this first-class remake will put you on cloud nine

In Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, the end is nigh. The dystopian planet of Gaia is at breaking point thanks to Shinra, an evil corporation bleeding its natural resources dry. Meanwhile, ex-Shinra swordsman Sephiroth has learned he was made in a lab using a monster’s DNA, and is now working to bring about an apocalypse of his own. But Avalanche, the eco-terrorist heroes charged with stopping all of this, are in no rush.

That’s because Rebirth – the second entry in a trilogy retelling of ‘90s classic Final Fantasy 7 – is about the journey, not the destination. While 2020’s Final Fantasy 7 Remake followed our heroes fighting Shinra in the grimy city of Midgar, Rebirth is more of an open-world role-playing game as mercenary Cloud Strife and his allies chase Sephiroth across Gaia. Along the way, you’ll battle monsters in overgrown jungles, wrangle adorable Chocobos across mountains, and still have time to stop for a Cosmo Canyon cocktail in the sunny resort of Costa del Sol.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Credit: Square Enix.
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Credit: Square Enix.

Yes, there’s a world to save – but there’s also a staggering amount of side activities to keep you busy. Rebirth has been made with heaps of love, and there’s a thoughtful distraction tucked in every nook and cranny. Some of it is fairly standard for an open-world RPG – towers to activate, combat trials, optional bosses – but the many side quests and minigames are exceptional. Optional stories hone in on the stories of those you meet on your adventure, like helping a blacksmith make the perfect weapon or fending off fiends attracted by a would-be mercenary’s (infuriatingly catchy) advertising jingle, but it’s the wealth of mini-games that make the world feel truly alive.

From Guitar Hero-style piano playalongs to attractions at the opulent Golden Saucer amusement park, it’s easy to get lost in high-score-chasing. But the real highlight is Queen’s Blood, a card game that tasks players with fielding a stronger board of cards than their opponent. It’s simple to learn, but gets increasingly intricate as Rebirth goes on – once you’re hooked, it’s impossible to visit a new town without beelining for its opponents and collectible cards.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Credit: Square Enix.
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Credit: Square Enix.

When you’re not procrastinating, you’ll be fighting for your life against monstrous fiends and Shinra’s private army. Combat is a hybrid of the original Final Fantasy 7’s turn-based system, and the hack-and-slash action of the series’ latest games. You’ll fight and switch between party members in real time, then put everything on hold to cast spells or activate abilities through a menu. At first, this feels clunky – but as you get used to it, battles feel sublime.

The goal is to pressure enemies with attacks until they’re staggered, opening them up to take significantly more damage. You also need to track your allies’ health, order them about, and have party members team up for powerful Synergy Skills when they’re available. Of the game’s playable party members, everyone has a completely unique playstyle – Cloud is an up-close swordsman capable of dealing massive damage, while eco-terrorist-group-dad Barret is a menace from afar thanks to the minigun grafted to his arm. The depth of these mechanics shine when you start fighting tougher opponents, and even after tens of hours, combat never gets dull.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Credit: Square Enix.
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Credit: Square Enix.

Off the battlefield, Rebirth’s characters are just as varied. The party is a joy to follow thanks to its found-family dynamic – Cloud scowls his way through every conversation, while the friendship between brawling bartender Tifa and spell-slinging florist Aerith lights up every scene they share. These interactions keep the story feeling deceptively light for most of the game – but as Rebirth nears its conclusion, expect to be caught off-guard by some powerful emotional gut punches.

Meanwhile, Sephiroth oozes menace. A 27-year graphical leap means we get to see his villainous origin story (and fantastic hair) in sublime detail, and across the board there’s little that Square Enix’s visual overhaul hasn’t improved. Gaia’s environments vary massively, and whether you’re trekking through scenic grasslands or relaxing on Corel’s golden beaches, this will be one of the best-looking games you’ve ever played.

Long-time Final Fantasy fans won’t believe how good their childhood haunts look on the PS5, and it’s all accompanied by an arguably better score than the original game. Much of legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu’s work returns from 1997’s Final Fantasy 7 – often as beautiful piano tracks you can play yourself – but there’s an eclectic spread of new music to enjoy, from catchy electronic beats and J-pop hooks to frantic bebop and achingly pretty classical compositions.

With so much to take in, Rebirth is a game that can’t be rushed. You’re encouraged to ignore everything at stake to linger on the small things – whether that’s mastering ‘Tifa’s Theme’ on piano, or pausing to snap pictures of the latest gorgeous view you’ve stumbled upon. Savour every second of this exquisite adventure, because we’ll be waiting years for its sequel to wrap Cloud’s story up. Until then… another round of Queen’s Blood?

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth launches on February 29 for PS5.

Verdict

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth breathes new life into one of the most revered games of all time. A vastly richer open world ensures your time in Gaia is thoroughly engrossing, while Cloud’s story is as gripping as it was in 1997.

Pros

  • The best-looking game on PS5 so far
  • A myriad of entertaining minigames, side quests and distractions
  • Phenomenal soundtrack

Cons

  • Early hours of combat can feel clunky
  • If you find the side content too much, you may find the pacing a little sluggish


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