Final Fantasy VII Rebirth first impressions


Let it not be said that Square Enix doesn’t make a good demo. I played it for nearly 3 hours when most estimates place it at closer to 1-2 and I have no idea HOW, but it certainly wasn’t by watching the cutscenes and I’m sorry, but if you’e skipping the cutscenes on a first run, maybe an RPG isn’t your thing.

The beginning

Let me just say I was rather surprised that the demo was Chapter 1 of the game. I expected there to be a bit more between the end of the first game and the party hitting Kalm. I wanted to have the experience of having them step blinking out into the daylight and going into the new world, but that comes later. We kind of know that they ended up hitching a ride to Kalm and the story more or less picks up where the last one left off with the crew riding trunk in the rain.

Or at least you’d think so from the demo. There’s actually a bit with Zack in the main game before that that looks for all the world like Zack is dragging Cloud to Midgar from the ending of his own game, except he isn’t and it’s apparent he was working with Avalanche, but they get Aerith dying out of the way right away and she and Red both bite the dust from the looks of it, with her ribbon coming undone as he holds her and losing the White Materia with enough slow-motion bounces that it certainly gets the point across for fans of the original and him crying about it for everyone else’s benefit. So the game immediately raises questions before going into the familiar territory. Zack is very clearly operating in an alternate timeline and I expect that that will be explained more as the game goes on.

The flashback sequence is essentially linear and puts you in a relatively small town to start before releasing you into a wider area with plenty of area to explore, but it keeps you on something of a rubber band. There are places it won’t let you explore and places it will slow you to a walk and begrudgingly let you explore and reward you in tiny little bits with things like deer that run away and if you manage to get far enough off the beaten path, that rubber band will snap like the devs just said, "I give up; go nuts." There’s zero to find doing this, and it definitely drags down the pace, but they ultimately let you, maybe a little less respectfully than they might have. Knowing that from the first time, I rushed down the path for the second and found that it was engineered with that pace in mind, so maybe I’m just stubborn. Despite the linearity of the segment, there’s plenty to find in the side halls and such and there are plenty of nice toys to play with, but also very much after they would have been most useful. The chapter is quick to make you play by its rules.

It’s very clear what’s going on to the people who already know the story and without going into spoilers for everyone who doesn’t already know it, the game is not subtle about it, because it doesn’t have to be if you don’t already know. It’s a respectful take on things to the audience and even some of the camera angles and effects are respectful nods to the original.

There’s also stuff in there for the superfans like myself, where a cut conversation has been restored and expanded upon to fit with what they intend to do with the story. It’s been no secret that Sephiroth is trying to turn Cloud against Tifa when it comes to the marketing material and that gets addressed more or less immediately.

That said, when taken as a whole, Chapter 1 is paced well, which is more than can be said of the first entry where the strong beginning comes to a screeching halt of sidequests that you have to do now or never. It’s not the starting point I would have chosen, because it feels like your time with Sephiroth is not properly earned, but that’s kind of a problem that’s been hanging over everything since the first game because Sephy sells. If anything, the segment goes a long way toward showing him as quite likable before he goes off the deep end and his going off the deep end finds a way to feel just the tiniest bit organic this time around. I won’t spoil the changes, but it’s handled quite well by giving everything a touch of history and lore for context that the original was sorely lacking.

Chapter 2 gives you a bit of an education in what the world is going to look like. Kalm is a big, bustling town with plenty more gated off and despite this it feels maybe a bit too large for its own good. You’re tasked with finding the other party members, but you’ll find them all in and around the central plaza, so you don’t have to search far. Despite all manner of establishments and shops all over the place, almost none of it is interactable, which would be a solid lesson to learn if the item shop weren’t tucked behind the bookstore you’re obligated to visit. Yes, the item store is, bafflingly enough, one of the many stands in the cramped outer alley and I walked straight past it at least twice while trying to raid the town for chests. So this is a game that’s going to be smart about how it places things. The obvious objectives are right in front of you; what you need is never far; exploring all the corners will be rewarded.

Save the Queen

The thing derails before the game really lets you go to give you a tutorial in Queen’s Blood, the new card minigame, which feels like it’s easy enough to understand and even takes the training wheels off a bit rather than guide you all the way to the end of the game, though you’ve pretty much locked in a win at that point anyway. It’s smart because it makes you feel less babied, but I can do without card minigames and I just hope that this will be a game where they don’t force you to play a tournament to continue the story, because Square has had a rather aggravating track record of that whenever they’re really proud of a minigame.

That’s not to say Queen’s Blood is bad; I like it. I just don’t like it well enough to see myself devoting much time to it when there’s so much else to do. Or maybe more time than I give myself credit for given I wanted to finish out the options available from the start before I got on with the story. Your options for who to challenge include some poor sot crying about how he’s afraid he’ll lose that felt too much like kicking a puppy and a woman sitting at a bistro table in a corral of boxes and crates, which just told me she didn’t want to be bothered and not even the chunkiest headphones were enough to buy her peace. Like, I feel this is doing the opposite of the intent here; if you want me to play your card game, please place at least one insufferable blowhard to take down a few pegs. I mean I DID it, just to see what would happen, and even found a way around the lady’s box fort without breaking it (it didn’t change her calling you out on breaking it (she did make me need to retry)), and the lady with the box fort especially is just, like, deliciously threatening. Honestly, those two and the little girl with the doll she uses as her brave friend as a "ventrilloquist" (I’ll give a kid a pass on ventrilloquism; that stuff is hard) are three of the most engaging NPCs in the game so far. Even better that the NPC you challenge is the doll. Strong NPCs make for an interesting game and these three got the memo.

