"A pivotal thing happens at the end of the first disc of Final Fantasy VII: Aeris, a central character, is killed by the main villain, who evidently falls out of the sky or something. Such a reveal might be labeled as a major spoiler by some, but seeing as how it’s likely the most widely known plot development of any video game in history amongst the gaming community… Well, if you didn’t know about it, you probably don’t belong on a site like this in the first place. "
A pivotal thing happens at the end of the first disc of Final Fantasy VII: Aeris, a central character, is killed by the main villain, who evidently falls out of the sky or something. Such a reveal might be labeled as a major spoiler by some, but seeing as how it’s likely the most widely known plot development of any video game in history amongst the gaming community… Well, if you didn’t know about it, you probably don’t belong on a site like this in the first place.
Anyway. Aeris gets killed more or less because the writers at Square figured that throughout the course of this “epic” (read: overblown) adventure, some major character would have to die at some point to get the tears running – preferably a woman, and especially a woman in a pretty pink dress, because look how innocent she is! It would have been a shame, though, if any players had based their three-person party around her, only to have her taken away permanently halfway through the game. So, Square got tricky: They intentionally made her the weakest and most useless character to choose from, with all her special abilities revolving around healing. And who wants to waste time healing when they could be ATTACKING! There, now no one will want to use Aeris, thus jamming a sword through her chest at the conclusion of disc one won’t be a problem.
It worked – I never wanted Aeris. I wanted the guys who could actually fight worth a damn. But Square took it a step further, though this step I believe was unintentional: They made Aeris really, really annoying. If FFVII had voiceovers, I suspect Aeris’s lines would be read by some deafeningly screechy strumpet, as she’s the kind of “escort character” who’s always getting into trouble, and who is constantly responsible for dragging her friends into conflict. It’s not just her dialog that’s bad (because who am I kidding, all of it is bad), it’s her happy-go-lucky flowers-and-kittens attitude that seems to enchant those around her into becoming personal bodyguards, and they fail at that, anyway. So she’s a worthless battle asset, and I hated her as a character, as well. It’s a good thing she dies!
But I’ve spoken to numerous FFVII fanatics who admit to crying during her death scene, thereby being sucked into Square’s scheme to spread the game’s legend as a storytelling masterpiece, even though the story is a convoluted mess. That the scene elicited the opposite reaction from me isn’t the point. If FFVII were to make me cry, it would likely be because the game is almost universally hailed as one of the all-time greats, despite it being a silly, mindless excursion in fractured storytelling and shallow RPG mechanics. FFVII is regarded as one of the best games ever made despite the fact that it sucks.
If there’s one major influence on the RPG genre that I can pull out of FFVII’s big bag of tricks, it’s the streamlining of the protagonist who spikes his hair, dresses like an asshole, hates everyone, doesn’t remember anything correctly, and carries around some exaggeratedly huge weapon in a failed attempt to look like a badass. Cloud Strife used to be a part of the military force SOLDIER, which is probably an acronym that doesn’t actually stand for anything. He’s now a mercenary looking for work, and when we first meet him, he’s fighting alongside a group of rebels called AVALANCHE (what that stands for, I’d love to know). These tree-huggers insist that the government’s Mako reactors are sucking up the lifeblood of the planet, so they go on these big bombing missions, blowing up the damn things to prove a point. Cloud’s okay with this because, hey, anything for money.
AVALANCHE is led by Barret, who is the Black Guy, which of course means he’s all jive-talkin’ and undereducated and shit. One of his hands has been replaced with a machine gun, which makes me wonder how he handles airport security, but hey, that’s his problem. His accomplice is Tifa, who is a childhood friend of Cloud’s, so imagine the odds that they would run into each other in a city like Midgar! COULD IT BE FATE?! Aeris and Tifa are constantly battling for Cloud’s heart, charming emo wristcutter that he is, and it forms – get this – a love TRIANGLE! We know who’s going to win since we’ve already established the untimely demise of a certain someone, but let’s just go with it and pretend the size of Tifa’s chest doesn’t give her the life/death advantage.
