Review by matt91486

"At first I was speechless -- a rare emotion for me. Luckily that feeling passed quickly"

Final Fantasy VII is an awe-inspiring adventure of epic proportions. (And folks, that last sentence was a mouthful.) Square’s continuation of the series brings it off Nintendo consoles to the PlayStation, where it shines like a lone star on a crystal clear night in the country. Counting to seven brought some drastic changes to the Final Fantasy series -- nearly all of which were for better, but sadly others took a dramatic turn for the worse.

The main point in a role-playing game is to advance your character's skills and abilities through a series of battles. These encounters are tied in to somehow furthering the ongoing story line. A good story is considered to be the foundation of a role-playing game, so most gameplay decisions are made with that in mind. Final Fantasy games before this seventh edition have always tried hard to give gamers a gameplay system that does not detract or distract from the story line itself. While the system utilized in this title is a bit more high-maintenance than previous incarnations, and changes have been made from previous titles, it still fulfills the goal quite well.

The gameplay changes are some of the first things you will notice that is different from the Final Fantasies before it. First and foremost, the combat system is much different. Your characters and the enemies attacks are based on time. When each character’s time meter fills up, they are free to complete an action. If you want to save that character until later, you can switch to another one. This creates an awkward sort of combination between a real-time and a turn-based battle system. One that I do not particularly like. With a turn-based battle system, you would not have to be constantly watching the screen, always looking for your next opening to attack. The time-based system used adds the the already monumentous pressure of boss battles by forcing you to constantly be wary. Blink, and you might miss the opportunity to get the final attack in before the boss defeats Tifa. In a more traditional battle scheme you can run upstairs and get a snack, or better yet be planning out your next turn while your opponents are attacking you. Final Fantasy VII does not allow for that planning, and pressuring you to make instant, thoughtless decisions often has disastrous consequences.

The original aspect of Final Fantasy VII that I really enjoyed is the new magic system. Magic is based off of something called Materia. This Materia is embedded in various weapons and armor. Nearly all weapons and armor have Materia slots, but there are a few exceptions. Any character can use Materia. You can add and remove Materia from these slots at your own choice. A Rune master isn’t required to do the work for you -- you can do it at your convienience. There are four types of Materia that you can give a character. The Red Materia calls a fierce summon beast to assist you in battle; Green Materia is just your typical magic used for healing or for attack; Materia shaded yellow teaches the character it is attached to a new skill to use in battle, a skill which appears on the main battle menu for that character; Purple Materia is the miscellaneous Materia, that allows your character’s HP or MP to be raised, lure Chocobos, or other things to that effect; And Blue Materia supports the rest, giving them added effects so that they can better service your party. This magic system, allows full customization of your characters, so you can turn each into what ever you want them to be. This makes each time you play through this masterpiece a little bit different, and it easily allows players to express their own styles and preferences by designing characters how they see fit.

Movement between towns is still largely done on foot, but Square thought to include some different vehicles at your disposal to get to your destination quicker and more efficiently. At various points throughout the game you will control a buggy, a hovercraft, a submarine, and of course, the now-famous airship known as the Highwind. Getting to use these vehicles offers a much-needed diversion to the monotonous repetition of strolling leisurely from Midgar to the Chocobo Farm, as well as saving players countless minutes in real time. And time is very valuable.

Final Fantasy’s graphics are in high contrast to the super-deformed characters and environments of yesteryear. The innocence of the previous incarnations of the series has been lost, fittingly enough with the new, darker, more mature story line. To further the more mature themes, SquareSoft tried to go for the look of gritty realism, but they ended up with plaguing graininess instead. The sandy look of the screen can frustrate at times, but it really does not take much away from an otherwise impressive looking game.

The anime inspired character designs are quite well done, and have been clearly inspired by television shows such as Dragon Ball Z and Ranma. (Cloud’s spiky hair can attest to that.) Final Fantasy VII improves on the anime style a lot by adding more variety. The artists have scorned one of the biggest anime flaws (incessant repetition in character designs) and they’ve given each character a style of their own. The only major flaw with these character designs is that most of the characters have no mouths! This is just laziness by the programmers and it is simply inexcusable.