If I had to describe the game, I would say it’s like if you married Mega Man Battle Network with Manchala. Everything has a range and you really need to position yourself to maximize the positions you can steal and build up your stores in each position on the board. Unlike other series card games, there’s no direct combat between cards and no need to worry about cards flipping; you just need to focus on having the highest power cards in each lane. This makes each game more of a puzzle than a battle and good tactics can make up the difference of lackluster cards. Being able to completely shut out an opponent, especially one with a good deck, can be incredibly satisfying.

Fair warning, you WILL need to update your deck to keep winning, but the crying guy and little girl will give you cards that are easy drop-in upgrades to cards in your deck. The box fort lady goes down a LOT easier with those in place.

Junon’s finest imports

While the demo is based on the content of the main game, there are some minor differences. The demo gives you Tifa’s Theme to play; the main game doesn’t. There’s a bit in the demo that’s freeze framed red that ends up freeze framed green in the main game. This is to say that there are probably even more differences, but the main game lets you skip most of what you find in the demo. Most, but not all. The demo otherwise gives you plenty of toys to play with and after you finish it, it unlocks the Junon area. I did very little with this secondary portion other than nab myself a save of it so I could dive into the main game.

I was tickled pink that my Enemy Intel imported when I checked it first thing in the main game. Not my kill counts, but the intel itself will be useful later in the game.

But I kind of just don’t like the fact you can’t skip the whole beginning portion of Chapter 1. Quite frankly, the rewards you get for having played the demo are nothing spectacular. Obviously, it wants to make sure you understand your combat options, but it could have spared everyone going over Sephy’s specifically instead of getting to the point, because that’s a playstyle that will literally never be relevant again. I just played 3 hours of that segment of the game; I’d really rather not be bogged down by another 30 minutes of it to go through all of the beginning all over again just so I can get to the part where the credits roll and then have to go through the end of the segment again. If I’d had any assurance that any old save would give the rewards, I would have just done a manual save and started the real game. Saved myself the hassle and having to look it up. The only reason I can think of that they did this was so that a player sharing the account with someone else or otherwise who might need to wait on buying the game isn’t left behind with the tutorials, but then they could just replay the segment. And then just making sure the player has just enough story in there to be invested in both Cloud and Tifa for what comes immediately after. Look, I know there is no "right" way to do this, but it felt like a hassle.

Having other saves works with any old save and I might have been able to get away with it. I will say this: while I am still disappointed that Leviathan doesn’t get an element, because they’re going with the same elemental setup as before, the animation at least looks like something now rather than sad programmer art. It doesn’t take much; just any water at all. I’m happy with it. Happy enough, anyway, and it looks like it’s going to justify its existence by being super powerful if the 2 ATB bar requirement is any indication.

Importing Episode INTERMission also netted me Ramuh and I am thrilled to report that he fills out my elemental requirements, because Cloud comes equipped with Chocobo & Moogle for Wind; Aerith has Shiva for Ice; and Red joins the party with Ifrit equipped for Fire, which I had assumed would be present by merit of being a story summon.

Painting the town (or wilds)

Let’s talk "yellow paint" a bit, because quite frankly, I think the hullabaloo over it is quite unfair. The places where you find it are places where you absolutely need it. Very little else separates the outcroppings you can grab onto from the ones you can’t and it even goes so far as to fake you out by making one give way and become unusable. At the very least it makes it easy to see and easy to orient on where you are when you’re looking things up in a guide. Even then, there’s a bit of it later on in a place you’d never have thought to even look for it. I think it’s done everything it needs to here to justify itself.

Seeing it in a screen shot is one thing, but having the context all around it to compare it to really does make you realize that 1) it could have been done a lot worse and 2) it’s probably not something you could have just "figured out" by exploring and certainly not without a tutorial as some have argued. I think that anyone who actually sees it in action and still argues against it is guilty of nothing short of gatekeeping and even then flat-out lying about their own capabilities as a gamer. I have been playing RPGs in some form since I was 5 years old. Believe me when I say I can rub myself against every rock, barrel, wall, patch of rough grass, and other object looking for secret passages and items with the best of them. I would not look at a rock wall from 100 yards and see these shallow hand-holds. The LoD alone wouldn’t even render them. I might find them eventually running the whole perimiter of the world because that’s just what I do, but the average gamer or even above-average gamer is not going to find this stuff without a guide from someone who is just as thorough as I am and driven to write it down.

Quarrels and quibbles

The game finds ways to waste your time and make things harder than they needed to be in the name of a technical flex. The resistive triggers get a workout as you have to use them to slowly crawl at one point and the effect is kind of a wash. My unit (a launch unit that has literally never been used to any extent) clicks on the left side when the resistance engages. This is the first game it’s been touched for and it’s mildly distracting. I don’t know that the game makes very good use of them, but it certainly makes plenty of use of them from what I can judge based on the number of times I had to use them to perform some arduous action that could have been a button press. I didn’t miss anything playing the demo remotely on a PS4 controller and while it may have explained that the game was trying to show off a little, it didn’t add enough to justify doing it. I felt like I was being put in a position where it could have been more expedient either way. At least that was a dramatic moment. I can only assume it got just as fancy making me close a valve and I dunno, maybe I would have appreciated it more if the valve got harder and harder to close or something, but I don’t care enough to replay the whole segment to find out. It could have been one tap of Δ.

