Review — Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

A homecoming for fans new and old

Overview

Developer Square Enix
Publisher Square Enix
Genre JRPG
Platforms PS5
Release Date 2/29/2024

I had the tremendous opportunity to play Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth in advance for this review. It’s a chance I have not taken lightly, and it is my goal to give completely honest and unbiased impressions. For ease of reading, throughout this review, I will refer to the first installment simply as “Remake,” and this one as “Rebirth.”

Nearly a full decade ago, Square Enix announced the Final Fantasy VII Remake project. They released the first installment in April 2020, to much praise as well as much criticism. Now, four years later, we have installment number two: Rebirth.

Content Guide

Violence: Most of the action is as stylized as the previous installment, with some blood shown during the course of battles. However, this one is a bit more violent than Remake, with occasional blood shown in cutscenes. It’s not gory, and the blood isn’t over-the-top.  Near the beginning, there is an implied decapitation.

Language: S*** and its derivatives, A** and its derivatives, D***, G**D***, H***,  B*****d, and Bi*** are all used often. There are also some instances of D**k and Pr**k.

Sexual Content: Many characters, both male and female, wear revealing clothing. There is a chapter that takes place on the beach, and as such, most characters are wearing swimsuits.

A man in uniform

Spiritual content: the summons are described as deities of certain regions in the world. Fate (often personified as cloaked figures) and predestination play major roles in the story. In the world of Final Fantasy VII, something called the Lifestream is the source of life. All living beings return to the Lifestream when they die, and go on to create new life. Materia is the crystallized form of mako energy, which comes from the Lifestream, and allows the wielder to use magic. An ancient race of people are said to commune with the planet and shape nature.

Smoking/Alcohol: Some characters drink alcohol and smoke. Players can have Cloud drink.

Find a bird that looks at you the way this chocobo looks at Cloud

Review

Where do I begin? This game is massive; there are so many things I can talk about, and many more that I can’t even begin to cover. That said, I’ll start with the story. Given that it’s the topic I can talk about the least in order to avoid spoilers, it will be the easiest.

It all starts soon after the ending of Remake’s Yuffie-focused DLC Episode: INTERmission. INTERmission bridges the gap between the two games, and I highly recommend players go through it before playing Rebirth. We begin in Kalm, with Cloud telling what happened five years prior in Nibelheim. That section is far more developed and much longer than the demo I played, and it ends in the same place as the original game.

Is there a more iconic shot than this?

From there, we get to see Kalm as a full city. It’s beautiful, full of life, and is a lovely place to start the present-day story. The first half hour or so is just there, doing the side quests and getting familiar with several of the mechanics, such as upgrades. The real fun starts once our business is done and we step out into the open world.

“Did Sephiroth… do this?”

Rather than discuss individual story beats, I’ll go with a few broad strokes. It’s no secret that Square Enix is making a lot of changes with this remake compilation. Some of them are minor, and several things are much more significant.

Even though the original Final Fantasy VII is one of my all time favorite games, I’m not a strict purist about it. I’m open to changes as long as they serve the story. Thankfully, I believe the changes, both big and small, do exactly that. It’s fascinating to watch how the old and new elements interact and where they lead. Sometimes it’s to the same result as the original, and sometimes it’s to a very different one. I’m looking forward to see how the story will go in Part Three.

Looking fabulous as ever

Did I mention this game is massive? The world map rivals Ghost of Tsushima in size. There are an incredible number of things to do and places to find and explore. For example, activating remnawave towers clears the fog on the world map, and points of interest pop up. Among them are sanctuaries that are linked to specific summons. Once you visit and interact with the objects inside, the battle to obtain that summon becomes optionally easier. You can still fight the summon at full strength, but it’s not required if you prefer an easier match. I tried fighting Titan once early on before finding a sanctuary, and he squashed me.

As you can see, I haven’t explored this region much

As you continue to explore, you’ll come across baby chocobos that will lead you to a broken-down Chocobo Stop. Repairing it allows you to fast travel to that location, and grants golden plumes, which are currency to buy gear for your chocobos. The most important thing, though, is that you can then pet the baby chocobos.

