Review by Dark Forte
"A good game, though the weakest among the PSX FInal Fantasies"
Let me say before everything: Final Fantasy VII is perhaps the most overrated game in the history of gaming. I do like it a lot, but it gets much more love than it deserves, having spun more sequels, prequels and spin-offs than any other Final Fantasy game, all of them pretty mediocre, just to cash on the fanboys yelling to the world that "FFVII is the best thing ever!". I am of the belief that they act this way because it was their first RPG, and people tend to have fond opinions of the "first things". Anyway, this review is not to judge the gamers, but actually the game, so let's get started:
---'This guy are sick!'---
The story of the game is groundbreaking, not because it is any good, but rather because it brings an idea different from the then-standard RPG fare. While RPGs at the time were based on a middle-age world, with kingdoms, princesses, gallant warriors and thieves, FFVII brought forth a cyberpunk, apocalyptic society, in a world commanded by an evil company, which drains energy from the Planet and uses it to power society.
It starts with the main character, Cloud Stirfe, doing a job for AVALANCHE, a terrorist group engaged on destroying Shin-Ra inc, the evil corporation. They destroy a Mako Reactor, which is a machine which draws energy from the departed souls of the planet and sells it to the public. Then, after a series of events, the main characters end up forgetting about Shin-Ra, and pursuing an old friend of Cloud's, Sephiroth. There are a lot of plot twists, all really dull and foreseeable for hours before they actually happen.
Nevertheless, the plot is extremely convoluted, and not in the good way, given that it complicates things just for the sake of it, thus creating various plotholes the avid fans try to fill in, because nothing is fully explained by the game, which simply jumps from a poor plot twist to an even poorer one, without even explaining the first one. I wasn't expecting a Shakespearean tragedy, but given all the hype the plot receives, with people saying it is moving and passionate, I expected more than just that.
However, even a bad and overly convoluted story can be saved by a nice cast of characters, who catch the attention of the player and grow as the plot goes on, right? Problem is, in Final Fantasy VII, it just doesn't happen! We are presented with a bunch of mindless drones, who are totally one-track-minded, and whose only purpose in life is to bring more attention to Cloud, the one and only character of the game. You see, it works like this: Cloud once worked with Shin-Ra, in a genetic engineering program called SOLDIER (it does not stand for anything, just like AVALANCHE), and somehow, the work done to him there made him into a psychotic with a multiple personality disorder, who, throughout the game, tries to find himself. He also passes put with no reason at times in the game, when he tries to remember his past, something nobody seems to realize, or even care for.
The problem with the cast is, that though there are ten characters in the game, ranging from a hottie with breasts bigger than her head to a cat-robot mounted on a giant moogle, only two matter to the plot: Cloud and Sephiroth. To sum it up: You are not going to keep playing it for its story. To make it even worse, the localization from Japanese was done really badly, to the point where a sentence like "This guy are sick" is found in a passage.
---Oooh, 3d! Cooooooool... Or not---
The graphics, from a modern point of view, are terrible, even though it seemed like the most beautiful thing since Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa in '97. There are three categories of graphics: Full motion videos, which, even by today's standards, look pretty, though somewhat pixelated, are the best part, and comprise roughly a tenth of the game's graphics. The game's most relevant scenes are shown from this perspective, with well-defined models, backgrounds and whatnot. The first passage of the game is like this, and it makes you believe something of great beauty is to come... or maybe not, since the out-of-battle models are extremely ugly and blocky, not to mention unpleasant to look at.
The transition between the FMV and the actual game scared me. The characters' ankles are thin lines, while the feet are enormous. Ditto for the arms, with gigantic block-shoulders and block-hands, and thin line-arms. The designers tried to compensate the lack of detail by putting obvious, glaring characteristics, like Cloud's blond, Dragonball-Z-ish spiky hair. Even worse are the attempts to hide this from the player, as only rarely full frontal close shots of the characters are shown, and most of the time, you see your characters from a mile away.
