Review by Spark0
"It's not that FFVII outright fails in any department but characters, it's just that it doesn't do anything particularly well."
Final Fantasy VII's blessing and curse is that it was released in the US in a time when most gamers in the area had never played a jRPG. If you took to it, of course you were going to think it is the greatest game ever, to you that's the game that revolutionized gaming and told a story more powerful than any ever seen before in a video game, though both of those claims are entirely false. In Japan, it was popular because it was viewed as the Playstation's answer to the sublime offerings in the Shin Megami Tensei series from Atlus on the Saturn.
It's not that FFVII is bad, it's just, well, average. The battle system is good (though nearly identical to FFVI), but not great. The reason I've always preferred Atlus's over Square's and Enix's RPGs can be explained by a very simple rule: if battles are the bedrock of a game, battles need to be fun, engaging and not to repetitive. For some reason, even after Enix answered with Star Ocean's brilliant and complex battle system, Atlus answered with a party that changes on a minute-to-minute basis (as well as deflected the focus away from fighting all the time) and later press turn and even Square answered with Live a Live's sRPG-esque battle system, the same mistakes continue to be made. Essentially, your party stands on one side of the screen and the enemies on the other. Once a bar representing the character's readiness fills up, said character can perform an action. This is something that worked well in the past when it was used correctly: in FFIV and FFVI, your party would rotate every hour or so, meaning that you would need to come up with new strategies to combat enemies, and FFV had a great job system that made character customization just as fun as actual battles. Similar battle systems have also succeeded by making elemental weaknesses a focus, forcing the player to choose attacks carefully.
FFVII does none of this. When you get a party member they either join your actual party or sit in a strange alternate dimension where they exists only as a portrait, ready to be switched at will. Since you're almost never forced to mix up your party, it ends up being a choice between repetitive gameplay and grinding, neither of which are very appetizing. That being said, when the game actually makes you think (usually during boss battles), the strength of the underlying mechanics shine through. Characters can also unleash a special move after certain conditions are met, which also spruce up the gameplay a little.
So far I'd give the game an 8, that's not bad, not best game ever material, but certainly acceptable. What brings it down a point is the abysmal excuse for a plot shoehorned into the game and the terrible character development. If FFVI is, well, Shakespeare is a bit high, let's go with Raymond Chandler, nothing really memorable but certainly a crowd pleaser, FFVII is Kurt Vonnegut crossed with Fyodor Dostoesky. Two great writers, but two with serious flaws in their work.
Make no mistake, FFVII in no way feels like a dropped ball: it fails in spectacularly smart ways. The premise, that is a band of guerilla terrorists fighting against an overbearing corporate entity is immediately engaging, and some of the character designs such as Barrett, a character right out of a blaxploitation film who speaks in censored curses (other characters use some of the same curse words, but it's uncensored when they say it) and practically bleeds charisma and only two of female leads are off-kilter in the way female leads usually are. The story is totally engaging, for a few hours:
Soon, things go awry. I don't mean the translation: it's bad but that's entirely forgivable, it simply wasn't a standard expectation back then. What I mean is that subplots begin to be thrown in at an incredibly fast rate. You see some of the more important ones start to emerge in the first act I liked so much, but that's entirely in that cool "what the hell was that!?" way. I mean this is information overload, and not much of it actually has to do with the main story. I don't mean just backstories for the characters, that's forgivable, although there are far more elegant ways of doing the same thing, I mean the story is like a straw that twirls and twirls and goes up to the heavens only to end in the drink two feet away from your mouth. All of the bizarre biblical references, one-dimensional extraneous villains and unseen characters are fine if they contribute to the goal, but FFVII is little more than a simple revenge story in the end. It's a damn shame too, it showed such promise.
But the worst part is some of the characters. The main protagonist and main villain, Cloud Strife and Sephiroth have both received undeserved acclaim as great characters. Honestly, there are paths are twisted webs that don't end up anywhere and they demonstrate little to no personality otherwise. There's also Vincent, who plays the tune of a soul tortured by a lost love. Oh, and he's a vampire, which doesn't really figure in anywhere, but seems like a nice touch. And don't forget Cait Sith, a robotic enemy spy/talking animatronic cat that fights with a megaphone, who has hated even by people who love the game.
The point outlined in the tagline deserves repeating: FFVII is in no way a bad game. Through a good portion of the game, and some long stretches after that, the story is interesting, the battle system, though not implemented as well as in past games in the series is still entirely serviceable and brilliant way to make you pay attention to the otherwise lethargic battles. Sadly, the pacing of the earlier and later games in the series isn't there, nor is the genuinely enjoyable gameplay of the jRPGs that defined the genre up to that point such as Tales of Phantasia, Chrono Trigger or Shin Megami Tensei II.
The tragedy of FFVII isn't that it is a steaming pile of dung that looks like steak with nostalgia goggles, it's that with a little trimming and polishing it genuinely could deliver as the game it is remembered to be.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 06/29/09
Game Release: Final Fantasy VII (US, 09/07/97)
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