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Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth preview: opening up into something new

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth picks up right where Remake left off, but with a much more open feel

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is in a weird position. Normally, when there are four years between games in the same series, you’d expect the new game to have taken significant steps to differentiate from the old one, but given this series is all about remaking just one game there has to be a little more cohesion, so changes and additions can’t be quite so dramatic.

Rebirth takes a step back and comes at the problem from a new angle, using the original narrative to its benefit. Now we’re stepping out of Midgar and exploring the wider world in a major way, the game isn’t so linear, offering wide open spaces for you to explore. It’s not an open world though – much like FF16, when it’s time for the story to move on, so will you.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

And there is a fair bit to do, although not straight away. After a linear section in the village of Kalm, the gang makes their way out into a lush open area with green grass and little oddities as far as the eye can see. Now I – like anyone who’s played an open-world game before – know that this is my cue to wander off the beaten path and explore for a while, letting the main quest fall by the wayside.

After wandering aimlessly between empty landmarks, however, I realized that the game wanted me to walk all the way to the far side of this open area to trigger a main quest section before any of the open-world activities activated. It seems like such a weird choice to unveil it this way, as the joy in open areas full of activities is the thrill of discovery – going up to a landmark and discovering what mini-adventure is waiting for you there, seeing something over the horizon and running straight at it, not knowing what it might hold.

Instead, by the time the activities unlocked that thrill of discovery was gone because I already had some familiarity with the area having run through it all once. Such a seemingly small decision entirely detracts from the whole appeal of having open zones in the first place.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

That said, once you’ve unlocked them, the activities are pretty fun. If you’ve played any open-world game in the last decade, then they won’t be anything unfamiliar, but it’s still enjoyable to have little combat challenges or puzzle platforming sections in this series. The monster hunter challenges are especially fun, as they task you with hitting certain objectives like pressuring or staggering your prey instead of just slaughtering them.

Plus, some come with small stories, which is where FF7 has always shone brightest. They are often only minor encounters, but their inherent charm and strong personality make use of the game’s greatest strength, something so often forgotten in open-world design.

The story sequences are still as strong as ever in Rebirth, and while I only got a small taste of the early game, it’s clear that no amount of careful craftwork has been lost between the first game and now, and more importantly, you definitely get a sense that the full series has been plotted out – in detail – well in advance. That may sound obvious, but given this is the second of three parts from what was originally just one game, there was always the possibility that this middle entry would be a bit flat compared to the first and last.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

Exactly how well it does that can’t be said for sure until we see the ending, of course, but the early narrative segments in Rebirth show that certain reveals, details, and even beloved scenes from the original, were held back into this second game to ensure it brought just as much nostalgic joy as the first.

Combat mostly stays the course in Rebirth. The hybrid of real-time and ATB combat is the same as in the first game, with the only notable addition being combo attacks where two characters pair up for a quick move. As you’d expect, some of these moves deal big damage, while others inflict buffs or debuffs that can aid you in battle – plus, there is a new ability tree that focuses on powering up these special attacks.

These early hours show that Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth can strike that balance between moving forward without being too far a departure from the first game. While things like the combat and the narrative approach stay mostly static, the world design and story pacing have shifted to fit this middle portion of the story, which should hopefully set things up for a climactic finale when it all comes to a close.