Review by Mariner
"A massive game calls for a massive review, I guess."
When it comes to hyped up games, you will often get a polarizing effect amongst the people who play it. Most will call it the most perfect game ever, while a select few will claim the game is absolute rubbish and not worth touching. And these people have every right to believe so, of course. But why is it that there are so few people, or at least so few reviews from people, who enjoyed the game, thought it was cool and fun and all that, but didn’t really see it as excellent? To me, FFVII is a great example of this. I thoroughly enjoyed the game despite its faults and my own personal complaints.
The birth of the pretty boy FF hero begins here with Cloud, a mercenary for hire with a defiant, uncaring attitude. He teams up with an environmental terrorist group trying to put an end to the evil corporation Shinra, which is bleeding the planet dry. He does it mostly for money, partly for a childhood friend, and partly because he hates Shinra, despite once being a part of it. Along the way he meets a kind flower girl who is captured by Shinra, and he feels obligated to rescue her. Yet more evil things are afoot, as Sephiroth, an old war hero, sneaks into Shinra HQ and steals the mysterious Jenova, along with the necessary killing of lots of people. Cloud has a score to settle with Sephiroth, and the team sets out in search of him. And they better hurry too, as Sephiroth is attempting to summon Meteor, creating a blast so large it threatens the very planet itself. And, as usual, it’s up to these heroes to save the world.
This game gets a ton of praise for the story (which is so much more than described above), and for good reason. It is definitely one of the more detailed and well thought out plotlines out there. Sure, it starts out rather simply, then moves to confusing and disjointed, but don’t worry. After a few hours, the Avalanche plot takes a back seat, and the Sephiroth plot begins. And a few hours after that, you’ll start to see that Sephiroth and Cloud are much stranger, and the plot much more important, than what you expected. The game actually manages to surprise you, giving you bizarre plot twists that leave you confused (especially the Cloud/Sephiroth scenes on disk 1), but are perfectly credible in retrospect. It does manage to grow on you, keeping you interested throughout, at the very least, disks 1 and 2. Sure, it starts to break down a bit on disk 3, but that’s merely because all the questions have been answered by then. You understand Sephiroth, you’ve done your business with Shinra, you know Cloud’s character and Aeris’ role, all that’s left is to save the world. Some may not like the story, but you cannot deny it is one of the more complex and deep storylines in the less than stellar track record of video games plots.
I do have one gripe though, and it’s a doozy. Too many key elements of the plot are hidden away from the main storyline, accessible only by returning to key locations later in the game. There is no reference to do this, and no reason why one would consider returning to these places. Thus, lots of people, including myself, won’t even know about it while playing the game, which leaves gaping holes in the plot. What happened after the Nibelhelm incident, both to the town itself and to Cloud? And who or what exactly is Jenova, and what is her connection, if any, to the Ancients? These are significant and should have been included in the main plot. But they weren’t, and we are left quite confused because of it. Bad move Square.
Characterization is mostly positive. Cloud is one of the more interesting character’s I’ve ever seen. How often do you get a hero who needs psychiatric treatment? Yes, Cloud’s past really messed with his mind, and watching him sort it all out is rather entertaining and, just as important, believable (in the whole fantasy/sci-fi mindset, of course). Tifa comes off as just as strong of a character, supporting Cloud as best as she can throughout the whole game. Their relationship is even more impressive when you consider it’s not the traditional hokey love story games usually have. The biggest surprise was Red XIII, my personal favorite. He slowly but steadily is built up as probably the most realistic character in the game. Square’s ability to subtly mold Red into the person he is rivals their character direction in FF6, and was definitely one of the most pleasant surprises this game gave me.
That’s not to say all the characters were overly spiffy. It’s surprising to think that one of the least impressive characters was none other than Sephiroth. It seems like Square skimped a bit on making him actually a worthy villain, and nobody notices because of one single (albeit perfectly legitimate) reason: he looks cool. And so Square just gives us stuff like seeing how he became that way, killing a few people, and messing with Cloud's mind, but without really giving a decent explanation as to why. I have nothing against shallow villains per se (just look at Kefka), but Cloud’s quest here is very personal. When you’re going after a person (as opposed to an idea like, say, saving the world), you had better make darn sure that person is a worthwhile character, and Sephiroth, sad to say, isn’t.
Aeris was also shafted. Perhaps it’s merely because Square didn’t have enough time to work with her, but she just felt like a plot device as opposed to a character. Her life is very disjointed, her mannerisms vary widely, and many of the scenes just don’t sound believable (like, say, her date in the gold saucer).
I don’t mind the other characters that much, as they are minor. However, Cid irks me, mainly because I despise the sledgehammer style characterization of past events shaping a person that Square uses depressingly too often. I laughed through his “tragic” backstory, because it was so lame. Barret’s flashbacks were pretty worthless too, although on the whole his character wasn’t too bad.
