Review – Final Fantasy VII : Rebirth

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth has set a new benchmark for the current console generation. The latest title from Square Enix is a rarity in scope and achievement, trumping its predecessor (Remake) in every way. With a grand scale, an abundance of enticing and challenging mini-games, a fresh take on a beloved story and countless unforgettable characters, few games have managed such a leap in quality, content and gameplay enhancements with only a four-year gap between releases. To achieve a 100-hour game with this depth and passion may seem like an industry expectation in 2024 following recent discourse, but this is an entirely different Chocobo – the fast-paced action, cinematic approach and synergy between characters ensures nothing becomes tiresome, for there is always an exciting discovery to be found on the next rise. This is the 2024 Game of the Year in waiting – and the Game of the PS5 era.

Narrative structure and storytelling are at the core of Rebirth. Following a flashback sequence featuring lead character Cloud and his adversary Sephiroth (which was used as the demo), Rebirth reacquaints players with the party that ended Remake together following their timeline-shifting battle-altering events of the original game. Tifa, Aerith, Barret and Red XIII are back, and all have more opportunities to shine as individuals. Not only are their combat and exploration abilities more refined, but each has a path in the story that teeters between inspirational, hilarious and heartbreaking. Each moment, whether it is a climactic story beat or a random side mission, adds to their personality and connection to Cloud through party synergy and an individual relationship rating. An example is a task to safely escort a dog from one side of the map to another, fighting all manner of monsters along the way – simple, but throughout this progression we learn about Barret’s daughter and how he plans to parent her as she grows. The party does not just assemble for big moments and sweeping battles. Turn around at any point in time while exploring the six open world areas and there they are, either one step behind or on the back of a Chocobo following Cloud closely. This provides a feeling of warmth and relaxation, knowing your team is there whenever required. They care about Cloud, and in turn we care about them. For such an enormous game, the little things make all the difference.

The gameplay is a pleasure in each aspect (battle, exploration, mini-games). Combining the best aspects of action and turn-based combat works seamlessly. The fights are chaotic, challenging, and most importantly, varied. Having so many different abilities, play styles, weapons and materia ensures that strategy connects with strength and speed against the wide selection of foes. The new Folio system sees the player unlock synergy moves that combine multiple characters for buffs or devastating attacks that can change the course of a battle. Being able to choose only three combat characters at a time means assessing which synergy moves will be available, especially as Cloud is so often locked to the combat party. Barret and Red XIII work very well together, as do Cloud and Tifa – but having both of these combos available at once is impossible. This makes for replayability as well as finding a style that suits the player. Hopefully this becomes a staple for Final Fantasy games ongoing, for the wide range of techniques makes every change an exciting experiment. 

Mini-games. Some loathe button smashing, others sink hours into attempts at high scores. Here, the mini-games are joyous. Queen’s Blood, the card game for both battling and collecting, is perhaps the best of its kind since Gwent. Easy to learn, difficult to master. Avoiding Queen’s Blood is a choice, but doing so would miss a range of intricate side quests and heated duels. Piano playing, Chocobo racing, pet soccer, photography, arcade shooting – each feels and plays distinct from all else and adds flavour to the cake when battles have sapped all energy. At times, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is evident when strolling beach-side in minimal clothing or indulging in strange requests by NPCs. The banter is frequent and the standard cheesy moments remain. Many may see this as padding, but in Rebirth everything has a purpose. The pieces form the whole without any left on the floor, and discovering new regions to pick apart that many different rides, sights and games is part of the experience. 

Technically, little needs to be said about the soundtrack except that it enhances original tunes and borrows some of Remake’s hits to make every scene overflow with emotion. The wide variety and link with the original game creates equal parts of awe and nostalgia. The one area that does need a patch and focus is the graphics – performance mode runs at a smooth 60FPS but was blurry compared to the 30FPS graphics mode. I ran the game on graphics mode, and while the eyes took a while to adjust back to 30FPS the game is just too beautiful to sacrifice graphics for frames. Such fast-paced combat is better with higher framerates, but this is a minor element in an otherwise stunning visual treat. While 16 showed visible reduction in detail when comparing side quests to mainline quests, Rebirth shines in all areas with facial expressions, movement and the wide range of biomes. The misty swamps and lush beaches are just some of the highlights, with colour vivid and almost dream-like at times. 

This review could go on for pages about all the connected dots that create a gaming masterpiece. Rebirth has taken feedback from Remake and other Final Fantasy games to build a world, story and characters that shine in the chaos and the calm. We talk about Game of the Year titles frequently in reviews, for being the best in class is a notable achievement for releases of this scale. But Rebirth elevates itself above a discussion of mere years, challenging all upcoming games to reach the ocean-deep gameplay elements present in its 100+ hour glory. The only problem now is that we will have to wait a minimum of four years before the final instalment of the trilogy is available to play, but the question remains: how do Square Enix top this? Thankfully, their source material ensures a foundation that will resonate with old and new players alike. There is also the hope of an Intermission-style DLC. Having a Yuffie section wedged between the two games was the perfect introduction to her ninja style, making her inclusion even more notable in Rebirth. The sheer ability of Square Enix to deliver quality titles year on year was already impressive, but now they have a gold-encrusted materia to add to the crown. 

Final Fantasy VII : Rebirth is out now on Playstation 5

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Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth has set a new benchmark for the current console generation. The latest title from Square Enix is a rarity in scope and achievement, trumping its predecessor (Remake) in every way. With a grand scale, an abundance of enticing and challenging...Review - Final Fantasy VII : Rebirth