Review by RedSox1981

"Gaming excellence"

Every so often, a video game arrives with so much hype, you can’t escape it. It’s everywhere. All the gaming magazines talk about, and tease with you screenshots and rumors. You see heavy advertisement on television and magazines. Stores offer you to pre-order them. In general, it’s the in thing to do.

Many times, though, these games aren’t all they are cracked up to be. There might be something wrong with the controls, or the storyline may be bland. Either way, the level of hype tends to be so great, the game in question cannot possibly match up to it, and the gaming public is generally left very disappointed.

Enter Final Fantasy VII. Released in the United States in 1997, it was a much anticipated sequel to a long-running and popular series. Rumors of a massive multi-million dollar budget swirled around. New things were promised. Final Fantasy battles with 3-D polygons? A massive, pre-rendered world? There was even a hint of something new, called “FMV.” Could this game possibly live up to the hype?

Six years later, it is still generally regarded as the greatest title to grace the PlayStation console. Time has not diminished its popularity. People talk about Cloud and Co. as if they were real people with real problems. Oh yeah, and the game was pretty good too.

Final Fantasy VII (referenced as FF7 for the remainder of this review) was transcendent during its time. It did things that no other game had even touched upon. The graphics and storyline were mind-blowing for the 32-bit era. This game changed gaming as we know it and future RPGs will be judged in comparison with this game.

Now...the game itself:

When you start to play Final Fantasy VII, the plot looks pretty cut and dry. Cloud with his merry little band of freedom-fighters for the planet rally against an powerful, evil corporation whose methods of business are slowly killing the planet. Beat the corporation and beat the game, right? Wrong. The plot totally twists in a new direction, bringing in a mysterious antagonist long thought dead. The storyline quickly deepens, delving into issues such as man’s place in nature and the environment, and parent/child issues and conflicts. The character development in this game is astounding and well-detailed. You’ll find yourself growing attached to the characters of this game. This isn’t a game with a red plumber collecting coins. This is a very deep, engrossing storyline that makes you think. In fact, you may have to play though it more than once to collect a grand view of what this game exactly means. In my opinion, the level of detail and plot in this game has yet to be matched by any title to date. Some have come close, but FF7 still remains the watermark.

Graphically, this game is really showing its age, but back when it was first released, it was a graphical tour de force. The game designers shunned polygonal backgrounds in favor for pre-rendered ones, and the results are beautiful. The outside world map IS rendered in polygons, however. The characters themselves are super-deformed, with no nose or mouth, and concrete blocks for hands. Plus, they all have very exaggerated, but restricted body expressions. You see the same shrug, head shakes, slumping of the shoulders, etc. throughout the game. Being that facial expressions were in impossibility at this time, it’s understandable why it had to be that way. The characters do look better when your in a battle, with facial features and more detailed bodies.

Speaking of battles, they’re a staple in the series and this game is no exception. Random battles are back. Some people really hate them, I’m indifferent as long as the battle rate isn’t so ridiculously absurd to the point where you take five steps and you have to fight again. The battle system brings back the old stand-by of the Active Time Battle. There are numerous ways you can attach and heal your party:
Physical attacks with your weapon (each character has his or her own class of weapon, which with different attack animations).
Magic attacks. Magic is cast with the aid of orbs called Materia. The materia system is loathed by some and loved by others. Each weapon and armor has a certain number of slots in it, where you place Materia. Placing a Restore materia in a slot will enable you to cast Cure spells, Lightning allows you to cast Bolt, and so on. Materia can grow, however, by emerging victorious in battles. You gain EXP and AP after each battle victory. The AP goes toward your materia. Once your materia reaches a certain AP level, it grows in power (keep in mind some weapons and armor do not allow materia growth. Others can double or even triple the rate of AP received). You are allowed to cast Cure2 as well as Cure, and Bolt2 as well as bolt. And there are countless other kinds of Materia, just not magic. Some increase the Gil (money) or experience received in battle, others offer new commands to be used. Still others allow you too....
Summon monsters. These are powerful spells that tend to eat up a lot of magic points. When you first get them, you can only cast them once per battle, but as the materia grows, that number increases, all the way up to five casts per battle. There are many different kinds with different affects.
Items. Of course, there are items. You have your curative items and attack items. There are too many to be listed in this space.
Finally, there are Limit Attacks. When you character takes a certain amount of damage, your Limit Gauge builds up. Once it is filled, you are able to unleash a special move. Most limits are powerful attacks, but there are some that cure the party and enable beneficial status effects on you.

It is in the battles, though, where FF7 is prevented from achieving gaming perfection. They tend to be too easy. The importance of magic is greatly diminished. You could probably go though a majority of a game without ever using certain attack spells. Attack, attack, attack, done. This really saps the strategic aspect out of most battles. Plus, the materia system, while offering infinite customization, really destroys any hint of character classes in this game, which was disappointing to many gamers. Plus, this game marked a trend toward de-emphasis on equipment. While previous Final Fantasy titles enable you to equip a weapon, armor, a helmet, two accessories, and a shield, this one only allows a weapon, one piece of armor, and one accessory. However, this does not adversely affect game play, unless it is your preference to have tons of equipment and character classes.

Side quests, too. They are abundant in this game. Some allow you to acquire powerful weapons and materia, and others give you a deeper insight toward the backgrounds of certain characters. To achieve the full experience of this game, you owe it to yourself to complete these side quests. Some of them can take a good while to achieve. A single save file lasting over 60 hours is not out of the question if you set out to find everything. Then again, half the fun of these games is the exploration and the freedom to move about in a non-linear fashion to find things.

Here we are now, six years later. Final Fantasy VIII, IX, and X have already been released. Final Fantasy XI and X-2 are on their way. Each game improved on the previous graphically, making this title look like an old hat. However, FF7 remains the 3-D patriarch to which all future Final Fantasy releases will be compared to. The same level of hype that surrounded this game also surrounded FF8, and that game faltered a bit because of it. This game still stands just as strong in 2003 as it did in 1997. While not the absolutely perfect game, I consider it the greatest game I have ever played. The few minor quibbles I have do not affect the grand nature and incredible story telling this game unfurls. If you have never played a Final Fantasy title, or you just have never played this one, go get it now. This is the game that created an entirely new fan base for console RPGs, and it’s also one of the few reasons why you don’t hear anyone talk about the Sega Saturn anymore. An incredibly great gaming experience.

Gameplay: 9. Just a fun game to play. Battle system could use a little improvement, though.
Story: 10. Nothing has matched it before or since.
Graphics: NA. They are obviously showing their age now, but back in the day, they WERE the best out of any game out there.
Replay Value: 10. It’s six years later, I’ve beaten it many times, and I STILL go back to it. What does that tell you?
Buy/Rent/Skip?: Rent if you have you never played a Final Fantasy or RPG before. Buy otherwise. Plus, being a PSX classic hit, it’s cheap

Final Score: 9. Just shy of perfection, but excellent nonetheless.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/17/03, Updated 07/17/03

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