Review: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is a triumphant reimagining of one of the greatest games ever made

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth raises the high bar set by its predecessor, reimagining one of gaming's most iconic stories while both honouring the original and vastly expanding its scope. 

Not everything in this sequel to 2020's Final Fantasy VII Remake shines, with some bloated open-world questing and pacing issues dragging in the back half; but these blemishes do little to detract from a spectacular whole.   

Honestly, this game is difficult to review objectively. My nostalgia goggles are very thick. 

I grew up playing the 1997 classic Final Fantasy VII. It was the game that made me fall in love with this entire medium.

If you'd told me back then I'd get to play this story again one day but with a full voice cast, immense visual upgrade and an expanded world, I'd probably have burst into tears. 

Players coming to Rebirth completely fresh might find its writing a little thin or its systems a little clunky. But if, like me, you've loved these characters and their world since childhood, this new release will hit you like an avalanche. 

A Realm Reborn

Review: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is a triumphant reimagining of one of the greatest games ever made
Photo credit: Square Enix.

While part one of this remake trilogy took place entirely in the city of Midgar and featured rich yet restrictive level design, Rebirth pulls the scope back to encompass most of the original game's second act and gives players far more freedom to explore. 

While billed as a 'seamless open world', Rebirth is more an interconnected series of hubs than a singular map like you'd find in Assassin's Creed or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. 

The PS5 eliminates loading screens and allows instant fast travel but functionally you can't walk/ride continuously from one side of the world map to the other, as some may have hoped. But that lack of absolute connectivity doesn't matter as Rebirth is vast, beautiful and stacked with a staggering amount of content. 

Each section of the game has players enter a new region, explore the wilderness surrounding a hub location and then bounce between side activities and main missions.

Returning to iconic Final Fantasy VII locales 17 years later is worth the price of admission alone. The first time I reached the gleaming Golden Saucer fun park with fireworks erupting and music swelling, I nearly punched the air. 

The Golden Saucer, where you will spend more time than you probably should.
The Golden Saucer, where you will spend more time than you probably should. Photo credit: Square Enix.

The graphical power of the PS5 is on full display in every area, from the grimy undercity of Junon to the vast vistas of Cosmo Canyon, all are lovingly recreated and rendered in stunning detail. 

But each region isn't just a joy to look at, it's engaging to explore. Outside of story-focused hub sections, the wilderness map is littered with towers to climb to reveal locations of interest, crafting resources to track down, monsters to hunt and hidden shrines to discover. 

While these are well worn open-world gaming tropes, they (mostly) work excellently in Rebirth. 

Unlike Final Fantasy 15 whose open world felt huge but hollow, Rebirth's wealth of side activities gives you compelling reasons both narratively and mechanically to stray off the beaten track.

Crafting ingredients creates powerful new items through a transmutation system, discovering 'life springs' allows you to uncover new recipes for that system, and hunting down powerful monsters unlocks unique boss encounters on every map.

To cover all that ground, you'll be able to summon a chocobo mount, which comes with its own interesting gameplay tweaks. 

Each region has a unique breed of giant bird which you must wrangle before you can summon it to ride at will - though only in that section of the map. Each also comes with its own traversal mechanic, a nice call back to the colour-ranked chocobos of the original. 

Some can scale walls, some can leap great distances, and all give each region a sense of verticality and depth, making every area not just visually distinct but feel different to explore on choco-back.

Review: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is a triumphant reimagining of one of the greatest games ever made
Photo credit: Square Enix.

The actual process of wrangling a chocobo is a bit of a drag, involving a stealth-heavy minigame which I wish I could skip, but the multiple minigames on offer are generally a delight. 

In my personal favourite Final Fantasy tradition, there's a fresh collectible card game, Queens Blood, which I spent an absurd amount of time playing instead of saving the world. 

The minigames also provide excellent visual call backs, with the polygonal graphics of 1997 returning at key moments. I won't spoil specifics but how the Fort Condor minigame returns in Rebirth made me giddy. 

Overall, the scale of content on offer is mindblowing, with entire new game systems used and then discarded for one specific set piece or area of the map. Side missions provide well-written voice-acted subplots which expand the story and deepen character relationships that are completely skippable but always worth completing.

However, while my first few dozen hours were blissful and set pieces were excellent across the entire game, I found exploring the open world eventually provided diminishing returns. 

The basic activities are essentially identical in every region and while the monster designs change and scripted side missions are unique, the busywork of climbing towers and completing combat challenges eventually feels like a chore.

There are also some occasional but always punishing pacing issues in both mandatory segments and side missions. Sometimes I was forced to stealth through a section and have my movement speed slashed to an absolute crawl between objectives, or retread ground on thinly designed fetch quests.    

These aren't deal breakers by any stretch but when so much of the game is so, so good, the moments where the pace plummets and the fun factor disappears are much more noticeable.  

Thankfully one area which never suffers from any pacing issues is in combat. 


Review: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is a triumphant reimagining of one of the greatest games ever made
Photo credit: Square Enix.

Combat overall is frenetic but never overwhelming, striking a balance between real-time action gameplay and the more tactical turn-based style of the original.

Players perform basic attacks and switch between characters at will, but more powerful attacks require building up an 'ATB' gauge by attacking to eventually unleash a unique ability, cast a spell or use an item.

Part one had only four combatants: all-rounder Cloud, damage-sponge Barrett, white mage Aerith and close combatant Tifa. Rebirth rounds out that roster, adding materia hunting ninja Yuffie, canine mystic Red 13 and, well, whatever the hell Cait Sith is. 

Every character feels unique. Red 13 deals insane damage but requires delicate strategy to be effective, Yuffie is an agile damage-dealer at range and up close and Cait Sith is a mechanical cat on a giant toy doll who tells fortunes. And yes, that is as weird yet fun to play as it sounds. 

The materia, equipment and weapon art systems allow you to tailor each character's abilities and stats further, letting you create a custom party to suit your playstyle. One small gripe would be that the unlockable skills on the weapon art tree feel a little imbalanced, with some being vastly superior to others. 

Dealing five percent more damage in a very specific circumstance feels trite compared to a perk which lowers all incoming elemental damage, for example.

Boss battles are a particular highlight, blending cinematic cutscenes and gameplay without stopping the action. Some of the climactic encounters had me floored. 

Review: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is a triumphant reimagining of one of the greatest games ever made
Photo credit: Square Enix.

Synergy attacks are the most game-changing new addition, acting a little like limit breaks from the previous games. A meter builds under each character as you use them eventually allowing the unleashing of a powerful combo. 

Watching your favourites figuratively - sometimes literally - bounce off each other in the heart of combat, trading both quips and tide-turning attacks, is always a blast.

And it's these characters that are the heart of the game. The story of their battle to defeat Sephiroth and save the planet from both corporate greed and supernatural destruction is as timeless now as it was nearly two decades ago. 

I spent around 60 hours pushing through the main story with plenty of time spent smelling the roses. But the depth of the combat system with the scope of optional challenges means a completionist could easily sink 100 hours into Rebirth.

The Verdict

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth takes what worked from both the original title and the previous game but ups the ante in almost every aspect. 

Some minor pacing issues aside, my time with Rebirth felt like injecting sunlight straight into my veins. Seeing a world I grew up playing in, reborn on modern hardware, made me feel like a kid again.

Newcomers might not be as entranced but for the lifelong fans this game is obviously aimed at, Rebirth is an absolute triumph.

Five stars.