I also simply don’t like the piano minigame. Not just because I suck at it (royally), but because it’s both a miserably poor interface and complicates something that had a specific purpose and was a simple matter of knowledge rather than a skill-based minigame you had to fight with. Like, look, never in the history of ever has a standard controller been good at handling like a musical instrument. That’s why Guitar Hero sold with a plastic guitar. But if you absolutely must, putting it on the least accurate and most fiddly bits of the controller certainly doesn’t help. If I were sat in a chair and told, "okay, Mr. Smart Guy, you get one change to fix it," it would be to simply add more visual contrast. Some people just plain have visual contrast issues and need the help. Some people like me simply don’t have the chameleon eyes it feels like we’d need to focus on two completely different areas of the screen properly and need something to focus on. Putting hairline orange-yellow-orange arcs on white with pale cyan stick indicators simply makes things hard to see, hard to parse, and not very eye-catching when you have focus issues. It’s cute and all to switch between white and black for the white and black keys, but that’s just more visual distraction. White is always going to be most eye-catching; the human eye is simply drawn to light. So here’s what you do: turn your white and beige backgrounds a nice parchment yellow for visual consistency, use an orange background highlight, and use azure and white bands. You increase your contrast in every way that way and keep things visually consistent with warm colors in the back and cool colors on your targets because most screens are just going to render a cold white. The white on the bands is going to draw the eye rather than confusing the eye with a white background. An old piano with real ivories isn’t going to actually be white anyway; it’s going to be "what decade did you last brush your teeth" yellow from years of skin oil and cigarette smoke, because everyone and their dog smoked until the ’90s or so. And for Heaven’s sake, use wider bands. There’s otherwise zero way to tell whether you’re hitting the sweet spot or not. It doesn’t even have to be that much wider; just double it. Having three similarly-colored hairlines in a row does nothing to differentiate your levels of success. ALL of this falls under visual contrast. Even if you have to speed the bands up a little to compensate, just being able to see them properly is the biggest problem here.

If I do have to nitpick one small thing, it’s that opening any chest gives a sharp vibration to your controller and I find it distracting and unpleasant. This doesn’t get translated into simple rumble on the PS4 controller and I feel like it could have. The game not having rumble in remote play isn’t a deal-breaker, but it could have been nice for the things it’s good at.

I’ll say this: I feel like I’m losing very little remote playing it on PS4 other than that for some reason it can’t use the PS4’s own controller speaker for the controller speaker functions, which is an option you can turn on and off anyway, but I just feel like Sony could have done that somehow. It’s not like it needs the controller mic; just the speaker. Literally everything else works the same except the rumble. It’s literally Sony’s own internal API for Sony’s own internal hardware; there should have been something the could do to translate it. That’s probably not the game’s fault, but it does impact the experience.

Fire the architect

I really don’t like what they did to Shinra Manor. The place had a perfectly functional layout that they pretty much trashed and while I expect it will open up a bit more later, I’m not thrilled with the new layout from the perspective of it feeling like a real place. If it was clear that there was something blocked off on the other side of the entrance hall, that would make sense, but nobody and I mean nobody builds a mansion like they built this one. Mansions are built to be symmetrical spaces first and foremost because they’re planned well ahead of time with a measured and intentional approach. They give access to the public areas from the central entrance hall or else with as little friction as possible. The Clue board can give you an example if nothing else. The more tucked away a space is, the more private it is. The original was clear about its public and less public spaces. The new one is not built with the same sort of intent and strikes me as a McMansion. There’s really only one direction you’re allowed to go through the dining/lounge/library mixed-use room the likes of which no self-respecting architect would build for the kind of money this place should have cost and then down a short hallway directly to the elevator. It does literally everything wrong. The original’s sitting table was likely mistaken for dining to give it at least some of this, but no one would put books anywhere near food. That and for a place that the town didn’t know had a basement, the basement sure has its share of grafitti.

The original instead had the music room with a sitting area for people to be entertained at, maybe with tea, and may have doubled as a ballroom. The other side as connected by hallway has a triple space of storage (probably a larder), the kitchen, and the dining room, and the kitchen even has a proper servants’ table. Before you even get that far, the hall opens onto a sort of reception room that looks like it’s been hastily gutted and turned into light storage, but it has a pattern on the floor and a window as a space meant for people. Opposite that is plain old storage without a window for prying eyes and a simple wooden floor. Why you’d put that sort of storage up front is anyone’s guess, but the room has a clear purpose. Maybe to ease unloading of deliveries since there isn’t any way to receive them in the back. Upstairs above the piano room you have a guest room, conservatory, and library. On the other side are the office, a personal library, and the master bedroom, which is beyond the personal library for a suspicious amount of privacy. And it’s here that you have the stairs down to the secret basement, hidden behind layers of privacy and a false wall. If you’re a supervillain, this is the exact kind of thing you want, keeping what makes you feel powerful close while putting a lesser treasure in plain sight and making the place appear to be a perfectly functional house. It had intent and thought put into it. Every room has a clear purpose you can discern just by looking at it. And its dirty secrets are well hidden. That’s how a mansion works. The new one just… doesn’t have any of that.

