Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Review – Big, Weird, Beautiful

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Review

Final Fantasy stories are enormous, epic affairs that start big and only get bigger. FF7 (the original) is a sprawling tale crammed onto three discs and three dozen hours. We’ve seen how Remake started to fill those shoes. The stage was set, the stakes were high, and expectations were even higher. And after playing the whole dang game before writing this review? Final Fantasy VII Rebirth does a terrific job of escalating things. This game is bigger, bolder, and better in almost every way. A couple of sections had me cracking plastic in frustration, yes. But the overall vibe was one of wonder and joy.

The story picks up roughly 24 hours after the last game ended. We kick things off with an extended flashback, one that sheds some light on Sephiroth and his motivations. I’ll avoid most story details, if only to keep this review under 2000 words. The intro chapter is nice and short, while chapter two blows the doors open. It’s the open world, baby! As much as I love the bustling cities, there’s something incredibly peaceful about the wilderness in this game. At first it feels a bit lonely, but you’re quickly set up with a whole bunch of quests and missions to tackle. Chocobos and fast travel points keep your commute more manageable, and level recommendations keep you from getting blindsided.

Spoilers Ahead, Friends

One thing I noticed right away about the combat is the ATB system. Items, spells, and special abilities are all tied to these limited charges. Somehow I felt more shackled to this system this time around. For example: this fight’s going sideways, and you need healing. If you do it, you’re vulnerable while it’s happening. Might get interrupted, might not even happen. If one of your companions does it, you might be waiting a while. Companion ATB charges take ages to build up, for one thing. And if you don’t have them equipped with the right materia, it might not happen at all. Your best bet is rapidly switching characters and making sure everyone has healing equipped at all times.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Review

But don’t get me wrong! While labor intensive, this system is nonetheless an engaging one. You have tons of materia to experiment with, lots of characters, and lots of moves. Plus, the Synergy system encourages further experimentation. They’re basically limit break combos. You can unlock a ton of them through basic upgrades, which rules. On the other hand, I never knew exactly when they would unlock in any given battle. This made it hard to plan fights around them in general. I’m sure a system exists that lays out exactly how Synergy attacks work, but I never figured it out. Maybe everyone involved needs some ATB charge built up? I survived several boss fights thanks to a timely Synergy attack or two.

Many Ways To Win

For the most part, you have access to your whole party. But anytime you don’t, it’s a chance for someone besides Cloud to take the lead. This gives you access to unique exploration tools, like Barrett’s machine gun or Red’s claws. You’re also shoved into several bespoke team combos. I appreciated the chance to play around with every character. It kept me from sidelining anyone for too long. The only character I hated controlling was Cait Sith. He’s great, okay? A fun, charming character with a lovely narrative arc and some cool moves in combat. But his exploration/puzzle-solving section is hot garbage. The whole game slams on the brakes so I can struggle to throw a big metal box into a moving target from an awkward angle.

To be clear, this nonsense with Cait Sith is an unusual low point. The minigames in Rebirth are numerous and delightful. While I loved Remake, it didn’t have nearly enough wacky distractions for my tastes. This game is crammed with them. Queen’s Blood, the card game, is fantastic. There’s a racing game, rhythm games, a sit-up contest, frog battles, Cactuar hunts, Chocobo catching, and dozens more. You’re hit with new mechanics for tiny challenges at a crackling pace. Some of them will be familiar to fans of the original game. Twice as many will be brand new. The crazy side content was a true highlight of my whole playthrough.

Excellent Voice Work

Special mention goes to the voice acting and the writing in Rebirth. All the main characters, and most of the minor roles, are over-the-top magic. Cloud is a fascinating mix of mindless determination and hometown charm. Tifa and Aerith play off each other beautifully. Aerith in particular is whimsical at a weaponized level. She’s disarming, affectionate, and infectious. Red’s performance is downright remarkable in its own ways. And I saw so many awesome performances from smaller roles. I saw a couple of accusations of AI voicework being used. I can’t say for sure whether or not this is true, but I can say I never heard it myself.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Review

You can play the game on Normal, Easy, or Dynamic difficulty modes. I played through 80% of the game on Normal. I won’t say exactly which fight made me give up and switch. But I’ll tell you this: my level, my equipment, and my materia were completely irrelevant. The entire fight was down to my ability to perfectly dodge, block, and read my opponent’s moves. And the fight has a second phase. I got so mad I almost threw my controller through my TV. To be clear, there are no other battles in the entire game that rely on or require these specific skills to this degree. It’s a one-on-one battle. It’s this specific fight that kept me from giving Rebirth a perfect score. I cannot overstate how incredibly frustrating the whole experience was.

Compelling, Powerful Plot

Finally, the story. I loved the narrative arc in Rebirth. The pacing feels right, the characters are fleshed out, and the major beats hit properly hard. You get a sprinkling of secrets and teases throughout the plot that keep you engaged. The villains are compelling and cool. The stakes feel nice and high. And the ending feels like an ending. By which I mean you’re not left hanging too badly. Everything wraps up pretty well while leaving things open for the inevitable third act. All I’ll say regarding certain story beats is maybe stay off social media before and during your own playthrough.

This Final Fantasy VII project is a massive undertaking of an impossible scale. A single release stretched into three games? Preposterous. And yet, so far the team is totally nailing it. The first game was a smash hit, and Rebirth runs laps around it in almost every way. The performances, the plot, and the gameplay are all much improved. With a couple of notable exceptions. While I hated one or two sections with venomous passion, they aren’t enough to spoil the experience. The game is less than perfect, but not by much. If you’ve been hotly anticipating this release, you were right to do so. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is a fantastic follow-up to a pretty incredible game.

***A PS5 code was provided by the publisher***

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Guides:

The Good

  • Tons of minigames
  • Excellent plot and performances
  • Cool new mechanics
  • Pacing feels right

The Bad

  • Some confusing systems
  • A few frustrating segments
  • One horrible boss fight