Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth review: Modern open world, soul of 1997

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: the original Final Fantasy VII was too short. I’ve played the classic RPG, which spans three discs and spans over 30 hours, several times and always thought I understood most of it. And yet I now realize that several elements of the complex plot actually escaped me. So here I am, a few decades later, and I finally understand (most of) what the heck is going on – and it’s because Final Fantasy VII Rebirth.

It is the sequel to 2020 Final Fantasy VII Remake, and the second installment in a planned trilogy that reimagines and expands on the 1997 original. It’s a game that introduces a massive open world to the franchise and fleshes out some key plot points and moments while adding entirely new elements to the experience. Not every addition is welcome – there’s certainly some filler here – but Rebirth fills the middle of FF7‘s story in a way that makes it deeper and easier to understand.

Remake ended at a crucial point in the FF7 story. Our team of heroes, led by the mercenary Cloud Strife, had just left the cyberpunk megacity of Midgar to track down the villain Sephiroth in the big wide world. There’s quite a few things going on here, but crucially a company called Shinra has been siphoning off a substance called Mako, which is a handy source of electricity that also happens to be killing the planet. Cloud and friends want to prevent this from happening. So does Sephiroth, but his apocalyptic vision will be good for the planet and very bad for humanity. Rebirth follows the crew as they try to fight both villains and, you know, save the world.

The most obvious change in this game is how big it is. In the original FF7there was a clear moment where players left Midgar and realized how much more there was to this world. Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last long – compared to the more fully realized Midgar, the rest of the locations FF7 felt small and underdeveloped. That is no longer the case. Rebirth expands the world in such a way that you no longer visit simple towns with a few inhabitants and few background details. Instead, you’ll explore everything from struggling mining towns to happy resorts to mysterious research facilities, each with their own history and secrets.

This allows the developers to add a lot of meat to the skeleton FF7‘s midgame story. There are plenty of crucial elements – like how the hard-nosed Barret got a gun for an arm, or the kaiju-like weapon creatures – that were given short shrift in the original. Here they are presented as major plot points that you can fully explore and understand thanks to the expanded spaces and story.

The new scale also gives you more things to do in the game. Rebirth is still an action RPG, one with combat that’s a mix of twitchy action and the turn-based stuff you find in classic RPGs. (You can basically blast your way through combat, but also pause to choose spells or special moves from a menu.) And the dungeons still largely force you through a series of tunnels with some light puzzle solving. But in between all that is a vast space that feels like a typical modern open world, not so different from one Far cry or Legend of Zelda. You explore to fill out your map, unlock towers to find new places of interest, and complete missions by killing rare beasts or… collecting cute little Moogles.

Many of the tasks are quite mundane, but receive just enough attention FF7 twist to be interesting. I found myself very engrossed in wrangling Chocobos (giant chickens that you can ride like a horse) and searching for all the towers in each area to appease an AI bot. The same goes for the various side missions, which often have fun story elements, like the time I had a heart-to-heart with Barret about parenting while protecting a delivery dog. But eventually my interest faded. If Rebirth‘s story accelerated, I couldn’t think of anything other than saving the planet. Fortunately, the game seems to give you the freedom to do as many or as little extra things as you want; I found that I wasn’t underpowered in the latter parts of the game.

That tension is the core of the experience. Yes, there is a thrilling story that propels you forward (although it takes a while to get going). But there are also many more diversions than in a normal route Final fantasy game, including a large number of mini-games. Some are relevant to the story – you’ll need to get good at racing Chocobos and swimming with dolphins – but others are largely optional. My favorite is Queen’s blooda Magic: the meeting-style card game where you can collect cards, build decks and challenge characters in virtually any city. There’s even a whole series of quests about winning a tournament. It’s so good that I was almost late submitting this review because I couldn’t stop playing just one more round.

While there are many great additions, Rebirth Could also have been trimmed a bit. It’s not just that there’s too much going on – even though it can sometimes feel that way – but that some of it feels very unnecessary. A few mini-games are downright frustrating, such as the boxing arcade game, and similarly, some one-off gameplay sections can become tedious. For example, Rebirth has a fairly large cast of playable characters, each of which has unique mechanics that you usually need to use at least a few times. Unfortunately, one of these involves a talking cat that can throw boxes at switches, yet moves slowly and aims poorly. It was the only time I put down my controller and stepped away in frustration.

That said, most updates and remixed elements Are great, and they don’t make it alone Rebirth feel like a modern reinterpretation of a classic, but still retain the spirit of the original. That is to say, things get really weird and weird. Seriously, you can ride a Segway around a resort and stay in a haunted house-themed hotel and play dress-up with a giant chicken. The wacky elements are in stark contrast to the entire fate of the planet, but that’s always been part of the franchise’s charm. And despite all the new information, there are still plenty of confusing new story aspects whose storylines have yet to be wrapped up.

It’s those unresolved moments and questions that make the prospect of playing another game in the future so appealing. It gets a little weird and frustrating at times, but at its core Rebirth not only gives me more of what I loved about the original, but also a deeper understanding of its world and characters. And after 80 hours spread over two games, there is still a lot to learn.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth launches on February 29 on PS5.

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