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The Game that Made RPGs Cool

  • Jul 31, 2011
Okay, before I get to my opinion about what Final Fantasy VII is to me, let me start with a few quick facts about the game, no matter what you or I personally think of the game: Final Fantasy VII is the biggest hit ever produced by RPG masters Squaresoft (now called Square-Enix), it is the promoted object of the biggest advertising blitz ever seen for a video game, it is three discs long, it is the deciding factor which led many people to buy a Sony Playstation over a Nintendo 64 when both consoles were in diapers, and above all else, Final Fantasy VII is the subject of the most heated, intense debate among gamers since the Nintendo/Sega console war of the 16-bit era. Is Final Fantasy VII the game that finally erased the line between art and video games or a disposable coaster/frisbee set? The answer, for me, is a very simple one: it's neither. I decided long ago that Final Fantasy VII was just another RPG that has its good points and bad points. If I stood in the middle of a battlefield with one camp on one side and the other camp on the other side and both imploring me to take one of those stances, though, I would stand among those promoting the good points.

This is not to say I don't share any of the viewpoints of those debating the bad points. I�ll get this out of the way first: Yes, the story has holes that would dwarf the Chrysler Building. Yes, Aeris probably could have done something better than constantly flirt with Cloud. Yes, the name Cloud is Stupid with a capital S. Yes, I'm annoyed that the Reverend Jesse Jackson would probably make a big fuss about Barrett's color being a civil rights breakthrough despite the fact that Barrett reinforces pretty much every negative stereotype about black people. Yes.... Almost everything the anti-Final Fantasy VII crowd has to say about the plot and characters is justified. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the feature film-like length of the unskippable summon animations. If you haven't gotten the implication by now, I'll say it outright: I do not think of Final Fantasy VII as the best video game ever made (that honor goes to Super Mario World), the best RPG ever made (that would be Chrono Trigger), or even the best Final Fantasy game ever made (I'll get a lot of hate mail for saying this, but Final Fantasy IX holds that distinction).

Shall we go into detail about the flaws now to get them out of the way? After a quick cutscene, Final Fantasy VII immediately thrusts you into the action as it hands you control of a mercenary named Cloud. As the scene develops, you learn that Cloud is a former member of an elite military unit called SOLDIER. He's been hired for a mission by Avalanche, which is basically the Greenpeace of Final Fantasy-land. Avalanche is out to get Shinra, a super-corporation along the lines of Microsoft which provides people with Mako energy, a force that powers virtually everything but also sucks the planet dry. Now back to Cloud. The game grants you control of Cloud as the boys of Avalanche pull up to a Mako station with the intent to destroy it. This is Final Fantasy VII's training mission, so you get to tinker with the various controls and commands while guiding Cloud and Avalanche leader Barrett to success. After some negotiating, Cloud agrees to a second mission with Avalanche, which goes awry and places him in the care of a flower girl named Aeris. This is where the writers at Squaresoft begin to get out of hand. The entire first leg of the game takes place entirely within the confines of one city - Midgar, the New York of Final Fantasy VII. From the first meeting with Aeris, a whole lot of crazy crap takes place before Avalanche reunites to storm Shinra's world headquarters. During the headquarters raid, a former childhood hero, friend, and co-worker of Cloud's throws a wrench into things by reappearing after dropping off the face of the planet several years ago. So the plot kicks in after about seven to ten game-hours go by.

Now this former associate of Cloud's, Sephiroth, is royally pissed. He's so angry that he's taking his revenge scheme beyond the traditional urination in co-workers' coffee. Sephiroth carries an enormous sword and he's using it to redefine the phrase "make heads roll". Since Cloud was the last one to see Sephiroth and live to talk about it, he conjures up the notion that it's his responsibility - along with Avalanche and their groupies - to place themselves between Sephiroth and all the people Sephiroth hates - which is pretty much everyone since the ultimate goal is to save the world (as if you couldn't guess). The first disc involves the programmers showing off the Playstation's tech specs because it takes Cloud and co. down the yellow brick road as they chase down Sephiroth and visit almost every location in the process. The second disc gets to the meat of the story, and the third disc presents you with the final dungeon.

