Review by grasu
Unfortunately, another RPG disaster from Square.
Back in the long gone days of yore, when pigs flew in the sky with wide open wings and the PlayStation had 4 titles worth your time Squaresoft was mostly a Japanese affair. The RPG giant was virtually unheard of in the US and their previous US releases, among which we can proudly include FFVI, FF1 and Chrono Trigger, were financial failures.
Then, one day, Square got pissed at Nintendo and chose to go with Sony for their next project. So Square, along with SCEA, published FFVII in the United States in late 1997. Nintendo was crushed and a new master genre was born.
Final Fantasy VII is to RPGs as Tomb Raider is to game based movies: It's not a good movie, but it sucks a whole lot less than everything before it. Ditto with FF7.
Before it's advent, the average console gamer in the US didn't even know what "RPG" stood for. Console RPGs were monumental failures 99% of the time in the US, so when anime-infused teens got a taste of FFVII, they were shocked: This game had an actual story, there was a huge world to explore, button mashing was not required, etc.
The masses soon adopted the idea that FFVII was the best game ever, despite only having played one RPG in their whole lives. The rest of the pros, all 5 of them, stood back and played their Chrono Trigger and Eye of the Beholder and they gave Final Fantasy accolades for being original, but they knew it wasn't going to replace the mastery of Chrono Trigger any time soon.
They were right, Final Fantasy VII isn't half the game that it's 2-year-old brother, Chrono Trigger, is but it was the first RPG for 85% of Americans so it's ok to call it the best thing since Noah's Arc.
Final Fantasy VII uses pre-rendered backgrounds in its entirety... which goes to show why these backgrounds died with the Dreamcast. The pre-rendered backgrounds in FFVII are butt ugly and they get in the way of gameplay. Others have tried to do something about these backgrounds and have proven that THEY can be improved. Square didnt much care as trying to steer your character around a pre-rendered mountain peak, which is totally opaque, using its spiraling pathway, is as annoying as getting slapped repeatedly in the face. Not even the use of the "Select" button, which points out entrances and staircases, makes much of a difference as you still can't see beyond that peak...
... This, however, is not due totally to pre-rendered backgrounds, but also, the game's camera. Final Fantasy VII might be the only RPG ever made that has a bad camera. Everything about this game's camera is broke: 4 kilometers draw distance, bad placement, completely fixed anywhere other than the main map, etc. Trust me on this, there is nothing more annoying than when you spend 30 seconds trying to fit Cloud&Co. (2 pixels) through a 3 pixel wide bridge WHILE the camera is 4-5 kilometers away. Other than the draw distance, the camera is often obscured by monsters, not allowing you to see how much damage you inflict or the animation of your summons, and it's unmovable... like I mentioned earlier.
Besides proving those 2 points, FFVII goes out of it's way to prove two more: Final Fantasy games are always behind the curve (sans FFX) and 3D graphics last as much as milk left out of the fridge in July weather.
Final Fantasy VII is way behind the curve graphically, even for a 1997 game. When Resident Evil had better character models a year before and FF8 had superb character models a year after, why are we stuck with deformed midgets for FFVII? Even the backgrounds are lower quality than Capcom's and the character animation, outside of the battle screen, is restrained to 3 or 4 frames.
Finally, Final Fantasy VII proves that 3D graphics cannot stand the test of time. 2D graphics are always functional and, while not pretty to look at, they get the job done. FFVII 3D-graphics, on the other hand, get in the way of gameplay and they usually make an annoying game even more annoying. Oh, not to mention the CG looks like an antique, especially since the game has the very bad habit of using the same models for CG as it does for exploration. Yuck!
We should be fair though, Final Fantasy VII's graphics aren't all bad. The game's battle screen character models and animation are far more fluent than the exploration models, and considering you'll be spending huge amounts of time here, that's always a plus. There are also no framerate problems or nearly as few animation frames in the battle view. The attacks in the game are also insane, honestly, if Square would spend half the time they do on some of these attacks on gameplay, they'd get games that could actually hope to touch on the mastery of their own Chrono Trigger.
Final Fantasy VII fares considerably better in the sound category than it does in the graphics category. The music in this game is a strike of genius, and it easily earns all of its points for this category. When you'll hear the last melody you'll know why this game has such a good soundtrack, instantly.
The music in Final Fantasy VII is, overall, a true beauty with great performances and great arrangement and composition. It always fits the mood, there are tons of original tracks, it's also mood-based as it rises in tempo if you fight a boss instead of a regular creature and it's just very tasteful overall.
The same can't be said about the sound effects and the overall quality of the sound. First off, when the sound effects are actually there, as Final Fantasy VII has a very annoying tendency to remove ALL sound for minutes at a time, they sound like crap. This game sounds like it was encoded using low, low quality MIDIs (this is especially noticeable in the music section, which is a shame). Second, there are only about 5-6 sound effects to hear. There is no voice acting; there is no difference between striking with a sword and striking with gun, etc. Third, everything in this game sounds underpowered. Spells have the same sound as a quiet fart. Funny, but not so funny when you spend good money on games.
