Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Review – Living in the Materia World

This review contains spoilers for Final Fantasy VII Remake and the equivalent section of Final Fantasy VII.

I still have my original copy of Final Fantasy VII from the 90s. I bought it and my Playstation off another student at school who was selling everything for a ludicrously low price. And while I sold the Playstation to a friend when I got one of the smaller portable Playstion 1s you can attach a screen to (I still have that one) I kept Final Fantasy VII. In short, I’ve been a fan of Final Fantasy VII for a very long time. I played the original, watched Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, played Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and read the novellas. I played Final Fantasy VII Remake and liked it. It had a lot of new, interesting segments and plot hooks, though I thought it was too hampered down by the need to keep the correct characters in the party in the correct place in the narrative at all times for a 40+ hour game. I also thought it was way too stingy with materia and with the AP for that materia, making preparing for hard mode a complete chore.

So, I was looking forward to Rebirth with anticipation and trepidation. It was, as far as we could figure, adapting the rest of Final Fantasy VII‘s first disc, which meant adapting some of the game’s most iconic scenes. It also had to continue the new plot elements introduced in Remake, such as the plot meddling whispers, Sephiroth in a rift in time, and a man named Zack who survived a showdown with a Shinra army and was carrying a second comatose Cloud into Midgar. It also had to make the combat system at least as fun as Remake‘s but balanced around an additional three playable characters – Red, a guest member in Remake‘s final chapters, Yuffie, who played solo in her DLC chapters, and Cait Sith, who was a complete wildcard to see how they’d adapt him. So, I’m glad to say that Rebirth has done an amazing job. From the very start, it straddles a very fine line of threading in hints to the greater plot that a new player will miss, but which will be obvious to returning players or those on a second playthrough.

While you can control only three characters in a battle, all seven help out in standard fights.
While you can control only three characters in a battle, all seven help out in standard fights.

Rebirth starts with a very curious scene, as Zack walks into the Midgar undercity and sees a newscast that reveals that Cloud and his party have been defeated, and Zack sees an injured Aerith among them. Zack then rushes off to try and rescue her, doing so with the aid of Red XIII who helped down the helicopter he and she were in by attacking the pilot. After Zack fights off another group of Shinra troopers and rescues Aerith, we cut to Cloud talking to his party, Red and Aerith among them, recounting his flashback of the Nibelheim incident of five years ago. People who’ve played the original, or the recent Crisis Core remake know something is up here, but even a first time player should be rightly confused at there being two Clouds. The rest of that flashback – including a playable Sephiroth, a wonderful nod to his being a temporary party member in the original game (but executed even more wonderfully) – includes even more hints that something is wrong, and for eagle-eyed and eagle-eared players, what that something might be. But it’s not just Rebirth‘s mysterious twist that performs well. While the flashback serve as a handy introduction and re-introduction to the game mechanics from Remake and the ways they’ve changed (most dramatically with the introduction of synergy skills and abilities) Kalm itself serves as a bridge between the very cramped and very linear world of Remake‘s Midgar and Rebirth‘s far more open vistas. The escape sequence down a long tight underground corridor into a bright open and green hillside acts as a metaphor that the very constrained, linear and time focused gameplay and narrative of Remake is given way to the freer, more open style of Rebirth.

Aside from specific moments, you travel with your entire party with you. Though you can still only actively control three in battle and it’s game over if they all die. Whoever isn’t in your party not only will chip in with free attacks in battle, you can swap your party members around at basically any point out of combat. This is especially nice for the grand number of sidequests Rebirth has provided, several of which are tied to specific party members, but which do not require that character to be in your active party at any point during the quest. You’re also free to backtrack, explore, or just wander around and level grind for a bit. You don’t even have to worry about missing out on weapons like in Remake. Any time you miss a weapon you can either circle back to pick it up or buy it at a weapon vendor in one of the many towns. Likewise for example, the enemy skill materia has been reworked so that it no longer requires being attacked by an enemy to learn it’s skill, with new skills being tied to unlocking and completing combat challenges in Chadley’s combat simulator, which are tied to going out and exploring and fighting and completing world tasks. Rebirth wants to be explored, so it’s a good thing it’s chock full of gorgeous scenery and interesting areas.

I know what you're looking at. It's the scenery.
I know what you’re looking at. It’s the scenery.