Thankfully, the in-battle graphics compensate for this, being colourful and more detailed, though normal spells could look better, and the most powerful of them even look lame, like Ultima and Flare. The summons, however, are full of eyecandy. This is rendered moot by the fact that have extremely long animations, and you will feel tempted not to use them just not to waste your time. One of them, Knights of the Round, takes exactly 1'25'' as I counted. That is more than enough time to go to the bathroom, make yourself a sandwich, eat it, then go out, meet a girl, marry her and have two kids. It just takes too damn long, and after your second casting, you won't use it unless in case of extreme necessity (like a boss which almost requires you to use it ten times).
Despite my harsh criticism of the graphics, once you get used to the blockiness of the world, it stops getting in the way of your fun, and lets you enjoy the gameplay to its fullest, so it becomes a non-issue.
---'Estuans interius, ira vehementi, Estuans interius, ira vehementi, Sephiroth!'---
The soundtrack, however, is a completely different story. I tried hard to find but one bad song, one unsatisfactory song, and failed miserably. This is among Nobuo Uematsu's finest works, standing right by FFVI and FFIX's side (though the latter is a tier above all video game music). There is a great variety of songs, drastic, energetic, sad, everything is here. There are two tracks here that are simply the best in the game: 'Aeris' theme' and 'One Winged Angel', that I passionately quoted above.
Aeris' theme is a mellow composition, which can drive the most sensitive to tears by itself, not to mention it appears in the most emotional scenes in the game. One Winged Angel is Sephiroth's theme, and is really long, and reminiscent (at least to me) of Mozart's Queen of the Night aria. In other words: Awesome. It would be worth looking at FFVII's soundtrack just for that, but the other songs in the game also blend in perfectly with the atmosphere.
---The power of Materia---
Now we are getting to the good part, If the story and the graphics aren't inspiring at all, the fun you get for playing it more than makes up for it. It is, like most Final Fantasies, built upon two modes: in batte and out of battle. When not fighting, you wander around, talk to people, inspect things, open chests, the ordinary RPG fare. When in battle, each of the three characters you command has a bar attached to it, that fills gradually. When the bar fills, you can use the character. This system is called the ATB, and has been in FFs since FFV, from where it comes almost unchanged. That's for the basics of the system. Now for its singularities.
Every FF has had its magic and abilities acquired in a different way. In FFVII, we have materia. Materia are condensed planet energy balls, which can be put in your weapons and armor, the number depends. When equipped, materia gets AP (though some stronger weapons do not grant AP to the materia equipped in them) in battles, which they use to level up and grow new abilities. Example: the Restore materia has, at level 1, the Cure ability. If you level it up to level 2, which takes 2500 AP, it will also have Cure 2.
Materia comes in various types: Magic materia, which lets you use spells, summon materia, which lets you summon beasts to attack, command materia, which grant the use of other abilities, such as Steal and Manipulate, support materia, which adds effects to other materia, such as hitting all enemies, or restoring some HP when used, and independent materia, which boost stats.
The system allows for various combos and combinations, for an example: The Restore materia can only be used on one character at a time, but, when joined with the All materia, it can be used on all characters for a set number of times. Combining the materia to find the most effective combos for each area can be a fun task, and rewarding.
As for the difficulty, the main story by itself is pretty easy to complete, the final boss being beatable at really low levels, with little trouble. But don't frown upon the game, hardcore players, because FFVII also has its share of near-impossible tasks. Near the end of the game, two 'superbosses' can be fought, the weakest of them having ten times the health points of the final boss. Killing them will use every ounce of strategy to devise a mean of winning, as there are even more restrictions in place. In one fight, you have 20 minutes to kill it, and in the other, the boss starts by killing two party members, making the devising of strategies even harder.
There are also numerous minigames you can play, though 90 percent of them actually suck. The problem here is, most of the annoying minigames are compulsory, which detracts somehow from the overall experience, given you will have to try myriads of times before progressing just because of a badly-designed game. Thankfully, you only have to play the majority of them one time to forget that you have ever done so,
Despite all the (anti-)hype by both fanboys and haters, I say FFVII is a solid game, though not without its flaws. Though it won't give you orgasms while playing, it is a satisfying experience. The thing that ruins it the most to a lot of people is the fact that they come expecting the best game ever. Don't fall for that, and you will have some solid 60 hours of fun and playing.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/04/08
Game Release: Final Fantasy VII (US, 09/03/97)
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