SPOILER WARNING!!! If you have not played Final Fantasy VII Remake, you should not read this blog as it contains massive spoilers! You have been warned!
TGS 2023 Showed Some AWESOME Preview Stuff Of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, But There's A Sword Of Damocles Looming
It's been about two weeks since Square Enix shared the release date trailer for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, and I have withheld discussing or analyzing that trailer for a couple of reasons. First, I'm not too fond of close reading game trailers as they are in and of themselves advertising compositions that are often non-indicative of the final product. Instead, they feature hand-picked set pieces and vignettes to get people buzzing about them online. Second, Square Enix stated in subsequent press releases that more details would commence at the 2023 Tokyo Game Show (i.e., TGS). I suspected then and was proven correct that many expected "burning questions" streamers or online talking heads had about what Rebirth would entail or involve would be hinted at or clarified during this convention. And goodness, between Sony's September State of Play and TGS, does Rebirth look good, and I mean, REALLY GOOD! I sometimes come across as a critic of the company's modern trajectory, but HOT DAMN, does it seem like they know what people want from Rebirth and how to deliver on that. People on social media sure got excited when they saw Cosmo Canyon and got in a tizzy when Vincent emerged from his coffin to greet Cloud. Something that caught me off guard was the modernized version of the Materia Keeper because that boss battle was an absolute pain in the ass during my first playthrough.
When looking at the game from a technical and gameplay perspective, Square Enix is doing everything right with fans and the goodwill they built with Remake. Square Enix has stated on several occasions that while the game is linear, once your transportation is settled, you can travel between all the game's continents to your heart's delight. Instead of what I suspected would be segregated zones or set pieces between interstitial ones (i.e., Final Fantasy XII or XIII), Square Enix's directors promise one seamless map, with some sections cordoned off depending on your progress with the story. And then there are the small details that many people online are buzzing about. Yuffie and Vincent are required characters you cannot miss. Although some are disappointed
in that you don't directly control him, his inclusion does confirm that his plotlines and relationship with the supporting world of Final Fantasy VII are baked into the world Square Enix is crafting with the Remake games. The traditional JRPG turn-based combat option is still here, Cait Sith is promised not to suck shit in combat, and goddamn, does it sound like they entirely own up to how goofy and zany the original Final Fantasy VII got after you leave Midgar. Every minigame or wacky visual harkens to the many beats of levity OG Final Fantasy VII has that it sometimes doesn't get credit for, including its appreciated quiet moments between its more dramatic moments. Rebirth has Chocobos, the Tiny Bronco, the military marching scene, arena fights, crane games, a card game, Costa del Sol, Segways, and more. It has been pleasantly surprising to see a team that I would typically say should operate on a short leash working with complete creative freedom in all the right ways.
And it is at this point that my cynical side kicks in ever so slightly. Those who have already played Final Fantasy VII Remake and its Intergrade "expansion" can likely recall how Remake was initially demoed and promoted. You know that we have seen this song and dance from Square Enix before. Even though both originally were promoted as fun reinterpretations of their source material, both Remake AND Intergrade not only actively pulled the rug from underneath fan expectations for a shot-for-shot remake of OG Final Fantasy VII, but they even had stand-in ghosts meant to personify literal FFVII fans as narrowminded wraiths that cannot fathom a world where Cloud and Aerith deviate from their destinies even one iota. That's a thing that happened, and we need to talk about it as we continue to consume all of Square Enix's media blitz regarding Rebirth. Those ghosts and the plot whopper they were involved were meant to give creative leaders like Yoshinori Kitase and Tetsuya Nomura the blank slate with the Final Fantasy VII cast they have wanted for decades. And Rebirth is going to have to clarify how buck wild the future will get. It's something Square Enix can't avoid, even if it was the lifeblood that drove Rebirth's development. And yet, they have been mum, and so have people drumming up excitement for Rebirth. Currently, many streamers and YouTube essayists are reviewing the preview coverage coming out of TGS and subsequent demo events at face value, and who can blame them? Square Enix has a game that everyone wants to play, and right now, all they are saying is that things will be a fun HD trip down memory lane.