There are other quibbles. Kalm has a set of diagonal stairs leading up to what looks like a domicile, but Cloud has to jump knee-height up it because the stairs meet a wall the porch sits on top of. It’s an accident waiting to happen to a child or old person. I’m sure you can find examples of this in really old European cities, like maybe in Greece or Italy or something where the roads and stairs have long outlived the architecture, but it’s nothing that would have happened in a modern city with urban planning. Certainly not one with northern European influences, though Kalm also has some new traits that incorporate things you might expect from southern Europe like open construction close to the water and rooftop seating, at least if you consider the patisserie’s seating area the open theater’s roof, serving as a stark contrast to the heavily slanted rooves that would otherwise be designed to help keep the snow off. Even what looks like a Chinese apothecary window built straight out of the stone foundation of the building it’s attached to (with no clerk in sight), serving as the rare legitimate storefront given most of the shops are lined up straight in front of rows of housing. The place also has, just, tons of bars and cafés for a place that mostly sells street food otherwise.

Kalm otherwise has many traits of a city that’s been there for far longer than one would otherwise assume. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean what used to be quite a bit more cozy and quaint now feels a lot more haphazard and busy. It’s also just hilarious when some guy near the entrance spouts off about its name being appropriate when there is literally no sense of peace or quiet IN the place with it bustling and crowded and having dancers on the lawn. The primary bar gives me Disney vibes. The entire place feels very much like a theme park, all manner of disparate identities crammed together.

Finishing up

Otherwise, Easy is quite easy – satisfyingly so, like a fruity piece of hard candy – and lets your party go to town while you focus on commands. Normal feels like it needs your input to keep things moving, which is more or less perfect for my play style, a sort of coffee and Biscotti for the refined taste. I honestly can see myself using either depending on my mental state. I quite appreciate this as someone who treats Classic as my way of getting through battles when I’m too tired to keep track of everything. It’s everything I wanted out of divorcing Classic from the difficulty. It is, essentially, functionally perfect, except for there being no grace period before it takes over like in the last one, which may or may not be situational.

Let me detail that a bit further. If you let go of the controller entirely, at least on Normal, it’s likely that your character is going to go into a guard more or less immediately, but won’t start attacking right away. This serves as a sort of variation of the respectful second of the first entry in that they’re not going to just stand there leaving themselves open. This does interact a little differently with other things, though. The Materia that allows party members to cast or use their abilities while not being directly controlled treat you putting the controller down as "not being directly controlled," which on one hand can be brilliant, but on the other has the trade-off that they might spend an ATB segment on healing or whatever else more or less the second you let go, so if you hesitate at all on something that requires 2 segments, you’re going to need to build that second segment back up. This obviously is part of the calculus the game runs on what’s to your benefit, healing especially, which it seems to be quite smart about, but it can situationally throw a wrench into your plans. The clock for letting go also keeps count while using abilities, so ones with longer animations like Cloud’s Triple Slash run the part you can’t control and then immediately set him on following up on the last target with a flurry of basic attacks. It certainly is effective and takes advantage of their hitstun to go to town and often take them out straight away, but just because it’s to your benefit doesn’t mean it makes you feel in control the same way as the last one did. I’m sure this is in response to complaints about the characters standing gormlessly for a second whenever you let go, and to be honest it took me a bit to understand what it was doing and why. In a case like this, neither solution is perfect; just a trade-off from one to the other. One prioritizes the player; the other prioritizes the encounter. I’m a special case in the way I play; probably much more hands-on than most under most circumstances. For me, Classic serves less as a means of making it a menu-based game full-time and more of a way to make a graceful transition when my brain can no longer handle the action combat. I prefer it to respect me as the player above the encounter. In most cases, the game is doing things I would be doing anyway. In other cases, it’s doing what I told it to with my setup. If I don’t want it to do what I told it to, I just need to either not tell it to do that and accept that it’s more for me to manage or I need to be faster on the draw. I can’t fault them for doing it this way; in almost every context, it’s the right choice for what they’re going for. The alternative is bogging it down with granular settings. So to repeat, it is functionally perfect; I just would have personally preferred a slightly different type of perfection.

Getting through the light questing in the beginning lets you take those first steps into the wider world and it’s been fantastic. My only complaint is that I can’t fix the Chocobo Stops as I find them. I guess I need to reach the farm first.

Crafting has been nice and finding materials has been a process of following trails and going a bit off the beaten path. Materials generally don’t spawn in the middle of nowhere, but they do spawn in and around ruins and other features of interest. Your best chances are going to be just off the beaten path. For the most part, you’re never all that far from items, but you will find that items often seem to spawn in such a way that they do lead you back to the path, or to a landmark. Nothing spectacular, often just a couple basic items in front of you to get you back onto well-trodden dirt.

That doesn’t mean the edges of the map are empty. Far from it. A little experimentation goes a LONG way, at least if you’re going to get to things early.

Somehow 20 hours in

I will say this: if I had to give advice on what to prioritize, it would be to dash straight to the farm and then the shack by the swamp to open up the Chocobo Farm (Bill’s Ranch), because that opens up basically everything else. Most of my time came from exploring and grinding and synthesizing and to be really honest, almost none of it paid off. Or rather it paid off in certain ways, but was also much harder than it needed to be or else could have been done just as easily after things unlocked. It was very easy to identify what would be important later, but the key word to that is "later" and "later" didn’t have to be "14 hours in" when it could have been "4 hours in."