Regardless of whether or not you played Remake (or Intermission), you will begin Rebirth with a standardized level and loadout, which really is the only reasonable thing for Square Enix to have done. As a bonus for people who played Remake and Intermission, if Rebirth detects saves for these games or for the Rebirth demo, it will grant several Summon Materia, a useful accessory, and the ability to skip the Nibelheim flashback if you want. Rebirth is also much more immediately generous with these than Remake was. The Enemy Skill and AP up Materia in particular are both found very early on and are far more valuable because of that.

The mechanics of battle are largely the same, with basic attacks allowing you to build a meter to use on executing skills, casting spells, or using items. In addition to these, there are new synergy skills – much like Yuffie and Sonon’s team up attacks in Intermission– which can be used at any time, take no meter, and actually help generate it for the members of your party not currently being controlled. There are also synergy abilities which activate after two of your party members use their regular abilities enough times. These synergy abilities are like Limit attacks Lite, in that they have a unique animation, are very powerful, and have unique abilities like dealing a massive load of stagger damage, segmenting Active Time Battle into three instead of the usual two, or giving unlimited magic points for a short amount of time.

Even scenes of devastation and destruction are awe inspiring in Rebirth.
Even scenes of devastation and destruction are awe inspiring in Rebirth.

Every synergy skill and ability is performed by one character with one other character, and they add to your party’s offensive arsenal considerably. The trick is that none of these are immediately available. Instead they must be unlocked in the folio menu, Rebirth‘s much improved answer to the weapon upgrade system from Remake (though that does still exist in a much more streamlined fashion). How the folio works is that every level grants a number of skill points which can be used to buy improvements for your character, like stat boosts,+5% from basic attacks, the ability to cast a variant spell without using MP, and unlocking the synergy skills and abilities. And you can refund these buffs at any time without cost and buy a different ability if an old one just isn’t cutting it. Of course, not everything is available to be bought right away. Even if you maxed out your levels for SP, a lot of the board is locked away behind weapon levels and party levels. Party levels increase by completing enough of Rebirth‘s main quests, side missions, and random tasks, while weapon levels function much the same way as in Remake where at a certain maximum SP threshold the weapon will level up. Unlike in Remake, this process is completely automatic and the only thing you need to decide is which weapon buffs to assign to your active weapon.

The plot is amazing. What changes there are from the original actually serve to flesh out the world more, smooth over awkward moments of the original, or just add something fun to the world. There are serious and silly moments in equal measure, and both the writing and acting deliver for those. Included among that is a very subtle tribute to Keiji Fujiwara, the Japanese voice actor for Reno, Axel, and Ardyn Izunia among many others. In the original game, there are several run-ins with the Turks, in one of these that does not result in combat, Reno and Rude are seen relaxing at a bar. Reno has been removed from this sequence in Rebirth (recuperating from injuries sustained in Remake) and in another moment later, Rude remarks he wishes his partner was around and wishes him well. There are tons of tiny varations of the story depending on your choices and feelings each of the party members has towards Cloud. While the broad strokes of the narrative are the same, certain scenes will change slightly or even not happen depending on your party’s affection towards ol’ Chocobo Head.

You can see your party's feelings towards Cloud with a push of a button. How these people feel about Cloud changes the way certain scenes but not the overall plot.
You can see your party’s feelings towards Cloud with a push of a button. How these people feel about Cloud changes the way certain scenes but not the overall plot.

Lastly, I want to touch on what has apparently been a very divisive subject for the fandom, and that is the minigames. For my experience with these, even the mandatory ones are much more well-executed than their Remake counterparts, with much saner score requirements for the max level, much faster load times, better rewards, etc. Several happen due to the plot, but most of these you can just fail and move on with. You only have to try if you want to get bonus items and you’re allowed to retry as many times as you like. If you enjoy minigames, Rebirth has you covered. If you hate them, skip them.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment with Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, my few moments of frustration come from the challenging optional fights well above my level because I just knew I could beat them. If you liked the original Final Fantasy VII, even if you didn’t like Remake as much, or if you like big, epic JRPGs, then give Rebirth a shot. Even after beating it, there’s a post game mode where you can redo entire chapters with different story and affection variables, or just with some of the variant outfits you can unlock. Want to march in a military parade in a swimsuit? I know you do. Rebirth is amazing. What it gives me even more than an amazing experience is the hope that the third part will be just as amazing. I could talk about Rebirth so much more, but instead of a pithy ending, I’m just going to go play it again some more right now.

Tim played Final Fantasy VII Rebirth on PlayStation 5 with his own bought copy.


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