They have no right being this adorable

The character development is better in Rebirth than it was in Remake. After Remake, I of course liked Cloud and Tifa. Aerith was all right, but Barrett was so over-the-top that I just didn’t feel any connection to him. Then Red XIII wasn’t really in the game enough for me to have much of an opinion. Having played the original, I knew these characters. But I approached them as if they were new, and this was the takeaway.

But in Rebirth, they’re all much better. We spend a lot more time with them both as a group and individually. Cloud has more personality than any rendition of him since the original. Let’s face it, no version of Cloud after 1997 would be caught dead saying things like, “let’s mosey” or “no, I shan’t,” as he did in the original. Granted, this Cloud doesn’t always have quite that much personality, but he is close. As much as I love and miss Steve Burton as Cloud, I think Cody Christian is doing a stellar job.

There it is!

As for the other characters, they’re all more likable, without exception. I felt more like I could relate to each of them on one level or another. Even as a lifelong Aerith-hater, I have to admit I like her in this. Barret has calmed down, too, and we see more sides to both him and Red XIII, and that really helps with character development.

One criticism about Remake that I resonated with was that there was a lack of “quiet moments” between characters. I’m happy to report that that is not as much of a problem in Rebirth. While I still would have preferred even more, I really can’t complain about how many there are. Those scenes range from charming to humorous to beautiful. It’s not a constant barrage of explosions and action scenes.

Her name alone makes her my favorite Turk

Onward to side content. There are noticeboards in major cities that you can visit to accept side quests. If you prefer, you can find the person in town and talk to them to start it, or you can cut the chatter and accept it from the noticeboard. Some places have more quests than others, and some are only unlocked after completing a chapter.

Other side quests involve a certain researcher from Remake. He tasks you with finding the remnawave towers and sanctuaries, as well as a few other things. He still develops equipment and materia, including summons. What was unclear in Remake but clear in Rebirth, is that fighting the summon digitally produces the data he needs in order to perfect the materia to summon the real deal.

Joshua? Is that you?

There are also several minigames. Two of my favorites are in Costa Del Sol, and answer the question, “what if this game was a different genre?” which (though no one asked) is surprisingly well done. Scattered throughout the world are pianos and sheet music. Playing the song on the sheet turns is challenging, but a lot of fun. Plus, it’s a fully functioning piano, and you can play anything freestyle.

One of the more challenging minigames is Queen’s Blood. It’s a complex card game that plays a major role in one of the chapters. It’s no Triple Triad, but it is fun.

There’s a learning curve, but it’s fun

The combat is tighter than in Remake. The synergy mechanic introduced in INTERmission is more fully developed here, and is a great help. You can’t just use them whenever, though. You have to use ATB commands for both characters involved in the attack a certain number of times first. For example, an attack involving Cloud and Yuffie may require you to use four ATB commands each, which includes using the Assess materia or items. Other synergies between other characters may only require three.

There are three difficulties for the game: Easy, Normal, and Dynamic. The first two are self-explanatory. Dynamic scales the enemies to meet your level and strength. So, every new area is going to be just as much of a challenge as the last. You can also switch between all three levels at will, so long as you are outside of battle.

The last thing his enemies ever see

For most of the game, you can choose who is in your party. Every now and then, it will lock the selection, but that’s typically for story purposes. Cloud, naturally, is cemented in there. You can’t run around Gaia as someone else and fight without him. But you can choose who accompanies him. My preferred party at the beginning was Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII. Once she joined my party, Yuffie became a mainstay, kicking out poor Red XIII.

One of the more interesting elements is that even characters not in your party can fight. Many times I would be fighting something with my primary three, and from the background I could hear Barrett and Aerith joining in and I could see their attacks land. So, while you only control three people, you basically have the whole team fighting.

