Review by Iyamtebist
A game that gained its popularity through large expenssive advertisments that just so happens to also be a good game.
Before I even start, one would likely wonder what the point of reviewing this game even is. On this site alone, at the time this is being written, there are already 172 reader reviews for this game written, and that is not taking into account the rest of the internet. So ultimately the question is, in the year 2014, what is there for me to say about Final Fantasy VII that someone else has not already said? When it was first released, the game was so highly revered that one bad word against it could have backfired on whoever said it. This massive hype and praise did eventually backfire however, and now it has received such a massive backlash for its insane amount of hype. Final Fantasy VII had commercials that have advertised its cinematic approach with lines such as never coming to a theater near you and it was even advertised in movie theaters themselves. Most AAA titles still take this approach when it comes to both advertisement and design and it does not seem like that will change any time soon.
To give an even further example of the intense amount of hype that Final Fantasy VII has received, the back of the games box had a review quote that simply stated possibly the greatest game ever made. Final Fantasy VIIs advertising campaign greatly affected and changed the way the gaming industry was handled and was indeed revolutionary. However, it naturally becomes a source of conflict when a majority of a games legacy comes from how it was advertised and how it affected the game industry, and not necessarily about the game as a whole. While Final Fantasy VII is indeed an outstanding example of what a great JRPG should be, it just is not possible for anything, regardless of how good it is, to live up to this type of hype.
Ultimately that is likely why a majority of Final Fantasy VIIs hatedom exists. Now that Final Fantasy VII is less relevant and even some industry figures have struck back at it, people who have felt that it did not live up to its hype still continue to feel bitter towards the games fanboys despite the fact that most people who played the game when it came out and fanboyed over it have probably grown out of this phase by now and that there are more people that hate on it mindlessly than those who praise it mindlessly. It does not take long to discern that a lot of the commonly cited arguments against Final Fantasy VII are downright childish. A lot of these come down to bland statements of no substance such as criticizing Cloud for being emo or that Sephiroth is a mommas boy. I do not think there is any need to combat these complaints further as they are incredibly juvenile and immature; which means that they speak for themselves.
I have decided to review this title to, instead, reiterate what was great about this title in the first place and why it still fondly remembered by a lot despite the vocal hatedom. In addition to this I would also like to point out the games actual flaws that tend to be overlooked in favor of the aforementioned petty insults. In short, I would like to remind people of what Final Fantasy VII actually is as opposed to what it has been made out to be.
Never Coming to a Theater Near You
When it comes to Final Fantasy VIIs narrative, there is a lot to talk about. Final Fantasy VII has one of the most intricate and well detailed plot lines of any JRPG out there. Even though it was released back in 1997, most JRPGs released even today end up having a rather formulaic and predictable plot structure while Final Fantasy VII constantly keeps you guessing and reveals more and more about its characters and world. Technically being predictable or formulaic is not even a bad thing as long as the story in question can use said formula correctly and is still entertaining, which is the case with a lot of great JRPGs. What separates Final Fantasy VII from a lot of other JRPGs is the amount of intricacy and depth there is to it.
Some people claim that Final Fantasy VIIs story is too convoluted or confusing, but it really isnt that difficult to grasp. There is a difference between being complex and being convoluted. If a work was convoluted, then it would be difficult to understand, which Final Fantasy VII is not if you are paying attention to it. There are definitely a lot of twists and turns involved and there is a lot more to Final Fantasy VIIs storyline than having a chosen one destined to save the world from an evil wizard by collecting 7 magical macguffins (yes for some reason, the number is almost always 7). In fact, for a majority of the game, there are no set black and white rules for who is good and who is evil.
For example, in the beginning of the game you are working with a gang of eco terrorists in order to destroy a set of Mako reactors that are draining the planets energy. It is brought up in the game more than once that by blowing up these reactors, you are killing innocent civilians who are caught in large explosions. The enemy at this point of the game is the worlds de facto government Shinra, who is draining the worlds Mako energy for their own resources. However, if you were to replace the terms for government with corporation then it would be something that is considered perfectly normal in the real world.
However, the plot does escalate beyond that when, Sephiroth, a well renowned elite member of SOLDIER, Shinras army basically, who was previously assumed to be dead, re-appears and murders the president of Shrinra during the main partys invasion on Shinras headquarters. Afterwards, our main character, Cloud Strife, reveals that he was also an elite member of SOLDIER and that he worked with Sephiroth before he went missing five years ago. Cloud reveals that Sephiroth went insane once he found out that he was an artificial life form created from the cells of an ancient alien creature known as Jenova, and burns the currently occupied town of Nibelheim to the ground. Cloud is able to remember everything up until one moment when he confronted Sephiroth himself, and is unable to remember anything of his past from then on.
