By dankempster 6 Comments
Right folks. Here we are at the start of what is likely to be a pretty substantial blog series - a chronicle of my present run through Final Fantasy VII. If you're not entirely aware of what's going on, I'm embarking on an objective Endurance Run of one of my favourite games of all time - Final Fantasy VII - to determine whether or not it still has any worth in the gaming industry nowadays, beyond the adoration of fanboys and the derision of haters. For full details and the story so far, I'd recommend you check out this prequel-blog to get up to speed. The rest of you, I suggest you find somewhere comfy to sit. This blog will probably end up being pretty substantial. Here goes...
Episode One - Initial Reactors... I Mean, Reactions
February 8th, 2010. I plug a set of headphones into my PSP and boot up the copy of Final Fantasy VII that it's just finished downloading from the PlayStation Store. I was originally going to break out my original PlayStation copy, but decided against it for two reasons. Number one, I'm a little paranoid about my discs getting scratched up. Number two, playing it on a handheld means I don't have to worry about upsetting my girlfriend through hogging the TV in our flat. After hitting NEW GAME, I get comfy on the couch and watch the opening sequence that I've already seen tens of times before. Nostalgic excitement makes me feel a little bit heady as I watch the camera pan out from Aerith's face to a view of the whole of Midgar, but I suppress it. This is an objective look at the game, I remind myself. Nonetheless, the sweep of Midgar still looks pretty impressive, even today. The camera zooms in on action elsewhere - namely the Sector 8 train station where AVALANCHE dismount the train they've hijacked. Off jumps our spiky-haired hero, Cloud Strife, and the game begins.
A few steps forward and I get into my first combat encounter of the game (ironically NOT random) against a couple of police officers. Quickly scanning through the combat actions reveals I have a basic attack and two elemental magic spells at my disposal. I decide to stick with sword-swinging for now and dispatch them with relative ease. Next it's up the stairs and into the Sector 1 Mako Reactor proper, where I meet up with AVALANCHE and the story starts to piece together. The premise seems pretty cool - ex-SOLDIER operative defects to a terrorist organisation working against the company he used to work for, and joins them in an attempt to blow up one of the Reactors that's damaging the planet. This is one of the reasons why I respect the opening of FFVII - it leaps straight into the action and explains what's going on as it happens. It's one of my favourite styles of story opening, and adds a sense of freneticism to the events that are unfolding, more so than any time limit could. The events also reflect the dystopian nature of Midgar, a place where nothing is clear-cut good-and-evil. We may be told that AVALANCHE are the good guys, but they're terrorists that are going to blow up a reactor. This shades-of-grey approach is still oddly refreshing, maybe because morality in modern gaming is so often dealt with as being black-and-white. The problem lies in the script, which is so poorly-translated that it kind of dampens the story's impact. I vow to focus on what's actually being said, rather than the words used to say it, and move on.
AVALANCHE leader Barret Wallace has joined me in combat. His immediate impact is that of a racially-stereotypical Mr. T clone. Together we make our way to the heart of the reactor and set the timer for the bomb. An alarm is triggered and I have to fight an old friend, the Guard Scorpion. This first boss fight isn't particularly challenging, but attacking when the tail's down and resting when it's raised makes a nice change of pace from simply mashing the Circle button. I even get a few magic spells and Cloud's Limit Break off before the battle's over. Afterwards I hastily backtrack through the Reactor and manage to make it out before the ten-minute time limit expires and the Reactor explodes.
Shortly after escaping, on my way to the train station, I have the first encounter with Aerith Gainsborough. The scene itself isn't really anything special, but what made me stop and think was the game's decision to give me a choice how to respond to her. This triggers a moment of recollection for me. "Shit," I think, "how I respond to Aerith here is actually going to influence events later in the game." This is the kind of feature that sells franchises like Fable and Mass Effect these days (although admittedly in a much more fleshed out form). Final Fantasy VII, a Japanese RPG, was doing this in 1997. That's a pretty big deal, I think. Anyway, I decide to buy one of her flowers and move on. The next fifteen minutes or so of the game are pretty non-eventful. There's an ambush, a train-ride, and a bit more info on the city of Midgar (apparently it has eight numbered sectors, each comprised of an upper plate, the slums beneath, and a Mako Reactor to supply energy). Nothing else of particular note occurs until the group arrives back at their hideout in the Sector 7 Slums.
