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Final Fantasy VII: REBIRTH Review

Nostalgia Perfected

Joseph Bradford Posted:
Reviews The RPG Files 0

Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH has an odd task as the middle entry in an eventual three-part RPG series. REBIRTH, for its part, has to simultaneously bring some resolution to the lingering questions brought on by 2020’s Final Fantasy VII REMAKE, set up the final chapter in the series, while also telling a compelling story in its own right.

It’s safe to say that, after almost 80 hours with the RPG, Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH does this and much more. It’s emotionally charged character moments, story, and compelling world kept me enthralled from its first moments right up until the credits rolled, evoking wide-ranging emotions from gut-driven laughter and sloppy crying in the tenderest of scenes. It answers just enough of the burning questions I had after I finished REMAKE while leaving me asking even more after the final boss was put down.

Setting The Stage

From the first, Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH sets the stage - and the stakes. Escaping Shinra, Sephiroth, and seemingly fate back in Midgar, REBIRTH retells Sephiroth’s villain origin story: the Mt. Nibel Incident, reminding players everywhere who their enemy is from the get-go. 

It’s a pretty faithful recreation of the Mt. Nibel Incident, and it acts as a mini-refresher of sorts, opening up the taps on combat and some of the new mechanics introduced by REBIRTH, namely expanding on the Synergy skills added in the INTERmission DLC. Playing as Sephiroth made me feel like I was imbued with god-like power, especially as I slowly mastered his parry mechanic, and pulling off a synergy skill early on with Cloud and his SOLDIER mentor felt incredible. 

It felt easy jumping back into the action combat hybrid of Final Fantasy VII’s Remake trilogy, and the new wrinkles make it feel more impactful than its first installment. Yet the most impactful addition to REBIRTH has to be its vast new open world, begging to be explored.

Opening Up

The introduction of REBIRTH’s open world is a scene that has remained transfixed in my memory since my preview in early February. It’s a moment that establishes and conveys so much in just a few seconds: from the tantalizing prospect of exploring all that is in front of me to re-establishing the stakes and reason why our heroes are fighting - all in one fell swoop.

Seeing the lush and verdant grasslands after more than forty hours in the dusty and rusted Midgar is a sight to behold, and it’s made all the more pronounced when Red XIII assures us that the planet is barely holding on, despite appearances. It’s a stark reminder that these heroes aim to save the planet, not simply those inhabiting it. 

This open world is the most significant difference between Final Fantasy VII REMAKE and REBIRTH, making the former feel like an overlong proof of concept. The linear corridors of Midgar’s various sectors are replaced by the vast hills of the Grasslands or deeply cut canyons of Cosmo Canyon. It’s a playground teeming with activities to do, from combat trials to Chocobo treasure hunts.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Costa Del Sol

The world feels enormous - though not so insurmountable that traveling through its mountain passes, swamps, and more feels like a chore. A rather generous fast travel system also makes getting around each of REBIRTH’s six massive regions pretty painless, made even easier once some of the vehicles, such as the Buggy or a Chocobo (and yes, even the humble Wheelie as pictured above), are unlocked.

Verdant grasslands and forests give way to boggy swamps, home to the dreaded Midgardsormr in the Grasslands, while the shift from the tropical Costa Del Sol region transitioning to the dusty climate of Corel gives plenty of variety while exploring. It’s not all one note, which is mighty helpful since such a large portion of playtime in REBIRTH will be spent between the major hub towns. Midgar, for it’s part, now feels small and claustrophobic by comparison.

Each of the major hub towns felt handcrafted, from the multitiered Cosmo Canyon to the massive, cosmopolitan city of Upper Junon. It's here where most of REBIRTH's story beats emanate from, kicking off the events of each chapter and sending our party back out into the open world. 

Many of the quest sequences mix the linear level design of REMAKE with the new open world formula as well, creating a confluence of design that feels organic. Traveling to a quest location might take Cloud and the party through the wide expanse of Corel, but once we get to the mines things turn into a much more focused and condensed affair. 

