth is there and playable during combat for this mission, just prior to his whole crazed, genocidal schtick. Seeing the trio interact, having Cloud look up to Sephiroth and interact with him in HD knowing where it goes from there… the vibes are exciting and palpable already.

Returning is the exact same combat mechanics that were in Final Fantasy VII Remake; fast, largely hack-and-slash real-time gameplay that can be slowed down to command your teammates, swap the controlled character and perform abilities. Applying significant damage will pressure a foe and when a meter on their health gauge is filled, that enemy will be staggered allowing you to increase your damage tenfold. None of this is new and different from Rebirth’s predecessor, and you’ll actually notice that these are the same abilities (Cloud’s Braver AoE attack and Tifa’s powerful uppercut, etc). The appeal, however, is that there are new party members who weren’t there prior, coming with their own skillsets. Though that’s not all, there’s also the revised Synergy abilities where a pair will team up to let out a devastating effect, something that was technically available previously with certain Materia prerequisites, now instead entirely available to you in the command menu.

New to the party is Sephiroth in playable flashbacks and Red XIII, rescued late in the Remake. Sephiroth is delightfully powerful and terrifying in his blows and this is where the stellar animation gets the opportunity to boast itself to you. A combination of quick flurry attacks or sweeping, devastating blows is what makes up their attack types, emphasising the skilled, brutal nature of the white-haired, villainous pretty boy. Red on the other hand I found effective in movement, effectively meshing dodges and rolls into attacks with real bite.

The synergy abilities are another incredibly welcome tool under your belt to help you bolster your damage and fill up your limit break meter. Again, these are excuses for many stunning animation flourishes in full-anime style, but they are very thrilling and provide valuable means of mixing up play. Sephiroth and Cloud can engage in something of a ballet, taking turns exchanging blows in combat harmony via quick cutscenes before returning to normal. Aerith can imbue Cloud’s buster sword with magic to doll out magical damage in addition to physical… and so on.

Coming off the back of Final Fantasy XVIfeaturing some of my favourite combat for the series thus far, it took a bit of a re-adjustment period to jump back into this. What I will say is that Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s combat so far is in the same spirit even if it doesn’t quite reach the same highs. At the very least there are always bountiful combat options and visual stimuli such as pretty particle effects and clashing of iron to keep things fresh and exciting.

The aforementioned first demo that followed younger Cloud, Sephiroth and Tifa was all about the combat, running from encounter to encounter and taking on Mako-infested creatures and beasties. The second follows more of the open-world segments, taking place right on the doorstep of the town known as Junon. Before reaching the gates of the town, I explored the rocky, seaside environment meets run-down construction sites and shacks.

Here, the crew (yes, even the lion-beast Red XIII to novel and cute delight) takes to Chocobo riding at high speeds. Different investigative threads can be found in this open-world section, clueing me into just how this adventure can take upwards of 100 hours with all side content included. Already, it seems that distractions and things wanting to pull your attention away from the main story will be ever-present. Fantastic or terrible news depending on how big a fan of this you were in the prior entry.

One of these side-activities is combat challenges where you’ll run into encounters where you’ll be tasked with gathering ‘World intel,’ by taking down these more formidable foes and completing optional objectives in combat (defeating all enemies before the time limit ends, staggering an enemy etc). This is a fun enough way of practicing and getting better at the game’s combat and is akin to the VR combat missions found in Final Fantasy VII Remake. If you’re an individual all about watching the numbers and meters go up, there is a sense of progression and levelling up for each of these encounters and objectives that are fulfilled.

Though Chocobos are largely a means of transportation, Square Enix has found a way to maximise side-activity time. Your furry bird companions can be used to sniff out rare materials for crafting and you’ll even happen upon smaller and incredibly cute infant Chocobos that, if followed, lead you to what is known as a Chocobo Stop. These purpose as fast travel spots to make your life easier but at the end of it, you can pet your little friend. Square Enix and Final Fantasy are incredibly confident with the whimsy appeal that comes from the beloved franchise. The fact Chocobos can be interacted with more is a vital step in utilising this strength.

Foraging for crafting, exploring and finding novel little oddities in the world… these are all exciting tidbits to be fed breadcrumbs of thus far. What was missing in my playthrough was literal side-missions with NPCs. I’m one of the sickos that actually adored these heavily criticised missions that tasked you with menial tasks such as hunting down missing cats simply because I got to engage in more silly escapades with some of my favourite characters. How these types of events unfold in Rebirth? I’m dying to find out.

Though I was never bored with my hands-on preview time with Final Fantasy VII Rebirth so far, I’ve yet to be blown away. Part of that is just that the game is yet to show its full hand in its timeline destroying shenanigans and world-changing events. Though there are hints of it all coming together with the crew meeting up with Yuffie for the first time at the end of my playtime, I’m still waiting for that final shoe to drop. There also needs to be some work done visually in some respects.

Thankfully, these are relatively small obstacles to overcome, more than likely resolved with time. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is a little over five months away at this point when it releases for the PlayStation 5 on February 29 2024. I can’t wait to see the unexpected ways it wows me and welcomes me into its world once more.

Bandai Namco flew Checkpoint Gaming to Sydney for the purpose of this preview.