Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Review: Apocalypse Later

After setting off on your grand, world-spanning adventure in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, the mystical flower girl, Aerith, sweeps her arms wide and marvels in her typically upbeat way at the natural beauty of the planet. “Just look at it all,” she says, “It’s so green! A living, breathing planet. …”

Up to this point, Aerith, along with the game’s other heroes — Cloud, Barret and Tifa — have been winding through cluttered slums, dark subway tunnels and soaring office megatowers in the dense, industrial city of Midgar. It’s a claustrophobic experience that reinforces the sense of being trapped under the watchful eye of the previous game’s main villain: the planet-destroying corporation Shinra.

Rebirth, on the other hand, is an open-world game in every sense of the term.

The second of three installments reinventing the beloved Final Fantasy VII, which was released in 1997, Rebirth is faithful to its part of the original story, at least in a geographical sense. After completing the events of Midgar — where the previous game, 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake, unfolded — you head out into the wider world in search of Sephiroth, a product of Shinra who is now independently evil and somehow even more threatening to the planet’s safety.

So though it makes sense that Aerith is stunned by the untrammeled natural bounty around her, it equally makes sense that Red XIII, the group’s talking animal companion, responds: “It may look that way. But in reality, it’s barely hanging on.”

The game must constantly remind us that the planet is, indeed, dying. Aerith, though she clearly knows more than she lets on, is cast here as slightly naïve and shortsighted, reacting to what she sees on the surface even though the danger has never been greater. An existential threat looms just over the horizon.

Her problem, and ours, is that Square Enix, the studio behind the game, has built a world that really is beautiful, filled with pleasurable diversions.

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