From Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth to Mortal Kombat 1 – nostalgia wins at Summer Game Fest 2023

Tifa and Cloud fight back-to-back in screenshot from Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth
(Image credit: Square Enix)

The Summer Game Fest 2023 showcase has been and gone with a flurry of new game reveals, never-before-seen footage, release date announcements, and some typically awkward on-stage banter. Granted, the event's dedicated Play Days offshoot is still to come (as is the Xbox Games Showcase, Starfield Direct, and Ubisoft Forward among others), but what was once the E3 2023 schedule has now kicked off in earnest. 

Today's showing, of course, follows Sony's recent preemptive PlayStation Showcase, but with everything from Fortnite to Spider-Man 2, Baldur's Gate 3, and Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth on stage today, Geoff Keighley's latest slice of SGF cast a similarly wide-reaching net. You should check out our rundown of all the games announced at Summer Game Fest for the full picture, but from the outset it was clear that playing up and doubling down on nostalgia was a key part of the show that's destined to replace E3 long-term.

Back to the future

Mortal Kombat 1

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Mortal Kombat 1

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

New games for 2023 and beyond to add to your wishlist

For starters, the game that cut the ribbon on proceedings was the most deferential of throwbacks. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is a hyper-stylized 2.5D nod to the games of old – a side-scrolling hack-and-slasher with flavors of Metroidvania, big bosses, and even bigger environmental hazards. My first taste of the enduring Ubisoft series came via Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame on the Atari ST in 1993, and The Lost Crown is conjuring similar vibes 30 years later. 

Next up was our first proper look at Mortal Kombat 1, a reboot of the longstanding beat-'em series that aims to take the household name in an entirely new direction. It's said to the point of cliché that reworkings of this nature have scope to capture new audiences while retaining old ones, but it couldn't be truer here – just the sight of Liu Kang locking horns with Scorpion while the latter cast his iconic hook-and-pull move sent shivers down my spine. Unless I missed it myself, all that was missing here was the yellow-and-black ninja's arch "get over here" catchphrase, but perhaps that'll be present in the game's full release. 

A few games on stage later, and Sonic the Hedgehog framed the next shot of nostalgia with Sonic Superstars. In something that looked like the next evolution of Headcannon's Sonic Mania – it having evolved the OG 8- and 16-bit platformers two decades on back in 2017 – we saw Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy pinballing around garish worlds that seemed both new and familiar. We saw two bonus levels that echoed those of Sonic 1 and Sonic 3 respectively, and then we saw some entirely new abilities and maneuvers, again underlining that overarching universal desire to attach new and existing audiences alike.

Alan Wake 2

(Image credit: Remedy)

"And then came the coup de grace of Summer Game Fest's reflective revelry: Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth."

As if we weren't already feeling the nostalgia love by this point, SGF 2023 then rolled into Alan Wake 2. The sequel to the 2010 original comes 13 years later, and while taking a distinctly different approach to its forerunner, it is doing one hell of a Resident Evil impression in the process. With some staple survival horror scares and delights in tow – not least an RE4 famous over-the-shoulder camera and, quite clearly, some pretty shameless jump scares – it feels like Alan Wake 2 is paying as much respect to the past as it is the future. 

And then came the coup de grace of Summer Game Fest's reflective revelry: Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. The hotly anticipated second part of Square Enix's planned three-part FF7 revival was rumored to show face at SGF beforehand, and it wound up closing the showcase with aplomb. Here, the crew were shown catching on to the fact that protagonist Cloud Strife might not be telling the whole truth with regards to his past, and the other slightly troubling fact that arch bad guy Sephiroth might still be knocking around. With a look at some as yet unseen remade characters, and some reworked epic battles (that was Jenova, right?), it all looked pretty damn wonderful – doubly so, I'd say, for anyone who was around the first time just over a quarter of a century ago. 

But even if you weren't, Summer Game Fest 2023 was varied enough to cater to all tastes. It didn't pack in as many exclusives as I thought it might beforehand (Elden Ring DLC and Silksong – pass the clown make-up, yeah?), but the nostalgia value alone has left me excited for what's heading our way in the coming weeks and months.

Keep your eyes on our E3 2023 schedule for everything coming at you in the coming days

Joe Donnelly

Joe Donnelly is a sports editor from Glasgow and former features editor at GamesRadar+. A mental health advocate, Joe has written about video games and mental health for The Guardian, New Statesman, VICE, PC Gamer and many more, and believes the interactive nature of video games makes them uniquely placed to educate and inform. His book Checkpoint considers the complex intersections of video games and mental health, and was shortlisted for Scotland's National Book of the Year for non-fiction in 2021. As familiar with the streets of Los Santos as he is the west of Scotland, Joe can often be found living his best and worst lives in GTA Online and its PC role-playing scene.