Nonetheless, looming in the background as the game's release draws near is a specter no one is talking about, including even the most die-hard Remake fans. That Sword of Damocles is the simple fact that there's no goddamn way in the world this upcoming game avoids pulling employing another bait and switch like its predecessor. It will happen, and I don't think anyone expects it NOT to happen. Zack's possibly still alive, so I imagine there will be an increasing plot divergence at some point, and where that starts is a point of massive speculation. Will it happen immediately after a possible flashback to Cloud's recollection of the "Nibelheim Incident," or do you think the game suckers everyone into a slow burn like in Remake? In an interview, Rebirth's director and creative leads stated that the game ends at the Forgotten Capital / Forgotten City, which is "a choice." I'm going to tell you right here, and now, I need to live to see how the internet reacts to Rebirth's possible reimaging of the conclusion of the Forgotten Capital, especially if Square Enix deviates from the norm and doesn't kill Aerith. I am not religious, but I am on my hands and knees, praying that I live to see how the internet reacts to that. And with Nomura and Kitase being on record that they are still over the moon about their more flamboyant and eccentric Compilation of Final Fantasy VII characters, sudden appearances of figures we haven't seen in decades seem all but guaranteed. But how quickly does Square Enix drop characters like Angeal and Genesis on an audience with no idea what those names mean?
Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis Is Already The Second Most Important Game You Need To Play Before Rebirth
Creative design lead Tetsuya Nomura and executive producer Yoshinori Kitase are simple people. Their intentions with the Remake continuity are not exactly a secret. While they both recognize they cannot scrap the foundation of Final Fantasy VII, the game's creative team has been wanting to take their ancillary character designs and stories from the fringes of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII and give them the AAA budget they think they deserve. They have been at this since Advent Children, and while I certainly do not feel all of their characters or creative ideas are worthy of that investment, you have to give it to both of them; they have been dedicated to enacting their "master plan" over literal decades. And the thing is, it worked. Compilation characters like Kyrie Canaan, Leslie Kyle, and even Weiss adapted to the world of Remake relatively quickly without too much protest from fans. To clarify, the "Compilation of Final Fantasy VII" is a massive multimedia endeavor that includes console games, books, mobile games, and original video animations (i.e., OVAs). The "peak" of this effort took place between 2004 and 2009. As always, you have to commend Square Enix for their ambition. That they thought they could make a console game, handheld game, mobile game, full-length feature film, and two animes, all within FIVE YEARS, is astounding! But the mad bastards at Square Enix managed to pull it off, though the results were often questionable. Nonetheless, Remake pulled A LOT of its content and secondary characters from this initiative, and they weren't all immediate disasters.
However, some of these characters will rub people the wrong way, and introducing them is going to involve Rebirth's story diverging from the path set by the original Final Fantasy VII. When do we think this rug-pulling act is happening? Do you think Square Enix plants its flag immediately into the ground and says, "Screw your hopes and dreams; this game is ours!" Or, conversely, do you think they try to string everyone along another slow burn where things seem like a "normal" nostalgic tour, and then BOOM, shit gets weird when you least expect it? I already joked about Genesis waltzing through this game when we least expect it. Still, if this game is going to have Zack and Vincent play prominent or at least visible roles, then the characters associated with their backgrounds, which we know Nomura and Kitase love, have to reappear. If Vincent gets Yuffie's Intergrade treatment, which many people speculate is the most logical thing to happen, I expect to see Shelke. However, things are more complicated with Zack, as there's still a stunning lack of clarity about where he is chronologically with his appearances up to this point. The thing about Zack and Rebirth is that the preview summary about his role says, "Cloud and co. are leaving Midgar while Zack is traveling back across the desert to Midgar with Cloud in tow." So, it's ambiguous if all of these cutscenes and appearances thus far are a collection of flashbacks and his fate as seen in OG FFVII or, more likely, Crisis Core, is still on the table OR if he's thoroughly alive in the Remake continuity. Honestly, it would be idiotic to tease his return FOR LITERAL YEARS and the Remake games being their own thing, only for them to revert to the original continuity in this regard. That's doubly so if dozens of characters only make sense or can be effectively grafted into Rebirth and onward if Zack is present and alive. And with Ever Crisis making large swaths of Crisis Core canon in the Remake games, Zack being dead after all of this pomp and circumstance would be an incredibly dumb revelation.
