In the opening moments of the Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth gameplay trailer, Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, Barret, and Red 13 emerge from a doorway and out onto an open, sweeping vista. The group looks over the horizon towards the lush greenery of the sprawling landscape as the camera pans over snowy mountain peaks in the distance. Then, just moments later, we see the famous spikey-haired protagonist running through verdant fields before arriving at a chocobo farm, fighting enemies in the wild, crossing a picturesque river, and venturing through some familiar locations.
All of the shots on display signal one very exciting fact about Final Fantasy 7 Remake Part 2: We're going beyond Midgar to head into the open. In much the same way the original felt expansive thanks to its world map, I can't wait to see how the reimagined adventure brings to life a "vast and explorable world" that looks set to take us to various locations just like the classic experience.
New horizons and familiar faces
I can remember just how impressive I thought the explorable world map was in the original 1997 release. I used to watch my sibling play when I was very young, and the sense of wonder it brought me back then was still going strong years later when I played it for myself. After making my way through Midgar, it felt exciting to shift to running around the plains of the world to find locations. It made Cloud's adventure feel grander, like it had only really just begun. With Final Fantasy 7 Remake taking place in Midgar to establish the opening section of the original, Rebirth looks primed to recapture the same feeling by taking us beyond it, far and wide.
The original felt like it had opened up the way to new stories, activities, characters, and locations, and Rebirth appears to promise much the same. Taking us out into the "wider world", the upcoming follow-up is set to take the group on a "globe-spanning adventure in pursuit of Sephiroth". While it's not clear how closely it will stick to the story of the classic experience just yet - with some already fearing for the fate of Tifa and fan theories already beginning to circulate - the trailer certainly gives the impression that we're in for quite the adventure. From it, we see plenty of action-packed encounters, various locales to explore, and the return of some familiar faces - such as Yuffie who was introduced in Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intermission, and Turks members Rude and Elena.
What I can't help but wonder about, though, is how Rebirth will allow us to explore and just how open it will be. Will we have a hub world that lets us go to different open zones in a similar fashion to the original? Or will it go bigger in an open-world direction that's closer to the likes of Final Fantasy 15? The latter seems unlikely, and broadly speaking, I think open zones would work well to deliver more story-focused locations and detailed, explorable environments that present side-quests opportunities.
The developer Q&As Square Enix posted on Twitter prior to the Summer Game Fest speak to the broader scope of Rebirth in comparison to the first part. Director Naoki Hamaguichi said that we'll be able to "journey across the wide and multifaceted world with a high degree of freedom, experiencing a myriad of stories". The mention of affording players a "high degree of freedom" is certainly an exciting prospect, and could suggest an open-world direction. Still, going off of the snippets we saw in the trailer, I think it will lean towards more open zones that Cloud and his companions can explore freely together.
The size of the game is another interesting development in terms of the scale of the upcoming sequel. The trailer came to close with the amended early 2024 release date, along with the reveal that Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is coming out on two discs. This could speak to the sizable scope and fidelity of the next installment, and perhaps also hint at a generous helping of cutscenes. Just how expansive it will be remains to be seen, but everything we've seen and heard so far suggests we're in for a big adventure, no matter what shape it takes.
From the beautifully reimagined locations that recapture places players of the original will recognize - such as the chocobo farm - to the idea of being able to freely explore and get reacquainted with a world that has had quite the glow up, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is already shaping up to one very exciting release next year. I, for one, can't wait to discover the world all over again and see first-hand just how Square Enix has brought the next part of the beloved RPG to life.