Thankfully, the enemies all are mean looking, which fits in nicely with the look of Final Fantasy VII. If the enemies were cute like the enemies from Kirby, Final Fantasy VII would really lose something. Flow is the most important thing, and I applaud Square for that. Naturally some look more menacing than others, and some enemies look like clones of those found in a different place in a different color with a different name, but other than that they are consistently impressive. The bosses are huge too, which shall give you quite the start after facing piddly enemies for a while.

The coloring tends to the drab and realistic side. Most everything is colored in shades you could easily find in nature. There is one key exception though. The Gold Saucer is painted in some of the gaudiest colors you will ever see in your life. Everything is bright and some things are even shiny, an astonishing affect on 32-bit console at that time. Other than this, the coloring of everything in the game is extremely realistic, staying in line with the new character designs.

If there is one graphical effect in Final Fantasy VII that really blows every other aspect of the graphics away, it would be the breathtaking full motion videos and various other cut scenes. and the sequences where you are summoning your summon beasts. The summoning sequences present some of the most amazing effects I have ever seen. I had never seen such amazing ice or electricity in my life. The only problem with them is that you have no way of skipping over them, and after watching them repetitively for the entire game they begin to wear on you. The full motion videos (FMVs) have some of the most amazing graphics featured on the PlayStation. Impressively, these FMVs are better in some aspects than the ones in its sequel, Final Fantasy VIII. The grainy, unpolished look magically disappears when you stop controlling the game, and the game instructs the PlayStation to run these amazing videos. Animation is perfectly smooth -- detailed to the most minute points -- and always makes the experience of playing a masterpiece more enjoyable.

Square delivers a spectacular soundtrack as it always has. I never expect less than the best from the musical masters working for them. Nor would I accept anything but the best. The music delivers with great orchestral tunes, that always convey the mood Square wants you to feel at the time. They tend to be in the style of the Romantic musicians of the 1800s, particularly French ones like DuBussy. While it is not the best soundtrack from a video game I have ever heard (that title goes to the original Suikoden) it is among the best, right up at the top. The songs tend to be original throughout the game, with the notable exception of the battle theme. But Final Fantasy VII surely has one of the greatest songs to ever grace the video gaming world: The Chocobo Battle Theme.

The sound effects are classic. Not classic as in bad quality, or classic as in the past, but they were instantly made classic when they were first listened to. The wonderful clinking of the money when you win a battle. The even more wonderful sound of rushing experience points joining your characters to level them up. The sound of a whoosh when your fiercest enemy disappears with one blow from Cloud’s Ultimate Weapon. These sounds do a great job adding to the atmosphere of the game, and they help define the Final Fantasy VII experience. If you listen closely, you can hear noises derived from previous games in the series, which is an added bonus to those who have played the greatest role-playing series around from the beginning.

Although control is very subjective in RPG's, Final Fantasy VII commits two unpardonable blunders. The menus can get very tedious to explore, which has numerous repercussions In the heat of a very difficult battle, having to scroll all of the way to a bottom of an empty menu to find your only spell makes you want to scream. The miscellaneous lists inside the Pause Menu can get very difficult to organize, and are so time consuming that I never really found it worth the time.

Also of note, Final Fantasy VII’s button configuration is nearly exactly opposite every other game. Instead of ‘O’ being cancel, as in ninety-five percent of other role playing games out on the market; In Final Fantasy ‘O’ is accept. This leaves those people who are used to constantly pressing ‘X’ to accept commands constantly having to reenter menus after accidentally pressing the incorrect buttons. That quirk is horribly frustrating, distracting, and it hurt me in battles on numerous occasions. When I pressed ‘X’ instead of ‘O’ in a battle, I left my Materia screen, which allowed the foe I was battling to get in an extra attack before I was able to defeat him. If that blow felled one of my characters, and I was fighting against a boss, the experience lost there can take a very long time to recover.

