Final Fantasy VII Retro Review
For me, Final Fantasy VII is my defining game. It’s the game that got me into the stats and emotionally charged narratives that make up the best RPGS, it also made me want to play every RPG under the sun.
The story is just as good as it was back in 1997 and it still puts many a contemporary RPG to shame with its complexity, memorable moments and its general quality. It begins as it ends, a fight to save the planet. But the main threat of Shinra, a corporation that is slowly draining the planet of its life, whilst always an important antagonist throughout the game, later becomes secondary to the silver haired uber baddie, Sephiroth.
Sephiroth quickly became one of the most popular enemies ever and to this day merchandising of him is still hugely successful, which means his popularity has hardly waned over the last decade or so. Early in the game you’ll play out a sequence which takes place some years before the game’s primary setting, its purpose being to show Sephiroth’s origin as a legendary hero to his transformation into, well, a raving lunatic. This back-story goes some way to adding layers to not only Sephiroth, but to his nemesis, Cloud Strife, too.
Cloud is easily one of the most complex and intriguing of protagonists to ever feature in a game and it’s his tangled past that gives the narrative its true complexity. The supporting cast of characters are similarly as memorable as the leading hero and villain. True, many may seem rather clichéd, but just about all of them have interesting histories or some other some other sort of twist that can alter your perception of them.
Key story moments are represented by FMV sequences, that at the time were state of the art and still manage to look quite nice today. They’re strangely inconsistent though, with characters sometimes being small, similarly to how they appear in-game, whilst other times they have more true to life proportions. This aside, certain plot points just wouldn’t have had as much impact without these.
The translation work, whilst always flawed, is serviceable enough for the simpler of moments, but when narrative events begin to grow more complicated (for the later stages of the game in particular), the growing intricacy causes the somewhat weak localization effort to struggle to keep things coherent. To this day, there remains many theories of just what the hell is going on, which from a personal standpoint is never a good thing, and I can only assume that this is down to that particular issue.
The storyline of Final Fantasy VII is a great strength of the game, but of course with it being just that, a game, there’s also parts you play too, so you must forgive me for going on about the flawed masterpiece that is the storyline. All the genre basics are there such as fighting, treasure seeking and character management.
The combat system is the Active Time Battle system, earlier introduced in Final Fantasy IV and in fine form here. It’s not the usual turn based fare, instead characters aren’t able to act until their time bars are full. It’s not the cleverest of combat systems, but it works very well and there’s some great enemy designs. Granting the fighting greater visual flair and variety to your options are summons, which are largely gargantuan monsters, that are some of the most damaging tricks in your repertoire.
Characters also have limit bars, of which when filled to their apex allows you to unleash their limit breaks, which is probably meant to signify their anger into the realms of likely anger management candidates and are usually hugely damaging attacks. Each character has multiple levels of these.
To use magic in a fight you must first equip materia outside of combat. Materia are essentially magical orbs that can be attached to your characters weapons and armour (and it makes a very nice chinking noise when you do so), granting your party members new abilities. AP, earned by winning battles, eventually results in materia growing and giving you even greater boons in a fight, such as more painful magical attacks. The materia system has been often imitated but never surpassed.
Final Fantasy VII’s already considerable length can be further extended by unearthing all the secrets that the massive world hides. There’s secret weapons and armour waiting to be obtained, chocobos to be raised, two optional characters and an ample offering of optional mini-games, it’s supremely generous in this regard.
Visually, in 2009 the game is a bit hit and miss, which isn’t too bad when you consider its relatively advanced years. Battles look ugly today, whilst the world map has an abundance of popup, conversely the pre-rendered environments are still fairly nice and contain plenty of little details to please the roving eye. The midi powered music is dated by today’s standards of powerful orchestral themes and such, though there are still some memorable pieces within such as Aeris‘ sad theme and Cid’s upbeat theme, but, in terms of quality, the soundtrack would be surpassed by future games in the series.
Final Fantasy VII has rightfully won legendary status and years later, it’s still amongst the best RPGS to have ever been released. It’s one of those timeless games that even if things look and sound a bit rougher than remembered, the quality in other areas – in this case the amazing story and well tuned gameplay – rise above the dated aspects to still offer a truly classic and unforgettable game.