This mix of presentation never got old, and it helped to add some focus to an otherwise expansive game that really just let me loose in the open world and begged me to have fun.

I never found the open world itself tedious, which is saying something as I typically bee-line main quests as the busy work that most open-world titles offer typically bores me.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Chocobos

It helps that the busy work in REBIRTH has some rewards even outside of the usual Gil, experience, and items grabbed from downing a pack of wolves or Cactuars.

An absolutely staggeringly good soundtrack enhances all this exploration. Nobuo Uematsu’s original music is here, and in some cases improved upon by composer Mistuo Suzuki. Running around and hearing variations on the main overworld theme never got old, especially when I started to hear the tenor saxophone riffs make their entrance in the Corel region. Running around a city and stopping to hear the street buskers play colorful jazz riffs was always a nice touch.

Square Enix boasted in a recent preview that it composed over 400 songs for REBIRTH and I believe it. The sheer quantity of music on offer never got old and make exploring the world a much more enjoyable experience.

Gathering Intel

Chadley, everyone’s favorite Shinra-made cyborg, is also back to give the open world activities some direction - and rewards. Much like in REMAKE where you could undertake intel tasks for Chadley in return for developing powerful Materia, especially the various Summon materia, REBIRTH takes this to a global level. World Intel fuels Chadley’s curiosity, earning Intel points that are used to purchase new Materia. It also unlocks new combat simulator challenges to tackle for even more rewards.

For some, the sheer amount of activities in each region can be overwhelming. This is in addition to the various side quests that Cloud and company can complete in each area, putting those Merc skills to good use. 

In my preview posted earlier this month, I mentioned that REBIRTH has the infamous open-world Towers, this time called Remnawave Towers. At first glance, I was worried that the towers would turn natural and free-flowing exploration into a “color by numbers” affair. A checklist, so to speak. Yet, in the end, it didn’t even matter. The Remnawave Towers aren’t necessary for exploration, rather they simply uncover points of interest for Chadley’s World Intel. The map and its fog of war are uncovered purely by where you go, not which tower you’ve activated.

As a result, this made exploration feel like a joy, not like a chore. I could simply point Piko the Chocobo in a direction and race towards it, doing the activities I wanted that I found along the way, rather than feeling pressured to do so by the need to unlock that next tower.

I will say, though, that some of the activities did start to feel dull after a while. As much as I enjoyed the stealth-esque mini-game to capture a Chocobo, having to repeat it in almost every region to gain access to the feathered friend was a bit tedious. 

You’ve Got Character, Kid

While the World Intel is undoubtedly something that’ll keep players going well beyond the main story’s runtime, the side quests are also worth a look. While many of the side quests that make up Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH aren’t anything particularly compelling overall, they play an extremely important role in helping to build affinity with Cloud’s party. 

One of the lasting legacies of Final Fantasy VII is its incredibly endearing characters, each a star in their own right. Each character brings something unique to the party, from Yuffie’s goofy eagerness to Barret’s stern exterior shielding the tender-hearted father underneath - everyone is a compelling addition to the cast in a way that has stood the test of time these 27 years.

Rufus And Rude Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

Character relationships are at the core of Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH, as they drive story moments, combat decisions, and more. Side quests help to build Cloud’s relationship with his party members, as each quest usually has one featured party member. One quest had me pick flowers with Aerith to make a flower crown for Chloe at the Chocobo Ranch, while another saw me help inspire some bodybuilders with Tifa. The subjects run the gamut, but the moments between Cloud and his friends never stop being touching to watch.

Building relationships is vital in REBIRTH, and this can be done through those side quests but also through how you interact with them in dialogue scenes. Choose the right answer and your relationship could deepen; choose wrong, and you might not make as much headway as you want. I love this system as it also allows for some roleplaying as Cloud, a character whose personality and motivations are otherwise set in stone. 

