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If Final Fantasy 7 Remake was shrouded in mystery, its sequel, and the second in the trilogy of remakes, might be even more so.
Where the previous, literal ‘Remake’ reimagined the iconic game using modern-day tech, only exploring the first portion of the game set in the slums of Midgar and making only a few delicate yet significant tweaks to the well-known plot, now, the second instalment will see us venture further into the world – and with it, explore more of a story which may be the one we know. Or, may not.
The 2020 game’s ending, in fact, presents some tantalising questions: will it take us on an alternate timeline completely? Will certain characters’ fates, lives and deaths, be totally switched in this remake? And, can you pet a chocobo? Now, having gone hands-on with the very first preview of gameplay, we can confirm at least one of those biggest questions is finally answered.
Yes, you can pet the chocobos.
Beyond that, we’ve experienced the first gameplay beyond Midgard and even played as Sephiroth, thanks to an all-new hands-on play through with two missions from the game – and swinging Masamune has us impressed.
Though the game itself follows directly from the previous Final Fantasy 7 Remake, where our heroes have escaped Midgar, the first mission we preview is “Fated Mt. Nibel”: a flashback to five years prior. Here, we play as a younger, fresh-faced Cloud, part of a soldier survey team guided by knowledgeable local Tifa, and headed by lauded white-haired war hero Sephiroth.
The team is headed toward the Mako reactor found in a Shinra construction site at the peak of Mt. Nibel, and this means a more natural setting, traversing the mountain, while fighting Insectoid Chimeras and flying Velociwing enemies along the way. More importantly though, it means playing as Sephiroth – the first time the iconic villain has been fully playable.
Delivering deathly blows in battle with the character as your main is arguably the highlight of everything we’ve played so far. Slashing with sword Masamune is satisfying itself, but Septhiroth’s special attacks, like Sword Dance, his limit break ability Octaslash, which will slash at your chosen enemy at breakneck speed, and his ability Hell’s Gate, used to descend from the sky and impale your enemy from above, all make finally battling as the big baddie a delight worth the wait.
Those moves come in particularly handy when taking on the big boss of this mission, the Materia Guardian, a beast who lives in the depths of Mt. Nibel, which has mutated into a deadly sharp-clawed, ceiling crawling beast, thanks to prolonged exposure to Mako in the mountain.
We discover in this battle that perhaps the only thing cooler than delivering deathly blows as Sephiroth is delivering them as a Sephiroth-Cloud Strife duo, unleashing coordinated Synergy attacks together – a spectacular addition to combat for Rebirth.
As we opt for their Double Helix Synergy ability, which sees both playable characters ultimately bring the Materia Guardian crashing to the floor, through a satisfying combination of high-damaging action and cinematic sequences of the two. Sephiroth, who we are still playing as, impales the creature before telling younger soldier Cloud to “Take it from here… nice work,” a treat for fans of the series to see and control, first-hand.
“Perhaps the only thing cooler than delivering deathly blows as Sephiroth is delivering them as a Sephiroth-Cloud Strife duo, unleashing coordinated Synergy attacks together – a spectacular addition to combat for Rebirth.”
Synergy aside, the rest of the battle system is largely the same as in the previous Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Attacking, hacking and slashing your way through enemies builds up your ATB gauge, which also fills over time, and allows you to land massive battle abilites, switching between your team and delivering commands as you go. That’s no bad thing, as the mix of real-time battle and strategy still strikes a satisfying, fun and fast-moving balance.
The second demo mission we take on is “The Open Wilds of Junon,” our first proper glimpse of the remake beyond the dark capital of Midgar. By contrast, its open stretches of nature look a joy to explore – though in the build we play, the level has been set to a more on-rails version, in order to showcase battle sequences. In the full game, we are told, this will be a less linear, more open-world map to navigate.
What makes it most exciting to explore is that we’re doing it on the back of our chocobo steeds, who were sadly yet understandably not rideable around Remake’s Midgar. Now, however, your entire party of Cloud, Barret, Aerith, Tifa and even Red XIII, saddle up at a chocobo ranch and take your lead dashing through the wilds of Junon, which of course, is as fun as it sounds – and brings a welcome PlayStation 5 power to one of the most iconic actions in gaming.
We ride them en masse as they pick up scents and guide us toward hidden treasure to be scavenged from the ground and used later.
Junon is not all rubies and squeaky pettable chocobos, however. When we encounter foes in the wild, battling them splits the group into more manageable combinations, so you don’t have to worry about controlling the entire party at once, while still allowing for strategy with your choice of characters, and making way for more fun with Synergy attacks, such as Red XII’s Planetary Roar with Aerith, a ranged attack which allows her to channel her magic through Red’s howl.
Beyond, we discover Under Junon, a “sunless oasis” of an impoverished fishing village, found under the ground and complete with a rickety wooden inn, gigantic fish bones hung in the town square, Amity Island-style, and townspeople screaming in need for help for you to save them from, oh, just big old fish monster.
This big bad, the ‘Terror of the Deep,’ blasts out of the water and into the air for us to battle – and again presents a great example of the battle system, with Cloud and Red XIII’s Savage Assault inflicting serious damage, and Cloud and Aerith’s Firework Blade offering up a useful ranged attack.
However, it’s the ending of this fishy foe which is most memorable. Seemingly defeated, it crashes into the sea… before Cloud hops on the back of a helpful dolphin to deliver its final blow into the sea, followed by a cinematic sequence of the dolphin by his side in the sea, cackling against a picturesque horizon. It’s just as daft as the image of Red XIII saddling up and riding a chocobo twenty minutes earlier – and an exciting teaser that outside of the confines of gloomy Midgar, brighter, bonkers moments are set to deliver laughs in this sequel, too.
There were a lot of questions we were looking to answer before this gameplay. None of which involved laughing out loud at dolphins. Most importantly, though, it’s satisfying to play – and though technically a Remake, only serves to remind us to expect the unexpected when Rebirth launches next year.