But enough about the story. Let’s talk about the game. It’s your typical FF game, which means you go from town to town doing sidequests and stuff and getting into random battles. I would hope most of you know that by now. The two main additions to the battles are materia and limit breaks. Every time you get hit, your limit meter increases a bit, and when it’s full you can unleash one heckuva blast. Materia is a combination magicite/relics/skills/class/ everything from previous FFs. Your weapon and armor each have a certain amount of materia slots in them, which you can fill with all sorts of goodies. Some allow you to cast magic, some let you summon uber creatures, some give you stat bonuses or other fun effects, some give you extra commands (like steal or GP toss or whatever), and some support other materia. The final type can be linked with other materia to improve their worth. A very common link, for instance, is Cure-All, which allows your curative spells to affect all members of your party for the same MP cost. Cool, huh? Other than this stuff, though, the game’s not much different from other FFs.
I’ll say it right now, the materia system rocked. I loved it, almost as much as the celebrated job system from FF5. You could get by just fine without worrying about anything more complex than Cure-All, but there are plenty of cooler and deeper and more complex combos out there. Like FF6, there’s an almost infinite amount of customization available to you, but the game is perfectly playable on a superficial level as well. Bravo. The Limit Breaks were a nice addition, as we all love turning the monster’s powers to our advantage. Just as importantly as dishing out tons of damage, the Limit breaks feel like they should give out tons of damage. Wait until you see Omnislash and gasp at how cool it looks, then you’ll understand. Backing up these new additions is the same fundamental high quality gameplay of FF that very closely resembles FF6. Considering my adoration for that game, I was certainly happy to see its best parts carried over to the PSX.
On the other hand, Square did some mind bogglingly stupid things. Take, for instance, the “minigames.” I’m surprised so many people praise it. Sure, I suppose some might consider a poor submarine sim fun, but a CPR sim? Yes, at one point in the game, you get to perform CPR on someone by pressing a button when a meter is filled. Or you get to do squats by pressing more buttons. Or you have to time a jump by pressing a button. This is not fun. Square tried to break up the monotony, but they did it with even more monotony, which is, dare I say it, stupid. And, of course, there’s the curse of super cool weapons for a super cool cost. There are four hidden caves, you see, with the most powerful materia available in them. To get them, though, you must spend hours attempting to raise a gold chocobo (an idea I found both boring and stupid - more monotony), or you must defeat an insanely hard boss and get your chocobo that way. On the other hand, it’s practically impossible to beat him without the materia in the cave. See a problem here? Yeah, I thought so. No, I didn’t bother to try. It wasn’t worth the effort.
As for the basic sensory inputs, it’s really a mixed bag. I can’t believe everyone goes gaga over the graphics of this game. Your “overworld” Cloud is composed of so few polygons it’s downright laughable, and the end result is an extremely deformed and ugly character. The backdrops are pre-rendered, which occasionally makes it difficult to move around in, and definitely makes the characters look even more out of place. On the other hand, the battle graphics are impressive enough, with much higher poly characters and quite a few spiffy effects. The music’s pretty impressive as well. It didn’t effect me as much as FF6’s, and only a few themes stuck out. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for chanting, but Sephiroth’s theme is downright incredible. And it never ceases to amuse me that Aeris’ theme is ripped off of the Opera. The battle music is pretty good as well - catchy enough not to get annoying after hearing it for so long.
Perhaps my biggest gripe is that the whole game just seems paced wrong. See, I absolutely loved the first 2 disks. But by the time I got to the third, I started to see all these problems. More and more, the game started to bug me with it’s bad choices. Take Summons, for example. They’re very cool looking and very helpful, but they just take too long to do. There’s no way to skip the cinemas even after you’ve seen them dozens of times. By the end of the game, I wasn’t bothering to use them, as I simply didn’t want to deal with it. The third disk also seemed practically pointless. One new area and a couple WEAPONs to kill, yippee. The first disk lets you explore the world, the second involves lots of backtracking, but there’s just nothing there for the third. And, of course, the plot problems do become more apparent as time goes along. I was quite disappointed with the was the Shinra side of the story ended up - it didn’t tie in very well with everything else and wasn’t entirely believable. Perhaps if more thought was put into the latter third of the game, my impressions would be more positive. But the game did kind of end on a downer.
But in the end, I do have to admit I enjoyed it. I’m not too big on RPGs - any genre so dependent upon such weak stories means there’s a good chance I’ll be disappointed. But FF7, for all it’s hype, managed to deliver a solid experience. The game was fun, the plot was intriguing, and the characters were memorable. No, it wasn’t perfect; far from it. Fortunately, the game was solid enough that all of Square’s mistakes and dumb choices are bearable, and you can still enjoy it. The problems were there, however, enduring that this game certainly wouldn’t make my list of best games ever. But just because it isn’t the best doesn’t mean it’s the worst, so play with an open mind.
Final Score - 8.4
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/30/02, Updated 10/30/02
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