Final Fantasy VII is the pinnacle of Japanese RPGs.
The gaming industry thrives on colossal game franchises like Mario and Grand Theft Auto, but as one of the biggest RPG series’ of all time, Final Fantasy has shown us that although gameplay can potentially become stale over time, incredible stories and lovable characters can make up for their dated designs. Final Fantasy VII was SquareSoft’s (now known as Square Enix) first stab at Sony’s insanely popular PlayStation, as well as my first shot at the Final Fantasyseries in general. But is the story enough to keep me from tossing it aside forever?
It may come as a surprise that I’m this late to the unprecedentedly long brouhaha known as the Final Fantasy series, but luckily FFVII’s 1997 design is so strong that I never felt as if it was a game from thirteen years ago. The pre-rendered backgrounds and the low polygonal visuals are a little difficult to get used to, but as RPGs always tend to do, the game hooked me like no other and took my mind into places I never thought it would go.
Starting out like no other RPG game I’ve played, Final Fantasy VII throws you right into the action right as the game begins. You play as an ex-SOLDIER Cloud Strife as he arrives at Midgar unexpectedly to take down one of the city’s main MAKO reactors. As such, Shinra, one of the main companies of the planet, are using these reactors to suck the MAKO energy right out of the planet causing it to slowly diminish. Cloud and his crew of AVALANCHE soldiers must rid Shrina of their havoc and save the planet while doing so.
If you come into Final Fantasy VII for the first time, a fair amount of information and abbreviated terms will likely bewilder you. Personally I found myself having trouble understanding the early situations, but once the game got down to the overarching storyline it becomes much more evident: Shinra isn’t the problem. Septhiroth, the most powerful SOLDIER to ever live, is trying to merge himself with the planet by causing a meteor to crash. This would tear such a giant wound into the planet that Septhiroth would be able to merge with it without a problem.
Final Fantasy VII’s story is brought to life by amazingly interesting characters, fluid in-engine cutscenes, and solid writing, while also featuring quite possibly the best villain ever. Getting to know each and every party member is an adventure themselves, and the sheer amount of awesome characters spans across every quest the game features. Septhiroth is a beast of his own, and the cruel acts he pulls to become what he believes will rule all is something to hate him for, whetting you appetite to stop him.
As a surprising twist in the Final Fantasy universe, FFVII moves away from its medieval routes and sets itself in a futuristic landscape with skyscrapers, guns, and motor vehicles. But the setting is one of the best parts of the game as it features a far more believable structure, whereas another setting may be too implausible for what the story is trying to portray. The overworld works well whilst the exploration-heavy cities and towns gradually increase as you make it through the 40+ hour campaign.
FFVII also strays from its predecessor's in terms of gameplay as the battle system has gone back to the three member party rather than four. The quick-time battling works well as each character has a turn meter that slowly fills instead of having to always wait for someone else to finish. It’s a great face-paced system that quickens the usually boring battles with fast attacks and easy to use options. Characters also have a new “limit break” attack that is gained by taking damage over time and can be carried between battles. These limit breaks are some of the most powerful attacks in the game and can usually finish off one or multiple enemies with one shot.
But all of your battle strategies will depend on which weapons or armor you have equipped, and which Materia you add to each of their slots. Each character has three empty slots for a weapon, armor, and an accessory, and each item will feature a different amount of effects and materia slots. Materia gives you options in battle like magic attacks and defense abilities. If you equip a magic materia with a support materia like “all,” it will drastically change its effect.
Materia gains experience in battle like each character would to level up. Which each level up a materia can gain additional effects and spells to use. “Lightning,” for example, can be leveled up to produce “Bolt 2” and “Bolt 3,” each performing a little better than the former. Materia also features red “Summon” materia that are the most powerful attacks in the game.
Overall FFVII’s campaign is absolutely massive. From the 40 hours it takes to complete it also comes jammed with a plethora of awesome side quests and side stories. You can explore the landscape to locate the most powerful materia as well as the best weapons and accessories. But while I found the game to be addictive and praise worthy, I found a number of annoyances that hindered my overall enjoyment.
I found that a lot of the game’s meat is found randomly and not explained very well. Most, if not all, of the side quests must be found while exploring. There’s no “side quest menu” or anything in your menus, so continuing old quests can be difficult to remember. Limit Breaks are never explained in great detail, in fact, I didn’t know you could change their level until I received Vincent half-way through the game. Mini-games at the Golden Saucer and throughout the adventure are quick and hard to comprehend in a fast manner, resulting in missed items in rare occasions.
FFVII’s visuals, for 1997 standards, looks absolutely gorgeous. The pre-rendered backgrounds and the beautiful cutscenes blended seamlessly together to create an awe-inspiring mixture of polygonal characters and realistic looking environments. The battle system features an ever-changing camera that will likely show a new camera angle in every battle you encounter. The effects look great and the summons especially look stunning.
The same thing could definitely be said about the soundtrack too, as it’s definitely one of best around. Each and every city has a distinctive tune and the battle music, as repetitious as it is, will never get old. Sound effects sound great though the game doesn’t feature voice acting, but as a PlayStation game it’s understandable.
It’s such a rare case where an aging game can still hook me as much as Final Fantasy VII did. The story, as confusing as it could potentially become, is an awesome quest that will have to playing for hours at a time. While it may not be as groundbreaking now as it was in 1997, there’s no doubting that Final Fantasy VII is ultimately one of the best RPGs money can buy.