Second Homerun in A Row
Final Fantasy 7 had a mountain of pressure and/or hype when it came out, it wasn’t just the seventh game in a beloved series, but the follow up to Final Fantasy 6, one of the most beloved games of its time. And not only the seventh game decided to follow the footsteps of its predecessor, with a technology-heavy world, more cyberpunk than the traditional fantasy. It also would be the first game in the series to go full 3D, on a brand new generation of consoles, and this time, with Sony, being the first game after Square deciding to move away from Nintendo and its cartridges.
You can see the positives of all of that right in the beginning. The game has a nice melody when you first boot it, with some intro credits to set the tone. And when you hit New Game on the menu screen, you are in. It starts by showing the full potential of the new disk-based media, with CG cut scenes and some great music. Before you even realize that you’re already in the game, your character jumps into battle. You control the blonde guy with spiked hair that everyone knows, Cloud, he’s an ex-member of Soldier and he’s working as a mercenary to help a group, called Avalanche, make some noise against the Mega Corporation, named Shinra, by blowing some stuff up.
You’re following the leader of Avalanche, Barret, a black and bulky guy, who has a gun in the place of one of his hands, and he’s pretty cool. He lets you know about the mission, that you’re about to blow a reactor, and that’s what needs to be done for them to help save the planet. Since Shinra is an evil Mega Corp that’s sucking Mako energy – the main source of energy in this world - out of the planet. You’re in Sector 7 of a city called Midgar. All of that is given to the player in the spam of the first 5 minutes, it’s really action-packed. And then, your adventure begins.
The game has the traditional turn-based combat of previous games in the series. This time, the number of characters in a party goes down to 3, which I don’t particularly love, but the game ends up making it work. Even though it has that problem that you don’t want to leave some people out because of their reactions and dialogues during all the game exchanges (not to the degree of Chrono Trigger in which everyone is awesome, but to some degree). The game has one of the most famous systems in the series, the Materia System, which are gems that you collect throughout the game and can attach to your character’s weapon and armor, depending on how many slots they have. Each Materia has a different effect, some of them make the character be able to cast magic, or a summon. Others give it a bonus like 10% HP, or just a very specific use for the game. The system allows you to customize your strategy the way you want. Any of them can be the healer or the spell caster, it’s your call.
My problem with the Materia System, especially early on, is that all the spell casting gems have a min-max type of bonuses, for instance, every material that teaches you a spell, improves your magic and MP, while penalizing your HP, and sometimes, your strength as well. In the beginning, it is not even worth it to attack, if the fight is serious. You’ll do more damage with any magic over any attack, for a good stretch. And sometimes you just want to have the Materia in the party so you can upgrade it – Materias have an AP system, where it can level up if one of the characters have it attached - or have it in case you need it, but you feel you’re penalizing your character for something you might not even use. It can become a bit frustrating, and for a first-timer, it can be overwhelming. It’s not like the Magicite system in the previous game, where after you earn enough AP, your character learns that move, being able to use it even after you unequip the item that teaches it. Here, you can attach a bunch of them at once, but you have to keep them there if you want to use the spells (Later in the series they would perfect that system, in FF9).
Despite all of that, I think the game has a marvelous pace to it, it’s one of the hardest things for a long RPG to do (not lose pace), and FF7 does it perfectly. You won’t take too long before getting your first Summon, and each of the subsequent ones come with a nice amount of time between them, as well as new characters. They don’t lose much time before you have your core in place. You also don’t have to grind, and if you do, the game rewards you, it’s one of the Final Fantasy games that I felt the most difference by improving my characters, the game makes you feel powerful if you’re doing it right. It also can be seen as a negative, since it’s probably the easiest Final Fantasy game I’ve beaten so far. But I think that can make the game even more engaging, and not having a moment that the average fan might quit on it.
From the start, you’ll see one of the game’s core systems, the Limit Break, each character has a Limit Bar, that fills up as you take damage. When it’s full, you can unleash a powerful attack that goes for some of the highest damages in the game. The Limit option substitutes your Attack option on the combat menu, making it somewhat possible for you to save it, but the bar fills fast enough that it won’t be necessary, as well as needing to go to the process of avoiding attacks to save it. Each character has a bunch of different Limits, that can be unlocked throughout the game, the final Limit from Cloud, Omnislash, is one of the most iconic and beloved abilities from any video game.
