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Chronological Challenge: Final Fantasy VII

November 18, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today’s Chronological Challenge review is kind of a special one, as it comes mere days after an appropriate announcement. I didn’t plan that, of course, but it works out nicely. I already gave you my silly post about this game, so now let’s get a little more serious and see what I think of Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy VII
Publisher: SCE/Square | Developer: Squaresoft | Released: January 1997 (Japan)
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Defeat Sephiroth

Actual Outcome: Slashed Sephiroth into ribbons

FF7-8

Well, here we are. With the Internet frothing at the mouth at the remake that no one ever thought would happen now actually happening, and also Cloud somehow turning up in Super Smash Bros (I didn’t dream that, right?), it’s only appropriate that I take the time to revisit The JRPG To End Them All.

You know, I’ve never been part of the Final Fantasy VII hype train. While the world yelled at Squeenix for a remake, I sat back and thought “why?” I refused to say that FF7 was one of my favourite games, because it felt like a boring cliché. At times I didn’t even want to think about the game because the crazy sycophants drive me up the wall so much.

Not the best way to revisit the game, is it? But fortunately, once you look past the rabid fanbase, I do have good memories with this game. I remember reaching the sequence where Cloud’s whole identity unravels and my jaw dropping (by the time I first got round to playing the game in 1999/2000, Aerith’s death had already been spoiled, unfortunately). I remember sinking in tons of hours and enthusiastically picking up the strategy guide because I was so into it and wanted to know more about what I was doing.

So which side of the fence do I lean now that I’ve replayed it? The sneering hipster who insists IX is better so he can try to stay separate from the crowd? Or the happy child who was amazed at the revelations hidden within the storyline?

A bit of both, actually. First of all, I’m sorry, Final Fantasy VII. I have said bad things about you over the years because of how tired I was of the calls for a remake and the “best game ever” rhetoric. I called you a bad, overrated game with less redeeming value than people claim it has. I was wrong. You’re an excellent game, and playing you right after the terminally dull and/or annoying Wild Arms highlights this even more. You’re so full of wonder and joy and creepiness and moral tales about rampant, unchecked capitalism, and I’m sorry I ever hurt you.

I’m not about to don a black cloak and shuffle around chanting about “Re…make…” though. It’s good, but come on, let’s keep our heads here. I’m still indifferent about the existence of a remake, and I still wish people would calm down about this damn game!

So here’s what FF7 does right. The story is a massive step-up from JRPGs that came before it. Remember how I criticised Wild Arms for setting up a Western theme and then chucked it away in favour of a generic tale of princesses and demons? FF7 takes an aesthetic and runs with it. This is a dark, industrial world stained by corporate hands who have filthy feelers everywhere, building life-sucking reactors in every corner of the planet. Whether you’re walking into the charred remains of North Corel or the husk of Gongaga with the ever-looming shards of an exploded reactor in the distance, it feels like there’s nowhere that Shinra haven’t damaged with their actions. This is a pro-environment, anti-corporate tale far removed from most other JRPG tropes.

Even the age-old stories of Ancients and magic feel like they fit into this world. It’s a modern world, but it’s one that allows for Lifestreams and concentrated magic orbs you slot into your sword. It all fits together surprisingly well. If there is a problem with the game’s story, it’s in the localisation, with lines like “this guy are sick” and nonsensical conversations popping up at inopportune moments.

The gameplay is also incredibly intuitive. The ATB system speeds up battles immensely, and makes for some exciting fights, especially as you move towards the end of the game. The Materia system is simple to use and allows a lot of interesting customisation, although it does have a tendency to make every character in your party the same as one another. The mini-games offer some mildly amusing diversion too, but I wouldn’t call them a huge selling point. The overall package is a lot of fun though.

Graphically, the game definitely hasn’t aged well, with the Playmobil-style field models looking laughable even in 1997. But the game is still capable of impressing, especially when pre-rendered backdrops and cutscenes gel with in-engine models. It’s still dated, but it does a lot with the limited tech it had access to. The fact that certain battles caused the emulation on my PS3 to chug a little shows that it was being pushed to its limits a little.

It’s hard to really find fault with Final Fantasy VII beyond it being a bit dated and having shoddy localisation. But even then, those things are somewhat endearing rather than game-breaking, and as such it’s hard to call the game anything other than a true classic.

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  1. November 19, 2015 at 3:16 am

    I just got this (again) but the Steam PC version. Looking forward to replaying a classic.

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