No, that's not suppose to be a 9! For all those of you that are into multi tasking and fast food and want the quick version of this review, here it is: Final Fantasy VII is an exercise in frustration, sprinkled with craploads of busy work and some ingenious plot twists.
Now, on to the real thing.
The only, 100% good thing, about this game are the plot twists. Of course, unless you've never opened a TV or haven't ever been outside your house since 1997, you already know about that one thing at the end of disk one that sent millions of pre-teens crying to their mommies. That, however, is NOT the only plot twist in FFVII and, while having the biggest plot twist spoiled cannot help this game's score, there is a great deal more to FFVII than just that. The plot twist are ingenious, they make the run-at-the-mill story a lot more bearable and they just show some real professionalism on the part of Square. Of course, they aren't all that realistic and sometimes the game tries to make plot twists out of things everyone already knew hours in advance but, overall, this is by far the best aspect of Final Fantasy VII.
The actual story is a convoluted combination between The Manchurian Candidate (evil corporation, etc.), Blue Gender (planet tires to save itself), and a ton of crappy animes featuring guys with long hair. The story in FFVII is as far from original as it can be. It always feels like you've seen this before, from the "I'm part of an ancient civilization that must save the universe" to the "I'm a super soldier and I'm also the only one who can save the universe" it's all been done before in a much less convoluted fashion and using much better gameplay.
A game's story can do OK though, even if it lacks the originality. Final Fantasy VII's problems don't end here though. The presentation, dialogue, and character development drag the story down to the point where you could give less of a damn about what's happening.
First off, presentation. FFVII has a horrible tendency to not know how to narrate. My favorite part about the presentation is that there are, regularly, hours between one plot point and another. Lemme assure you, if you put this game down for 1 or 2 days you're not likely to remember anything by the time you get back. Another great thing about presentation is the huge amount of time you spend just staring at characters move from one side of the screen to other, without saying a word. Then of course, on top of all of that, throw in long load times, the fact that you can't skip most cut scenes, the fact that the game doesnt show whos speaking other than in their first line, and combine all of that with the game's other problems and any spec of a good story that you have left is gone.
Then comes dialogue: I've yet to see a game with dialogue this bad. It's preposterous to think that someone would tell you all their life dreams and goals just by walking up and talking to them on the street. This happens with regularity in FFVII. On top of that, the game also likes to assume that you know everything way ahead of time, which is why Cloud, Sepiroth and Tifa have the dialogue they do in Disk 1... despite the fact that you don't find out just what the hell is going on until Disk 2. No, this is no mystery, it's called bad writing. Well, at least there's a lot of swearing and heroic speeches to go around.
Character development can be summed up in one word and one number: "Disk 2". That's where everything that deals with characters happens. Cloud has been called the "most complex character in a video game" by some... wow, they must've been on LSD. Cloud, along with the rest of the crew, is composed of tired old Japanese cliches. Cloud is the "It's so cool to be an anti-social sociopath that I have to act like an ass for half the game, but afterwards I become soft anyway"-type of character. What the hell happened to the genius of Crono? A regular kid, whos just trying to save his home. Another thing that makes me wonder what exactly were the people at Square smoking is the fact that Cloud acts at the age of 21 as if he was a teen going through puberty. Running away from girls and being anti-social is no maturity, its imbecility. Other characters are just as cliche: Tifa is the old childhood female friend, Barret is the hardass with a heart of gold, and Sepiroth is your average bad guy whose sore that he had to wait in line for an hour on his way to the office to get donuts and coffee. While the characters DO develop (unlike in Final Fantasy VIII) they never out grow their cliches, which you've been fed for 25 hours, in the 4 hours that the game attempts to make them do this. I mean, really, how many more times must I see a badass turn good until I get it? In Japan it's all happy-happy, save-the-planet, etc.
Regardless, what makes a game good is the actual gameplay, so FFVII must be doing something right there Right? Um... no.
FFVII used the good ole' random encounter system that seems to be so popular in FF games ever since their creation. See, I don't have something against the system but I do have something against the way you battle. Battling in FFVII is a damn chore. You hit the circle button 20 times, then you scroll down, summon a few monsters or drink a few potions and then you're back at battling.
There is virtually no difference between this game and all other FF games that I've played. You can summon some monsters to aid you (this, I believe, was first made available in FFVII) and when your character gets pummeled enough they can unleash their only proprietary skills: Limit Breaks. Limit Breaks do a ton of damage, unless you have materia that does more with your regular attacks, in which case they end up sucking. There are no tactics involved in this system, there are no risks to take, everything takes huge amounts of time to load, power-up, or animate and you just sit there, hitting the circle button until you die of old age.
