We recently reviewed the PS4 game Final Fantasy XV, the latest release in the cult RPG series that has its roots in retro consoles like the NES. As the 2016 release continues to take the world by storm, I decided to lock myself away from humanity to embark on my second full run-through of, arguably, the greatest instalment in the Final Fantasy world: FFVII. For anyone who hasn’t played Final Fantasy VII, and still calls themselves a fan, it’s time to dig out your original PlayStation console and find out what a real RPG is made of. FFVII is also available for download on PS4, which is great news for anyone whose little grey box never made it to the 21st century.
FFVII is perhaps the most famous and groundbreaking of the series. It was the first instalment to feature a 3D environment and opened up a huge world map with over 100 hours of gameplay. But what really makes it such a legendary game?
Being an avid Final Fantasy fan, having played through VII, VIII, IX, X, and XII to the end, I can’t help but draw comparisons. And what I find with the later games is a move towards a flashier and action-based style of play. This may be suitable for some players, especially those who are new to the game, but VII manages to create a masterpiece of a game that is largely driven by its storyline.
You are thrust into the scene as Cloud Strife, the main character, who is joined on his quest by a number of unusual friends and companions: a man with a gun for an arm, a beautiful revolutionary called Tifa, a flower female from the slums, a talking dog, and a disturbed vampire among others. Together, you undergo a mission to save the world from the greedy Shinra corporation, the evil yet super-cool bad guy Sephiroth, and the alien Jenova. Sounds intense, doesn’t it? Well, add in a healthy dose of love, loss, betrayal, anger and about 20 hours of breeding giant birds and you start to understand how deep this game goes. Final Fantasy VII is not for the faint-hearted.
As the characters interact and the story develops, you realise that you are fully immersed in another world. You risk forsaking your need to eat and sleep as the rich and rewarding quest unfolds before your eyes. Professionally composed orchestral music and aesthetically pleasing backdrops and cutscenes complement the dramatic and often humorous dialogues to further assist your complete immersion until 8 hours has passed without a thought of the outside world and the perils and wonders that it contains.
It seems to me that Final Fantasy VII’s mystique is driven by its compelling storyline, but that is not all that it has to offer. This is an RPG game, and that means levelling up characters and stats until you become the ultimate animated tough guy. Characters have unique weapons and can equip armour and accessories to boost stats, but the real complexities start and end with the materia system. “Materia” are colourful and magical rocks that can be equipped to characters to give them access to abilities, magic, summons, and support. Levelling them up makes them stronger, and they can also be combined to give different effects. In my opinion, this is still the most dynamic and pleasing system in any Final Fantasy game to date. Each character also has limit breaks, particularly dangerous attacks and techniques that can be used after taking a certain amount of damage. These range from multiple hit attacks to random slot reels.
As the characters roam around the world map and its dungeons, they encounter random encounters with enemies as well as set encounters with strong and testing bosses. The screen phases out, the music picks up the pace, and then it is time to release the power of the materia to destroy whatever stands before you. The action is turn-based, and characters act when their time-bars are full. Battles are tactical in their nature and mathematical in their essence. Taking off the enemies’ hit points before they kill your characters is all it takes for victory, but a refined kill feels so much better; it’s possible to fight with style.
Dispersed between the motions of the storylines and core gameplay are opportunities to embark on side quests and mini-games to earn more equipment and items. This breaks the game up and offers the player less linear elements. Take the Gold Saucer, for example, a giant amusement park/casino which offers players the opportunity to play mini-games for prizes, and functions in very much the same way as a modern day casino in real life. Other notable sidequests are the command-and-conquer style Fort Condor battles and the hidden summons that can be only be accessed by completing puzzles.
It should be pretty clear to the reader by now how I feel about Final Fantasy VII. I mean, this is a pretty glowing review for what I consider to be one of the greatest games ever made. If there are any flaws in the game, I can’t really see them. I am blinded by my own immersion, biased by my own admission.
What I will say is that this game isn’t for the impatient among us. It takes time. A lot of it. Sometimes you will need to grind away in battles for a good few hours to level up characters and be ready for the next section. On other occasions, if you want to complete all of the sidequests anyway, you will need to capture, train, and breed chocobos for days on end to unlock rewarding materia and open up hard-to-reach areas of the map.
The good news is, Final Fantasy VII is a game that gives you a decent amount of freedom. It’s not difficult to play the main game through, enjoy the story and the gameplay, and be on your way. It’s incredibly hard to complete all the optional bosses. If you have heard of Emerald and Ruby weapon then you know what I mean. Either way, you can expect to get around 50-60 hours of gameplay if you focus on the main game, and 100+ hours if you want to finish everything. So settle in, enjoy, and forget about the world outside for a while. It’s going to be a pretty long ride!
The other consideration to make is whether FFVII stands the test of time. It was, after all, released way back in 1996, and graphics and computing power have come along quite a way in the past two decades. If you do decide to give this game another run, then it might take you a couple of hours to get used to the pixilated graphics. Yet, FFVII still looks beautiful. The graphics were groundbreaking at the time and can still be appreciated in this respect. They don’t look anything like FFXV’s, but they capture a retro aestheticism that I can’t help but admire. As for the other components of the game: the RPG levelling systems, gameplay, storyline, and dialogue, all of these come across just as relevant and powerfully now as they always have done.
As we move towards the future of gaming, let us not forget its past. Final Fantasy XV is a stunning game (one which I am yet to play all the way through), which represents the natural evolution of RPGs towards action-based combat and impressive live gameplay, but it is the older games in the series which offer the most enthralling storylines and classic RPG elements. As I near the end of my second run through of Final Fantasy VII, I can’t help but think thoughts that make me feel very old. “They just don’t make them like they used to!”