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Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is Remake supercharged

A Nibel of what's to come.

Cloud, Sephiroth and Zack in the sunrise in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Image credit: Square Enix

One of my favourite things to do in Final Fantasy 7 Remake was to simply look up. Finally you could see the plates of Midgar hanging threateningly over the slums - and in daylight too. This was something only hinted at in the original, with its pre-rendered backgrounds in (seemingly) perpetual night. Seeing the enhancements a remake could bring was awe-inspiring.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, the follow up to Remake, garners a similar reaction, but this time with its open world. Now the vague blues and greens of the overworld that gave a mere suggestion of place are gone; instead there's an explorable open world, an industrial wasteland smothered in garbage and seemingly toxic waste. The planet - as was only previously suggested - has been abused. Some wildlife does remain though: I spotted a pack of cute bunnies bouncing through the metallic undergrowth.

Above this wasteland is the imposing military city of Junon, casting a shadow over the inhabitants living in squalor below. Though not quite as iconic as Midgar, it still gives a sense of how vast and expansive Rebirth is set to be.

Eurogamer goes hands-on with Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.Watch on YouTube

It's more of the same, but it's been supercharged. It's faster. It's flashier. It's more exciting. It offers best in class visuals, sound and cinematography. At its height, it feels like playing through a movie - Advent Children, but you're (mostly) in control.

Much of this is to be expected after the success of Remake. After all, it already pushed the boundaries of what the original game - and the notion of a remake - could be. More of the same is certainly not a bad thing, not to mention a handful of enhancements to raise the bar once again. Yet what really interests me the most about Rebirth are the story changes and consequences of Remake, something we'll have to wait until the full release to fully understand.

A recent hands-on with Rebirth provided two missions to play through: The Fated Mt Nibel Mission and The Open Wilds of Junon.

The first was a straightforward linear quest typical of Remake. It's based on a flashback from the original game that occurs at a similar point in the story shortly after the party leaves Midgar. A young Tifa, complete with cowboy hat, leads new SOLDIER recruit Cloud and his hero Sephiroth to a nearby Mako Reactor. Here, though, the Mako Spring looks far more spectacular as it fizzes with turquoise energy.

Traversal to the Reactor is more elaborate than the original, with climbing sections through jagged rocks under a grey sky - a foil to the vivid rainbows of Materia and magic effects in battle. It also builds towards a boss fight against a Materia Guardian, a sort of bat-like demon that flies over the party.

Cloud and Sephiroth team up in battle in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Sephiroth is fully playable - and very powerful. | Image credit: Square Enix

What truly made this section special, though, is that - for the first time - Sephiroth is playable (while he joins the party in the original, here he's fully controllable). He's decked out with a full suite of Materia plus his iconic Masamune sword and is a good ten levels higher than Cloud. His attacks alternate between a powerful pierce and a sword dance combo, with his Hell's Gate ability acting like a dragoon's leaping, downward thrust. Plus he's got his Octoslash limit break. At this point, Sephiroth is Cloud's hero so it makes sense he'd be so strong. And after a gap since playing Remake, this offered a chance to reacquaint myself with the battle system. Yet Sephiroth is so overpowered, it trivialised the whole mission - rightfully so.

This mission did highlight a couple of new Materia, suggesting the system will be more expansive compared with Remake. I picked up an Autocast Materia that automatically casts spells for you, and a Magnify Materia that expands the range of a spell. As with the original game, these can be paired with spell Materia for new effects. I also grabbed a two-in-one lighting and wind materia, streamlining my collection.

Otherwise, this was mostly the same old Remake. You still sit on benches to rest and recover HP and MP. Outside of battle, Cloud's sword swipes to destroy boxes are still oddly static. And he's still occasionally forced to walk through certain areas, story depending. At one point, Sephiroth scoffs at Cloud: "Such a puppy". It's the sort of description I'd expect aimed at Zack rather than the stoic Cloud, perhaps hinting this flashback isn't all it seems.

This mission also gave a taste of a major new addition to combat: synergy. Battles work in the same way as before: regular attacks build up your ATB gauge, which is spent on abilities and spells, while taking damage builds the limit break gauge. Synergy attacks sit somewhere between abilities and limit breaks. Each ability use adds one synergy point to a character; once two characters have built enough points (typically two each), they can unleash a synergy attack: a flashy pairing that does decent damage. It encourages players to regularly alternate between characters, synergy attacks acting like a mini reward. There are additional synergy skills accessed by guarding that again pair up characters, but are less effective.

