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Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth – A remake done right.

Like any fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, or gaming as a whole, I remember oh-so fondly the announcement that Square Enix was going to be remaking arguably it’s most successful and well-known game in the Final Fantasy Franchise with a stunning teaser back in E3 2015. 5 years on from that we were given the first on what was dubbed to be a remake trilogy, just as the world went into massive lockdown, every cloud and all that (pun not intended…).

To say Remake was a statement of intention for the remake project is an understatement, with the ending teasing some drastic changes to the games story that has had fans surmising and theorising about what it all means and what happens next following Cloud and the gang defeating fate. 4 years later we are given some answers, and a litany of new and remaining questions with the release of Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth.

I’m going to address the Gigantuar in the room right now, Rebirth is a long game. It took me over 100 hours to clear the main story, and yes, I was doing almost every side quest along the way, nevertheless, the game took a fair amount of time. However, and despite its length, Rebirth doesn’t feel like a drag, nor does it feel poorly paced. The main story is, widely speaking, the same as the original (albeit with some slight changes here and there) and the world of Gaia is truly stunning. The first time the party leave Kalm and enter the grasslands, I shan’t lie, brought a tear to my eye with how stunning a world I spent so many hours exploring in the days of the PS1 and PS2 had been recreated. And no, that wasn’t the only time the game made me shed a tear of several (hundred). The development team and level/environment designers have clearly spent so much time and care on developing a world that took the industrial and oppressive feel of Remake’s Midgar and fully juxtaposed it with a bright, colourful, and vibrant world to explore.

Exploration is very much a big part of the game. Each of the 6 main regions of the game have a number of side quests and areas to explore, along with some genuinely great enemy encounters that help to really immerse players in the game’s world and each of the regions of Gaia you’ll explore.  And I would really recommend players complete as much of these as possible because they really do add some extra fun and interesting lore to what is already an enthralling narrative, and beautifully realised and immersive world.

And speaking of exploration, where the majority of Remake was quite linear in it’s dungeons with a small sprinkling of puzzles, Rebirth steps up somewhat by offering some additional puzzle-like elements which allow players to be able to engage a bit more in the games world, along with a smorgasbord of news ways for players to interact with, and explore Gaia and her continents atop one of your many faithful regional Chocobo companions that you’ll meet.

Speaking of the narrative, I’ve already eluded to the fact that the game more or less sticks to the main story beats of the original, however it manages to do this in a way that both stays true to the original, while also making some slight (and later on very significant) changes to the way Cloud and the gangs “Holiday Episode” and adventures across 2 continents in Gaia play out. This is where Rebirth demonstrates how you really go about the process of making a hugely successful game (or at least a part of it), as the narrative is firmly centred on the characters and their developments, and most importantly the trauma’s they endure or have endured, and how these have shaped them into the characters they are.

The character-centric focus is one of the aspects that makes Rebirth so successful. Yes, we all know what happened during the Nibelhiem incident with Sephiroth, but to experience this with a fully fledged voice cast (who, by the way, are sensational) and the stunning level of detail that has gone into the level and environment design elevates the whole experience in a way many longtime fans of the original game have had to imagine.

Players of Remake will be relatively familiar with the new, action-focused combat design for the Remake Project. And while this has been a somewhat controversial and contentious issues (I see you, lovers of the turn-based days of old), the ways in which Rebirth has takes the architecture of the battle system from Remake and refined and evolved it with Rebirth has been nothing short of excellent. Cloud’s ‘Punisher Mode’ that appeared in Remake is back and has seemingly been tweaked slightly to provide a more fluid combat experience that has a wider range of animations and has a bit more utility in combat as opposed to the almost exclusive heavy attacks from the previous entry.

New for Rebirth in the realms of combat are the inclusion of ‘Synergy Attacks’, actions that will see two party members combining their efforts to unleash either a devastating combined attack, or will allow access to some form of support ability (spoiler alert, using these with Cloud also has an impact on who you get for your Gold Saucer date… which I didn’t realise until after completion). Synergy abilities not only provide even greater levels of variety to the combat in Rebirth, but also allow players to explore more tactical-based views of certain combat situations and allow for a much greater level of player engagement in the battles.

The inclusion of Red XIII, Yuffie, and (unfortunately) Cait Sith also provide players with a much greater amount of customisation in combat situations. And, although, most of the time you are locked in to having Cloud in the party, having a great number of playable characters in the roster allow you to chop and change how to approach each encounter in much greater detail than in the previous game. This also expands further when you have the ability to drop Cloud in some of the VR Combat Simulations to give you total control over which characters you want in your party for these digitised encounters.

