Final Fantasy VII: Nostalgia Review

Summoning RPGs to America

Final Fantasy VII
Playstation | Squaresoft | September 1997

Nostalgia Reviews look back and highlight the greatest games of previous generations. The review is rooted in fond memories and appreciation of the game during that era. There are times when memories differ from reality or modern techniques are superior to earlier design.

The Playstation was a renaissance for role playing games, and at the point of that buster sword was Final Fantasy VII. The adventure of Cloud Strife was the largest commercial success that Squaresoft had seen to date. This paved the road for multiple RPGs to ride to victory, as easily as a golden chocobo. The key stats in FFVII’s triumph was a relatable and entertaining cast, energetic combat, integrated side quests and unpredictable story. FFVII was able to accomplish this through introducing new elements gradually, reiterating their importance through gameplay, and then consistently enhancing the entire experience. The step by step iteration, then improvement, of the narrative and mechanics made the game easy to pick up and master.

Within FFVII there is a character that anyone can relate to. Cloud is an arrogant but calm wanderer, Barrett is a standard 80’s tough guy, Yuffie is perky and energetic, and Cait Sith is a…robotic cat that rides a giant moogle. The party is much more than the sum of its parts. Throughout the story, these characters will interact and banter amongst themselves, not just the protagonist. It is how they intermingle with one another and play off their personalities that make the team feel whole. Each member explores a side story that highlights their past and strengthens their drive. By the end of the game, everyone has evolved, fought their demons and learned a valuable life lesson. FFVII isn’t afraid to make their characters complex, disliked, tragic or even kill them; this risk yields a fantastic and robust cast.

The active time battle (ATB) system wasn’t introduced in FFVII, but it was mastered. The game starts players with only two individuals and one piece of materia (magic). Each new character has unique stats, weapons and limit breaks. Limit breaks are an über attack that players unleash after receiving a significant amount of damage. Part of the strategy is for players to time the limit to be triggered during a boss sequence or to sit on one until a tough battle occurs, but doing so would lock the attack command. Materia canbe combined to augment spells and strengthen effectiveness. The options available would be based on what equipment the character had. The most powerful spear in your arsenal might boost strength but would only have two materia slots; pre-battle planning was required to prevail.

Success in the RPG genre is tied to how enjoyable the side quests are. Fans might talk about the story from point Midgar to point Lifestream but it is the optional tales, weapons and battles that will have people reading message boards and replaying. There is materia that requires convoluted strategies to earn. There are two optional bosses, who are more powerful than the final story villain.  FFVII has two optional characters. One of which is a fan favorite and the other had a spin-off game. If players run through to the end they will miss out on all the extras. There is a complicated chocobo breeding side adventure which has its own racing min-game. The snowboarding mechanics aren’t as robust as an actual snowboarding game but are a welcomed diversion from punching dragons.

The story of FFVII starts with bashing a Mako (energy) reactor alongside a group of rebels (that include Wedge and Biggs). The epic ends…much more complicated than that, but it never takes a jarring left turn or out of the blue feel. The changes and growing dynamic feel natural and evolve throughout the narrative. What starts off as a small strike against an evil corporation grows into a larger threat. The true nemesis isn’t even revealed until eight hours in and the quest continues as they stay one step ahead of the heroes.

FFVII’s story, combat, characters and combined package make it one step above the competition. There is a reason why seventeen years later it remains a constant top download on the PSN. Unfortunately, like other games from the early 3D era, the graphics have suffered. What was once revolutionary is now laughably clunky and slow. The game’s load times, repetitive animations and polygon faces have not aged well.

In an age where people debate if Japanese RPGs or Western RPGs are best, it’s important to remember that either camp owes their success to FFVII. This game single handedly brought the genre to the forefront of the gaming industry and helped the Playstation be a safe haven for many of the classic and great games people remember fondly. FFVII is the perfect mix of RPG tropes and groundbreaking material.

 

Score: 9.5 /10

+ Complex Systems that Grow with Players
+ Compelling Characters
+ Side quests that Matter
+ Narrative Willing to Take Risks
+ Memorable Moments

 

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