It looks typical, but the hackneyed plot twists leave you with more questions than answers at final boss time. It would have worked better if the writers just let the story tell itself, but they were so desperate to develop some characters that they worked in some of the most wasted side stories I've ever seen, and the result is the second-to-worst flock of central characters to ever exist in a Final Fantasy game (Final Fantasy VIII still has the worst). Cloud is awful as the main character. In the Final Fantasy series, we've seen a character seek repentance for his past crimes and engage his dark half in battle (Cecil, Final Fantasy IV), a character find out that he was a defective unit of an army born only to destroy and then die out (Vivi, Final Fantasy IX), a character who built the nerve to face a demon who would ultimately kill her whether or not she defeated it (Yuna, Final Fantasy X), among a LOT of others. Cloud's inner confrontation is merely his ability to pathologically lie. He invents a past with more twists than a corkscrew, only to learn some revelations about himself courtesy of Sephiroth. It's so confusing that when Cloud finally comes clean, you have to review what you've learned about him and piece his story together like a jigsaw puzzle. Furthermore, Cloud is selfish, greedy, and an a-hole when we meet him. While he does transform and face up to his task, the transformation is sudden rather than gradual and it takes place in the very early goings of the game - probably less than two game hours in. Then you have Barrett, whom the writers try to get you to sympathize with by giving him a daughter and a handicap. Something might have been there if not for his serious potty mouth, and the writers made it worse by giving him a wasted backstory starring a disgruntled friend named Dyne. Aeris is a relentless flirt who doesn't seem to realize the seriousness of the situation at hand. When the plot thickens and the writers realized they had to work Aeris's background into it a little more, they solved that problem by making her run off, thus giving her a head start to the heroes' destination only to kill her when they catch up. There's Cid (of course there's a guy named Cid), who missed a chance to visit space and has a mouth even more foul then Barrett's because of it. The only likable character in the game is Tifa, whose childhood friendship with and devotion to Cloud also make her better developed than any other character, save Sephiroth.

Sephiroth is one of the more intriguing characters in the realm of RPGs. When he first makes his presence known by killing a number of Shinra employees, he tricks you into thinking he's one of those uber-cool characters who's remotely on your side (think Shadow from Final Fantasy VI). When the good guys give chase, Sephiroth is intent on getting them to stay on his trail, which is a real change from the "stonewall the heroes" approach used by so many other Final Fantasy villains. His anger seems rooted in his past more than anything, and there are points when you feel sorry for the guy. However, it's difficult not to hate him at that moment in the Forgotten City when he drops out of nowhere and mercilessly rams his sword through Aeris's heart (in a scene made classic by magnificent CGI graphics), then flees the scene while leaving the good guys to deal with his decapitated mother Jenova.

Among the things Final Fantasy die-hards have been vocal about is the setting. Past Final Fantasies have been just that - fantasies, taking place in worlds full of dragons, knights, magic, and kings ruling from castles on high. In Final Fantasy VI, however, Squaresoft made a bold story move by introducing industrial technology that made the game feel more modern than previous games in the series. The background story to the game even included the advent of technology and a war between magic and technology, which ended with a decisive triumph for technology. Magic in Final Fantasy VI was brought about because it was the result of a plot development. In Final Fantasy VII, the designers went all-out in modernization - no kingdoms, knights, or dragons. What we got was a hard science fiction setting that could be straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel, and the die-hards didn�t like it. I personally thought the sci-fi setting was a refreshing break from the fantasy elements that dominate the genre. Very few RPGs have delved into sci-fi (Shadowrun is the only game that comes to mind), and Squaresoft realized the potential of fantasy's dark twin by using it for a game in their most popular series. It's almost as if they were making a statement by doing so: RPGs can marry fantasy, but sci-fi makes a really hot mistress.

