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02/29/24 Square Enix
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02/29/24 Square Enix

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Final Fantasy VII Rebirth (PS5)

By Thomas Froehlicher 30th Mar 2024 | 5,642 views 

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth gives a new aura and considerable enhancements to the 1997 game.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth has been my most anticipated game ever since I first experienced Final Fantasy VII Remake. Final Fantasy VII, like VIII and IX, is among the fondest memories of my youth. So playing Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, which is a crucial part of this remake venture, definitely feels very special. It had to re-create a sense of magic that few titles have ever matched; it had to send me back 25 years ago to my former self...

In this second part of the remake, Cloud's team ventures outside of Midgar for the first time. The group is chasing Sephiroth's followers across all continents in order to find the rogue Soldier. This is where Rebirth takes on a whole new dimension compared to Final Fantasy VII Remake, and it features an immense world map full of activities, quests, mini-games, and challenge battles. The numerous quests you can find in town are surprisingly hooking too. I've completed quite a few of them and every single one brought something new and original to the table. Each quest involves one of Cloud's allies, so you learn more about their habits and personality. You can hear Barett being teased by the others about his adoptive daughter Marlene's future, Red XIII boasting about his sense of smell, and so on.

There's also very often a small story attached to this - sometimes philosophical, sometimes more amusing (including weird tasks). I remember rounding up lost chickens with an empty can for an old woman in Gongaga and it was absolutely hilarious. Square Enix also devotes a lot of screen time to Kirie, the young girl who was a new character in Final Fantasy VII Remake. She appears in some goofy quests that are very much in line with comic side of Final Fantasy VII

So quests are a great addition, but they're just part of the exploration to be found in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. The five regions all have numerous locations to visit, including communication towers, lifesprings, monster nests, chocobo stops in order to rest, Moogle houses, and the summon beasts' sanctuaries. All of these destinations are worth looking for, not only because you earn experience and party experience from them (which is useful to strengthen skills and stats), but also because Rebirth's complex terrain makes it interesting to explore further and further. There's a high level of verticality from Junon onwards, with hidden caves, cliffs, mountains, islands, and generally difficult-to-reach spots that require observation, thinking, and clever use of gadgets & chocobos. Sanctuaries are also key to your adventure because clearing the trials improves the summon materias once you get them from Chadley, the young researcher who follows you to each city.

Chocobos are a large part of the outer world. You don't breed them like in the original game but instead have to capture wild ones. This is done through unique mini-games where you must approach the chocobo undetected, using devices and baits to remain stealthy. I consider this significantly more entertaining than the breeding system in the original PlayStation title. Old fans will be pleased to see that the chocobo colors are back. In fact, each type of chocobo is tied to one region, so for example the black chocobo in Junon can climb steep walls, while the sky blue chocobo can glide in the Cosmo Canyon valley. Any chocobo can also follow a scent and then dig up items in a mini-game very reminiscent of Final Fantasy IX. There are chocobo races too in the Gold Saucer, Final Fantasy VII's famous theme park, and you can choose your own loadout before competing as well! Then the chocobos alone are a rich feature within an already wide array of attractions. It's cool to have chocobos so deeply connected to the adventure and gameplay, and not just a "means of transportation", as has often been the case. This is very symbolic of how much care has been taken to maintain the Final Fantasy spirit in Rebirth

I haven't kept count, but I think Final Fantasy VII Rebirth sets a new record for the number of mini-games it includes. I've never seen so many mini-games in a single RPG, or in any game actually. Final Fantasy VII Remake included some very cool mini-games, but this second part is just littered with fun challenges everywhere. Playing the piano is incredibly realistic, the Gold Saucer has a striking variety of leisure activities, but the craziest thing is playing soccer with Red XIII against chocobos and dogs! Those are some of the more brilliant ones that come to mind, but there are plenty of others. One of them I only discovered after playing for 60 hours or so. These mini-games are enjoyable and impressive, but they pale in comparison to the killer feature of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth.

In my review of Star Ocean: The Divine Force I highly praised its board game: Es'Owa. Well Square Enix has once again proved it's the king of mini-games with Queen's Blood, Rebirth's brand new card game. It's played on a board with three lines. Each player plays cards from opposite sides and the one who scores the most points with his cards wins. Of course, there are a lot of tricks involved, like boosting the value of your own cards or destroying your opponent's ones. Like Final Fantasy VIII's Triple Triad, you find cards with different values, all illustrated with monsters, plus rarer ones featuring summons. The hunt for unique cards is as addictive as ever, and the rules are really deep and engaging. 

