Editor’s Note: There are some spoilers contained in this review. However, it’s fair to say that we’re nearly 20 years removed from this game’s release. If you don’t want any details of the game spoiled for you, please go play this game, and then come back and read this, of course.
It’s not uncommon for there to be a game or a series that you’ve heard phenomenal things about but never experienced. From time to time, I’ve told younger gamers that they need to experience games like Super Mario Bros 3 and Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past. It’s important for people to see what makes a great game exactly that - great.
However, it’s also very beneficial to decide for yourself whether that game or series of games is all that it’s cracked up to be. For me, that game was, Square’s Final Fantasy VII for the original PlayStation. Although the word on the street was consistently positive on Final Fantasy VII, I wasn’t convinced. In my mind, the Holy Grail of Final Fantasy was and will always be VI. Yet, I have always heard people shouting the praises of its successor. With that in mind, I decided to play it and see for myself.
Is Final Fantasy VII as good as people say it is?
As I first started up the game, the first thing I was struck with was the beautiful melody that plays in the opening menu. Few series have a way of drawing you in with its music better than Final Fantasy. I felt welcomed in by this peaceful tune, but how the game actually start blew me away.
Where a game like Final Fantasy 6 begins with a lengthy exposition, detailing the history of the world you’re about to be thrust into, FF7 drops you right into the action, immediately.
As Cloud Strife I was helping the eco-terrorist group ‘Avalanche’ destroy a Shinra reactor. As I battled my way through the station, I only needed one motivation to fight my enemy: this reactor is killing the planet and I am the only one with the ability to stop it.
Furthermore, this opening sequence was a great way for me to learn how to navigate through battles. In fact, it was a battle system that I found to be easy-to-learn, while featuring some highly rewarding moments.
BATTLING THY FOE
How you fight your enemies in any RPG is a big deal. Why? Because you’ll be doing it a bunch of times, as it’s usually the primary way of building XP to level up your character(s). Thankfully, FF7 offers enough variety of enemies and attacks that nearly every battle feels fresh.
Sometimes the enemies gets the jump on you and other times you’re preemptively getting the first attack on them. Whether it’s your party, the monster you’re facing, or the scenario in which you’re being attacked, I never felt bored.
Another freshening detail of battle is equipping ‘materia’ to your armor and weapons. Materia essentially can give you certain abilities and boost your stats. Yes, it’s a mechanic that has existed in other Final Fantasy titles, I’m glad to see it made its way here. By the way, get ‘Knights of The Round.’ You won’t regret it.
The world, called Gaia, that you traverse in FF7 is truly remarkable. Considering the technology available on the PlayStation, I found myself consistently impressed with the environments that Square conjured up. The sweeping score that accompanies your adventure through the Overworld only adds to the wonder of exploration.
I was even further taken aback by how traversing certain environments almost works like a puzzle. As I stumbled upon Cosmo Canyon, just getting there and afterwards getting out of there, was an entertaining task in itself.
No, the entire world isn’t accessible at first, but I was never deterred by that. Considering the random encounter mechanic, there are some parts of the world I would never be able to progress through in the early parts of the game. I would be experiencing early deaths due to advanced and more powerful enemies.
Later on, you get vehicles that allow you to expand your journey across rivers, the sky, oceans, and even under the oceans. I was blown away when I received a submarine that allowed me to go underwater. It almost felt like visiting a second overworld, except this one featured secret tunnels, which allowed me to find hidden places.
In fact, one of those hidden places - only accessible with the help of the submarine - features a cutscene revealing more of the backstory of on optional party member named Vincent. Nothing in the game told me to do this, but my exploration was rewarded. In fact, time and time again, I found this to be the case. If I ventured of the linear path, I was often delighted with what treasures awaited me.
PROGRESSING THROUGH THE GAME
I felt the experience was linear but not overly-linear. Yes, I was being guided along but there was never an urgency to immediately dive deeper into the story. Nothing embodies this more than in the early parts of the game, when you visit an amusement park, of sorts, called the Gold Saucer.
I was racing Chocobos, speeding through a roller coaster mini-game, playing arcade games, and having a blast the entire time. Although the narrative of the game told me that Cloud and the game needed a break, it also was giving me that break.
And like any amusement park, I left exhausted by all of the fun I had and also, depressed by how much money I spent there. Thankfully, at the Gold Saucer you only use “Gold Points,” which are separate from your normal currency, called “Gil.” (Breathes sigh of relief)
HOW ABOUT THE STORY?
This might be controversial for me to say, but Final Fantasy VII has one of the most confusing storylines in the series. For example, the entire time you think that Cloud is a former member of Soldier, the elite fighting force of Shinra, but in fact, he was a clone of the game’s antagonist, Sephiroth. His memories were replaced with fake ones and this is a huge hurdle that he and the player of the game have to overcome.
Why is it a hurdle? Because it’s introduced so late in the game and not explained very well. Yes, it’s a great twist, but unfortunately I didn’t perceive it to be presented in a way that was clear and made sense. There are a great deal of gaps that never get explained in the game. However, those gaps are filled in with other FF7 installments, which I look forward to experiencing. But within the game itself, it comes off as confusing.
Every story has to have characters and they themselves are each their own person. Like most Final Fantasy games, not every character is explored as deeply as we’d want them to be. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily make the unexplored characters uninteresting. In fact, it’s because they’re so intriguing that I wanted to know more about them.
A character like Vincent needs more backstory and more of an explanation of his time with Shinra. When explanations are given, it feels rushed and leaves more questions than answers. Once again, these gaps are filled by another game called Dirge of Cerberus. Yet, this kind of explains my point. When you need an entire game or 2 hour movie to explain a game’s gap, I think that counts as a considerable dent in the game’s story.
IS IT AS GOOD AS PEOPLE SAY IT IS?
You bet. I think this game might be difficult to access for those who didn’t grow up with these titles. However, if you can get past the dated visuals, there’s a game here rich with exceptional gameplay, lovable heroes and lovable-to-hate villains.
Gamers were given quite a treat in 1997 and here in 2015, I can honestly say it’s still a “must play” title. It’s absolutely as good as people have made it out to be for nearly 20 years, and I suspect it always will be.