Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Review – Ghosts & Whispers

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Review – Ghosts & Whispers

Closing on four years since the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake, anticipation for sequel Final Fantasy VII Rebirth has reached fever pitch. And who can blame anybody, really: the closing hours of 2020’s Remake made it abundantly clear that developers Square Enix were decidedly not staying faithful to the events of the original, nevermind the lingering questions around what such reframing and reimagining meant for the second half of Disc One, let alone Discs Two and Three of the 1997 PSX release. For those eager for such answers, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is an excellent sequel that expands on Remake greatly in terms of scope, alongside gameplay enhancements and improved pacing whilst making a few concessions in service of repetitious ‘open world’ content. If you’d like a little more detail before parting with almost $100AU, then the remainder of this review should sway you one way or another. If you haven’t yet played Remake, then perhaps check out our review of that title first as Rebirth isn’t a recommended entry point for this particular tale.

FFVII Rebirth Cloud in Nibelheim

Rebirth kicks off with a bang, revisiting the infamous Nibelheim incident that sent Sephiroth off the deep end and shortly thereafter picking up on Cloud and co. as they continue on following their dramatic exit from the Mako powered megacity of Midgar. The actions of the Whispers are having ongoing and far-reaching consequences, whilst our misfit band of heroes desperately search for any trace of Sephiroth. Structurally, much of Rebirth mirrors the original game – players will journey to Junon, Costa del Sol, the Golden Saucer, Gongaga, Cosmo Canyon and more, albeit with a number of adjustments. Gone is the strictly linear world of Remake’s Midgar to make way for the semi-open areas created for Rebirth, bridging the multi-generational design gap between FFVII’s basic World Map and genre expectations in 2024. Whether purposeful or not, Rebirth has a distinct rhythm to its gameplay which repeats in each location; arrive to the main town, unlock that areas’ particular Chocobo breed (which has a unique traversal mechanic tied to it) then decide between pushing forward with the main story or tackling the bevvy of side content. The end result is an experience that will clock in at close to double the playtime of Remake for many players. These aspects feel modern-ish and serviceable, but I’d be hard pressed to say the open world of FFVII Rebirth is exceptional in any way and meets expectations rather than exceeding them.

FFVII Rebirth Costa del Sol

Each open world area adheres to a template cribbed from many others of yesteryear; a handful of side quests, climbing towers to reveal more icons on the map, finding a Mog house to obtain exclusive items, defeating high-level enemies via specific guidelines – aesthetic trappings aside, little here is wholly unique. One aspect I do appreciate is that because of the limited scope in the range of activities, they do feel more tightly woven into other parts of the game, including the new crafting system and unlocking Summon materia which can be made easier or more effective by investing time into this expanded content. It’s somewhat satisfying in the way ticking jobs off a checklist is satisfying, but becomes necessary when the revamped combat and difficulty comes into play.

Combat is one area Remake excelled in and Rebirth is no slouch, taking it a few steps further instead of resting on laurels with the addition of Synergy Skills and Abilities. These are unlocked in the Folios menu alongside stat boosts, abilities and skills when characters spend the required amount of Skill Points earned through combat or occasionally rewarded via rare items. Synergy Skills and Abilities provide bespoke buffs and attacks that only work in conjunction with specific characters in the active party, like Cloud and Yuffie whose Synergy attack Maelstrom Strike sees them join forces to ‘attack an enemy from all angles’, or Tifa’s Leaping Strikes which can be a Ranged or Launch attack depending on who she executes it with. Synergy functions in a similar manner to Limit Breaks and Summons, building charge as each character spends AP in battle through Spells and Abilities and can grant extremely beneficial status affects alongside dealing damage. Synergies add an extra layer to combat in this way and give players more to think about in terms of their order of operations in a battle. An overall Party Level and individual Weapon Level affects what can be unlocked for each character, the former growing when completing story and side missions while the latter builds again from engaging in combat.

