Square Enix is back with another installment in the iconic Final Fantasy franchise. Following 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is the second installment in the publisher’s reimagining of its most iconic entry.
While Square Enix could have updated Final Fantasy VII’s graphics from 1997 and called it a day, the developers chose to also expand the story and overhaul the combat system. Of course, this expanded story allowed the remake to be split into three separate entries.
It might be a gaming sin to admit, but I have limited experience with the Final Fantasy series. I’ve played Bravely Default, the spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics, and previewed the first few hours of Final Fantasy XVI. Additionally, I watched Final Fantasy Advent Children so I have some passing familiarity with key characters in VII’s story. It’s safe to say, my Final Fantasy VII Rebirth experience won’t be colored by nostalgia goggles.
This begs the question — is FFVII Rebirth worth picking up for newcomers to the franchise? I got a chance to play through the introduction and the first several hours of Cloud and co.’s adventure to find out.
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Staring with the sequel
Given that FFVII Rebirth is the second part of Square Enix’s three part remake, it’s not necessarily the best starting place to get the full FFVII experience. That being said, the tutorial section covers key events that explain some of the title’s backstory and the events of 2020’s Remake.
These events give players a chance to learn more about Cloud, his childhood friend Tifa and his rival/main antagonist Sephiroth. Without knowing all the twists and turns the story will take, it’s safe to say that you’ll understand why you’re fighting to foil his plans. However, other protagonists such as Aerith, Barrett and Red XIII don’t get as much explanation.
Overall, Square Enix does a good job of giving fans an option to skip Remake. Of course, nothing will replace playing the first section of the game entirely. As long as fans know they’re jumping in part way, there’s enough to understand the fundamentals.
Modernizing (and adding) to FFVII
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s combat system looks to blend the turn-based combat of the past with more modern high-intensity action. There are different control schemes that emphasize either of these options. I opted for classic controls to more easily use skills and spells.
Players looking to get their fill of frenetic action with a sprinkling of strategy will be pleased with FFVII Rebirth. Given the limited window to play, I found it difficult to pick up all of the nuances. With more time and practice, I’d expect combining spells, skills and unique character mechanics to flow more naturally.
For a modern reimagining of a gaming classic, certain mechanics felt fairly old school. There were a number of unbreakable crates that looked destructible at first. Additionally, climbing, shimming and moving objects felt unnecessarily clunky and slow.
That being said, there’s plenty of new activities added to Final Fantasy VII Rebirth that weren’t in the original. Chief amongst these is the brand new strategic card mini-game: Queen’s Blood.
The mini-game has players placing cards in three lanes. Each card adds power to the lane, but also unlocks new tiles to place cards in new spaces. These unlocked tiles can be upgraded to place more potent cards by overlapping unlocked tiles. When no more cards can be placed, the power of each lane is tallied. Only the winner of each lane’s total is added to their overall score.
Queen’s Blood reminded me quite a bit of the Witcher 3’s Gwent. It’ll be a fun diversion, but skippable if it’s not your thing.
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth sans nostalgia
After playing Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s opening hours, it’s hard to recommend it as the starting point for new fans. There’s a lot to love, but jumping into a story-driven game a third of the way through isn’t ideal.
Skipping to the sequel means missing out on learning more about the main characters, their combat abilities and emotional investment in their stories. Instead, new players get a massive info dump at the beginning of the game all at once. For these pacing reasons, fans that want the modernized experience should probably start with 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake.
That being said, the expanded (and changed) story of the remake has its own downsides. Instead of the streamlined 50-ish hour experience of the original, the story is being stretched across three games. For fans that like turn-based RPGs over action RPGs and aren’t turned off by 1997 graphics, the classic might be the best bet.
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth launches on February 29, 2024 on PlayStation 5.
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