1P Missions

Does Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Have a Crawl Space Problem?

Cloud near some rocky walls and a crawl space in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

One aspect of Final Fantasy VII Remake that was near-unanimously despised was its excessive use of crawl spaces to mask loading screens. You know the ones: crevices, plank bridges, and the like that you navigate by holding the analog stick in a single direction as Cloud and friends inch along. People figured these would disappear in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth with its open zones and general leveraging of the PlayStation 5’s power. However, these gameplay stopgaps reared their head again in Rebirth’s recent Nibelheim demo, and even for someone who actually liked the Remake crawl spaces (that’s me), it was disappointing. So, let’s talk about it.

First, I should explain why I liked these segments in Remake. I won’t front as if they’re the pinnacle of game design, yet when properly executed they serve as great moments for storytelling. They provide a period wherein the director can control exactly what you’re seeing and hearing without entirely taking control from a player as a cutscene would. Remake is brimming with examples illustrating the fine line between pure tedium and story enhancement these segments ride.

Some highlights include shimmying past a militant branch of Wutai’s trucks to escape from the fallout of Jessie sleuthing into a Shinra warehouse for explosive supplies. This channels the intense claustrophobia as you escape as you evade patrolling Shina troops and acts as an effective juxtaposition to the freedom felt moments later as you victoriously parachute back down to the slums with your comrades. Or look at the tension of having to reach Aerith before she falls off a pipe bridge, only for her to psyche you out at the end. The forced catwalk is used as the cherry on top of her goading you throughout the flirty rooftop jaunt, cementing her teasingly mocking charms. In fact, many of the best moments of character building between Cloud and Aerith are forced interactive segments likely hiding load times, such as the Collapsed Expressway high-fives or catching her after she slips off a ladder.

Cloud and Aerith walking along a metal pipe in Final Fantasy VII Remake
Fool me twice…

Even simpler moments like the narrow entrance hidden between two buildings to enter the Sector 5 children’s base add a lot of character the world while also making logical sense. (You’re adults entering a space children designed to keep them out, so it shouldn’t be easy). This same idea can also apply to weaving and ducking around large amounts of rubble in the Sector 6 Collapsed Expressway. Even some of the duller crawl space moments, like those in the Train Graveyard, still make logical sense amidst the ramshackle Midgar slums. Do these qualify as engaging interactivity? Not at all, but they convey a sense of character and place that gives them purpose beyond loading. For this reason, I anticipated their return with even more flair in Rebirth, at least when warranted by the story.

Skip ahead to three weeks before Rebirth’s launch, where we received a demo featuring a chunk of the Nibelheim Incident opening sequence. While not representative of the open zones that comprise the majority of Rebirth, there is still an enhanced sense of freedom due to wider zones, environmental traversal, and little in the way of overt loading during gameplay. I quickly settled into this new vibe, realizing that perhaps it was best that crawl spaces stay in the past. Remake had expectations of linearity on its side, given how the original Final Fantasy VII‘s Midgar opening was similarly linear. Meanwhile, Rebirth is saddled with capitalizing upon the expansiveness of the original’s broader world, particularly that sense of freedom felt when leaving Midgar for the first time. There would need to be convincing justifications for evoking Remake’s linearity within this context. Sadly, the demo did just the opposite.

Partway through scaling Mt. Nibel, Rebirth has a game design gag that’s admittedly pretty funny. The player’s natural instinct to follow the path leads them to a broken bridge, leading Tifa to call Cloud over to a long crevice between two cliffs. Disappointment immediately set in. For one, it made no sense that this crevice would exist leading into a Shinra building, as the company would’ve surely blasted it open to make way for transportation. But even more unfortunate is that in the 20 seconds it takes to shuffle between the mountains, our cast doesn’t speak a word, nor is there any sort of visual storytelling. It’s just 20 seconds of silence in a space that logically shouldn’t exist as you press a stick forward in service of loading. It’s the epitome of everything people disliked about these segments in Remake with nothing of their previous smart implementation, and it’s made worse because the game set you up with expectations of freedom. I’d go as far as to call it anti-worldbuilding.

Cloud in a dark, tight crawl space in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth.
Yes, this is what you see for 20 seconds straight.

This may seem like a pedantic point, and to some extent, it is. It’s one moment in a demo for a massive game that (for all I know) could have some better-crafted crawl sequences later. But coming within the first hour of gameplay, it presents a strong sense of tone-deafness from the developers. It’s a storytelling fumble in both execution and existence, reinforcing the distaste many already harbor for masked loading screens. It sucks the air out of the room, air that the game quickly wins back but nonetheless was difficult to forget.

There are just so many possibilities for what crawl spaces in Rebirth could be. I even felt a glimpse of this as Cloud moved the rubble of a burning Nibelheim to find Sephiroth at the end of the demo. This helped immerse me in the chaos of this famous moment. Elsewhere in Gaia, I want to shimmy along the walls of a cavern as a boss lies dormant, the party doing their best to speak in hushed tones so as not to wake it. I want to crawl into hidden areas that actually make sense in the world’s context, creating a sense of tension as I await what’s on the other end and satisfaction once the exploration is complete. I even want to carefully cross narrow bridges to evoke a sense of natural danger, perhaps with a mild balancing mechanic thrown in to give the player the perception of agency. There are endless possibilities for how Creative Business Unit I could have their cake (needing loading screens) and eat it too (providing a memorable moment for the player).

So, if there’s one point I hope readers take away, it’s a consideration of how crawl spaces can be potent vehicles for storytelling and—dare I say it—fun. However, the truth is that the open zone nature of Rebirth means we’re likely to run across these less frequently than we did in Remake. That’s probably a good thing, as the promised freedom and variety is central to the pre-launch fervor around Rebirth. But the smaller details count, and many minor missteps can color people’s perception of a game, even if the bigger picture is stellar. Hopefully, Rebirth doesn’t become too bogged down in little fumbles that take you out of the experience, as everything else in the demo was show-stopping.

Tim Rattray

Tim Rattray

Tim has written about games, anime, and beyond since 2009. His love of JRPGs traces back to late-90s get-togethers with cul-de-sac kids to battle and trade Pokémon via link cables. In the early 2000s, this passion was solidified when Chrono Trigger changed his conception of what a game could be. A core focus of Tim’s work is mental health advocacy with a focus on how interactivity can be used to depict and teach about mental illness. He’s excited to share that insight with RPGFan’s readers, alongside a log full of side quests to explore the mutual passion we all share.