As a result, I found myself acting more playful in my responses to Aerith and especially Tifa (seriously, I’ve had a crush on her since I was 10, alright?) as well as Red XIII, though I tried to play tough with Barret. This was almost subconscious as well; I didn’t quite realize this until I was about halfway through Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH’s story, 

This is probably where the technical advances since 1997’s original PlayStation debut help the most. Seeing the range of human emotion, from pure joy at wandering the Gold Saucer to the sadness that comes from hardship, etched clearly on each face, brought me closer to them than I’d ever felt. This is enhanced thanks to REBIRTH’s stellar voice cast, with each actor bringing something unique to their role. 

Much like I thought of REMAKE, Aerith shines brightest in REBIRTH. It really feels that while we’re playing things out from the perspective of Cloud, this is Aerith’s story at its core, and I’m all here for that. Aerith’s playful curiosity brought so many smiles to my face during my playthrough, while her vulnerable moments brought me to tears more than anything else. Briana White’s performance is once again a standout, improving upon her performance in the prior installment. 

Returning characters such as my favorite lad Johnny, and the mischievous Kyrie highlight some of REMAKE’s original cast, and I enjoyed getting to know each even deeper. Also, Roche is just a badass, and he steals every scene he finds himself in.  

And seriously, whenever I saw Andrea from Sector 6 lurking around the outskirts of the scene, I would feel the urge to boot up REMAKE and relive that incredible dance scene.

Let the battles begin!

Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH brings the revamped action-turn-based combat hybrid its predecessor pioneered back for another round, and it feels as good as it ever has. Combat is still a frenetic balancing act, going from furiously swinging Cloud’s oversized sword, dodging, and blocking incoming attacks to slowing the action down to fire off a powerful skill or spell. The ATB gauge is back, bringing that signature Final Fantasy VII flair to combat. Fill it through landing attacks, blocking, and evading enemy attacks to batter down enemies with abilities and materia-powered spells.

Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH expands on REMAKE: INTERmission’s companion synergy system, adding synergy skills and abilities for each character. This allows party members to fight together in battle more meaningfully. Skills are quick-fire abilities, such as a Cloud and Barret’s Bullet Batter skill which sees Cloud knock the gunfire from Barret’s arm into the enemy like batting practice. These skills are able to be used at any point during combat, but are also easily interruptable, making when to use them part of the strategy. 

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Tifa Red XIII

Abilities are larger and more powerful affairs. These feel almost like mini Limit Breaks, with two characters teaming up to unleash a powerful attack. One of my favorites was Cloud and Cait Sith’s SOLDIER Moogle Class ability which sees Cloud hop onto the giant stuffed Moogle, while Cait Sith’s puppet puts the Buster Sword through its paces. One skill also sees Aerith whip Red around the battlefield using a magical leash, almost like a Midgardian lion tamer.

These powerful and fun skills are unlocked using the new Folios system, which effectively replaces the individual weapon upgrade system from the previous entry. Instead of having separate skill sets and stat sheets to keep track of per weapon, Folios consolidates all that into one skill tree. At first glance, it was a bit daunting, but once I put more time into going through each tree, it was a bit easier to understand. 

Path of Exile’s skill tree, this is not. 

Folios allow you to effectively build each character the way you want. Want Barret to focus mostly on ranged physical damage while Cait Sith is your mage? You can spec more into the damage side of things on Barret’s folio while sticking to the upgrades in Cait’s raise magic effectiveness and MP pool. 

There is plenty of experimentation that can be done as well given that respecs are free whenever you can access your Folio, which can only be done at a bookstore in a hub or dedicated machines dotting the world. 

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Folios

As to which Folio upgrades you can access, this is based on your weapon and party level, both of which are advanced through completing world intel, fights, and quests. The higher each level, the more powerful the skills you have access to are, eventually unlocking higher-tiered Limit Breaks and more.

I appreciate that this feels a bit more streamlined than REMAKE’s per-weapon-based system, though I wish I could zoom out more when inspecting the Folios screen. But that’s a small gripe, really. 

You can freely swap between party members, and thanks to REBIRTH’s expanded cast there are more to choose from. While it’s a bit disappointing that you cannot play as Vincent or Cid in REBIRTH, much like you couldn’t play Red XIII in REMAKE, I do appreciate that there are more options than ever. 

