Review by EOrizzonte

"A landmark in videogaming history"

Boundaries are there to be broken, but among the elements of just any group or category, only a restricted elite can actually crush them and create a new standard. So when something emerges that breaks not only one, but many boundaries at the same time, and is capable of revolutionizing not only a well-outlined genre, but a whole aspect of social life and the way people look at it; and of doing this without being all that revolutionary in itself, it's easy to overreact and judge it on the wave of excitement. Final Fantasy VII was such a product in the world of videogaming, and its achievements so astounding, it's hard to believe a single game could ever do so much. But it could, and it's now regarded by many as the greatest game of all time. Can this possibly be true?

First off, FFVII broke the boundary of budget for a console game. Reports account that 30 to 45 million dollars were spent by Squaresoft in the making of the game - an amount of money that not every movie in this world is devolved for production. Although the actual total probably errs on the low side of the range, it's bewildering nonetheless. Never before the world of console gaming had had so much money invested upon a single project, and this had an impact. It gave the game the boost it needed to break through - quite simply, FFVII was born to be great. A great game requires a great budget, and a great budget means a great quantity of advertisement to get money back in. So, the game had to be publicized; and here's where it broke another boundary.

Final Fantasy VII was one of the first videogames to get true public attention. Something that had practically never happened in the West, and this because videogames were thought to be a pastime for children, or for lobotomized adults. But this game changed it all. It was heavily publicized in magazines and on TV, and as such, it managed to get the attention of a public that never before had cared about videogames. In Japan, a Final Fantasy game doesn't need to be advertised; it's a national establishment, and the name is enough to know what you're talking about. But in the West, Sony had to attract those who weren't into games; they had to appeal to the massmarket. They had to change the way people - not only the uncaring, but also the very gamers - used to look at games. Because the product was something America had never really had a taste of - a kind of game that had a few dedicated followers, but not as many as its outstanding quality deserved. And Sony got it right.

It would be a bad mistake to see Final Fantasy VII as THE game that changed it all: for example, Tomb Raider and its many sequels did much more to bring games to mag covers and to TV. But the sheer size of the game, and its phenomenal impact, left an indelible mark in just anyone who savoured it. Three CDs in 1997, when the PlayStation was just beginning to get popularity, hinted at something HUGE. So huge, you couldn't pass it by and forget about it. Three CDs filled with the most amazing graphics ever seen on a home videogame console, with CG cutscenes seamlessly merging with in-game polygon models; with sound compositions that have rarely been paralleled ever since; and, most important, with the most mature story anyone had witnessed that far in a game. Final Fantasy VII was no Super Mario, nor Ninja Turtles, nor Sonic: it was a story of courage, love, craze, power, death, despair, struggle, and sacrifice. It managed to convey emotions that many Hollywood productions never even hinted at. And, it also had some room left to add in a bit of quirky Japanese humour. It's still a mystery how FFVII could escape the severe censorship that had befallen any videogame that had tried to be more mature than a Hanna & Barbera cartoon, but luckily, it could. Then again, it may still be due to Sony's will to see the game triumph. Anyway, it's another of those persistent boundaries that were broken by the immense force of this game.

Not only FFVII brought videogames to a previously uncaring audience, but it also got role-playing games out of their niche market. As long as RPGs are concerned, Square's masterpiece is a landmark in history. Before its coming, these games had never been popular outside Japan. Few of them ever saw the light in the West, and the few which did were horribly mutilated to ''fix'' them for an audience that was obviously dedicated to action games and couldn't waste their time reading serious, meaningful dialogues in on-screen text windows. And then this lazy misjudgement, all of a sudden, collapsed under the attack of this single game, which gained such a legendary status, it opened the market to an onslaught of similar products in the following years. From very few, Western RPG releases suddenly skyrocketed to too many, to the point that the passionate player had to make a painful selection among the great number of quality games on the market. And this marked the beginning of a new era for Squaresoft too, with the softco producing so many RPGs, it's not unlikely that many PlayStations were burned before their time had come. And even today, every product with the Square brand on it is cause for spectacular commotion in the gaming community.

