Review by Exodist
"An absolutely amazing achievement for Squares first entry into the world of 3D and Final Fantasy."
Final Fantasy VII is quite possibly one of the most hated games out there, along with modern 'greats' such as Call of Duty and all those Facebook games. Final Fantasy VII is also one of the most loved games out there, along with other popular to hate classics such as Ocarina of Time and many other games hailed as one of the best ever made. Is Final Fantasy VII one of the best games ever made? Yeah, sure, why not?
The story in Final Fantasy VII is pretty epic in scale and size covering a lot of different plot lines, characters and back stories. The main plot however concerns that of Avalanche, a group a rebels against the all evil Shinra corporation. Why are they evil? They're draining the planet of its life blood, creating Mako energy, a resource for all people to use. However it isn't all nice and shiny. Midgar, a city run by Shinra is home to many reactors and slums, the people are poor and the living conditions terrible. Our game starts with our hero Cloud, ex-Soldier (Soldier being an elite force for Shinra) working with Avalanche to destroy a reactor in Midgar in what is perhaps one of the best gaming introductions, getting straight into the heart of the action. At first the game sets up a story of Avalanche versus Shinra, however Sephiroth, a hero from recent times and also a part of soldier turns up to also wreak havoc. He captures the strange life form 'Jenova', forcing Cloud and his friends to chase after Sephiroth across the planet, battling with the Shinra along the way. There is a lot to the plot and overall it is pretty satisfying if fairly typical of a save the world plot, there are some pretty fantastic twists and some not so great twists, and the ending overall is reasonably satisfying leading up to a great conclusion.
For me though what makes the story in Final Fantasy VII so great is that there is so much going on all of the time. You're not just chasing after Sephiroth, but fighting against Shinra along the way. This game takes attention to detail to a new whole level, featuring plenty of foreshadowing and keeping tabs on pretty much every villain all through the game. The Turks, a group of classy hitmen end up chasing Cloud all over the world on order of the president of Shinra, and indeed, you'll see them everywhere. One thing I enjoyed was that some parts are simply optional and its up to you to fill in the blanks. When you first receive the Buggy, there is a destroyed reactor near by that you can completely skip. However if you do visit it, you get greeted to a funny little scene with The Turks and some fights, as well as some extra scenes. The game never misses a trick and despite a large cast of villains (mainly all apart of Shinra, apart from Sephiroth of course) you'll be meeting and seeing these characters as you progress through the game. Also optional are two playable characters, Yuffie, a cute young ninja, and Vincent, a vampire style ex-Turk. Ultimately, both were to be cut from the game due to time constraints, they were originally planned as normal characters however instead of throwing them away they became optional. Making them optional also means there isn't much backstory to them (one can imagine the time constraints meant the developers felt they were not able to develop backstory and side-quests in-depth enough to be non-optional characters), the optional route works for them, since as mentioned, there isn't as much backstory. Yuffie has a side-quest in the entirely optional Wutai where once again familiar faces reappear, its a great part of the game but again, entirely optional. Vincent on the other hand has a back story however it is pretty vague, although he is a character explored in much more depth in later instalments of the FF7 'compilation'.
The cast of characters is a strong bunch. Cloud is a likeable lead that isn't interested in saving the planet but rather wants to settle the score. He isn't particularly deep or complex on the outside but he isn't an idiot either and has a very interesting background. Childhood friend Tifa meanwhile provides a lovely leading lady who proves her own with her fighting skills and ultimately servers as a support for Cloud (she also happens to be the hottest FF girl and yes I just went there). Barret is the typical mean guy with a soft interior when coupled with his young daughter Marlene for who he fights along with trying to save the planet, Barret is perhaps one of the best natured characters in the game despite his harsh exterior. Aeris meanwhile is the sweet and innocent girl who happens to be of huge importance to pretty much everyone, and yes, she is the one where that thing happens that everyone knows about. These characters make up the core cast whereas the rest perhaps serve less purpose but are still good: Red XIII, a talking dog of some description who is an honourable and pride driven beast who strives to protect his home, Cait Sith, a cheeky little guy riding atop a moogle toy who may or may not hold a dark secret, and Cid, a pilot who dreamed of being the first person out of space. The 9 cast total is a big one however all the characters here are not only useful in-game but nice and fun characters with their own typical stereotypes. Whilst these characters do not ever really go beyond these stereotypes, its hard to hate them and they actively don't do anything to actually annoy you.
