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Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

Written by Eric Hauter on 2/22/2024 for PS5  
More On: Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

There are no story spoilers in the below review, beyond Chapter 1 of Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth.

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth wastes no time getting started with a bang.

The stage has been set. The core team has been assembled. The villains have been revealed. The preliminaries are out of the way. And now it’s time for Square Enix to kick open the door and allow its players to leave the turgid confines of the Midgar slums and venture forth into the fresh air. Accompanied by a group of long-time friends, players set out into a mako-filled world of adventure.

Coming almost four years after the release of Final Fantasy VII: Remake, Rebirth does indeed feel like a fresh new start. Every constriction I was chafing against in the previous game has been removed. In the place of linear paths through junk-filled sewers, I find open plains, exploration, and freedom. Instead of long, lore-filled cut scenes, Rebirth delivers tight, gripping story moments. And if you want to wander through the fresh air of the open regions for hours on end, Rebirth gets out of your way and allows players that independence.

Oh sure, there is still a dictated path through Rebirth’s world, just as there was through the original Final Fantasy VII. It’s not like you can just make a beeline for Gold Saucer at the outset of the game. This isn’t Skyrim. We’re being told a story here. But along the way, there are hours – no, days – of time given to the player to stretch their legs. Take your time. Look around. Find some goodies. Share a joke with the team. Play a game or two. Enjoy yourself, kid.

Over the course of playing Rebirth, the structure of the game is revealed. Explore a town. Play some Queen’s Blood. Set out into the wild in one of the game’s open zones. Reveal everything there is to find by exploring the zone’s towers. Go do all that stuff. Fight a big boss. Go through a transitional chapter to shuttle the team to the next town. Fight another big boss. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The corners of Rebirth can be easily identified. But after the 50-hour corridor that was FF VII Remake, those corners are far enough apart that the entire experience feels loose and amazing.

If I had to boil down the feeling I get from Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth to one word, that word would be “confident”. After teetering a little bit through Remake, it feels like the team that made Rebirth has its feet planted steadily on the ground. The characters, the dialogue, the cut-scenes, the action, the battle system, all of this is delivered with the assurance of a team that knows that this game is going to knock your socks off.

It is a great pleasure to play a Final Fantasy game that builds and refines upon what came before it instead of trying to reinvent the wheel like the mainline titles do. Being able to pick up the controller and think “Oh yeah, I remember how this combat system works” allows players to slip into this game like slipping into a pair of favorite sneakers. Everything feels immediately familiar, and somehow, even better than it did last time around. Refinements have been made, but they are subliminal enough that you won’t find yourself dwelling on how much better the game feels; you’ll just accept it and move on.

Rebirth picks right up where Remake left off. The team is gathered in an Inn in Kalm, a small town outside of Midgar, and Cloud is attempting to give some context about Sephiroth to the rest of the team. Most people reading this review will likely have already experienced this part of the game as part of the Rebirth demo – but trust me when I say, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Rebirth covers the massive middle portion of Final Fantasy VII, everything from Nibelheim to the Gold Saucer, Cosmo Canyon and beyond. I’m purposely avoiding story spoilers, but fans of the original title should remember some of the beats that take place here – though there are some expansions and differences, of course. Cloud and the gang are on the trail of Sephiroth, with evil megacorp Shinra still a very active player on the field. In fact, Shinra’s motivations are even murkier this time around than they were in Remake, with the new young president Rufus Shinra cutting deals and keeping his cards very close to his chest.

Also of particular interest this time around are the Turks, in smaller roles than last time, but still enjoyable. Poor beleaguered Rude is now saddled with enthusiastic newcome Elena, who can’t seem to help but unleash a steady stream of verbal commentary on their situation, alternating between bitter complaints and cutting jokes. As with Remake, I always perk up when the Turks show up, knowing that they will offer some solid entertainment.

While the presence of the Turks has been curtailed a bit, Chadley the Materia bot has risen in stature to the point where he is almost omnipresent. Posted up in every town and settlement on the map, Chadley is your guide and guru throughout Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth. In a massively expanded role, Chadley is the one responsible for assigning and tracking waypoints on the map in the open regions, which help gain the player insight into the world, the cultures living in it, and the monsters that stalk the land.

If I have one nitpick about FF VII: Rebirth, it’s that the Chadley missions add a bit too much structure to your experience. As the player climbs each region’s “Remnawave” towers, they reveal points of interest on the map. Chadley chimes in immediately after completing each of these points, giving the player an exact count of how many more there are to find in each region. This leaves exploration feeling somewhat mechanical – and eventually rote, as each region has many experiences that are very similar to one another. As opposed to wandering the land, discovering cool new stuff, you are checking items off a list.

However, these “World Intel” missions should not be confused with the game’s stellar optional side quests, many of which are rich, full experiences that add quite a lot to story, and gain the player valuable loot and experience points. And scattered among Chadley’s World Intel missions are “Phenomenon Intel” missions, which are wildly entertaining side diversions that touch on fun parts of the series’ past. These are well worth seeking out.

