FF7 Rebirth Has More In Common With 2022’s Best RPG Than You Think

FF7 Rebirth Has More In Common With 2022’s Best RPG Than You Think

Stepping out into the seaside region of Junon at the start of chapter four of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, I can feel the sun beaming down on Cloud and the gang as it was setting along the ocean’s horizon and painting the fields in a soothing orange glow. The craggy cliffs pave routes for my new rock-climbing chocobo to take me in and around nooks and crannies that contain traces of an bygone generation. And every so often, I stop in my tracks to take in the view, always with the massive Upper Junon cannon far in the background contrasting with the stretches of land in between. And every time, I can’t help but let that overwhelming sense of scale wash over me.

Every route is the scenic route in Rebirth, urging me to pop into photo mode, adjust the camera, slap a filter on, and snap a screenshot to capture the moment. Then I scope out the open world for points of interest, decide on a direction to go, weasel my way through an unforeseen path, and stumble upon something the game isn’t quite ready to show me. This is a game that excels in making you feel small. Although a destination might seem close on a map or from surveying the scene, there is always a trek required to get there. And I love it when a game can pull that off in visually distinct ways, to humble you without having to say out loud that this world is so much bigger than you and doesn’t revolve around you. Or rather, to empower you by showing you a massive world where your characters can leave a tangible impact.

Screenshot: Square Enix

Rebirth is full of these kinds of moments, and even hits you with one the very first time you step into the Grasslands, the first of the game’s six open regions. But I noticed something as I was playing FF7 Rebirth in the process of reviewing it for IGN – each moment like this felt awfully familiar. And the last time I truly had this specific and exact feeling was with Xenoblade Chronicles 3.

Despite the limitations of the Nintendo Switch hardware, developer Monolith stretched the possibilities of the platform to uplift Xenoblade’s signature sense of scale in creative ways, like juxtaposing wide open landscapes with impossibly large mountain ranges, constructs, or landmarks in the background. Walking to and from colonies, objectives, and corners of the world that pique curiosity feels like embarking on a hike, where you’ll have to discover the obscured path to your destination. Even as a gang of six with the power of god and anime on their side, I always felt small. With each trek, breathtaking views hammer home the idea that there is a dense and massive world that exists with or without you, instilling the excitement of adventure with a cast of characters I’d grow to love.

That intro to the Grasslands in Rebirth sees Aerith express her wonder and joy in experiencing nature for the first time. I kinda shared that sentiment with her, in that I could hardly believe that this was now Final Fantasy VII, open-world tropes be damned. It also reminded me of when I first stepped onto the grassy fields of the Fornis region in Xenoblade Chronicles 3. In that same vein, the party was astonished at what nature really looked like and that there was life beyond the treacherous existence they’d been subjected to. It’s a vast, green, and clean place with wildlife minding their own business. (And in both games, you can be an absolute monster and mercilessly kill them despite the reverence paid to preserving natural life!)

Screenshot: Monolith Soft

Scratching my head trying to figure out how to climb the the cliffs to reach plateaus in the Corel region in Rebirth reminded me of the way I had to poke around for caves or swim up rivers to find the route that leads to a secret or high-level side quest in Xenoblade – deliberate paths often masked in the magnitude of its environment. There’s a very specific way to navigate some of Rebirth’s almost labyrinthine zones which was very apparent in the lush jungles of Gongaga. I’m not saying it’s necessarily fun—all that mushroom jumping to get on the one correct route to a side quest does get frustrating. But the traversal here requires a lot more work than we’re used to in a Final Fantasy, almost like grinding on those connective rails rollerblade-style in Xenoblade and wracking your brain to figure which of the damn routes leads to the one spot you want to get to.

After dicking around the Junon region for hours, I finally moved forward in Rebirth’s main story. Arriving in the run-down town of Under Junon was nostalgic, for sure. I was anticipating the dolphin hopping minigame, having some downtime with Barret, Tifa, Aerith, and Red XIII, and seeing how the place had been recreated 27 years after the original game. Standing in the middle of the town and looking toward Upper Junon reminded me of being in the Midgar slums again. But more than anything, it felt like being under a Ferronis mech in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 – the towering robots that are the centerpieces of each colony in that story. These are mechanized icons of the oppression the people under them face, the forged steel upon which they rely and despise all the same. That can be communicated in dialogue or lore, but nothing sends those messages quite as clear as seeing it for yourself in the scale and enormity of their visual representations.

To varying degrees, both FF7 Rebirth and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 weave the theme of class struggle throughout their stories. And those stories are only made more powerful by painting vast, beautiful, and often treacherous worlds that deliver a grand sense of adventure, and to ultimately make you, again, feel small. And I will always cherish that in an RPG, because it makes the act of changing those worlds alongside an unlikely band of heroes all the more impactful and extraordinary.

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