Warning: I’ve tried to keep this review spoiler-free, but those who do not wish to be exposed to information revealed on the first game disk would probably not want to read the review.
Title: Final Fantasy VII
System: PlayStation 1
Release Date: 1997
Game Type: Console RPG
A simple mission to hurt an ecologically damaging monopoly corporation turns into a quest to save the world from a man-made madman.
Cloud’s quest for self-discovery. I think Cecil is the only Final Fantasy lead character who approaches this much depth. It’s a nice change to have a personality with so many flaws as the hero of the world.
The “Knights of the Round” materia and its effect on the game balance. That one summon is just far, far too powerful relative to any others in the game. The limit breaks, like Omnislash, can only be used at specific times, even with the characters in “Fury” condition. “Knights of the Round” can be called up once at the start of the battle, and then mimed until the enemy falls every time. Without that materia, Ruby Weapon pulverizes me every time. With that materia (linked to “HP Absorb,” and with a mastered “Counter” linked to “Mime”) I can attack him once and then go eat supper while Ruby dies an inevitable death. There just needs to be a greater middle ground.
It’s hard to stay original when you’re working in a series. The Final Fantasy games found an interesting way around those problems, though; the sequels are disconnected in terms of plot, related only through thematic elements. (The first direct sequel is due out in the English-speaking world later this year, and is titled Final Fantasy X-2.) Thus, they have the freedom to create a new set of characters in a new world for each game, and that’s usually a freedom they take advantage of. This was the first of the PlayStation generation games in the series, and while the character models have a lack of detail not seen since the first 8-bit Nintendo entries, the 3D nature of the players and the non-tiled world make for a much smoother game, breaking into new technological territory. It still plays out very well today, with an excellent story, and dynamic character building system, and some interesting new spells and mini-games. It still feels original enough to warrant a 5 out of 6.
The story is one of the best developed stories in the Final Fantasy series. The heroes and villains are all tied together in some intricate ways. Every character, including the optional ones, has some sort of tie to the larger scheme of things. Some are even tied directly to the villain. The side quests often involve the larger picture as well. We’ve got substories of self-discovery all over the place, along with redemption, love, loss, and the other major themes in literature. The departure from the Nintendo systems allowed more freedom in content, such as Barrett’s foul dialogue, to allow more diverse and dark elements to come into play. Cait Sith was transformed from some goof that seemed to be nothing more than a merchandising gimmick into a significant player in the grander scheme of things. Vincent, Barrett, and Red XIII all have ghosts of the past to deal with. Cid, Yuffie and Tifa find themselves facing a villain who has attacked those close to them without facing a direct assault against themselves. Aeris, Red XIII, Vincent and Cloud all have to deal with the direct actions Shinra took against them. The Turks serve their purposes, while Hedeigger, Scarlet, Tseng and Reeve make a plausible executive branch of the Shinra company. It’s a very impressive array of developed characters, especially compared to the rest of the series and the genre. I give it 5 out of 6.
The graphics were a technological step up from the previous games in the series, but the handless arms and the faces made only of eyes remind me that the components of such wireframe characters are referred to as “primitives.” It looks more like a game to me than some of the sprite-based graphics that preceded it. The use of the primitively shaped characters against such detailed backgrounds, in and out of the video sequences, is often jarring in contrast. I give it 4 out of 6.
The sound is well done. The battle and sound effects are effective, and the music is the familiar Nobuo Uematsu high-water mark. The technological ring to the instruments works in the context of the game environment, particularly in Midgar. I give the sound 5 out of 6.
The playability of the game has its ups and downs. Some screens are hard to navigate due to odd choices in the orientation of the game axes. For example, running straight across the Junon Harbour boardwalk requires making a 90 degree turn on the controller. In other areas, holding down the controller in one direction when entering a room through a door will make you turn around and go back when you reach the other side. This was a common irritant for me. As far as the game mechanics are concerned, the battle controls and materia system are sufficiently well described in the game to ensure smooth play. There’s really only the one obstacle to playability, but it’s a prominent one. I give it 4 out of 6.
The immersion is hampered only by the lack of detail on the characters. The story is interesting and involved enough to pull me in the same way a good book does, and the dynamic in-battle camera movements pulled me in far more than the old sprite-based graphics did. I got over the lack of character detail by the time I left Midgar, and was only jarred out again later when the other members of the party would magically walk in and out of Cloud’s person. I give it 4 out of 6.
Overall, this is a solid entry in a good series, despite its dated look. While Final Fantasy IX was more enjoyable the first time through, this entry in the series holds up far better when being played through repeatedly. I’d strongly recommend this as a player’s first exposure to the Final Fantasy series. I give it 5 out of 6.
In total, Final Fantasy VII receives 32 out of 42.
Next Up: You Decide
Which game should I review next? The list of options (which is always available here) includes Eternal Ring, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy Tactics, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery, and Summoner.