Review by Aussie2B
"Am I the only one who thinks Cloud is wearing Smurf shoes?"
Final Fantasy VII is so average that it's bad. When a game is completely mediocre and absolutely nothing about it truly shines, is the experience really worth the time it takes to complete? Final Fantasy VII goes beyond the normal levels of mediocrity into paralyzing comatose. I spent all my time playing desperately hope the next part would come soon. After two or three random battles, I couldn't wait for the next story sequence to come just so the repetitive battles would stop. When I was in the middle of a story sequence, I was dying to get back to the battlefield before the long drawn out uninteresting and unnecessary text would put me to sleep. Final Fantasy VII is a game that literally bored me to the point of drowsiness. Yet for some reason I still occasionally had cravings to play. Was it the desire to write a review like this? Or simply my obsessive nature to finish every game I start? Well, I can sure as hell tell you that it wasn't the quality.
If antisocial is so hip, why ain't I more popular?
Final Fantasy VII is an insult to my intelligence. Its story is often described as an epic or a classic, perhaps even a masterpiece. Of course, this is by Square representatives, gaming industry journalists who'll get fired if they don't say what they're paid to say, and 12 year old kids who never even heard of RPGs before Final Fantasy VII and think Shakespeare is mind-numbingly boring. I don't know about you, but these are not people whose opinions I take with high regards.
The plot is convoluted, it's a mess, it's like a book that slipped through the cracks and was published before editing. It simply tries too hard. The developers attempted to make a story that was deep and meaningful, but it's as if each scenario was written by a different person. The story is a hodgepodge of events and bits of info that just don't work together. There are many fan-made explanations of the story out there, but every single one has a good chunk of personal speculation in them. That's because some things just don't fit. It's like a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, but each piece in the box is from a different puzzle.
Some people out there may say Oh, the story is just too complex for you to understand. Well, let me tell you that I do understand what the developers were going for. I've made a distinctive effort to do just that for the purpose of this review. With the knowledge I've acquired, I can get past the confusion most people experience while playing the game and spot the contradictions, the poorly explained plot points, and the scenes where they were going for something that just doesn't come off right.
One noticeable scene where they were going for something and it didn't work is at the end of the first disc. I'll spare the spoiler for the one person out there who has been living under a rock since 1996, but due to the game's hype, I think most everyone should know what I mean. This scene is supposed to be the most heart-wrenching scene in the game, yet it looks so ridiculous that it's to the point that it's laughable. This is just one of many scenes that try to pull at your heart strings, but unless you're a really sensitive or gullible person, or simply have never read or seen better storytelling, the touching moments won't have much affect on you.
Now I will give Final Fantasy VII one thing. It was a break from the normal. It offered the player a dark serious world rather than the, at the time, typical lighthearted and whimsical plot. But if this is the best that such a plot can be executed, I think I'll stick to the old-fashioned fantasy plots. Seems like other people agreed, considering every Square fanboy was rallying for a traditional Final Fantasy after having enough of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII.
If the mixed up story wasn't bad enough, there are Final Fantasy VII's contrived stereotypical characters. You got the antisocial mental patient main character who's reluctant to be a hero, the mysterious sweet young woman trying to figure out who she is, the big-breasted sex kitten, the uneducated brash cursing black man, the hyper teenage girl, the dark brooding guy, and a couple monster/animal type characters. Sounds like just about every modern RPG, eh? Final Fantasy VII sort of started the trend, but these stereotypes were being used even in the SNES days. And personally, I find some of them a bit offensive, not to mention I'd like to see more originality in the characters as well as depth.
Circle, Circle, Circle... *wait* Circle, Circle, Circle... *wait* Circle, Circle, Circle...
I read a magazine during some of Final Fantasy VII's battles. That right there should tell you all you need to know about Final Fantasy VII's gameplay, but since this is a review, I'll elaborate.
First of all, Final Fantasy VII uses the most tired out, stale RPG battle system ever. I remember when I first play a RPG with the active-time battle system, I thought it was exciting and really cool. But after the millionth Square RPG and Square RPG clone with the ATB system, I had enough of it.