And opting these Nomura and Kitase "favorites" into the current lore isn't new. Some are even playing a prominent role in the events seen in Ever Crisis and even popped into First Soldier before its discontinuation. One scene in particular from the Rebirth story trailer caught my attention. Here's a screen capture of the moment that took me by surprise and was my primary source of inspiration for writing this blog.
Unless you played First Soldier or are toiling away at Ever Crisis, you might not know that someone here says a lot about the "grand plan" for Rebirth's scope and sequence. Those who have played either game might have noticed Glenn Lodbrok, first introduced in First Soldier and a central playable character in Ever Crisis. Now, I'm not entirely jumping for joy about this, but I fully expect characters from the mobile game to get rammed down our throats. Nonetheless, if Glenn is on the table, then that means Rebirth is going to get incredibly weird and likely going to address some of the plot threads introduced in Ever Crisis. For those unaware, Glenn's significant culminating moment in Ever Crisis involves him finding Sephiroth around a circle of recently slain Behemoths, while attempting to use his cell phone to call Genesis. Yeah. Genesis is already fair game. He's coming and there's nothing you can do to stop it. Even though Dirge and Crisis Core might not be wholesale "canon," Nomura and Kitase have sent repeat signals that every character from the original spin-offs and tie-ins is indeed inhabiting this world and will factor into the future at some point. And yet, I have to question how you accomplish that.
On top of that, how do you deal with people who only play the mainline console games and never the spin-offs or mobile tie-ins? If all they do is plop a character as murky and convoluted as Genesis in front of the main party and have them fight, as they did with Nero in Intergrade, I think it's safe to say "mistakes were made." Likewise, the Remake team is starting to shoot themselves in the foot because fundamental parts of these characters they likely are holding back on with their preview footage continue to have all their backstories and supporting adventures locked behind mobile games and spin-offs. Square can continue to cite attachment numbers and download rates for their latest mobile game all they want. Regardless, thousands will likely not touch it due to its gacha DNA, which raises the issue of how and when to foreshadow and scaffold some of these zanier and less-known Final Fantasy VII characters. The world of Rebirth is massive to their benefit, allowing them to space out character and antagonist introductions at a steady pace. However, the story still needs to address the fact that their motivations and aims remain ambiguous until someone in the writing team bites the bullet and gives them air to breathe. Is there going to be a fundamentally different call to adventure that unites all these conflicting antagonistic forces and figures to work together? All Genesis wants to do is kill Hojo, and the Tsviets aren't entirely complimentary to the aims and goals of the Turks and Rufus. How is this game going to manage having almost a dozen different antagonists? Unless people and organizations get rewritten, it will be a mess.
The References To Crisis Core And Dirge of Cerberus Are Becoming Far More Blatant
Let's return to Rebirth's most recent story trailer to discuss some points of controversy. One of the most significant sticking points has to be Zack taking center and front stage for a substantial amount of time. Something that stuck out to me is when Zack hands over an unconscious Cloud to Kyrie Canaan, a character most people assume is a Remake original but instead originates from an Advent Children novel tie-in. It's a neat moment, but when you have Zack stomping around parts of the world he should not be inhabiting AND ALSO have Sephiroth utter, "It's upon us—the Reunion. When worlds merge," I think it is safe to say Crisis Core and Dirge of Cerberus content and characters are going to be in Rebirth. They already broke the seal with Deepground and the Tsviets, in particular, being in the first game, and they even had Yuffie's Intergrade companion sacrifice their life to protect her from Nero the Sable. There is no way in the world those characters continue being fun little "goofs" you only see in passing near the end. Instead, they will be against your party's efforts throughout your journey. The Hell with it; I'm putting down two pennies and willing to gamble Genesis and Angeal are in Rebirth. Why am I so confident? Because you don't have a moment like this feature prominently in your preview coverage and NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING!