Aerith casting a huge spell in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Magic effects are truly spectacular. | Image credit: Square Enix

While these attacks do add another layer to combat, they don't add a massive amount of strategy. It almost feels like the developers added them in just to add something fresh. I actually found it a bit overwhelming having a whole load of new abilities to consider and even more flashy effects popping off, but this is likely the nature of a preview dropping me in part way. I just needed a little more time to understand each combination - and that's not me being greedy wanting to play more, I promise!

The synergy attacks in this mission were between Cloud and Sephiroth, but the next mission set outside Junon showed off more. Here, the party was Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, Barrett and Red XIII, with striking and extravagant synergy attacks between all combinations. Firework Blade, for instance, was between Aerith and Cloud: a shimmering barrage of magical sword swipes. Planetary Roar was between Aerith and Red XIII, where she tickles his chin before they unleash magical explosions. Divine Punishment is the attack between Aerith and Tifa you will have seen in a previous trailer. For the most part, regular enemies are dispatched too quickly to build up the necessary synergy points, so these moves will be most useful during longer encounters and boss battles.

The Junon mission was predominantly aimed at showing off the game's open world, albeit a small section of it. And there are a few additions to flesh it out, including a new crafting system typical of open world games. Players can collect raw materials to craft new items, armours and accessories; these are mostly metal ores and herbs, but one material was called "manifestation of the planet's favour". Make of that what you will.

Chocobo are also important for traversal and come with a new reorchestrated theme - riding them is much faster than running on foot, plus they're able to sniff out hidden treasure. That said, these particular chocobo seemingly can't jump, meaning they frustratingly suddenly halt before the jagged environment (the recent PlayStation State of Play trailer showed chocobo of other colours with flight and climbing abilities). Visit a Chocoboutique and you can kit them out in various armours. Adorably, you can also follow chocobo chicks to chocobo bus stops (and pet them!) - unlocking fast travel options.

The party flies over a desert on chocobo in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Look at Red XIII on a flying chocobo! | Image credit: Square Enix

Some enemy encounters have extra objectives, too, like a time limit or needing to pressure or stagger enemies in a specific way, and can be repeatedly replayed. Completing these objectives will provide additional rewards not shown in this demo. Square Enix has also promised dozens of side quests and minigames, so collectively this open world will provide plenty of reasons to explore and appears far less linear than Remake.

After joining the party at the end of Remake, everyone's favourite talking beast Red XIII is finally playable in Rebirth. Swiping with claws, his moveset feels more scrappy, frantic and animalistic compared with other characters. His unique ability is the Vengeance gauge, which builds by guarding attacks; activating Vengeance Mode then heightens attacks and dodge speed. His iconic Siphon Fang spinning attack also proves powerful. He is, ultimately, an up close and defensive fighter but without the powerful elegance of Tifa, and slots neatly into the party. Incidentally, now that we have more party members, those not directly controlled in battle will hang back and are visible skirting the battlefield without taking part.

After exploring the Junon fields, I headed to the slums beneath the city where I encountered faces familiar to players of the original: the young Priscilla, her pet dolphin, and a boss battle against sea creature Terror of the Deep. This acted as a culmination of battle skills up to this point: switching characters to build up synergy points, unleashing combo attacks and revelling in the exceptional animations. It feels as satisfying as Remake ever did, with synergy attacks just another example of the seamless shift from cinematic to action.

Close up of Cait Sith in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Vincent towers over the party in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
Some old favourites will return this time around. | Image credit: Square Enix

There was one major difference however: it was Yuffie stranded in the water who the party needed to save. Is this the first time the party encounters Yuffie? This wasn't clear. Yet it does suggest their meeting will be part of the main story and her addition to the party won't be optional, as in the original.

Rebirth has some changes, then, both compared to the original and Remake. There are tweaks to the story, new wrinkles in combat, and an open world brimming with potential. Visually it's hugely impressive too, a step up from Final Fantasy 16. It's familiar yet fresh, the sort of magical spectacle fans will relish.

And with the latest trailer from the recent PlayStation State of Play, there's an exuberant display of fan service: the Gold Saucer returns with updated minigames, familiar characters will be playable, and some truly spectacular looking summons will be included. Sadly, none of this was in the preview build I played.

Yet will there be more fundamental plot changes? How will this second part end? And what's up with Zack? I'm itching to find out.

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