FFVII Rebirth Cloud and Cait Sith in Battle

Playing on the Normal difficulty setting, combat in Rebirth very much expects players to be staying on top of their gear and materia load outs for the entire party, as party make-up is frequently locked down by the game itself for narrative purposes. The best way to do this is to be engaging in as much of the side content as possible in service of levelling both materia and characters and finding better equipment. I suspect those who would prefer to get through the main story as quickly as possible will want to drop the difficulty down to easy beforehand. On the whole, while there is plenty of opportunity for fighting in Rebirth out in the wider world or the Golden Saucer, the frequency of it feels decidedly toned down when contrasting against my memories of the frequent random battles that took place every handful of steps in the OG. This compounds with aspects of level scaling in Rebirth to ensure none of the combat is mindless at the default difficulty level; players need to be engaged and managing their party effectively, executing the abilities of all active characters and exploiting enemy weaknesses where possible in regular battles alone, never mind the multi-phase boss battles that will very quickly end in a game-over screen otherwise.

There’s an inherent goofiness, for lack of a better word, to Rebirth. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that much like the Yakuza series, Rebirth manages to shift in tone between absolute sincere drama and sheer absurdity with very little signposting at some points. A younger, more serious version of myself would have perhaps railed against this, but I’ve grown to appreciate this more as time goes by and it helps Rebirth hold on to some of the parts of the original game that would otherwise be very tonally inconsistent. Of course everybody in this world is obsessed with Queen’s Blood, a competitive card game which on occasion supersedes the fate of the planet. Why wouldn’t I want to round up every soldier I could possibly find in Junon to give the best possible performance in a rhythm mini-game? Performing piano recitals of classic Final Fantasy VII pieces such as Main Theme and Aerith’s Theme is a wonderful way to impress a kindly old NPC who will gift you with items, but also learn more about piano chords that I knew previously. The Golden Saucer itself is a veritable shrine to goofing off, a salient reflection of the ways in which we ourselves continue to be distracted from larger issues, environmental or otherwise, by whim and pleasure.

FFVII Rebirth Dolphin Race

On a technical level, Rebirth feels like it has a few holdovers from the PlayStation 4 generation and the bones it’s built upon; it’s easy to imagine a scenario whereby had PS5 sales not been as successful, Rebith may have followed in the footsteps of Horizon: Forbidden West and God of War: Ragnarok, straddling both generations to maximise sales numbers. Frequent forced slow walks which have been used to mask loading since the Xbox 360 era appear, alongside some less than stellar frame pacing in Quality Mode which looks intimidating in stills and far less so in motion pushed me towards the Performance Mode which sacrifices visual fidelity for a much more appropriate frame rate given the frenetic energy the combat system exudes. Square Enix have been quick to address concerns, with improvements already made and more coming down the pipeline, so it doesn’t seem fair to dock them any points as I have had no issues personally. That said, I wouldn’t mind a 40FPS/VRR compromise at some point.  

As noted in my Remake review, the weaponised nostalgia on offer is palpable. Key locations, events and the incredible amount of leitmotif work being done with the music will disarm even the most doubtful of those returning, as will the sight of familiar locations realised in stunning detail, let alone expanded upon. Thematically, Rebirth continues to examine the nature of memory, legacy and fate with added metatextuality as it meshes slavish adherence to the original with new aspects, sometimes so subtly the player will struggle to separate long-term memory from current actuality – ‘’Is this how this happened? Maybe I don’t quite remember it correctly…”. Other sections stand out more clearly as modern-day additions, Cosmo Canyon being one of the most notable in terms of expanding what were slightly under-realised elements of the original game.

FFVII Rebirth Aerith

All things considered, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is an outstanding sequel, even if it isn’t itself a revolutionary title. I defy anybody who enjoyed Remake to find fault with what Square Enix have put together, delivering on the promise of the open-world without dragging it out excessively as is the case with so many modern open-world games. Battling with almost three decades of nostalgia, expanded universe content and fan expectations is no easy feat, and yet Rebirth manages it with aplomb.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Review Summary Box

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth was reviewed in Performance Mode on a PlayStation 5 console using code kindly supplied by Bandai Namco. 

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