Another popular criticism is that Final Fantasy VII only allows three characters in battle, instead of the usual four. So what? Final Fantasy IV allowed you to use five characters in battle, and I have yet to hear a complaint about that game. I guarantee three characters won't change how you approach battles.

One of the most notorious criticisms about Final Fantasy VII is the complete lack of character classes. A lack of character classes and an abundance of abilities means that, if you're patient enough, you could turn every character in your party into an unstoppable juggernaut. However, the big advantage to having every character start on equal ground is that you�re free to mold them into what you want them to be. Being able to switch and multiply abilities means you won't necessarily be under-prepared in one of those moments where a surprise boss catches you while you're on your last legs. Think about it: How many times in previous Final Fantasy games have you found that rare enemy with an exclusive item that you had to steal, only to not have the one thief in your party with you? How many times have you resorted to using weak potions for healing because your white mage wasn't available at a critical moment? Believe it or not, this system also helps you keep from becoming too reliant on one type of battle approach. In previous Final Fantasies, an enemy could completely cripple one character by merely removing one of his abilities, and thus throw an entire strategy out the window. With equal characters, if one ability is removed, you can switch to another one and - at least in most cases - not skip a beat. If you're fighting with weapons and one character finds himself on the receiving end of a darkness spell that you can't do anything about, that character will still be able to use magic spells from that point out.

The customization system in Final Fantasy VII could be described as an oversimplified version of the popular job system without the jobs. The characters in your party are basically the "bare" class from Final Fantasy V on steroids for the entire game. Instead of using designated job classes to learn abilities in battle, you find or purchase your abilities in the form of glowing rocks called materia. Every weapon or piece of armor you equip your characters with comes with a different number of slots for materia. Now, how you equip your abilities is obvious: You place the materia into the slots on your weapons and armor. It's a bit more than that, because some slots are linked to each other. When certain types of materia are linked with certain other types, you'll find on whole new effect on your character, or your weapons with the ability to do element-type damage to opponents, or other effects. For example, if you link a lightning materia to an enemy-all materia, all the lightning spells your character casts will hit all the enemies on the screen, but for less damage then a single target.

There are five types of materia: The green materia contains all the standard magic spells of RPGs. Blue materia is used to add extra effects to other materia. It's really only useful when assisting the green materia, but there are other ways to use it. Yellow materia contains all the abilities normally associated with the job system: Steal, manipulate, throw, and mimic are among the abilities provided by yellow materia. Purple materia is there for a variety of purposes. Most purple materia will raise your vital stats, but there are purple materia which lure chocobos, reduce random encounters, and increase the number of pre-emptive strikes your party gets too. Red materia are the homes of some of your best friends: Friends like Ifrit, Shiva, Bahamut, Alexander, and Phoenix. Now, every materia has a specified number of levels it can go up to, and most have abilities to teach you as they climb up those levels. When a materia reaches its highest level, called Master Level, it reproduces itself. (Well, except for the Enemy Skills materia, Final Fantasy VII's source of blue magic.)

The advantages of the materia system have driven many to complain about Final Fantasy VII being too easy. This complaint is easy to forget about - Final Fantasies IX and X were both easier than this. This is especially true in Final Fantasy X, which let you switch characters in mid-battle.

Final Fantasy VII began Squaresoft's obsession with mini-games. Final Fantasies VIII and IX both had their famous card games, and Final Fantasy X had Blitzball, an underwater combination of football and soccer that Square ruined by turning it into a math rodeo. Instead of having one mini-game that can be played anywhere, Final Fantasy VII has a plethora of mini-games that can be accessed via a Las Vegas-like entertainment center called the Gold Saucer. I actually prefer this idea to the card games, and especially Blitzball, because you can always move to a different game when if you're not having any luck with one, and also because it means the game can't overpower you by brute force at a certain point. There's a wide variety of things to do when the going is slow: There's a motorcycle racing game where you knock down other contestants with Cloud's sword, a chocobo race, and a snowboarding game among others. At a location called Fort Condor, a strategy mini-game forces you to use an army to stonewall invaders. If you're playing to collect every item in the game, you have to play these mini-games because doing well at them is the only way to get a number of items. The best thing about the mini-games is that they don't involve some otherworldly form of math which the game can use to cop you out. Therefore, everything is won fair and square (no pun intended), and you don�t spend a ton of time trying to figure out exactly what every number means. There's also a side quest which allows you to breed chocobos. It's very time-consuming, but it gets you the most powerful spell in the game - Knights of the Round, which is actually used as ammunition by the anti-Final Fantasy VII crowd because it's a bit too powerful. (To which I respond, how do you find the time to breed chocobos? It takes forever to get the chocobo needed to get the Knights of the Round materia!)

