Many open world games have a ‘step out into the world’ moment—remember that feeling of leaving the vault in Fallout 3? Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth trades the dirty, cramped slums of Midgar for the open plains of The Planet. Seeing the light of the unblocked sun spill onto verdant greenery for the first time truly hammers home why these eco-terrorists are fighting Shinra tooth and nail.
During a recent preview event, VGC went hands-on with chapters one and two of the upcoming Rebirth, which is out February 29. Rebirth directly follows the events of Remake, with Cloud, Tifa, Barett, Aerith, Red XIII, and Yuffie making their escape from Midgar. Chapter one is a flashback Cloud narrates, taking us into his past with Sephiroth on their first mission together as SOLDIERS. It acts as a tutorial for Rebirth’s updated combat system, which is wicked fast—it makes Remake feel sluggish in comparison.
Fighting in Remake could feel a little on rails at times, like you were holding a button while your party did all the work. Rebirth maintains that level of simple execution, but throws in a more consistent way to get airborne alongside expanded synergy moves, making players feel like a more active participant.
Fights are slick, stylish, and moreish, making me crave a God of War-esque moment when enemies overwhelm the screen just so you can cut through them like a hot Buster sword through butter. Bigger boss fights also include a healthy amount of set-piece action and seamlessly transition between gameplay and cutscenes, creating exhilarating exhibitionist experiences.
The ATB mechanic is back and serves as a welcome way to break up the intensity of the tougher fights by affording some breathing room. The more open nature of Rebirth means fights can be a lot tougher than they were in Remake, as you can skip a lot of optional material and go in underlevelled.
We fought what was clearly a boss in the second chapter as soon as we could, and got our arses thoroughly handed to us. We just about managed to secure the victory on round two, and actually having to rely on my items so early in the game was a welcome change of pace from the relative ease of Remake.
Rebirth introduces crafting to the Remake project, reinforcing how necessary items are going to be throughout the game. It’s a competent system, nothing amazing, nothing terrible – it just works as you’d expect. What it does best is encourage you to make use of items rather than hoarding them, meaning you can tackle the game’s journey at your own pace, making up for being a lower level by utilising all the tools at your disposal and fighting tactically.
Gathering the right materials for crafting doesn’t detract from the exploration experience either. You can easily pick up ingredients while zipping across the open plains—no need to stop and press and hold Triangle or anything like that. Clambering up and jumping down various heights is also relatively simple, making exploration a breeze, rather than a chore.
“We fought what was clearly a boss in the second chapter as soon as we could, and got our arses thoroughly handed to us.”
Unfortunately, Rebirth continues some of the pacing issues of Remake, slowing things to a frustrating crawl in some story segments that would work far better as cutscenes. We understand the desire to create tension and hold players in an emotional moment, but hobbling through town with a limp and pressing R2 and then L2 to crawl forward at a snail’s pace only served to frustrate.
The story on offer is enthralling, so we’re not frustrated because we’d rather be fighting, but because we want to progress the narrative, not be stuck behind movement that feels like it’s only there to pad the run time.
The opening flashback of Cloud and Sephiroth clears some of the mysterious fog that clouds the enigmatic villain, but still keeps him interesting. Uncovering his origins and motivations makes his later acts of kindness toward Cloud even more intriguing.
There’s also a very clear homoerotic tension between Cloud and Sephiroth. The usually cool and collected Cloud is desperate to impress the more seasoned SOLDIER: “such a puppy,” as Sephiroth says. I’m a sucker for an enemies-to-lovers storyline, and I’m curious to see how far the Rebirth leans into this.
Chapter two expands not only the world, but the story, too. Everyone is still processing the events of Remake, and tensions are high. Other party members now react to the decisions Cloud makes; it wasn’t clear how any of those relationships would play out further down the line, but it’s interesting to see the importance of inter-party relationships be emphasised outside of combat. Fortunately, there’s still time for card games.
Queen’s Blood is Rebirth’s take on The Witcher 3’s Gwent. There may be a world-ending threat looming large on the horizon, but what’s life without a little downtime? This minigame is all about positioning. You’ve got to place your cards in a way that extends your playable squares on the board and makes them able to hold more powerful units.
Like any card game, it sounds confusing until you play a few rounds and get the gist, but it’s still tough as nails. Scouring the world for opponents to battle and cards to collect encourages exploration, working well with Rebirth’s more open environments.
The fighting is epic, the traversal is simple, everything looks utterly gorgeous, and Queen’s Blood is a solid riff on Gwent. It’s just a shame Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth has brought forward Remake’s pacing issues, especially in a game that feels large already.