This is the back story to the main part of the game, and is a majority of what the focus of the plot is based on. There is a brief period in the beginning of the game that is built up to this point before hand, but this is generally the main focus of the game. Regardless, the aforementioned event and the events that built up to it are handled so spectacularly that simply summarizing them does not have the same effect. Hell one could actually say that about the plot to most of the game and it would still apply. The events of the game continue to build on the world and more and more twists and turns are taken. Yes one could over-simplify the plot as trying to stop a madman from taking over the world, but what makes Final Fantasy VII special is precisely how it handles this plot.
One major contributing element to Final Fantasy VIIs story telling prowess is its cast. A majority of characters are given very complex motivation and back story throughout the game, and it is a huge part of what makes them memorable. For example, Clouds amnesia, at first, sounds like the absolute most cliched back story they could have gone with, but when one finds out what the cause of it is, things get really surprising. Throughout the course of the game, Clouds character changes from that of a stoic, hotshot who cares very little about anything other than how much he earns, to someone who gains a stronger connection with his friends and becomes stronger as a result, to someone who is conflicted with his own existence and who he really is, and then ending with someone who has come to terms with the reality of what he actually is and regains his spirit.
The complexity of Clouds character seems to be something that is often glossed over when thinking of Final Fantasy VII. This could likely be due to some of the earlier fanboys who seemed to pay more attention to clouds character design and the fact that he has a big sword than his actual personality. There is also the fact that Clouds future appearances in Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus, as well as his appearances in Kingdom Hearts and Dissidia, have seemed to portray his stoic emo side while forgetting about his development in the original game, which lead to people believing he must have always been like this.
Sephiroth seems to be another character who seems to have become known more so through the internets interpretation of him than his actual character. In addition to his back story, as previously mentioned, what makes him so well executed as a villain is that he has a somewhat unnerving air to him and something bad happens every time he appears. His theme, Those Chosen by the Planet, gives off a creepy ad menacing feel to him. Yet his actions and dialogue are not nearly as direct and stereotypically villainous as previous Final Fantasy villains such as Golbez or Exdeath. Okay it is true that he does not exactly show much emotion, but that is precisely why his character is handled so well. He is played off as more of a villain that is meant to be intimidating and threatening than one that is supposed to make you hate them. You can say he is handled more like a horror movie villain than a traditional JRPG villain .Granted it makes him less entertaining overall than someone like Final Fantasy VIs Kefka, but at the same time it is easier to take him seriously and is an overall deeper villain.
The rest of the characters do have interesting back stories but admittedly can admittedly feel somewhat out of place in terms of motivation and do not seem to be as expressive. Barret for example, seems to have very little relevance to the rest of the plot once you leave Midgar shortly into the game; Cid and Yuffie dont really seem to have much of a reason to be in the main party other than just because. However there is one particular character that I did not like, and that one was Vincent. He has some type of ties to Sephiroths back story but those ties are completely unneeded and he could have been written out entirely. He also has no personality and is basically what most of Final Fantasy VIIs detractors think Cloud is like. Granted Vincent is an unlockable character, but considering that he is still part of the game, he still counts towards the game overall.
One last complaint towards the story is that the second quarter of the game consists of nothing other than going from town to town trying to find Sephiroth and coincidentally being thrown into some side story involving another character. These stories should have been spread out more thoroughly throughout the game instead of piled up into one section where the plot goes on a coffee break. This section could have been removed from the game entirely and the main plot would not have been affected. Also I suppose I should take a quick moment to mention the translation. Admittedly it is not the most well translated game seeing as how there are a lot of typos in places they shouldnt be, but it still gives you more than enough information to understand the plot and nothing too important is really lost.
