It’s no secret that I’ve spent a lot of time playing, seeing, talking about, and writing about Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. Having traveled to Japan to spend two days in Square Enix’s Tokyo headquarters with demos and interviews, then reporting on it through our previous issue’s cover story and subsequent exclusive coverage hub, I already had an idea that I would be a fan of what Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, the second entry in the Final Fantasy VII Remake trilogy, brings to the table. However, after coming out of the hours-long gameplay session and another conversation with director Naoki Hamaguchi and producer Yoshinori Kitase, I’m somehow even more excited for the game I picked as my most anticipated release of 2024.
Entering Final Fantasy VII Rebirth
My hands-on demo kicks off from the first chapter, which briefly recaps the events of Final Fantasy VII Remake before transporting us to a flashback sequence with Cloud serving as the narrator. The sequence is the famous Nibelheim flashback featuring Cloud and Sephiroth. This portion of the demo is much longer than the portion I previously played and much more cinematic. During this sequence, I refamiliarized myself with the controls and even had the chance to finally get my hands on the piano minigame, which definitely feels extremely flexible in allowing people to create their own music once they get the hang of hitting different notes with the controller.
During the Mt. Nibel expedition, I loved watching younger versions of Cloud, Sephiroth, and Tifa interact as they make their way through this section of the game. And, of course, if you played the original, you know what happens next, which hits with extra weight thanks to the modernizations made by the team at Square Enix. “I am particularly really excited about the Chapter 1 Nibelheim area in which we’re now able to depict Sephiroth more in-depth and really dive into his character in ways which were not done in the original that we can now do,” Hamaguchi says. “I believe that this area is almost like the origin of the entire storyline of Final Fantasy VII. So, I believe that by experiencing the scene and playing this part, players will be able to have a much deeper understanding of the game and of the Final Fantasy VII story.”
Stepping on Stage
While Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s director Naoki Hamaguchi is looking forward to players’ reactions to scenes like the Gold Saucer date, the scene featuring Dyne in Corel Prison, the Nibelheim sequence, and, of course, the events at the Forgotten City, producer Yoshinori Kitase is excited for players to experience the in-game performance of the game’s theme song.
“There are a ton of parts, especially in the latter half of Rebirth, that are really impressionable,” Kitase says. “One for me is the Loveless musical production, which plays out on stage. There, the theme song for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, which was presented at The Game Awards, will be performed beautifully by Aerith. It’s this extremely cinematic, dramatic scene that is really wonderful.”
Standing in contrast to “Hollow,” the vocal theme song from Final Fantasy VII Remake, “No Promises to Keep” puts players in a different perspective. “With the lyrics in ‘Hollow,’ it’s actually meant to depict Cloud’s feelings and emotions,” Kitase says. “Conversely, with ‘No Promises to Keep,’ it’s more about Aerith’s feelings within the lyrics; it’s written that way. That’s something I’d like for players to notice as well.”
After a surprisingly long Nibelheim introductory section, I’m transported back to the present day. One of the first things I did was learn how to play Queen’s Blood, probably the most prominent minigame in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. “For Chapter 2, we immediately start it off with a tutorial for Queen’s Blood, in which the player will jump into playing this game,” Hamaguchi says. “In that way, we wanted to express that you are now entering this part of the game with a ton of side content. It’s sort of this message to say there’s going to be a variety of content available now and in this world to explore.”
This lane-based competitive card game sees you competing against NPCs within the world. I don’t get the best feel for the game in this demo since I want to check out how the rest of the game is shaping up, but I definitely feel like it’s going to be a minigame I can sink my teeth into. But beyond the gameplay mechanics, you’ll unravel a story surrounding the lore of Queen’s Blood. “As Cloud keeps playing the card game, there’s this past tragedy surrounding Queen’s Blood that starts unfolding,” Hamaguchi says. “There’s this storyline that’s particular to Queen’s Blood that we’ll be able to see taking place, and in there, we’ll see not only characters from the main storyline but also very popular characters that we all love that are also engaged in the story.”
I won’t spoil the beat-by-beat story moments, but suffice it to say that Cloud and his team’s safe harbor in Kalm is disrupted, and they must flee the haven they once had. From there, the world opens up dramatically as I enter the vast grasslands. I’m told to run away from the area I’m in, so I do just that. From there, I learn of a marsh that I need to cross, but when I get there, warning signs tell the team that they’ll be taken by the Midgardsormr, so I head to a chocobo ranch to rent a bird.