Part of my fun early on was figuring out the optimal party makeup, from my ranged character like Aerith and Barret to deal with flying enemies to my melee team of Yuffie and Tifa. In the end, I had it pretty much set up to rotate between a mix of each style, which, thankfully, you can do on the fly in the open world, which was handy to shake up my play style when I could see what type of enemy I was approaching.

The Gold Saucer

One thing that helped to define Final Fantasy VII for myself and many others were the plethora of mini-games to take part in, whether it was the march routine for President Rufus Shinra in Junon or the vast Chocobo breeding and racing at the Gold Saucer. I poured hours into these as a kid, trying to grow my stable to breed the perfect Gold Chocobo to dominate the rest of the competition.

Gold Saucer Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

Mini-games are back in Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH in a big way, from original games like the card game Queen’s Blood, the pirate shooting gallery at Costa Del Sol, a Red XIII-variant of Rocket League, and much more.

There are SO. Many. Mini-games. 

In a way, I feel like there might be too many mini-games, but I’m glad that the developers decided to double down on this, as it’s one of the hallmark features of the original’s DNA. Jumping into the motorcycle chase from REMAKE, reimagined as a Gold Saucer mini-game, was a treat, though the Chocobo racing brought me back to my bedroom on the Air Force base growing up - it was what I always imagined it would be in my head.

However, I think my favorite mini-game in REBIRTH has to be the new card game, Queen’s Blood. I’m a massive Triple Triad fan from Final Fantasy VIII (and now Final Fantasy XIV), but I spent so much of my time in Queen’s Blood I almost didn’t finish the main story in time for this embargo. 

Queen’s Blood reminds me a ton of The Witcher 3’s Gwent. It takes place on a three-lane board, with players placing cards in alternating turns to see who can get the highest score in each lane at the end of the game. Cards are placed based on the number of pawns in a square, which is influenced by territory earned by previously placed cards. It’s deceptively simple, but the best games are.

I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this, though, to be frank, I play a ton of Magic: The Gathering, so I really shouldn’t be surprised I spent quite a few hours of my review going through the in-game ranking system to be the best Queen’s Blood this side of Nibelheim. 

One of the first things I would do when I got to a new hub was to head to the item vendor to see what cards I could buy to flesh out my collection. Building the perfect deck - I had one that specialized in augmenting card power and then playing cards that got more powerful the more boosted cards I had in play - grabbed something deep in my TCG-playing soul that I wasn’t actually expecting when I first heard of this in the previews.

There is so much on offer in Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH that just the mini-games alone can entertain for hours. I’m already planning how I want to come back and tackle some of the Costa Del Sol games, as well as the battle arena in the Saucer now that my first playthrough is complete. If that’s not a testament to how fun these have been, I don’t know what is.

Technically Imperfect

Visually, Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH is impressive…except when it’s not. Using Unreal Engine 4, there are times where cutscenes and character moments look right out of a pre-rendered cutscene, yet REBIRTH suffers from the same issues REMAKE had when it came to the quality of its assets. Many, many of the games’ environments look stunning, from the red canyons of Cosmo Canyon to the sun-drenched shores of Costa Del Sol. 

Rufus Shinra Junon Final Fantasy vII Rebirth

I particularly loved the Art Deco, 1930’s stylings of Upper Junon - it’s another aspect of REBIRTH that blew my 10-year-old imagination growing up, and it did so again 27 years later. 

The art direction is masterful in Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH. I just wish all the texture work matched the vision. There were times in the previous installment when some low-resolution textures would find their way to the fore, though Midgar's metalwork and cluttered streets hid this. This isn’t as easy to hide when a cliff face, for example, looks like textures that would fit in with something ten years older. Blown up to 4K, these assets are jarring, especially when the rest of the RPG looks phenomenal.

This isn’t helped when playing in the RPG’s Performance mode, which prioritizes a 60fps refresh versus the graphics mode’s 30fps. While I always prefer a higher framerate, the blurriness brought on by the performance mode was too much. REBIRTH’s art direction seems to want as little aliasing as possible, which is good, but it comes at the expense of a softer image. Dropping the internal rendering resolution and then scaling that up to 4K makes that softness all the more pronounced.

