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I, An In-Game Card Game Hater, Love Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s Card Game

Yeah OK fine, it's time to duel

Square Enix / Aftermath

Do you love in-game card/board games like The Witcher 3’s Gwent, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s Orlog, and Final Fantasy VIII’s Triple Triad? I’m happy for you! I despise them. They get in the way of my adventure, which I generally expect to consist of stabbing dudes and talking to other dudes – not wandering a glorified Magic: The Gathering tournament that everyone on earth seems to be competing in. Anyway, I’m addicted to Queen’s Blood in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth.

I received a review code for Rebirth earlier this week and am about ten hours in. I’ll have more substantial thoughts for you (very) soon, but in the meantime: card game good. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s broken my streak of not touching these things, which goes way, way back. When I was a kid, I competed in real-life Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic: The Gathering tournaments every weekend. For years. I won money! Which I immediately spent on booster packs. Then I got sick of card games and quit forever. 

I was fully prepared to persist with my card game-avoidant lifestyle in Rebirth; when the game first asked me if I wanted to learn the rules of Queen’s Blood, I shouted “no!” and continued on my merry way. After all, I had cutscenes to watch and legacy-shattering plot revelations to seek out. But eventually Rebirth convinced me to give Queen’s Blood a try via a truly insidious means: It implied that playing the game would make Tifa like me more. 

Rebirth has taken a system that was sort of present in its predecessor – one that allowed you to bond with party members, albeit mostly invisibly – and made it much more explicit. If you’re in good standing with your adventuring buddies, Rebirth explains early on, certain story events might play out differently. So of course, I decided that I need to maximize this, because if I don’t get the best possible version of the story, what am I even here for? (I also apply this mentality to life; it’s not going well.) Unfortunately for me, I soon discovered that one of Rebirth’s first side quests funnels you right back into Queen’s Blood. The setup is simple: A bartender lost a precious card in a duel gone awry, and he wants you to win it back for him. Tifa is along for the ride for largely incidental reasons, but I wasn’t gonna leave potential Friendship Or Maybe More (???) Points on the table. 

First, though, the bartender had to test my skills. This was a wise decision on his part, as, again, I had never played the game or even read its rules. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I accepted his challenge, opting to go in cards-a-blazing with the game’s default deck, which was presumably better than anything I could throw together by looking at the pictures on the cards and picking the ones I thought were coolest. 

The bartender trounced me. But in the process, I collected some important data: Queen’s Blood takes place on a shared board with three lanes, kind of like Marvel Snap, a card game I briefly dabbled in before remembering that I was sick of card games. Similarly, each card has a numerical value, and the surest path to victory is amassing the highest score in two of three lanes, though you can also dominate all three or (maybe?) take one so thoroughly that it outweighs narrow losses in the other two.  

Queen’s Blood also demands that you capture territory. Some cards open up spaces for you to play additional cards in various patterns in front of and/or behind them. Cards come with costs, which are reflected in the spaces. If you capture a space with a low-level card, you’ll probably only be able to play a one-cost card in that territory. But if you add another card to an adjacent space, it’ll level up that empty space so it can support higher-cost cards. The goal, then, is to balance quickly taking enough territory to dissuade your opponent from completely overwhelming you and smartly selecting individual cards to maximize your point totals in each lane.  

In my second match against the bartender, I had maybe 50 percent of this figured out – probably less. He won again. But I began to take notice of how intuitive the whole setup was. Cards snap onto the board like puzzle pieces, each displaying where they’ll build out your territory and how much they’ll alter adjacent spaces. It just feels good to play, and against lesser opponents – of whom this bartender was perhaps the least of all – you can kind of just trial-and-error it. 

I began aggressively building out my middle lane such that it pushed into enemy territory after a couple turns, at which point the bartender crumbled. He couldn’t expand his territory quickly enough, and before he knew it, I had taken more than half the board. As if to rub it in, the game lets you play cards to fill all of your captured spaces while your opponent, physically unable to play any more cards, has to skip turns until the game is over. It’s a diabolically good feeling. After four matches, sans any tutorial, I had learned Queen’s Blood. Now that’s a well-designed game. 

This is not to say that it’s overly simple, either! As the side quest progressed, I had to take on two more opponents, at which point I began acquiring more cards and experimenting with my deck composition. Cards like The Giant Chocobo and The Titan forced me to get creative with how I expanded my territory and where I played high-value cards. Even after finishing the side quest and beating every optional opponent in the comically-idyllic town of Kalm, I feel like I’m only scratching the surface.

That’s good, because I already get the impression that some of Rebirth’s best moments are born of Queen’s Blood matches. While I won’t spoil it, I will say that the side quest ended on a surprisingly heartfelt Tifa character beat, and during my time scouring Kalm for additional opponents, I came face to face with a little kid who spent our entire interaction speaking through the guise of an amusingly-gruff stuffed-animal alter ego and a woman who’d constructed a gargantuan box fort, which I kicked into a nearby river (she was not amused).

It’s through moments like these that Rebirth lays its cards on the table: While players – myself included – might come in expecting an operatically grandiose journey full of fateful confrontations and remixes of “One Winged Angel,” it is actually, by virtue of being a massively-expanded middle chapter, more of a hangout simulator. As in so many modern open-world games, the map is dotted with icons too numerous to count, and many activities – like activating towers and dispatching groups of enemies in objective-based ways – are repetitive. The actual plot, I’ve heard, is kind of thin. But this is all in service of spending time in a cool world with characters you like. A lot of time! So far, at least, Queen’s Blood has helped me feel like I’m not just killing time until Sephiroth kills, well, you know.  

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