Remake introduced us to a small number of mini-games that players could do throughout the story, from the motorbike sequences to the squat/pull-up trials, and much like everything else in Rebirth, the mini-games are detailed and numerous. Some of these are a bit more involved than others, however the sheer level of work that has gone into every aspect of the game design shows that Rebirth is a true labour of love. Players are not only gifted with a range of exciting mini games they will recognise such as Chocobo racing and Fort Condor, but also introduced to one of my favourite additions to any Final Fantasy game in a very long time, Queens Blood.

Queens Blood is Rebirth answer to Gwent. A card game that required strategy and tactics to win, along with a very intriguing story that is woven through the game as Cloud becomes a true Yu-Gi (or would he be more of a Kaiba?). Queens Blood was probably one of my favourite additions to the game and was very welcome. Although it does leave me asking the question, are we getting a Queens Blood standalone, or physical release, because if we are I will never have money again!

On top of Queens Blood, players will also have a range of other mini games of varying complexity available in both the different regions of Gaia along with a whole raft of games to play when they reach the much beloved Gold Saucer too.

I would be remiss to be reviewing a new Final Fantasy game without commenting on its frankly stellar soundtrack. It’s no secret that Final Fantasy VII has probably some of the most iconic music in gaming history (I challenge you to find me a gamer that hasn’t at least go some vague idea on what One Winged Angel sounds like!). And Rebirth, much like Remake does not disappoint one bit. Hearing the tracks from Kalm, Cosmo Canyon, Costa Del Sol, and even the Gold Saucer with a full reimagining of the soundtrack with a much broader range of instruments compliment every aspect of the game both tonally and narratively. The impact of this is that some of the more emotional scenes hit harder, where the moments of levity (sporadic though they are) come across as more upbeat. In short, the phenomenal job of soundtrack adds a greater emotional nuance to much of the game, and definitely elevates the drama and ‘over-the-top’ feel of the boss encounters.

Despite it’s many, many positives, Rebirth is not without its faults. And chief among these is the somewhat confusing options you are presented with when the party wipes during a multiphase boss encounter. The options provided to players “Retry from Current Battle” and “Retry from This Battle” have about as much difference in meaning as the difference between Cloud’s appearance and a Chocobo, and yet choosing the later of these options will take you right back to the very start of the battle, and not the phase you were on. This may not seem like a huge problem, but this is a Final Fantasy game we’re talking about, and you can be damn sure there are some boss encounters that have a lot of phases and being taken right back to the very first phase that could have been 20-30 minutes ago when you’re already running on depleted adrenaline and mild eye strain can cause some mild gamer rage, especially when you are unable to skip those lovely mid-battle cutscenes.

There is also a crafting system in the game. Because apparently all games that are open world require a crafting system by modern triple A standards. However, this particular system isn’t completely pointless (please see my review of Final Fantasy XVI for my thoughts on a pointless and unnecessary crafting system), yet only adds another long list of things to-do. No literally, you can select things to add to your crafting to-do list in Rebirth. A novel idea, yes. However, it very much highlights how crafting in certain types of modern games is clearly just additional busy work and bloat designed to give players something else to work on.

My other final issue, albeit a small one, is the amount of stuff in the game. I started this review pointing out how long the game is and how it doesn’t feel like a drag and the pacing is well developed, and I stand by all these statements, however if you factor in the myriad, and I mean myriad, mini-games and their associated hard modes across the game you can easily be looking at sinking well over 150 hours into Rebirth. Not necessarily a negative, especially if you’re a gamer that enjoys spending 100+ hours immersed in a game world, however if you just want to enjoy the next chapter in the Remake saga, then you may find some of your overall enjoyment in the game mildly diminished.

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth carries on the trend set in Remake, while simultaneously being able to build, develop, and evolve from the solid foundations on which it was set. The shear scope and scale of the game is something to truly behold, and from the minute details in the animations, to the raw, beating heart at the game’s narrative core, Final Fantasy Rebirth should, in my opinion, be the new benchmark for how to go about remaking a beloved game. And with how complete enthralled I have been whilst playing Rebirth I can’t wait for the concluding third instalment for Final Fantasy 7 Remake Project to be released. And one thing’s for sure, the third and final part will need to answer a lot, and I mean a lot, of outstanding questions.

From the beautiful Grasslands surrounding Kalm, to the red sands of Cosmo Canyon, all the way to the hauntingly beautiful Ancient Capital, Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth captures your heart and imagination in a way that is designed to immerse players in a living world and take part in a story of beautiful narrative cadence with emotional nuance whilst feeling equal parts familiar and new. It is a game that, much like the original, could be the game of a generation for fans.


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