Review by MSuskie

"This is the most overrated game of all time without question, but still one that everyone must play."

Okay, first of all, allow me to address the hundreds of Final Fantasy VII fans who complained when I posted my first two reviews of this game, giving it a 3/10 and then a 2/10. I freely admit that those reviews were biased and unfair, and took too much out on the game. FF7 is in my opinion the most overrated game of all time and nothing you do or say can change that – the game's popularity is one of life's great mysteries, other than the fact that this was many people's first RPG (bunch of newbies, I see), and that it provided an amazing, almost cinematic presentation of story that even I had never been through. But I'd like to issue an official apology to the FF7 freaks out there who lost sleep knowing that – gasp! – someone doesn't like their game. You've been waiting for this forever, so here it is. FF7 is a noteworthy experience of a game, a crowning achievement in the realm of story and production value that will forever remain an influence to the industry. But to call FF7 one of the greatest games of all time is an entirely different story.

I mean, define “great.”

I would struggle to call FF7 “great,” yet I could come up with a number of other adjectives that would seem so… flattering. FF7 is, I believe, one of the most important games ever developed, for several reasons. For one, it drew a number of people into the RPG genre and is for the most part responsible for the popularity of the common RPG in today's world of console gaming. It also raised the standard for production values for games. When it was released, FF7 was a big deal. Spanning three discs and over fifty hours of gameplay across an enormous world, with thousands upon thousands of lines of dialog and the occasional FMV clip, it was gargantuan. FF7 is influential, without a doubt. It is a piece of gaming phenomenon that everyone should experience (though most of you already have, a dozen times over). I would even go so far as to say that FF7 is an unforgettable adventure. Yet I would not call FF7 “great.” Not in a million years. Weird, huh?

FF7 is a game that runs on the greatness of its predecessors as well as its own ambition – its slick, overly superfluous agenda. Square is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed videogame developers of all time. It won a legion of fans with its terrific SNES lineup, including Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana, as well as (of course) the earlier entries in its biggest franchise, Final Fantasy. But FF7 was different. Here, we have an RPG unlike anything before it. Taking players on a spectacular, imaginative journey through a semi-futuristic world, Square hoped to open up a new fan base on the PSX by introducing the best of both worlds – atmosphere and playability. FF7 would be the RPG to end all RPG's, as eye-opening visuals and a heavy script would propel an enormous and epic roller coaster of an adventure. And for the next fifty or so hours, gamers would be given an experience they would never forget. Enter the creative minds of Square.

Oh, it could have been so much.

In a plot trend that would become increasingly more popular after FF7's release, the game opens up in the middle of a big story-related moment. You know the kind of intro where you don't really know what's going on until it's explained later? That's what we're looking at here. To explain it in simple terms, the plot centers on a group of “extreme environmentalists” known as AVALANCHE. (I wonder what that stands for?) These are some serious dudes. They're currently trudging around the enormous city of Midgar, bombing government-funding “reactors,” which supposedly suck Mako out of the ground, killing the planet (that's no good). We open up in the middle of their first bombing run. Enter Cloud Strife, one of the most popular videogame heroes of all time (for reasons that escape me – he's got about as much emotion as a hacksaw, and half the brains). He's a mercenary the team has hired to do their dirty work, and he's only agreed to join because one of the members, Tifa (love interest number one, the spunky, large-breasted sex appeal), is an old friend. Anyway, these criminal acts have been covered up by the government (called “SOLDIER” – everybody has a fancy acronym for a name) as “terrorist attacks,” but it's obvious that the two organizations have become enemies.