And what are we doing with Zack? Are we getting a series of flashbacks that have us reliving Crisis Core but with better visuals and controls? Or is he alive, and we need to help him catch up with Aerith and Cloud, and along the way, he fights his old enemies from Crisis Core? With Zack being right there on the box art, any swerves in Rebirth largely depend on whatever happens on his timeline. And I have to go back to this point, but we are already name-dropping Genesis in Ever Crisis. In that case, that must mean Angeal is right around the corner, especially if the Zack story bits go even one step away from the original game's narrative. Doing that is almost necessary because people forget how little of a factor Zack is in the original Final Fantasy VII. His primary purpose is to allow Cloud to recognize his memories are rooted in falsehoods, be a name Aerith says to establish she is already in a relationship, and be a spikey-haired hero figure in a missable cutscene that lasts less than three minutes. Crisis Core, not the source material, made Zack into a character worth following, and lament the game's wacky story all you want, but it ends miraculously. Crisis Core gets enough of its characterization right that people are generally open-minded at the prospect that it might be a frame of reference with characters fundamental to Rebirth. However, considering Crisis Core Reunion is still fresh, why would anyone expect Zack's adventures in Rebirth to be a repeat of familiar territory? Considering how much Remake revels in subverting fan expectations, I don't trust for a minute that anything about Crisis Core's ending will happen in Rebirth. Mark my words; something weird is going to happen to Zack.
That same sentiment applies to Vincent. Dirge is the weird ugly duckling of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII games, outside of it having the single best final level in all video games. Like Crisis Core, it has some oddball characters I can only imagine Kitase and Nomura are pouncing on the opportunity to include in Rebirth. Deepground is already a factor, but adding more characters originating from Dirge into Rebirth isn't precisely something fans are pining for. With Vincent and Cid confirmed to be getting the treatment Red XIII got in Remake (i.e., they are AI-controlled), Rebirth has different priorities than providing either in-depth backgrounds or wholesome character moments. Nonetheless, the prognosis seems clear that something is changing with either of these party members. If Yuffie was a segue to reintroducing some of the Deepground characters as being intertwined with the world of the Remake continuity, what does Vincent unlock? The choices are endless with Dirge as a fallback, but where are Square's creative and narrative priorities? Which Dirge or Compilation characters allow them to continue to open the floodgates? That is the question at hand when we debate what the future holds for Vincent in Rebirth.
And there are possible issues with character redundancies and conflicting priorities that still need to be solved if everything is on the table like it seems. One problem I have with a lot of subsequent Final Fantasy VII media is that they make Professor Hojo seem like a massive threat to the world when, in the original, he's a comical goon. He's a crazy, mad professor who does science experiments, and at one point, he turns himself into Frankenstein's monster. In the original game, he's far from being this monolithic threat that Shinra considers on par with Sephiroth as they do in Remake. Yet, characters like Angeal and Vincent make him seem like a master schemer despite the fact there's a scene in the original game where you see him in a speedo slurping down mojitos and banana daiquiris while surrounded by bikini babes. We are probably not getting that version of Hojo in Rebirth unless Square wants to own the narrative unevenness of the original the same way Remake wholly owned its Honeybee Inn sequence. Yet, Hojo is not alone in being a character attempting to serve more than one narrative role in the original and needing to be reframed in Remake. The Turks certainly have their goofy moments, but will Reno and Rude be absolute jokes when you fight them in Cid's town? Considering that would conflict with the air of "coolness" Nomura prefers with the Turks and Tsviets, I'd cast some doubt on that, but things will be different with our many encounters with the Turks in the future.
Here We Go Again? No, Let Square-Enix Go HAM And Hook Whatever Comes Out Directly Into My Veins!