Here I meet Tifa Lockhart for the first time. I decide to give her the flower and then sit through more rather inane banter about Cloud's allegiances. Just as I'm losing all hope of the script having any good moments, the scene between a young Cloud and Tifa at the well in Nibelheim unfolds. The dialogue may not be amazing, but it's definitely a step above everything else so far, doing a pretty good job of capturing the essence of childhood ambition and shyness. Unfortunately the scene's interrupted by Barret, who enters by... climbing up bars? Really?! Between this and footage of him beating his chest like a gorilla outside the Seventh Heaven Bar earlier, he's gone from being a racially-insensitive stereotype to an overtly racist, almost monkey-like portrayal of black people. Shit, how did they get away with this in 1997? There's no way this would pass censors now, surely? Anyway, Barret pays Cloud and reveals the next target - the Sector 5 Reactor. Apparently Tifa's coming with as well, giving me my first full party. Before heading for the train I take the opportunity to do a little shopping, picking up some new armour and Materia. Shopping in Final Fantasy VII is... pretty much the same as 95% of other JRPGs, just a straight-up menu-based affair. After kitting out my party with some swish new stuff, I get on the train and head for Sector 5.
This train journey would have been even less eventful than the last, were it not for the fact the group get caught by the security check and have to evacuate the train. This exercise takes the form of a timed run through the carriages, something that feels wholly unnecessary in this day and age where imposed time limits are all but dead. After leaping off the train and navigating a maze-like infrastructure, I find myself inside the Sector 5 Mako Reactor. It's pretty much identical to the first Reactor, which I guess is to be expected, but exploring what is essentially the same environment with a (barely) new skin on it is pretty boring. It was around this point on my first playthrough over nine years ago that I remember starting to worry about how the game was going to pan out. I feared that I might end up having to blow up all eight of Midgar's Reactors one after the other, and started to think that maybe I'd made a mistake in buying this game. Anyway, I make it to the point where the bomb has to be set and do the business. No time limit or boss to fight this time, it would seem. I retrace my steps back to the Reactor entrance and make use of the Save Point. That's enough for one session, I think.
So, at the point in the game where I've left off, here are my stats:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 11), Barret (Lv 10), Tifa (Lv 8)
- Current Location - Sector 5 Mako Reactor, Midgar
- Time on the Clock - 1:40
And here's a brief summary of what my objective eye has made of the game so far:
- Ok, we'll get this one out of the way first - it doesn't look all that hot. In the field, the characters look like painted dog turds, which is a shame considering the environments look pretty nice (if a little bland and samey so far). The graphics in combat don't exactly impress, but they still look pretty good. The FMVs aren't mind-blowing anymore but still have the power to impress with their level of detail at times.
- The script is poorly translated, which is a shame because it seems to be setting up a pretty interesting scenario.
- The music has so far done a great job of setting the scene and accompanies the story in quite a fitting way. The droning synths match up well with the cyberpunky visual style.
- Combat is largely unimpressive so far. All that's needed so far is a basic knowledge of mashing the Circle button. Thankfully the first boss required a little strategic battling. In a JRPG, where character development is a large part of the gameplay, I guess simplicity is to be expected early on.
- If the person who wrote Barret's dialogue is a racist, then I'm not sure how to refer to the person in charge of animating him.
The Story So Far...
|Table of Episodes|
|Episode Zero - The Obligatory Back Story|
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Two - Flower Girls And Honey Bees here.
Thanks very much for taking the time to read all this. I hope to see you all again for Episode Two in a few days' time. If you've enjoyed reading this, I'd also recommend you get over to SamStrife's profile and start following his blogging escapades, as he's doing a very similar thing with Final Fantasy IX. In the meantime, I have other games besides Final Fantasy VII to be getting on with. I've got 48 Jiggies in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, and have once again become addicted to Viva Pinata. My girlfriend also bought me a copy of Borderlands today, which I suspect I'm going to have to make time to play. Take care guys, I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)