As part of the background team, there is a feature called a “Backline Command.” When you’re on the verge of a game over, you can utilize a backline command once per battle. It lets you perform a synergy attack with one of the non-party characters in a last ditch effort to win the battle before the last party member falls. It’s a great help, and while it’s not hidden, it’s also not in your face. I actually forgot about it for most of the game, even though it says when it’s available above the command menu. So, if you like taking the extra difficult route, you can refrain from using it at all.

A Cloud + Tifa synergy attack

On top of it all, we have the character upgrade progression. At bookstores in towns, and at standing stones near benches, you can spend the AP you’ve earned in battle to upgrade each character. Doing so impacts their HP, MP, abilities, and synergy attacks. It’s very different from Remake’s upgrade system, and is a bit more nuanced and strategic.

The materia works the same as in Remake. Mastering them won’t produce new ones, but that’s ultimately unnecessary anyway. You can buy most of them again, and you can find in the world the ones you can’t buy. Summons are a bit more consistent in this as well. Staggering strong enemies tends to trigger the ability to call the equipped summon, but weaker enemies won’t. And, of course, it’s still one summon per battle.

Feels good to be president of the world

Now, I do have complaints, but only two, and one is just more of a minor annoyance. The bigger complaint is a weird difficulty spike during one particular battle. I played through Rebirth on dynamic mode, so every part of the game was consistently a challenge. I scraped by a lot of the time in boss fights, which made things more exciting.

But then there was one boss that was overly difficult. The combination of attacks, status effects, and other problems suddenly made it much harder than it should have been. I ended up lowering the difficulty for that battle just so I could get past it, then switched back to dynamic. I didn’t have any other issues with the difficulty before or after, so I don’t understand why that one battle was so much worse.

How do you say “no” to this face?

The minor annoyance was that the graphical quality was inconsistent. I played on Performance Mode, because in my experience with other games, the higher framerate makes the graphics look better than Graphics Mode. The lower framerate in Graphics Mode is so jarring that I can’t tell how good it looks.

That said, in Rebirth, the graphics on Performance Mode sometimes looked spectacular, while other times they were iffy. Cutscenes look incredible, and the environments are often just as beautiful. But every now and then it looked a little blurry. It wasn’t bad enough or consistent enough to lessen my experience, but some players may be more bothered by it. [Editor’s Note: A patch to improve graphics was distributed before the worldwide launch, but after David played the campaign.]

I have no idea what I’m doing

One Last Thought

It’s going to be difficult to go back to Remake after this. In comparison, Remake feels very…lacking. Seeing everything the developers managed to stuff into Rebirth makes it feel like Remake had a lot of fluff. I enjoyed Remake, to be sure, but now I just can’t imagine going back to it any time soon. Rebirth feels more like the game fans expected and wanted Remake to be. In every way I can think of, Rebirth is superior to Remake. I’m both excited and nervous for Part Three. Making that one better than Rebirth is a tall order.

Who knew a cannon could look so majestic?

Conclusion

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth is a masterpiece. The story was better than I expected, and it moved me to tears several times. It covers a lot of ground without feeling rushed and without overstaying its welcome. I did only some of the side content, choosing to focus primarily on the story, and I still finished in just shy of fifty hours. Yet I’m still sad that it’s over. Is it my favorite game ever? No. But it came very close to it.

Admittedly, some of my enjoyment may have been influenced by nostalgia. But if that’s the case, it could only help so much. For me, nostalgia tends to work against remakes of games I love. So, my love for Rebirth is primarily because I really thought it was that great. Ultimately, whether one agrees or disagrees with the changes to the story, I think this is the best way to experience it.

On our way

The Bottom Line

 

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth is the definitive way to experience this story.

 

10

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David Koury

I'm a writer and aspiring fashion designer residing in the wasteland called Nevada. Also, I'm trying to juggle learning both Korean and Japanese.

3 Comments

  1. Matt on March 12, 2024 at 1:28 pm

    Are the swimsuit scenes skipable?

    • Matt on March 14, 2024 at 8:13 am

      *skippable

    • David Koury on March 19, 2024 at 9:52 pm

      They are not, as they are primary part of a story chapter. However, there are options that provide a little more covering than standard two-piece swimsuits.

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