Final Fantasy VII really is a classic, even if I never finished it. Luckily Squalje did, and put down his thoughts on it.
This started off as a reply to Roynaldo’s Final Fantasy thread in the forums and I had planned to briefly and concisely talk about which FF games I‘ve played and what I liked/disliked in them. A cup of Tetley’s later, I found I have veered wildly off course and ended up with a wall of text. Oh boy what a topic Roy, Final Fantasy, I could talk about this all day…
I used to be, and probably still am, a big fan of RPGs and Final Fantasy in particular. My first foray into this legendary series was, like a lot of people, Final Fantasy VII on the PS1. Actually scratch that, it was on the PC. My apologies, Final Fantasy has been so synonymous with the PlayStation Brand that I’d forgotten my first experience was trying to play FF7 on a Pentium 90Mhz with 32Mb of RAM. The game box actually stated that it required a 133Mhz just for the minimum, low resolution graphics but I was delighted it ran at all and was seemingly playable on my Pentium 90, and thus my love for FF began (I later discovered, when I got a better PC and a PS1, that everything in the game, including the movies, ran at a much slower pace than intended and it probably took me 1.5 times longer than anyone else to finish the game. At least I had more time for the battles).[drop]At the time, I was doing my GCSEs and had not seen any other RPG like it; I particularly liked the fusion of swords, magic and technology. I thought the 3D graphics and clever use of backdrops were nice, the pre-rendered cutscenes were cinematic and captivating, the art direction was funky and some parts of the world looked utterly gorgeous, and the soundtrack beautifully complemented what was going on.
Aesthetics aside, the game even played brilliantly and the abundance of mini games throughout was both refreshing and quirky. Who remembers finding Gold Saucer for the first time? Who remembers breeding your Chocobos in search of the fabled Golden one? Who remembers having to dress up as a woman to infiltrate the Don’s Mansion and spending your time looking for the constituents of your outfit, including a squats battle for a wig, where the quality of the hairpiece was dependent on how well you did? These were some of the elements that injected fun and its own uniqueness, into the game.
The battle system and mechanics were some of the best around – I know I was thrilled, when I figured out just what you could do with clever Materia combinations, and the various Summons made my jaw drop. The game was also a good enough challenge that it would suit the majority of players and even offered more for those who wanted it. In fact the Ruby and Emerald Weapon Bosses weren’t even in the first Japanese version!
The thing that impressed me most though was the story. Sure it was convoluted, melodramatic, didn’t make sense at times and aspects probably got lost in translation but the fact that there was a detailed narrative running throughout kept me interested and blew my mind. I actually cared about the plights of the main cast and dare I admit it, did shed a tear or two when that moment occurred.[drop2]I loaded it up recently (on my PS3) and still smiled as I wandered around Midgar with my Avalanche cohorts in tow. However I can’t completely shake the feeling that time has not been so gracious to one of my childhood heroes. I found the game hasn’t aged particularly well visually, but happily it manages to retain its charm and character. Further examination reveals that the battle mechanics are still solid, although randomly instigated battles and lengthy unskippable summon animations wouldn’t go down so well these days.
It is slightly embarrassing looking back now at how much I adored this game but it really was a pivotal moment for me in gaming and storytelling in this medium as a whole. I know full well that complex RPGs and detailed story based games were aplenty before Final Fantasy 7 came out but it was really this game that put Final Fantasy and JRPGs on my personal radar and made me realise that games could tell a decent yarn and deliver it in a way that was exciting, enticing and most of all fun.
Gaming has evolved an extraordinary amount since 1997 but, when I think about it, RPGs haven’t really changed all that much. I’ve played the earlier FF titles and countless RPGs from other series and although there are new ideas and advances coming in all the time, you will still find designs in games that suggest they were inspired by past titles such as Final Fantasy VII. It is not just developers that like to look at the past occasionally either, people like to glance backwards and often yearn for the old favourites to be revisited. Whether this is nostalgia talking or some other element is inconsequential.
People keep asking for a Final Fantasy VII remake but I really hope they don’t. I rather they focus their energies on something new and bring us something fresh to be excited about and to speak fondly of in years to come.