Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is right not to go full open-world

Cloud and the party face off with Sephiroth at the Temple of the Ancients
(Image credit: Square Enix)

At their best, open-world games are breathtaking, expansive experiences, bursting with hidden secrets to uncover and eye-catching locales to explore. At their worst, however, they can be shallow, meandering affairs full of empty sidequests and unfulfilling diversions. In light of these potential pitfalls, anyone who might want to craft a top-tier open-world game for themselves has to commit wholeheartedly. 

While not slated to be a fully open-world game as such, the upcoming fantasy role-playing game (RPG) Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth has a delicate line to walk when it comes to incorporating open-world elements without undermining its central narrative. In reinventing the original Final Fantasy 7 for a modern audience, Square Enix must exercise restraint when incorporating open-world staples like side quests and world events.    

Lessons can be learned from Rebirth’s predecessor, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which was filled with nods to modern, open-world games, often with mixed results. Though Remake boasted a well-built and rewarding real-time combat system alongside a gripping retelling of a classic story, its side quests often fell flat.

Costa del Sol at dusk

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Final Fantasy 7 Remake stuffed its hub areas with underwhelming side content, which felt all the weaker in comparison to its outstanding main story. In one early side quest, Cloud, our broody but lovable protagonist, is tasked to herd cats for a local child. After fruitlessly roaming about the slums, Cloud eventually found one of the errant critters before it quickly gave him the slip, prolonging the quest. “This sucks,” remarked Cloud. “Yes, Cloud,” I replied out loud, “yes, it does.”

The more conventional ‘go here, kill this thing, come back’ quests on offer also felt half-baked. They’d almost always involve retracing previous steps and fighting a reskinned or beefed-up version of something you’d already fought in the main story. Unfortunately for Remake, more content isn’t the same as better content

New beginnings 

Cloud. Tifa, Barett, Aerith and Red XIII on the outskirts of Midgar

(Image credit: Square Enix)

However, with Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth comes a fresh chance for Square Enix to get the balance right this time around.

In our hands-on preview of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, I got a look at the Grasslands area, the first explorable zone in the game. I was impressed with Square Enix’s restraint. While explorable and full of interesting things to discover, everything seemed manageable. Contrary to other open-world offerings like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Horizon Forbidden West, Rebirth doesn’t drown you in points of interest. Instead, they make for neat little distractions that never seem to overshadow or even attempt to compete with the main storyline. 

Travel, so often an Achilles’ heel for large open-world titles, is a joyful prospect in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Thanks to speedy Chocobo mounts, barreling through swamplands became fun rather than a chore. The adorable yellow birds have a real sense of momentum as they zoom across the world. While not quite on the level of Red Dead Redemption 2’s meticulously designed horses, there’s a Rockstar-style sense of attention to detail about the beaked beauties. As they move, they conserve momentum, their heavy footfalls feeling impactful as they take full advantage of the DualSense Wireless Controller's haptic feedback.

Barreling through swamplands became fun rather than a chore

If you choose to explore the world, you’ll first be aiming for one of the many Shinra communications towers dotted around the map. Like Tallnecks in Horizon or Viewpoints in Assassin’s Creed, once interacted with, these reveal sections of the map, giving you an indication of what’s nearby. Each of these towers will reveal three or four activities - enough to pique your interest, but never enough to bog you down or distract you.

A Chocobo glides across a lake

(Image credit: Square Enix)

The activities themselves usually involve self-contained battles or a short minigame. They’re rarely full-on sidequests, and that’s part of the charm. It’s the difference between eating a delicious chocolate cookie and gorging on the entire bag. Rather than force-feeding you, Rebirth seems to be content to let you eat your fill and move on - leaving you satisfied but not bloated.  

The same can be said for Rebirth’s approach to side-quests proper. Rather than having densely packed hubs full of fetch and kill quests barely related to the story, our hands-on gave me the sense that Square Enix had swapped quantity for quality. The one proper side quest I did involved making a flower crown as a thank-you to a pair of Chocobo ranchers. This took me to a cliffside to pick flowers, resulting in a charming sequence where Aerith talked Cloud through the process. While ancillary to the story, it fleshed out a character relationship. The quest was filler, sure, but it was pleasant filler.

A world with limits 

The Gold Saucer in FF7 Remake

(Image credit: Square Enix)

This restraint does lead to plenty of limitations when it comes to environmental design - limitations that might chafe against your expectations if you’re used to full-on open-world spectacles. While the Grasslands area is beautiful, Cloud and his friends don’t leave a mark on it in the same way as Kassandra from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Aloy from Horizon Forbidden West might leave a mark on their own worlds. The Grasslands don’t change based on your actions. 

While beautiful, the Grasslands were also sparsely populated outside of the hub areas. Though this helps create a sense that the natural world of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth has been neglected, those looking for incidental characters to interact with won’t find what they’re looking for here.

Rebirth will be stronger if it refuses to become bogged down in expectations

Despite having some of the trappings, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth doesn’t look as though it’ll be an open-world game in the truest sense. Its impressive, explorable environments exist to better frame the central story, not to stand on their own. However, this restraint from Square Enix is exactly what the upcoming game needs. Rebirth will be stronger if it refuses to become bogged down in expectations about what an open-world game should be and instead embraces its strengths: a thought-provoking, character-driven story punctuated with dramatic combat setpieces. 

Though I can’t speak for the full game yet, the areas I saw in the preview suggest that the RPG is off to a strong start. I laughed, cried, and enjoyed the world around me. For Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, I think that’s more than enough.

Want more narrative-centric titles? Check out our lists of the best story games and best RPGs.

Cat Bussell
Staff Writer

Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on,, and, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent. 

Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure. 

Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.