I know it's strange to begin a review by focussing so heavily on side activities, but the side content is so vast and compelling that it's easy to forget the main objectives while having fun elsewhere. It's been some time since I've been this eager to tackle side quests and mini-games instead of the main story in an RPG, which just goes to show what an impressive achievement Rebirth is in this respect. It meant I cleared the game after 71 hours, and I'm sure to get to 100 when I come back to it

Rebirth is near perfect in re-creating the look and feel of the original title. Remake was already quite a sight to behold, but it only had one main location. The sequel revives numerous cities, all magnificent, lively, and lavishly decorated. It's like being a kid in a toy store; there are so many details in the shops and facilities, numerous funny NPCs to interact with, and such meticulous architecture that it's been wondrous to explore the game. The Gold Saucer is as massive, colorful, and delightful as you could expect. The developers even went as far as multiplying the spooky references in the hotel section (which is horror-themed). The Temple of the Ancients is no less imposing; the greyish maze of the PSone era has been transformed into majestic vestiges that contain numerous mystical devices and phenomenons, like the memories of the ancients replaying before your eyes. 

But of course it's Final Fantasy VII and we need to talk about the story. Like Remake four years ago, Rebirth maintains a delicate balance between story-heavy, memorable moments and light-hearted parts, perfectly reflecting what the original intended to convey. For example, the Junon and Costa del Sol chapters are tons of fun. And this is where you realize the tremendous effort and genius Square Enix has put into the cutscenes and dialogue. The developing team inserted brilliant jokes and funny happenings everywhere. NPCs have clearly been given a lot more attention - they benefit from notably more refined designs and personalities, on the top of playing a bigger role than before, like the comical Soviet-esque Shinra commanders trying to coach you for the Junon parade. The parade itself has been refashioned as a rhythm mini-game, making it more user-friendly, but just as colorful and spectacular. It's a real feast for the eyes, and Shinra's sharp commentary of your performance is priceless. Even the smallest details from Final Fantasy VII have made a return, like Yuffie's dialogue choices when recruiting her. Sometimes you'll also find gameplay additions, like Corel's cart riding, which has been turned into a full mini-game.

It succeeds with the more serious parts of the narrative too. Sephiroth's past in Nibelheim has been scrupulously re-enacted, even to the extent of retaining the same camera angles and scenography as in 1997. The sequence maintains its original (perfect) pacing while being reborn in splendid modern graphics, with top-notch voice acting from Toshiyuki Morikawa, who has been a perfect fit for the character since Advent Children. Speaking of voice acting, Caith Sith is given an amusing Kansai accent by Hideo Ishikawa, which again is ideal for one of the most bizarre characters in the series. Caith Sith also has a very emotional scene in the Temple of the Ancients which has been fantastically remade and, although slightly different from the original, it's especially heartbreaking.  Cloud's torment is very convincing too, shown via regular flashes throughout the entire game, and he's given one extra powerful scene in Gongaga. It really amplifies the mystery aspect of that part of the original title and is as impactful as you could expect from a major title in 2024.

What particularly pleases me is that every character is given their fair share of the spotlight. There's a remarkable effort to give maximum screen time and focus to each playable character, and not just the Cloud/Sephiroth duality. For example, every party member is leader at some point of the game: Yuffie in the Corel Mines, Caith Sith in Nibelheim, and Red XIII during his trial in Cosmo Canyon. This is a superb way to emphasize the team element of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth and give a greater sense of coherence to the party. 

The music is also satisfying; Rebirth remixes a good part of the original tracklist and I do like the score's sonority. They're the same timeless melodies but with a contemporary orchestration and better sound quality. It's definitely an original soundtrack I will purchase and listen to in the near future.

However, towards the end of the game Rebirth suddenly stops being completely faithful to the 1997 release. Surprisingly, Rocket Town is completely skipped in this remake, as is Bone Village. While the latter can hardly be deemed essential, the first trip to Rocket Town is fundamental to grasping the meaning of the rocket launch at the end of CD2 (which might be Blu-Ray 6 by the time we get the third remake title). It's also critical to fully understanding Cid's past and his motivations for joining the party. Cid is therefore the big loser of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. Not only does he not become playable, despite being active in the Temple of the Ancients in 1997, but he's not even introduced properly. He simply serves as pilot for some time before asking to join the party in memory of Aerith's mother. I'm sorry, Square Enix, but that's not what happened in the original and you know it. This can still be fixed in a hypothetical intermission DLC, but right now it's a black mark on the remake project. 

