Final Fantasy VII Reader Review
"The problem with remakes and ports for the critic, especially those of old beloved games, is emotional baggage. It's difficult to give a cold, measured critique of something you've loved since childhood. How can you give an objective appraisal when every time you hear the game's start-up melody your mind soaks happy in memories of warm endless school holidays, and that delicious, pure, all-encompassing escapism unique to children who play videogames?"
Well said Mr. Simon Parkin (Chrono Trigger DS Import Review, 28 November 2008), I couldnít have said it better myself. Which is why I didnít bother trying.
I was 12 when FF7 was first released back in January of 1997. I spent months with this game. It consumed my life. I was Cloud Strife. I played through it almost to the end numerous times (although strangely, I never completed it. How could a game like this end??? I didnít want closure, I wanted it to go on forever). How can I review a game - that I still think about regularly after 10 years - with a critical eye? Let me try and take off my rose-tinted spectacles, hat, winklepickers, cane and pimp suit and try and right a proper review.
Those of you with a basic grasp of mathematics could probably work out that I am now in my mid-twenties. Discovering its release on PSN was something that made my heart flutter: 10 years without having touched the game; could it still be as good as I remember it? Or will it be a bitter disappointment like most of the PSone games I have downloaded from the PlayStation Store?
Since its original release, girls have changed from something I donít like and donít understand, to something I like very much and still donít understand, to the one who lives in my house and stops me playing video games and makes me wash up. Computer games have changed from mostly 2D, to 3D, to high definition and almost to proper 3D-coming-out-of-your-TV. Controllers have changed from something with 10 buttons, to something with 20 buttons, to a wand that you wave at your TV whilst trying not to look like a pillock. Terrorism has changed from something that happens in Northern Ireland, to something that happens to Americans, to something that everyone in the world should be in constant fear of (thanks, Mr. Bush).
So I have changed, computer games have changed, the world has changed. Will my perception of FF7 have changed??? I have played the game almost to completion again over the last few months, so letís find out.
Final Fantasy Football
You start the game controlling just one character: Cloud. Cloud is a moody young mercenary who will sell his services to the highest bidder. At the start of the game, Cloud meets up with a rebel group called AVALANCHE who are trying to stop the greedy SHINRA organisation from draining the worldís resources. You meet in the city of Midgar, a city that is under the wicked control of Shinra.
The head of Avalanche goes by the name of Barret and eventually persuades Cloud to stay with Avalanche for one more job. Cloud is reunited with his childhood friend, Tifa, who is part of the Avalanche group, and then agrees to help protect a young flower seller called Aeris. As the game progresses you meet more people who want help you in your fight against evil and you end up with a ragtag group of misfits, each with their own histories, motivations and personal demons.
Eventually you move out of Midgar on to the world map. It is only once this happens that the scale of the game begins to dawn on you. Getting to this point can take up to 8 hours of play, and this is just one of a huge number of towns, cities, villages, caves and temples to explore.
Your battle against the devious Shinra organisation continues to develop with fantastically conceived twists and turns. The gameís main villain, Sephiroth, would put Mumra to shame in terms of pure evilness (Thundercats, Ho-o!).
I donít want to give anything away on the plot, but it is a phenomenal tale, told in a way that will take your breath away. The story is an epic race-to-stop-the-end-of-the-world drama, full of corruption, scheming and treachery. It is also a very personal story of a few peopleís struggles over their own personal demons. There is no voicing acting (it was 1997, remember) but the script is beautifully written and you can really hear each characterís voice and personality in your head as you read.
Final Fancy Footwork
For those who have never played FF7 before, or maybe even an RPG, I will try and explain the game mechanics. For those that have, you can laugh at what a poor job I have done trying to explain the intricacies of one of the deepest games ever created.
Your group of playable characters will grow to 3 people quite early on (and eventually youíll have up to 10 characters that you can control). You only ever have direct control over 3 people at a time, which you put in to your "party", although you can switch who is in your party from the available pool quite regularly.
You level up your character by fighting battles and gaining experience points (EXP) in the process. When you gain enough EXP you will move up a level and your stats (which include things like strength, speed, luck) will improve. You also equip each character with various types of weapons, armour and accessories, which all have their own properties and have various effects on your stats.
The third way to develop your character is with "Materia". Materia are coloured orbs that fit in to slots on your weapon and armour and can be changed at will. These allow you to cast spells in battle or gain special abilities. Casting a spell uses up Magic Points (MP), which, just like health, each character has a limited amount of. Spells include elemental attacks such as fire, ice, lightning and wind. There are also healing spells, status spells and summon spells (which summon a large monster to inflict huge amounts of damage on your foes). Certain materia can also be linked together to produce enhanced effects or special abilities. Equipping materia has both positive and negative effects on your stats, which adds a tactical element to your selections. The equipment and materia system is incredibly simple but also contains depths that you will still be discovering months later.
