"How did it feel being back up there? I don't know... nostalgic, I guess?" Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth summarised our feelings with one simple question. We love the original game but when Final Fantasy 7 Remake opened the door to some dramatic changes, nothing was guaranteed moving forward. Thankfully, Rebirth feels like a natural evolution that continues walking this precarious path with grace, and right now, it's mixing that nostalgic familiarity with a renewed uncertainty.
This isn't the first time we've previewed Rebirth. You may recall we went hands-on last September as we explored Mt.Nibel and Junon's surroundings. This time, we played Square Enix's latest preview build for roughly three hours, and because it featured the Mt.Nibel segment once again, we're mostly focusing on what's new — our first look at the reimagined Kalm and its nearby grasslands.
For anyone unfamiliar with the original Final Fantasy 7, Kalm is a fitting location to start Rebirth — Mt.Nibel flashback sequence aside — as it's the first town Cloud Strife and his friends reach after escaping Midgar. Compared to that dystopian Shinra-led steely metropolis we spent all of Remake in, Kalm's vibrant scenery offers a pleasing contrast that's highly appealing, and nicely symbolises the group's new chapter.
Much like Remake's Midgar, Rebirth significantly expands Kalm by giving this once-minor mining village plenty of additional activities. That creates an interesting introduction to Rebirth's new features, the most prominent being Queen's Blood, a deck-building card minigame. Reminiscent of Gwent in The Witcher 3, you can challenge people to win new cards and unlock different opponents across the game's world.
Queen's Blood involves strengthening your power across three lanes, placing down cards with different power levels that add to your lane score. Every card shows position tiles in the middle where you can place further cards, though you can only draw cards that are equal to or higher than their rank, indicated by a pawn symbol. You're only awarded points if your final lane score beats your opponent's. While we needed several tries to understand the basic rules, it's an entertaining minigame and we enjoyed challenging people across Kalm.
Elsewhere, party members were all dotted around the town. Like before, your conversation choices affect Aerith, Tifa, and Barret's affection for Cloud, though it's too early to know what this will bring; perhaps something special at the Gold Saucer? Regardless, we're keen to see where this leads, and what's more intriguing is how character relationships are reflected in battle. While it's not revolutionary, Rebirth does a good job of adding to Remake's combat through Synergy Skills.
These abilities let two specific party members team up for some appealing skills, ranging from offensive moves like Tifa's Synchro Cyclone for an aerial attack, to Barrett's Iron Defense. They're are unlocked by spending skill points to augment 'Folios', and it would be more accurate to call this a skill core rather than a skill tree. More Synergy Skills options unlock when your party level increases, and that's achieved by tackling challenges or helping people. We also briefly played as Red XIII in combat, who's become one of the more interesting combatants thanks to his unique vengeance meter; it charges through blocking incoming blows, offering useful speed and attack buffs.
Our biggest concern is whether Rebirth's crammed open areas will provide a meaningful story expansion, or simply feel like padding. Between visiting the Chocobo Farm, clearing timed fiend quests, activating towers, and scanning crystals to obtain regional data for Chadley — plus an ill-fated encounter with Midgardsormr — there's so much to do. Though we certainly tried, we didn't have nearly enough time to see everything the Grasslands offered, so any definitive judgments would be premature.
Still, Rebirth's seamless open world is visually impressive on PS5, and reaching the Grasslands reminded us of visiting Rosaria in Final Fantasy 16. We've come away from this preview even more excited to continue Cloud's story, and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth seems to be building upon Remake's foundations well. So far, it's looking like a strong sequel.
How are you feeling about Final Fantasy 7 Remake as we creep closer to release? What are your hopes and dreams for this highly anticipated sequel? Start scraping the rust off that buster sword and join our party in the comments section below.