I’m getting sidetracked. The guys at wicked government agency Shinra don’t agree with this rebel group’s tactics, what with them blowing up expensive reactors and all, so they do what any sensible government would do: They blow something up, kill a whole bunch of people, and blame it on AVALANCHE, rotten bunch of terrorists that they are! But the key characters survive, of course, and they decide that This Is The Last Straw. So they climb this really big wall, break into Shinra’s headquarters… and are captured and thrown into cells. When they awaken, they discover that some unseen force has opened their cell doors and proceeded to kill every member of Shinra in the building… including the president, whom they were after. Cloud determines that the mystery man must be the long-lost Sephiroth, seeing as how that’s his sword sticking out of the president’s back.
Sephiroth is one of the most widely praised villains of all time, and there is certainly one thing about him that cannot be disputed: He dresses, and looks, like a woman. But look how dark and brooding he is! There are scenes in which he appears out of nowhere, gives a quick monologue about life and death and the fate of the world and whatnot, and then disappears just as quickly. What power! There’s even this one moment where he stabs his sword into the ground! OMG! Very little personality registers in his dry, comically unthreatening dialog, other than that of a whiny mama’s boy who wants to take over the world just because that’s his obligation as the villain. I suspect most FFVII fans put him on a pedestal because he’s the one who delivers the blow that kills Aeris… which, uh, makes him a hero in my book, but whatever.
There’s even this one scene where he walks through fire! So obviously he’s the totally bestest and most awesomest villain ever.
Anyway, Cloud knows what a maniac this guy is, so he figures that something’s up. As it turns out, the mama’s boy thing rings true, and Sephiroth’s intentions are merely to be with his mother – Jenova, a grotesque and most definitely inhuman organism that may or may not have come from outer space. Oh yeah: And Sephiroth might also be interested in WORLD DOMINATION! Well, actually, he wants to destroy the world first, and then take over it. Something about the lifestream healing a wound in the planet, I don’t know. Anyway. Aeris eventually configures into all of this as well, since she’s the last of the Ancients, a long-gone group of people who, if Aeris is any indication, have the power to be really annoying. Sephiroth objects, claiming he’s the last Ancient, which of course makes no sense, since his mother is an alien and his dad is a mad scientist named Hojo – a plot twist revealed quite late in the game, but eh, I think I’ve proven I’m not above ruining this game’s story for you wonderful readers out there.
(I’d like to think the science behind conceiving Sephiroth is no more complicated than the act of Hojo having sex with an alien lifeform, because that would be funny. Considering that he tries to force Aeris to mate with a red furry creature early in the game, I wouldn’t put it past him.)
Cloud and Sephiroth are constantly at odds to determine which of them can be more boring and generic, and it seems Sephiroth’s plan involves summoning a giant meteor to crush the citizens of the planet – a feat he almost accomplishes, but instead of impact, the meteor just sort of hangs there for a while, conveniently giving our heroes enough time to battle his efforts. Cloud occasionally seems to act in Sephiroth’s favor, but not by choice. Apparently, Sephiroth can actually possess and control Cloud for limited periods of time. His explanation for this is that Cloud is actually one of his clones – a lie Cloud has no trouble believing, despite the fact that the two look nothing alike.
(The real reason, by the way, is because all members of SOLDIER are apparently showered with Jenova cells, which is really fucking gross, and also raises the question of why, if Sephiroth can control members of SOLDIER, he doesn’t just possess the entire fucking military and make things a whole lot easier on his part.)
This behavior is the basis for the entire plot, in which twists are created by characters lying to one another, and therefore lying to us. When something happens in FFVII that we were not expecting, it’s usually because we were given information beforehand that turned out to be false, similar to when M. Night Shyamalan told us that those red figures surrounding The Village were actual monsters.
The best example is early on in the game, when our heroes are all seated around a hotel room in the quiet town of Kalm as Cloud tells the story of his past experiences with Sephiroth. Apparently the two used to work together in SOLDIER, and were sent on a mission to investigate some strange occurrence in Nibelheim, Cloud’s and Tifa’s hometown. In the process, they come across an old Shinra-owned mansion that contains hidden secrets concerning the creation of Sephiroth, who was for some reason under the impression that he was a normal human being. He’s pissed off, of course, so he burns down Nibelheim, kills nearly everyone in it up to and including Cloud’s mother, walks through fire!, and then releases Jenova, who’s tucked away with all the other hideous freaks in some underground bunker. Cloud consoles a badly wounded Tifa, and then chases Sephiroth into the chamber, and the two face off! Dun dun dun. And Cloud forgets what happened next.
