Review by Garbol Shora

"In the end, gamers will always return to the world's most breathtaking and most astounding RPG of the series, 'Final Fantasy VII'..."

Synopsis
Final Fantasy VII, in an analogy, is a rare gem, because it shines so brightly over the other RPGs and sets the standard. Squaresoft's famous RPG of Final Fantasy now cascades to the PS2 with Final Fantasy X, and two previous installments - Final Fantasy IX and VII also proceed to creating 3-d realistic fantasy worlds. However, one must consider the game that started the 3d wonders, Final Fantasy VII.

As Squaresoft continues releasing new Final Fantasies, one realizes that it is still 'Final Fantasy VII' that deserves most respect - it may not be simply the gameplay, or the graphic improvements or the audio quality, but it is because it creates a milestone mark to all RPGs with its combination of beautiful story presentation and the large step Square has taken with the Final Fantasy series.

Gameplay Elements:
It is 2002 and Final Fantasy has changed in various ways. Three installments of Final Fantasy have already been spun out of Square's finger, soon becoming four - since the release of Final Fantasy 7. While Square has managed to top the graphics and achieved so much in presentation, it has yet to top the milestone that Final Fantasy VII set.

Final Fantasy VII creates a whole innovative part of gameplay that raises character's levels. This, being called 'Materia'. Materia is finely integrated into the mesh of the FFVII story plot, and it becomes one of the most innovative areas of gameplay. As gamers begin to gain armor and weapons, several slots are available for these materias to be inputted. The materia, itself, is a piece of magic or force energy that grants the inherited the ability to perform the magic within the materia. These materias, once put into armor and weapons, become a powerful force to reckon with. Strangely enough, these pieces of materia will wither a small portion of the character's Hit Points (HP), Strength and whatever other that might hamper the character's statistics, creating a sense of caution of whether too much materia will hinder the character's life. Fortunately, while the character's HP withers, Magic Points (MP) will substantially rise, being able to cast more spells despite the lack of health. This becomes a strategic element of gameplay, as to whether a character needs magical advantage or a physical prowess. As one begins to collect more and more materia, it becomes essential to use them to raise their level capability.

Each materia has several levels, each growing level determining stronger, better and increased potency of that certain materia. As this is determined through how much Ability Points (AP) the materia gains, gamers must participate frequently in random battles to slowly increase the ability points until the materia has become stronger. There are many materia types in this game, ranging from Magic Materia, to Support Materia, to Independent Materia. Some Materias help support or enhance the ability of magic materia, and ultimately grants the user a more efficient way to win the battle. This deep mechanism called 'materia' becomes integral to the gamer's achievement in Final Fantasy VII, and ultimately, becomes one of the simplest and yet, complex gameplay in the Final Fantasy series.

As character's battle, they will gain experience points and ability points. The aforementioned ability points help increase the potency of the materia, while experience points become the major importance of a character's growth. When experience points reach their peak, a character will increase one level, to a maximum of 99, slowly inheriting better health, mana and so forth. Both criterias are inherited through many victories through battle.

Probably an idea that should've been very well encouraged, is the excellent use of interface and easy movement. Square grants the gamer the chance to see where your character is, and where your destination is, directed by red arrows. This little design makes for extremely easy movement and makes the RPG world so much easier to move in.

Limit Breaks are balanced in a much more linear fashion and in a way so that character's cannot use Limit Breaks excessively. Limit Breaks, are basically when a character reaches a limit of force, waiting to be unleashed with a special attack that enormously aids characters. Interestingly enough, one can only use 2 Limit Breaks out of seven at a given time. This is due to 'levels', ranging from Level 1 to Level 4, Level four being usually the strongest Limit. The Limit bar increases once a character becomes injured, until it is filled up completely, which is when a character is granted an almost immediate chance to perform the limit. Because a character can only use 2 Limit Breaks (2 Attacks for levels 1 to 3, and 1 special attack for level 4, gamers will need to set the Limit Break Level in dependence to what Limit Break s/he finds best.

The previously mentioned issues of materia and the disadvantages of some (not all) are compensated through the ability to decide whether a character fights in a front line or the back line of the battle. This means, that while the front line attackers are better suited for fighting, they are also more vulnerable to attacks from the foes as well. This becomes the opposite for back line attackers, as they cannot melee well at all from the back, but can use magic spells easily while becoming less susceptible to powerful attacks. Square also makes it possible for 'long range' weapons such as guns and the like to perform just as well in the front and back line due to how such weapons are utilized in battle. As well, characters can escape from most battles (exception being the boss battles) if they find that the enemy is gaining the advantage.