As I bounce between points of interest, I get another chance to enjoy Rebirth’s excellent combat system. Taking out smaller grassland creatures, I build up my ATB gauge to unleash special abilities and spells, eventually unleashing Limit attacks and Synergy Abilities. Everything just flows so nicely from one action to the next, and it never feels jarring when going between the real-time action and turn-based-inspired menu combat. After a few of these fights, I find my way to the chocobo ranch.
Once there, I’m told the chocobos have all been rented out, but I can try to catch one that recently escaped the farm myself. Immediately upon hearing those words, I get awful flashbacks to the tedium often accompanying these early chocobo encounters in the original Final Fantasy VII. Thankfully, it’s much more palatable in Rebirth. Once in the area of the chocobo, and enter a sequence when I need to stealthily sneak past some nearby chocobo friends in order to reach the one I’m trying to catch. After waiting for a couple of chocobos to look the other way, I get near the objective. I toss a rock to get it to look the other way and hop on its back to successfully catch the chocobo. From then on, I only need to push a button to summon them.
Exploring Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s much more open world is much faster on chocobos than on foot. If you so choose, you can also run from would-be foes in a much easier fashion. After that, my time is running short, so I make a beeline for the marshes. This time, when I arrive, I can ride the chocobo as it swims through the shallow water.
After only a little exploration, Chadley chimes in to ask if I see any sparkling minerals nearby; sure enough, I do. He informs me that if I follow the light from the mineral, it will lead me to a sanctuary that honors the tutelary deity of that region. I follow it up a cliffside to find a sanctuary devoted to Titan. Chadley asks me to help him synchronize with the crystal so he can extract data on the entity. The minigame asks me to memorize when beeps occur in a brief period and then press them in time during a second rotation, but without the visual guide. I’m able to complete this synchronization, but I worry about more difficult iterations of this particular puzzle type.
I return to the marsh, but unfortunately my time is short and I’m unable to make it to the boss battle that awaited me at the end of the demo, but when you combine my hands-on time from when I was at Square Enix’s headquarters with this session, I’m at the point where I’m just ready to play the final version of the game. I relinquished my controller, and now I’m filled with nothing but anticipation.
The Enduring Zack Mystery
One of the biggest questions coming into Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is regarding Zack’s role. While the team has told me some high-level details, Square Enix is exercising extreme caution regarding the character’s role in this second entry to the Remake trilogy. “What I’d like for players to do is play for themselves,” director Naoki Hamaguchi says. “I really just want them to be shocked playing the game and really just see for themselves. For any details around Zack’s role, I don’t intent to share much information before launch. One thing I can mention is that once players begin playing Rebirth, in not so much time, there will be a surprise waiting for them.”
The Road Ahead
In December, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth won “Most Anticipated Game” at The Game Awards 2023, and the team has noticed consistently positive reception from fans and media prior to launch. “Seeing that Rebirth is a title within the mainline Final Fantasy series and the remake of the seventh title, and Rebirth being the second title within a trilogy, this may make it seem complicated for some players, but seeing this extremely positive reception and the fact that we were awarded ‘Most Anticipated Game’ shows that this game is really reaching out towards both existing fans and new players of the series,” Kitase says. “It’s a very wonderful feeling to be able to gain this really positive surge of interest from players all around just prior to launch. It’s a really positive flow of energy that we’ve got going over here.”
In talking with Hamaguchi and Kitase, they seem extremely confident in the experience players will play when Final Fantasy VII Rebirth arrives later this month. “I’ve been working at Square Enix for over 20 years, working on the Final Fantasy series throughout my time here,” Hamaguchi says. “I would say that out of these years, Rebirth is easily the title in which I have the most confidence and I’m most proud of bringing into the world. It’s very exciting and wonderful hearing all this positive reception prior to launch, of course, and I’m equally very excited to see the players’ feedback and perceptions post-launch as well. As much as the players are anticipating the release of the game, I myself feel the same way!”
Obviously, nothing is a sure thing, but there certainly are games that look great ahead of launch and games that have a massive collection of red flags. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth exists firmly on the “games that look great” side of that spectrum. While only time will tell if Final Fantasy VII Rebirth exceeds the bar set by the first entry in its trilogy, all signs seem to indicate that February 29 should stick out on your calendar for more reasons than the fact that it only comes around every four years.
For more on Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, head here for our in-depth coverage hub, where you’ll learn about the various characters in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, how the developers handle pivotal scenes, and plenty more!