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At Tokyo Game Show 2023, I had the opportunity to spend some hands-on time with the upcoming second title in the Final Fantasy VII: Remake trilogy, Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth. Players are given a choice of two playable demos. The first season follows Cloud and the group and is set outside the city of Junon. The second is a flashback to Nibelheim. Since only one of these gives you the chance to play as Sephiroth, Final Fantasy VII’s most evil character, you can guess which one I chose.
The Nibelheim flashback demo follows a younger Cloud, Sephiroth, and Tifa as they climb Mount Nibel on their way to the Mt. Nibel Mako—along with a masked, silent, nameless soldier, would never become important to the world. story later. The basic gameplay remains the same as in Final Fantasy VII: Remake. You attack normally, block, and dodge while waiting for your ATB gauge to fill—this allows you to perform abilities and cast spells.
This part of the game, while lacking any real challenge, does a great job of showing off some of the new additions to the game. There is more free movement throughout the game’s areas. If any platform or rock face is level with Cloud or lower, he can almost always jump on top of it—leading to new paths and more opportunities for exploration. Blue markers used to mark these types of locations are now required to be placed at the base of climbable surfaces or to mark narrow, less obvious paths.
In combat, there are also some changes. The most obvious is that Cloud’s dodge now doubles as an attack as he turns away with his giant sword. There are also plenty of new materials to use—and I enjoyed throwing waves of coins at my enemies to deal damage.
In boss battles, when a certain damage threshold is reached, the boss becomes temporarily invincible—leading to a cutscene or a special attack. While the damage count is still occurring, the boss’s HP gauge will have a special “don’t attack” icon to let you know that you’re no longer dealing damage—that is, to warn you not to waste MP or other his special attack. It’s a welcome quality of life change from the previous game. The demo’s boss also serves as an introduction to the new team attack combo system—which leads us to the elephant in the room, playing as Cloud’s partner in this part of the game: Sephiroth.
Whereas playing as Cloud feels almost the same as in the previous game, being Sephiroth is an experience—you feel like an unstoppable badass when you play as him. His usual moves and attacks are fast, have a wide range, and are instantly recognizable when he appears in other media. His dodge is a nonchalant sidestep teleportation that, along with everything else, gives the impression that he’s not even really trying. Rather, he simply lets Cloud show off a bit—and teaches him high-level combat at the same time.
All in all this is some absolutely brilliant programming that allows you to experience first hand just how much stronger Sephiroth is than Cloud. This is what you need to keep up with – the true power of the threat you are about to face. It makes Sephiroth a much better, scarier bad guy and tells you that you and your team will have to work hard to get close to his level. I can’t wait to review this part of the game when the full version is released early next year.
Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth will be released on February 29, 2024 on PlayStation 5.