The genius of Final Fantasy VII does not stop here however. This kinda goes in with game design as much as storyline, but one thing Final Fantasy VII does well is the set-pieces. Remember all those old JRPGs where the game was just the world map, towns, and generic dungeons, usually ending up just being caves and castle type areas? Final Fantasy VII breaks this tradition by creating actual set-pieces as context for dungeon crawling, rather than straight up caves all the time. For example, the opening of the game see's you blowing up a reactor, meanwhile later you bust into the Shinra tower which holds a modern work place vibe, what with the vending machines and the gym up there. The game is full of memorable moments that take place with the story instead of simply giving us dungeons to grind through, reach the end of and then have some plot and character development. At the end of the day its no different game mechanic wise to having a normal dungeon, you run through rooms and you reach the save point and then a boss, but the way its presented makes the game much more memorable and disguises the repetition of simply going through dungeon after dungeon. I can easily think of this game and remember all of the great and exciting moments, such as going to Junon for the first time, sailing across the sea on the boat, visiting Costa Del Sol the first time, vising Cosmo Canyon, the Shinra mansion, taking off on the Tiny Bronco, visiting Wutai. Notice a pattern here? Yeah, that's pretty much the order you go in whilst playing the game. Every place is cool and exciting right up until the very end. Of course, there are some pretty generic dungeons and caves here and there but its a pretty even split and one of my favourite aspects of the game. Its simply memorable and every place proves fun and interesting both in terms of design and in terms of plot progression and what actually happens, this isn't a game you are going to forget very easily.
The gameplay is typical to many other JRPGs but also proves fine tuned to almost perfection, with a few issues here and there. First, the battle system is the ATB system as seen in the SNES games and also the PS1 games. Each character has a time bar which once filled allows them a turn in battle where they may attack, use magic, steal, use items and many other commands. The game also features the Limit Break system, based off the Desperation system in Final Fantasy VI which allows characters to use unique special attacks. After receiving so many hits a character unlocks their limit break for one time use (until the bar is filled again, which only starts refilling once the limit break is used). This attack is usually extremely powerful and useful. Each character has 4 levels of limit breaks which you can set, and learn them from simply using their limits a certain number of times, along with earning so many kills. The limit break system is in fact that good it made a return in FF8, 9 and 10. Although 10 is the clear choice of having the best limit system (called overdrive in 10, and trance in 9, by the way), 7 takes the crown for the best limit system on the PS1 series. The moves are powerful, earned on a fairly regular basis allowing freedom to use them (as in, when you get it, you don't have to whore it until that next boss fight) and earned at a fairly decent rate. Even more interesting, you have to find and earn a manual to learn their fourth limit, adding an extra sort of side-quest for each character. The only flaw of the limit system is that it overtakes your attack command, effectively forcing you to use it before you can attack again. Although there are some solutions, this will probably be the case for most players. This makes up for a great battle system that, when set to full speed, can be a fast and painless affair.
Character development in this game is much more free than before. Whilst many games either force a class onto your character or give you a job system whereby you can choose what class or job your character is, Final Fantasy VII features neither. Instead, you just make it up as you go along. Each character can equip a weapon, a piece of armour, and an accessory. In the weapon and armour (but not the accessory) are materia slots, allowing you to equip materia. Materia is what lets you do stuff. Materia comes in many types as coded by their colour ranging from magic materia to command materia. Magic materia is exactly that, spells such as Fire, Ice, Lightning and Cure. Command materia adds an extra command to your list when fighting which includes options such as Enemy Skill (Blue Magic in which you learn spells from enemies when they cast them, allowing you to use unique enemy abilities which often prove very strong), Steal, Throw or Sense which allows you to scan enemies for HP and weaknesses. There are also other types such as summon materia and also stat boosting materia. The system is simple, you equip pieces of materia to characters equipment, and they can use the abilities associated with the materia. Put Ice on Cloud's wepaon, and he can use Ice. The system gets much more in-depth however. For starts, materia affects your characters stats with more magic type reducing HP but increasing your MP and magic stat. Your equipment can also feature two chained slots in which if compatible, the two materia equipped will play off of each other. The most common here is the All materia. Chain together Cure and All, and you can use cure on all your allies at once. There are also many other combinations and even more cool effects, for example, you can chain an added effect, for example, with Fire. If this materia chain is on your weapon, you do fire based attacks, and if its on your armour, you can nullify fire attacks. One of the best examples is probably added effect plus hades on your armour, giving your character a free ribbon (resists all status ailments). There are plenty of results and also plenty of cool materia such as double cut which lets you attack twice, or counter. Even more however, is that materia also earns AP from battle. Your weapons have growth on them, earning you normal, double or in some rare cases triple AP from fights to level materia. The more levels it gains, the stronger it is, for example Cure materia will earn you Cure, Cure 2, Cure 3 and Regen when fully levelled. This allows you to reduce the amount of slots you need and improve your materia as you travel through the game. There is a trade off here in that whilst its balanced in a sense that you earn the spells at appropriate times of the game, it also takes absolutely ages to max materia, a very important thing to factor when going for a full completion. All this said, you can put any materia on absolutely whoever you want, and whilst you may conform to class roles you can also go completely against this. The game simply lets you do this, the freedom and depth is here whilst also being a very simple system at its heart.
