Review by bover_87

"The world's favorite reactor bombing is only the beginning of Final Fantasy VII's magic"

If you ask a person on the street to name an role-playing game (RPG), chances are that most of them will name Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy VII literally put the RPG genre on the map for most gamers, but how good is the game really? Despite some flaws, Final Fantasy VII is an incredible gaming experience.

Final Fantasy VII's gameplay is easily amongst the best for RPGs. The battle system of Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) is amongst the best I've seen. The Active Turn Battle (ATB) system returns once again. In ATB battle, a battle flows in real time and, depending on which battle mode you use, time will stop during attack animations and while you're in a submenu, allowing the player to select spells and the like without worrying about enemies attacking them while you're trying to find it in the menu. Another new portion of the battle system is Limit Breaks. When a character takes damage, their limit bar increases, and when it's full, the character can unleash an extremely powerful attack, making for new strategical possibilities in-battle. The one problem with the battles is that almost all of them are far too easy, simply because most enemies are far weaker than your party, especially if you have been picking up equipment and Materia along the way.

On the other hand, Final Fantasy VII features an entirely new ability system known as the Materia system. In FFVII, except for Limit Breaks, characters' abilities are not determined by what the character has learned but rather based upon what Materia they have equipped. Each weapon and piece of armor has a set number of slots for Materia, ranging from one to eight. Every time you win a battle, the Materia you have gets AP, and the amount it gains depends on how many the party earned for the battle and the growth rate of the piece of equipment it's on (ranges from no growth at all to triple growth), and, when the Materia gains enough AP, it will level and either give a new ability or enhance one it already has. In addition, equipped Materia also influences character stats by making some rise moreso than others; for instance, Magic materia tends to increase Magic and maximum MP while lowering Strength and maximum HP, whereas most command Materia will raise stats other than Magic. This also impacts how a character grows, since stat bonuses at level-up are based upon percentages of current stats. Overall, it works well, but it runs into a serious problem that makes its effect on stats far less important: in this game, abilities matter far more than stats, and many of the strongest moves are based upon magic. Thus, most characters tend to end up somewhat mage-like since most Materia raises Magic at the expense of physical stats, which defeats the purpose of the level-up bonuses since most characters will probably end up magically-oriented anyway, not to mention that it takes a very long time for this to really show significant effects.

Final Fantasy VII second to none in terms of sidequests. There is a wide variety of sidequests throughout the game, ranging from optional super-monsters to racing chocobos to fighting one-on-one in the monster arena to just playing random arcade-style games. They have many rewards associated to be earned for doing them as well, making them a crucial part of the game. Also, unlike the sidequests in some other games, the sidequests in Final Fantasy VII are enjoyable to do even for the sake of doing them, not just what they give you at the end.

There are a few gameplay issues, though. For one thing, due to a bug Magic Defense actually has no effect on damage dealt by magical attacks, which makes some otherwise great armor options worthless. Second, many things can be permanently missed, some of which are either very hard to find or the game makes no indication that they could be missed. Third, there are times where the game seems to flow very slowly. For me, this was mostly on the first half of Disc 2, although there were a few times I would experience this on disc 1 as well, especially in middle part of Midgar. Luckily, these problems are fairly minor, and far surpassed by the game's strong points.

The game's story is nothing short of spectacular. While some of the characters only have stereotypical personalities, their backstories are flushed out very effectively over the course of the game. You play as Cloud Strife, a former member of SOLDIER, an elite group of super-soldiers enhanced by the power of Mako, who has been hired by an organization known as AVALANCHE to destroy a Mako reactor. Throughout the game, Cloud and his companions travel the planet to unravel the secrets of the Shinra Corporation, which effectively rules the entire world. Another point where the game's story is exceptional is that the optional characters all have well-developed backstories themselves, rather than just being there to add power or special abilities to your party. On the whole, the storytelling in the game is excellent, and it fits well with the gameplay of the game. However, the translation of the Japanese to English isn't all that good, and the story itself can be difficult to follow the first time playing through the game, making it seem somewhat confusing at times. Nevertheless, Square deserves props for the story.

The graphics of the game are horrible. The in-battle graphics are respectable, but out of battle, the characters look like cylinders and blocks pasted together to form something that roughly looks like a human, and the areas often look rather pixelated. Thankfully, the graphics really don't take much away from the overall experience, but if you're someone who is much more concerned about the graphics the game overall, Final Fantasy VII might not be the game for you.

The sound effects are likewise fairly poor in quality, but this is more than made up for with the game's soundtrack. While the synthesized music doesn't sound the greatest, Final Fantasy VII's music does an excellent job of setting the proper mood for scenes. The battle music is fast-paced and hectic, while there are other pieces that are sad and downbeat. All in all, the music in the game significantly enhances the feel of the game.

Due to the length of the main plot and the amount of sidequests there are to complete, Final Fantasy VII has an enormous amount of replay value. Many of the sidequests (chocobo breeding, for example) take a rather long time to complete, and yield items invaluable to your quest. The game can easily offer a good 300 hours of replay value without doing special challenges. If you play challenges (games where certain items, equipment, or abilities are disallowed solely for the sake of making a game more difficult), you can easily get far more than that out of the game.

Final Fantasy VII is a very well-known game, and for good reason; it far exceeds expectations in its gameplay and storyline. From the opening bombing mission all the way to the final battle, the game just keeps the memories coming. No gamer's collection is complete without Final Fantasy VII.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/08/08

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

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