It’s a rare remake that leaves series fans on tenterhooks. If you played the original game, you already know what’s coming next. But then the Final Fantasy VII remake project isn’t just another remake. Faced with recreating one of the most iconic games ever made, Square-Enix decided to rebuild it from the ground up, transforming the original epic saga into a trilogy of games, revamping the gameplay and radically expanding the plot.
What is Final Fantasy Rebirth?
It’s the second part of the trilogy, following on from 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake. The first part already tore through expectations by adding new elements to the storyline and altering the fate of some key characters. Now Rebirth, promises to go even further. From beloved heroes and villains to major plot twists, everything could be up for grabs.
We went hands-on with sections of the game last week, and while there’s still an awful lot we don’t know, some aspects of Rebirth are coming into focus.
You can play as Sephiroth
Yes, one of gaming’s most notorious villains will be playable in a section of the game. We played through a sequence recreating one of the original game’s best-known moments, as hero Cloud Strife revisits a tragic episode from five years earlier, where he joined Sephiroth to investigate a malfunctioning reactor on the slopes of Mount Nibel. If you played the 1997 original, you’ll remember this as a rare chance to see Cloud and Sephiroth fighting on the same team, but with Rebirth it’s a chance to see what the big bad antihero can really do in combat, as you work through the mines beneath the mountain to the cliffs below the reactor, battling every gruesome monster that stands in your way.
Is big Seph a total badass? You bet. Wielding his legendary blade, Masamune, he can cut through super-sized critters in a whirlwind of steel and fury, making the younger Cloud look a little, well, puny. The revised Active Time Battle system of FFVII Remake returns, giving you the ideal balance between real-time action and classic turn-based strategy, with the ability to pause the fighting, use items and abilities and use all the skills in your party to defeat the opposition. It helps make Rebirth feel more like a traditional RPG than this year’s more action-oriented Final Fantasy XVI. It also means there’s more time to get to grips with Sephiroth’s powerful abilities, magical attacks and superpowered ‘Limit’ breaks. It’s fantastic to watch him go to work when you’re not the one on the wrong end of his sword.
There are new twists to the combat
While you’re battling away as Sephiroth, you shouldn’t forget about Cloud. The sulky young pup warrior of Final Fantasy VII has his own cool capabilities, but he can also join forces with Sephiroth in spectacular synergy attacks. These are new to Final Fantasy VII Rebirth and allow two heroes to charge up and unleash a joint attack, doing massive damage to mobs of enemies or screen-filling boss monsters.
The sequence’s climactic battle against one of these, the Materia Guardian, gave us ample opportunity to put these new attacks to work, and the great thing is that each combination of two heroes will come with their own unique synergy moves, giving you even more reason to keep mixing up your party, and make sure you’re trying out the different team-ups.
There’s more room to roam
Now that Cloud and his friends have left Midgar, there’s a vast world out there to explore. The second section we played through showed off a new aspect of Rebirth: a fully-explorable, open-world area set around the heavily industrialised city of Junon and the downtrodden fishing villages around it. While this was a restricted version of what we’ll see in the finished game, there was still plenty of scope to explore the coast and surrounding wastelands, checking out abandoned huts and tracking down cute baby Chocobos – the giant birds that replace horses in the series. You can even help the little guys put rundown Chcocobo stops back in order.
Riding Chocobos to get around faster, we were also able to hunt down menacing creatures in furious Fiend battles, with bonus points for completing specific objectives, such as using certain moves or characters or taking them out against a time limit.
Given how on-rails and Linear Final Fantasy can seem at times, it’s great to stretch Cloud’s legs, hop on a Chocobo and see a little more of the wider world, and you can rest assured that you can pet the Chocobos, including the babies. It looks like Rebirth will also be going big on crafting, with loads of materials to collect to make your own potions, life-restoring phoenix down and other goodies.
Rebirth looks even better than FFVII Remake
Final Fantasy VII Remake was a bit of a late showcase for the PS4, but the PS5 update, Intergrade, only hinted at what Square-Enix could do with the power of PS5. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is pushing the tech much harder. The rocky landscapes and ramshackle town beneath Junon are beautifully lit and rendered in stunning detail, making it hard not to get excited about what Square-Enix can make of other classic locations like the Gold Saucer, Cosmo Canyon and Rocket Town. The heroes and villains have the same heightened styling that they had in Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Square-Enix doesn’t let realism get in the way of an iconic character design. Yet the way skin cloth, armour and skin react to light is frequently amazing, and there are some impressively intricate touches in the faces or the costumes.
You’ll want to keep switching up your party
One of the great joys of the Junon section was switching between different three-strong teams of heroes, with Cloud, Barrett, Tifa, Aerith and brainiac big cat, Red XIII, all in the mix. Not only is this a great way to try out different spells and abilities for size, but different Synergy powers as well. Every hero has their strength, whether it’s Barrett’s ability to charge up his minigun and blast away from a distance, or Tifa’s fists of fury going to work at close range. But it’s especially great to be back playing with Red XIII, with his brutal tooth-and-claw attacks leaving space for some fantastic aerial super-moves, including targeted meteor strikes and the mighty Crescent Claw.
The demo ended with the return of Final Fantasy VII Remake: Intergrade hero, Yuffie, pursued by a monstrous creature from the deep. Defeating this oversized varmint is a true test of your action and party strategy skills, switching between heroes to maintain the pressure, stagger the beast and focus your most effective attacks. The critter itself has its own abilities, imprisoning our champions in magical, man-sized blobs of water, from which they needed rescue by a friend. It’s all too easy to get wiped out if you’re not paying attention to health and magic points, and fairly easy even if you are.
There’s still a lot we don’t know – and can’t wait to discover
The Final Fantasy VII Remake team loves to keep us guessing, and we still don’t know how Cloud’s relationships with his comrades will develop, and whether the continuing existence of Cloud’s old friend and mentor, Zack Fair, in this replaying of the story, will alter how it all works out. Most of all, we don’t know if the remake will play straight with some of gaming’s most legendary moments or change them altogether. Who’s going to live and who’s going to die? Who’s going to triumph and who’s going to fall? Right now, nobody knows for sure.
All we do know is that Rebirth seems every bit as magical and compelling as Remake – and the original Final Fantasy VII of over 25 years ago. There are good reasons why this ancient PlayStation 1 RPG still casts a spell over fans of RPGs, and why the first part of the remake project gave them so much new to shock and inspire them. This isn’t just another remake. It takes the remake to a whole new level.