Of course, you'd be dieing of old age a lot less if the game didn't have so many random encounters. There is no way in FFVII to stop random encounters. Every 3-4 steps you take, there's another random encounter. Some of these encounters, especially later in the game, are more powerful than bosses. And speaking of bosses, there are plenty to fight in Final Fantasy VII. They're all designed nicely, along with the monsters, showing that Square still has a lot of imagination. Monsters and bosses run the gamut anywhere from stacks of hay, to bunny rabbits, to wolfs and to half-winged angels. One thing's for sure, there is no lack of monsters in FFVII.
Each Final Fantasy also comes with it's own proprietary experience system. In FFVII that system is called materia. Materia are little gems that you can put in your weapon or armor which gives your character enhanced stats and a ton of different abilities ranging from summoning monsters, to casting spells, to mimicking his allies, or to unleashing "Final Attacks". Without materia, you cannot do anything in this game but attack and use items.
Materia evolve along with your character. They only get experience if they are equipped on the characters that fight in battles and when they reach Master Level (the final), they give birth to another materia of the same type. All of this is pretty original, but as there are no restrictions to what characters can wear, guess what this does to "unique" character skills? Exactly. Every character in this game is only as good as his/her materia. There are virtually no stat differences between characters, so a warrior is just as adept with materia as a mage (neither are labeled) and a mage is as good with his/her weapon as a warrior. The only differences are minimal and when you're trying to kill monsters that have 900,000 HP, 100-200 damage difference isnt important at all.
All characters in the game have only 3-4 unique skills: Their limit breaks. True enough, mage-type characters have skills that heal the party or that remove it's status ailments but there are also mage characters which have physical limit breaks, so differentiating between mage a warrior in this game is impossible.
Thanks to all of this, weapons in Final Fantasy VII are virtually useless. Weapons in FFVII have sockets to grow materia in, the strong weapons have sockets to put materia in but it doesnt grow in those sockets. Therefore is no reason to sacrifice getting experience for a materia that can do upwards of 90,000 damage to get a weapon that can do AT MOST 15,000 damage, and that's only when you reach your Limit Break. Armor fares slightly better, but not by much. The only reason why you'd want to sport higher-level armor is because it allows you to carry more materia, as there is virtually no damage difference between medium armor and ultra-high level armor. Then again, FFVII isn't the only RPG in this boat, as most Japanese RPGs seem to think of equipment as a tool of the leveling system.
All of these problems pale in comparison to FFVII's biggest problem: It's busy work. All of the side quests in this game are busy work, half-of-the dungeons are BUSY work, walking around aimlessly in search of the next town is busy work because the game knows well enough that you'll encounter enough monsters to make the total hours jump from 10 to 20 in no time. If I want busy work, I can go ahead and do my homework.
The side quests in this game are the biggest offenders as the most important ones are based purely on luck. Considering that JRPGs don't have that many quests to begin with, making even the few that they have based on luck is a huge mistake.
The Chocobo quest is the most annoying of them all. Not only is this quest required for getting most of the good materia in the game, along with a few ultimate weapons and a final limit break, but if you want to beat the two strongest monsters in the game YOU MUST breed a Golden Chocobo. After 6 hours of resetting my console in a futile attempt at breeding the damn Chocobo I simply gave up. There is no reason any damn RPG should have a quest based SOLELY on a RANDOM event.
Of course, you don't need to get the Golden Chocobo by breeding it, there's option B: Fight the 2nd strongest monster in a game, which happens to have around 750,000 HP with your current crap, which does about 10,000 damage. Oh, don't forget that this monster kills all 2 of your allies at the beginning of the battle, at random. Good luck.
And then there's, waste-your-time-some-more option 3: Run around in circles until you're high enough of a level to beat the game.
Because, of course, you cannot beat the game without doing SOME of the subquests. Most subquests give you your character's ultimate weapons, or final limit breaks. If you don't have any Chocobos (the breeding of which is all based on chance) you have to earn your limit breaks, the ones you can at least, by playing horrible mini games for hours at an end in another horrendous Final Fantasy VII contraption: The Golden Saucer. Square must really think that anything they put out on the market is instant fun, despite the fact that it was proven crappy mini-games in RPGs are liked by NO ONE.
The main quest isn't all that better, unfortunately, as it finds an excuse EVERY SINGLE TIME to confine you to a specific path or to make sure you can't go any faster through the game. It seems FFVII's programmers were far more concerned with making a game long, than making it good.
All of this length has one advantage: FFVII feels huge. You can explore the world and find all kinds of hidden relics, you can even go underwater and find MORE relics. The sense of exploration and freedom that this game gives you is only cut short by the fact that you have to spend hours doing tasks solely based on in order to reach these areas.
Sony crushed Nintendo with this game, and all the better for them, but Final Fantasy VII has not passed the test of time. Perhaps when this game was released I could've given it a 7, but now, EVERYTHING about this game stinks.
The graphics are horrible, the gameplay is annoying and the story has been done in movies or anime way before FFVII ever hit the market. If you're really into boring, derivative games, than FFVII is the game for you. If you happen to hate tons of random encounters and think that finding a Perfect Topaz in Diablo 2 is a chore, run as far away from this game as you can.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
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