Let's be honest. Referencing games like Crisis Core and Dirge isn't a big deal. Many people get up in their feelings because some character designs are a bit too much. Still, with the original game already anime nonsense, I don't view either game, even in their original forms, as being these narrative liabilities. Take Crisis Core as an example. The first half of that game involves Zack listening to Genesis and Angeal bicker like an elderly married couple before they finally cut each other out of their lives and move to kill each other in big Dragon Ball Z anime-ass fight scenes. They spend most of the game saying random anime quips at one another before departing for different parts of the world, with Zack needing to figure out why they aren't playing nice with Shinra. However, Final Fantasy VII has always been a profoundly dumb and, at times, convoluted narrative with several heart-rending moments that have become burned into the lexicon of the video game hobby. Suppose you are concerned about Rebirth "ruining" the sanctity of Final Fantasy VII; I challenge you to tell me anything that happens in Costa del Sol that is significant to the story. Also, summarize the plot revelations at the Crater and convince me none of it is anime nonsense. However, the idea that the current Remake team doesn't feel obligated to follow that and instead views nothing in the original game as holy has me on the edge of my seat.
While characters like Vincent have plenty of material Nomura and Kitase can bring to the fold, I'm curious how they handle someone like Cid. As I said with Zack, people need to remember how little the non-major party members add to the story or even talk, and the segment where Cid is the party leader is well beyond the stopping point Square has indicated. In their defense, they've done well with character writing in the Remake series. The Tifa-Aerith relationship/dynamic is a Remake novelty, and it's the most believable and rewarding relationship in the entire game. But, hopefully, with modern hardware, they can make Cid less of an asshole to his not-wife. Look, I get it. Some people think Cid's bit with his rocket is endearing and like to point out that his relationship with Shera gets better. All I'm trying to say is a character that is a walking Honeymooner's reference that makes light of domestic abuse as a punchline isn't going to fly in 2024! Nonetheless, if there is a character that Square has full permission to be liberal with their rewriting, it's Cid. And for all I know, Shera might be dead, considering the plot ghosts are not here to protect her during possible life-ending experiments by Cid.
There are a lot of characters for the creative team to micromanage, and they seem to be aiming to make the world of Rebirth massive as a result. With the ghosts of Remake busted, everyone's destined fate is wide open, and people like Nomura and Kitase will not pass on an opportunity to get wild with a canvas as significant as Rebirth. And you know what? I want to see it. I want Square to hit me in their most potent form. Seriously, let's summon Satan. Have Sephiroth kiss Cloud square on the lips, or have Zack come in and take Aerith's Sepiroth chest stab. If things are going to get weird, let's do it. They already had ghosts aggressively put fans in their place, and those fan stand-ins were meant to free up the creative possibilities with the subsequent Remake games. So, Square, prove it. Prove you knew how to use this carte blanche opportunity you created for yourself. Go ham, have Cloud be the one who dies, and then people have to play as Zack in the third game. Rock our socks off at this point, and don't listen to any fan outcry because why would you when you didn't care the first time?
If I don't think fans getting pre-emptively upset that Square Enix isn't going to serve them a game they were never going to make in the first place, what do I think is grounds for concern? Throughout their preview interviews at TGS, the producers for Rebirth expressed a deep level of affection for the Horizon games. This statement is a possible cause for apprehension because moments before you reach the point of no return in Remake, that game dumps a bunch of fiddly ancillary bullshit that makes you go back and forth between the same locals. Here, it has this rapid-fire pace where the stakes continue to ratchet up, and then the game tosses that out the window so you can talk to random NPCs about their problems and complete Fort Condor missions for Chadley. This issue might become a non-factor in Rebirth, considering that you are free from Midgar and have whole continents and townships to explore. Still, if there's something Assassin's Creed Valhalla taught me, it is that the fear of missing out bogs down these sorts of epic open-world games. Likewise, the consistency and quality of the side quests drop dramatically in the name of content creation. Whenever they have teased any significant news about the possible story paths for the game, the game's directors are quick to point to minigames and Chadley as ways they are making improvements to provide a more in-depth experience. Nonetheless, with their hands possibly tied to reams of clunky source material and a creative lead and producer struggling to have any semblance of self-discipline, I have legitimate fears Rebirth will be bloated. However, there would be an almost poetic nature to that, considering the original Final Fantasy VII had a similar problem with mid-game bloat.