Gameplay, Story and Value:
Revolutionary as it’s considered, Final Fantasy VII doesn’t stray too far from typical JRPG traditions. To be honest, I think this is a valuable anchor to have as Squaresoft takes their iconic franchise into its first 32-bit, first polygonal outing. There’s a lot to cover here, so I’ll start with the game from a mechanical standpoint.
Again, it’s all pretty typical JRPG fare here, and to be honest I was actually kind of surprised to see just how much FF7 had in common with its predecessors. There’s plenty of towns and interiors, with item, weapon, armor and skill shops in the form of Materia. There’s dungeons and a world maps, all with random encounters, and the game even adheres to the established canoe/ship/airship system when it comes to vehicles. It all comes together to drive home the fact that this is a game that both maintains what it is that makes Final Fantasy Final Fantasy all while still driving the series forward.
While other Final Fantasy’s have Magicite, jobs and garment grids, Final Fantasy 7 uses the Materia system for skill progression and character customization. Weapons and armor have Materia various amounts of Materia slots, with various growth rates, and Materia itself can be bought and found all over the world. Equipping Materia will allow your characters to use associated magic and abilities, or grant them passive or active effects. Materia itself can be augmented by Support Materia, changing the way it behaves, as well as leveled to provide stronger abilities or effects.
The Materia system, mechanically speaking, is both Final Fantasy 7’s greatest strength, and the cause of its biggest issues. To be clear, I love Materia, and it may be my favorite form of skill learning or character customization in a Final Fantasy game. It offers tons of flexibility, role specialization, and is just downright fun to use. Finding Materia always feels rewarding and exciting. That said, balance quickly becomes an issue. Its this endless level of possibility that leads to some seriously broken combinations, trivializing the majority of the already easy game. W-Summon Knights of the Round into Mime? Right…
Of course, I’ve been told that I don’t have to take it that far. I don’t have to breed a Gold Chocobo or play all those Gold Saucer minigames or go collecting all the hidden items and ultimate weapons. And, hey, if I really wanted a challenge out of the game I could always go fight the optional Ruby and Emerald Weapon bosses who are insanely difficult. That’s my cheeky way of acknowledging all the great content there is to do here outside of just playing through the game. I beat Final Fantasy 7 in just about 30 hours even, I could have easily gone on for another 10-15.
For all of my complaining about how obscure the story in Final Fantasy 7 is, it’s actually pretty basic. Well, maybe not “basic”, but it’s easy enough to follow when you’re not 15 and home-schooled and maybe I need more therapy. Anyway, you follow Cloud, an identificationally (it’s a word now!) confused Ex-SOLDIER from the evil Shinra organization, his childhood friend Tifa, and definitely not a Mr. T rippoff man with the prosthetic ballistics, Barret. What starts off as a few simple acts of
terrorism freedom fighting quickly turns into a quest to save the planet from cataclysmic destruction! Along the way you’ll meet tons of interesting characters, and dig deeper into the ones you’ve known from the start.
The story on the whole is very good, however I can’t help but find the game’s main antagonist, Sephiroth, lacking. He’s certainly iconic, don’t get be wrong, but his pseudo-presence throughout the game makes it easy to forget he’s there. He’s more of an “idea” during the course of the game rather than an actual, tangible villain. Sure, that sounds like a concept that could be terrifying, but I just don’t feel like it works great here.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
At this point, everyone knows how poorly Final Fantasy 7 has held up graphically over the years, so I’m not going to spend a bunch of time ripping on it. No, the visuals are not very good, but it’s not just that. One thing I found myself having a problem with was the simple fact that the game couldn’t decide on a graphical style. Some cutscenes were in-engine, some where in-engine with post production, and some used more detailed models. On top of that, the battle models were different from the normal models. They should have picked a style and stuck with it! As for what the game actually gets right, I was pretty impressed with the use of pre-rendered backgrounds as environments. It helped add a lot of personality to the different areas, while also adding a nice visual experience.
Sound effects all work really well within the game, so there’s really nothing to talk about in that regard. The music, on the other hand… I think the music in Final Fantasy 7 is almost too iconic for its own good. It’s too easy to be playing this game and take the soundtrack for granted, I mean we’ve been listening to it for the last 20 years or so. You almost have let yourself fall into it, and really listen, beyond the familiarity. Do that, and you’ll find an epic score, one just as captivating as it was the first time you listened to it. Every song is fantastic, and I’m finding myself adding it to my regular music rotation.
I’m lucky in getting to go into Final Fantasy 7 completely cold, back when it was only a couple years old. I got to have all experiences the game brought with it first hand, unspoiled by friends or magazines. Over time, playing more and more RPG’s and even more and more Final Fantasy games, I lost a lot of love for this one. Looking back, I couldn’t make sense of what I remember of the story, and I started focusing on a lot of the game’s faults. I became one of those guys who’d say things like “Final Fantasy 7 was an important game, sure, but when you look back on it there were a lot of issues. It’s WAY overrated.”
To a degree, yes, it is definitely an overrated game. At the same time, it’s earned a lot of its accolades. Playing it again as an adult has really given me a new perspective, and respect, for the game, and I hold it in much higher regard than I did just a few weeks ago!