Review by dwffmaster
Overrated, but not by much
Final Fantasy VII is one of the most famous RPGs of all time. Square poured all its money into it, betting that this game would be a success, and their confidence paid off. But now, eleven years after the release of the game, after all the hype has long since subsided, I decided to replay the game with a fresh perspective. Obviously the graphics have not aged well, and I would argue that its predecessor, Final Fantasy VI, looks better today. The focus of this review will not focus on graphics, but instead primarily on story and gameplay.
The best way to describe the story of Final Fantasy VII would have to be convoluted. There are so many aspects of the story that were not fleshed out satisfactorily. Are you really pursing Sephiroth throughout the game, or is just Jenova projecting his image? How can Red XIII have kids when it is clearly stated that he is the last of his kind? There are many more unanswered questions that I have after completing the game, and while many of the answers can be found through online resources and the numerous spinoffs that the game has spawned, there is no excuse for them not being explained within the actual game. This leads me to the biggest flaw of FF 7: the translation. Either the translators had an incredibly short amount of time to translate the game, or it was done by people who had little grasp of the English language, but FF 7 has so many typos, punctuation errors, (mainly misplaced commas) and other anomalies that it astounds me that Square would have placed so little emphasis on a satisfactory translation, considering that story is the most important aspect of an RPG. Many of these are humorous and have become famous amongst gamers, such as This guy are sick! proclaimed by Aeris (whose name, by the way, was supposed to have been translated as Aerith) and the answer of Off course! when asked if the player wants to continue fighting in the battle arena. My personal favorite would have to be Bugenhagens indignation expressed before you enter the Cave of the Gi: You want an old man like me should go first? Humorous as many of these may be, they greatly detract from the sense of immersion that is critical in an RPG. Many times I would play and be absolutely lost in the world of FF 7, only to be rudely pulled back to reality by a strange or incomprehensible remark by one of my party members.
Another problem that FF 7 has is how the characters are handled. Optional characters are rarely a good idea. The story cant ever directly involve them because they may not be there, and all of the FMVs showing the party have Yuffie and Vincent noticeably absent. The main problem with how the characters are handled is the fact that you have control of which three are in your party. When almost all of the character interaction and development occurs is during those few sequences in which the party is decided for you. The game missed so many opportunities for characters to remark on situations at hand, and interact with each other because only three characters were there. The best way that I have seen this dealt with is in Final Fantasy X, where all the characters were always present for story purposes, even if they were not in battle.
Beneath this questionable character development and poor translation lies a very intriguing and complex storyline. Although very dystopian and in many ways misanthropic, the story had me intrigued even if I didnt always quite understand what was going on. The first disc is superior to the last two, and the story loses focus towards the end, resulting in a very abrupt and unsatisfactory ending. Despite its flaws, overall I really enjoyed the story, with Clouds development the unquestionable highlight in my mind.
The gameplay of FF 7 revolves around Materia. It controls every aspect of battle, and without it, all the characters can do is attack, defend, and use items. This demonstrates a point that Final Fantasy never has settled on: the customizability of characters. Final Fantasy IV had distinct character classes, Final Fantasy V started the trend of blank slate characters, which continued until Final Fantasy IX, when characters got their individuality back. The only differentiator between characters in Final Fantasy VII is their limit breaks. Whether this is positive or negative depends on your preference.
The length of FF 7 feels just about right, with some obvious filler (Big Materia hunting, anyone?). I also believe FF 7 to have the best side quests of the entire series. It doesnt have (many) stupid minigames, but instead has two ridiculously difficult optional bosses, two optional dungeons, and a very fun chocobo breeding quest. The game has the typical FF frustrations like sudden, cheap deaths that seem to occur every once and a while, and the game is too easy, but overall the Materia system is a very fun system and I never grew tired of switching up combos of them to see what I could do.
The music is not Uematsus best work, but the game has some great songs, such as the battle theme, which I believe to be the best in the series, the Overworld theme (before that damn meteor rears its ugly head of course), Aeris theme, and of course the now famous One Winged Angel. Another thing that bothered me was the often long, unskippable summons that caused me to avoid them out of impatience, and the ridiculous Super Nova attack by Sephiroth that destroyed our entire solar system twice in one battle, clocking in at just less than two minutes. For a game with so many inherent flaws, it is something of a miracle that FF 7 continues to be so great. A strong plot, great atmosphere, and great gameplay go a long way. The fact is, compared to other FF games, FF 7, in my opinion, is one of the weaker entries (its better than its successor, but that isnt saying much).
Final Fantasy VII brought RPGs into the mainstream, and they have never been the same since. Is it overrated? Definitely. Is it the best in the series? No way. But it is still a fantastic RPG and required play for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the genre.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Final Fantasy VII (US, 09/07/97)
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