Review by Misfit119

"Final Fantasy VII is a really good game that brought bad changes to the series."

I have always been fond of the Final Fantasy series. I played the heck out of FF 1, 2 and 3… well that is what they were called in the United States. Unfortunately after the release of Final Fantasy 3 I slowly lost all interest in the series and it is mostly thanks to this game. Looking back at Final Fantasy VII I can see it as the harbinger of changes that it brought to the series that I loathe now but the game was still a good game.

To those ten or less people who haven't read about the story or played the game, Final Fantasy VII is the story of a man named Cloud. You know him, the anime looking guy who could pass for a girl with inhumanely spiked hair. While he was once a member of an elite military group called SOLDIER, a group of engineered super-soldiers, he has since become a mercenary. The game opens with him having joined up with an eco-terrorist group called AVALANCE (why is everything in this game capitalized?!). What ensues will lead to a series of very convoluted, and sometimes contrived, plot twists.

We're not going to talk about the plot any further beyond to say that Sephiroth gets involved and the world goes to hell. Oh and Godzilla and his buddies come out to attack at a certain point. Well not really but it may as well be one of his monster island buddies. If the plot gets to be too much for you well you're not alone. I wanted to bang my head into a wall many a time as the game went on. But it manages to be coherent enough that it doesn't become insulting like Metal Gear Solid 2.

Let me just get two topics out of the way: graphics and audio. I'm not going to get into them too much here. The graphics looked really good at the time, especially the summoning spells but they have aged poorly. This is more the fault of the Playstation One system than it is any faults of the game. I mean, go back and try to play any of the early polygon based monsters that were released on that system. The original Resident Evil is painful to look at; you could put an eye out on those jaggies. Audio was fairly limited to, consisting of fairly tinny sounding music. Its not unplayable but it hurts. The audio is the typical Hironobu Sakaguchi fare, all very good and interesting to listen to. I am at the point, however, where I dont bother praising the Final Fantasy music unless it does something innovative and this one really doesn't. Its more of the same ol', same ol' and while it's still good is far from revolutionary.

So, since the plot is convoluted to the point of being a nonsensical and the graphics and audio are so dated, I am going to stick to what should matter most in a video game; gameplay. Now I realize that Squaresoft / Square-Enix are the ones more responsible for promoting incredible graphics over good gameplay but this is where they began to fall down that slippery slope. While the gameplay is very passable, one major thing was lost in this game; variation between characters.

This game has all the basics of a Final Fantasy game at the time; four-man party, summoning spells, the active-time battle system and well fleshed out characters. For those who don't know, the ATB system leaves the game as essentially being turn based, but you don't have infinite time to act during your turn. Each character, and enemy, has a bar that fills based on their speed and when it fills, you take an action. If you're being exceptionally slow the enemy might go multiple times before you ever go once. It's a nice way of keeping the action going but not turning it into a bad action-RPG rip-off (*cough*FF 12*cough).

What really stops this game from the level of greatness that Final Fantasy VI achieved is the lack of character specialization. In Final Fantasy VI every character could learn any spell but they wouldn't necessarily be very good with their spells. You had to put some serious work into making characters good with any spell. Even then they were limited to certain weapon and armor selections based on class and sex.

That's not really the case in this game. While each character can only use certain weapons (each character has one weapon type they use) they can all use whatever weapons, armors and accessories you please. The spell use system in the game, the materia system, is a nice idea but far too flawed.

Essentially every weapon and armor you equip has a certain number of materia slots, gaining more slots as you buy better pieces of equipment. You can buy, or find, materia orbs that you can place into these slots. These can be taken out and replaced at your leisure and there are a number of different types of materia. Some, the most common, allow you to cast magical spells of whatever sort they are (so a cure materia allows you to cast healing spells), summon materia that allows you to cast summon spells and a bunch of others. Some of these are so game-breakingly powerful though allowing you to do things such as resurrecting your entire party when they die. Sure these are late game but the game ends up being absurdly easy later on thanks to them.

Also there are only minor differences in the power level of people using materia, so its entirely possible to fill your party up with a bunch of bruisers and have one of them act as healer. It's a weird change from the earlier, class based, Final Fantasy games. I suppose they just wanted to let people pick the party that they wanted to have but it really cut out what I felt was an important part of the series.

The only real major difference between characters is their Limit Breaks. As your characters take damage from enemy attacks their Limit bar will begin to fill up. Once the bar is full your Limit Break command replaces their normal attack command. These change depending on the character and what weapon they have equipped and can range from an ability that heals the entire party to a devastating attack that wrecks hell on one opponent. A few even have weirder things like slot machine type things that go on. They're by and large weird but all still pretty useful. This is the only real thing that ever factored in to my choosing a party.

This game is pretty long and has a solid thirty to forty hours without getting into all of the side quests. Some side quests damn near feel mandatory but overall you do have the option as to how to proceed with yourself. Honestly this game is all about freedom, some good and some bad. You really can't blame a game for giving you this but it does some damage to the game itself. It doesn't make it a horrible thing like some of the later games and it is a fun time. You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't play this game.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 09/06/07

Game Release: Final Fantasy VII (US, 09/07/97)

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