Playing as Red XIII in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is like controlling a fiery little ball of rage, as he dashes around the battlefield ravaging enemies with spinning claw attacks. He’s a highlight of a recent hands-on preview of the second part of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII remake trilogy. And this sequel already feels markedly more ambitious than 2020’s Final Fantasy 7 Remake — and significantly larger in scope.
Our hands-on time was split into two parts, a shorter segment featuring Cloud and Sephiroth in a flashback of the Nibelheim incident, and a more open-world segment set in the wilds outside of Junon.
There are some fascinating new details in the Nibelheim section. As fans of the original FF7 know, there’s more to this flashback than meets the eye, with Cloud and Zack’s experiences blurring together. In Rebirth, this is illustrated by Cloud’s character essentially being laid on top of the mannerisms and body movements of Zack, while actor Cody Christian alters his vocal performance. You’re seeing Cloud Strife, but something feels distinctly off.
This segment also let me take control of Sephiroth, who’s a fully fleshed-out combat character with his own skills and attacks. As you might expect, he’s a wrecking ball that absolutely obliterates anything that stands in his way. Skills like Octaslash and Hell’s Gate let you unleash a flurry of devastating sword strikes, making you feel “unstoppable” as you steamroll over daunting enemies.
Sephiroth’s fighting style exemplifies how much deeper Rebirth’s combat system feels than Remake. Nearly everything has been changed or updated; returning characters have new basic attack animations and skills. They can also pair up for Combo and Synergy attacks.
If you played Yuffie’s Intermission DLC in Remake, you’ll be familiar with the basic idea of these Synergy attacks. You hold R1 to have your controlled character team up with one of the other party members for combos, such as Cloud batting Barret’s bullets for some AoE damage. There’s no limit on how often you use these combo attacks, and as you fight a Synergy Bar fills. When it’s full, you can unleash a powerful team-up attack, like Aerith imbuing Cloud’s blade with magic that causes a massive explosion.
These Synergy abilities come in addition to all of your usual abilities, magic, and Limit Breaks. With five different party members, there are already over a dozen Synergy options in this demo alone. This makes each character’s role in combat more distinct, and Red XIII is by far the fastest of the bunch, excelling in quick combos and hit-and-run strikes. His special ability “Vengeance Mode” builds up as he blocks attacks, enabling a temporary boost to his already formidable speed and damage. He takes a little getting used to, but playing as Red is an absolute blast.
The demo also offered brief glimpse of the open-world elements of Rebirth. There’s much more traversal and exploration this time around, with Cloud able to clamber up ledges with ease, providing much more verticality to the environment.
You can see some similarities to Final Fantasy XV and XVI in terms of how the environment is constructed, with loads of materials that can be collected. This ties into a new crafting system that lets you create healing and combat items, on top of some seemingly more unique ones. For example, I crafted a cushion that would let my party use abandoned campsites to rest.
The area around Junon is vast, and at any time Cloud can call a Chocobo to ride and expedite travel. While I didn’t have the ability during my demo, there were also some cliffs that could seemingly be scaled if I unlocked the proper Chocobo ability. Considering the September State of Play trailer includes a variety of colored Chocobos, this is likely tied to Chocobo Breeding. This is presumably just a small snippet of Rebirth’s world, which is enticing to think about. The only thing I’m not sure about right now is how these exploration-focused areas will blend with Rebirth’s storytelling, which seems more tied to towns and specifically designed areas.
While exploring, you’ll occasionally happen upon a Chocobo Chick, and if you follow it you’ll find a new Chocobo Post that you can unlock for fast travel. You can ride your Chocobo everywhere, or use these fast travel points to quickly get around the map instead. I also stumbled upon a little Chocobo Ranch at one point, where I could buy new items and armor and outfits for my mount.
While my objective was to head to Lower Junon, there were side activities that involved hunting down unique monsters for a researcher. Each of these battles had optional objectives that would yield greater rewards if achieved, and you could replay the battles to achieve goals you’ve missed.
Once I finally get to Junon, Yuffie arrives in a little rowboat and is promptly attacked by a fish boss, which Cloud and pals must fight. During the battle, there’s some smart use of one of the original game’s goofier moments, as a friendly dolphin comes to Cloud’s aid unexpectedly.
Rebirth is aiming to be so much more than Remake 2.0, upping the scope and scale of its recreation of Final Fantasy 7. Now, the only question is if the full game can deliver on these wild ambitions. We don’t have to wait too much longer to find out.