It's hard to put so much on the shoulders of a single product, but it's reasonable to say that Final Fantasy VII also shifted the balance of the console war - and of the whole videogame market - from Nintendo to Sony much before the real war could even begin. The size of the game was the reason it was shifted to Sony's CD-based console, and why cooperation between Square and Nintendo - which seemed to be eternal, and that had culminated just one year before with the release of the highly spectacular Super Mario RPG - came to an abrupt halt that's been interrupted just recently, and barely. FFVII had to be the N64's sleeper hit; it became the most adored title of all time, but to the advantage of NCL's most unexpected opponents. This event shifted the balance of the videogaming world, and its effects are still visible today, with Sony in the lead without any more true merits. PlayStation2 is where it is, also thanks to Final Fantasy VII.

To say that the actual game doesn't deserve its success would be radically unfair. Beyond the technical department, it features an excellent plot, with some of the most memorable protagonists ever. Everyone knows Cloud Strife, the spiky-haired blonde guy with a severe identity problem; Barret Wallace, the big negro with a gatling gun on his arm; Tifa Lockheart, the babe with the big breasts and the courage to stand up when the hero is apparently lost; Aeris Gainsborough, the gentle flower seller who with her magic saves the world, even at the cost of a premature sacrifice; Red XIII, the talking beast heir to an extinguished race, and with the most noble attitude you can expect from such a fierce animal; Vincent Valentine, the silent victim of unnamed experiments by the hand of a foolish scientist; Caith Sith, the most unuseful character in a Final Fantasy game, and also one of the most disturbing; and Cid Highwind, the swearing pilot who dreams of flying to outer space. And of course, there's the bad guy, one of the baddest ever: Sephirot. He is human, but doesn't think so; he is powerful, but wants to be even more. Even if the price to pay is the destruction of the planet itself.

The game's system - the much appraised Materia System - is also very good, and it allows for an almost unequaled level of customization. You can do the nastiest things with Materia, some of which no RPG has never allowed. You can also be unaware most of them are possible unless you want to make some serious experimentation. It's so various, it's wasted for the majority of gamers. And then, there are the subgames. Slide down a mountain with a snowboard. Pilot a submarine. Breed Chocobos and have them race, or use them to reach impossible places. And secrets. And subquests. And so many nouances, you will probably never know just how many are there. It's a world - small if compared to the real one, but so incredibly big when put beside your everyday life. So many gamers won't have the time to know it, and to love it.

Of course, the game is not without flaw. Today it's easy to appreciate it, but when it first came out, the many who bought it out of curiosity couldn't understand it. It was new and diverse, and therefore scary. Many copies were returned to stores, barely touched, and barely played. A shame, but it happened. It's just too special, and as such, it's not for everyone. But it's also limited by its sheer size: there's just too much stuff to be discovered, and this fights with the involvement created by the story in taking your time and attention away. Too many subquests, and not enough clues to find what you're looking for - provided you do know what you're looking for, that is. It's almost easier to stumble upon a secret than to find it when purposely searching for it. Just because you were having fun.

And then there's the story. What is the story, you may ask when you really get into it. It's so hard to make it out - you have to tie together all the flashbacks, all the subtle references, all the secret - yes, secret - scenes and dialogues that were hidden for unknown reasons. And then you have to think, and to guess by yourself what's been left out. Final Fantasy VII's plot is obscure, almost as much as Silent Hill's, and very few people actually managed to understand it. This doesn't mean it's not coherent, though: when you gather all the info, you can see that there's very few missing ties, something that doesn't happen in subsequent episodes of the saga. And then, the game was a bit rushed. It was so big, and so important, and something had to be left out in order to finish the product in time.

There is no such thing as a perfect game, and Final Fantasy VII certainly isn't perfect. Its main problem is that it was too much for its time. Too ambitious, too - and even more, not revolutionary at all. Because beyond the innovative graphics, the Materia System, and the never-seen-before maturity of the plot, the game's core structure remains that of the classic Japanese RPG. A group of characters, each with his or her own base stats; a standard level-up system; an overview world map, and a flying mean of transport to roam it; and, most notable of all, random battles everywhere you turn. None of these things is defectful in itself (except the latter perhaps), but the final result is a game that could have existed in 2D, and without the need for such storage space. But in the end, it doesn't matter: Final Fantasy VII is a legend. It revolutionized the world of videogames forever - not single-handedly, but it comes close. It's a timeless masterpiece, a unique example of balance and care. It's not the best of all time, but it undisputedly ranks among the best; and, to this very day, it's still better than many other products out there. This alone is reason to hail it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/22/02, Updated 10/22/02

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