Nothing gets marked on your map until you reconnect with Chadley and the more I reflect on it, the more I feel that it was a precious experience, but definitely not the intended one, much like the demo let you explore the entire area, begrudgingly, but that exploration experience was the one and only reward and the game was engineered to be paced assuming you’d follow the linear path. Chapter 2 definitely is intended to have a linear path to get you started, but it’s sneaky about it, putting things just close enough to "in your path" and large enough objects of interest in the distance to guide you Journey-style toward where it wants you to go before giving you proper direction. I took this to mean it was going to funnel me straight through the story, which meant I was going to ignore that and explore every inch of the map first. It was definitely fun in the moment and it made it feel like it was easier to locate things once they were interactable, but if you play along for all of like ten seconds and then prioritize the towers, which you can, it will be spoon-fed to you. I’m not sure I honestly would have enjoyed it much less because the map is engineered in a way that having icons on it is mostly just confirmation; all the dead ends have something to find and every major feature is on it, just in a hazy monochrome until you get there. Having the whole map cleared of the fog of war offered very little because harvest points aren’t marked on it because harvest points are attached to whatever feature you happen to be near at the time. There are ones around major landmarks that are absolutely fixed and some don’t respawn, but those will be marked on your map by Chadley; the helpful owls that lead you to the big caches don’t even start spawning until that point and you’re getting the items either way. If the question was whether it was fun to do all that discovery on my own, yes, 100%, until it came to trying to mop up the last bits of gray, and there are 100% some things that Chadley and his map markers would never have gotten me, but I wish that it would have been marked on my map when I go there so I could return to it more easily when the global light switch got flipped on. You are very much a hostage to getting to the Chocobo Farm in this regard. This all makes it less like the discovery inherent to Final Fantasy XV and more like a Ubisoft game. And I don’t necessarily disagree with that. Final Fantasy XV is literally a game about one guy’s last hurrah. It’s supposed to be tourism. The story is about the journey, not the destination. Final Fantasy VII is a game about people with very solid goals from the get-go and Chadley as a support character is there to direct you to things that will help you accomplish them.

I’ve seen others complain the towers take all the exploration away, but nothing forces you to use them, either. If you really want exploration without direction, simply getting in the general vicinity makes them fast travel points that you can clean up easily after you’ve had your fun exploring without them.

I’ve also seen others complain that things get repetitive in what you can actually find with QTE minigames and honestly, even the Lifespring ones that don’t change aren’t what I consider intrusive. There are very few of them dotted around the map and they’re spaced widely enough that you’re never, ever going to be doing them in quick succession for things to actually get "repetitive." I have a sneaking suspicion anyone complaining about them just sucks at them. The ones for the summons are actually mechanically interesting because they rely on both your short-term memory and your rhythm to nail the inputs without indicators. I honestly don’t think that’s been done before, and it poses a unique challenge. Maybe it’s just because I actually do have rhythm, but I kind of like them. If anything, they’re better "instrument" sections than the piano minigame. I can understand these being frustrating, but not repetitive, because each one is unique. Again, anyone arguing otherwise probably just sucks and doesn’t want to admit it. It’s okay for something to be frustrating, but if it’s frustrating, just own up to it, seriously. In a game with so many things with completely unique mechanics, nobody is going to be awesome at all of it. I suck at the piano minigame. I’m secure enough to say it.

My party after 20 hours of play have only gained 7 levels and 1 party level. The fastest growth came from literally anything but messing around. Those 7 levels do make a huge numerical difference, turning standard battles into much easier affairs, but do very little against most bosses. Summons come out during any battle that takes too long, even standard enemies, and there’s no reason not to let them help you rather than grind. There’s no MP cost; you’re not judged for it in any way. The level-ups coming so much faster from directed play doesn’t make me regret the grind, because I quite enjoy grinding for its own sake, but the way everything else opens up, and with all the resources that are put at your disposal, the grinding could have just as easily taken place after things had opened up more, including fast travel to make it more optional.

My equipment isn’t much better than what I started with. I’ve synthesized all the accessories and they were mostly accessories I already had. I unlocked the ability to upgrade them and that comes with an HP or MP boost, but not an additional percentage for the primary function. I picked up a few new weapons, but weapon skills are very fast to master and the biggest effect you’ll have from choosing one over the other is from their equippable bonuses. The only numbers of real value are anything that adds 200 to your HP total and a Moogle Shop accessory that adds a whopping 30% to your HP, but is capped at that under HP Plus Materia rules. Otherwise, there are really only a couple pieces of equipment that have significant bonuses early on and they’re mostly armor. Summons are going to be really important for their relatively generous bonuses, but having the DLC summons is going to put you in a position where you’re spoiled for choice right out the gate. It does help differentiate them, though, because a large sum of the summons in the game are non-elemental and their size and stat boosts are going to mean a lot more than their attacks when it comes to picking and choosing.