The primary cast is even stronger this time around. With 50-60 hours already in the bank with these characters (and all the baggage we are collectively carrying from other FF VII games and spin-offs), they feel like old friends. The group dynamics on display are deeply entertaining and equally emotionally impactful. The team chatters to themselves as the player explores, and many of these asides are extremely entertaining while also serving to flesh out the characters even further.

The interplay between Tifa and Aerith is always heartwarming and can be laugh-out-loud funny when they start bagging on Cloud. Barrett shows a deeper humanity than in the first game, becoming even more of a lovable weirdo. Speaking of lovable weirdos, Yuffie is fantastically amusing when she finally joins up with the troop (along with being one of the most amazingly powerful party members in combat). And Red XIII is a fantastic foil for the rest of the gang, dropping droll one-liners and providing a level head when one is needed. And yes, Cait Sith shows up halfway through the game and is shockingly likable. I was fully expecting annoyance, and instead I got a lot of chuckles and was left with a general feeling of warmth towards the character.

And then there is Cloud, the stoic, headache-y primary protagonist. He is exactly what he needs to be in this game, strong, determined, and deeply confused. FF VII: Rebirth offers some new relationship mechanics, which almost feel as though they were lifted from a Telltale game. By completing certain quests, or giving particular responses in conversations, Cloud can either strengthen or damage his relationships with the other team members. I tried going both ways, and was surprised to find that no matter what I picked, every option seemed to be in character for this complex, moody hero.

The combat system is largely the same as in FF VII: Remake (thank the lord), with a few upgrades. Players are still able to quickly switch between characters on their team of three, and toggle abilities, spells, and items with a tap of the Cross button, which slows time to a crawl and allows a bit of breathing room to strategize.

The major new addition to this are the new Synergy powers, flashy new team-up abilities that trigger with approximately the same frequency as limit breaks. Though these display some stellar animations and are somewhat beneficial in practice, I did find that many of the various team-ups ended up having similar effects. For example, there are Synergy powers for just about every combo of any two characters you could name that will increase your limit bar, or offer a temporary third AP section to fill and use. These are useful, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more variety.

Not to fear, though, as there is still a ton of variety in the way you can play each of the different characters. It’s a testament to the developers on the combat team that each of these characters feels so powerful that they are indispensable to the team. By the time you have everyone unlocked, it’s tougher than ever to decide who you want on your team.

I experimented with everyone pretty extensively, before finally settling on a primary team made up of Cloud, Yuffie, and Aerith. Cloud, just because he is Cloud, and Aerith primarily for her ranged attacks and healing abilities (her Pray ability is indispensable).

But Yuffie is so, so powerful that she makes battles almost feel unfair, especially after you unlock her “Doppleganger” ability. You can chuck her weapon into the fray - augmented with an elemental boost - and watch it just rip enemies to shreds, all while standing back and lobbing even more attacks into the mix. And then activate Doppleganger and double that. I shocked myself with how much I loved using her, particularly after my Tifa obsession in the previous title. On the few occasion the game dictated my team and didn’t include Yuffie, I was howling at the screen in dismay.

Of course, Final Fantasy VII would not be Final Fantasy VII without a ton of minigames. A ton of original minigames have been recreated here, and a bunch of new ones have been added, ranging from strategic to completely goofy. Each of these has been carefully balanced to allow players to pass them and move on if they wish, but with enough hooks and difficulty to get under the skin of obsessives like me that can’t resist trying to be the best at everything. Prepare for hours spent, and thousands of curse words uttered.

I also spent way, way too much time dorking around with Queen’s Blood, the new collectable card game embedded throughout the experience (pro tip: don’t sleep on Queen’s Blood; you’re gonna need all those cards). Queen’s Blood is a hoot, and far more puzzle-gamey than I initially expected. Going into each match, you don’t really know what your opponent is holding, so it’s more a matter of figuring out a unique strategy to beat each specific opponent than coming up with an overall strategy. There are a ton of cards to experiment with, and the game gives you a lot of latitude to start matches over (and over and over) when things aren’t going your way.

Like the rest of Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth, Queen’s Blood is polished to a shiny gleam. The game looks great, sounds great, and plays great. The story is clear and compelling, the action and combat are great fun, and the world is expansive and fascinating. Rebirth will be in Game of the Year conversations in ten months – it’s good enough that people won’t forget it by then. My enthusiasm for this Remake series is fully restored, and my anticipation for the next edition is now through the roof. I can’t wait for Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth to come out so everyone can play it, and we can all talk about it all year long.

With the core team assembled, Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth feels like embarking on a fantastic adventure with a gang of your best friends. More open, action-packed, and surprisingly funny, Rebirth gives players days of content and the freedom to pursue it, while still telling a wonderful and cohesive story. Every aspect of Remake has been examined, refined, and improved. This is the franchise's Empire Strikes Back, in all the best ways.

Rating: 9.5 Exquisite

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS VR2, Quest 3, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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