Review by Psycho Penguin
""This is it.""
The stars start to come out from beneath the dense air of the night sky. The camera pans around the entire area, showing a magestic view of a grand city. The words ''Final Fantasy VII'' are shown, displayed prominently in the logo of the game. The camera then swoops down, where a moving train is shown. As the train pulls into the station, a mercenary, formerly of the group SOLDIER, runs off the train. You have the chance to name him. After naming him, he encounters a group of soldiers. Were they also from SOLDIER? You win the battle, and then move forward. Soon, your mission will become clear: you need to stop a Mako Reactor from exploding.
From the very instant you start up the game, you will be mesmerized by the grandeur of Final Fantasy 7. To call it an incredible game would be the understatement of a lifetime. It is perhaps the greatest video game to ever be made. It is certainly my personal favorite. For every minor complaint, there are ten awesome qualities. This is definitely the pinnacle of Squaresoft as a company. They went downhill from here, but they were building up for a truly special game. They delivered it in stunning fashion.
Cloud, the main protagonist of the epic story, is searching to find out who he really is. Throughout the game, he will find out many shocking things about himself. Many lead him, and the player, to believe that he isn't who he seems to be. However, throughout it all, Cloud will barely lose faith in himself or in who he is. He wavers from time to time, but he always has someone there to back him up in his faith, even if she knows it may not be entirely true. The underlying theme of trust, devotion, and friendship may be hidden beneath all the other affairs, but it is a true testament to the quality of the storyline.
Cloud's childhood friend, Tifa, appealed to many as the game's most well developed character. And yes, that is a pun. Regardless of her physical attributes, as you will learn many times along the course of the gaming experience, Tifa is a loyal and honorable person who always puts friends ahead of herself. She knows things that make things very confusing for a special someone in her life, but she refuses to believe what everyone says about the person. She will always be near the center of attention, but for good reason.
When Cloud first starts up his mission, he meets a head member of the group AVALANCHE, a support station out to destroy the manical Shinra Corporation from taking over the planet. AVALANCHE also hates SOLDIER, where Cloud is from. Therefore, this leads to some early tension between the two. In addition to the three main characters, there is an extremely well rounded supporting cast of characters. From the senile Cid to the genetic specimen Red XIII, the characters are all featured in the story prominently. Unlike Final Fantasy 6, each character has their own story, and therefore feels important and vital to the storyline. Squaresoft definitely spent valuable time plotting out the characters, and their hard work paid off.
What are all the characters here for? Cloud ends up joining the team of AVALANCHE, who are out to put an end to the sinister plans of the Shinra Corporation. Shinra plans on using the energy of Mako Reactors to suck away energy from the world. AVALANCHE wants to stop Shinra. Soon, they will realize that all is not what it seems. Sephiroth, who is Cloud's mentor and hero, has decided he wants to take over the Promised Land, a land viewed as legend. However, the party meets up with an Ancient. What is an Ancient? Basically, the Ancients hold the key to the Promised Land. There is only one surviving Ancient, so Sephiroth needs to capture the Ancient in order for his plan to work.
As you progress through the game, the storyline gets so intense and twisted, that I can not possibly describe it in words. You just need to experience it for yourself. It is a true epic, one that could have very easily been a novel. The party faces tense situations, dramatic escapes, and more. The characters also develop very nicely, more so than any other role playing game I have ever played. Cloud starts off totally different than how he ends up, and it's because of many reasons. The interaction between Sephiroth and the party is so well scripted. Sephiorth is truly evil, more so than you will ever imagine. Therefore, the player will want to see Sephiorth defeated. The storyline is legendary, and will probably never be topped.
Some detractors of this incredible game claim Squaresoft used a lot of storyline in an attempt to ''shadow'' the gameplay flaws of the game. That is an incredibly lunatic statement, especially since Final Fantasy 7 is the best playing RPG of all time. The battles are fun and exciting, the magic system forces you to think a lot, and setting up your characters is a lot of fun. The game seems complex at first, but once you get into it, you will discover it is simple and a whole lot of fun. The gameplay is ten times better than the engrossing storyline, so to call the storyline a ''gameplay barrier'' is nuts.
When I first heard the battle theme and experienced the joys of the wondrous battle system, I knew I was in for a real treat for the rest of the game. Final Fantasy 7 uses the Active Time Battle system found in a lot of other role playing games, but none come as close to using it as well as this game does. The battles move quick, and are pretty intense. You have a lot of options in battle, and you can customize your characters to have an extreme amount of battle options.
When you get into a battle, the characters and enemies will appear. In the bottom of the screen, there is a blue box. On the left hand side of the box, your name appears, and next to it is a box with two lines. The top line is your physical barrier time meter, if you put up a barrier spell. The line below it is your magic barrier time meter. To the right is your time meter, then next to that is your limit break meter.
Limit Breaks are one of the main innovations Squaresoft brought to the table. Each time your character gets hit by an enemy, their limit meter gets a little higher. Once the limit meter fills up, you have a chance to use a Limit Break on your next attack. The character goes into a fit of rage, and their time meter will fill up a lot quicker. You can choose from one of two Limit Breaks on the Limit Level that you are on. As you fulfill certain requirements, like killing a set amount of enemies, you gain a new Limit Break. Each Limit Break is different, and each have their advantages and drawbacks.