So anyway, you can imagine the party’s surprise when they finally reach a modern-day Nibelheim to find that it is still completely intact, the way Cloud and Tifa remember it. Plus, no one has any recollection of a big fire or the sexless man-woman responsible for it. And later on, Sephiroth shows Cloud a picture that was taken of the SOLDIER party on the day of the excursion in which Cloud is absent, replaced by some black-haired asshole we’ve never seen before! The explanation? Cloud was actually telling the story of Zack, his colleague. Cloud was still present for all of this, but he was one of the helmeted soldiers accompanying the pair. When Zack confronted Sephiroth, he got pounded, but then Cloud stepped in and whooped our effeminate friend! (How? Fuck knows.) Evidently, Cloud is such an amazing liar that he evened convinced himself that he was Zack. This development came as a surprise to me because I had been lied to.
(And anyway, this ridiculousness still doesn’t explain why the town of Nibelheim is still completely intact, and why its inhabitants have no memory of this event ever happening. I also found it strange that Tifa, who was present for the event, sat in the hotel room with the group and listened to the ENTIRE FUCKING STORY without ever saying a word about the obvious inaccuracies. I don’t even think the writers knew what was going on here.)
If I haven’t managed to make this sound stupid enough yet, here’s another instance in which we the players are being fooled. Two-thirds of the way through the game, our heroes will come across the body of the real Sephiroth, encased in ice or materia or something. So the guy you kept running into this whole time – the guy who impaled Aeris, mind you – was, uh, someone else. Maybe one of those clones? There are these freaky little hooded guys you encounter throughout the game who mumble nonsense and have numbers tattooed on their hands. It’s later explained that these are Sephiroth’s clones, and that they’re all coming together to the location of his actual body (in the crater of a giant mountain) as part of “the Gathering,” in which… uh, Sephiroth pulls out his sword and kills all of them. Only the Sephiroth we see killing them isn’t the real Sephiroth, because we haven’t seen the real Sephiroth yet. So it’s a clone killing the other clones. Wait, what? Okay, I need to stop before I confuse myself.
None of this stuff helps, of course, but then there’s one thing that absolutely seals the deal on just how silly this all is, and that is the character models. I realize that the game was made in 1997, and technology wasn’t exactly at its peak then, but Jesus, I swear I can count the polygons on Cloud’s body. The character models bear about as much detail and realism as LEGO people, and are half as expressive. As such, all of the game’s attempts to be dramatic and meaningful come off as laughable instead. I’m sorry, but when your arms are shaped like dumbbells, and your eyes are the only notable features on your face, it’s simply impossible to take anything you say seriously.
The game uses a plentiful amount of FMV sequences as well, and they do a good job of showing you what the standard piss-poor in-game graphics cannot. Here’s an interesting continuity error, though: About half of the FMV scenes in the game display the characters as real people, and the other half show them in shrunken-down LEGO form. If you were shown all of the game’s computer-generated cutscenes in a row, you’d wonder why Cloud and the gang were constantly changing size and shape. Pick a visual style and stick with it.
What’s even more horrifying is the contrast between the character models (they sport at least twelve polygons) and the alarmingly detailed pre-rendered set pieces, and that’s the most positive description I have for them. The entire world of FFVII, save for the overworld, is pre-rendered, which is fine in concept but remarkably unfine in execution, since the environments themselves are often set at confusing camera angles that make it difficult to move our buddy Cloud around. He’ll often be forced to disappear behind objects in the foreground or wander so far into the distance that he’s no more than a dot – and what’s worse, certain angles can make it difficult to distinguish between objects you can interact with. Square knew this: Hit the select button, and some arrows pop up on screen to show you where all the doors are. You know, in case we can’t find them ourselves. I love that logic: Our game has a flaw, so let’s make sure this button corrects it!
