By dankempster 7 Comments
Earlier this week I wrote a blog covering my thoughts of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, the PSP prequel to one of my all-time favourite games, Final Fantasy VII. My initial plan after finishing with Crisis Core was to start playing Final Fantasy VII itself, and chronicle my progress in an Endurance Run-style series of blogs. I was hoping that by doing this, I might encourage people to revisit games that were important in shaping their taste in games, as well as providing an insight into the goings-on of FFVII for people who simply find the game too archaic to play nowadays. After giving it a little more thought (and especially in light of the somewhat 'divided' comments I received on the Crisis Core blog), I've decided to go ahead with the serial blog format, but I've chosen to shift the focus a little.
There's very little point in merely providing a blow-by-blow account of my return to a game that I care about. I already know that I love Final Fantasy VII, and that while it hasn't been the best Final Fantasy in my eyes for a long time (I'd have to award that accolade to Final Fantasy IX), it will always be my favourite. In 2010, thirteen years after the game was originally released in the US and Europe, there seems to be only one way to look at the game. Adoring fans blindly shower it with nostalgic praise for no reason other than it being Final Fantasy VII. At the other end of the spectrum, haters just as blindly pour derision upon it for exactly the same reason. My aim with this blog series is to abandon and ignore both sides of this ludicrous argument and determine whether or not Final Fantasy VII still has something relevant to offer the gaming world as a game. Is Final Fantasy VII a game that has endured the test of time and retains its playability? Or has it succumbed to the ravages of time, simply becoming something to be endured? I aim to look at the game from the viewpoint of a video game enthusiast in 2010, ignoring the praise and the prejudice (including my own), and answer those questions in the form of a series of blogs over the coming months, entitled Enduring Final Fantasy VII. Don't worry if you're not the least bit interested in Final Fantasy VII - I'll still be writing regular blogs, too.
Episode Zero - The Obligatory Back StoryPerhaps the best way to start this series is to take a look back at my history with Final Fantasy VII. I first played the game when I was ten years old, over the winter of 2000/2001. I bought a second-hand copy at my local GAME shop for around £10, having heard that it was pretty good but not actually knowing anything about it in terms of gameplay or story. What could have been a very misguided purchase ended up being one of the best impulse decisions I've ever made. I fell in love with the combat almost straight away (although it took me a while to get the hang of using the game's Materia system properly), but what really drew me in and kept me coming back was the game's story. I picked up Final Fantasy VII at a time when I was falling out of love with the written word, spending less and less time reading books in order to make time to play video games. Final Fantasy VII ended up being some previously unknown amalgamation of the two, and helped to restore a healthier balance between my two passions. It also showed me at this pivotal moment in my existence that stories are what I'm really all about. I love to experience them, but I also love to tell them. No word of a lie - Final Fantasy VII actually made me realise that I want to write for a living. It also gave birth to a love of RPGs that has since grown to incorporate both Japanese and Western takes on the genre. Long story short, Final Fantasy VII was pretty damn influential for me.
Since completing Final Fantasy VII for the first time in the summer of 2001, I've played through the game from start to finish a total of five times. Across all those playthroughs, I've probably invested well over four hundred hours into it in total. Leaping back into it today, I'll be starting my sixth playthrough of the game, and my first since I last finished it back in 2007. I'm hoping that such a long hiatus will help me to keep my judgement from being clouded (no pun intended), but as much as I'm trying to approach this from a neutral perspective, I am quite excited about returning to an old favourite like this. Every time I play through Final Fantasy VII I find new things, and uncover more tidbits of back story that I'd missed previously, so I'm looking forward to seeing what extras I discover this time. I'm also aware that I may be subject to the occasional bout of nostalgic bias, but I'll be trying to keep that to an absolute minimum, and I'll certainly be trying to cut it out of my write-ups. More than anything, I'm looking forward to the whole experience of seeing a classic through modern eyes, and I'm very curious as to what the verdict will be when I reach the game's conclusion. For now, wish me luck. I'll report back with my initial findings soon in the first proper episode.
Looking for the start of this serial blog? You can find Episode One - Initial Reactors... I Mean, Reactions here.
In terms of what I've been playing recently, since I finished Crisis Core last Sunday I've been stuck to my Xbox 360 playing a pretty fulfilling mix of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and Viva Pinata. Between the pair of them, these two Rare games have been sucking up most of my spare time. I've picked up a total of 36 Jiggies in Nuts & Bolts and I'm still really digging the vehicular platforming concept. I find that I often end up attempting any given challenge several times, not because of continuous failure, but because I'm so eager to experiment and approach each challenge in multiple ways to find out what's most effective. I think that in itself speaks volumes about just how rewarding Nuts & Bolts can be, providing you're willing to invest enough time and creativity, and I commend Rare for making this kind of game instead of just churning out another collection-based platformer. As for Viva Pinata, it's my current go-to game when I'm feeling a little stressed and want to unwind, and to that extent it's serving its purpose pretty well. Most of this is probably due to the aesthetics - the graphics and music of Viva Pinata seem to have a relaxing, almost soporific effect on me at times. It's great fun and offers plenty of challenge without expecting me to be too committed to it.
I've also been incredibly bad and picked up another couple of games. With vouchers from Christmas still burning a hole in my pocket, I paid a visit to GAME recently and picked up copies of Star Ocean: The Last Hope and the Game of the Year edition of Fable II for my 360. With all my time being spent on FFVII, Nuts & Bolts and Viva Pinata, I have no idea when I'll get around to playing these. Hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later. In the meantime, they're sitting pretty at the top of my seemingly ever-expanding Pile of Shame. Anyway, on that note, I think this blog's gone on long enough. Time for me to dust off my copy of Final Fantasy VII and start playing. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Viva Pinata (X360)