The graphic quality is probably one of the weakest qualities of Final Fantasy VII. While it was very advanced for its time, the graphics end up looking very bad by todays standards. Now this statement technically applies to every older game in a technical sense, but when it fails in an artistic sense as well, you know there is a problem. Early attempts at 3D graphics have always looked absolutely terrible in an artistic sense, but seeing a show Final Fantasy VII is one of the earliest attempts at 3D, it ends up suffering the most. The character models look incredibly blocky and disproportionate. Due to the way they are designed, it is very difficult for them to show any expression. When you compare this to Final Fantasy VIs character models that were able to express a wide variety of emotions despite being 2D pixilated characters, you end up realizing the weakness of early 3D. That is not to say that Final Fantasy VII is incapable of evoking emotions seeing as how the sound effects are well placed and that the script is still strong enough on its own, the weakness of early 3D is still very apparent.
Another issue with Final Fantasy VIIs graphics is the way that the character models end up looking in comparison to the games pre rendered backgrounds. While the pre rendered backgrounds are all incredibly well drawn and are a feature that I wish had not disappeared from 3D JRPGs, the character it is often difficult to see where your characters can and cannot go due to the way they are drawn. Thankfully this issue is fixed by the game including the option to show red and green arrows that mark what parts of the background can and cannot be interacted with. Also there are times when the character models decrease in size the further you move along a path which ends up making the character models harder to see.
On the more positive side of Final Fantasy VIIs graphical capabilities, character models during battle look far closer to what the character models should look like, and the attack animations due admittedly look pretty cool. What does get kind of annoying, however, is the length of some summon animations seeing as how they show a pre rendered cutscene for each summon that could last up to 40 seconds every time you use it, and you are never able to skip the animation. This ends up adding an unnecessary amount of time to battle length.
However, what is really impressive about Final Fantasy VIIs visuals are the pre rendered cutscenes used during story sequences. Given how well they look in comparison to the main game itself, and just how well they are able to transition into them from in game backgrounds, it really makes you think just how much has gone into making sure those scenes look just right. Also even in the age of HD, photorealistic graphics, these scenes still look great in an artistic sense and are easy to appreciate.
Estuans interius Ira vehementi Sephiroth!
Seeing as how the music of Final Fantasy VII is one of its absolute greatest aspects and that there is a lot more good than bad to say, I will get some of the few negative things to say out of the way quickly. First of all, the sound quality itself does sound much more chiptune esque when compared to a lot of other PS1 RPGs. Granted it is arguable that this actually gives Final Fantasy VII its own unique charm, and I personally would agree with that statement, but on a technical level it is still below average. Secondly, if you happen to be playing the PC port, the soundtrack consists of lazily put together midi arrangements of the original songs that sound terrible in comparisons to the original, something that is especially apparent in that versions arrangement of One Winged Angel that is missing the chorus. Thankfully there are mods that allow you to use the original PS1 soundtracks, and if you are going with the PC version than it is strongly recommended that you use one of those.
Now for the positive aspects, I will just start out by saying that Nobuo Uematsu is one of the best video game composers in existence, and that Final Fantasy VIIs soundtrack may just be his best work. That right there should show the true extent of the brilliance of this soundtrack. There are close to 80 unique tracks in Final Fantasy VIIs OST and there is not a single track that is not excellent. There are so many well renowned tracks, like Aeriths theme, One Winged Angel, Still More Fighting, J-EN-O-V-A, Those Chosen by the Planet, and many others, that some other amazing tracks get overshadowed. The opening bombing mission theme is an intense piece of music that really sets the mood for the game really well by thrusting the player into the action right away. The main battle theme gives off a feeling of a war torn battle field and fits incredibly well when it is used outside of battle during a different sequence later on. The Overworld map theme is starts out calming and transitions into a beautiful majestic piece. Cids Theme is both heroic, intense, and, as over used as the word is, epic. Interrupted by Fireworks is a beautiful piece that fits both the sweet moments and the sad moments where it is used, and if it is not my favorite video game song ever composed, it is damn near close. I could do this with every single track in the game. When I say every song is brilliant, I am not exaggerating.
Breaking the Limits
Admittedly, Final Fantasy VII was not really a game that was revolutionary in terms of gameplay. Normally one would think that such an important game would also have completely re-invented the genre but that is not the case here. That is not to say the gameplay is bad by any means as Final Fantasy VII does handle its gameplay fairly well for the most part. Basically, what Final Fantasy VII accomplishes is keeping the traditional JRPG gameplay style but executing it well enough so that newcomers could like what they played, and chances are a majority of those who seem to express dislike of this game know very little of JRPGs. I myself am speaking of Final Fantasy VII with the experience of close to a hundred JRPGs and in comparison, it handled itself well but falters in other areas.