Besides the actual game, Final Fantasy VII offers many fun side quests and mini-games. Most of which are located in the Golden Saucer, which is possibly the greatest location in any role-playing game ever. The Golden Saucer offers battles in the Battle Arena for prizes, Chocobo races that you can bet on or participate in, and games, arcade games, and far too many other features for me to keep listing them all. My personal favorite side quest/mini game to play are the combined activities of raising and racing those beloved mascots, the Chocobos. Chocobos can be caught and added to your fold wherever their tracks are found on the overworld map. Then, if you have the Chocobo Lure embedded, you can catch Chocobo. (And you can listen to that fantastic song.) Then, you breed the Chocobo at the Chocobo Farm. Then, you feed your Chocobo greens from the Chocobo Farm or the Chocobo Sage to raise their attributes. After feeding and breeding, racing comes into play, where you can ride your Chocobo through the two tracks with ease.

Despite these amazing distractions, Final Fantasy VII’s main quest is even better. The story is gripping, the gameplay innovative, and the entire game gripping. And it is all oozing with atmosphere from Midgar itself. That’s why Final Fantasy VII is certainly deserving of the epic tag I slapped upon it. The plot line itself is filled with twists and turns, more than an alpine pass near Bonn. The scene unfolds with your character, Cloud, fulfilling duties as a mercenary hired by Barret to do some work for his reconnaissance team. The story evolves from this rather bland point, and changes into something sadistic that toys with your emotions, turning ultimately into an impressive clash between the forces of good and evil.

One of the problems I have with the story is uneven character development. Some characters, mainly Cloud and Tifa seem to be much more developed than everyone else. Vincent, Yuffie, and Cait Sith especially seem to be left out. This creates a disparity that annoys me to no end. In some games with hundreds of characters, having varied degrees of character development is perfectly all right, because the characters are of varying importance. In Final Fantasy VII all of the characters are equally important, playing parts integral to the story line, and they are not treated as such. That is not fair to those neglected characters, or ourselves who have to go through the game knowing more than we want to about Tifa, and not knowing a thing about much more about Cait Sith than for his quirky name. Despite the uneven development, the overall story line’s ups and downs will almost make you forget about the flaw, as you try to predict and decipher exactly what will happen next.

While Final Fantasy VII is considered a ground breaking, definitive RPG, it is also extremely easy. The final battle in a game is supposed to give you a feeling of closure, of accomplishment, like you have just vanquished the final devil, and tied up loose ends. The closing bout in this game is quite disappointing, and far easier than I would have liked it. In fact, a boss battle before it is far more challenging, as are some of the foes you meet on side quests, most notably the Emerald and Ruby Weapons.

On top of the incredibly weak final battle, there was not a good selection of mind-boggling puzzles to break up the monotonous action that plagues many role-playing games. And the few puzzles that there actually were were solved in less than five minutes, hardly long enough for my tastes. This creates many dungeons and levels that are laughably easy until you fight the boss. Including only one or two puzzles that are difficult enough to make them interesting is a shame, and those levels quickly became my favorites in all the game. The addition of more puzzles would have helped make up for the lack of a challenging bout with the final villain.

Final Fantasy VII is an extremely linear role-playing game. Your choices are not any that impact the flow of the story in the least, so it is exactly the same each journey through Midgar and beyond. There are a few special instances of people I know playing the game many, many times through, but those are special cases . Most of you will play through this game once never play it again, unless you learn of a side quest or secret that you are unable to get without starting the game anew. I too fit in with this group, having played through the masterpiece once, and since then, almost nothing. I’ll occasionally do a little bit of work with my Chocobo fleet, or play a few games at the Golden Saucer arcade, but Final Fantasy VII has left my system. Luckily I got more than sixty hours of gameplay out of it, which is certainly worth the price paid.

Final Fantasy VII is one of the best RPGs around. The game has its flaws, but the good points far overcome it. The captivating quest for Cloud to figure out himself and the world will stick with you for years to come. Yes, Final Fantasy VII truly is an awe-inspiring adventure of epic proportions.

PROS
*A story line like no other before.
*Innovative Materia magic system.
*Graphics are among the most amazing in a PlayStation game ever.

CONS
*’O’ is used to accept all commands, causing confusion.
*Some characters become very annoying.
*The story is to linear - some more choices for your character would have infinitely improved the game.

SCORE SUMMARY

GAMEPLAY--8
GRAPHICS--9
MUSIC--10
SOUND--9
CONTROL--6
FUN--9
CHALLENGE--LOW TO MEDIUM
REPLAY VALUE--LOW TO MEDIUM

OVERALL--9


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/12/01, Updated 09/14/02


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