But let's pretend I've never played a RPG with the ATB system before. The other problems with the battle system make it just as painfully boring even if ATB is new to you. One of which is the speed. Final Fantasy VII is SLOOOOOOOoooooooooooowww. Even if you crank up the speed in the options menu to the max, it's still not as fast as it should be. I practically get whiplash playing a Super Nintendo RPG after Final Fantasy VII. Just picture this: you sit doing nothing, staring at swirly crap while the battle loads, then you play through a slow battle pressing circle over and over for several minutes fighting a normal enemy, then you finally win and sit and doing nothing yet again, staring at the screen flying around the characters while the area you were just in loads again. Don't get me wrong, though. The loading isn't the worst of it. It's the battles themselves. Sometimes the enemies will literally sit there flailing their limbs around for no apparent reason for a good half minute. Their attacks can take even longer.
Forget the enemies, your own attacks are even longer. Normal attacks and spells aren't too bad, but oh man... the summons. Summons are the strongest spells in the game, so you'd be inclined to use them, no? At least against the bosses. Well, you're gonna pay the price for using them, and I don't mean MP. Some of them are literally several minutes long, and Square, being their normal egotistical selves, think the summons are so wonderful that the player shouldn't be able to skip through them.
Okay, so we established that the battle system is played out and slow. What could possibly make it any worse? How about a complete lack of challenge? Battles feel all the more slow and tedious when there's no sense of urgency that you would get from a difficult opponent. With no challenge, there's also no strategy either. Every battle is just regular attacks over and over and over. Final Fantasy VII is totally unbalanced in that normal attacks are usually stronger than magic spells and a good portion of the summons as well. A monkey could beat Final Fantasy VII. Just train him to keep hitting circle.
I tried to cut Final Fantasy VII some slack. I thought maybe I just leveled up too much my first time through, so I played the game again. This time I completed the game as quickly as possible, only buying as much new equipment as I could afford. I never stopped to fight random battles to level up or to gain more money. Even by playing the game this way, the challenge was almost nonexistent. I also learned that the final boss gets stronger if you're at high levels. I tried fighting him at level 99, the max, and it was still easy. At this point I came to the conclusion that try as you may, you can't squeeze much of any challenge out of Final Fantasy VII, a game that was designed so even the most mainstream idiot to RPGs could beat it.
Now that you get the general idea of the battle experience, there's the individual character abilities that help and hinder the gameplay. Most RPG developers usually struggle when trying to figure how much customizability the characters should have. Too little will make the game feel the same every time you play it, and it'll cut down on the amount of strategic thinking the player will have to do. While that's most certainly a bad thing, too much customizability, on the other hand, can make all the characters feel the same and have no unique characteristics in battle. That too will make the game less strategic, as you can make every character play the same. Final Fantasy VII falls into the too much customizability category. The equipment characters wear give them a certain number of slots for magic and other abilities, which you purchase or find. You can make any character a mage, healer, fighter, etc.
The only thing that makes each character different from the rest are called limit breaks. As a character receives damage, a bar for the limit breaks fills up. When it reaches its maximum, the character can choose one of the limit breaks he or she is set to use. Most characters have four sets of limit breaks. Two limit breaks in the first three, and one in the fourth. The higher the number of the set, the more damage it will take for the bar to fill up. Limit breaks can vary from healing moves, ability raising moves, enemy ability affecting moves, and powerful attacks. New limit breaks are learned by using an old one a certain number of times, striking the final blow against a certain number of enemies, or, for the final limit break, finding a book that teaches it to the character. Due to the complexity and variety of the limit breaks, they are the most enjoyable thing about Final Fantasy VII's gameplay. They're not as innovative as people think, though. Many games, such as Lufia II, used similar systems in their gameplay.
I saved the worst for last. As bad as the battle system may be, it cannot even compare to the horrendous mini-games. The odd thing is that Square used them as a main selling point of the game, yet they're the most painful mini-games I ever had the misfortune of playing. To make matters worse, they're not even optional. The mini-games are scattered about throughout the game, and you have to get through them to progress. Only a couple of them actually have a decent frame rate, the play control is loose and choppy, and some of them are more guesswork than actual gameplay.
