Coming out in April of 2020, Final Fantasy VII Remake was the kind of warm hug gamers such as myself needed. Cooped up in our homes and apartments, regardless of our familiarity with the original PS1 game, Remake was the kind of earnest, emotional, and engaging experience many of us needed. Expanding on the story of the original game while putting more focus on the individual characters, it was the kind of RPG like Nier: Automata or The Witcher 3 that I would think about all the time after getting to the credits. Barrett, Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith had all made an impact and their adventure was one I couldn’t wait to see more of.

And Rebirth definitely gave me exactly what I wanted.

Opening where the last game ended, you are pretty quickly thrown into Rebirth’s massive open world. It’s an adjustment…the last game was fairly linear and it took some time for me to engage with that. The open world is gorgeous and full of things to do but also feels empty in certain stretches. The fact you have to unlock towers then perform some arbitrary tasks to knock icons off a map is dated. The more I played, the more I started to gel with it though.

Rebirth thrives in variety and while it utilizes some of the same challenges throughout, every new area unlocks a bevy of new challenges, mini-games, and varietals to what you’ve already done. It brings back some fan favorite minigames but also uses other modern favorites as inspiration for others. You can’t have an RPG without a competitive card game (thanks Gwent) so you can build a deck to become a Queen’s Blood master. There’s a Fall Guys style frog obstacle course. There’s a Rocket League-style minigame.

It’s a lot and many of these games exist to be played ten minutes then you move on. Which is surprising because all of them work very well, I didn’t find that any received any less love than the others.

The variety in the open world extends to the story as well, but in a way that I felt was a detriment to the overall story. Our team’s quest is to defeat Sephiroth, to save the world. But there is no Mordor at the start…and it’s a very aimless quest that at times feels so disconnected from the actual stakes. For instance at one point Cloud and crew infiltrate a Shinra military outpost dressed as soldiers. This leads to a bizarre but fun minigame where you get to create a drill team. That is immediately followed by some intense plot developments…that is then followed by a luxury cruise where you play Queen’s Blood Yu-Gi-Oh tournament style…and then that’s followed by the beach episode…which comes with a half dozen tropical fun minigames.

The characters, their interactions and struggles, anchor everything but often the game has extreme tonal whiplash and feels like individual episodes than a cohesive whole. The first game was tight and controlled in its storytelling and Rebirth feels more chaotic. Not to say I wasn’t having oodles of fun regardless, but I did find myself disengaged from the actual plot at times.

But man do the characters bring it home. Cloud’s apathetic bad boy persona is breaking down more as you get to spend individual time with your pals and you can affect your relationships with them based on decisions you make. Of course this means you’ll get the chance to decide which waifu eventually goes on a date with Cloud. In the annals of anime-related waifu battles, it does not reach the pitchfork-waving levels of Rei versus Asuka, but with Aerith getting so much more time to grow as a character, maybe you’ll actually decide to quit giving Tifa all your attention.

The game also brings in some new companions, notably Yuffie the ninja. She brings a more cheerful, childish quality to the group and while she doesn’t add a ton to the dynamic, she’s still fun and my favorite to play.

Combat is as responsive and dynamic as you’ll remember from the last game. You can button mash your way to victory or pause the battle to issue commands and take a more strategic approach. Now, as your bonds grow with your companions, you can use synergy abilities, fun little super moves where two characters come together to unleash devastation.

Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth isn’t quite as tight at the first game but it’s 80 hours-plus fly by. It succeeds in continuing to make the characters some of the most well-rounded and endearing of any game I’ve played. The cornucopia of mini-games, constant evolution of the gameplay, and fast pace makes for a very engaging game even if there is an occasional time I wondered what the reason was for some of the very empty space of the open worlds.

That’s a tiny gripe in what is an otherwise gorgeous game. If you were a fan of Remake, Rebirth will definitely live up to expectations. While I don’t think it’s as good, it’s so much fun, so engaging, and ultimately recreates that warm feeling I got four years ago when this adventure began. We all know how this story ends, the inevitably is a feeling of dread that is cultivated quite well by the writers. I can’t wait to see where the final entry in the trilogy takes us and how it will honor…or maybe change…the fates of our heroes.

An absolute must buy.

Rating: 9/10

Publisher provided review copy in exchange for honest review.