As all Final Fantasy RPGs will offer, is an extremely large plethora of sidequests. Basically, sidequests are small quests that characters can do optionally that usually do not impact the story greatly. Sidequests are more or less mini games, missions and the like to raise character's abilities and discover new and powerful entitities, be it secret materia or a powerful enemy. With these missions, hardcore gamers can feel accomplishments through these small, optional things while the more casual character can pass through these tidbits if they don't feel like doing it. Final Fantasy VII itself offers many things from raising chocobos (birds of Final Fantasy), advancing in the Gold Saucer Arcade centre, leveling up, fighting secret enemies and discovering unique items and materia. Little extras such as these are welcome in any Final Fantasy, and Final Fantasy VII offers many things to fulfill any type of gamer!

The series of Final Fantasy have now more or less impressed the casual gamers more than the faithful hardcore RPG veterans with its concentration to graphical expertise. While both ways, Square doesn't lose, it seems that Final Fantasy VII is the only actual game that accomplishes in enticing hardcore and casual gamers with excellent gameplay, and it just may be the only Final Fantasy that gains so much success. 10/10

Visual Presentation:
The leap of visual improvements from Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII is truly amazing, and becomes one of the most anticipated aspects of Final Fantasy VII back then. The graphics, for the first time, was 3D, and characters and environments never looked better! While Final Fantasy VI was more or less miniature cartoon figures, the characters from Final Fantasy VII grew in height, walked in a realistic environment and had more pixels than one can count. This was an astounding achievement for Square, and was the first game to integrate 3D in its series... ever! CGs were breathtaking, adorable and unbelievably well animated, and were extremely well constructed. However, the only negative aspect that can be said at this date, is how deformed the hands of the characters were. In short - they weren't hands, but more or less blocks. Fortunately, this was only visible in the field, and actual fingers were shown in the battle scenes. Ah yes, the battle scenes and animations are as of now, still excellent and impressive. It has been many years, and the battle scenes have never disappointed.

The best thing Square has achieved in visual presentation, is the way they designed the characters, reflecting their personality. Square has always achieved this, through Final Fantasy VI to Final Fantasy X. As well, it is still worth mentioning that the design was astounding. Timid characters such as the beautiful Aeris is adorned with soft pink and vibrant red, reflecting the character well. Bright and outgoing girls like Yuffie and Tifa have more playful clothing, and are less formal than Aeris. Red XIII is... a red dog that actually becomes the most intelligent of the party. Little bits of design such as these make the character design something to notice.

The vast worlds that have now been eliminated from the PS2 RPGs are more than welcome in Final Fantasy VII (for PS, mind you!) and the vast and large worlds becoming the fun part of the entire experience. While towns are few and far between, they are large in scale as there are plenty of rooms to explore and ransack, take items and find little pieces of goodies that make visual presentation so elaborately done.

Despite the graphic beauties that are released now, the improvements do not even compare to how well Final Fantasy VII was presented from its predecessors. It improved in EVERYTHING, there absolutely no flaw in the new making, as it up-scaled everything that Final Fantasy VI showed. EVERYTHING was better, EVERYTHING was 3D and people could NOT complain at that time. Final Fantasy VII, in short, was more than good, it was marvelous! 10/10

Audio Presentation:
The composer of Final Fantasy, Nobuo Uematsu has been composing many musical pieces for the Final Fantasy series for some time, and he is still showing off his excellent compositions. In particular, he makes great use of dark and gloomy pieces for Final Fantasy VII as its theme is not at all comedic. The majority of the musical presentation needs to be good, as most often, voices are non-existent and sound effects are abrupt. In short, the bulk of Final Fantasy VII's audio presentation is music. But how does it fare? Nobuo Uematsu has never done better! He uses the new and improved audio of Final Fantasy VII and makes bettter orchestrated pieces, creating a much more serious environment and making gamers realize the intentions of that certain scene. As Final Fantasy is a story-telling game, it is integral for music to set the mood. Nobuo Uematsu never fails to impress in this criteria, and makes gorgeous songs using strings, brass and the like. It is perfect, and a song to note, Aeris' theme creates a vibrant and hopeful tune that becomes one of the few lulling melodies of Final Fantasy VII.