Through your adventure inside Midgar, you’ll start to get attached with the “four main” characters (Cloud, Barret, Tifa, and Aeris/Aerith), they’ll be joined by a peculiarly fifth member (Red XIII), and when you venture to the open world, you’ll have the rest of the gang (Yuffie, Vincent, Cait Sith). Just like Rufus (one of the Shinra leaders) said when he sees it “What a crew!”. It’s an awesome and sometimes hilarious mixture of personalities that are amazingly put together. One of the best, sort of, love triangles I’ve seen in a game is between Cloud, Tifa, and Aeris, there’s no way the player can go through some moments without smiling by reading their dialogues.
After a big portion of the first disc, you’ll go out to the overworld, where you’ll find the traditional FF way of doing things, the camera zooms out, you’re a giant traveling through the world, you can save the game and get into random battles at any time. The story and world start to unfold, you’ll meet one of the most beloved villains in video game history, Sephiroth (the pretty guy with long white hair and a gigantic Masamune, which is a Final Fantasy version of a sword that everybody knows as Katana), after just hearing stories about him. You’ll learn that the world had people called Ancients, or the Cetra. Bad things happened involving a project called Jenova, and each character starts to understand its place and go on with the team to fight for the greater good. I’m trying to be vague because of spoilers. Throughout the game you’ll have a Buggy, a water plane, and an Airship, to help you explore the world.
At the time Final Fantasy 7 came out, it was impressive to see a fully 3D FF game being played, despite having one of the worst aging graphics design ever. The CG cut scenes were something to behold (before the next entries would come out at least). The pre-rendered background wasn’t my favorite, it was a hard combination with the blocky character models, sometimes you couldn’t see where you needed to go, or you think you’re right at that spot but not quite.
So, let’s go right to what makes this game appear on every single list of Best of All Time. It’s just a masterclass when it comes to presentation, the soundtrack is hands down of the best soundtracks of all time. It covers every single level of the game, the songs to get you hype are awesome, the songs to make you emotional are awesome, the background melodies are awesome. All that with a perfect choice of music gives the game a stellar score that is only rivaled by a few. And even their choice of silence, when the games decide to go dead silence to create the sort of uncomfortable moment, can be greatly appreciated as well. I can’t remember one single bit of story focused portions that were not greatly designed, all the emotional and impactful dialogues, with some parts that you don’t get to control your character for a good period, while they go through some immersive moment, just like the Amusement Park ride, that Cloud and Aeris go through, as well as most of the memory sections. It’s very remarkable, especially considering when this game pulled it off.
The game also puts a show when it comes to making good on the comedic moments, the character reactions were not the best at the time, but all the corky portions deliver in pretty good ways. They manage to combine it all right between some tense moments, which makes a pretty good balance for a long adventure. The game even has a whole bunch of wacky Mini-Games, where you just can’t believe that you’re still playing a Final Fantasy game during that. Varying from Chocobo Races to strategic battles on a mountain. Making some good change of pace here and there. Square also took to the next level the change of stages during battles, taking full advantage of the new 3D graphics, some areas that the fights take place are remarkably well-drawn and chosen. I respect this type of good presentation.
Final Fantasy 7 is indeed what people make it seems to be, if you’re a JRPG fan, this will be one of the best games you can play in that genre. It has most of the Final Fantasy traditions, especially the good ones - there’s a pretty bad one, that most of them have, that is, for you to get some of the most powerful items/abilities, before the grand finale, is a big pain in the ass, particularly this time when one of them is locked behind an Amusement Park battle tournament – but the amazing writing, pace, and story-telling is here, the varied and awesome cast of characters, where you’ll for sure relate to some of them, and get attached. The soundtrack is one of the best ever, the presentation is remarkable, this game is, truly, a masterpiece. I was very surprised by how well it was all put together.