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Final Fantasy VII
Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to deny the place Final Fantasy VII has in RPG history. With its impressive visuals, slick gameplay, immersive story and fantastic soundtrack by the legend himself, Nobuo Uematsu, it played a huge part in popularizing the JRPG genre in the West. It’s hard to imagine there are any JRPG fans who haven’t heard of this game before, but for the sake of completion, it deserves a place in this humble review blog. So with no further ado, does Final Fantasy VII live up to the hype? Let’s find out!
This Review: PlayStation (1997)
Near-Identical Versions: PC (1998), PlayStation 3 (2009), PlayStation Portable (2009), PlayStation Vita (2012), PlayStation 4 (2015)
Game Length: 40-60 hours
Critic Rating: 94% aggregateThe aggregate critic rating is based on independent review scores from several other websites.
Cast your mind back to the late 90s — bad music, worse fashion, and the internet as we know it today was still in its infancy. Picture a younger, more innocent and less cynical version of myself — terrifying, I know — an RPG fanatic, I’d not long since cut my teeth on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and I was hungry for more, devouring whatever RPG faire I could get my grubby hands on. I didn’t know what was good or what was bad — I willingly put money down for a copy of Drakkhen, for example. One of my pastimes was scurrying on down to the local used games shop in the market, a place filled with lingering stale cigarette smoke and irrevocable wonder, and badgering the beleaguered owner with my requests for RPGs.
I didn’t care what it was, I was like a prisoner who’d grown up eating bread and water and never knew the impossibly diverse rainbow of food existed. I’d chew through atrocities such as The Immortal and classics like Secret of Mana with equal fervour, and without fail, my pocket money would be slapped down upon the counter of that dingy little shop as I’d once again clumsily enunciate a request for any new RPGs that Dave — dingy market shops are always run by someone called Dave — had in stock.
On one such fateful day, someone had sold their copy of Final Fantasy VII — an original, no less, not the Platinum re-release that most folks have in their dust-gathering collections today. Despite having never heard of the Final Fantasy series — this was back when my internet connection was limited to brief spurts of low-speed browsing at the local library — I was immediately intrigued. The box art was like nothing I had seen before, and the rear of the box spoke of an adventure the likes of which I’d never seen. Of course, it had to be mine.
From the moment I slapped the disc in my console and started playing, I was hooked. The stunning opening cutscene blew my socks off so hard they left permanent holes in the wall. The graphics, the music, the… everything! Thus began a whirlwind adventure into a world I previously knew nothing about, a game which — at the time — was completely new and unheard of to me. I followed Cloud’s adventure with rapt attention, I was in awe of the infamous villain Sephiroth, I was terrified of the monstrous Jenova, and as the story unfolded and expanded into deeper layers than I’d ever before seen in an RPG, I was dumbstruck. Every gamer can tell you the tale of the one game that really changed it all for them, that one moment that shaped their gaming hobby forever — and for me, this was it.
But enough reminiscing — let’s get into the meat and bones of the matter. While some may consider the game over-hyped — largely, I suspect, due to the folks like myself for whom this was their first taste of a Final Fantasy game — even by today’s standards, this game is still worthy of its legendary standing. While the graphics haven’t aged as well as some other games of its era (particularly the rather blocky character models seen outside of combat), the soundtrack is still one of the finest in RPG history, the visuals — if you can forgive the dated graphics engine — are flashy and memorable, with pre-rendered backgrounds full of intricate detail, and the gameplay is absolutely top-notch.
The story begins with a bang, with the protagonist Cloud — a mercenary fighting with the eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE, and former member of the elite military force SOLDIER — beginning a mission to bomb a power plant in the industrialized city of Midgar. The first chunk of the game takes place within the rather grim confines of the city’s slums, though the story soon escalates into a chase across the world following the infamous villain Sephiroth and — naturally — a struggle to save the world from total destruction. It’s a pretty no-holds-barred ride, with plenty of variety and a great deal of action and excitement, along with strong character development and world-building.
Let’s talk about the gameplay a little bit here. For the most part, it’s pretty standard Final Fantasy faire — exploring a beautifully detailed world while on a quest to save the planet with ever-increasing urgency, featuring a side-view battle system with much in common with just about every other FF game from 1 through 10. There’s also the inclusion of a number of mini-games, some of which are actual main-story events which are later turned into replayable arcade games in the Gold Saucer — a sort of casino-arcade entertainment complex — while some are purely optional yet surprisingly complex, such as capturing, breeding and racing Chocobos, a sort of large, brightly-coloured, ostrich-like bird.
There’s never a lack of things to do in this game, and despite the ever-increasing stakes in the main story, you’ll rarely feel forced along a track. There’s usually plenty of room to wander off and explore, enjoy side-quests and mini-games, and generally take in the depth and breadth of the fantastic world at your own pace. Speaking of the world, the setting is a refreshing change from the norm — while earlier FF games experimented with a blend of technology and magic, VII takes things one step further. Much of the world wouldn’t seem out of place in a medieval fantasy RPG, and the rampant industrialization is a strong central point in the game’s story, a tale of greed and misuse of science threatening the very life of the planet. Magic is still a strong inclusion in the game, albeit in the form of Materia, crystallized pieces of the planet’s life-force which grant the ability to use special moves, cast spells, or even summon mighty beasts to lay siege to the battlefield. It’s just not Final Fantasy without the inclusion of crystals in some shape or form, after all.
It’s hard to elaborate further without giving away key story elements and plot twists — all of which are much more enjoyable when experienced without any prior knowledge. With this in mind, the story is complex, varied and highly entertaining, the characters are — for the most part — a lot more deep and flawed than they appear on the surface, and getting invested in the story is like riding an emotional roller-coaster, never knowing what’s lying around the next corner. It’s hard not to get drawn in, and while some moments are a little marred by the less-than-stellar translation from Japanese to English, for the most part the writing is solid.
Does Final Fantasy VII live up to the hype? In my humble opinion, absolutely. The engrossing visuals, deep story, well-polished gameplay and phenomenal soundtrack all combine to create a truly unforgettable — albeit somewhat dated — experience. If you’ve never played this game before, you owe it to yourself to give it a try — there’s a lot to love here, and there’s a good reason many people consider it one of the greatest JRPGs of all time.