Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Video Game Review: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth by Square Enix's Creative Business Unit 1

Not your parents’ Final Fantasy VII

I have to admit to the Final Fantasy faithful that I have never played through the entirety of the original Final Fantasy VII (which I’ll refer to as FFVII). I didn’t have the funds to purchase it when I was a kid, and when I finally had the chance to play it on my PlayStation Vita, it had aged too much for me to enjoy. I was ecstatic to see the gameplay premiere for the remake back in 2015 at the PlayStation showcase. I thought I’d finally have a chance to experience the classic story and feel like my enjoyment wasn’t hindered by twenty-year-old tech. Here’s the thing though, they decided to divide FFVII into three separate entries. What was once a single game spread across three discs is now going to span three games and eight years between releases. Not only that, but this isn’t an exact 1:1 remake, as research/discussions with friends have brought me to realize. I haven’t pushed too far into spoiler territory, but I know things have diverged a bit from the original.

came out in 2020 to great reviews and fanfare. This game takes the initial Midgar portion of FFVII and blows it up into a full game (in the original this section took about 4-6 hours to complete in a 30-40 hour game) and injects action-based combat. Rebirth takes the story up to the 50% mark, if what I read equates with story progress. Though Rebirth covers a broader scope, the world itself, and activities within, are significantly expanded. Some areas in the original that were pass-through areas have been fleshed out to have their own explorable biome. I won’t say which to avoid spoilers, but the point is this, even those who have played the original game haven’t seen it all. Not only regarding story but exploration and gameplay as well.

The most immediately notable difference between Remake and Rebirth is the sheer size of the world and the areas to explore. Being set in a cramped city underbelly as opposed to the rest of the beautiful open world had a significant impact on my enjoyment of the game. Rebirth is an advancement of not only the game’s story but also of gameplay systems and discovery. Though Remake is necessary to understand what’s going on in Rebirth, I can confidently say that Rebirth is a better game all around.

The game is beautiful. From the moment I stepped out into the Grasslands, I could feel I was going to embark on a special adventure. The flora and fauna are gorgeous and fully realized in a high-quality world. The character models are clean and emotive with distinct, memorable features. Without the nostalgia for the original, I can't say how this makes others feel, but if the quality that went into making this game went into a childhood remake that I loved, I would feel that justice had been done to my memory. A lot of attention to detail has been paid around every corner of the world, and though there are occasional moments where the textures aren't up to snuff or the lighting is a bit off, the overall game is done with care for such an iconic franchise.

This stretches to everything from the visuals to the sound. The voice actors put on captivating performances that, at times, feel like I’m watching an animated movie. The scene with Barret and Dyne was fantastic, compelling, and quite emotional. Each of the actors understood the assignment. Though some odd writing quirks pop up here and there, the actors make it work. The sound work is woven together through the incredible soundtrack that hits with such vigor at crucial moments and soothes when the story beat requires it. I have no doubt this will be up for the soundtrack of the year when all the nominees have been chosen. As I type this, I can hear both the gentle piano caressing my heartstrings and the battle music getting me ready for another encounter.

Anyone who has played Remake knows the combat has been completely overhauled. Instead of a slower-paced turn-based JRPG, Rebirth offers fast-paced action gameplay with a little touch of turn-based option to appease old-time fans. By building up your ATB (active time battle) bar, you can slow down the combat to a near standstill to choose your next option. This gives the player time for a breather while they decide which enemy to dispatch. In the options, players can reduce the slow-down effect if they wish to increase their battle speed. The game creates myriad options for players to play with, with several different teammates to choose from and synergy abilities to test out. Throughout combat, players can cycle between the different characters in their party. Cloud, Barret, Tifa, Red XIII, Aerith, Yuffie, and Cait Sith are all playable, and each with a unique gameplay style. Each character is lovingly crafted and harmonizes with other teammates to create a truly enjoyable experience with whomever you’re controlling.

Okay, I lied. I did not enjoy controlling Aerith. Her ATB buildup was too slow and I preferred to use her only for healing. After a while, I completely switched her out, which is unfortunate because her utility and stats would have made her a great mage. She simply isn’t enjoyable to play with, but it doesn't mar the overall game considering how many choices are given. What is rather annoying is that you can’t create materia loadouts for your characters. For those unaware, materia are orbs of magic that give your characters certain abilities in battle. I plan on attempting the game on hard mode, which means I’m going to be swapping materia in and out quite frequently. Unfortunately, I will have to take pictures of my materia set up to remember exactly how I want it, and on top of that, have to then move each item one by one. Considering the original FFVII gave players the ability to swap multiple characters’ materia around, I find it odd that they would regress in this area. Who the heck wants to sit and stare at a menu longer than they have to? Considering how much progress they made with advancing the rest of the game, I consider it an odd omission.

Great gameplay, great music, great characters, great visuals… How about the story? Well, it’s great! For the most part. The bulk of the game sees Cloud and company chase down Sephiroth and eventually search for the black materia. This task sends the player all over, from the Grasslands to Nibel, from Junon to Cosmo Canyon. The shenanigans that the story and side-quests rope the player into are memorable. Sometimes pure fun, sometimes emotional rollercoasters. The spectacle of the Gold Saucer can’t be understated. But the motivating factor, Sephiroth, is rather weak. He doesn't have much depth and feels, to me, like a generic mwahaha! villain (but cooler). Some of his motivations don’t seem clear, and when they are clear, sometimes his actions don’t match the motivation (this happens with the protagonists occasionally). Despite that, the game evokes a sense of grandiose curiosity that is sated through interaction with the world and its inhabitants. At times I had completely forgotten my mission in favor of exploring. Though in-game discovery isn’t as satisfying as a game like Elden Ring, it’s still fun. Creative Business Unit 1 essentially took the Ubisoft open-world format, varied it enough, and polished it to a sheen.

Though nearly every aspect of this wonderful game resonated with me, a few things got on my nerves (aside from those previously mentioned). Any time the game slowed me down created general frustration. If a game slows the player character, it should only be to build tension, but this was never the case in Rebirth. Any climbing, shimmying, or slow walking sections in Rebirth were irritating. Also, whoever thought having Chadley prevalent throughout every facet of the game must not have listened to playtesters. He is annoying and constant. Anytime he speaks, I just want him to stop. Every time I find something, he's there. Watching. Waiting. And, of course, mini-games. Way too many mini-games. There are enough mini-games in this game to satisfy ten other games. The only one I found genuinely appealing was Queen’s Blood (which was fantastic and should be a standalone game). While you could avoid many of the mini-games, some were tied to plot/side-plot advancement, which was disappointing.

While a few issues rear their heads, none of them fully obstruct what makes Rebirth so great. The game fully embraces the original and respects people’s memory while also trying something new with the story. Though the multiverse approach may make death seem trivial, and by extension, lessen the impact of heavier moments, it nonetheless creates an intriguing narrative that will appeal to fans new and old. After over a hundred hours, I can say I am finally done with my first play-through of this wonderful game. It’s packed to the brim with content and worthwhile for any JRPG/action game fan who wants to be immersed in a sci-fi/fantasy setting. Even after you put the game down, the characters and tunes will stick with you for quite a while. Now, let me get back to my hard-mode run. Sephiroth beckons.


The Math

Objective Assessment: 9/10

Bonus: +1 engrossing world, characters, and combat. +.5 for Queen's Blood. +.5 for the fantastic soundtrack.

Penalties: -1 for multiverse chaos at the end of the game. -.5 for Chadley. -.5 for excessive mini-games.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.