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Definitely don’t start your Final Fantasy 7 experience with Rebirth

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is an excellent game and an important evolution for the franchise. It mashes together a traditional RPG with a large open world, managing to feel both modern and like it’s sticking to its 32-bit roots. What it is not, however, is a good place to get started with the multipart story that is Final Fantasy VII — despite what its creators might say.

Prior to Rebirth’s launch, creative director and zipper aficionado Tetsuya Nomura talked about how the game was designed in part to be welcoming to newcomers (always a commendable goal). “In fact,” he said in 2022, “new players might even enjoy starting their Final Fantasy VII journey with Final Fantasy VII Rebirth.” Meanwhile, on launch day, producer Yoshinori Kitase said the game would be “welcoming in newcomers to begin their Final Fantasy adventure here.”

Unfortunately, that’s not quite right.

Let’s start with the obvious: Rebirth is the second chapter of a story. Square Enix’s plan is to take the original 1997 version of Final Fantasy VII and expand it into a trilogy of modern games. That started with the aptly named Final Fantasy VII Remake in 2020, which told the beginning of the story. It introduces many elements crucial to Rebirth — the state of the dying world you’re trying to save; the relationships between hero Cloud Strife and every major character; the machinations of the evil Shinra corporation; and the motivation of antagonist Sephiroth.

On a purely technical level, you can play Rebirth first. And in some ways, the game stands on its own, telling a story about a group of friends heading out into the big wide world to track down a villain intent on destroying it. There’s a solid recap video you can watch before playing to catch up on some of what happened. The new games, Rebirth in particular, also do a great job of expanding on and clarifying the convoluted story of the original, which — despite its length — felt lacking in a lot of areas.

But things are still pretty complex, and that would only be exacerbated by skipping the first chapter. So while you could start with Rebirth, the experience would probably be a lot like when I jumped into Kingdom Hearts with the third one — which is to say, confusing as hell.

Then there’s the experiential and emotional side. A large part of the appeal of this franchise is its characters, and Rebirth even introduces a new system where you can track how someone feels about Cloud and help improve those relationships through conversations and optional side missions. If you skip out on Remake, you’ll be missing a whole lot of context covering the often complicated history between characters and why you’d want to connect with them at all. Going on a date with Tifa isn’t quite the same if you haven’t experienced their journey together.

Look, I can’t tell you what to do. But if you really want to get the most out of this collection of games, it’s best to start at the beginning. In fact, I’ll go a step further: if you really want to experience all that Final Fantasy VII has to offer, you should play the original before Remake and Rebirth. That’s because not only do the remakes expand the story but they also change things in notable ways, and understanding those changes can be powerful.

Yes, that means a lot of hours spent fighting monsters and fiddling with Materia. (Hey, at least I’m not saying you should watch Advent Children.) But the franchise also gets very meta in pivotal moments, using ingrained memories of the original to subvert player expectations. Nowhere is that more pronounced than with the ending of Rebirth which… actually, I’m not going to say anything about it. Go play the original first.

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