Hands-on with Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

Mondays…normally I’d side with Jim Davis’ fat orange cat regarding the start of the week, however this particular monday, despite a cross country flight, rain greeting me at the destination and finding out my umbrella was broken could deter the excitement I had as I arrived at a venue to spend 4 hours with Final Fantasy VII Rebirth? You can suddenly see why even my dour self couldn’t let anything sour demeanor..

After signing in at the venue, I was offered a box featuring the visage of Cloud Strife. Giving the box a good look it appears that this would reveal a new promotion as if the most beloved JRPG really needed a further marketing push. The contents of the box included 4 chocolate chip cookies and a small tub of vanilla frosting with pastel sprinkles. This was a Big Dipper Pack from Insomnia Cookies! It seems that Butterfinger was not enough (Although the pair did re-up that relationship for Rebirth), Square Enix decided to team up with the delectable cookie brand that offers baked goods regardless of what hour you chose to sleep.

Entering the venue I saw several rows of game stations with a projector wall which had the game’s key art shown on it. Continuing to survey the area I saw plenty of standing signs with full images of the characters you will be controlling in this second part of the planned 3 part Final Fantasy VII Remake project as well as Vincent, who will be making an appearance but unfortunately will not be controllable. Thanks to my heightened mood, I was even able to suppress the New Yorker in me and I socialized with other attendees.

The crowd included your traditional games media, the newer crowdfunded outlets such as MinnMax and Kinda Funny and of course influencers/streamers, those that did it full time such as Maximilian Dood (who is pretty damn tall) and those who dabble part time such as Adam “The Chugs” Cole (I think his day job does get him on TV…).

Despite my out of character gregariousness I wasn’t able to work up a nerve to strike it up with the cast of the game, which is impressive as this was the SECOND time I was in their presence and the SECOND time I couldn’t work up the nerve to approach any of them to converse. Thankfully my cowardice wouldn’t be on full display as the event would gradually begin. It started with house rules from a member of the Square Enix PR team, giving us the house rules before introducing Producer Yoshinori Kitase and the game’s Director Naoki Hamaguchi. The duo thanked the people in attendance, hoped that we would enjoy our time with this vertical slice and Hamaguchi hoped that we would give the new minigame Queen’s Blood a chance…little did I know I would take his request to heart. As the two were ushered off the stage, we were given the go ahead to situate ourselves in front of a station and enjoy the demo.

This demo which we would have four hours to play consisted of an extended version of the demo I experienced back in October. Rather than experience just the partial ascent of  Mt. Nibel, this demo has you arriving in town as well as experiencing the conclusion of the tragic conclusion of what would be dubbed the Nibelheim Incident. Your arrival to town would be a mundane affair, with Sephiroth being eerily playful…urging Cloud to take some time to explore his hometown. For a game whose themes include false or lost memories, I initially thought the  sequences with Cloud’s mother Claudia and Tifa’s master Zangan were new in Rebirth, but it just seems I either missed these in the original game or I straight up forgot about it. Rather than dwell on small town living, I took it upon myself to go to bed early so I can get my mission over with.

This climb up Mt. Nibel afforded us the opportunity to skip to the end (aka the portion that was playable at TGS and the October demo I enjoyed during NYCC), but I wasn’t going to miss out on a chance to control the greatest swordsman to have come out of the SOLDIER program! I did notice that unlike October, I didn’t have to manually switch over the Sephiroth, in battle I was able to default to this guest party member, so that change was rather pleasant. Plenty of Mako warped fauna were cut down, I had to run a vacuum to clear the air of Mako gas and a rematch with the Materia Keeper yielded the same result as last time…however rather than greeted with a end screen…I was able to progress forward and visit the reactor that would provide a revelation that would be the inciting incident of the game.

