Review by White Ninja

"A shaky transition to the PSX proves to be somewhat of a success"

Final Fantasy VII was probably introduced to many (myself included) as the first RPG they've ever played. I remember when I first bought my PSX and I noticed a copy of Final Fantasy VII sitting on the shelves. I was immediately intrigued by the unproportionate size of Cloud's sword. I also noticed the quote from GameFan magazine saying it was “quite possibly the best game ever made.” That was the clincher and I immediately bought and beat the first RPG I'd ever played. So was it the best game ever made? I thought so, but of course, my entire knowledge of gaming was based on “Sonic The Hedgehog” and “Mortal Combat” so I doubt my opinion was quite valid at the time.

I decided to elaborate my gaming acquaintance by playing numerous other RPGs and strategy games, including Final Fantasy IV through VI. I quickly became a huge RPG fanatic and would hardly buy any other kind of game. Then, one day, I went back to Final Fantasy VII and noticed that it wasn't at all as enjoyable to me in many ways. Final Fantasy VII will always remain as the game that introduced me to RPGs but that won't change the fact that, compared to other RPGs, it has several flaws…

Storyline: 6/10
The most important aspect of an RPG also happens to be the point on which Square screwed up the most. The storyline is quite complicated, more so than any Final Fantasy to date: Cloud is a former member of an elite force known as SOLDIER. He now works as a mercenary, hired by the rebel group AVALANCHE to stop the evil corporation known as Shinra (of which SOLDIER is part of) from polluting and sucking the life essence from the planet, simply to fill their pockets with gold. Meanwhile, Cloud's former colleague from SOLDIER, Sephiroth, who was presumed dead for five years, reappears suddenly and begins to wreak havoc upon the world…

Of course, the story is not just complicated; it's also an elaborate mess, featuring several plot-holes and leaves many lose ends untied. On top of that, Square seemed to think it would be fun to leave many large elements of the plot as optional sidequests in order to waste our time and have to play the game longer in order to find them (Cloud and Zack in the Shinra basement, letters from Zangan…) However, even with these optional scenes, several aspects and details of the storyline will remain unresolved. Luckily, the story is interesting enough to make you want to guess or speculate about the uncertain issues, but in the end you will find the storyline to be unfulfilling and unsatisfying.

The themes found in the game were also handled quite poorly which is partly the result of bad dialogue. The only theme that came out somewhat successful was the mental problems of Cloud. But the whole game was basically oriented around that theme, so it would be hard not to screw it up. The love theme however, was extremely rushed and hollow and when that “certain event” at the end of the first disc does finally come, you just don't seem to care. Of course, those who don't read books or any other great piece of literature may not find this to be any problem. I just thought that since Square decided to put serious themes in their game, they might as well try to develop them.

Characters: 7/10
Stereotypical and cliché as they might be, the characters are still mildly entertaining. Cloud is your typical, self-reliant “loner” character with the clouded past. As he is the main character, he is the character that will be developed the most throughout the game. He does keep a certain intrigue near the beginning but will get progressively dull throughout the game. The major problem with the characters is that although they may be interesting and curious, they are, other than Cloud and Aeris, very poorly developed throughout the game. As a result, the characters become less interesting as the game progresses. However, Square does take the time to give each character a background and a story that will unfold in the game, which seems to give life to the characters. Of course, almost any RPG will give a background to their characters so this isn't anything big, although in Final Fantasy VII each character's story is slightly more complex and detailed.

The main praise I keep hearing for Final Fantasy VII is Sephiroth this, Sephiroth that, Sephiroth is the best villain ever created for any RPG… I strongly disagree with this and I think that people who say this would be amused by pretty much any longhaired killer in a black cape with a nice, big, shinny sword. Because that's all Sephiroth really is – a showy bad guy with no personality whatsoever. He never says anything interesting or meaningful throughout the entire game and it's very unclear what even motivated him to try and destroy the world.

Gameplay: 6/10
This is the best of Square and it is the worst of Square. On the one hand, the Materia system in Final Fantasy VII is both simple and elaborate. Similar to Final Fantasy VI's Esper system, you equip the Materia in order to learn abilities. As you gain AP, the Materia will grow and you will gain more abilities. It's fun to see those little crystals become more powerful and your abilities list grow. Unlike FF6 however, once you unequip the Materia, that character will lose all the abilities associated with them. You can then give these Materia to any other character and he will instantly have all the abilities that the other character has learnt. Basically, you can transfer abilities from one character to another instantly, which takes away almost all of the character diversity in battle. On top of that, the character stats are so similar that if there is in fact a difference, it's barely noticeable. This really sucks the color out of the game, making character- switching seem rather pointless.

