By Veektarius 3 Comments
So as most of my blogs seem to be, this is basically a braindump after having completed a game that has some emotional resonance with me. This time, it's FF7. It isn't the first time I've played it, or even the second, but it is the first time in many years, after downloading Square's PC version and applying the Tifa's Bootleg mod for graphics and music. It didn't bring the game up to the modern age, but it smoothed over some of the rough edges that make it really hard to go back to this game today. Before I get much further, suffice it to say I still enjoy FF7, so if you're the sort who's irretrievably opposed to it, I'll be writing way too much positive to hold your attention.
What is still good about FF7
Something that FF7 doesn't get enough credit for is being the most difficult FF story that Square ever wrote. It's a story that's tinged with bittersweet nostalgia for things lost, a story where the most memorable conflict is actually between the main character and his inability to come to terms with what he's done. It also presents a very complicated villain in the form of Shinra - both President Rufus and his son do a bit of moustache-twirling where our heroes are concerned, but ultimately, they still represent the power of human industry. They spare no expense and no ounce of human ingenuity to try to save humanity from destruction, even if there are those who are wiser who know their methods are not the best. There are later FF's that approach complex topics with greater maturity, but not many (XII, mainly).
The other thing, which is probably less controversial, is the music. I'm not sure if it's just that it brings me back, but I don't think so. Some of these tracks are really good, even in their old 1997 glory. This one is very reminiscent of the theme to Last Samurai with its use of percussion.
Even so, as part of the modding process, I was able to hook in some remixes that impressed me. Here are two of my favorites, but it was hard to choose. First is the theme from the Chocobo Farm (I know, not one you'd immediately think of):
Here's the theme for Wutai:
You can only experience something for the first time once, and in a way, FF7 came in such a formative time of my life (I think I was 14) that it's impossible for me to separate things that I enjoy about this game today from memories about things that I found very impressive fifteen years ago. Some of the memories are so strong that it seriously messed me up with nostalgia, that I'd put in user information into forms that was ten years old after playing for extending periods. FF7 is in many ways a game about coming to terms with falling short of our dreams, whether it be through Cloud's failure to reach SOLDIER, Barret's inability to stop Shinra with his rag-tag band of rebels or CId's lost dream of reaching space. At the stage of life I'm in, thinking back on where and who I was the first time I played this game, that's a message that resonates in ways that go way beyond any credit the writers deserve.
What is not as good about FF7 as I thought before
I'd say that the biggest flaw in FF7 that I really hadn't realized existed is in the characters. The designs are varied and interesting, but most of the characterization is paper thin. Tifa, Cid, and Barret all have very solid and consistent personalities, but Cloud's personality is all over the place (and that's not just his schizophrenia talking). Additionally, Cait Sith & Red XIII are characters with good ideas whose personalities never really match up with what they are supposed to be (Cait Sith, Shinra spy and lovable doofus? Red XIII, descendent of a noble race of guardians and temperamental teen?) and Vincent and Yuffie, the secret (yeah right) characters, are both paper-thin, however cool you thought his red cape was when you were 12. FF7 had a lot of narrative, but not much time devoted to character dialogue. This is an area in which Final Fantasy improved greatly in later installments.
The boss fights are another weak area. FF7 has great boss music, but the fights themselves are really easy. I think I died to a boss once in the entire game, not counting my ill-fated attempts at the weapons. (It's not their fault - I'm just not enough of a completionist to slave over grinding up to killing those things.) Despite having an extremely complex network of magic types and resistances and stats, bosses require no preparation and almost no strategy to defeat. Definitely not what I remembered from my youth.
On the possibility of an FF7 remake
Every time a new generation of consoles comes, people ask if now is the time to revive Final Fantasy 7. Honestly, they could have done it this past generation, if they'd wanted to. I still maintain that FF7 is the most deserving of a remake, because the goofy "chibi" art style that it comes in, along with first generation 3D graphics, really can't convey the very serious story it wants to tell any longer. However, while I once thought all the game needed was a new coat of paint, I see now that there is more room for improvement than just that. Perhaps that's why they've held off. Even if SE does go through with a remake of FFVII, however, I'm not sure I can come along for the ride. When I played FFVII this time around, I realized its story for what it is - it is a reminder not to live in the past, to accept what we did and what we did not, and to look to the future unburdened by what came before. In a way, to revisit it again would be to ignore that message.