Review by Yami Shuryou
"And it continues the airship tradition too!"
Final Fantasy VII. One of the single most revolutionary games of all time, it stands up there with Super Mario 64, the Super Mario Brothers trio, Adventure, and a handful of other games. It has gone down in the annals of video-game history, with highly clamored records such as being one of the highest-rated RPGs of all time and the game that decided the Playstation vs. Nintendo 64 war, and less unknown titles such as being the most returned game to the store.
But unlike the other influential titles that Final Fantasy VII stacks up against, it didn't define a genre at all (I leave that honor to games such as Knights of the Old Republic in terms of openness and Pokemon in terms of battle system deepness). Instead, it changed the video gaming market, for better or for worse. Before Final Fantasy VII, we contended with fighters, shooters, platformers, and the like. RPGS were, although somewhat popular at the time with hits such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III US, but a niche market in America, leaving many hundreds of RPGs that never reached American shores due to companies not thinking it profitable. But Final Fantasy VII changed that all, for better or for worse.
Rewind, back to fall of 1997. You're watching some television, when suddenly the commercial comes on. A blond spikey-haired man faced off against a silver-haired man in a black cape, the background that of a fiery red blaze reflecting off the dark night, and the logo Final Fantasy VII' appearing. Spurred on by the hype, millions of copies flew off the shelf with less resistance than rocks in a tornado (And many promptly got returned, owing to the (dis)honor of being the most returned release ever). After that, the success of Final Fantasy VII created a popularity so abundant for RPGs, that they quickly became a dime a dozen commodity.
You are promptly dropped off in the first area of the game after a glorious cutscene Mako Reactor #1, which is responsible for mining Mako. These reactors, owned by the megalopolis corporation Shinra, power the giant industrial city of Midgar. The downside, however, is that Mako is the life of the planet itself mine Mako, and you kill the planet, eventually meaning the end of the world, the anti-life.
Enter the anti-Midgar government terrorist group, known by the name of AVALANCHE.
Battling your way through the citadel reactor, you and the leader of AVALANCHE - a bad-mouthed giant negro dude with one arm replaced by a gun, known as Barret to his comrades set explosives. All looks secure as the explosives are put in position, but then the mechanical anti-intruder defense system Guard Scorpion appears, his only programmed command to kill - and you are his target. He is but the first of a plethora of beautiful three-dimensional bosses, large, intimidating, and equipped with relentless AI, and battling him my first time through was simply breathtaking, the boss music pumping adrenaline in my blood. Bosses (and enemies for that matter) don't come much better than this, ranging from the mutant boss J E N O V A, to the immense reptile Red Dragon, to the sea-traveling Emerald Weapon. It is then that you are introduced to the battle system, which runs on an Active Time Battle bar, meaning that you don't take turns attacking, but rather have to wait for a bar to fill before you can attack.
The battle system that Final Fantasy VII implements is simple to grab a hold on, with a very shallow learning curve. You have your standard HP and MP, and when you run out of HP, you die. A bar under each character's HP bar signifies their Limit Break; when it fills up after taking extensive abuse from enemies in battle, the fighter will be able to use a special attack, dishing out heavy damage and long cinematics.
The magic system is far from a real dozer. Similar to the Esper system of Final Fantasy III/VI, you can collect Materia', spheres that when equipped onto your weapons and accessories, allow you to use certain types of magic, which cost you MP. After you gain AP, the magical form of experience points in battle, you will eventually level up the Materia and be able to use upgrades of the spells the Materia has; for example, going from Fire to Fira to Firaga. When you finally hit the Master Level, it becomes it's most powerful form, and the Materia bears a new Materia sphere for you to level up as well.
The explosives are set, and we run. However, you, ex - Shinra soldier - turned - mercenary, Cloud Strife, have been separated from the rest of AVALANCHE. After taking a brief stop to chat with a flower girl, you end up against dozens of Shinra warriors. In another overwhelming cinematic, Cloud jumps from the bridge overhead a railroad onto the moving train itself which just happens to be where his new allies are.
We finally get to our stop, Midgar's own Sector 7, a slums created by Shinra; as Shinra becomes richer, those who live down below the sun-deflecting shield of middle Midgar become poorer. Stepping out of the train, tension relieved and your thoughts able to wander casually again, you finally catch notice of the environment, and your ears prick at the sorrowful music. They defy whatever works the Playstation has so far boasted. They tear your soul apart in making you to stop to look and listen for more than a moment. They set the basis for every game to follow it. Simply put, the environments and music are art in motion. But it doesn't stop there, as there is a vast world to be explored in Final Fantasy VII, with three whole continents, dozens of many smaller islands to travel to, and a plentiful number of soundtracks. If a diverse selection of locations each with their own unique music weren't enough to compel you forth and play this game, perhaps the number of side quests would.
In my opinion, Final Fantasy VII was not made by its story, its graphics, or anything else. While those qualities may have made it last, I believe that the side quests are really what made it to be proclaimed as one of the greatest games of all time. Bluntly speaking, Final Fantasy VII has lots of side quests. Gold Saucer, a night-time amusement park, is the foremost bastion of mini-games, ranging from a basketball hoop shot game to arm-wrestling to the infamous Chocobo Racing games, topped off by a visit to Battle Square, where you fight dozens of battles without a break in between. Fort Condor is an inactive Mako reactor that protects itself against Shinra reactors in a mini-battle where you send forth military units to take out the Shinra units, which uses a rock paper scissors method of strategy. The four Weapons are near invincible bosses that are optional (with one exception), Chocobo breeding can pass the time without a blink, and there're always two optional characters to locate.
But just think, those are for the most part just games. Only when you realize that there are over a half-score full-blown sidequests and the Master Materia to do, do you additionally realize that the depth of a game before Final Fantasy VII has never reached the realms of the Underworld in such a deep fashion as Final Fantasy VII has. And each of them aid in their own way to the giant behemoth that is the plot.
The story. It seems like a simple thing at first a group of people want to save a corrupted corporation from destroying the world. But then it evolves, like the behemoth that slowly becomes more and more unpredictable. Witness the death of Shinra's president at the sword of Sephiroth, a war veteran once thought slain in battle. Watch as a fight that was once just against a company becomes a fight against the most titanic force of all time, and as the group of people changes into an elite force of men and women who happen into being the only thing that stands in the way oblivion itself. Let your jaw drop as Sephiroth kills an innocent whom you've come to hold so dear. Feel the clouds within your head disperse as all is made clear about the mysterious creature J E N O V - A, and create a brick wall out of your determination to finish Sephiroth for once and for all. Laugh at the comedic value of the Shinra specialist group known as the Turks, cry at the reminiscing of lost ones, and feel complete when you face off against Sephiroth, the seven last bastions of humanity against the ultimate evil, and win.
And when you finally shut your Playstation off, having successfully finished an epic adventure, then the truth bolts into your heart. Final Fantasy VII is the single greatest factor of what the gaming market is today.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 09/06/05
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