The battle system is the same active time based system that was used in Final Fantasy IV-VI, where a characters get their turn when their ATB bar is full and you need to wait for it to re-charge to get the next turn. The enemies and bosses you face are good enough to engage the player but are not particularly challenging or creative. Most boss battles generally just require damage, healing and buffs in order to get by without grinding. There are a lot of smaller aspects to the battles system set it apart from previous Final Fantasy games. The first of these is the limit break system, which allows a character to use a much stronger attack once their limit gauge fills up. The limit gauge increases based on the amount of damage they receive from enemies. What is nice about the way the limit breaks work is that once the limit gauge fills up all the way, you can hold on to the limit break and save it for later use, as opposed to only letting you use it during the battle you obtained it like or even worse, only being able to use it when your character is low on health like in Final Fantasy VI or VIII. In Final Fantasy VI, the desperation attacks only had 1/8th of a chance of triggering upon using a regular attack while a character has critical HP, which leads to these attacks occurring so little that most dont even know that Final Fantasy VI even had them. In Final Fantasy VIII, they were the same as in Final Fantasy VI except more common and noticeable, but not nearly as useful as in Final Fantasy VII.
A major element of Final Fantasy VIIs gameplay is the materia system, which is basically an expanded version of Final Fantasy VIs esper system. Similar to Final Fantasy VI, material allows a character to learn or use an ability they would not have access to otherwise by earning by equipping material and earning levels for the material in addition to the usual character levels. Unlike Final Fantasy VI, however, Final Fantasy VII allows for use a lot more than just one materia per character. The amount of material is instead based on the amount of slots a piece of equipment has, which allows for a lot more options, but also means that the character creation system is based almost entirely on which material you have equipped on who and causes some jarring flaws.
The first of these flaws is that, due to the fact that character growth is based mostly on material, you will likely only be using the same three characters through most of the game seeing as how doing otherwise would either require you to divide the available materia equally amongst party members including those that you are not controlling, or for you to remove all materia and re equip everything when switching party members. Another flaw that the material system brings about is that you will likely just end up making each character exactly the same, creation wise, due to it being much more efficient to give every character the same abilities and the characters not possessing any unique abilities aside from limit breaks. This ends up removing a lot of variety or incentive to really get creative.
The level layout is handled in a very nice way where each area a unique feel and design. There are also plenty of puzzles that are integrated into the dungeons well enough that they dont clash with random encounters. As stated before, the pre rendered backgrounds really help give these levels a nice look to them. The unique tracks that each area has also help them gain their own unique feel.
One issue that also interferes with the overall enjoyment of the game is the way that sidequests are handled. A majority of the side content in Final Fantasy VII is based around chocobo breeding and racing, which is a long process that does not fit well with the rest of the game. Some others say the problem is that chocobo breeding is tedious, and while some parts of it are, I do not consider that to be the main problem. The problem with sidequests in JRPGs that are based entirely around minigames is that they oftentimes are almost like a game in and of themselves, games that take you away from the actual game. 100%ing Final Fantasy VII requires you to spend at least 1/4th of the game on chocobo racing and breeding, and doing so ends up bringing the game to a screeching halt. I will give Final Fantasy VII credit in that accomplishing these tasks makes for a satisfying feeling, but it is not exactly something that one would want to do more than once, and it would have been preferable if the time spent on the chocobo breeding sidequests were instead spent on something having to do with the main story or at least the games own battle mechanics.
The Verdict (Lucky Number 7)
Arguments over whether or not Final Fantasy VII is overrated are up there with can video games be art as one of the most tired out arguments in all of gaming. In the end, Final Fantasy VII is what it is; a JRPG that got most of its popularity through a large advertising campaign and kept its popularity because it just so happens to also be a good game. Yes one could probably name several other JRPGs that are just as good, if not better, than Final Fantasy VII that received not nearly as much attention, but does that really matter?
Final Fantasy VII always was a game that was well executed in terms of its storyline and presentation while the gameplay does not seem to be talked about nearly as much. That is mainly because the gameplay is adequate yet not particularly original. If one has somehow not played Final Fantasy VII by now yet has become a JRPG aficionado without playing it, then I can say that Final Fantasy VII is still a game that I can recommend, as I would also be able to do with someone interested n getting into the genre. The only people that are left should be the people that already know they dislike JRPGs and thus know they would not like the game, but clearly no one would play a game just for the purpose of telling everyone else that they hate it right?
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Final Fantasy VII (Greatest Hits) (US, 03/27/00)
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