Review by Halron2
"The real mystery in this game is Cloud’s hair."
I have to admit that I only played Final Fantasy VII quite a long time after its original release in 1997. Between that and the time I finally got my hands on it, in 1999 (I didn’t have a Playstation until that time), I read and heard so much about the game, and always such good reviews, that I was really itching to play it. I got it, played it, beat it and I was not disappointed. Well, actually I had expected more. But I had expected the greatest game of all times. After a while, I found out that many old-time gamers, fans of the series, didn’t like it as much as the previous Final Fantasy games. Now, having played all the other games, I can understand these people, but I heavily disagree with them.
Even if the first thing that caught attention in the game was the graphical prowess (for its time), its primary strength is the story and how it’s told. Differently from the SNES-era Final Fantasies, the story was about only one character, Cloud. Cloud is Final Fantasy VII. Of course, other characters have their importance, but they are important only because of their relation to Cloud. Thankfully, this character is probably the most contradictory, ambiguous and interesting character in any Final Fantasy game or perhaps even in the story of RPGs. He is the opposite of traditional RPG heroes, always so happy, talkative, confident and heroic. Cloud, on the contrary, starts out as a soulless mercenary and ends assuming his heroic part, but still in a contradictory way. What happens in between these extremes is the point of interest in this game. The changes, conflicts and challenges he goes through are more than anything, compelling. They make us want to come back to the game. Apart from that, all questions about his past and present are shown through highly original and perfectly timed storytelling mechanisms.
The rest of the cast, as I said before, revolves around Cloud. In that way, the greatest characters in the game, apart from him, are those that reveal his weaknesses or dilemmas. For instance, Tifa, who is the pivot of the famed love triangle in this game, Barret, who always defies Cloud’s character, reminding him all the time the question ‘why do you fight?’, or Sephiroth, who keeps Cloud going when nothing else makes sense. Apart from these, the characters tend to be weak: while Yuffie and Cait Sith mat inspire sympathy and Vincent and Red XIII have strong, imposing designs, none of them is more than unfulfilled promise. But, definitely, the worst character in the cast is Aeris, who goes against what the game is about, incorporating a kind of perfection that isn’t anywhere else in the game. I really can’t understand what people like so much about her. Her fate in the story may upset these fans, but it actually is the only possible solution. She doesn’t have a place in the world of Final Fantasy VII. In a way, the difference and contrast between her and the others is shown and explained during the story’s development, which anticipated what will happen to her.
Another major change in relation to the previous games in the series is the setting. The world this story takes place in is an extremely dark place. Because it is a dying place. Some fans of the series complain about it being futuristic (which isn’t valid, since Final Fantasy VI was already a mix of fantasy and high-tech), or as some say, lacking the ‘fantasy’ element, but you must see that the story calls for it. The theme of the game calls for it. More than that, the setting is done perfectly. It is done so that everything fits with every other aspect of the game. This world is huge, overdeveloped, urban, dirty and sometimes ugly. It almost reminds us of what our world could turn into. Apart from the quality of its design (not only visually) the setting of this game is also original, so we might say it’s one of the game’s strongest points.
The only aspect where the game lets me down is gameplay. Not that it is horribly bad (if it was, it wouldn’t be a great game), it just has a big share of faults that take away from the whole experience. The basis of Final Fantasy VII’s gameplay is excellent classic Final Fantasy, which means active time battle, huge summoned monsters, and other things. The changes they made on previous games, however, didn’t work so well in general. First, the materia system is one of the worst ability-learning systems I’ve ever seen. Because you can exchange the materia from one character to another at will, and given the fact that it’s not the character that learns the ability, but the materia itself that levels up, the cast of Final Fantasy VII loses their particular traces entirely. Besides, all combos and special strategies including materias require hours and hours of senseless leveling-up or cheating, two things I refuse to do. The only thing that remains unique about the characters is their Limit Breaks, another new element added in this game. Even if most Limits are nothing more than super-powerful attacks, and that you only use them once in a while, they are a fine addition, because, they define the characters gameplay-wise, that is, except for looks and plot. The most horrid aspect of this game’s gameplay, however, is the mini-games. Curses to the men who came up with Chrono Trigger’s terrible racing mini-game and more curses to the men who came up with all Final Fantasy VII mini-games. I won’t go into details, but I don’t have to: they are equally bad, they have really low gameplay and fun factors and they don’t add anything to the game. To make matters worse, you must play each at least once. The most revolting side-quest/mini-game in the game is chocobo breeding, which involves chocobo racing. I can’t believe people would spend hours ramming buttons in these races (there’s no ability involved) to breed chocobos and do it all over again. Overall, the gameplay is still enjoyable, but leaves a bad impression when compared to other games.
In the graphics department, the game was also groundbreaking. The first in the series to use 3D graphics for characters and monsters and pre-rendered backgrounds, it was a real feat for the time. People complain about the blocky and deformed characters, as if 2D characters were realistic, and they are actually right – but they can’t deny that the 3D graphics also brought much more variety to character designs and physical expressions, which added a lot of dramatic possibilities. Also, in combat, the characters look great, as do the monsters. The spells have beautiful visual effects and I couldn’t review the game without mentioning the summon animations, which were really something at that time. Also, worthy of mention are the FMV sequences, although they don’t reach the level of excellence achieved in the next in the series. However, the most exciting thing about the game’s graphics are the backgrounds. Mostly breathtaking, they sometimes require that you stop playing and take a look at them. The visual design of Final Fantasy VII is also impressive, bringing to images the sad, tragic feel of the story. After playing Final Fantasy VIII, this game’s graphics don’t cause as much of a shock as it did back then, but they still a landmark and they command respect.
The music of the game is also pretty different from past work of composer Nobuo Uematsu, who had done all other soundtracks in the series up to this point. In this game, he starts to leave behind his epic, grandiose, fantastic and catchy style, in favor of something of a more laid-back, intimate, climatic nature. The music carries the same tragic feel as the visuals and story, making the whole feel of the game coherent. It should be noted, however, that not all the games music follows this moody style and some of them are in the same vein of previous games (for instance, new mixes of old songs, like the chocobo theme). The music that embodies this transitory state in which the soundtrack fits is the world map theme, or Final Fantasy VII Main Theme, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written for a game. Apart from the difference from older formats (which also caused heavy complaints from old fans of the series), the music in Final Fantasy VII is actually one of the best-written soundtracks in gaming history. It is true that some of the more moody numbers fail to impress, but most themes are really memorable, specially when you’re playing the game. It could be said that the music here is really fitting, really adequate. The only downside in the soundtrack is the sound quality, which didn’t make such a leap from the previous game in the series. But it doesn’t get in the way.
Overall, I could say Final Fantasy VII is the best game in the series. It does have a good number of flaws, but as a whole it contains one of the strongest concepts ever featured in a game and a story that is really compelling. The fact that a lot of old fans didn’t accept the changes it offered for the series is understandable, but it warns us of the danger that closes minded people offer not only to gaming, but to any form of art.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/10/02, Updated 06/10/02
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