All of the items mentioned can be stolen from enemies, are given as a reward for defeating enemies, discovered in treasure chests or bought from shops that are dotted around the worldís various locations. The gameís currency is Gil and you receive Gil every time you defeat an enemy, or you can sell items that you no longer need.
Once you get in to battle, the incredibly varied and wonderfully designed enemies come in a number of forms (humans, monsters, machines etc.) and attack you in similar ways that you are able. Each attack you receive takes points off of your Health Points (HP). If your HP reaches zero then your character dies. If all 3 of the characters in your party die, then itís game over and you must restart from your last save point.
Battles are encountered randomly, so as you are running around the game area, the screen suddenly wheels away, the exhilarating battle music kicks in and your characters appear in the battle arena. The battle arenas are beautifully designed and are specific to the area you are in: for example, if you are among trees in the game world, you will appear in a clearing in a forest to fight; if you are by the coast, you will faces your foes on a beach under a sheer rock face; if you are in a building you will fight within a room of that building.
Some will find random battles incredibly frustrating, as there is nothing you can do to predict when it is going to happen and it can disrupt the flow of the game when battles occur too frequently. It is certainly a blast from the past, as most modern RPGs have moved away from this type of encounter mechanic. However, when it hits you that each battle is helping to increase your stats - and therefore making the enemies in the current and following areas easier to defeat - you almost begin to welcome the next battle.
Battles proceed in a turn-based fashion. Your time bar for each character gradually fills up and when it gets to the top, you decide upon your action for that round. Each character can perform standard physical attacks, cast spells (depending on the materia you have equipped them with) or use special items.
Another addition to consider is Limit Breaks. These are hugely powered attacks that are individual to each character. You have a Limit Gauge that fills up as your character takes damage, when the bar is full you can unleash your limit break. Each character has seven different limits that are unlocked as you progress through the game.
At certain points through the story you will face boss characters. These are inevitably larger, tougher enemies that require much more thought and tactical nous to defeat. Some boss fights can take as long as 20-30 minutes to conquer and are truly epic battles.
All of this variation means that there are innumerable ways to approach each battle. Each characterís various strengths and weaknesses and your individual combinations of weapons, accessories, items and materia provides endless customisation for every character. The tactical considerations to be made before and during each battle means that no two people will play the game in the same way and no two battles will ever be the same.
Anal Fantasy VII
But all of this is pretty standard fare in the RPG genre. In fact, a lot of these mechanics feel quite dated; many have been superseded by "better" methods in more recent times (eg. Randomly encountered battles). So what is it that sets FF7 apart from every other RPG created?
The sheer depth of the game is something that instantly springs to mind, and not just in the mechanics I explained above. The world is filled with NPCs and each has something to say and an interesting back story to discover. The amount of script written for FF7 is mind blowing. There are hundreds of optional side missions to undertake. There are extra characters to add to your party, extra monsters to defeat, special items to find, games to play and areas to explore. I have spent well over 100 hours on FF7 and still not completed it.
The learning curve is set perfectly. The game introduces concepts, such as materia, to you piecemeal, meaning that you donít feel overwhelmed with information at any point. And you very rarely, if ever, need to spend time grinding up levels in order to progress.
When FF7 was first released, the graphics were ground-breaking. In 2009, they look dated. Very dated. Compared to modern games, theyíre downright awful. But they have a style which still makes it appealing to look at and can make certain parts of it quite stunning.
In the normal game world the characters are 3D sprites set against wonderfully stylised pre-rendered backgrounds. Each location has its own distinct look; Midgar is a sprawling, grimy Neo-Tokyo. Nibelheim is a medieval mountain town. The Temple of the Ancients takes its inspiration from Egyptian mythology. Icicle Inn is an Alpine ski resort.
The world map and battle arenas are fully rendered 3D environments and some of the effects on show during battles can be very impressive. Casting your first spell when you obtain a new materia, or trying out a new limit break, is always something to behold.
Dotted through the story at certain pivotal points are pre-rendered cinematic cut scenes. These cut scenes sit in stark contrast to the rest of the game and are incredibly impressive to watch.
The original score that was created for FF7 has stayed with me ever since its first release. In fact, I still have the MIDI files on both my home and work PCs and listen to them every so often. The emotions that each song manages to capture is perfectly expressed, despite itís simple sound.
Final Fantasy Heaven
So has FF7 changed? In a word, no. FF7 was never about the graphics or the technology for me. It was about the story, the way everything fits together to create this amazing world and the characters that you come to love as friends. And it still is, even at 25 years of age.
FF7 is exactly as I remember it.
It is still the greatest game of all time.
10 / 10