Unlike Final Fantasy XV, you don’t have to worry about where to get a potato and where to get an onion because they only grow in certain places because you’re cooking various dishes for their effects, and I quite miss that. No, you are very limited in what you can synthesize and similar items will take similar materials, so you’re really running on a small handful of ingredients that spawn across broad swaths of the map, though not technically "anywhere." Some are made by combining or upgrading items you already have with some pittance of an additional binder, like a bachelor who only knows how to make spaghetti, meatballs, or spaghetti and meatballs in tomato sauce. There is very little variety and after a certain point you’ll notice you’re full up on some ingredient and begrudgingly take the few seconds to use them up. There is zero presentation to it. It’s VERY unsatisfying to increase a number and hold down X and get no additional feedback or reward for generating 10 of a thing than you get for 1, and only increasing your proficiency for the first one you generate. They could have at least given you confetti at 5 items and fireworks at 10 or something just to make you feel like what you did was anything at all special.

Chances are you’re barely using items anyway; Pray costs 2 ATB slots, 0 MP, and is on Aerith by default. Tifa has Chakra and it levels up ridiculously fast to heal a significant portion of your missing HP and cure Poison while it’s at it. Status effects wear off over time or after battle, even the traditionally persistent Poison. I’m sitting on 20 Antidotes I haven’t used because it’s just more efficient to kill enemies that inflict Poison faster than they can kill you and mop up your lost HP with all the Potions you’re not using in the heat of combat. Curing Poison in the thick of things is just going to get it inflicted again. Chakra at least heals some of the missing HP when you start getting low. I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of really wish Poison had the decency to keep killing you after battle just to justify having curatives for it.

You can very quickly amass materials off the ground and common drops from common enemies; other materials are an absolute bear to get your hands on as enemy-only drops that are mostly rare and whose common-drop enemies appear in only a few spots. These battles have no means of being marked on the map, either; if you need a specific drop, it’s up to you to remember where they spawn. Beast Pelts are especially hard to come by and they’re needed in large quantities for various recipes. The easiest thing you can do is memorize where those enemies spawn and abuse fast travel to get you there if you need to grind them. But at least you don’t need Beast Pelts for the seat cushions you can make to sit on crappy benches, even though that would make most sense. It’s kind of hilarious those are made up of herbs. Like what, are you weaving them together or something, or just piling them under Cloud’s bony butt so the bench doesn’t get a splinter? As someone with a bony butt, I’ve sat on worse without either of us complaining. Either Cloud’s is bonier than mine or he’s one heck of a princess for a military man.

That’s not to say none of this was worth anything; the experience was good in the moment and all of it would have been useful at some point; the point is none of this couldn’t have waited until after I had better tools.

Reading ahead

I will say this: they could have handled the elemental system worse. I wanted to see if Quake was going to be available at all and the answer is yes, once I find my way to Gongaga, which is fair enough given I got Titan in Kalm. What I found was… strange, but promising. Water is absolutely not an element and is not in the game in any form (sorry, Aqualung), but they justified Quake by combining it with Break, so like Bio, it’s now a non-elemental spell that causes a status, namely Petrify, which is basically what Slow-Numb used to be, with the old Petrify renamed Stone. And it also apparently hits like a truck, which Earth magic always did, even if the Materia is named Petrify rather than Earth, which is going to take some getting used to. So I’m… mildly pleasantly surprised by this and it still leaves the door open for the Contain Materia and Break later to cause Stone directly. Titan having been weak to Wind, I imagine a lot of flying enemies will be immune to Petrify and Stone, or maybe it will just be ground-targeted, no direct resistance required. It’s something to look forward to.

Having said that, the summons we knew about are the summons that made it in, Kujata and Phoenix being the only two elemental ones you didn’t start with or get as DLC. That means Titan, Leviathan, Odin, Alexander, Bahamut Arisen (Neo Bahamut for anyone counting), Magic Pot, Moogle Trio, and Gilgamesh all rely on their various sizes and stat boosts to differentiate themselves. Not gonna lie; Magic Pot and Moogle Trio felt very useless given they both only give an HP bump, but they’re also the only ones that are marked as Small, which, as far as I can tell, means they take an ATB segment to summon, but restore it when they leave, where Medium take 1 and Large take 2 without any refunds. Confirming this online seems impossible, though, and trying to play with it to pick it apart falls squarely under "CBA" at time of writing.

Other observations

Let’s start with the DualSense controller. There are some nice touches and some petty annoyances. As I mentioned, vibration happens whenever you open a chest and I find it jarring and unpleasant. Vibration actually happens quite a lot. I haven’t made much note of it because I’ve been playing about 65% remote through one PS4 or another where the vibration doesn’t come through, but there’s just all manner of small buzzes and the like as you navigate the world. I feel like very little of it is constructive. Most of it isn’t bad, it just doesn’t add.

Something else is that the Touchpad is usually dark, but battle gives you green Touchpad lights. I have no idea why, but it feels a little Lifestream-y and maybe it might turn red when you’re at low HP, but let me tell you, the red fade around most of the screen gets that point across just fine and you are probably not looking at your hands at that point. I can’t seem to find any info on this. I don’t pay much attention to my hands when I play, but I might need to do more of it to see if anything else lights it up. Small touches make the experience interesting.

