How many times am I going to buy this game? I'm still waiting on the answer to that, but I recently played two demos for Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, the (poorly named) second chapter of what’s set to be a three-part remake of the 1997 RPG.
Across two separate demos, I played roughly an hour of the game, due to launch in February 2024. The first demo was a flashback tale of hero Cloud and villain Sephiroth’s journey into a problematic reactor found in Tifa and Cloud’s hometown of Nibel. This chapter featured in the original 1997 game, soon after the party left Midgar, but the twist is that you can play, control and fight as the silver-haired antagonist, Sephiroth, in battles. And at this point in time, Sephiroth and Cloud are totally cool with each other.
This flashback, with an unnaturally chipper Cloud, reintroduces the battle system of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which offered battles that combined real-time attacks and defense with more specialized techniques, magical spells and all things Final Fantasy. The result was a satisfying hybrid, even if fans of turn-based RPGs weren’t into it.
This is a sequel, so of course there are new facets and tricks. This time, there’s a new focus on characters teaming up to attack together, something teased during the Remake DLC chapter, which centered on Yuffie and Sonan.
These synergy skills are now available to Cloud and the rest of the core party. You might get two options depending on who the controlled character is fighting alongside. In the case of Sephiroth and Cloud, you get a chargeable sword attack, augmented by… whatever magic Sephiroth seems to control, or a ranged attack. Unlike the standard abilities and spells, these synergy skills may not hit hard, but they’re instantly reusable. They’re also initiated while pressing square or triangle buttons while guarding, helping to decide which one to use, while keeping your character a little safer.
I saw examples of synergy skills that would launch Tifa, your close-range heavy-hitter, into the air, so she could close in on flying enemies, while Aerith, the magical glass cannon, could call an ally to offer her some defense from attacks. Honestly, it was these strategic skills that I’m most intrigued by. Others are more typical attacking collaborations, like Yuffie’s fiery ninjitsu spells attached to Barret's gun barrage.
Sidenote: One of my issues with FF7 Remake was the arbitrary behavior of aerial attacks — is this the solution? A simple, repeatable skill? I hope so.
Then, there are new synergy abilities (not to be confused with synergy skills). These are more like ‘ultimate attacks’ for your paired-up heroes. Similar to the solo limit break attacks, which are still here, a gauge builds up as you use the synergy skills, regular attacks and defend. These are the showstoppers: In the case of Cloud and Sephiroth, it’s a combination sword attack that really shines against the bigger beasts.
I was intrigued to see how the development team would deal with transferring established characters across. I wouldn’t be surprised if some narrative MacGuffin wiped out something, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, so far.
Many moves and special attacks (if not all — I didn’t check the entire moveset inventory) already earned in the first part of the trilogy are ready to use in the demo. However, there’s no word on whether equipment or materia (the spell-slinging orbs you equip on weapons) will transfer across. I noted some new materia, including one that ‘levels up’ paired materia to offer up even more powerful spells.
You’ll need them, as there are bigger beasts and fights. The first part of this remake project was a pretty game, especially the polished-up Intergrade version that landed on PS5 and other platforms. Can you see the improvements with this new game, now built for 2023’s consoles and PCs? Already, yes, a little.
Square Enix advised we play the demos in graphics mode, so that’s higher-res textures but at the sacrifice of smoother frame rates. Rebirth seemed to offer healthier frame rates during this demo than Remake, which is a good sign. (But I’m still likely to play most of Rebirth in the frame-rate priority mode)
The second demo was more indicative of stronger game hardware, taking the game into an open-world area around the military city of Junon – an area more expansive than what we saw in FF7R.
Characters can now sprint and vault over low-level hazards and hills. It makes the world feel less on-rails than its predecessor, even in the more constrictive reactor demo. There’s more to explore, even if traversal seems a bit crunchy, compared to games like Horizon series or Assassin’s Creed – not that I’m expecting protagonist Cloud with that giant sword to parkour with the best of them.
Sprinting only gets you so far, however, and the second demo started off with the party mounting the trusty Final Fantasy steed of choice, a giant bird species known as chocobos.
As I explored the area, I also unlocked several quick-travel points to speed things up further. Time was limited, but I could face off against a few challenging enemies, which came with additional battle challenges. These were good for deepening my understanding of the new battle system, saving up specific attacks to unleash at the right moment.
Battles still feature the dynamics of building up stagger gauges or pressuring an enemy with elemental attacks, well-timed dodges, or hitting weak points. Each character is unique enough to come into their own against different monsters and threats. Gunner Barret and the aforementioned Aerith are both long-range attackers, while brawler Tifa and cat-wolf Red XIII are more agile, but focused on short-range. During the demo, I got to switch between different (but predetermined) party groupings, which usually ensured a balanced team.
As I guided Cloud and the rest of the gang around the cliffs and grassland, I’d collect items that can be combined in a new crafting menu, to create healing items on the fly. These crafted potions, however, often feature extra benefits, whether that’s magic point recovery or status healing. Like those new synergy attacks, Square Enix is teasing a game that feels very much like it’s deepening the gameplay of Final Fantasy VII Remake. The bigger question is: how are the team going to twist the story further, when Remake teased alternate timelines and something a little different to the story of the PS1 original?
We’ll have to wait until February 2024 to see.