In less than four weeks, players will be able to play through the second entry in the Final Fantasy VII Remake trilogy on PlayStation. Rebirth does away with the PlayStation 4 release, something that players would have expected after Remake Intergrade and the introduction of Yuffie Kisaragi was exclusive to the latest Sony console generation. At the moment, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth remains a PS5 console exclusive but certainly has the possibility of coming to PC by way of Epic Games Store and/or Steam in a matter of months.
During our preview event, Square-Enix allowed us free reign to explore the first two chapters of Cloud Strife’s adventure, first beginning with a flashback to his time in Nibelheim five years prior when he was still a SOLDIER on assignment with Sephiroth to investigate issues with the local mako reactor. We weren’t able to capture any footage from these parts, but players will certainly get to experience that narrative for themselves before too long. It’s such a pivotal moment in the narrative that provides a backdrop for Sephiroth’s motivations and his gradual descent from role model to primary antagonist in Final Fantasy VII.
Square-Enix spared no expense in the cutscenes and story pacing in these opening moments. In the span of an hour, we have Sephiroth turning from the calm and refined swordsman known for calling Cloud a puppy to the bloodthirsty villain that torches a town to the ground. During that hour, players will have the opportunity to take up the Masamune in combat and try out Sephiroth’s unique fighting style. By and large, this was similar in scope to the earlier preview we experienced with Final Fantasy VII Rebirth last year, expanded to provide a significant amount of story to flesh out Cloud and Sephiroth’s mission together and changing the open world segment from Junon to Kalm.
Truth be told, Kalm is a much more narratively interesting segment to explore for the early game in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. After the relatively linear nature of Final Fantasy VII Remake and the focus solely on Avalanche and Midgar, the serene landscape of Kalm is much more down to earth. The town of Kalm is only a focus for a few tutorials, an introduction to the new Queen’s Blood card game, and some brief narrative moments that see Cloud and his team rushed out of town to evade capture by Shinra’s military force. At this time, players already have access to Barret and Tifa for a party of three as well as Aerith and Red XIII as swappable party members, making the playable cast already larger than VII Remake.
Queen’s Blood is the latest addition to Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s new content and is already one of my favorite card games in a Final Fantasy title. In a similar vein as Geralt’s fascination with Gwent, Cloud can put his tactical prowess as a SOLDIER First Class to good use. Each player devises up a deck of fifteen cards and battles out across three rows to amass the highest score. Competing scores are tallied in each row, with the winning side taking their full point value for that row and adding it to their total. It’s entirely feasible to win a match with two, and even possibly one, winning rows if you have put enough points into what you control.
To play cards from their hand, each summoned card has a deployment cost of one, two or three pegs. Players start with a column of single pegs with which to deploy their cards. Each card played has a deployment cost, a diagram of which spaces they can provide an additional deployment to, and occasionally an ability unique to that card, typically to boost a specific space on the board or to reduce the strength of an opposing card. The tactics to Queen’s Blood come with understanding a good formation of cards to take advantage of the initial deployments and expand your field of domain while preventing the enemy from doing the same. Press the advantage quickly enough and you can place deployment pegs on every open space on the board to essentially prevent the player from being able to play any cards, while they could just as easily do the same for you. The initial town of Kalm only has a trio of eccentric gamers to contend with, earning a new card for your deck with each win, and a shop that sells two pre-determined booster packs. This gave only the tiniest of tastes to the card game in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth but I could easily see myself sinking hours into defeating every rival as the game opens up and the difficulty increases.
In total, our hands-on time with Final Fantasy VII Rebirth allowed for about three hours of the introductory chapters, ending with Cloud and crew beating the Midgarsormr (no longer Zolom) and venturing into the Mithril Mines on the way to presumably Junon. In that period, we were reintroduced to Chadley and his combat simulator, tracked down and trained a chocobo to cross the swamp, and a couple of quick side quests to slay rare monsters and other odd jobs to raise the intel for that specific region of the world and unlock new materia in Chadley’s shop. Sadly, the Enemy Skill materia was obtained through this shop and I was advised that the only way to unlock new skills was by way of these combat challenges, so no having to cross your fingers and survive a cast of Beta to unlock it in your materia. On the flip side, the Sonic Boom enemy skill is unbalanced by giving Cloud a ranged wind attack that also casts Bravery and Faith for additional damage buffs.
There hasn’t been a public demo announcement for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth to date, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Square Enix launch one for public consumption shortly after this preview reaches your news feed, as they had done previously with Final Fantasy XVI shortly before release. With save data bonuses offering up summon materia if you have saves from FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE and FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE EPISODE INTERmission, perhaps they’ll be generous enough to offer the same with a potential demo ahead of the game’s global release. Demo or not, the wait is nearly over, and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth will launch exclusively on PlayStation 5 beginning February 29th, 2024.