Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is going to be an engrossing, captivating story that promises to set the stage for an even greater finale. Of course, those who played the original Final Fantasy 7 don't need to be told this. They've known about this generation-defining narrative for over 27 years. However, even those long-time fans may not be aware of just what exactly they're in for with Rebirth. That became clear after playing through the game's opening chapter, which manages to set up the story ahead while also raising some questions about what players know to this point.
(Warning: Minor spoilers for Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion lie ahead, so turn back if you haven't played either yet and plan to do so before picking up Rebirth.)
When Shacknews last went hands-on with Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, we experienced a portion of the game's opening chapter that flashed players back to a key moment in Cloud and Sephiroth's lives. It's known as the Nibelheim Incident. This is where Sephiroth went from a beloved war hero to a cold-blooded killer when he massacred a small village and left nearly no survivors as it crumbled in flames. This time, Shacknews got to play through the full first chapter and feel the full gravity of this moment.
The events of the Nibelheim Incident are played from Cloud's perspective. To hammer that home, cutscenes and dialogue exchanges will sometimes get paused, like a vintage videotape, for the rest of Cloud's party to chime in with questions. Cloud will recall getting sent in for his first SOLDIER mission, being paired with superior officer Sephiroth, and exploring the dangerous mako reactor atop Mt. Nibel. They need a guide to lead them through the mountain, so Cloud will recount his meeting with Tifa, then a young guide looking to prove herself.
The Nibelheim flashback serves as a tutorial for Rebirth, explaining the basics of combat, traversal, and using other party members. However, its main purpose is to explain how Sephiroth came to be what he is today. Without fully explaining what he found, Sephiroth's discovery within the Mt. Nibel reactor winds up driving him mad.
The opening chapter also serves to get the player thinking about the story as a whole and put their brain to work piecing together what's potentially about to happen. Those who played Remake will look at the Cloud from the flashback and see a more exuberant, overly confident SOLDIER. In fact, he's almost outgoing to the point that he seems out of character. Once he starts doing squats, though, he'll almost certainly have the attention of anyone who has played Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion. Indeed, the character being presented to players in this flashback behaves a lot more like Zack Fair than he does Cloud Strife. Because of that, and without going into further detail, those who have played Crisis Core may begin to question parts of Cloud's story.
They won't be the only ones. After the Nibelheim flashback ends, the party will go to bed and players will witness a conversation between roommates Tifa and Aerith. Tifa, who was also in Nibelheim, likewise begins to voice some critical flaws in Cloud's recollection. Those who have played the original Final Fantasy 7 likely know where this is going, but Tifa and Aerith then make sure to bring up the Whispers. Recall that the Whispers are entirely new entities to this trilogy whose purpose appears to be to keep the FF7 timeline on its destined path.
Raising the specter of the Whispers indicates that Final Fantasy 7's story may be in for some greater changes as Rebirth goes on. There's one major curveball that Remake (and the Intergrade DLC) has thrown to even the most diehard FF7 fans and that's the presence of Zack, who appears to be alive and well. The Crisis Core remaster's release timing was not a coincidence and with many players experiencing that story as it was originally released for the first time, it's bound to have them asking questions.
The various trailers for Rebirth over the last year have made it clear: Something mysterious is at work and while Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is looking like a faithful reimagining of 95 percent of the original game, it's the five percent that stands to change that proves more intriguing than anything else. Rebirth's opening chapter will have players thinking about that out of the gate and keeping that in the back of their minds as they play through the rest of the story.
Speaking of the rest of the story, we got to play more than the Nibelheim flashback and there's a lot more to say about what lies ahead in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Come back to Shacknews shortly as we take a deeper look at Rebirth's open world.
This preview is based on an on-site PlayStation 5 demo from a press event in Los Angeles. It may not be representative of the final product.