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Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation) artwork

Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation) review

"Square hit their stride in the 90's, and if you're into RPG's, this is one you should make a point to experience."

Final Fantasy VII carried a lot of weight on its release. Being the first 3D entry in the long running RPG series it was tasked with bringing the franchise into a new era of gaming. Playing with a balance of 3D models and well drawn 2D backgrounds it was able to capture the attention of new and veteran gamers alike, and maintained that attention with a rich world and a well crafted skill and magic system.

The games opening cinematic sets the tone that much of the game will follow, showing that an industrial revolution of some kind is taking hold in this world. Fairly crude motor vehicles and brightly lit neon lights are shown before the camera pulls out to show a large mechanically inspired city with massive stacks billowing smoke before gliding back in to a train docking. Once the train halts the disembarking passengers knock out the guards and Barret, the leader of Avalanche, and our protagonist, Cloud, are revealed. The terrorist group Avalanche is trying to take down the Shinra corporation, which is literally stiffening the life energy of planet known as mako in order to produce electricity and increase production of materia, items that grant the holder magic and special abilities, so they can further strengthen their private army. The prized soldier of said army, Sephiroth, had gone rouge a few years prior and was thought to be dead, but is later revealed to be alive and attempting to destroy the planet by summoning a meteor, as he comes to understand who and what he is in relation to an ancient race.

Almost immediately you are thrown into combat. Selecting your actions from the familiar menu list of attack, magic, and item. As you take damage in combat you will notice a gauge labeled limit filling next to the ATB gauge, once it is full you can “break” your limit, allowing you to preform a devastating attack on your enemies or huge buffs to your party. Limit breaks can be carried from turn to turn and even battle to battle, giving you the option save your more powerful attacks for potential boss fights, though this is not recommended, as bosses fill the limit gauge fairly quickly and if that party member dies the gauge is reset. Each character has their own set of limit levels, with varied skills which are acquired through battling and using your previously gained abilities. After using your limit break the gauge will reset. The music tracks are fairly high energy and the small bits of vague dialogue through the beginning urge you to fight and move forward, leading the player to ask why, growing their interest in the world and events unfolding around them, making you feel involved.

The visuals may not resonate with everyone, but have a charm and style that makes the game distinct. Many characters have two models in the game, a smaller “chibi” like model for the over world and towns and a higher quality model for battle. Though the chibi models aren't exactly what you would call easy on the eyes, the towns and dungeons are. Hand drawn backgrounds that pull your attention, they feel inviting and are asking to be explored, adding more detail for the story's presentation during the in-engine cutscenes. In combat there are no pre-drawn backgrounds but instead a fully modeled environment to accompany the high quality models. A visual contrast as great as this is commonly off putting, but worked well in this game, and served as a bridge for the series as it made its move from 16 to 32 bit.

Previous Final Fantasy games have made it clear in design and skill set what each party members role is, the warrior, the monk, the thief, however this game mixes things up. This entry changes the way you build your party with it's materia system, which allows you to tailor any party member for any role, as every materia can be equipped to any character. As previously mentioned, materia grants the user different type of skills and spell. Each weapon and piece of armor has a number slots for you to place materia, with some single slots and others linked. Placing certain materia in the linked slots can enhance your spells, weapons, and armor. For example, if you place a restore materia and an “all” materia in two linked slots your first casting of your cure spell will affect your whole party. Similarly, if you link an ice materia and “element” materia on your armor you will have protection against ice magic. Your materia will become stronger over time, giving you access to more powerful forms of the same spill types. Thankfully materia growth isn't determined by how often you use it, just having it equipped is enough to strengthen it. This is essential for balance, for example, if you are fighting a fire based enemy you wouldn't want to cast a fire based spell on them, but you would want a fire and “elemental” materia linked on your armor to increase resistance. This system allows the players to pick their party freely and worry less about their functionality in battle. I encourage everyone to experiment with your materia, you're likely to find some incredibly useful combinations.

Freely choosing your party members can also lead to different bits of dialogue, as each character has overcome their own hardships. Shinra has caused all kinds of disarray in the world, and each party member shares the common goal of taking down the mega corporation. Cloud and Tifa's village was destroyed as a result of Shinra, leading to Clouds mixed memories and Tifa's lack there of. Shinra started a war with Yuffie's village and ultimately turned it into a resort and took Cid's dreams of space flight away from him. As the game progresses to about the half way point Square saw fit to not only have the character experience loss, but the player as well. As the stakes are being raised in the plot you have the character who is tailored to be your healer taken from you, Aerith, her life ended by the man you are trying to stop. Our colorful cast of characters have all experienced loss because of Shinra's actions(indirect or otherwise), and you as the player now have as well. They all had agreed that no one else should have to suffer because of this corporation, and now an even stronger bond is built. The game is a tale of loss and a quest of identity for each character, remembering ones past, learning what true honor is, discovering new dreams, these are things that any one of us can relate to, making it possible for all of us to find a personal connection with the characters.

Final Fantasy VII not only shares stories of loss and self discovery through it's narrative, but has you experience them as you progress through the story. The game's music and overall presentation give it the uncanny ability to elicit whichever emotion is best suited for the situation, and the visuals do not hinder a single moment of the journey. The developers made use of this at every possible turn, and the ending was no exception. The game came to a close and the final cinematic played, and at the end of the FMV a somewhat conflicting mix of sorrow and satisfaction washed over me. The final image shown to you before the credits roll was of Aerith.

Much like Final Fantasy VI, there is so much in this game worth your time, so many messages to be conveyed, and when you are finished with the game, you'll likely have taken some of it's many messages to heart. Square hit their stride in the 90's, and if you're into RPG's, this is one you should make a point to experience.


TomatoMan's avatar
Community review by TomatoMan (July 20, 2015)

Brandon Thissell is an enthusiast and collector of video games from the 8-bit era through modern day.

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