Review by Loopmeister
"Fails under closer scrutiny"
Final Fantasy VII is one of the most popular games known. Ten years after its release, Square-Enix is still milking the cash cow with inferior spinoffs and sequels, not to mention people still clamor for all this. These poor products, while demonstrating the original game's popularity, coincidentally also speak a lot about the quality of the original. Final Fantasy VII is revered by many but it should actually be hated.
The graphics are terrible. That's something obvious to be saying in this era but even for their time these graphics are terrible. The characters are pixelized Lego character with mascara eyes for their faces. The battle graphics are tolerable but nothing special save the splendid ways they're used in summon spells and some of the enemy designs. The cutscenes are decent save for the blocky ridiculous anime characters used. The town and dungeon graphics are pretty good and impressive but when coupled with the other examples of graphical power, the average still isn't good.
The music quality is poor. Again, this is redundancy. But some of the compositions are pretty good and all the songs have a memorable flavor that makes them very catchy and addictive. That being said, it's obvious that there are poor songs too, but even these have a very nostalgic and addictive quality to them. Uematsu really knew what he was doing when he wrote this score as this score has a universal quality that will appeal to all people. The dated music quality goes well with the archaic nature of the graphics and it actually creates a pleasant and engrossing atmosphere. There are also some songs that are downright creepy and fun to listen to.
The story deserves much criticism since many rave about it as beautiful and to some, is the selling point of the game. Myths of quality should be dispelled. The evil electric power company Shinra is siphoning energy from the planet. Cloud is a mercenary and joins a mission with the rebel group AVALANCHE to stop them. After that he decides to stick with AVALANCHE after meeting an old friend. Adventure and plot twists follow and after that, Cloud and friends abandon their mission of stopping Shinra to instead pursue an old enemy from the past.
Sure it sounds good on paper. But one major problem in terms of plausibility is that Cloud displays many psychotic tendencies throughout the game, having blackouts, and memory problems. The old enemy from the past, Sephiroth, is against Shinra. When the party discovers this, they're immediately for Sephiroth but Cloud asserts that Sephiroth is a terrible man. This is enough for everyone to ditch their mission against Shinra and go against Sephiroth. When you consider Cloud's memory problems and mental issues, you only ask yourself, "Why would the party trust someone so obviously psychotic and strange?" Some of the party members have excuses because they have nothing else left in their lives. Others do have things left in their lives though and they have no reasonable excuse for joining Cloud to pursue Sephiroth. There are other problems such as there being several times when the party is confused as to what's going on with Sephiroth and Cloud honestly doesn't have a clue. So he tries to rationalize it and the party eats it up. I can tolerate some of the party accepting what's going on but for all of them, even the angst-ridden ones, to eat up Cloud's contradictory and hole ridden story is absurd. It turns out that Sephiroth really is the big bad when you meet him but this is only because the plot requires it. That and the party suddenly deciding to ditch their mission for Shinra all for a vague assertion from Cloud that Sephiroth is a terrible man is ludicrous.
Naturally, several plot twists follow from Cloud's mental issues but none that really overturn the focus of the story. These plot twists are only revelations about the characters and some related to the plot. Some are fairly obvious when revealed yet the party makes a big deal out of them which destroys connection between the player and the story. Speaking of the characters, there are so many coincidental connections between them that it kills the suspension of disbelief. This isn't high art of course so such absurd connections can be tolerated. Even then it does betray an inferior writer who would take the easy way out by conveniently making the immediate party connected rather than making a complex and well designed web of characters that are unrelated to the immediate party.
The characters themselves are also nothing special. They all have lousy personalities which speaks for itself when you consider their flimsy means for accompanying Cloud. But really it's a wonder how anyone green lighted this story considering there is no sense of teamwork behind the characters and many of the characters are downright antagonistic with each other for no reason at all. Another problem is that one character crucial to the plot was rendered as a side character. This is just poor planning.
On the journey there will be several instances where minor characters will have to confront their demons but the characters don't gain any new insight in life and these obligatory stories also have nothing to add to the Shinra and Sephiroth stories except a reason as to why they're going against Shinra or Sephiroth. But nothing crucial in the immediate sense of the story. They're there for the purpose of imaginary character development. But you learn nothing new about the characters except trivial back stories and you see traits that have already been displayed throughout the story. When the major characters have to face their demons however, the game makes a big fuss of it and the scenes are far longer than they should be. The game also makes these scenes extra long to try and make it seem like these characters are changing, but they're not. They're still the same characters.