I’m glad, however, that both modes exist. For those players who simply don’t mind the blurrier image for the sake of performance, it’s there. But for my part, I ended up playing my almost 80-hour playthrough at 30fps, which, with the exception of some drops in one of the most demanding boss fights, was rock solid throughout.

Thankfully, all of this can be fixed through patches (one which hit the demo yesterday and aims to improve the visuals of its performance mode), so I hope that as Square Enix settles into post-launch bug fixes and tweaks, these issues can be resolved.

That said, REBIRTH makes great use of PS5-specific features, such as the adaptive triggers throughout, as well as the lightning-fast load times. I actually cannot imagine playing Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH on anything that doesn’t support the Dualsense controller features, as some of the adaptive trigger and haptic feedback added so meaningfully to the experience. Cloud crawling toward Sephiroth as his home and everything around it is engulfed in flames is made more impactful in that I felt like I had to really try to push those triggers down, for example. 

Nostalgia Perfected

One aspect of Final Fantasy VII REMAKE that I adored was that it took risks. It was a major risk for Square Enix to take an iconic story like the original Final Fantasy VII and tweak it to make it feel whole and fresh. Square Enix truly set out to make a definitive remake of the RPG, not simply a remaster.

As a result, some of the creative decisions that Square Enix took sent the story off in wide, ranging directions with massive implications as to what the future meant moving forward. REBIRTH, for its part, does the same despite sticking rather closely to much of the main narrative throughout its run time. 

However, it’s those new wrinkles, the new twists and turns that leave REBIRTH with its own dizzying amount of questions and implications going into the third installment of the Final Fantasy VII REMAKE project. 

Aerith Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

I’ve stayed away from talking about Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH’s story for most of this review, and that was on purpose. Despite being a 27-year-old RPG story that is likely one of the most iconic in video game history, we really want to retain the story beats - both original and new - for you to experience for yourself.

Yet I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention just how much joy was brought to me through REBIRTH’s reimagining of the Final Fantasy VII story. It’s nostalgia perfected: it brings me back to my days as a kid, experiencing this story that forever changed how I looked at games, while simultaneously leaving me guessing as to where Square Enix is taking things next. Just like REMAKE before it, REBIRTH isn’t a remaster - it’s a full reimagining of the story itself.

While there are deviations, much like we saw in REMAKE, the main structure of REBIRTH plays out mostly like its original inspiration. Seeing the Gold Saucer in all its splendor on screen brought a goofy smile to my face, while the first time I stepped into Cosmo Canyon left me awestruck. Seeing all these places I dreamt about and spent so much time in as a kid rebuilt in a modern reimagining had me take a step back from my standing desk a few times to just gawk at the screen. 

Yet none of this would be as impactful if the characters weren’t faithfully portrayed by their actors and so well written by the developers. This story is, like many others around my age, a turning point for video game storytelling, and the amount of times I was yanked back to my childhood bedroom are too many to count.

Despite being fueled by nostalgia, Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH has me excited about the risks Square is taking. They could have simply printed money by creating a shot-for-shot remake of the original story: its characters, story beats and message are as impactful today as they were 27 years ago. Yet, by taking these risks and reimaging this iconic story, what we are getting feels distinctly like the story the developers wanted to tell all along. 

As a result, Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH is a modern RPG masterpiece and solidly sets up its third installment in the Final Fantasy VII Remake Project. It's ambitious and massive in scope - and that's before we even get to the daunting task of recreating one of the most iconic stories of all time. At its core, Final Fantasy VII REBIRTH retains the essence of what the original story contained, expanding on it meaningfully in a way that feels wholly new.

And I can’t wait to see how it all concludes.

Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by PR for the purposes of this review. Reviewed on PlayStation 5.

9.5 Amazing
  • Builds meaningfully on FF7 REMAKE
  • So many minigames
  • Beautifully realized vast open world
  • Combat is still absolutely stellar
  • Character-driven story is still as iconic as ever
  • Some visual issues detract from an otherwise masterful art direction


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore