Review by Cyril

"Overhyped-Yes. Bad-Not at all."

When people look at Final Fantasy VII these days, they look and see the fact that it is the game that changed everything. And I do mean everything for RPG's. Most games are molded off the base of Final Fantasy VII, even Squares other non-Final Fantasy games. A game as totally revolutionary as Final Fantasy VII will most likely go down in history. I'll bet, someday that Final Fantasy VII will be remade in a type of collection such as Final Fantasy Anthology, or Chronicles. And when that time comes, and the load times are sucky because of a bad port, you can go out and brag: I played the original.

You probably know Final Fantasy VII by now. It has been over-hyped, exploited, and picked apart for years now. But for those of you who have been living under a rock for the past 5 or 6 years, I will do my best to explain everything to you.

Final Fantasy VII: Home of the sexiest video game character of all time. And some of the other sexy ones as well. But lets start at the beginning. Final Fantasy VII starts off with a CG cinema. It shows a mech kind of area, so the game itself looks more like Final Fantasy VI then any of VII's other predecessors. This quasi-futuristic type of setting is still under argument by the fans of the Final Fantasy series. Some people like the complete fantasy setting, no machines, other then the beginning of airships. Final fantasy VII has a setting like airships have been around for a few hundred, if not a thousand years. So if you don't like that setting, Final Fantasy VII isnt for you.

Final Fantasy VII starts in a huge city called ''Midgar''. If you care anything about the name, or its original, there was a Midgard Serpent in Norse mythology, and if you care to look more into the name, and pick it apart, you can actually find quite a few similarities. They actually did some studying up when they worked with the names of towns in the game, it seems. This Midgar is considered a prison by some, because people have to be rich to actually get out of it. It is dark, and fueled by 8 ''reactors''. Final Fantasy VII starts in one of the 8 reactors. A rebel, or so called terrorist group, called ''AVALANCHE'' is heading out to destroy the reactor. This is AVALANCHE's first big mission, and one that is critical that they succeed in. This operation is so important that AVALANCHE has hired mercenaries. You start the game in charge of one on AVALANCHE's mercenaries. This mercenary is within seconds of starting, revealed to be a member of the elite military group called ''SOLDIER''. Or, rather, ex-member. Because of this, he is extremely arrogant about his fighting skills.

The beginning of Final Fantasy VII is actually rather exciting, especially compared to a lot of games. Within minutes, all of the basic features of the game, the battle system, the menu, and some characters are introduced.

The battle system in Final Fantasy VII runs along the same basic system that Final Fantasies IV-VI did, the ATB, or active time battle. The ATB runs on a real time system, with a gauge in the bottom of the screen to see how close your characters are to their next turn. When this gauge is full, your character will be able to input a command. The base commands are ''Item'' and ''Attack''. You can get more commands by equipping ''Materia''. Materia gives your party magic, and special attack or defense skills.

The Materia system is the system that Final Fantasy VII mainly runs on. Materia is found in a multitude of different ways, from buying it in a shop, to an island you can only get to from the back of a chocobo. And yes, Chocobo's are back. The Materia system is somewhat like Final Fantasy VI's Esper system. Characters are not permanently equipped with Materia, they can take it off at any time. And the characters themselves are not equipped with the Materia, it is the weapons and armor. This leads to choices such as: Do I want to equip a stronger weapon, with less Materia slots, or do I want a weaker weapon with more Materia slots, and a higher growth rate. Materia usually grows at a normal pace. You get AP from battles, and this AP causes Materia to level up. Each time a Materia levels up, it gains new skills. Spell Materia's get new spells at a level up, Summon Materia's will be able to be used more in battle, and command type Materia's give you different, stronger commands. This leads to an intense amount of customization a character can have in battle. Materia's can also be equipped to add an element to your characters' attack, or to help prevent damage from an attack. There are so many combinations that the possibilities are almost endless.

Of course, not everyone will love this type of customization. People who are fans of a more simple system, like Final Fantasy IV, will probably hate it, but you should still play around. Of course, this system does allow your party to get overpowered quickly, especially late in the game. Another big problem with the Materia system is the simple building system. All you have to do is battle.

Final Fantasy VII also has a new system, called ''Limit Breaks''. From those of you who played Final fantasy VI, you may remember this type of system. In Final Fantasy VI, a character at low HP would have a small chance of doing a super attack. Well in Final Fantasy VII, the limit breaks ARE the super attacks, except that they are easier to do. In battle, there is a bar on the left of the HP totals that is somewhat like the ATB gauge. When this gauge gets completely full, a character can do a ''Limit Break''. These Limit Breaks range from attacks that do triple damage, from multiple weaker attack, to spells that completely heal your entire party. Depending on the character, you will have different breaks.

One of the huge downfalls in Final Fantasy VII is the little diversity in the character stats. Some characters are obviously meant to be stronger physically, but you can also strengthen their weaknesses with items. So characters don't have specialties, and so it just depends on what characters you like. Its really a shame. In the end, you have to choose a character who has the strongest Limit Breaks, or the limit breaks you like best. Square made the same mistake here that they made in Final Fantasy VI.

Characters and development aside. Final Fantasy VII has a gorgeous soundtrack. While all the songs may not fit the areas perfectly, there are some gorgeous songs anyway. Some of the songs are totally memorable, and are timed very well. Certain songs don't fit areas at all, and I hate when games reuse the same song for different areas. But other then that, it is one of the most memorable tracks I have ever heard. Go buy the OST!

The part many people, myself included, think that is best about Final Fantasy VII is the story. The story is what truly makes Final Fantasy VII a revolutionary game. The story itself is full of twists, turns, and depth that your head will be ready to explode by the end of the game. Of course, sadly, Final Fantasy VII is also the king of plot holes. There are a whole lot of them in this game, and some of them are very important, crucial details. And you know, people spend hours upon hours trying to think up why the game was made that way, but did they ever stop to think that the developers at Square don't have any idea at all? Some people...

Final Fantasy VII also has what I love: a world map. A lot of games lately don't have world maps. This allows more free exploration, and the ability to go back to places you once visited. It also gives you the ability to do side-quests if you missed them previously. Come on developers! Give me more games with a world map!

Final Fantasy VII runs, normally, on pre-rendered backgrounds. For those of you who don't know what that means (damn if you don't know what that means you need to go study!) it means the backgrounds were made and the characters put onto them. So basically, the backgrounds have a lot of lovely detail, and the characters don't. While the character sprites are decent, and have quite a bit of detail, they also tend to break. The characters also tend to suffer from slowdown at times, but its nothing too major.

All in all, Final Fantasy VII is a great game, marred with some technical problems and some plot holes. But other then that it deserves all of the hype it received. How many games can you say that about?

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/22/03, Updated 06/22/03

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