During these long scenes, new plot material is exposited, things like the truth of Cloud's story with Sephiroth and things like that. Some of these revelations reveal absurd twists about the characters and Cloud's hole ridden story, some which will make you gape at how anyone thought this was a good storyline to begin with and how this was reasonable human psychology. For example, some characters have knowledge of things involving Cloud and Sephiroth. But they don't tell anyone until the plot requires them to for the sake of a dramatic revelation. These aren't dark secrets but instead basic information that could fill the holes in Cloud's story and give the party motivation and a real sense of community in sticking together. The reasons the characters give are absurd.
Aside from these gaping errors, the dialogue is ludicrously poor thanks to a bad translation. However even a correct translation wouldn't have done this game much justice thanks to the aforementioned implausible storyline. There are other issues present however, with outrageous things happening, i.e. an amusement park built near a prison, ridiculous exchanges that suffer from the content and not from the translation with little fuss made over them within the plot, characters joining for little reason. It goes hand in hand withe implausible storyline really.
The gameplay is pretty good. It's the standard real-time Final Fantasy ATB system. The thing that differentiates this game from others is the Materia system. You can learn magic from leveling up Materia. There are other kinds of Materia such as an All Materia which can let you multi-target enemies depending on how strong the Materia is. The All Materia isn't restricted to magic and you can combine it with a lot of other Materia to create a devastating party. The game doesn't let you become omnipotent however because your abilities are solely dependent upon your Materia. Without them they're helpless. It's a fun system, especially when other Materia are discovered. For example, one lets you use the same attack four times in a row. This Materia can be applied to magic or special attack Materia. One Materia, which lets you attack all enemies in a battle at once can be given to your strongest character and joined with the four attack Materia. This can lead battles to be easy and quick. Other Materia combinations enable you to instantly revive yourself and follow up with brutal counterattacks at the same time. The only problem is that these fun combinations are unnecessary in the main game. They are necessary solely for defeating hard optional bosses. With this in mind, most won't care to go to the trouble of devising these fun combinations. Also the joy of the combinations don't start until near the end of the middle of the game.
There are also lots and lots of mini-games. They are all obligatory and painful, some outright stupid. For example, one is an arena game and good prizes can be yielded from doing it. However in wanting to get the prizes, you can easily get bored and frustrated doing the same arena game and by the time you complete the arena game enough to get the prize, you're strong enough as is that the prize's usefulness is nulled.
As you progress within the game, you also get different vehicles for traversing the world. The overland water navigation vehicle is particularly painful simply because of the restrictions placed upon you in navigating and it becomes a chore to get anywhere at all. This was mentioned simply because it plays a large role near the middle of the game and it becomes frustrating quick, especially when going to new areas that you are ignorant of their location and the limitations placed in navigating this vehicle. One side quest is meant to be tackled around this point and is only available with the overland water navigation vehicle but the frustration with said vehicle will likely cause you to not care.
There are also plenty of side quests and dungeons to explore. Problem is the real good side quests require lots of devotion, something only the most lonely of nerds can do. The obligatory difficult secret bosses are difficult in the sense that level grinding and Materia grinding are required. The strategies required to defeat them are also very strict in that if you stray from a crucial option, you will be defeated. With the advent of the internet today, it's tempting to simply download a foolproof method of easily defeating the boss. It's cheap but given the difficult of the boss, it also feels like your only choice in defeating the boss. The rewards for defeating these bosses are also disappointing since they're only strong magic. But since you've defeated the strongest bosses already, these feel unnecessary. There are also other side quests in obtaining powerful magic and weapons but these options likewise require a great deal of investment. The quest that is required to obtain powerful magic and weapons to defeat the difficult bosses mentioned above is also tedious in itself and also very arduous to achieve success on your own. So you will likely consult a guide to help you. The problem is that solving side quests shouldn't require a guide to make them bearable.
So Final Fantasy VII really isn't all that special. It has a lot of flair and even now, its graphics and music can create a strangely enticing atmosphere despite their dated quality. But it has a ludicrous stupid storyline and the gameplay grows boring quickly.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 03/19/08, Updated 04/14/08
Game Release: Final Fantasy VII (US, 09/07/97)
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