For more than 20 years Squaresoft — now Square-Enix — has been creating games that have delighted players and critics alike. But to argue that every game they have released is “perfect” would be to ignore certain games they have created: the Saga Series, Chocobo’s Dungeon 2, The Legend of Mana, Sword of Mana and even some of the Final Fantasy games. Now, as of this writing, it is close to 11 years to the release of
Final Fantasy VII. But does the game hold up to today’s standards? Should an 11-year game be played?
Graphically, Final Fantasy VII has aged horribly. The character models are 3-D chibis (you know, the art style used by Cecil’s combat sprite and Terra’s sprite) and are pixilated. Characters have big fore-arms, little to no elbows and no mouths — which can be somewhat disturbing if you think about it. The only weapons seen during the game are Sephiroth’s katana, Barrett’s “handgun” and Cloud’s gigantic double-edged sword. The few moments that characters hold a weapon in the field are weird: They are not holding anything and are pointing with their hands. It is hard to create a sense of verisimilitude of the world when such things are not seen.
Thankfully, they look much better on the combat screen than they do on the field. While they still look grainy, they look more realistic — more organic. They look like real people. Monsters are well-animated, though they also look pixilated.
Oddly enough though, the 2-D backgrounds are still amazing. It is astonishing that Square-Enix’s artists were able to create such gorgeous landscapes with the technology at the time. This ranges from beaches to mountain tops. Unfortunately, this does not pertain to the 3-D field. Cloud (and company) stands taller than the forests, ravines and, strangely, waterfalls. At its time, this was amazing. But now, it looks downright horrible.
But the best part of the graphics are when the CGIs are used. They are still pleasant to look at after all these years. Every little animation of movement proves one thing: These characters have a soul. If the field and combat models do not make one believe this, the CGIs will. Some can be considered haunting; to discuss them would ruin the story. One of the coolest scenes is in the beginning of the game when Cloud and party break out of the Shrina Building, with Cloud on a motorcycle and the rest of the party in a truck. Another important scene is when Sephiroth is standing in the middle of flames, turns around and walks away.
Sadly, controls have not aged as well either. For many people, this will probably keep them from playing the game. Before Final Fantasy VIII’sintuitive field controls, Final Fantasy VII features a highly unintuitive control scheme. Each time the camera angle changes between screens, so do the controls. This is confusing for a few hours, so expect to take a few moments to orient yourself when entering a new area. Thankfully, similar camera angles are used throughout the game, so after a while, it is not too difficult to figure out the proper movements. The good news is that controls are customizable to an extent. If you don’t like the button layout, you can change it with a little bit of difficulty.
In combat, the game uses Square’s traditional active turn-based system and is, as always, menu-driven — by simply moving the white-gloved pointer up and down, and then selecting the command by pressing the circle button. After a character as received a certain amount of damage, he or she may then activate a “Limit Break,” a super-powered attack that can take down weaker enemies with a signal hit. Some are defensive in nature, while the most are offensive. These special skills are learned by activating the break a certain number of times and killing a certain number of opponents. After each battle, characters earn EXP (experience points) for gaining levels and AP (ability points) — which is not gained by characters but by materia.
Interestingly enough, it is due to the materia that players are allowed to mix and match commands. Want to have a character cast fire spells? Have that person equip fire materia. How about healing? Equip a cure materia to help the party recover damage and a heal materia to deal with status effects. Or how about turning that character into a thief? Equip the steal materia and watch as your inventory slowly increases. The more AP a materia has gained, the stronger it becomes. The stronger the materia, the more potent skills. But this is also a double-edged sword: Certain materia strengthens one or two stats while also draining a stat or two. This ultimately makes each character a tabula rasa (blank slate). Just choose your favorite characters and stick with them. The other characters gain levels with the main party, so there’s never really any fear of being held back by certain characters. Thus, this allows a highly customizable experience matched only by Final Fantasy VIII’sjunction system.
But what about the story? Amazingly, the story has aged rather well, even though certain elements may be considered cliché and melodramatic. Without revealing too much, it revolves around a young man named Cloud, a former Soldier member (an elite military unit), hunting down Sephiroth to keep him from destroying the planet. Along the way, he meets a variety of characters: perky Tifa (former childhood sweetheart), flower-girl Aeris, foul mouthed but good-natured Barrett, materia-hunting ninja Yuffie, gloomy Vincent, space-explorer and dreamer Cid, and many others.
Interestingly, there are some pretty deep themes for a rated T game. The game deals with identity, memory, conservation of the planet, greed, guilt, love, friendship and loyalty. Furthermore, it features a top-notch translation that feels real, though the language can get [exceedingly] coarse at times. A translation of such caliber is later seen in Chrono Cross, in which every character has his or her own accent. Also, I strongly believe that Barret speaks in Ebonics. And as far as I am aware, it is the first game to do so. It is incredible that Square took such a chance. Also, there is a scene early in the game that features some implied homosexuality (those who have seen it will know exactly what I mean) between Cloud and a group of men. How many games can boast that? Not many. Currently, the only game that even approaches that topic is the Shadow Hearts series.
The sound effects that are used work. There’s nothing truly satisfying about the hits used, except for some of the stronger actions. Sadly, some of the music has not aged well, but that’s mainly due to the limited orchestration and technology used at the time. Some songs sound a little too synthesized, while others hold to today’s standards. On the whole, Nobuo Uematsu’s music still sounds great, and it is really cool that there are hints to his works being fully and properly orchestrated in future games. Each song helps evoke the emotion that the dialogue is about — the awe-inspiring music of Cosmo Canyon; the bitter-sweet “Aeris’ Theme” and disturbing sounds of the industrialized city. Uematsu is an amazing composer that deserves more praise than he gets.
So, is it worth hunting down a copy of this game? The short answer is yes; this is an important game in history. This game alone helped propel the PlayStation as a bona-fide system worth owning at the time. It was also the RPG that set the standard for storytelling and fun. I have spent more than a hundred or so hours over the years playing this game, slowing picking up new things each time I play. While it has not as aged as well as previous and future installments, there’s still some magic to
Final Fantasy VII. It used to be seen in a certain introduction of a television gaming show and constantly lands somewhere in the top 100 games of all times lists. That alone shows this game’s power and significance. There is definitely some “magic” in this game, something that Square and now combined as Square-Enix would capture again and again. But
Final Fantasy VII shows it in its purest form. And that alone is worth the price of admission.