NOOOOOOOooooooooooooo! The Lego People!
Another selling point of Final Fantasy VII was its graphics. It was the first of its kind. Final Fantasy VII was the first RPG to use polygonal characters, pre-rendered backgrounds, and an abundance of FMV to heighten the story. Of course, all that glitters isn't gold, no? As great as a game may look, it can't make up for shoddy gameplay. But then again, Final Fantasy VII doesn't look so great anymore. When it first came out, that was as good as polygonal characters, pre-rendered backgrounds, and FMV could get. It may have been impressive at the time, but now it looks horribly dated. It's like comparing Super Mario Brothers to a later NES title like Crystalis or Castlevania 3.
But maybe that isn't a great comparison. As simple and primitive as Super Mario Brothers looks, it's still a decent looking game. Final Fantasy VII has some things that just plain look bad, and they've always looked bad. It's really more about style than technology, though. Square chose to design the field sprites in a rather awkward looking manner. The bicep part of the arm is like a toothpick while the forearm and hand is a huge block. Combine that with the large rectangular block legs, and you got characters that look like Lego people.
To add to the ridiculousness of the characters, Square went and added strange features to all the characters. The main character Cloud has hair so extremely pointy that it looks like he has a Zapdos on his head (copyright DeathSpork), and he has a sword so huge that you KNOW he shouldn't be able to lift it. Those twiggy arms should snap like straw. Tifa has the most unnatural and disturbing breasts I have ever seen, and her hair looks like a big fish. Yuffie has some weird covering over one arm that makes her arm look like a giant shrimp. If you've seen her character art, she also has a uni-tooth... Aeris's bow in her hair makes her look like she has droopy elf ears.
Final Fantasy VII also has goofy animations. Many times in the game you'll see characters happily doing squats, humping the air, dancing the twist, and leaping several yards through the air without even a running start as if they can fly.
All the areas, sans the world map, are pre-rendered. While it does look nice, it's kind of blurry and nondescript. Sometimes you can't even tell what you're looking at, and when you can, it's usually not particularly interesting. The world map is polygonal and is also rather run-of-the-mill looking. There are two views you can use. One is more like what the character sees, while the other is far overhead. I always stick to the overhead one, as the camera with the other one swings around a bit and you can easily get lost without heavily relying on the map.
In battles things look a bit better, but new problems arise. All the characters are much more detailed and realistic looking in battle. Even in today's day and age, the polygonal characters can still hold their own, unlike the characters in the field. The enemies are a mixed bunch. Some show creativity, while others look like some Square intern threw them together in two minutes at 4:00 AM the morning Final Fantasy VII had to be released. Everything in the battles suffers from heavy polygonal break-up.
Effects in battle are either one extreme or the other. Regular attacks are simple and look how they should. When a character is stealing, it really looks like they're trying to steal. Regular spells are very simplistic, and some of them are pretty half-assed. For Ice, just a little blue bleh appears over the enemy. It's definitely not something that I would find intimidating. Ultima, the so-called best normal spell in the game, is the most pathetic looking version of Ultima in the Final Fantasy series. It looks like split pea soup flying across the screen. Summons are obviously the attacks that the developers put the most work into graphically, but after you watch them once, you'll never want to see them again due to their length.
The overall theme of the graphics in Final Fantasy VII is gritty and industrial. In fact, for the first several hours of the game all you'll see is slums. There are a few idyllic places, but rather than a nice break from the norm, they feel more like they're simply out of place in a game focused on a dying world being abused by big corporations.
Finally, there's the FMV. The most over-hyped aspect of Final Fantasy VII. It's true that the FMV is of higher quality than anything that came before, but the thing that really bugs me about them is that very few of them are necessary or beneficial to the plot. They're used on boring scenes that leave no impact on the player. They're little more than eye-candy, and that doesn't impress me. FMV should be used as a story-enhancing tool. But I digress, I should be talking about the visual aspects of the FMV.
