After the love-it-or-loathe-it ending of Final Fantasy VII Remake subverted fan expectations for what Square Enix could be planning as it brings Cloud Strife and pals back into the modern era, it was anyone's guess what the publisher might have to show during a recent preview event. Case in point: Sephiroth will team up with Cloud in flashback scenes — as he did in the original game — but the mic drop reveal is he's now playable. During combat, you can make the villain your main and perform all the sort of death-dealing attacks you'd expect from the famous antagonist. It was the highlight of an hour-long demo revealing Final Fantasy VII Rebirth expands its world just as much as it retains the linear corridors of the narrative's first instalment.

The PS5 demo we played was comprised of two different scenarios: one half toured Mt. Nibel as Cloud and Sephiroth investigate a failing Mako Reactor while the other opened up wider exploration around the plains of Junon. Combined, they represent how Square Enix continues its storytelling focus in the Final Fantasy VII universe as well as expanding what's possible when taking a detour from the main path.

Cloud and Sephiroth's journey through Mt. Nibel plays exactly like a scenario from Final Fantasy VII Remake: you follow extremely linear paths to the objective marker, claiming items and objects along the way and completing one-time minigames to progress. One we encountered involved moving about a machine to suck up all the Mako gas in the area. The minigame almost felt like a comedic moment within the restricted confines of the demo (as we don't know what other events came before it), with our mind casting back to the crane puzzles that litter the Collapsed Expressway in the first PS5, PS4 game.

With Tifa — decked out in a fancy cowboy hat — guiding Cloud and Sephiroth up Mt. Nibel, there was little in the way of new thrills. There was only one linear route up and through the mountain, including a few shimmying sections and the odd corridor. Thankfully, the combat system revealed something new to shout about.

Everything you remember from Final Fantasy VII Remake's encounters — from the abilities and the Limit Breaks to the basic slashes and swipes — return in the PS5 follow-up, but now they're complemented by a new set of moves named Synergy Skills. These are new, flashy abilities that allow two party members to team up and perform a powerful attack together. Charged by activating your base powers like elemental spells and Cloud's Triple Slash and Braver, you utilise them fairly often during fights. In terms of power and usage, they sit a step below a Limit Break, allowing you to pump out damage at a pretty rapid rate.

Very useful for applying pressure to an enemy and eventually staggering it, they're useful skills to have for the new Fiend Sightings surrounding the outskirts of Junon. At certain moments throughout the RPG's campaign, you'll be able to explore larger regions and engage in side quests and optional content. This took the form of Fiend Sightings in our demo, with a party of three made up of Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, Barrett, or Red XIII. Spread across a larger map, you can use customisable chocobos to get about and the Fiend Sightings acted as simple combat encounters with a quick set of objectives to complete. These included staggering an enemy and beating them before the on-screen time limit runs out.

They were all pretty basic, but Square Enix said the map's content wasn't complete and there'll be more there to do in the final game. Off the back of completing these quests, you'll earn Regional Data and Intel. As the second half of the demo was only around 25 minutes long, we didn't get to find out what they can be used for.

That's perhaps a reflection of the Final Fantasy VII Rebirth preview as a whole: a grand teaser for what Square Enix has planned for PS5 owners next year, but there wasn't enough meat on the bones for us to form any definitive conclusions. Well, besides the fact you can play as Sephiroth. By giving us a quick taste of its linearity coupled with some more open-ended exploration, the publisher appears to have structured its next PS5 heavyweight around the story and then built upon its PS1 source material where it can. Just like the Midgar of Final Fantasy VII Remake, you'll be spending so much more time in the narrative's most iconic locations, with a lot more to see and do. If that's not a Final Fantasy VII fan's dream, we don't know what is.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is set to release as a PS5 exclusive on 29th February 2024. Are you excited to return to the world that Square Enix began to remake in 2020? Share your excitement in the comments below.