Square finally set a decent random encounter rate. There aren't too few random encounters, or too many. It's just right.

Super-deformed characters are no stranger to the Final Fantasy series. Despite this fact, however, it's very tough to get over the character designs in Final Fantasy VII. Perhaps the answer to why this is lies in the battle screens: When there's a cutscene or a battle to be fought, all the characters in your party are proportional. But the second the cutscene or battle is over, the super-defects are inserted right back into the overhead map. It's a strange thing to do. Ordinarily I wouldn't point this out, but this case is different - it's more noticeable, mainly because the super-deformed characters in the overworld are by far the most poorly-designed characters I've even seen. The poly count is so low that the characters are all blocky with Popeye forearms and disproportionate heads. That's not even getting into the standard complaints about their awful clothes and hairstyles to the heavens. On the other end of the Final Fantasy VII graphics rainbow, though, is a true pot of gold. What Square didn't do to the characters, they did to the scenery. The scenery has a rendered look to it that's almost eerie at times. Even the locations that are supposed to be ugly have a kind of beauty to them that's dark, and sometimes even gothic. Among the best scenery is the Ancient Forest, with glowing rays of light and lush greens; the rich blue sparkles of Gaea's Cliff; and the Final Dungeon, which is full of enormous plant life radiating of light bloom.

The music certainly isn't the best stuff ever heard in a Final Fantasy game, but it's far from bad. The overworld theme has a nice, calm tune to it that switches to something more gloomy when the meteor is hovering ominously in the sky above the planet. Per usual, the boss music is very good, and the final boss theme is one of the best pieces ever heard in an RPG. The technology of the Playstation gave the composer a lot more to work with, and the result is a score that generally has a pleasant, orchestrated quality to it. The sound is the kind of inobtrusive noise included to make the music speak for it. There are no voice-overs, and so all the in-game sounds are nothing you wouldn't hear in a Super NES game.

I have nothing to say about the controls, except that Cloud moves exceptionally slowly if he's not dashing. And that some of the camera angles will have awkward effects on the directional buttons. But these problems are minor things that came with the transition to the third dimension. You get used to it. As for everything else, Final Fantasy VII is pretty reliant of menus, just like every other RPG ever made. No problem there.

The debate over whether or not Final Fantasy VII is a good game is a spirited one that, like all debates about video games, comes down to personal opinions. I think the story sucks, but the game is excellent. The thing about Final Fantasy VII is, whether you like it or hate it, the merits of the game can always be argued very strongly from either point. If you like this game but you're ashamed to admit it, I hope I gave you enough ammunition to come clean. Final Fantasy VII is a great game, and I'll scream in defense of that statement until my throat is as red as Red XIII.