The only thing that really seems to separate one character from another is the Limit Break system, which is like a character's special attack. This also happens to be the most interesting aspect of the Final Fantasy VII gameplay as the type of Limit varies from character to character (a refreshing change) and often seems to have something to do with the personality or story of the character. The mini-games were also fun (for a little while) and Final Fantasy VII offers quite a decent amount of sidequests.

It seems that Square tried so hard to make this game contemporary that they thought it would be a good idea to drop all the other things that made this game great in the past. Anyone who's played the earlier Final Fantasy games will notice that many spells and abilities are missing. But that's not what really bothered me, Square also decided that the ability to equip helmets and shields was too complicated for the low-IQ masses. The incredible lack of diversity that comes with only being able to equip weapons, armor (that all seem to have the same name), and accessories is overwhelming. The battles are also slower than the earlier Final Fantasy games and summons just seem to be flashy time-fillers that would only entertain a two-year-old.

Graphics: 7/10
I'm not really sure what Square was going for with this. The “blocky” character design isn't really my cup of tea and I don't really understand why Square would think it would appeal to people. The characters look rather deformed in some places and Cloud's sword in proportion to himself would easily way three times his own body-weight. On the other hand, the FMVs, backgrounds, and character designs in-battle were quite good. I much liked the designs for Midgar, Wutai, and Cosmo Canyon.

Music and Sound: 8/10
I am a huge fan of orchestral and new age music and it really bothers me when people don't give enough credit to the music of an RPG, especially since it is all that you will hear throughout the course of the entire game. I also play in two symphonic groups, so I know what I'm talking about when I rate the soundtrack for a game or movie.

Nobuo Uematsu's score takes a turn for the more depressing and morose pieces, which depict the dark and brooding themes of the game. This may bother people who are more used to fast-paced or up-beat pieces in an RPG but I think that Uematsu does an excellent job as this is also the most intricate and complex score he has written in his entire career. Of course, not all songs are dreary and depressing. Final Fantasy VII features the most beautiful Main Theme ever created for a videogame. “Aeris' Theme,” “Cosmo Canyon,” and “Cid's Theme” are all excellent. The gothic opera piece “A One-Winged Angel” is also quite good (although I do think it's overrated) and is probably the third best boss song in the Final Fantasy series (after “Dancing Mad” and “Fierce Battle” from FF6.)

The quality of the sound itself, however, is a completely different story. Final Fantasy VII's synth is absolutely terrible. The strings sound totally distorted while the brass sounds so crude that I actually preferred the MIDI scores from the SNES better. This definitely makes a difference as even the better songs can sound rather dull due to the bad synth: you just have to compare the orchestrated versions of “Aeris' Theme” and the “Main Theme” to the originals to see the enormous difference. Also, the SERIOUSLY overused Chocobo theme became quite irritating, especially when I was trying to breed the little suckers (just listen to “Fiddle de Chocobo” and you'll see what I mean.) But, all in all, the Final Fantasy soundtrack is a fine addition to the series and is probably the best aspect of the game.

Difficulty: 3/10
I know Square was trying to attract a wider audience with Final Fantasy VII but did they really have to idiot-proof the game? Final Fantasy VII is by far the easiest game in the series and can be rushed through without encountering too much of a challenge. Even the dungeons are straightforward and it would be quite easy for anyone to find every single item in the game. And even if you are too stupid to know how to equip Materia, the game can be beaten quite easily without it. There is also an extreme lack of strategy in this game as you can basically just keep hitting circle and beat any boss. Few bosses have any strengths or weaknesses to elements and if they do, you'll hardly see the difference. There are combinations you can make with Materia as a kind of “strategy” but it's really unnecessary.

Replayability: 6/10
For some reason I find this game easier to replay than a lot of other RPGs, probably because it's so easy. There are many sidequests in the game and if you miss a few I suppose you might want to play it again. Also, it might take you a few plays for you to figure out the basics of the storyline. It's a Greatest Hits now, so it wouldn't hurt to buy it and at least try it out, especially if you're new to RPGs.

Overall: 6/10
It's certainly NOT the greatest game ever made but if you are a Final Fantasy fan or even an RPG fan, I would recommend you give it a try. It's a good start for Final Fantasy's legacy on the PSX, and certainly had potential. Perhaps if Square had focused less on showy graphics and advertisement and more on a logical storyline and innovative gameplay, Final Fantasy VII could have been a much greater accomplishment.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 07/11/04

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