The best Final Fantasy games to play before Rebirth

The best Final Fantasy games to play before Rebirth

Can you believe it’s 2024 and Final Fantasy 7 is still a massive entry within the larger Final Fantasy series? It all started in 1997, when Square Enix released the original FF7 on PlayStation 1, complete with 3D graphics. Fast-forward roughly 27 years and it’s now one of the most acclaimed video games of all time and has seen numerous adaptations and spinoffs since its initial release.

Here’s a short sampling of the options available to Final Fantasy 7 fans. You can play the original RPG, which has been ported to modern consoles. There’s the gloriously corny CGI movie Advent Children, which is set two years after the events of the original game. Side character Zack Fair even has an entire dang prequel set before the events of Final Fantasy 7 that Square Enix remastered. Other characters like Tifa and Aerith don’t have their own games, but they do have entire novels dedicated to telling their backstories. And none of these examples touch the various rereleases of the original Final Fantasy 7 and its related spinoffs.

The release of so much Final Fantasy 7 media might prompt a sort of… crisis… for fans. The creators haven’t clarified what’s canon and what’s not, and it has gotten to overwhelming Marvel levels of intricacy. Still, it doesn’t have to be so complicated. With the release of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, now can be a great time to revisit older games in order to prepare. In this list, we’ll give you a spoiler-free rundown of what related media could help enrich your experience of Rebirth based on characters and plotlines in the game and what the story touches on.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

An image shows Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7 Remake Image: Square Enix

Where to play: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4

Instead of just updating graphics, the development team at Square Enix opted to use the original Final Fantasy 7 as a source of major inspiration and split it into three different games for a full-on remake trilogy. The first two titles are Final Fantasy 7 Remake and now Final Fantasy Rebirth. (Square Enix hasn’t released any details on the third installment yet, but developers say it’s on its way.) Out of all the games on this list, Remake is the most important game you should play before diving into Rebirth, which picks up right after the events of Remake.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake follows the story of Cloud Strife and his involvement with the insurgent group Avalanche in the city of Midgar. In addition to introducing players to the main cast of characters you’ll be playing as in Rebirth, it also provides an intimate look at Midgar and the living conditions that result from Shinra’s rule. Rebirth picks up in the middle of the action from Remake, just as Cloud and friends flee the city.

Rebirth doesn’t bother to give players a full-fledged recap of who is who and what you need to know, although you don’t necessarily have to play Remake to enjoy Rebirth. You do get snippets of what happened before, so it’s likely just enough to get an idea of the major actors in this world and the team’s larger mission. Still, there are just so many emotional beats that will hit harder or will make more sense if you do play it, and if you really want to save time, you can skip Remake’s DLC, Episode Intermission. I personally enjoyed it, but Rebirth does a decent job of showing the extra Yuffie backstory.

Final Fantasy 7 (1997)

An image of the original Final Fantasy 7 game ported to the Nintendo Switch. It shows Cloud and Barret with the traditional PlayStation 1 graphics. Image: Square Enix

Where to play: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4

Final Fantasy 7 Remake departed from the original story told in Final Fantasy 7 in several ways, zooming in on the first section of the game set in Midgar. Rebirth departs from the original story even more by just completely switching up the order the team visits certain regions and some of the events. Because of this, the original version of the game is not needed to play and enjoy Rebirth. In fact, I’d argue Remake is both more important to play to understand Rebirth’s story and also more enjoyable.

However, playing the original will give you a solid foundation of the characters and world that inspired the entire franchise. These games still share the same main cast of characters and many of the locales that appear across games. Also, modern ports of the game for consoles like Nintendo Switch contain plenty of quality-of-life features — you can speed up fights or use battle enhancements — that make it relatively easy to beat without having to grind levels or worry about logistics.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion

Zack Fair slashing through Shinra troops in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion. Image: Square Enix

Where to play: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion is a remastered rerelease of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7, a prequel Square Enix released on PlayStation Portable roughly 16 years ago. Both versions of the game tell the same story more or less and follow the life of Zack Fair, Cloud’s friend from the army, and the events that led up to the beginning of Final Fantasy 7.

The relationship between Crisis Core and Final Fantasy 7 can be a bit confusing. Remake and Rebirth are now taking the story down a different direction, so it’s unclear if it’s a prequel to the original FF7 or the newer trilogy of games. Square Enix’s site describes it as a prequel to the original game, but Tetsuya Nomura also said in an interview that the team was “positioning Crisis Core Reunion as a prequel” to the entire three-part remake trilogy and that the story is important.

Regardless of where it stands in the timeline, you should still play it. Its story shows why Zack plays such an important role in the larger Final Fantasy 7 world and reveals a lot more about his relationship with Cloud. It also provides a great window into Sephiroth’s life before the events of FF7 as well, which matters because, well, his motivations guide the entire fate of the planet.

My only caveat is this: If you’ve only played Remake and are unaware of the major story beats from the original FF7, then you might want to hold off playing Crisis Core. Certain parts might be best experienced with the newer reimagined story, but it’s always there if you want to dive in.

Other shoutouts

Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Rebirth pulls generously from the cast of characters that appear in the wider Final Fantasy 7 universe. You might be meeting people and scratching your head wondering what the hell is up or where somebody came from. There’s Glenn Lodbrok, who appears as a character in the now-shuttered battle royale spinoff game Final Fantasy 7: The First Soldier, and appears in the free-to-play gacha game that collects several stories from across games, Final Fantasy 7 Ever Crisis. Those aching for more Vincent Valentine can pick up Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy 7, but it isn’t available to play on modern consoles, which makes it hard to get. Hell, you can even brush up on some of your Midgar history by playing the Final Fantasy 7 Remake maps in PowerWash Simulator.

And these are all just video games. You can get even deeper with other kinds of media. Superfans of Tifa Lockhart and Aerith Gainsborough can read an entire novel about them and dive into their full histories as characters. Last but not least, there’s Advent Children. I personally adore that movie and all its silly antics, but I’d say stay away if you haven’t played the original and were once blissfully unaware of a certain major plot point like I was.

In the end, though, approaching a game with so much “required reading” can be a bit much, and frankly, it’s just not feasible depending on how much spare time you have. Because of that, I wouldn’t put too much pressure on experiencing it all. Start with the stories and gameplay that interest you, and you can go from there. I personally recommend to my friends that they just play Remake, sans its DLC. It’s all optional, and sometimes the best Final Fantasy experience is one when you’re going in on vibes only.