Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth reaffirms itself as my most-anticipated JRPG by keeping me guessing

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth characters
(Image credit: Square Enix)

The release of Final Fantasy 16 has reignited chatter over the series' ability to reinvent itself. Save for crystal motifs and Chocobos, each new entry freely introduces a new story with a fresh cast of heroes vying to save an unfamiliar world from peril. Some of the bigger questions, though, are typically over what old ideas to leave behind or what to elevate. While Final Fantasy 16 boldly leaves plenty behind to shoot for the ambitious, playing Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth has made me appreciate the Remake project's approach to building on what's come before it. 

If it ain't broke

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth characters

(Image credit: Square Enix)

One of the missions in my preview session covers Cloud and Sephiroth's ill-fated mission to Mt. Nibel. Cut short before the narrative twists of the Nibel Reactor, the combat and relationship between each character draws my attention. Much like the original, you tackle this section as a younger, spunkier Cloud accompanied by a Sephiroth who has yet to go completely off the rails. 

Combat so far feels lightly iterated on Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and it still manages to scratch an itch. Coming to blows remains a real-time scrap with time crawling to a standstill to allow the casting of more powerful offense, party organization, or the study of a foe's weak points. 

Organizing my party on the fly and adapting to elemental weaknesses and physical vulnerabilities offers the sort of light strategic satisfaction I missed in FF16

New to Rebirth are team-based combos and more familiar faces to add to your party, offering more choice in approaching combat. In the context of this preview, the team-based combos add a visual flourish to the action that'll stop an enemy in their tracks. Something grander, however, may be waiting beyond that scope. Square Enix teases that you'll want to "deepen" your ragtag group's relationships to "unleash powerful team-based combos." Could taking friends on a date to the Gold Saucer lead to benefits of the battling sort? We can only hope.

While I enjoy Final Fantasy 16's foray into hack-and-slash gameplay reminiscent of Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth's tactical tinkering feels like coming home. Organizing my party on the fly and adapting to elemental weaknesses and physical vulnerabilities offers the sort of light strategic satisfaction I missed in FF16 despite being enamored with the mechanical joys of nailing combos. 

A feeling lingers that there's more to be revealed, though mulling over Materia combinations holds enough attention for now. Square Enix has sought to modernize the series' turn-based combat over several iterations of Final Fantasy by making it more active and action-based, though Remake offers the most satisfying blend of the two. Rebirth doesn't appear to be messing with a good thing to a great degree, and it doesn't need to. 

Brave the new world 

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth characters

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Another one of Remake's high points that, so far, appears lovingly intact in Rebirth is the joy of seeing old dialogue elevated and retold in a new way. While plenty of that is done through better localization of the source material, the voice cast's delivery brings something fresh to reimagined scenes. While I won't delve too far into spoilers of the original game, I imagine seeing a young Cloud better acted out makes a later revelation all the more impactful. 

The second slice of gameplay takes us on the road to Junon, teasing what you might come across while out in the open world. Adorable baby Chocobos tootle over to guide you to the nearest remains of a quick travel stop so that you might repair it for currency to be spent on customizing your Chocobo mount. As an aside, it's absolutely worth getting your party to mount their birds just to see Red XIII ride one – small joys, and that. You'll also find locations on the map that'll lead to smaller battle challenges involving taking down a foe in certain ways, all in the name of research. 

While I did deviate from the main story to engage with the open world, I gather that more exists outside the scope of the limited preview. The Gold Saucer makes its grand debut in FF7 Rebirth, and Remake provides plenty of hope that Square Enix isn't shying away from the exuberance of the original. 

Remake had plenty of amusing mini-games of its own, but the side-quests could've done more. Seeing Midgar's residents change their tune towards Cloud after completing earlier menial tasks helped the slum feel more upbeat, and interesting weapons and Materia provide ample incentive, though quests soon became repetitive and there's scope to bring more life to the world. It's a minor issue I had with Remake, and one I've yet to see if Rebirth fully remedies.

One of the more mysterious inclusions to catch my eye on the path to Junon is Remake's robed figures, potentially the result of failed experiments to recreate Sephiroth. Who they are and how they may differ from the original game are questions that still hang ominously in the air, reminding me of the long road to Rebirth. 

The future of Final Fantasy 7

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth characters

(Image credit: Square Enix)

While you wait for Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth to release on February 29, 2024, why not jump back into one of the 25 best RPGs.

Against the backdrop of euphoric E3 cheer, Final Fantasy 7 Remake's earliest trailer warned that the "reunion at hand may bring joy; it may bring fear," encouraging fans to "embrace whatever it brings" – as if to react to the eventual pause among many who would go on to learn that the remake is a three-part project that expands greatly upon the original. Rebirth matters, then, in the way Square Enix positions it as being free of the original game's narrative due to the events of Remake. Now that the very meta beings keeping Final Fantasy 7's timeline in place have been defeated, Rebirth is free to go further off the tracks. 

While our preview session does little to reveal those plans, the latest trailer and information dump did plenty to fuel fan theories, especially as creative director Tetsuya Nomura says Rebirth ends at the location of the original game's most shocking scene. History within the game could be majorly rewritten, though I'm at ease embracing "whatever it brings." While the Remake project will likely stand as the definitive telling of the story for newer fans, all the other games relating to Final Fantasy 7 are preserved to the point that they may stand alongside it. 

The project's massive narrative swing brings everyone together to theorize over the mystique of what's next – a community clamoring that might not have happened if the Remake project had remained entirely faithful. Despite all the changes that are likely to come, then, previewing Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth reassures me that the game won't be morphed into something unrecognizable. And now, I'm keener for the unfamiliar; what it brings.

Word to the wise, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth won't carry over your Remake save.

Deputy News Editor

Iain joins the GamesRadar team as Deputy News Editor following stints at PCGamesN and PocketGamer.Biz, with some freelance for Kotaku UK, RockPaperShotgun, and VG24/7 thrown in for good measure. When not helping Ali run the news team, he can be found digging into communities for stories – the sillier the better. When he isn’t pillaging the depths of Final Fantasy 14 for a swanky new hat, you’ll find him amassing an army of Pokemon plushies.