The FMV is actually surprisingly clear and sharp. Most FMV scenes on PlayStation have fuzz around the edges of all the lines and colors, but the Final Fantasy VII FMV is really no worse than the FMV in much later released PlayStation titles. It's held up quite well. The style itself, though, shows off the game's age. Rather than the smooth polished FMV characters from games like Final Fantasy VIII and IX, the characters in the Final Fantasy VII FMV have sharp edges, unnatural textures and features, and stiff animations. They almost resemble toy figures that have come to life. This can result in some unintentionally hilarious moments, though. The best scenes in the game in my opinion are two parts in the ending. One in which Tifa's boobs seem to magically become prehensile as you watch them move on their own to cling to the edge of a cliff and lift her entire body up. The second one is just Cid's cigarette falling out of his mouth. It doesn't sound funny, but man... the way it happens is just... gold. Pure gold.
Final Fantasy VII's soundtrack is often regarded as one of the best in the video game industry, but people need to clean out their ears and hear it for what it really is. When Final Fantasy VII came out, the audio quality blew people's minds. Most RPG players were accustomed to the Super Nintendo's MIDI music. As soon as they heard the audio quality of Final Fantasy VII, they automatically jumped to the conclusion that it was the best soundtrack ever. But one needs to sit down and actually judge the quality of the compositions. Final Fantasy VII's songs all feel like they were composed rather lazily. It's like the producer told the composer We want a song for a sad scene by tomorrow morning, and Uematsu quickly wrote a little generic sounding sad tune on his keyboard without putting any real emotion or effort into it. Thus the song defeats its purpose, as it's not able to invoke a feeling of sadness out of the player.
It's not a complete loss, though. Some songs are quite excellent. Those Chosen by the Planet is a marvelous string piece that really captures the drama and foreboding of the scenes in which it's played. One-Winged Angel is an over-hyped, yet still good, operatic piece complete with vocals and numerous stanzas. You have to play for quite a long time to hear it start repeating. Valley of the Fallen Star is a percussion-heavy tribal piece that gives you the feeling that the canyon in which the song plays is strongly linked to nature and the planet.
There are a few other tunes that caught my attention, yet fell short of greatness. Aerith's theme, Yuffie's theme, and the first overworld song are a few examples. But for the most part, like everything else about Final Fantasy VII, the soundtrack lands straight in the middle of mediocrity. Final Fantasy VII lacks the high quality composition of the Super Nintendo games, which more than made up for the lack of audio quality. Square RPGs on SNES had music that would get stuck in your head for years and years. Final Fantasy VII's music lacks that memorable quality.
The sound effects are about the only thing in Final Fantasy VII that I can't complain about. Of course, sound effects is the aspect I notice the least in video games. ;P The sound effects in Final Fantasy VII are just the typical RPG stuff that's to be expected. Sword slashes, punches, gun shots, spells that sound like burning flames, ice crystals, thunder, etc, and other assorted clinks and clangs, bleeps and bloops.
You's ma biotch now, Final Fantasy VII.
To all you Final Fantasy VII fanboys suffering through this review, I commend you for your patience thus far. By now you're probably scoffing at every statement I've made, thinking I rushed through the game and never really gave it a chance. Oh contraire, my friend. I absolutely whored Final Fantasy VII. (For those of you who are totally confused right now, by whored I mean I did everything in the game.) I maxed out every level, got every single materia mastered, beat all the Weapons, got every limit break, got every ultimate weapon, did every sub-quest, so on and so on. Why? Just so I could prove that my opinions are valid. Every time I say anything negative about Final Fantasy VII around a Square fanboy, I get the same responses. Besides cursing and other name-calling, the most popular response seems to be: You didn't give the game a chance. So here I tell you, Yes, I did. I didn't judge the game by bias. I did give it a chance. I gave Final Fantasy VII about 150 hours of a chance to prove itself to me, and it failed. The only thing it proved is that it's a painfully average game.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 03/09/05
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