But there are bigger things at play here, as one might expect. During his getaway after the big boom, Cloud runs into Aeris, the usual good-natured flower girl who quickly becomes love interest number two. (That's two chicks. It's a love triangle! Why these two young women are attracted to such an antisocial jerk remains a mystery.) Aeris is apparently the last descendant of a long-endangered race of people known as – get this – Ancients. The government believes that Aeris is the only one who can lead the people of the world to the “Promised Land,” a place of infinite Mako and materia. Sephiroth, on the other hand, has other plans. Sephiroth is an effeminate, white-haired gimp of a villain, and his popularity as well boggles my mind, as he is every bit as wooden and boring a character as FF7's protagonist. At least they share similar ground in stone-cold frozenness (not to mention the old RPG cliche of “the characters with the most exotic haircuts are the most important”). Anyway, Sephiroth wants to summon this thing called Meteor to destroy the world and blah, blah, blah. And damned if AVALANCHE isn't going to do something about it!

The setup is fine, but there's simply too much here. The writers at Squaresoft were obviously going for a very complicated and intricate story that would challenge and perplex the mind. The end result is something of a mess. It feels as though the writers wrote the story as they went along, rather than doing the smart thing and planning it all out from the beginning. It was as if the Square guys came up with an interesting first ten hours of gameplay and were constantly asking themselves, “Okay, where can we go from here?” There is just so much going on that it's hard to keep track of, but it eventually narrows down to this: The main character, Cloud, is repeatedly told that he's not who he thinks he is, that the whole “Cloud” thing is a setup, and that in the end, he has no real control over himself. Cloud is constantly struggling with his memories to figure out who or what he is, and whether or not he can save the world from Sephiroth. And within the confines of FF7's story, we're given so many plot twists and false conclusions that we don't know what to do with it all. I don't consider myself to be a dumb person (though plenty of FF7 fans would be happy to argue with that), but it took me several play-throughs to fully comprehend what was going on. And while it is sprawling and epic and memorable, it's obvious that Square tried too hard.

Personally, I really didn't care for any of these characters, either. A good number of the main characters are so uninteresting that if the game supported voices (which I realize is way too much to ask), I wouldn't be surprised if they spoke in monotones throughout the course of the game (even during, you know, the really climactic parts). When I'm playing a game with such a heavy emphasis on plot, I should feel something for the characters I'm controlling. FF7's cast is a selection of bland stereotypes that look and feel humorless and emotionless. If I felt more for these characters, I would feel more sorrow when one of them, for example, dies (that's not to say any of the main characters die in FF7… just sayin'). What's worse is that these people are, like the plot itself, bloated with self-confidence. FF7 thinks it's deeper and more important than it really is, and takes itself too seriously as a result. Characters are constantly launching into little monologues and speeches about themselves, good and evil, mankind, nature, etc. and never seem to realize how inexplicably dull they are (anyone who saw the movie Alexander will have a general idea of what to expect here). It bores me to tears. And by the way, aside from bad writing (“All they give us are artillery and stupid excuses!”), FF7 boasts probably Square's worst translation ever. Typos number by the thousands and even ruin the game's coolest line:

“Beacause you are… a puppet.”

Sloppy sloppy sloppy. Such is the nature of FF7.

The game unfolds and plays in a very typical RPG fashion. You start off in the city of Midgar, set entirely in 2D, pre-rendered environments that do a decent job of illustrating the game's grim, gritty, all-depressed-all-the-time setting. The first few hours are set in the enormous city, during which you'll become accustomed to the game's control, battle system, and various features. There's nothing overly complicated or new about FF7, which I suppose is a good thing because it never took me too long to jump into the game (on the other hand, I was rather turned off by FF8's junction system and therefore it took me a while to get with that game, but that's a story for another day). After a few little jolts in the plot region, we the players are taken to the fully three-dimensional overworld for another forty-five hours of gameplay. We are led along an essentially linear path as plot points unfold, gradually bringing us to the game's finale, where the credits roll. We fight monsters, level up, buy crap, play mini-games, complete side quests, and do all that other very RPG-like stuff on our way.

