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Final Fantasy VII Review Rewind


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On 09/07/2022 at 09:45 AM by Jamie Alston

The 25th anniversary of a victory fanfare for the PlayStation.
RECOMMENDATION:

This is an RPG worth your time, so long as you bridle your expectations. Playing the remastered version on a current gaming platform also wouldn’t hurt.

And now, the most anticipated epic adventure of the year will never come to a theater near you. Final Fantasy VII.” And so began my interest in RPGs. That commercial blew my 12-year-old mind back in 1997. Besides the impressive animations shown (which we would later learn were only cut-scenes), I was intrigued at seeing that we somehow jumped from Final Fantasy III on the Super NES to now VII on the PlayStation. “What manner of sorcery is this?”, I wondered.

My concerns about sequential numbering quickly vanished once I finally saw the playable demo over at a friend’s house. After witnessing the spectacle of the opening bombing mission, I had more pressing questions like “What is this game about? Why does the grumpy black guy keep disappearing into the blond kid’s body? How can I convince my parents to get me a PlayStation?” I was a changed kid that day. I saw the light, heard the Great Gospel, you might say.

Most of you reading this can remember the moment you first saw the game. And while some may disagree with the praise it’s received over the years, few could argue that Final Fantasy VII is the game that gave console RPGs a mass-market appeal beyond Japan. The story presents Cloud- a surly spikey-haired mercenary with a giant buster sword. Together with his companions, Tifa and Barrett, they attempt to save the planet from the greed of an evil corporation. What started as a risky mission evolved into an epic journey.

The opening CG animation showing Aerith walking through Midgar as the scene transitions to the train station nicely set the game’s tone. The first battle of the famous bombing mission, which introduces Cloud and company, worked as a spectacular setup for the dynamic experience that would surprise even well-versed Final Fantasy fans. Seeing your characters attack enemies in a 3D environment- sometimes as the camera panned to dramatic angles- created a layer of intensity that would have been impossible on home consoles before the PlayStation.

As with most Final Fantasy sequels, the battle mechanics underwent several radical changes while remaining simple enough for newcomers to grasp quickly. One of the major updates is the addition of limit breaks- represented by a damage meter that, when filled, allows party members to unleash special abilities, which in most cases are some sort of flashy heavy-hitting melee attack or status buff/debuff. Your characters can unlock up to 4 levels of limit breaks, each progressive level containing a sub-set of abilities to choose from once they become available. Seeing each character perform their limit break is one of my favorite aspects of the battle system. I never tire of the tingling sounds of Aerith’s Healing Wind or seeing Cloud’s Omnislash- a technique worthy of a chef’s kiss.

The other significant addition is the materia system, which functioned similarly to how espers worked in Final Fantasy VI. Materia can be equipped on any character and allows them to use magic, summon monsters, and access other abilities depending on the type currently in use. Equipped materia levels up over time in battle, eventually granting access to more powerful abilities and other benefits. In addition, skills acquired on currently-equipped materia can be swapped between characters without needing to learn those abilities from scratch. The game strikes a nice balance with the battle system's simplicity and the materia system's deeper nuances.

The visual presentation in Final Fantasy VII is mostly pleasant, except for the character models when exploring towns or the overworld. Cloud and crew have cartoonish looks with their diminutive stature, cube-shaped hands, and disproportionate arms that look like Popeye the Sailor. But at least the locations you’ll visit throughout the journey are well-detailed and pleasant to the eye. However, the graphics are best during the enemy encounters on the battle screen.

It was a spectacle to behold as the first in the Final Fantasy series to leap from 2D sprites to 3D polygons. Besides unleashing limit break techniques, the animations for summoned creatures are nothing short of elaborate. I remember that feeling of amazement when Ifrit busts through the ground for the first time or seeing various iterations of Bahamut obliterate everything on the screen. The dramatic extravaganza of casting spells and summoning monsters was quite engaging.

Thinking back to my first time with this game, the masterful soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu is what sold me on the experience. The music for the opening bombing mission perfectly set the tone for what was to come. It starts as a mysterious tranquil tune that seamlessly morphs into an urgent action-oriented theme as the scene shifts to introduce Cloud and Barrett.

An ominous theme plays when infiltrating the mako reactor, signaling the potential dangers ahead. Like most entries in the series thus far, Final Fantasy VII is full of well-composed music used to great effect. Besides the two themes mentioned above, my other favorites include the battle themeCosmo CanyonWutai, and the Jenova battles (among others).

The story, while initially intriguing, has some poorly-explained vital moments that make little sense from a narrative standpoint. It's a particularly glaring problem when Sephiroth enters the picture. While it’s evident that he discovered things about himself that led him down the vicious path he embraced, it happens so quickly after his introduction that there isn’t time to truly understand how he reached certain conclusions or what it means. The game tries to offer some exposition to support his rationale. Still, it’s mostly just vague references to events and characters that only function as McGuffins to give Cloud and friends a reason to visit specific areas as they chase down Sephiroth.

On the other hand, there are insightful moments of character development to make up for the hanging plot threads. The icy, detached attitude that Cloud projects merely hides the inner conflict he must eventually confront. He ends up being a more human character than he initially appears at the start. The same can be said for Barrett and his anger or the dubious nature of Yuffie and her shifting alliances. The revelations of their motives and the outcome of their endeavors are grounded enough to where you can at least understand them, if not sympathize with their struggles.

The question I often hear asked is whether or not this game is still worth playing, especially for a newcomer to the series. Although I am a huge fan of Final Fantasy VII (due to its influence on my awareness of RPGs as a genre), it is by no means perfect. Honestly, there are better RPGs that have come before and after (Dragon Quest XI, anyone?). Even so, there’s plenty here to like, and its shortcomings won’t compromise the overall experience for most.

Assuming you wish to play vanilla Final Fantasy VII (and not FFVII Remake), I recommend purchasing the version available on most current-gen platforms (PS4/5, Switch, Xbox One, etc.). The visual presentation gets a touch-up and includes a 3x speed toggle to keep things moving along briskly if desired. But no matter which version you choose, the intricate battle system and sympathetic characters underscored with Uematsu’s soundtrack are the gems that make Final Fantasy VII worthy of your time.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

SanAndreas

09/08/2022 at 12:08 AM

This game will always be atop my list of favorite games. So good. It's everything I'd hoped RPGs would be in 5th generation. It was because of this game that I did something I hadn't done since the Atari era: I bought a non-Nintendo system.

Ironically, this game is now on a Nintendo system. Also ironically, you can get it on cartridge in Europe and Asia, in a double pack with FF8. Sony fequently made fun of Nintendo's choice to go with cartridges in its ads for Final Fantasy VII, since that's what cost Nintendo the single most important third party game of the generation.

Cary Woodham

09/09/2022 at 08:10 AM

At first I was really excited for this game because I had just gotten off the high that was Final Fantasy 6.  And yeah, that beginning sequence is pretty darn cool.  But after I finished it, I decided I didn't like FF7 as much.  I still appreciate it for trying different things, though.  My favorite characters are Cait Sith, the red doggy, and Tifa.  Also, my best friend's name is Barrett, so we teased him a lot about that character.

Machocruz

09/11/2022 at 08:21 PM

At least in my circle, the presentation was the draw. We marvelled at Leviathan being summoned in the demo. Ultimately the game was interesting, important, but just ok to me as a JRPG. I never had an itch to replay it and nothing about the remake interests me. The hero characters are silly to me now. I would play a romhack/mod though, one that made the game more challenging, resources more limited, and added a fourth character to the battle party, as I find aspects of the world still interesting

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