Something that is a rather nice touch is the use of the controller speaker and I wish I had taken more advantage of it for the fights, because MAI’s voice can get lost a bit. Actually, sound mixing can be VERY off, but only sometimes. The controller speaker offers a way of bringing important info closer to you and out of the music for those cases. It’s just really strange to hear how tinny this speaker is when the PS4’s controller speaker feels like it was better, not having any way to directly compare, unfortunately. It turns already tinny voice lines super tinny, indeed. I will say it’s a little unusual to hear Cloud talking from the TV and Chadley talking from my hands, but in a neutral way, like I didn’t expect Cloud to be the one answering.

Chadley himself gives me warm fuzzies because he feels much more human this time around. Having not gotten very far, I didn’t get to see his arc in action, but I did read about it. Having the little robot I met move and speak in somewhat more human ways makes me happy for him, that he’s been able to grow as a person even if I didn’t get to see the party help him do it. I did read an article from Kotaku saying there’s just too much of him and he’s annoying, but the worst I can really throw at him is an agreement with Kotaku that, yeah, he kinda treats MAI like crap.

Oh, right, MAI. "MAI" stands for something, but she says to just pronounce it like "Mai" and honestly I think they wanted something intentionally obtuse to make you do that. I have no idea what it stands for without looking it up. She’s a perky idol A.I. that Chadley created to offload combat monitoring on and she looks more or less like Chadley in a polytail wig. She gives intel on the special battles Chadley wants for data collection and they end with Chadley engaging in what feels like a one-sided sibling rivalry with her, where he tries to rein her in while she obliviously spouts kudos that he’d prefer to give, because she’s simply not as advanced and it shows. She is equally perky suggesting you try not to get eaten as she is detailing the fossil record; there is nothing there. You see this play out over the first few special battles and Chadley takes a little wind-up to actually start getting frustrated with her. I don’t necessarily feel like Chadley is malicious in his treatment of her; he just doesn’t see MAI the same way an unattentive player might. To Chadley, MAI is not a "person," she’s a program he wrote to do a job and she’s acting out of scope. Chadley sees this behavior as a bug and treats it as such, but the casual observer is probably going to take her personality at face value and not realize that it’s a construction. She ultimately is presented as too human for anyone’s good. So, overall, at least in this early stage, MAI is… unnecessary. The type of character designed to sell figures. Maybe that will change as she somehow learns and advances. She’s not bad, but her interactions with the party are nothing Chadley couldn’t have done himself and Chadley’s squabbling with her is at best only mildly amusing.

Making a less than graceful segue into the VR combat simulator, which I never got to use in the first entry, there’s something deliciously PS2 about the whole affair, with the place being all geometric shapes and flying cubes, even if the flying cubes have all the edges and corners sanded flat. Even getting the victory poses in there feels retro, with the camera often swinging around the party as they’re left standing in a line to do a variation on the original one from the PS1, but with certain touches like Red giving an enthusiastic voiced growl as part of his and occasional voice lines that really feel ripped out of Final Fantasy X. Not everything is exactly the same; in fact Barret’s is completely different probably because it was a reload animation, but even that has a small nod to the original by having him bring his hand to his gun as part of it. The others all have key nods to the original or are at least very much in the spirit.

Otherwise, it’s nice to see how diverse the game is. Black people are all over the place, including both the mayor and two of the three shop clerks of Kalm, plus Oliver of Oliver’s Farm where the story leads you after things dump you in the wider world. Compared to the original where Barret was the only one you met until you made it to North Corel, it’s a significant change. Compared to Final Fantasy XVI where there were zero of them, it’s an infinitely better direction for the company. One that makes me feel like maybe the series might still be for me after all manner of betrayal in that main-line title. The fact it did as well as it did says really disappointing things about gamers. The fact this one is doing quite well makes me feel much better.

Stealth happens a lot in this game and it’s kind of a pain because it’s not 100% clear about what the rules are. So let me lay them out a bit: you will be expected in essentially every stealth segment to briefly alert whatever you’re trying not to tip off, but there are 2 levels of this: the one where they’re alerted and decide it’s just the wind and the one where you actually fail. The first level upgrades to the second after about a second or so of being in their line of sight, so your best option is to ignore the first level entirely and dodge roll to whatever your next full cover point is because they’re not actually that smart and don’t track you all that hard, but they will see Cloud poking out of partial cover. The game is engineered for these "tense" moments to happen and it’s kind of a pain, because after the first couple times, you understand what it’s doing and that it’s not your fault and you have no means of doing anything better to avoid it, which takes all of the dramatic impact out of it. It just becomes a prompt to dodge roll in the direction you were already moving.

There is always, always, good reason to swim. This may sound silly, but if there’s anything at all poking out of the water, there is something to find on it. For the most part, there is no indication of this. You’re simply rewarded for exploring. This is kind of the game’s version of treasure behind the waterfall.

Verdict

It’s good. I mean we knew it was going to be good and everyone and their dog has already said so first given how late this review is.

If I had one required complaint and one slot to give it, I would say that the Ubisoft style of exploration really just leaves me wanting more of what Final Fantasy XV had. This is, at its core, a matter of presentation first and foremost.

The cooking system in that game was mouth-watering. Crafting potions in this one is at best underwhelming. Instead of a camp stove, you’re given a device that’s already decades old from before Shinra ruled the world that is, for lack of a better comparison, about the size of a graphing calculator, and magically turns a few stray leaves of common herbs and spices into miraculous consumer items complete with bottles and zero explanation how. You just hold down X and "pbbt," there’s your item. Or your 10 items. Or your 99 items. Actually, implying it even makes a small fart sound is far more entertaining than the actual ceremony. If there’s anything smart about crafting, it’s that most recipes do you the service of at least pairing your mundane ingredients with something a little more fantastical that you can hand-wave as the real base of the effect, but the ones that don’t are just kind of hilarious. It’s just disappointing that there’s no payoff for using the system for anything but leveling it up. With items being as useless as they are to begin with, I feel that something was fundamentally missed here. Like I said before, a little confetti would have gone a long way.

