Developer: Square | Year: 1997 | List Price: 11.99 | Buy from Amazon
Say whatever you like about Final Fantasy VII. It’s undeniable that it is one of the most important RPGs, if not videogames, of the last 20 years. It’s hard to be a gamer and not to have heard of the Final Fantasy series, and VII is easily its most famous instalment. Following its 1997 release, it has seen many spinoff titles such as the likes of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and the Kingdom Hearts series of games. In fact, Final Fantasy VII is one of few games to have warranted a movie sequel, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. (On an unrelated note, my dad, who is not even remotely a gamer, mentioned that he once saw this Final Fantasy movie. I personally haven’t seen Advent Children, but judging by its critical and commercial response, it’s not unsurprising that it didn’t make him a Final Fantasy fan!).
You probably get it. Final Fantasy VII has a legacy. This is actually my first time playing it, but I was definitely cognisant of its importance to many people before I started it two months ago. Before we begin, I’ll talk a bit about my history with JRPGs. I played my first one less than a year ago, Bravely Default, before moving on to Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and a bit of Persona 3. Coming off of two SNES masterpieces may have coloured my opinion of Final Fantasy VII a bit, but I still believe that I can give it an honest judgement. So without further ado, on to the review!
The first thing you’ll notice about Final Fantasy VII, especially if you’re used to classic SNES-era JRPGs is its looks. While they haven’t aged quite as well as 16-bit sprites have, they’re still a joy to look at, especially the pre-rendered backgrounds. The characters themselves are rather blocky in comparison, but the overall effect still manages to work. The battles themselves are actually quite cinematic and the monsters designed quite well, but there’s something about the blockiness of the polygons that’s just shy of the charm of traditional sprites. That being said, the FMV cutscenes are gorgeous, even with the PSone’s poor resolution, and there sure are a lot of them!
The story is quite good, especially in the early parts of the game. You play as Cloud Strife, member of an eco-terrorist group, AVALANCHE, seeking to undermine Shinra, a mega-corporation that’s draining the Planet of Mako energy, essentially its lifeblood. Cloud, typical of protagonists in Japanese media, has amnesia and he’ll learn more about his own past as the lot struggle against Shinra’s tyranny. Honestly, Cloud is one of the blander protagonists I’ve seen in JRPGs, though the supporting characters are a joy to interact with, even if they are just as cliché. Barret is your typical kind-at-heart brute, Tifa is Cloud’s childhood-friend/love interest, and Aeris is an all-around sweetheart to all those around her.
What really detracts from Final Fantasy VII’s experience is the translation. You’ll never have trouble understanding what’s going on, but the dialogue often seems unnatural and the text is rife with grammatical errors (the notorious ‘This guy are sick’ among others). Unlike Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII’s translation hasn’t, to my knowledge, officially been redone for consoles, which is a shame because I felt it often took me out of the game.
If what you’re here for is gameplay, however, you won’t be disappointed. Final Fantasy VII features the tried-and-true Active Time Battle turn-based battle system, a staple of the series all the way back to Final Fantasy IV. New to this title, though, is the addition of Materia, little orbs that grant magical power to the wielder. Like Final Fantasy VI’s Espers, Materia let the player have full control of what spells each character can use, but they’re just that much more convenient, since they can be switched between characters without losing the experience you put into them. Also new to VII are Limit Breaks, which are special moves your characters can use once they sustain enough damage. These are fun to experiment with and, in my opinion, give Final Fantasy VII’s combat system a slight edge over that of Final Fantasy VI.
Finally, the music is, as you’d expect from a Nobuo Uematsu score, absolutely superb. Though it’s perhaps not quite as good as Final Fantasy VI’s score, I do like it slightly more than Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack. I found that Chrono Trigger had more upbeat themes, VI themes were more epic, but VII’s score gets points for being more emotional and heartfelt. The battle and boss themes are great, I really like the overworld theme, and Aeris’ theme gets me every time! If you’re planning on playing Final Fantasy VII on Vita like I did, and are going to play in public, be sure to bring headphones as you definitely won’t want to miss out on the great music.
Design: 8/10 The story is good, though I find it drags a bit once you pass the halfway point, and I can’t say I fully comprehend the ending. The characters do manage to be likable despite a rather poor translation, and there are a fair share of emotional twists and turns, including the famous one at the end of Disc 1 (I was spoiled – it’s hard not to be on the internet, but I’ll keep this spoiler free!).
Visuals: 8/10 The graphics certainly tried to be revolutionary as compared to preceding JRPGs’ sprites, and even if they didn’t quite accomplish what they set out to do, there a certain charm about the blocky polygons. Add to that a whole slew of beautiful FMV sequences, and you really can’t complain too much about Final Fantasy VII’s visuals.
Sound: 9/10 The PlayStation was capable of near CD-quality sound, and that’s evident throughout Final Fantasy VII’s adventure. The sound effects seem a little primitive now and then, but the soundtrack, composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, is just shy of immaculate.
Gameplay: 8/10 You won’t find much innovation in Final Fantasy VII’s combat, but that’s what makes it so great. It’s simple to grasp and yet can still cause harrowing moments now and then. VII isn’t extremely difficult, but you’ll have to do more than mash the [OK] button to see it to the end. If there’s a major gripe I have with the way the game plays, it’s that it isn’t often clear in the 3D environments which areas are traversable and which aren’t.
Value: 9/10 Final Fantasy VII can be got for only $10 on the PSN or $17 on Steam, (though it’s actually half-price today!). Considering its story runs well north of 30 hours (I took 31 hours, but did few of the sidequests), that’s a steal of a deal, and the few gamers who haven’t yet it a go really owe it to themselves to do so.
Total: 42/50 (B-)
List Price: 11.99 | Buy from Amazon
Well, that’s JRPG #4 in the books! I’m still chipping away at Persona 3, but I don’t expect I’ll be done that anytime soon. Next on the list of JRPGs will probably be Suikoden II or Final Fantasy X, both of which I’ve bought but not yet played.
If you enjoyed this review, why not check out all our other videogame reviews here? Also, I have a ranked list that I keep updated of my favourite games of all time. I just added Final Fantasy VII, in case you were wondering how I compare it to other RPGs.
I’m also extremely close to finishing the Borderlands 2 main story, and I’ll have a review up of that as soon as I do. Otherwise, a very Happy New Year to all of you, and here’s to all the great games that’ll come out of 2015!