Hands on with Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

October 13th 2023, the second day of New York Comic Con 2023 and the show was in full swing. I have only sampled a portion of what the show had to offer, but there were still sections that I have yet to set foot in. Yet I have opted to leave the show floor to go miles away from the Javits Center to preview a game. What game was so important that prompted me to cut my time short on the show floor? Well…it was Final Fantasy VII Rebirth!

Shuffling off to a hotel in midtown New York, the various members of the media I was waiting with were beaming with excitement to get some time with the second part of the Final Fantasy Remake Trilogy (I guess none of us went to Tokyo Game Show). While ascending to the penthouse where the event was being held, the elevator stopped on around the 15th floor to which we couldn’t let the Japanese man in due to the fact one of us was in a wheelchair. Once we arrived, we were greeted by the PR team and various members of Square Enix who are running the event.

The event started with a short presentation and featured a short video from producer Yoshinori Kitase and director Naoki Hamaguchi (Hamaguchi looks vaguely familiar, but more on that later). As the final group of this event, we were privy to something the other groups were not. The first was a brief appearance from some of the cast of the game, Cody Christian (Cloud Strife), John Eric Bentley (Barret Wallace), Britt Baron (Tifa Lockhart), Max Mittelman (Red XIII) and Suzie Yeung (Yuffie Kisaragi) appeared briefly to greet us. John Eric bellowed in his Barret voice, urging in his own special way that players better use him during their time with the demo! The quintet were in town for a panel at New York Comic Con and left quickly to another obligation. The second surprise was Mr. Hamaguchi was in the room to greet the members of the media…and he was the man we weren’t able to let into the elevator earlier. Someone in the crowd pointed that out, some laughs were had and some folks took photos with Hamaguchi before he left to check out the demo.

Once we got to our stations we were greeted by the demo that was available, which featured two parts. “The Fated Mt. Nibel Mission” takes place in the past where Sephiroth, Cloud, Tifa and a generic Shinra Security Officer (who is probably no one important…) were exploring the Mt. Nibel which is rich with Mako deposits. Tifa shows signs of leanings towards environmentalism to which Cloud chastises her. As we make our way through the area we encounter violent chimeric beasts infused with Mako, however the combination of Cloud and Sephiroth makes short work of these creatures as Tifa and the nameless Security Officer stay back. The game’s tutorial would eventually clue me in that you can switch control of characters in combat by pression right or left on the d-pad and for the rest of this demo the first thing I would do would be to switch to Sephiroth (Sorry Cloud, but I’ll use you in 99% of the game). Armed with Masamune, his attacks are sweeping and his special skills include Zanshin which is a flurry of slashes and Hell’s Gate, a move where Sephiroth jumps into the air and drives his blade into the ground…so you can see why I took every opportunity I could to get some time with the legendary SOLDIER 1st Class.

As we push through further we meet with more resistance and even have to vacuum up some Mako Gas to access an elevator, eventually ending up in a large chamber with an exit. This is where the Materia Guardian impedes our path, trying to stop anything from removing the Materia found on this mountain. The duo duke it out against this insectoid creature until halfway point of the battle where it ascends to the ceiling, hoping to get away from the blades of the interlopers. For lesser fighters, they better hope they had some magic equipped to knock the guardian off the ceiling, but for Sephiroth he can just leap and unleash a barrage of slashes with ease. Sensing the tide of battle has turned against him, the Material Guardian will eventually situate itself on a deposit of Mako gas, enhancing it. This is where the game will play that cutscene which made all the hearts of fujoshis flutter, where Sephiroth comments on Cloud’s excitement and he remarks what a “puppy” he is, then the game introduces Synergy Attacks, think Dual Techs from Chrono Trigger. You continue to whittle down the beast’s health at which the battle ends with Sephiroth saving Cloud from an attack that was too quick for him to react to and Sephiroth offering the final blow to the less experienced SOLDIER. As the Materia Guardian dissipates into the ether, Tifa and the security officer come out of hiding and Sephiroth walks over to the exhausted Cloud and commends him for his efforts. Cloud shows gratitude and we fade away to the key art featuring Cloud, Sephiroth and Zack with a message thanking us for playing.

The Second demo takes place on the outskirts of Junon where we have access to the open world, chocobos, additional party members (although in the demo you only had access to preset parties, the full title will let you switch between and make your own parties), crafting and more. If we made our way to Under Junon it would trigger an encounter that would conclude the demo, so I opted to run around until I felt I saw enough (which I still didn’t see everything as I neglected to take a swim with the chocobos). Besides enemy encounters, both regular and special “Fiend” fights you can visit a Chocobo Ranch (although I didn’t stay long or buy anything), Fix Chocobo Stops which would enable fast travel (I also would pet every Baby Chocobo who led me to each fallen stop).

Once I had my fill of the Open World, I would make my way into Under Junon in hopes of getting access to Junon proper, but those plans were scuttled when a youth frantically pleaded for anyone to help a girl being attacked at sea. Despite his cold demeanor, Cloud rushes to the scene where we see a familiar ninja girl being accosted by a dragon-like creature. With the intervention of a friendly dolphin, the girl makes it to shore although taking a nasty hit that would leave her out of the action and we took on the Terror of the Deep. Being a flying creature meant I should’ve swapped for a configuration that included Barret, but I’m stubborn (and or too dumb to figure out party swapping). I probably should’ve checked my Materia load out to include any lightning Materia…but that’s neither here nor there.

The fight kinda dragged as I frantically chased the very mobile monster, occasionally switching to Red XIII and Aerith to use magic and support abilities. Skills and Synergy Attacks help build up the stagger bar so that I can do massive damage once the bar fills to the brim. There were some dicey moments such as when party members and I were trapped in a watery prison and I had to divert my attention (or switch characters) to free them as quickly as possible. Eventually the beast would make a hasty retreat, but Cloud would not abide, chasing it and with the assistance of the same dolphin that got Yuffie to shore (Yes…the girl was Yuffie, the Materia hungry ninja who wishes to bring her people back to prominence) struck the fatal blow. The scene ends with Cloud emerging from the water as well as the dolphin as the two witness a rainbow stretched across the horizon. This demo ends with a similar key art as the first, although Cloud is replaced with Aerith and Tifa.

So while I made some mistakes during New York Comic Con this year (like skipping the Pac-Man drone show for a Blumhouse panel I practically slept through), I can safely say attending this event was certainly a highlight of the weekend. Just seeing this title from my youth in a visually stunning matter and revamping the title to have a more active combat style. I had to ask the rep if Under Junon was a completely new area, to which they responded it wasn’t but there was very little time spent there in the original. It will definitely be a treat to see how Rebirth diverges from the original and how far the title will go. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth will be available on February 29th, 2024 for the PlayStation 5.