After descending the mountain, Sephiroth becomes a changed man…sequestering himself in the basement of Shinra manor in the outskirts until he finds the information he was searching for. In his cold and plodding march back to the reactor on the mountain, he leaves a swath of destruction which includes mercilessly slaying the town mayor who earlier in the day was overjoyed to be in the presence of the legendary SOLDIER. Cloud eventually catches up to Sephiroth inside the reactor, but arrives too late to stop the killing of Tifa’s father, but was present to see Tifa make a futile attempt at revenge…

The sequence at Nibelheim was actually a retelling that Cloud did with the crew after they had escaped Midgar. As the story came to its conclusion the party opted to call it the night. Cloud would not get a full night’s sleep as Tifa would come by his room to see if the two old friends can converse. On the roof of the inn, Tifa questions where Cloud was in the past five years, unable to get any answers she leaves frustrated and Cloud not wanting to further inflame things.

A new morning breaks, you regain control of Cloud and can freely explore the European style town of Kalm. Your companions can find them amongst the citizenry doing their own thing. Chatting with them will give you a conversation prompt which can build your relationship with them. In fact there is an indicator above their heads to see their relationship with you. Originally a hidden factor that would determine who Cloud would go on a date with at the Gold Saucer, it seems in Rebirth your relationship with your party members will determine more than just a ride on a Gondola! The plot progresses as you check out the clock tower with Aerith, but before spending time with her I took some time to explore a little more and heed the advice that the director of the game had given during the opening remarks.

For you see, Kalm is the first place where you can experience Queen’s Blood, a card game that has taken the world by storm. The game has you playing cards on the battlefield to generate markers which can be claimed as points. Every card has its own cost, grid configurations and special abilities, so build your deck using a variety of costs, unless you doom yourself to losing due to poor deck building. The players of this game are an eclectic bunch, a shy girl who speaks through her ventriloquist dummy, a recluse woman hiding behind a wall of cardboard boxes and finally someone named Crybaby Ned. I low key want to find every Queen’s Blood player just to see if there’s any amongst them who are just well adjusted human beings… The demo had other Queen’s Blood players outside of Kalm, but once I left the town I set aside the game for the time being.

As I ascended the clock tower and spent some time at the pinnacle with the flower girl, a retinue of Shinra helicopters descended on the time in an attempt to capture the group. So while the Kalm has been broken (sorry…had to use this line), you have allies amongst the populist, specifically the innkeeper named Broden. With his aid you are able to return to the inn and escape the town using an underground route. Before he sends you off into the world map, you receive a transmuter that will allow you to take items found in the world and craft it into usable items.

Out in the plains, you will see yourself meeting Chocobo Bill again. He directs you to his Chocobo ranch where you can acquire a Chocobo to help you traverse the Marsh. At this point my inability to pace myself rears its ugly head and I attempt to rush through the rest of the demo. At the Ranch I did meet Bill’s grandchildren Billy and Chloe and with their assistance I secured a Chocobo. I foolishly made a beeline towards the marshlands and was awed by the transformation it had compared to the original. Technically everything is more impressive and there’s actually varied terrain whereas the old marshland was just a flat texture. Little did I know my tactic would lead to ruin as I was woefully under leveled and under equipped to take on the creature that reigns in the swamps…the Midgardsormr!

I’m not proud of my performance but this gigantic snake truly handed me my ass on a platter. I decided to retreat and do some leveling. Eventually I found my way back to the Chocobo Ranch and ran into a familiar face. Chadley, the android intern of Shinra’s Research and Development Division whom you had a symbiotic relationship with in Remake (you got him battle data, he made you Materia, keep those BL thoughts out of your head!) has also left Midgar and now seeks to rekindle your partnership. He tasks you to gather intel by activating towers that are littered throughout the world. Doing so will reveal points of interests that can net you experience and equipment.

As the 4 hour session came to a close the folks next to me seemingly had a more balanced approach with their playthrough and clutched out a victory against the Midgardsormr. It certainly helped that they had access to Materia that was strong against it. But hey they did what I couldn’t do so props to them. So while I couldn’t get to the end of the demo, I did witness its end. Perhaps one day I’ll find a balance between overly thorough and slow or rush in and hit a wall. I’m sure it’ll all be moot when Final Fantasy VII Rebirth comes out on February 29th and I won’t be playing with a Sword of Damocles hanging over my head. The end of February can’t come soon enough.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth will be available on PS5, February 29th, 2024.

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