Enemies in FF15 were a natural part of the ecosystem, and while you have that here, a little bit, it’s with the sparing normal animals that are programmed to run away when you get too close (and the rabbits don’t even do that properly), not whatever "fiends" are supposed to be like it’s Final Fantasy X all over again. Just call them "monsters" and be done with it. Like, there’s a difference between a couple monsters milling around their spawn point and a herd of otherwise placid enemies grazing. A few more idle animations would have spiced it up, maybe? Why exactly do relatively strong enemy groups hang around towers? What could possibly be the strategic advantage to a predator to be fully visible to their prey or vice versa? If you have flying enemies, sure, if they would maybe land on it instead of wasting their energy flying in circles. For that matter, I really don’t understand why a helpful owl wants to show me its nesting grounds so bad. Was there a memo passed out that we’re the good guys? Is it because they look at Cloud and say, "yep, that’s the funny Chocobo," or do they do that for all humans?

I miss being able to set a map marker and sitting back while autopilot takes me there, with a potential for battles and interesting events along the way. And not gonna lie; the idea that I have one Chocobo that suddenly turns into one for everyone bothers me. Yes, it would get crowded very quickly to have them all standing around, but you can already summon the one from off-camera; it couldn’t maybe make a noise to call enough of its buddies in for everyone else and then they all run off when we dismount? Small touches, man. Even if you catch them fading out near the edges of the screen, it would imply they’re going somewhere. Somehow we went from Cloud having a pocket party to all his mounts having them.

Where is the day/night cycle? Where is the weather? Seriously, even if it somehow never rains, the fact there’s no sense of time in the game is disorienting to me. I walked into the Junon area with its brassy evening tones wondering what I could do to get rid of them because it makes me feel like I should be finding the nearest inn. I got used to it eventually, but I’m not used to having the time of day looming, constantly, like the very sun is an impatient monster over my shoulder waiting for me to take my headphones off. I understand why it’s like that. Cloud woke up in the morning, enjoyed it around town for a bit, bumped around the immediate area for a bit, and then went through a cave. Bam. Evening. Only if I’m going to be puttering around for another dozen hours in "evening" doing all the stuff Chadley wants, it’s going to cramp my style a bit. I’m largely okay with "day" being "day" in video games and "night" being "inn stay" because day is when you can see everything. Even when you’re writing a script, the normal convention is to use "DAY" or "NIGHT" unless you really need it to be anything else for the scene to work. Having evening just sitting there, chilling, for hours, defies all normal conventions. This might be fine for anything but an open-world game, but for an open-world game, assuming everyone is going to speed along the critical path doesn’t work as well and this game seems to really assume that’s exactly what you’re going to do.

And yes, I know that FF7 is a story-based RPG where everything has a set order and blahdy-blah, but when so much of it feels like a step backwards from a last-gen game where there were fire physics and everyone got realistically dirty and wet and maybe whined a little too much about you not playing dress-up whenever the air temperature changed, the urge to say "IT WAS ALL RIGHT THERE" is strong. I know it’s a totally different engine and all, but I also feel like a lot of this doesn’t depend on a specific engine. I’m less worried about physics and decals and more worried about ideas and immersion.

What’s there isn’t bad. Let me be super clear about that. When you look at things from a purely functional standpoint, they’re not bad. The world is overall very pretty. It just doesn’t feel properly alive. The way things were streamlined, it feels a lot more like a game. As a game, it’s a good game. And in some ways there’s a level of comfort in that. A good game can in some ways be preferable to a limited world. I won’t say I prefer Final Fantasy XV despite all the time I put into it. I simply like it for different reasons. But I was really hoping for Rebirth to iterate on what it laid out and become the definitive experience, which it simply didn’t do. I like what Rebirth has to offer. I like what XV has to offer. But I would have liked for Rebirth to offer more of what made XV so great, so it could be great in more of the same ways. So, really, it could be better with the new technology afforded it. To make an even more vibrant world than was possible before with the near-decade of advancements.

I don’t necessarily want a carbon-copy; I don’t need fishing or Justice Monster V or an entire parallel copy of the game running for photos. I don’t even necessarily need an extensive cooking system as much as it would certainly be even more sinfully delicious. But it would kind of be nice for enemies to feel less like groups of mobs dotted along the road or like they’d have a reason to hang around the towers. Something as little as a chain link fence would do. There are chain link fences with holes in them in the game. Would it have been so hard to put them around more of the towers so the enemies would see you and pour out to defend their territory? For the ones with flying enemies to have nests they’d sit in until you came along to threaten their eggs?

Small touches, man. None of this is hard. Standing up a fence is not hard. The extra idle animations and A.I. bits aren’t any harder than any other animation. It just takes a little thought. So much of the original had that thought put in. Enemies with custom death animations. Even setpiece battles like the elevator where they spared a whole first attack to make it look like the glass was being shot out on the limited tech they had. It was full of small touches.