Right when you get bored with the basics of going through a dungeon and fighting random battles, Squaresoft surprises you by throwing a mini game in the way. For instance, when you are trying to escape from Midgar, you suddenly take control of some motorcycles, and ride down a highway, avodiing enemies on motorcycles on your way to your goal. There is also a snowboarding mini game which is a lot of fun. If you enjoyed the superb mini games, you can always replay them time and time again at the Gold Saucer later on in the game.
The most talked about new element introduced to Final Fantasy 7 was the interesting materia system. While some dislike the complexity of it, I enjoyed the new gameplay twists that the system brought with it. For instance, now you no longer can just use your strongest weapons throughout the game. Each weapon has a certain amount of materia slots and materia growth. The more materia slots you have on your weapon and armor, the more materia you can equip. Each materia has a certain usage. When you equip a materia, your starts will change, but you will gain a new spell or skill. As you gain AP from battles, each of your materia gain AP, and when they gain enough AP, they go up a level. Some weapons allow you to earn double materia growth, while some offer no growth at all.
I really loved this, as it added a whole new degree of strategy to the game. Do you want to use a weapon with 77 attack power that has 4 materia slots and 1 growth, or a weapon with 63 attack power but has 6 materia slots and 2 growth? The player has to make decisions like this throughout the game. The materia system is definitely one of the crown jewels of Final Fantasy 7. It is the single best magic and ability system Squaresoft has ever implemented into a Final Fantasy game. Some would argue for the Espers system, but materia is essentially an upgraded version of the Esper system.
All of the awesome gameplay elements wouldn't mean anything if the controls prevented you from doing anything. Fortunately, the control system in Final Fantasy 7 is perfect. Rarely will you have any problems doing what you want in battle. The menu system is very easy to sift through, no matter how complicated it originally seems.
Accompanying the riveting gameplay is the most spectacular soundtrack Squaresoft has ever put together. With music inspired by one of the most influential composers in the video game industry, Nobou Uematsu, your ears will be treated to some of the grandest music you will ever hear. From the heart-pounding boss theme to the wide array of incredible character themes, you will rarely be disappointed with the music. I especially loved the battle theme, which is one of the best I have ever heard. You'll never grow tired of it, which is good, since you will be hearing it a lot. The sound effects are also top notch, although most of them will be in battle. I loved the music so much, I rushed out and purchased the soundtrack off eBay, and listen to it a lot.
Unlike that abomination Final Fantasy 8, the appeal of Final Fantasy 7 is not realistic looking characters or stunning backgrounds. Instead, Squaresoft chose a more low-key look for this game, with deformed characters and goofy pre-rendered backgrounds. Regardless, the game blew many away when it was first released, and the graphics still look awe-inspiring today. The graphics during battle are not wonderful, but outside of battle, you will be amazed with the amount of detail. Little details like blood stained floors and dogs chasing balls don't really add much to the graphics, but they definitely add a little bit of visual flavor to an appealing game.
As grand as Final Fantasy 7 is, there are faults to be found. While being few and far between, and while they do not take a lot away from the game, they are still there. For one, the storyline gets really confusing, really quickly. You basically need to take notes of everything to piece together every little detail. That comes more from Squaresoft's immense attention to detail than any central flaw, but it is still troublesome. And the story also features some little plot holes that never get resolved. Regardless, the storyline is still excellent. It is flawed, however.
The gameplay also has some basic issues. Many of the bosses are really easy. For instance, you have to face a short, fat, and bald man named Palmer in the middle of the game. He dies in about three hits. A lot of the bosses in the game, especially ones who are associated with the Turks, are like this. While some are very challenging, some are very easy. There is definitely a lack of boss challenge stability in the game. Also, some of the mini games border on retarded. I never liked the submarine battles to begin with, so making it a mini game was a questionable decision. However, I am sure some people will like different mini games than I do.
Despite the few flaws, you will want to play this game time and time again. I have completed this game 5 times in 2 years. For a 45-50 hour game, that is quite a lot of game completions. I have spent more time on this game than any other game I have ever played. There are a ton of secrets and side quests, from getting all the Ultimate Weapons and Limit Breaks, to fighting the Weapons, that you will want to keep playing. Chocobo breeding is something I never got into, but it adds a good 4 to 6 hours of replay value alone. This is a game where you will want to play it over and over again, and will want to spend a lot of time on each game experience. Works for me.
As I previously mentioned, the fluctuation in challenge level of the bosses is questionable. Regardless, the game is still pretty challenging at first. Once you complete it, you will find your second time through relatively harmless. Perhaps the game's biggest flaw is, just like any other role playing game (except one, Lunar), the higher your character's levels are, the easier the game is. Add to this ther riduclous power materia can get for you in a short period of time, and you may be able to breeze through the latter portions of the game. However, the final bosses will provide a decent challenge no matter what, since they have some tricks up their sleeves.
How can I sum up an epic game like this any more than by calling it the best of all time? Final Fantasy 7 is the single handed most complete role playing game ever released. Not only is it the most revered role playing game of all time (it helped changed the fortune of the genre forever in North America), it's also the best. My personal favorite game of all time, Final Fantasy 7 has everything needed to be a great game and more. An engrossing storyline featuring a truly sinister final boss and more plot twists than a week of soap operas, an orgasmic graphical style, inspiring music, enthralling gameplay, and legendary characters.
As the Final Fantasy X commercial says at the end, ''This is it''. This is it. The greatest game ever created. Squaresoft has done me proud.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 04/24/00, Updated 03/15/02
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