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Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

The second instalment of the most ambitious remake in gaming history has arrived. Does it live up to its legacy and today's standards?

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Remakes are the new gold of the games industry. Or at least that's how it feels these days, with virtually every major publisher looking at the greatest hits of the past to polish them up and give them a new lease of life. I'm not immune to this kind of nostalgia-inducing lure, but the endless stream of remakes that are content with just updating the visuals also makes me a little weary. In fact, I'm inclined to prefer a simple remaster, but that's a little harder to charge full price for. No, the remakes that make me prick up my ears are the ones that dare to rethink the original game's gameplay and maybe even challenge its legacy by (shudder!) rewriting the story.

Perhaps that's why the end of the first instalment of Final Fantasy VII's remake trilogy was so intoxicating. Already, with its wild expansion of the first game's world and contemporary gameplay update, it was perhaps the most ambitious game remake to date, but the ending took it one step further by throwing the original game's entire narrative up in the air and allowing anything to be possible. It became an examination of the game's legacy and challenged our ingrained expectations of what a remake is.

Now the second instalment is here, and thankfully, it still possesses all of the qualities mentioned above. Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth is, in short, an excellent sequel and an essential title for all of us who grew up with the 1997 classic as well as those of you who jumped on the Chocobo in 2020.

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Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

If you've played Remake (and you should before you dive into Rebirth), you'll mostly know what to expect. A big, colourful, action-oriented JPRG with a lot of heart. The world itself, however, is markedly different in design, with frequent large, open areas replacing the mostly narrow corridors and streets of Remake. However, the open areas are a mixed bag. On the one hand, they are faithful to the original's overworld and it's great to be let loose in graphically stunning versions of the familiar areas. But there's no getting around the fact that the activities Square Enix has sprinkled across the world are a bit generic. We're talking towers that activate, battles against particularly difficult enemies and treasure hunting on the back of a Chocobo. However, Square Enix should be commended for linking the activities to several of the game's other systems. By completing the activities, your team's level increases, giving you access to better upgrades in the game's skill tree, and by seeking out temples dedicated to the game's summons, you can make battles against them more manageable.

It's also a bit odd that the direct path through the story ignores large parts of the map. For example, in Junon, following the direct path barely visits any of the fairly extensive area Square Enix has designed. Here, the game feels like a compartmentalised product, where the open world exists separately from the main story instead of working in tandem with it, as the best open worlds are able to do.

Overall, however, the more open world is a win for the game because it contextualises the epic journey that this part of the trilogy is built around. You're simply more immersed in the adventure and the journey when the open expanses reveal themselves accompanied by the classic overworld theme, which in its new versions still instils a sense of longing that no other theme can match for me.

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Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

It also helps that the world, from a purely graphical perspective, impresses with its open plains, towering peaks, lush jungles and detailed cities. The latter is one of the game's highlights, because as a fan of the original game, it's amazing to see how Square Enix has taken small towns on a few screens and blown them up into intricate, vibrant places. The first city, Kalm, has central European charm with its winding streets and vibrant town centre, while the Costa del Sol beautifully captures the fake radiance and superficiality of the Mediterranean's flattest tourist traps.

The cities are bustling with life, with locals and tourists playing, sunbathing, posing and whatever else you do on the streets. And by visiting the streets, shops and bars, the cities open up further with background dialogue that adds life and character to the world. The same goes for the game's actual side missions, which, while still structurally a little lacking, are a vast improvement on the Final Fantasy series.

It creates an excellent backdrop for the epic journey our now-united team of heroes must embark on to save the planet Gaia from Shinra and Sephiroth. The former because they're sucking it dry of energy, the latter because his plan to save Gaia involves just too much loss of innocent life.

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

The story may suffer a little from being the middle chapter, but director Naomi Hamaguchi and the rest of the team still manage to provide the game with a start and ending that makes sense. Besides, as we all know, it's the journey and not the destination that matters most, and it's the journey that Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth excels at. Cloud, Aerith and the rest of the team's journey across Gaia is rich with memorable moments, such as Cloud undercover summoning Shinra soldiers for the grand military parade in Junon, or sharing a quiet moment with his travelling companions on the white sandy beach of the Costa del Sol.

The dialogue may be on the overly explicit side, and tonally the acting is all over the place, but that's part of the charm, and for me, both the deeply silly moments like a Red XIII dressed as a human and the deeply serious ones like Barrett's confrontation with his past hit the mark far more often than they missed.

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

Much of your path through the world is still paved by the blade of an oversized sword, but compared to Remake, Square Enix has paid far more attention to varying the experience this time around. The journey takes place on land, water and in the air, and on land, cars, segways and of course Chocobos ensure that you don't have to cover the now vast distances on foot. The latter in particular gets a lot of love. Each region has its own special Chocobo with a unique ability such as climbing walls or gliding from great heights. Square Enix also makes great use of the large group of characters by dedicating certain sections to a specific character. They all have a unique ability that changes the gameplay slightly and creates a much-needed dynamic and variety from Cloud's less than thrilling way of traversing the terrain.

Last but certainly not least, let's not forget the veritable horde of minigames that Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth has to offer. There's a Rocket League clone, Fort Condor auto-moba, the card game Queens Blood, and that's before you get to Golden Saucer, a space shoot em up, the motorbike sequence from Remake and a Chocobo kart racer that could almost be its own release, and each of which compete for your time.

Despite the greater variety, however, Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth's biggest problem is the same as the Remake's: a sometimes poor sense of pacing. It goes without saying that with three games that are each almost as long as the original game, new dialogue exchanges, boss battles and areas need to be added, and sometimes this helps to create better characters and a deeper world. Other times, the game drags out sections - probably due to a fear of being too short. A dungeon goes on longer than it should, a series of boss battles punctuates the joy of fighting, or perhaps you're sent on tedious errands by a rather unimportant NPC - all as part of the main story.

Final Fantasy VII: RebirthFinal Fantasy VII: Rebirth

Of course, we also need to take a look at the technical side of things. Overall, Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth is a polished product, and I didn't experience any notable issues on the technical front. However, the game's performance mode is a disappointment with its rather muddy appearance, making it a less obvious choice to play in than it should be. And while we're on the subject of complaining, I'm surprised that Square Enix once again only unlocks the hard difficulty level after you've completed the game.

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth does justice to its origins by beautifully updating it for a contemporary audience, while daring to tinker with some of the things that some fans might consider sacrilege. The changes may not be as radical as the remake's ending suggested, but that's fine. In its current form, Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth hits the sweet spot between nostalgia and innovation. Square Enix still has a bit to learn about open worlds, and they have a bit to learn about brevity - at least more often. But the game is so rich in fun, beautiful and breathtaking moments that the 14-year-old Ketil, who fell in love with Cloud, Barrett, Aerith, Tifa and the rest of the team and their adventures in the late 90s, can only be delighted with the game we now have. As the last beautiful image scrolled across the screen, I was both happy and sad, but most of all excited to see how it all ends.

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09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
+
Beautiful world. Intense battles. The soundtrack. A fantastic new take on a classic. Many beautiful, funny and sad moments. An amazing journey.
-
The open world is a bit formulaic. The game drags out certain sequences.
overall score
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Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth

REVIEW. Written by Ketil Skotte

The second instalment of the most ambitious remake in gaming history has arrived. Does it live up to its legacy and today's standards?



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