It felt incredibly good to jump into the combat system of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.
After coming off the real-time action combat of Final Fantasy 16, which fell into repetition by the end of the game, coming back to the hybrid system that debuted in FF7 Remake – a mix of real-time attacks, a tactical pause to carefully target abilities, and character switching – felt like walking into a hotel buffet for the first time.
Even in my limited time with a two-part demo (which I played through twice) it felt like I had a myriad of options to pull out when fighting monsters. It’s a system that’s so flexible that it doesn’t mind how hard I lean into any one approach to combat. All real-time? All tactical-pause-based? Just playing as a non-Cloud character? That’s left to my discretion.
I know from having played Final Fantasy 7 Remake that the options are plentiful, and it’s a system that’ll keep you mentally engaged in each and every single encounter you have, until the very end of the game. But Rebirth also adds another new, flashy dimension to combat: Synergy Skills and Synergy Abilities, in which two of your party members can join up to perform unique abilities, both big and small.
The Gang Synergises in Junon
Like Final Fantasy 7 Remake, for a significant part of the game you will have a party of up to three characters. One part of the Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth demo comprised of exploring a small open field area outside the narratively significant town of Junon, fighting monsters and collecting crafting materials. And it demonstrated how the game balances this limitation with the idea that you’re travelling with a much bigger party of characters.
While the whole gang of core supporting characters travel with you and will participate in story moments no matter what – the demo featured Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, Barret, and Red XIII – you can create up to three preset trios, which you can very quickly switch between while in the field with R1, and a direction button. For example, if I see a pack of flying enemies just ahead, I can switch from my close-range team of Cloud/Tifa/Red XIII to one with characters focused on long-range – Barret and Aerith – in a snap.
There’s such a strong feeling of camaraderie because you know everyone is there, and you don’t get that guilt of leaving behind your favourite character just because they’re not the optimal pick for battle. That camaraderie also comes with the new Synergy Skills that clearly add to the tightly-knit group dynamic, too.
Synergy Skills are basic team-up attacks, which can frequently and easily be used as part of your regular attack flow by guarding (R1) and hitting a designated face button. They’re also exceedingly useful: Cloud bat bullets from Barret’s gun arm to hit faraway enemies, for example, or he can help Tifa by sending her flying toward an enemy, using his sword as a launch pad. Playing as Aerith is now a less frustrating exercise thanks to her Synergy Skill, which lets her call upon another active party member to serve as her bodyguard, taking any hits while she takes the time to charge up a powerful spell.
Synergy Abilities on the other hand, are more powerful manoeuvres that act as an addition to the existing character-specific Limit Break attacks (which are available once you deal enough damage). Each specific Synergy Ability requires both characters involved to build up a certain number of charges before they can unleash it – with charges being earned by having the character in question spend their gauge to perform spells or abilities.
It adds yet another really nice dimension to think about in the Final Fantasy 7 Remake combat system, since it heavily encourages you to keep up the quick momentum of battles – always keeping an eye on your character’s gauges, making sure that they’re using abilities as soon as they can, and actively swapping to characters you want to build up Synergy Charges for. The mental juggling can be straining, but it’s very satisfying once you build up a momentum and flow.
You’ll definitely want to work toward unleashing Synergy Abilities too, because aside from providing really flashy and cinematic team-up animations, some abilities can provide powerful effects, like team healing or unlimited magic points (MP) for a short amount of time, letting you continue a relentless assault.
There’s a lot to think about in combat, and it’s satisfying moreish as a result. Though the Junon portion of the demo was relatively short, I found myself jumping back into it to try different combinations, and fully complete the optional, objective-based combat challenges, as well as take another turn at the boss encounter, where Cloud and the gang also meet Yuffie for the first time.
Notably, Yuffie seems integral to the story in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth – rather than a missable, optional character as she originally was. It’s probably safe to assume that the same can be said of Vincent Valentine, who briefly appeared in the trailer shown at the PlayStation State of Play in September 2023.
The rest of the Junon sequence involved coming to grips with riding the game’s Chocobos, the large chicken-like creatures that are a series staple. Like the Chocobos in Final Fantasy 16, as well as the horses in just about every other game that has them, they’re a bit cumbersome to handle in tight spaces. That was especially true of the demo area, which was rocky and multi-levelled. But in an open plain or on a road, they can help you fly across the map (figuratively speaking), and there appears to be certain steep cliff faces that can only be traversed via Chocobo.
Additionally, in certain areas of the map, you’ll be able to command your Chocobo to sniff out and dig up buried treasure, though a bit of effort is needed on your part to pinpoint the exact place to dig, which seems to be randomised and will reset if you dig in the wrong place.
That wasn’t the only taste of Chocobo in this Junon demo, however. The area played host to a Chocobo farm, where you have the option of equipping your Chocobo with different types of gear, and you can also purchase new gear using the currency of Golden Plumes.
And how do you earn Golden Plumes? Well, by helping out absolutely adorable baby Chocobo who can be found around the map. Get near them, and the baby Chocobo will eventually lead you to a Chocobo Stop, basically a dilapidated bus shelter.
Once you repair the Chocobo Stop sign, the baby Chocobo will be appeased, you’ll get a Golden Plume, and you’ll be able to fast travel to that point on the map at any time. Chocobo stops can also act as rest stops for Cloud and the party to regain
It was suggested by Square Enix that the world of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth would be made up of several open explorable areas like the one we saw in this demo – which is a continuation of how the Remake and Final Fantasy 16 handled the sprawling world. Given the scope of the world in the original FF7, it’ll be interesting to see if Rebirth incorporates some kind of grander World Map system to communicate the vastness of the globe, but that’ll have to remain a question mark for now.
Hanging out with Sephiroth in Nibelheim
Of course, one of the biggest takeaways from the Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth trailer shown during the PlayStation State of Play was the fact that Sephiroth will be controllable in battle.
The other part of our Rebirth demo focussed on just that, set during the game’s famous Nibelheim flashback sequence where a young Tifa, cowboy hat and all, acts as a guide to lead a young Cloud and his mentor Sephiroth to investigate a malfunctioning Mako reactor.
Though the demo didn’t get into the meat of this pivotal narrative sequence, its cavernous dungeon acted as a battle tutorial to introduce the Synergy attacks, and featured ample time to get a feel for Sephiroth himself.
Needless to say, Sephiroth feels exceedingly overpowered, with his extra-long Masamune sword making very short work of beasts and boss enemies, especially compared to Cloud. There were some nice moments of bonding here – with Sephiroth playing the tough but encouraging teacher, and Cloud as the plucky, enthusiastic student – which will definitely make the inevitable tragedy all the more heartbreaking.
I very much enjoyed Final Fantasy 7 Remake, for its bold approach to how a remake can actually interrogate, rethink, and reinterpret the original work, and for its excellent combat system that always keeps you thinking and engaged with the action, no matter how small the encounter.
An hour with Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth instantly reminded me of how strong its predecessor was – and made me more excited for every new layer in this sequel, each of which adds a lot of personality. And with the tease of two important elements of FF7’s story in Junon and Nibelheim, I’m incredibly intrigued by how my expectations will be twisted once more.
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth will be released on 24 February 2024 for PlayStation 5.