Hands-on with Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth: An RPG tour de force
How exactly do you build upon one of the most beloved video games of all time? That’s the question facing Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, and I got a taste of that answer during a preview session last month.
In a world dominated by remakes and remasters, no project may have been as daunting as Square’s decision to return to the beloved world of Final Fantasy 7 back in 2020.
Living up to the legacy of the classic was a formidable task for the Remake, but Square Enix was more than capable of following through with a beautiful ‘requel’ that expanded on the original while becoming its own unique project.
Following up the already triumphant Final Fantasy 7 Remake is its next installment in the planned trilogy: FF7 Rebirth. I got to spend four hours with the game, and I’m just as excited as ever to fully experience 2024’s most anticipated game.
A rejuvenated sequel
If you played FF7 Remake (If you haven’t, what are you doing reading this? I’m serious. Go play it, it’s awesome.) then you’ll find yourself in very familiar territory. That’s not exactly a bad thing. Everything I loved about the previous game’s story elements, soundtrack, and cinematic direction continues with the obvious improvements that come with this game being built for the PS5.
Rebirth is just as beautiful as Remake was, but at a glance, it may be difficult to distinguish between the two. Honestly, that may just be because of how good Remake was and how high it set the bar. The music remains just as phenomenal and I may even have heard a new rendition of One Winged Angel.
The combat remains polished with a significant amount of depth. The use of abilities, summons, switching between allies, casting spells, etc – it’s all back with some upgrades that build upon the already proven formula. It expands upon and refines the wheel, rather than reinventing it by adding more emphasis on teamwork.
I’ve always found the idea of teamwork in video games compelling, but there’s something unique with single-player “team” experiences compared to multiplayer modes. Titles like Star Fox 64 and GTA 5 are exceptional examples of this in practice, and Rebirth is no exception – albeit with far more character swapping.
Nothing showcases this more than the large-scale boss fights. The preview session ended with a battle against the immense serpent Midgardsormr, which required me to frantically switch between allies to eventually take it down by capitalizing on the monster’s weakness and hitting it with a combo from Cloud and Aerith.
Where’s the party at?
Although familiar, combat does have new tricks up its sleeve. One of the big additions in Rebirth comes in the form of powerful team-up attacks known as Synergy Abilities. By selecting these abilities, you can do anything from buffing your squad to unleashing powerful magic projectiles. For a game that is already so focused on teamwork, this adds another layer on top of it.
These new abilities also play into another new mechanic in the form of an affinity system that can change Cloud’s relationship with members of the party. Your relationship with the likes of Tifa and Aerith will be altered depending on your dialogue choices and even performing Synergy Abilities. This creates a symbiotic relationship with the narrative and combat that is rare in most RPGs.
While I didn’t get to see the long-term effects of this system, it will undoubtedly create unique opportunities for special cutscenes. FF7’s cast is one of its greatest strengths, so leaning into the relationship dynamic between the characters is something I’m excited about.
Speaking of the cast, there are some new playable characters. My preview session included Red XIII and Sephiroth, but there are plenty more confirmed such as Zack, who may or may not be able to join the party at some point.
Go big or go Buster Sword
The devs are more than willing to just expand on what works. That’s a tricky proposition for Final Fantasy 7 as so many have sacred memories of the original. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is typically a good policy, but when it comes to games, it can often lead to criticism of just lazily rehashing an existing formula.
And to some extent, yes, Rebirth feels familiar; I was able to jump in right away without missing a beat from where Remake left off. In a way, it’s almost like a gasp “expansion” of sorts gameplay-wise, but with the promise of a story that will last tens of hours.
This is not a yearly-released sports game with the same gameplay and an updated roster, though. It feels like a second season of an anime that I’ve been waiting forever to finally watch.
Rebirth adds so much more to the table that I could only just scratch the surface of. Wandering around the Grasslands, I encountered a ton of side quests and mini-game opportunities.
One mini-game in particular that I’m looking forward to digging deeper into is Queen’s Blood, a strategic card game that I had to force myself to stop playing after several rounds. Building decks is going to be yet another way to spend hours immersed in this game, and I’m all for it.
There was so much to do already and no way I could complete half of them in the time I had. But I want to. And I will.
So far, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth has doubled down on everything I loved about Remake, and I just want to play more.