I could forgive this based on a "lack of development time", if only I hadn't seen so many sequences starring Zack, in a deliberate yet confusing attempt to bail out Crisis Core's protagonist. Square Enix is seemingly going for an "alternate timelines" theory, a la Steins;Gate, to illustrate "if" scenarios for the main story, where Zack would be the new savior. That's not necessarily for the best, as Rebirth's ending turns out to be very unclear, as if the publisher was afraid to choose an answer. I find it difficult to even understand what the situation was and what actually happened because we're shown conflicting events. It's like Square Enix wants to let people choose whether they want to see the glass half empty or half full. I'm opposed to this amount of re-writing, and certainly not happy to trade Cid's background and gameplay for a Zack ghost.

Rebirth inherits the battle system from Remake, with its unique and efficient blend of action and turn-based RPG, but it receives three more characters and a super cool dual attack system. Synergy Abilities are a special move involving two characters, who cooperate to deal enormous damage (almost equal to limit break power) and grant themselves special buffs, like unlimited MP or a greater limit break. The concept is very close to Boost Strikes in Tales of Arise, and visually it's amazing thanks to dazzling attack animations. Synergy Abilities require a few synergy points to be performed, but a character gets a synergy point every time an ATB bar is used. Since magic and abilities are widely used, you can launch Synergy Abilities quite often and really leverage what this system offers.

My initial doubts about Red XIII's gameplay were quickly cleared up; controlling the character happens to be much more precise in the final product than I had feared. He's also very fast and can absorb HP with Vengeance Mode, so I ended up using him a lot. Yuffie turns out to be a major asset, since she masters all types of attacks (magical, physical, short-range, and long-range) and can imbue any elemental type to her ninpo. She can also use a wide range of very practical abilities, like creating a clone that will mimic her actions and do more damage or healing. Yuffie is a terrific game changer and a brilliant addition to the team. Finally, playing as Cait Sith is fun but tricky. That's partially because, unlike in the original, he can mount and unmount the moogle puppet, which isn't easy to manage.

Rebirth's overall level of challenge seems significantly tougher than Remake to me. Normal mode isn't really normal and sometimes feels unfair. Enemy attack speed is, for example, really irritating at times, while your ATB recovery is desperately slow unless you attack. It means that when you're revived, as you have no ATB and little HP, you need to attack and take the risk of being quickly downed again in order to heal yourself. MP is dramatically lacking as well. Winning battles in Rebirth heavily depends on staggering opponents, so that they're stunned and take more damage. My problem here is that every foe has its own stagger rules (that you can check via Assess materia), and sometimes it can be very vague and difficult to apply. A more general rule, like when this system was created for Final Fantasy XIII, would help reduce the struggle boss battles often turn into. 

I'm generally dubious of having to choose between only two difficulty settings, and Rebirth proves my doubts right again. You have the choice between a normal mode, in which you can get stuck easily, and an easy mode that's not particularly exciting. I admit I had to resort to easy mode several times so as to get this review in on time, and I noticed I was taking three times less damage. Surely there could have been something fairer in-between the two modes that would avoid the need for countless retries on normal. 25 years ago I didn't have to retry so often. On a more optimistic note, photo mode is extremely satisfying. The pause button lets you take screenshots from battles and cutscenes with ease and great precision. Being severely addicted to making the best possible screenshots, I couldn't hope for a better way to immortalize my journey. 

With Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, this part of the PSOne game has been remade with extreme care, marvellous graphics, and considerable enhancements in terms of both side content and the narrative. Rebirth is given a full new aura compared to the original, while still being almost entirely faithful to it, and is big enough to offer 100 hours' worth of constant wonder and enjoyment. When I wrote about the possibility of Rebirth transcending the original title in my TGS preview, this is exactly what I meant - and it met my expectations with flying colors. It just needed to properly incorporate Cid and offer a fairer level of challenge to be flawless.

After graduating from a French business school, Thomas felt an irresistible force drawing him to study Japanese, which eventually led him to Japanese Profeciency Test level 1 in 2012. During the day, Thomas is a normal account manager. But at night he becomes Ryuzaki57, an extreme otaku gamer hungry for Japanese games (preferably with pretty girls in the main role). His knowledge now allows him to import games at Japanese release for unthinkable prices, and then tell everyone about them. You may also find him on French video games media. Feel free to contact on twitter at @Ryuz4ki57

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This review is based on a retail copy of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth for the PS5

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