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I tried to jump back into JRPGs with FFVII Rebirth, and that was a big mistake

In search of lost basement time, in a semi-review of Square's semi-remake.


  • Feb 22 2024
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I tried to jump back into JRPGs with FFVII Rebirth, and that was a big mistake
I tried to jump back into JRPGs with FFVII Rebirth, and that was a big mistake

It is said that you can’t go home again, and now I am reminded of how true that is. I recently spent more than $500 on a PlayStation 5, largely spurred by an opportunity to play and review Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, a title that activated youthful memories (releasing February 29). This was a big mistake. Perhaps you can learn from it.

None of this is particularly the fault of Rebirth. Even as I could only bring myself to put about 12 hours into it over the space of 11 days’ early access, I understood that those who truly cherish the original game, and still enjoy Japanese role-playing games (“JRPGs”) in general, will find a lot to love here. It’s a beautiful-looking game that runs smoothly on its quality-minded setting. The soundtrack is largely lovely, and I found myself humming the world map tunes while walking my dog or making coffee. Lots of things from the original that would be hard to wade through now, like random encounters and monotonous turn-based combat, have been transmuted into more tolerable forms here. The number of things you can do in this game, just from looking at screenshots of what’s ahead, looks like a true embarrassment of riches.

I am sure that if I harbored stronger memories of the original game, had kept up a JRPG habit over the last 25 years or so, or perhaps had started with the earlier Remake chapter, I might have found more to grab onto in Rebirth. Most people aren’t going to gamble $70, let alone $500, on the chance they’ll be magically transported to being 16 again, with the requisite free time and adolescent brain chemistry that helps one relate to a ragtag set of friends striving against cartoonishly oppressive villains.

But I did. I took on Creative Director Tetsuya Nomura’s suggestion that “new players might even enjoy starting their Final Fantasy VII journey” with Rebirth, and I must politely disagree. Maybe you can learn from my mistake. Or at least laugh at it.

Before we go on, let me make a few things clear:

  • I have no idea what happens to Aerith (Aeris, to some), because that is seemingly the very end of this game, which I did not reach. The “Rebirth” title, and Remake’s literal battle against the concept of fate, suggest it could be altered. Spoil it elsewhere at your discretion.
  • Much like playing Remake before Rebirth is highly advisable, I’d suggest checking out our Remake review for a much deeper look at this series as a whole. I won’t go nearly as deep into all the choices and details here.
  • This is not a typical “review,” meant to consider how a broad audience might receive a game on its merits and choices. This is one dork’s tale of trying, and failing, to recapture a certain game habit and maybe a sense of wonder.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth "Final Trailer."

See that dolphin? You can ride it.

Rebirth is the second of Square’s epic remaking of Final Fantasy VII (FFVII). Remake covered the tutorial-ish Midgar section of the 1997 game, which originally took something like 4-6 hours for most players. Rebirth starts where the original game opened up after Midgar, foisting your party out into a world it could explore at its discretion, prioritizing whichever quests it wanted. You and your party, a group of eco-terrorists dubbed Avalanche, are trying to stop megacorp Shinra from draining the world of its essence for power, and villain Sephiroth from looking impossibly cool as he becomes a godlike div through some kind of alien meteor… planet lifestream… deal.

After a roughly two-hour opening sequence that’s part tutorial, part flashback to the Nibelheim Incident, your party is let loose. It’s a gigantic world to uncover, with so many things to do it verges on parody (like many other aspects of this game). You start in a bucolic town with an on-the-nose name of Kalm, then wander into vast fields of green grass and craggy rock.

Once you pick up Chocobos to ride and set up a few fast-travel points, you’re free to become whatever kind of FFVII player you want to be. You can check off every single data point, rest stop, “Fiend” battle, shrine, Moogle house, “Chocobo Intelligence” point, and fetch/kill quest offered up by NPCs. You can ride around aimlessly, picking up crafting materials and leveling up from battle encounters, or run to avoid them entirely. You can fine-tune every aspect of your characters’ build-out, or you can have the game automatically assign some of them. And, in a modern grace this author found very handy, you can change the difficulty at any time, which significantly lowers the skill wall presented by some Fiends and bosses.

Of course there's a bit of <em>Rocket League</em> inside <em>Rebirth</em>. It's crucial to the story.
Of course there's a bit of Rocket League inside Rebirth. It's crucial to the story.
Square

That’s just the section I explored. Beyond the open fields, there is the Gold Saucer, an epic playland where you can ride a rails-shooting roller coaster, race Chocobos, race dolphin-like water mammals, pilot a spaceship in battle, explore a haunted house, do some target-hitting platform challenges, engage battle bots that pay tribute to the original FFVII’s low-poly look, and more. It’s expected this Rebirth will cover events from the original game up to the Forgotten Capital area, though the exact order may change.

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