Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth brings the gang back together (including Sephiroth)

Fresh off its State of Play appearance, Shacknews jumps into Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth and explores the wide open landscape of Junon.

Square Enix

For many players, there was a range of emotions when Final Fantasy 7 Remake rolled its end credits. It felt like an exciting and intriguing conclusion to a major piece of the original game's story, but then the realization set in that the story had only just begun. Many said that the true heart of the FF7 storyline starts after leaving Midgar. That's just what'll happen with the upcoming Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. This week's Tokyo Game Show will feature two new playable demos, and while Shacknews is not at the show this year, we were still fortunate enough to get to try them out ourselves.

The first demo jumped back in time to what original Final Fantasy 7 fans remember as the Nibelheim Incident. Players will primarily control Cloud Strife, though it's possible to switch around between party members. What's interesting about this demo's party composition is that Cloud is journeying up Mt. Nibel with Sephiroth to investigate a malfunctioning Mako reactor.

Cloud and Sephiroth perform a Synergy Ability in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

Source: Square Enix

While it was fun to catch up with Cloud's various attacks and abilities, this demo is mainly focused on playable party member Sephiroth, who is designed to be an uber-powerful menace. His Masamune blade can strike closely or at a range and connect with finishers like his Pierce and Swords Dance skills. The idea is that by the end of the demo, players will have a greater idea of what makes Sephiroth the revered legend that he is and give further gravity to his descent into villainy.

While Cloud is at a fairly high level during this demo, the Mt. Nibel flashback acts largely as a tutorial for what players can expect in Rebirth. Combat works largely the same as it did in Remake, with the Active Time Battle system allowing for Cloud and other party members to use magic spells (Fire, Blizzard, Thunder, and others) and abilities (Braver, Triple Slash, etc.) through the Commands Menu. However, there are a few new mechanics being introduced. Synergy Skills can have two party members perform tandem abilities, which don't consume the ATB meter. These Synergy Skills will vary between characters and change depending on who's being controlled. For example, Cloud has Synergy Skills with Sephiroth, but these will not be the same as the ones that Sephiroth has with Cloud.

Synergy Abilities operate similarly to Synergy Skills, but these are unique team-up attacks that unlock over time. They operate similarly to Limit attacks (which are still present) in that they're ultra-powerful abilities that do not consume the ATB meter. Remember during the State of Play trailer when Cloud and Sephiroth performed a tandem attack, and Sephiroth came out of it looking like a spokesmodel for a shampoo commercial? That was the Double Helix ability, which was used to bring the Materia Guardian boss down from the ceiling above. Synergy Abilities are especially useful because they will give both party members a limited-time buff. In the Double Helix's case, Cloud's Limit level increases while Sephiroth momentarily receives unlimited Magic Power. Synergy Ability buffs will vary between party member combinations.

Cloud and his party explores the outside of Cosmo Canyon in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

Source: Square Enix

While the Mt. Nibel demo offered valuable plot exposition, it was the second demo that showed what will ultimately separate Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth from its predecessor. Set in the present day, Cloud and his party are thrust into the open wilds of Junon. It's breathtakingly constructed and gave me flashbacks to the tail end of Remake's story where Cloud was climbing up the Sector 7 plate and got a gorgeous bird's eye view of the Midgar landscape.

Square Enix noticeably played this aspect of the game close to its chest. While Junon was laid out as an open world, many parts of it were gated off and there were limited activities available. Still, we were able to get a good taste of what to expect by taking part in a short handful of open-world missions and by riding around on trusty Chocobo steeds. Chocobos help Cloud and friends move around the world faster, but they can also sniff around for items along the ground, including ingredients that can be used in the Item Transmuter to craft something more useful. As for open-world missions, some will contain side objectives, like completing it within a time limit, though it's unclear at the moment what these offer in terms of rewards.

Cloud faces the Terror of the Deep in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

Source: Square Enix

More than Remake, Rebirth will emphasize the importance of party composition. The demo featured Tifa, Barret, Aerith, and Red XIII, but Cloud's party could only be maxed out at three characters at a time. Everyone will share experience points, so there's nothing to worry about there. However, some party members may be better suited to certain situations than others. This will especially prove true if the party expands later in the game, which will likely be the case. Prior to the demo's big boss battle, Cloud and company had to rescue Yuffie, last seen in the Final Fantasy 7 Remake INTERmission DLC, who was being chased down by a creature called the Terror of the Deep.

To further prove that point, I foolishly took a party composition of Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith into battle against the Terror of the Deep. The boss would frequently disable party members by trapping them in bubbles. Worse, it would often go airborne, which was a nightmare for closed-ranged fighter Tifa. However, the beauty of the new Synergy Skills is that they can sometimes help overcome weaknesses. For example, Soaring Fury is a tandem ability that has Cloud launch Tifa off of his Buster Sword, letting her reach flying targets that she couldn't reach before.

This is only a small taste of what players can expect to see from Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. This felt like only a sample of the open-world element, plus the game is expected to feature numerous side missions and mini-games. There's a greater amount of story than in Rebirth, which will introduce new characters making their Final Fantasy 7 Remake series debut. Plus, some of the most pressing questions regarding the story, namely Zack Fair's role in the whole thing, were not addressed. All of that only makes me want to jump into Rebirth that much more. The time will come soon when Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth releases on PlayStation 5 on February 29, 2024.

These impressions are based on two on-site demos from Square Enix's U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles. It may not be representative of the final product.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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