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July 31, 2011
This is the most famous and as you've said made an impact in the PSOne-N64 war..I liked this game but I think I prefer FFIII over this in the case of storyline. I am only an occasional RPG player before so I may not be the best guy to ask. I did like the movies it inspired though.
August 01, 2011
Well, a lot of people fell under the spell of FFVII and called it the greatest game ever. If only they had bothered to play RPGs before this one.
May 20, 2012
Phantasy Star II I've only barely begun. Chrono Trigger is definitely better, and I thought Final Fantasy IX was better too.
More Final Fantasy VII reviews
review by . February 21, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
What happened in the three hours of the game?   Your name is Cloud and your a mercenary. You were hired by the group known as AVALANCHE. You don't care who gets hurt, as long as no one gets in your way you can do your job. After destroying one of the many energy reactors in the large city, you head to a bar where you discuss your next plan of action. However, after your next mission you get separated from your group and meet a beautiful flower girl. This is where the game starts to …
Quick Tip by . February 22, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
Coming off of FF VI, this was certainly a jump in presentation, and I was as caught up as anybody else who first played it as a kid. In retrospect, it deserves to be remembered for being such a magnificent milestone, but it's certainly not my favorite FF or even favorite PSX era JRPG.
Quick Tip by . February 22, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
Coming off of FF VI, this was certainly a jump in presentation, and I was as caught up as anybody else with it at the time. In retrospect, it deserves to be remembered for being such a magnificent milestone, but it's certainly not my favorite FF or even favorite PSX era JRPG.
Quick Tip by . May 27, 2010
While this might have been the tipping point in modern RPG, it was certainly not the best ever made.
review by . March 06, 2009
posted in The Gaming Hub
In 1997, a company called Squaresoft released what made the RPG a phenomenon and a game that has often been considered one of the greatest games ever made: Final Fantasy VII.  For many, this was the Final Fantasy which introduced them to the series.  It doesn't disappoint in being an overall fantastic game, and one that perhaps deserves all the credit which it receives.     Final Fantasy VII puts you in the role of Cloud Strife.  He's a former member of an elite …
review by . February 17, 2009
Square Soft brings the Final Fantasy series to the Playstation with a gem that will (and did) change the industry. Even today, nearly twelve years later, many consider Final Fantasy VII to not only be the best game Square Soft has released, but the greatest RPG of all time. For those not familiar with the series, there were six prior releases to this one and all were considered gems in their own right. So what sets FF VII above all others in the genre?     Story:     Cloud …
review by . August 20, 2008
Well I've always felt that FF6 was the best FF of all times overall.  But storyline, this one's probably the best.  Its got your classic badboy character (Cloud) with the big sword and the cool bad guy (Sephiroth).  I just love the kool chars with the big sword chopping at stuff, makes the character much more kool/likeable like how they do it in a lot japanese animes.  The gameplay was alright except for the fact that you only get a weapon and a bracer for your armor.  Its …
review by . December 11, 2001
This Final Fantasy lives uo to its name. The story is great, the graphic are great, Everything is great. This is a true Final Fantasy RPG.
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Final Fantasy VII is a console role-playing game developed by Square (now Square Enix) and published by Sony Computer Entertainment as the seventh installment in the Final Fantasy series. It was released in 1997 for Sony's PlayStation and in 1998 for Microsoft's Windows-based personal computers. The game is the first in the series to use 3D computer graphics, featuring fully rendered characters on pre-rendered backgrounds.

Set in a dystopian world, Final Fantasy VII's story centers on the powerful megacorporation Shinra, which is draining the life of the planet to use as an energy source. Players follow a young mercenary called Cloud Strife, who joins with several others to stop Shinra. As the story evolves, the main antagonist, Sephiroth, develops a plan to summon a meteor with the intention of injuring the planet to a point where it would gather massive amounts of its life force in one spot, allowing Sephiroth to collect all the life force and gain control of all living beings.

Development of Final Fantasy VII began in 1994 and was originally intended as another 2D project for the SNES with a New York setting. However, the development team decided to use 3D computer graphics instead and moved onto the Nintendo 64. After deciding to implement the features of the tech demo "Final Fantasy SGI" the game would not be able to fit into Nintendo 64's cartridges, prompting Square to move onto Sony's PlayStation system, which used CD-ROMs.

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Video Games, Gaming, Rpg, Final Fantasy, Role Playing Games, Final Fantasy 7, Ffvii, Ff7


ESRB: teen
Number of Players: 1
Publisher: Square
Developer: SquareSoft
Console: play station 1
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 1997
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