Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth has all the flair of a modern blockbuster triple-A game. But, beneath its lavish environments and spellbinding cutscenes beats the humble, polygonal heart of the 1997 original.
Due to release on PS5 on February 29, 2024, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is a story-driven, third-person action RPG. The title follows the story of Cloud Strife and his friends as they set out from the dystopian mega-city of Midgar in an effort to save the planet from an evil, apocalyptic plot.
The hands-on preview opened with a flashback which put Cloud and Sephiroth on a mission together. The pair have a fractious and amusing relationship, with Sephiroth gently poking fun at our spikey-haired hero, all while the young sellsword attempts to prove himself to his surrogate mentor. In a laugh-out-loud moment, Sephiroth accuses Cloud of being “such a puppy” - a puckish one-liner from the future villain which eerily foreshadows his attempts to patronize and manipulate Cloud further down the line.
What’s more, I was able to play as the haughty superhuman himself, warping across the battlefield and cutting enemies down with a toolkit of powerful, methodical attacks. Not only was this a huge treat for any Final Fantasy 7 fan, but it also highlighted exactly how fearsome and driven Sephiroth really is.
The voice acting and characterization were also impressive. The Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth preview demo brought Final Fantasy 7’s beloved ensemble to life with the same attention to detail that proved so successful in Final Fantasy 7 Remake. During the second half of the demo, Cloud and the gang saved peppy ninja Yuffie from a sea monster. Yuffie’s frantic wailing and insistent plea that the monster shouldn’t eat her because she “tastes terrible” joyfully captured the high-drama and theatrical flair that separates the best JRPGs from the rest.
Still more fighting
As with its predecessor, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth puts plenty of emphasis on its hybrid combat system, offering real-time engagements that are complemented by the ability to pause and select commands. However, the combat in Rebirth is notably smoother and more responsive than that in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, with dodges and counters rivaling the likes of Final Fantasy 16 and Devil May Cry 5.
The hybrid combat system enables you to earn actions as you fight in real-time, filling an action gauge that you can cash in for special abilities (selected via a command menu that pauses the game). However, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth has a few new tricks up its sleeve that push the combat beyond the previous game. These don’t look to reinvent the wheel but to supplement existing mechanics.
Working together, characters can perform Synergy Attacks as they did in Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade, spending accumulated action points to perform distinctive tag team moves. In addition, characters can perform more powerful versions of these Synergy attacks, too, which often offer new, game-changing buffs. Cloud and Aerith’s special attack, for instance, allows both a short window where spells no longer cost mana - great if you need to quickly heal or burn down a pesky enemy.
These attacks are more than just useful combat tools. They reinforce the themes of companionship and teamwork that underpin the entire Final Fantasy 7 saga. Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, Barret, Yuffie, and Red XIII are all stronger together than they are apart - a feeling that’s now explicitly reflected in the game’s combat design. By using battles as a chance to show off the deep bonds between Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth’s heroes, Square Enix skilfully weaves together two disparate parts of the experience to make a greater whole.
Eye for detail
Outside of battle, the Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth demo enchanted me with visual prowess and attention to detail. The impressive sky-scraper-sized battle cannon built at the industrial city of Junon was every bit the mechanical nightmare I’d always imagined it to be - casting a great shadow across the lands below. In said shadow, you can find the creatively named town of Under Junon, which delighted and impressed with its rebelliously rustic aesthetic, brought to life by eye-watering graphical fidelity.
In an effort to show off the game’s environmental design, the preview also gave us a wide environment to explore outside of Midgar, full of things to see and items to collect. Dozens of useful items dot the world, alongside monster encounters with optional objectives. Thanks to Rebirth’s gorgeous environmental design, pottering about to track down extra items is a breeze, rather than a chore.
Rebirth also adds an item crafting system to the mix. It’s relatively simple: you find resources for your recipes and use them to create new items from a menu - not unlike Xenoblade Chronicles 3, for example. While hardly game-changing alone, it’s one example of gentle additions that elevate Rebirth above Remake. For instance, another welcome addition is that Cloud and the gang no longer have to hoof it on foot: every party member has access to their own Chocobo mount, which you can even cosmetically customize with an array of hats, boots, and body armor.
As with Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Rebirth boasts a stellar soundtrack that masterfully weaves famous Final Fantasy 7 themes throughout, tugging at the nostalgia centers of your brain with a precision that would melt the heart of even the most ruthless Shinra executive. As well as offering that nostalgia, the soundtrack always had an important place in the demo, often perfectly mirroring every situation. Whether you’re in a fierce battle or looking out across a serene mountain vista, the soundtrack sweeps you away with scintillating melodies and dramatic chords.
However, the demo was not without trappings of triple-A modernity. The demo suffered from some superfluous features that felt at odds with the game at large. In a section reminiscent of Horizon: Forbidden West, Cloud had to scale a cliff face with ledges marked by yellow paint. In a moment of canned pseudo-drama that made me roll my eyes, one of the ledges falls away mid-climb, only for Cloud to automatically leap to another nearby. This needless nod to the blander traversal sections of the likes of Star Wars: Jedi Survivor and Ghost of Tsushima felt severely out of place in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.
Flying enemies also proved difficult to deal with in battle. Rather than letting carve through your foes with the usual style and flair, these battles require patient counters and skillful spellcraft. Unfortunately, the game’s action system forces you to wait between attacks for your gauge to fill up - a process that slows things down considerably. This undermines an otherwise fast-paced and engaging combat system, ensuring that while most battles are a joy, some remain a chore.
That said, these flaws have done little to dull my excitement for the game’s full release next year. It will be a joy to see the next chapter of the Final Fantasy 7 saga brought to life with modern graphics and game design sensibilities. Despite the occasional redundant game feature, my preview time with Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth showed me that the next stage of the Final Fantasy 7 remake trilogy seems likely to do justice to its original 1997 incarnation.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.