In an era where everything feels exhaustingly meta Square Enix’s  Final Fantasy VII Rebirth takes a refreshing approach. I say this after having spent over 200 hours this past month playing it, having accomplished everything in the game. It’s the best video game I’ve ever played, mostly because it has a mini game sampling of so many other fun games, though more importantly, because of my Millennial video game nostalgia of the late 90s. This is the game I’ve always wanted – a fully immersive Final Fantasy VII that I find genuine joy in playing. Not just out of work. Not just out of covering or following the latest hits. This is a game built on happy and oftentimes campy moments and fighting an obvious evil. 

A review at this point doesn’t do justice to what I and everyone else have already said regarding what this game means to the industry. As for myself, I’m not alone when I say that I see this game as a reflection of how we feel about video games. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is not only a good experience but one that I think is necessary for this moment in time in our world. When everything feels so self-referential, META or IP driven in terms of story. Fantasy VII Rebirth might be based on Square Enix’s most famous IP but it also evolves with our times and more importantly… addresses concernable loss. This, as someone who is approaching middle age, is an experience I feel is very relatable. I’ve seen my share of friends die too the past five years.

Cloud staring up at the tiny bronco in final fantasy 7 rebirth

This is where I begin this review by stressing the importance of its message. The notion of saving our planet from dooming itself with the pollution driven by corporate greed. It’s a lesson I feel is more relevant now than ever. This exploration of stopping a great evil (Sephiroth/Jenova) created from the byproducts that were destroying our planet in the first place. How the game addresses this is by seeing not just our heroes, but the very core of every character in the game itself take action. People who are willing to rally to make a life change. 

Much of this theme is explored with the game’s brilliant writing featuring character arcs of quite literally everyone in the game since FF7 Remake, including every NPC, met since the beginning. It’s shocking how many stories there are that get a character arc and there’s so much growth and depth, from Shinra’s middle manager to Avalanche’s Yuffie DLC team members. All of whom, are on their respective quests that Cloud and friends help with to grow and change.

As for the main cast… there are a lot of characters to juggle by the end of it, though most get an arc with a backstory respective to their hometowns. How these journeys unfold is a beautiful spectacle of powerful emotions shaping even more powerful convictions – sort of the origins of love and loss between every character. With Cloud and Tifa, that is their Nibelheim origins and tragic first meetings with Sephiroth. Aerith is, of course, facing her ancient destiny.

Many of these character journeys tie into the exploration of the wider world in the quest to stop Sephiroth. Though what’s neat, is the design of each town and landscape and how it addresses the modernity and technological prowess of our evolving times, but also, corrupts the environment around them. Whether this be revealed in the Cetra’s ancient history or moments of metaphoric tragedy like the loveless play, these scenes in Rebirth are the moments that take your breath away, and there are so many of them in this game. 

Jessie and several dancers performing at Loveless, the play with a mechanical city set piece behind them in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

Still, the story isn’t without its confusing moments. Complaints about the ending are justified as alternate realities/multiverse stories confuse the audience in an era of ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’. This does leave a lot open to interpretation regarding the final chapter, though it does give the teams a lot to work with for the final installment.

Adding to this is that, just like in the original, Cloud is losing his mind, so his unreliable Narrator approach makes the game’s ending even more confusing. Especially, regarding an unexplained big rift in the sky. I’m only realizing now, that just like the original game, this might be Meteor in itself – albeit Rebirth’s newer take on that impending threat. 

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth also takes liberties with Nibelheim’s story along with Cloud and Zack’s role in it which is open-ended as to how or why. Especially, when we learn of who’s still alive and who’s now departed and reentered the lifestream by this game’s ending. The biggest question regarding this is what happens with Aerith? Without spoilers, the game’s approach leaves audiences with a glimmer of hope, but also, utter confusion. 

That said, I do think the game warrants multiple playthroughs due to so much of its world-building. You can see how things had built up from the beginning along with hints you’ll only understand once you know the game’s larger vision of where it’s going. Which will surprise audiences on a second run (there are a lot of reveals in later chapters hinted at earlier ones you might have not caught).

Aerith and Cloud pose for a photograph with several pose options listed in blew at bottom left

As for gameplay, the game is simply beautiful. The soft tones and brilliant lighting highlight the epicness of the adventure. graphics mode is better than performance, which is something I don’t say that often. I prefer games in 60 FPS given the smoother action sequences though this one felt slightly messier for performance mode because the game still uses Unreal Engine 4, which was the standard game engine from the last generation. Graphics over performance were better, especially given the plentiful cinematic cut scenes.