Everything about this game is, well, sloppy. Nothing about FF7 is broken or unplayable – everything in the game is serviceable and adequate without being spectacular or particularly well crafted. It feels almost as if Square did everything they wanted to accomplish in the way of story and epic-ness, and paid no attention to little details. For example, the menus in the game are boring and unattractive, with literally no time spent to make the game's presentation stand out among the crowd. Is this an enormous problem? Certainly not. But it does contribute to the game's overall status and is a good example of how Square chose to be “okay” over “great.” Don't get mad at me – I didn't give this game a 6/10 because the menus are unattractive. I'm just leading up to the big picture.

And the battle system? Again, it's adequate and functional without being anything particularly special. I first played FF7 only a few years after Chrono Trigger introduced me to the Wonderful World Without Random Battles, and since then it's been hard to go back, though the random battles of FF7 aren't what I would consider a flaw simply because they are so common throughout the RPG genre. The battle system functions just like any other, with all of your basic attacks, magic spells, summon abilities, items, etc. You simply select an action and a target, and let the animations do the work. FF7 incorporates the same “active time battle” (ATB) system that Trigger used. Through this, characters must wait their turn before they can take action. Each character's meter fills up over time, and once it gets to the top, you can attack, defend, whatever. Though this occasionally makes for some cool strategic moments (i.e., giving yourself the edge by conducting a spell that slows down the enemy's ATB meter), everything flows in real time, which means that you've got to constantly be making selections before the enemy can attack. No thanks to the game's user-unfriendly interface, finding the specific item or summon you want can sometimes take a lot of time. At the very least, most random battles can be beaten through a slew of basic attacks, meaning you can just sit back and repeatedly tap on the circle button.

One thing that did not work for me is the materia system. By my count, there are nine different playable characters in FF7. But thanks to the materia system, the differences between the nine are minimal. Throughout the course of the adventure, you'll collect little orbs known as “materia.” Materia can, when equipped, give a character all sorts of abilities, including magical spells, summon attacks, battle actions, attributes, and bonuses. All weapons and armor come with materia slots that can be used to equip materia to that character. It's a sound feature, but there's a problem: Materia is too interchangeable. Materia is the basis of any character's battle options and attributes – without equipping materia, a character has nothing but his basic attack ability. But since any character can equip any materia, there is really very little difference between the party members you are given. Characters are merely materia slots. Since materia is so interchangeable (and since basic attacks are all relatively the same in effect and damage), the only real difference between the characters is their limit breaks, which are special attacks only available once a character has sustained a certain amount of damage. It's an annoying system that makes party selection damn near pointless.

Once you're out of battle, things don't necessarily progress reasonably. As I mentioned before, the entire game (aside from the overworld and a few mini-games) takes place over pre-rendered environments. This is not necessarily a problem, but Square has decided to go the way of Resident Evil and shoot all of these drops from bizarre and often confusing camera angles that don't always provide the information that is needed to navigate. Cloud will disappear behind objects in the foreground, vanish into the distance, and get stuck along invisible pathways that are tough to make out. Many of the environments look kind of washed-out, and while they are pretty, they can be a downright pain in the ass to tread through. Making matters worse, FF7 was developed before Sony decided to add analog control to the PSX controllers, meaning you'll have to stick with d-pad movement. While I can't blame Square for this, I had an N64 since launch and had been introduced to the wonders of 3D movement long before I had played FF7. And you've got to hold down a button if you want to run? Very SNES, fellas. Moving throughout the game's pre-rendered worlds is something I could certainly deal with, but it was yet another unnecessary flaw.