Another big point of the game are the mini-games. Whilst overall not the biggest feature, they're all pretty fun and create nice diversions in the game. The main one is the chocobo racing. In VII you can capture and raise chocobo, race them and then end up breeding them. There are many colours available each with many different skills providing a fun side-quest in that goal to get the gold chocobo. You can also snowboard at the Icicle Town, again, providing a short distraction and change of pace from the main game. Perhaps best of all is the Fort Condor mini-game which is essentially tower defence where you must spend money to buy units and protect the precious condor from the Shinra troops. Without getting into too much detail, the game also features some lighter mini-games as it were based upon the collection of some important key items later in the game, once again providing a nice change of pace and variety in the game which really freshens things up. The mini-games by quality standards are not the best thing ever, the chocobo races aren't exactly providing you with a racing experience to match those of proper racing games, but they're not properly terrible either. The Golden Saucer houses many different mini-games for you to play, literally providing you with a playground to visit whenever you feel like it.
One thing I did notice as I played this game again recently was how easy I found it. In fact, I'd go as far as to say Final Fantasy VII is a very easy game. I only got game over twice on this playthrough (I cant count how many times I played this game as a child but I must stress I was a child so I never finished it, only finishing it for the first time a few years ago when I first wrote this review) and used no special strategies for the bosses. I didn't play great because I knew what I was doing, it just isn't very hard. Enemies hit very low and most bosses don't really pose much of a threat. There are some pretty challenging fights here and there such as the Dock Loader, however these can easily be done in a few tries. The last boss itself is challenging but not very difficult either. Whilst I will say I play a lot of JRPGs I'm not really an expert, I just can't really say this game will legitimately give many people a really hard time. Younger players and those inexperienced with RPGs will find some difficulty here, however for the rest, don't come for the challenge. The game does however feature a fair number of side-quests which open up towards the end of the game. These are challenging but not the hardest either, although the two big optional bosses, Emerald and Ruby weapon are poorly designed. Whilst Ultima weapon can be defeated with ease, these two cannot. The fights themselves aren't necessarily hard, however you will be required to pretty much max your characters out to even think about fighting these monsters, including max stats, levels and materia, which takes a very long time. Despite this however, the game offers plenty of extra things to do to keep the player distracted. On this playthrough in particular I finished the game in about 23 hours which, to me, is pretty fast. However I know the game very well and can easily say most players will find it to take about 30-40 hours to finish with extras to do after, there is plenty to see and do.
The graphics in the game, whilst laughable now, are absolutely wonderful. The game consists of 2D backgrounds where the 3D characters walk on. Lets just get it out of the way: the field models look absolutely dumb. The arms look stupid, the lets look stupid, their limbs seem to detach all the time, some of the characters faces look stupid, the list goes on really. However the backgrounds are absolutely lovely. Granted, the technical quality here is extremely dated but the game shows some fantastic artistic design. How can you simply not love the areas in this game? Midgar is a truly horrible place but one you can't help but feel is home to these people. The Gold Saucer is also a visual delight, as well as the haunting Shinra Mansion, the Asian themed Wutai and one of my personal favourites, Icicle Town and the snowy glacier. There is a broad range of environments and locations on offer, including generic grasslands, the snow place, the desert, and some truly great original areas such as the temple of the ancients and another favourite, the resort styled Costa Del Sol. The battle graphics are also wonderful featuring some high quality character models, good monster design and some fantastic battle animations and attacks. Wait until you see Super Nova. The CGI is looks pretty horrible and dated now however the vision is there, and if anything you get to see Tifa bounce a little bit.
The music is perhaps one of Nobuo's finest efforts. Final Fantasy VII is not a happy and cheerful game, in fact it can be quite dark and depressing and the sound track really captures this. The themes in this game are highly memorable and do a wonderful job of matching the scenes. Once you play the game, the soundtrack is infinitely listenable outside of the game when you can provide context, everything just fits, from character themes to the situations at hand when the music plays. Uematsu is simply one of the best composers in video gaming providing one of my favourite soundtracks in a video game. I will admit it, I got goosebumps when the choir kicks in on One Winged Angel, easily the best and probably most well known track, providing the best ever final boss music in a JRPG. Whilst music may not be an important aspect to many players, anyone interested in music or video game music should have a blast listening to these tunes.
Final Fantasy VII isn't my favourite Final Fantasy, but I can see why it is regarded as one of the best. Think about it, this was Squares first effort with a 3D Final Fantasy. And its absolutely amazing. The sheer epic scale and size of the game world, the story and its characters, the great materia and gameplay system, everything just works. Final Fantasy VII gets pretty much everything right and the game provides the player with a truly memorable experience all through its entire 3 disc length. The fact this game got everything so right and was so great is a testament to the talent working on video games in the late 90s, especially as 3D back then was actually quite bad for the most part, its great to see Square got everything so good. The game is a little bit easy and perhaps short for some players, and some of the side-bosses are pretty much inaccessible for the average player, but the game is still a joy to play. If you didn't play it back then or when you were younger, it is probably a lot harder to appreciate. However Final Fantasy VII is a game of its time, this was the game to own and everyone was talking about it. It blew people away, and remains a perfectly playable game. Final Fantasy VII is not the best game ever made, but its certainly one of the best JRPGs available.
Score: 10/10 - Best of the best.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 01/20/10, Updated 08/21/12
Game Release: Final Fantasy VII (EU, 11/17/97)
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