In terms of excitement and tension in battle music, it again becomes a tedious one. The music itself is very well constructed, but as one can run through over 1000 random battles, 1000 repetitions of the said song is not at all a very welcoming tune. Nevertheless, Final Fantasy VII makes exciting melodies in these areas, and in terms of audio, will never fail as long as Nobuo Uematsu composes!

Music is perfectly integrated to gameplay, story and visual presentation, the three other criterias that become vital to an RPG's success. While some songs can be tedious, the majority is breathtaking and will keep you humming for days! 10/10

Story and Composition:
Final Fantasy VII is known to be the story with the most spoils in it, the most shockers, and the most moving areas of composition. The story, itself, can become confusing and strange, but near the end, the composition becomes magnificent and things become pieced in together so well that it comes to a shock at various points of the game. The story basically revolves around the planet, its corruption and evil entities that attempt to either wither or destroy the planet itself. The story puts in many themes from tragedy to love to friendship, and places them in areas where it needs them most. While in the beginning, things start off slow and seem to be amiss, things progress extremely well and many plotholes are filled in all at once. This, however, does not mean that some plotholes are answered. Final Fantasy VII comes with many spoils and shockers, but the plotholes become an inevitable issue.

Even as the story is ended and one feels fulfilled with the ending, many questions arise from the overall story. Little or big, the questions need to be answered, and ultimately becomes somewhat an anxious or frustrating issue. Square could've used some touching up in terms of filling some questions, but overall, it succeeds in creating an extremely sophisticated plot.

The dialogue itself is nicely done, as characters speak as gamers would expect them too. Barret, the large and gruff 35 yr. old man often speaks in frustration and sometimes lets obscenities come out of him. Aeris, the gentle princesss-figure speaks elegantly and sometimes in a flirtatious manner, portraying the joy and hope. Red XIII, the red wolf-like creature speaks in a very intelligent way and ultimately makes his dialogue the most interesting read. Yuffie, the 16 year old ninja's mannerism portray ignorance and immaturity.

With the characters in Final Fantasy VII, you will laugh with them, cry with them, be angry with them and ultimately feel like they are right beside you. Once the story ends, it will seem like you have met several new people, and ultimately becomes an excellent accomplishment on Square's behalf, despite the plotholes that linger. 8/10

Replayability and Extras:
This criteria becomes the biggest nuisance for any RPG. But in this respect, it is determined through how much sidequests and little extras that stray off from the story it offers. As mentioned before in the Gameplay Elements, Final Fantasy VII allows you to discover many little tidbits of gaming that make it so fun. One can catch chocobos and raise them as they would for little pets, feeding them, taking them out for exercise (well, races, actually), and raising them to be healthy and extremely fit. Fighting optional enemies can lead to your death, but can also lead to an amazing accomplishment. These little optional extras make Final Fantasy so fulfilling, and ultimately delivers.

Making for so many things to unlock, so many things to see and so many things to get, it is extremely hard not to recommend Final Fantasy VII. It is excellent in every way and excels in giving and offering. So much comes out of these 3 discs, and the extras seem to appear almost unlimited. 9/10

Conclusion
Final Fantasy VII will forever be the milestone of RPGs in general. Final Fantasy VII has already put its PS, PS2 and SNES counterparts to shame. When all the graphical hype ends, Final Fantasy VII offers beautiful music to get hooked on, and when that ends, Final Fantasy VII offers exciting and intense gameplay that allows endless customization, and when that ends, Final Fantasy VII will give sidequests that will keep you going for days on end... and when that ends, you realize that you have just completed one of the best RPGs that has ever been published... ever!

Anyone who is even remotely interested in this genre must go out of their way to play Final Fantasy VII. It hits the target red-on. Final Fantasy may never improve as much as the 7th did... and too many, the 7th one is always lucky!

Final Fantasy VII set the milestone for everything that has passed and everything to come. It will be difficult for Square to achieve what they did on Final Fantasy VII, but nevertheless, they will continue producing games that skyrocket in success. In the end, gamers will always return to the world's most breathtaking and most astounding RPG of the series, 'Final Fantasy VII'...

How it all adds up!
(average is determined through the importance of the criteria)
Gameplay Elements: 10/10
Visual Presentation: 10/10
Audio Presentation: 10/10
Story and Composition: 8/10
Replayability and Extras: 9/10
Final Score: 10


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/24/02, Updated 02/09/03


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