There were also several balances created for the game. Tifa’s quick stagger and combo everything approach was scaled and battle mechanics have changed to encourage a lot more strategy involving every character within the party. With hard mode and some of the end-game challenges with Chadley’s battle simulator, the battles have become that much harder, providing a challenge that finds you mixing the best combos of materia and abilities. 

The combat system mixes the usage of both abilities and spells to generate a synched collaborative attack points, which when spent, add temporary extra bonuses like extra ATB, unlimited MP, longer stagger, and better limit breaks. Atop of this, there are just loads of different strategies on how to build your team, especially once you unlock more weapons and items.

Tifa and Aerith sitting around on the Tiny Bronco in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

One of the game’s major improvements is traversing through the new world map. It’s loaded with monsters, side quests, optional boss fights, and unlockables, and as it stands, it’s harder to get from one end to another without a Chocobo or means of transportation. On top of this, the map scales to the environment. You can see things like Kalm in the backdrop of the Grasslands or Junon and its very large Mako cannon at various points in the Ocean itself.

Finally, the last addition to gameplay has been item transmutation which adds a whole level of crafting and collection fun. Transmutation is a way of crafting and upgrading equipable items and potions based on loose materials found in the world environment. It’s also just a fun way that engage resource collecting in the world – which if you’re playing for the first time, often leads to items or areas of interest.

Barrett, Cloud, and Tifa as pixels in final fantasy 7 rebirth's fort condor

The game is also littered with cute Easter Eggs, from dialogue with NPCs to cute little details such as Chicobos resting with you at a Chocobo stop. Truly, the game is a smorgasbord of details in one of the greatest achievements in video game design I’ve ever seen.

Perhaps the best feature has been the sound in this game, as the extensive voice cast does a stellar job of making us empathetic with the characters. There are even cameos from prolific characters such as Alejandra Reynoso (Sypha, from Castlevania) and Earl Baylon (Jonah from Tomb Raider), all of which are underscored by music composed by Mitsuto Suzuki and Masashi Hamauzu, and based on scores by Final Fantasy’s signature composer Nobuo Uematsu. 

Queen's blood match in final fantasy 7 rebirth

Now, this is a game all about sidequests, from the Gold Saucer to the game’s numerous across the world mini games such as Chocobo treasure hunting and Queen’s Blood. Minigames take up a lot of the player’s time as its a callback to mini games and actually, quite a lot of video games across history. 

For instance, the musical piano playing game is just like old-school rhythm games of DDR. Run Wild is just Rocket League, and even Queen’s Blood, features a story very similar to a popular children’s card game: YuGiOh, with its own version of the Pharaoh/Queen.

Odin in final fantasy 7 Rebirth

The mini games are not without its problems. Chocobo flying is tedious in its locked-in camera and Chadley’s brutal challenges, felt excessive. Some of the summon bosses (looking at you Odin) felt more like punishment than it did a good use of the combat system, all in trying to create a gameplay style similar to compete with a Souls-lite or Elden Ring. 

As a platinum chaser, I am also not having fun with the brutal and legendary challenges. These battles were harder than Sephiroth and unforgivingly punishable over a single mistake. The endgame grind withstanding, I do think absolutely this is a near-perfect video game – rife with replayability. I just wish it didn’t feel like punishment to try and obtain everything it has to offer.

Cloud winning first place in a race with a blue Chocobo in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

Overall, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is flawless lesson on how to make a fun single-player adventure world game with an excellent story. What’s incredible, is its loyalty to the story and to its message about saving a dying planet – shared by everyone. I genuinely wish every single gamer would get the chance to play this game, as I do think it holds up to its inspired original, widely considered one of the greatest games of all time.

4 COMMENTS

  1. As someone who rarely has the time to finish any kind of game at my age, I spent the entire month of March devouring Rebirth.

    I haven’t experienced this kind of joy of allowing a game to take all of my spare time in practically a decade. And it’s not like I haven’t played most, if not all, of the games you’d think about when considering that time frame.

    Rebirth really is just that good. I guess hating on it is popular right now, though? It’s hard to imagine how the second game in a remake trilogy of an almost 30 year old game could possibly make such a definitive statement on how to craft a gaming classic, but here we are.

    The haters will come and go, like they always do, but FFVII Rebirth will dominate how to approach several aspects of direction and design for years to come.

  2. I play and have played way too many games haha.

    As for loving Rebirth – I’m glad you enjoyed it too. It’s a great game and a genuine letter of appreciation to fans who played the original.

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