When Final Fantasy VII Rebirth won the award for Most Anticipated Game at the Game Awards last year, it wasn’t too surprising. Everything I’ve seen about the game so far has been nothing short of spectacular – a feast for the eyes in every sense of the word. That was one of my takeaways when I had an opportunity to play the game some months ago.
That feeling was renewed in full force most recently when I was given another chance to sample Rebirth before release, a final preview, as it were, before the game was released to the wild and the rest of the world.
The game is now out, and you can read our Final Fantasy VII Rebirth review too!
This time, the folks at Square Enix were letting us have an extensive go at everything in a more structured manner – four hours of playtime, which was much more than the first press demos cut from two earlier segments in the game. So, with previous knowledge in hand, I sat down to play Final Fantasy VII Rebirth once again from its first chapter.
For those versed in all that is Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth opens with a familiar scene. Following directly after the events of Final Fantasy VII Remake, we see our hero Cloud, but he’s not alone. He’s currently traveling together with the series antagonist Sephiroth and it’s here we learn that this is in fact a flashback of an event that happened five years ago.
As the Cloud of the present tells the tale, the pair along with some Shinra grunts are on their way to Nibelheim to deal with a situation at the reactor stationed there atop Mt. Nibel.
It’s all familiar, with combat being very much what I saw in the demo I played back in September, however this time, there’s far more of a lead-in. The first chapter opens right up after the initial scenes with Cloud and company arriving to the village of Nibelheim itself, and it’s here the “remake” changes hit full force.
They’re not changes in the story, per se, but the depth and layout of Nibelheim itself has been expanded to such a degree that it’s astounding. The town is now fully realized, fully modeled, and fully decked out with actual people (NPCs) milling about. It feels lived in, in a way that was never possible in the original Final Fantasy VII, and just wandering around listening to people chatter reinforces the exponential difference.
There’s also a lot more for Cloud to actually interact with here, and I think that helps really sell this place as somewhere that’s important, both to his character and to the story at large.
Said story continues and it’s up the mountain with our trusty guide Tifa. Various battles happen along the way and this is the part where I found they give a decent amount of breathing room to really grasp the controls and the battle system – both for its new and returning mechanics from Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Following the events of Chapter 1, I also had some time with Chapter 2, which returns to the present and digs really into the meat of Rebirth proper.
Cloud and the rest of the party (Aerith, Barret, Tifa, and Red XIII) are taking a stop in the town of Kalm, which, just like Nibelheim, has been fleshed out like never before. It’s actually quite massive and I was surprised just how big the place is now in Rebirth, what with various streets, shops, and stories you can walk around in.
The NPCs here also have a bit more to tell. It’s here you’re introduced to Rebirth’s new card game – Queen’s Blood. Queen’s Blood is a minigame that you can challenge around town (and later in other locations), that involves facing a singular opponent while placing down cards to win sections of the board that are assigned values. Players take turns and whoever has more points racked up by location wins.
It's easy enough and throughout Rebirth you’ll be able to collect new cards and challenge others to gain further rewards.
In Kalm, we’re also introduced to a new system that centers around Cloud’s companions – the Relationships system. What this means is that Cloud’s actions affect his relationships with each of the party members, and the strength of these bonds can alter portions of the story.
Relationship status is indicated by a symbol above each character’s head and can be viewed by a press of a button. To me, this feels like a far more detailed version of what we saw in the original FFVII, what with some of the choices you made leading to whichever party member went with Cloud on his date to the Gold Saucer. That will surely be the case here if what they’ve shown so far is any indication.
The example I saw involved Aerith wanting to go up and see the view atop a building in Kalm, and you can choose if you want to go or not. Doing so seems to increase your relationship points with her, and she even makes a remark about this being a sort of date. So they are pushing that angle, and it does come up later with Tifa.
I’m left wondering what the other side of that coin actually is, if you refuse Aerith, and how different that outcome will be. Certainly, it’ll aid in a lot of Rebirth’s replayability to see how all these choices can alter the story, even if they’re these kinds of quiet moments.
Once out of Kalm, the demo shifts to the open-world area of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. Again, this is something that I got to mess around with in the previous demos, but instead of Junon, the story continues first at the Grasslands location.
From here it’s the first real look at Rebirth’s open world and it’s beautiful. Every piece of the terrain seems to be expertly crafted, from the trees, rocks, and shrubbery to the lighting and texture detail – it’s impressive work, and a new standard for Final Fantasy and perhaps other open-world games to follow.
More pieces of the gameplay loop open up here too, and not just with combat, but in the sheer amount of things you can do out in the open area.
From what I got to experience, there are other minigames, side quests, gathering for crafting, activating location towers, and on top of that, the main quest introduces chocobos, which have their own set of micromanaging that you can do with their gear and even catching them.
There’s so much to do in Rebirth just from this little slice, I can only imagine how the full game will work out. The Grasslands looks like a place I could probably spend more than three hours in by itself, it’s that massive.
But we won’t have to wait too much longer to get our hands on Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. The game is out at the end of the month on February 29, and though I've only seen the tip of the iceberg here, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be something special beyond imagination.
TechRaptor was invited to preview Final Fantasy VII Rebirth by the publisher.