There is not much more that I can say about Final Fantasy VII that has not already been said. If you want an in-depth, modern review of the game, checkout my review for the HD Remaster here. On the other hand, if you want a quick recount of my earliest, and fondest memories of the game, stay here with me, as I travel back in time to late 1997.
During the early days of the 3-D era, my affection and almost total devotion to gaming was spent on my Nintendo 64. Games like Super Mario 64, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Golden Eye, and even Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, fascinated me. Real ‘3-D’ was prevalent on the Nintendo 64, and 3-D games on my PlayStation looked archaic by comparison.
However, I had indulged myself on Wild Arms for a time, and had read all the press coverage on Final Fantasy VII prior to its release. While I missed the game at launch, a classmate kept talking to my then 13-year-old self about the game’s greatness. He seemed eager to talk about the game, but always held back due to the one important plot twist at the end of Disc 1.
Thus, on a sunny Saturday morning I went and grabbed the game at my local Electronics Boutique. I remember getting hooked on the story from the moment I opened the game’s booklet on my way home. The story, even on the surface, seemed deeper than the storylines of all previous games that I had played.
A Mysterious Tale of Self Discovery, and Science Fiction
Being that Cloud (the protagonist) was an amnesiac of sorts, and that unlike FFVIIR, Final Fantasy VII kept Sephiroth as a mysterious, and intimidating force through large parts of the game. Final Fantasy felt, at times like a good detective Novel. Mysteries were slowly unraveled by its characters. Things like character back stories, and Cloud’s own mysterious past with Sephiroth were masterfully handled by the developers.
Final Fantasy VII did a good job in immersing me into its world. The pre-rendered sector 7 slums felt like a real place, as it did its NPCs (blocky look and all). Sephiroth’s murder of Shinra’s president was played out to perfection. The ominous music in Shinra’s Building, and our cast arriving at the scene a step behind the iconic villain, made that section an impressionable one in my young mind.
Final Fantasy VI was the first game where I felt that Squaresoft had delivered a truly great tale with compelling characters. However, Final Fantasy VII was just bigger, more ambitious, and deeper than its predecessor. An improvement in that regard, as far as I am concerned. This is not to be taken as slight against FFVI. If it wasn’t for Xenogears’ existence, I would say for certainty that FFVII still possess the best story in gaming, as far as JRPGs go.
The game gave each character a real background. Even its two optional “hidden” characters were given equal importance within the game’s world and story. Thousands of fan fictions were written by the community on Vincent alone.
While I won’t go deep into FFVII’s Sci-Fi elements here, at least as far as games were concerned at the time, every plot element was handled with care. Within its own fantastic universe, everything made sense.
*Warning: Spoilers ahead*
I can’t get away from the story, without touching upon Aerith’s (Aeris then) tragic moment. To say that it was shocking, would be an understatement. I had never seen the “Princess like character” die in video games before, and certainly not in such a shocking and dramatic way. I cried, I really cried, tears and all.
Aeris was built as Cloud’s love to be. Tifa was part of the love triangle too, but Aeris was set up as the magical love interest that drove the game foward. Having her die in such a way was totally unexpected, and it left gaping hole in my gaming heart that took a while to heal.
Game storytelling, and presentation has come a long, long way since FFVII. Final Fantasy X’s ending might have been almost as heart breaking. Modern games like the Last of Us: Part II have mastered the art of driving me into tears of rage, and despair (as well as sadness) during its run time. In 1997 however, crying in sadness at the death of a video game character was a new experience for me.
Squaresoft handled Aeris’ death scene as well as it could have. Full primitive CG glory and accompanied by one of Nobuo Uematsu’s most beautiful musical compositions ever graced the screen during the iconic death. Final Fantasy VII might have been the first game that that truly reached Hollywood caliber storytelling moments, even if it didn’t deliver these scenes with consistency throughout the 52 hours it took me to see the credits roll and the extra scene at the end of them.
Final Fantasy VII did more than any game in its genre, in not only advancing JRPGs into prosperity, but also in advancing the medium’s potential for storytelling. While I admired Rogert Ebert as a movie critic, his stance on games not being ‘Art’ always seemed to me like a sign that the man couldn’t break away from his backwards way of thinking. Final Fantasy VII, at least to my young self, delivered a visual spectacle accompanied by an incredible musical score. The game also managed to tell a wonderful Sci-Fi/Fantasy story that hooked me in ways that no book (or film) at that point could.
In fact, Final Fantasy VII is what ignited my passion to write, and read books. If Final Fantasy VII is not an expression of art, then I don’t know what is.
Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 showed how 3-D games were supposed to be made. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Time further expanded into that by creating a living, breathing world by which all action-adventures, and open world games would be judged afterwards. In my opinion, Final Fantasy VII did the same for Storytelling in games.
I Was Not Mesmerized by its Visuals Though the Game Had its Moments
So, I admit, I am a bit of a ‘graphicsphile’. Especially in those early days, a 3-D game could be average in quality (Shadows of the Empire), but the fact that it was a “Full 3-D” game had great sway in my perception and enjoyment of it.
Final Fantasy VII had some impressive CG work, and its prerendered stages were okay. The game at the time of its release was, by far, the best looking JRPG that had ever been made. Considering that most games in the genre had been 2-D creations perhaps that is not saying much, but FF was really a PS1 tour de force in 1997.
Leaving Midgar and seeing a JRPG overworld realized in 3-D for the very first time was a ‘wow’ moment for me, even if it wasn’t nearly as mesmerizing as running around Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64 for the very first time.
Final Fantasy VII set the PS template that FFVII, and FFIX would later follow. The game would go on to spawn quite a few clones like Shadow Madness, and Legend of Dragoon. Both latter titles copied FFVII’s pre-rendered back drop coupled with 3-D character models look.
Is it the Greatest Final Fantasy Game That I Have Played?
I still maintain that the greatest FF game that I have ever played is Final Fantasy IX. The ninth installment had the perfect balance of humor, drama, and pace in its storytelling. It was the most visually polished entry on the PS1, and it just seems like the most polished entry that the series has ever seen.
However, my favorite entry remains Final Fantasy VII. Even with it flaws (rushed 3rd disc, blocky character models, ho-hum translation), it is the entry that I have replayed the most, and the one whose story really made an impression on me as a gamer, and writer. To this day, Final Fantasy VII remains my favorite JRPG of all time.
The game can be found today in literally every gaming platform available, and while the HD Remaster is the best way to play it, the pre-rendered backdrops didn’t make the HD transition into the new era. Thus, the game feels a little outdated visually for the times. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, I whole heartedly encourage everyone to give the game a go.
Newcomers who played Final Fantasy VII Remake, would be missing the original’s distinct storyline, as FFVIIR is really a sequel to 1997’s classic by not playing the PlayStation classic. Consequently, even if you are in your late teens or early 20s now, and were introduced to the game by FFVIIR, you should do yourself a favor and invest in acquiring the original. You won’t regret it.
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