Review by Etrurianmage
"A poor game redeemed by its sense of charm and atmosphere. Well, somewhat redeemed."
Final Fantasy VII: Undoubtedly a huge influence on the RPG scene, and the gaming world as a whole, for years to come. Regarded by many as the greatest game of all time, and without a sufficient base, if you ask me. I picked up this game for the first time in the summer of 2009, and I can only imagine that I was not getting the experience unless I was playing it as the first major 3-D console RPG. In terms of gameplay, there's really very little to say positive about this game, especially when compared to other wonderful Square-Enix RPGs of the SNES era, such as Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, or Chrono Trigger. Really, I would recommend playing these three games (or several other great games) over this. Anyway, on to a little more detail as to why I am so opposed to this game.
The first thing that hits the player about Final Fantasy VII is the pseudo-realistic cyberpunk world in which the player is immersed. The first few hours of gameplay are a part of the game that I actually enjoyed. The story starts out somewhat mysterious; placing the player as a part of a terrorist group which makes attacks against an totalitarian government/power corporation known as Shin-Ra, who damages the planet by the production of mako energy. The story contains a sense of depth at this point that makes the world so interesting. However, about five to six hours in, the player leaves the city to explore the rest of the world. This is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, you get to see some more varied locations, some of which are very nice (and some of which aren't), but few if any of them compare to Midgar. But rest assured, the atmosphere of the game is still great throughout. Some of the places you visit later in the game show some incredible use of pre-rendered backgrounds and charmingly primitive 3-D graphics that make some of the game's better moments. Long story short: You see that 5 at the top of the screen? That would quite possibly be a 2 if the game wasn't so charming.
Next, the story. Again, Final Fantasy VII starts out promising. While you're in Midgar, the plot has an air of mystery that makes the whole tale very compelling, and what's better-the pace keeps up wonderfully considering that every action you take feels entirely significant. Several RPGs make the mistake of setting aside several goals in front of you, and make none of them feel significant (Find X number of keys to open the door to the final dungeon and face the big bad). However, after a few levels you leave the city, and, once again, everything goes downhill. Your goal between the first five hours and the last seven or eight hours of the game is to follow Sephiroth. No really, that's all the more development the story usually gets. Follow Sephiroth. A few occurrences and one major series of events about halfway through try to keep it fresh, but you're still just following the bad guy from after the beginning until just before the end. However, once you get closer to the ending, a lot of development for the protagonist and the climactic feeling of it all makes the story a good deal better.
Character development isn't much better. A few members of your cast have nice personalities, but these hardly get explored to delve into their character and see what really drives them. At most, you're getting fifteen minutes of backstory (that isn't applied at all to their current struggles to make that fifteen minutes feel relevant throughout the rest of the game) for anyone not named "Cloud". The protagonist's (Cloud's) story, to be fair, is pretty impressive. A lot of development as to who he really is, what really made him the way he is, and why he needs to continue to fight as he does. The problem is that it comes 75% of the way through the game, and before that, the guy is too apathetic to be interesting. And the villain (Sephiroth), is some good and some bad. On the good side, his backstory is great, his deeds are unmistakably that of an evil villain that you want to defeat, and his design is very dark and nice. The problem is that Square apparently forgot to give him a character. Throughout the game he says almost nothing, and when he does it's incredibly basic and doesn't let on as to the man inside of his shell. He doesn't say a single word before the final battle. Not one thing. Lame. Even Garland from Final Fantasy I did that, and that game featured silent protagonists.
And now we're on to the gameplay. I don't even know where to begin here, it was all just so...bad. Let's start with my biggest problem-the repetition. I feel like an inherent leap that turn based RPGs have to overcome is the ability of the player to just mash "Attack" in every command. Final Fantasy VI gave the player a unique command for each character that allowed the player to customize their own strategies. Chrono Trigger allowed for many tech combinations and unique enemies that allowed the player to learn to adjust to their given situation and formulate a strategy from that. Final Fantasy VII gives you the materia system. This allows the player to learn spells, summons, and commands (most of the commands are rehashes of spells or summons from earlier Final Fantasy games).
"So our variety is the magic and summons that we've had since the NES era FF games"
Yes. Oh, but there's more. Materia also grants statistic bonuses or deductions to your characters. Allowing your characters to turn towards a more specialized area. You can make certain characters quicker, certain characters can be made stronger, you can make certain characters into mages. And prior to this, your characters are blank templates for materia growth.
"So they have no individuality in battle before I put materia on them?"
Nope. They all do the same thing. Oh, and I may be wrong here, but did anybody else feel like mages were kind of useless in most cases? I mean, when I play turn based RPGs, I keep somebody for healing, but otherwise I just focus on power. So most of the time a restore materia is all that was needed for my characters in this game, and I otherwise just left them to focus on attacking.
"So they still function exactly the same for all practical purpose?"
Huh, now that you mention it, I guess they do. While the materia system is fun to play around with, I didn't like how there was no permanent growth to my characters. Your characters will never actually "Learn" anything through materia-they can only use it while the materia is equipped. Perhaps not a problem to some, but I preferred the job system or espers of SNES Final Fantasy games that allowed me to optimize my characters to any situation. Maybe it's just me though. Just one last complaint with the system, I didn't like how the leveling increments weren't adjusted to a normal playthrough. You'll be reaching extremely near the end of the game before you have some very important spells like Esuna, Cure3, and higher level attacks.
Anyway, let's move on to some more of this game's colossal flaws. Ooh! I've got one! The mandatory mini-games that are basically no fun! Yeah, I'm sure I'm not the only one that dislikes being forcefully pulled aside from my quest to complete some obscure objective that serves no real purpose.
Or maybe the erratic difficulty that switches from laughably easy normal fights that require no strategy to menacing boss fights that require obscure materia tricks to make possible. True story: Big Guard, which is an essential skill to surviving the game's later battles, is obtained by going to somebody's basement in a mandatory mini-game level, finding the materia laying around there, going to a strip of land so thin that your character can barely stand on it, finding an enemy there, equipping said materia, and manipulating the enemies to cast the skill on you. The main quest is no stranger to giving you no hints either. You're quite often just told to go find some place and given no indication as to where it is or how to get there. Thanks, Square. Thanks for making this game impossible to play without a guide.
The misplaced balance was no fun either. In most RPGs (and especially something from a high-end developer like Square), I expect items, spells, etc. to each fit into their proper place in the game and work towards providing me with several useful options throughout the game. However this game, once again, just decided to fall back on materia growth. Many areas have one specific way of dealing with the enemies/bosses, and if you didn't go off and learn some obscure materia trick, then shame on you. Really, I never felt like I was formulating my own strategies for the game in a fun and comprehensive manner. It usually just came down to exploiting materia.
Replay is impossible for me to judge because I could barely force myself to stomach this game once. I guess it looks like there's a lot of content, but I almost never feel masochistic enough to play this game again, so I couldn't tell you if any of it is any good.
Well, looking back on this review, I kind of ranted. And for that, I apologize. It's just very difficult for me to lay out my grudge against this game for stealing thirty hours of my life in a comprehensive manner. If there's one point in me publishing a review for a game from 1997 that almost everybody interested has probably already played and formed an opinion on, it's to say this: Don't buy into the hype. Yes, it was a very influential game, and with all of my problems aside, I recommend any RPG fan to at least try it so that they can see what it was all about. However, I do not advise you to give the game a free pass on the idea that it was "Great for the time" as many put it. Older RPGs out-do this game in so many aspects, and I feel like FFVII just gets a free pass based on its impact.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 12/22/09
Game Release: Final Fantasy VII (US, 09/07/97)
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