Even the graphics aren't that great. In fact, they range from good to awful. I'll start with the good news. The battle system in FF7 utilizes some of the most structurally outstanding graphical design I'd seen at the time and eventually on the PSX as a whole. While the battles chug along at fifteen frames, it's easy to forgive when such amazing character models and effects are being put to use. Now here's the bad news. Anything polygonal that appears outside of combat looks positively dreadful. The character models… ugh. It's hard to convey any form of story-related emotion out of such flickering, flat, deformed, dumbbell-armed masses of Lego rejection. One Game Informer editor once said that he swore he could count the polygons on Cloud's body. What's worse is that the graphics themselves look inconsistent in this effect, as the pre-rendered backgrounds look very realistic, while the characters themselves are about as unrealistic as it gets. The game can't even make up its mind about the style of the graphics, as some FMV sequences feature very human-like versions of the characters, while others feature their hyper-deformed counterparts. Not only is this inconsistent… it's lame.

On the other hand, the one thing I cannot complain about is the amazing soundtrack. Composer Nobuo Uematsu is a frequent collaborator with Square's RPG products, and he has won acclaim for many of his works. His FF7 score is most likely the greatest composition of his career. Every scene, conversation, and battle is accompanied by a very emotional and fitting musical piece to go with it, and it works every time. Several themes recur throughout the journey, and will get stuck in your head whether you like it or not. From the intensity of the battle melody to the grandness of the overworld song, every track is recorded with all the appropriateness and memorability of a Steven Spielberg film (meaning that Uematsu has officially risen to John Williams standards here). I have played many, many videogames in my life, and few feature such unforgettable melodies as FF7's soundtrack. The plot and setup of FF7 many be ludicrous and silly, but Nobuo Uematsu tackles the game with an utmost seriousness that belongs in a better game.

And to be fair, those that really like FF7 have and will find plenty to do to make the experience last. It's a massive, massive game. The three-disc set should give you a clue – the main game itself will take you at least a good forty-five hours to complete, and most will spend far more than that leveling up and completing some of the game's many side quests. The overworld is vast and enormous, and there are many areas in the game that don't need to be visited in order to see the end. Chances to snag all sorts of optional weapons, limit breaks, characters, and items are all over the place, and many of them will require more level-up time than you might imagine (it took me months of hard work to even come close to beating the Weapons). To add to that, you've got the Gold Saucer, which is loaded with cool mini-games and such that allow for some nice extras. I've got to give credit to Square for providing many ways for fans to keep the game going for a long time, as FF7 is without doubt one of the largest and most expansive games I have ever played. If only its quality could match its size.

Pros

+ It's a massive, big-budget blockbuster of a game.
+ The story is epic and filled with memorable moments.
+ CG sequences ignite the plot.
+ Battle system provides plenty of options and is gorgeous.
+ Nice-looking pre-rendered backgrounds.
+ One of the greatest videogame soundtracks ever.
+ It'll keep you going for quite some time.

Cons

- Sloppy presentation.
- Story is confusing and seems to contradict itself.
- Characters (yes, even Sephiroth) are stale and forgettable.
- Out-of-battle character models are positively dreadful.
- Battle system feels pretty generic.
- Materia system allows for too must customization.
- Weird camera angles made worse by iffy control.

Overall: 6/10

I feel the need to say it again: While I'm not giving in to all the threats that I've received from rabid fans, I do realize that I've been hard on Final Fantasy VII. It's a decent game, okay? It's a very important game, and one that everyone should experience. Is it great? I don't think so. FF7 has far too many flaws to be considered great in my eyes. And yes, it is overrated. It's also certainly one of my least-favorite numbered Final Fantasy games to date (in fact, it probably would be my least-favorite had it not been for the embarrassing FF8). Thankfully, the franchise turned itself around on PSX with the later arrival of the amazingly addicting Tactics and eventually the terrific FF9. Until then, I had to deal with an experience that everyone else loved, yet I didn't. So you've got gameplay that was fairly generic even for the time, a story that felt emotionless and occasionally didn't even make sense, and a couple of flickering, god-awful polygonal characters that looked worse than the walkers in the original Star Fox. Again, FF7 is a game that everyone must play, but don't be fooled – this is a good game, not a great one.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 06/06/05, Updated 04/13/06


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