The Final Fantasy VII Remake set the tone for what players can expect from this three-part retelling of the beloved 1997 Square RPG. Excellent updates to the combat system, fantastic expansions on character relationships, and stellar production values let us know that Square Enix is not taking the responsibility of remaking one of its most iconic games lightly. However, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth seems to take several aspects of the experience to the next level, mostly thanks to its emphasis on side content.
Following the events on Midgar as depicted in the remake, the party unfolds into a vast, open area. In the original game, this was depicted by the overworld map, but in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, players remain in the same perspective for the rest of the game as they move from one point of interest to another. After the more restrictive approach to the Final Fantasy VII remake, the new sense of openness is refreshing and purposeful in uniting the team, especially when you consider how much more open this division was during the original title.
“Seeing that the remake is set in the world of Midgar, in which the player can explore within that area, we leaned more on the story elements and focused on more narrative-driven gameplay for the remake,” says director Naoki Hamaguchi. “Now that we’re entering the outside world and continuing in that direction, I had this desire to portray more of that sense of exploration, and I think I was able to achieve that for Rebirth.”
While you’re exploring, you should plan to have the opportunity to enjoy a ton of side content. Hamaguchi estimates that about 80 percent of Reincarnation’s exploration-based content is side content, while the main story makes up the remaining 20 percent. If you’re worried that Reincarnation lacks story content, Hamaguchi says you can relax; Even focusing on the main storyline, they estimate that it will give players around 40 hours of gameplay. Meanwhile, if you tackle a decent amount of side content, players can expect to spend around 60 hours on Rebirth, while more dedicated sidequesters can look forward to 100 hours of content.
But it’s not about bloating content in order to maximize that playtime. The developer wanted to ensure that it would provide players with a varied and meaningful experience. “Looking at these big titles with more expansive worlds with a lot of side content, some players might think that there’s a lot of side content, but maybe the actual experience isn’t that different,” says co-director Motomu Toriyama. “For Rebirth, we’ve taken care to have this select number of side contents that we’ve really worked to develop in depth. This is a big consideration for us, allowing players to experience a variety of gameplay through side content. That way, we can achieve a unique flavor among similar titles. I believe it is possible.”
When I ask Hamaguchi for his favorite RPG outside of the Final Fantasy series, without hesitation, he names The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt Red’s 2015 masterpiece that many consider one of the greatest games of all time. That title is known for its meaningful side theme, which is so strong that its storyline matches the main story.
“For titles like The Witcher 3, which has an element of the open-world role-playing genre, we did some extensive research on these types of titles and we saw that Rebirth was the kind of title that needed to be, and the kind of title that stood up to it. The kind of content that would satisfy it and its players. has,” says Toriyama.
Those who have played Final Fantasy VII Remake will recognize one of the main sidequest givers: Chadli. The younger researchers will once again ask for your help in learning about the Materia, and they will reward you with additional summons. As you move around the world, he asks you to look for certain events through events called World Intel.
The rewards are decent, but from everything I hear from the developers, the story may be the driving force behind pushing players into sidequests. To make side content more meaningful, Square Enix has expanded the affinity system. This under-the-hood mechanic takes your actions towards the character and translates how certain scenes – like the famous gondola date sequence – play out. Part of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s content is a crucial driver for this mechanic, with each sidequest bringing a secondary hero from the party. Completing a sidequest improves Cloud’s affinity with a specific character (for more on the sidequest I saw, go here).
“We want to give players the freedom of choice in deciding whether they want to dedicate themselves to the main storyline and no sidequests,” says Hamaguchi. “Or there may be people who want to delve into the content of the piece and go really deep into character relationships and understand the story deeply, or we want a balance of those two. We want to give that freedom.”
The original Final Fantasy VII featured a ton of minigames — especially in its middle section — and Rebirth is no different. One of the more engaging and persistent minigames is Queen’s Blood, a competitive card game you can play against NPCs in Rebirth.
While the team remains tight-lipped about the exact mechanics, we do know that it’s a strategic card battler with collectible and deck-building elements. “As for the number of cards, there’s a huge amount — almost like its own card game,” says Toriyama. “Part of the fun is collecting these cards. Queen’s Blood is more of a strategy and thinking card game, but I’ve seen some games where you’re on the last level and you’ve collected all the cards, and it has the potential to be a very flashy, fast-paced card game; it’s almost instantaneous in a shooting game. has, in which your opponent can lay down a card, then you immediately lay down another card. It’s very fast. It’s at the maximum difficulty level of the card game, so I believe there are only a few players who play at this intensity level.”
The other minigame I saw was the piano activity. Through exploration, sheet music for compositions can be found within the cloud world. He can then sit down at the piano and play songs using two analog sticks and a few buttons. The piano minigame also has a freeplay mode that lets you play any song you want. I saw a developer play a famous Japanese song using the game’s piano mechanics. It looks like it will take a lot of practice to get good at, but the mechanics seem deep, and the team wants players to embrace the ability to play any song they like and share their performances online.
I haven’t seen Chocobo Racing, but the team says its improvements and modernizations are in line with what players expect from a modern form; Players can equip their chocobos with stat-boosting gear, and different types of chocobos perform differently. Toriyama tells me that the Rebirth team briefly considered partnering with the 2022 kart-racer Chocobo GP developers for a minigame but ultimately decided to go its own way. As the Gold Saucer and Fort Condor have yet to be discussed in depth, I can only imagine the minigames that await players as they venture into those areas.
Final Fantasy VII Rebirth arrives on PlayStation 5 on February 29. For more on the “Most Anticipated” game at this year’s The Game Awards, click the banner below to visit our exclusive coverage hub!
Portions of this article originally appeared in issue 362 of Game Informer.