Navigation through these environments is done with the d-pad, since analog control wasn’t a regular thing back then, at least not on PSX. That’s fine, except since every set piece is drawn from a different camera angle, Square decided to calibrate the d-pad to each individual area. This theoretically means that pressing up on the d-pad will send you in a different direction in every single pre-rendered backdrop in the game. There’s this one barn in the game that’s drawn at an isometric angle, which means that pressing up actually causes Cloud to walk northeast. Once again, Square noticed a problem and decided to add more functions to the Dual Shock to fix it: Holding the R1 or L1 buttons will “rotate” the d-pad forty-five degrees in that direction. So in the aforementioned barn, I would literally have to be holding L1 the whole time for movement to feel normal.
Raise your hand if any of this sounds really fucking stupid.
Battles are not pre-rendered, of course, and during each sequence our heroes balloon to the size of normal human beings, the price being that the game is now inching along at a dreaded 15fps, and will occasionally pause to load some fancy attack animation that will remind you (quite frequently) just how fucking talented the artists at Square are. (If that point isn’t made, then they haven’t done their jobs, and all those hour-long summon animations went to waste.) FFVII “introduces” the active-time battle system, with the sarcastic quotation marks indicating that this has been done before (and, frankly, much better). The idea is that each character and enemy has a certain amount of time to wait in between attacks – so it’s basically a turn-based system, only now time can be applied, i.e. special attacks are used to speed up your friend and slow down your enemies. Simple enough; anyone can get into this.
But then there’s the matter of materia, the basis behind all of FFVII’s battles and the one subject the fans love to gloat over, not realizing just how shallow it is. Just about any battle-based action – magical spells, summons, special abilities, exclusive commands, passive functions, whatever – are equipped through materia, little orbs you’ll find in abundance throughout your journey. Armor comes with materia slots, so whenever you equip armor, you’ll be able to set your materia to each character and use those abilities in battle.
But here’s the punchline: Any character can equip any materia. The only battle actions not dictated by materia are basic attacks (which are essentially all the same) and Limit Breaks, last-resort attacks that can be used when you’ve sustained a certain amount of damage. This quite literally means that the characters themselves amount to nothing more than materia slots. What’s the point of even HAVING a choice between characters if there are no fundamental differences between them? The only member of the gang who stands out is Vincent, and that’s only because his Limit Breaks are transformations. And how often do you get the chance to use those, anyway?
FFVII has a nasty habit of forcing certain characters into or out of your party, usually for story purposes, and always for reasons that are annoyingly trivial, i.e., Barret wants some time alone so he’s separating for a while, or you’re about to confront Sephiroth so Tifa wants to come along, shit like that. This wouldn’t be a problem, since we’ve already established that the characters all essentially function the same anyway, but you won’t always be able to transfer your materia from one character to the next whenever these transitions are forced upon you. So all of your good materia will be attached to a character who’s left the party temporarily, and meanwhile you’re stuck with some chump who doesn’t have any good attacks. For some odd reason, this frequently pissed me off.
Another annoying habit is the move to drag out the plot for long periods of time via little side stories that amount to little more than character development for a cast packed with stereotypes. Let’s drop into the Golden Saucer for a bit and peer into Barret’s past! And then let’s stop by Cosmo Canyon for a few hours and give our Yoda-like furry friend Red XIII a chance to learn the truth about his father! Again, it’s all for trivial reasons: Oh look, our car broke down and we can’t get over the river without it, so let’s engage in some slow character development until it’s fixed. This stuff would make great side quests for those who actually – god help them – enjoy the game, but as such, they’re transparent attempts to extend the saga of this failed epic. Because for sure the one thing this game needed was to be LONGER.
The final battle of the game is a two-parter, of course, where just when we thought we killed Sephiroth, whoops, he had an all-powerful second form he was waiting to use. This battle is accompanied by the now-legendary Latin chant “One Winged Angel,” a pleasant reminder of the one thing FFVII does consistently right: The fantastic musical score, compliments of Nobuo Uematsu. Sephiroth has this one attack called Supernova, and as far as long-ass summon animations go, damn. When Sephiroth fired this one up, I got up from the TV, went to Cambodia, and got back just in time to see my party take some damage.
But this battle pales in comparison to the Weapons, large, Godzilla-like creatures who occasionally configure into the plot but most just exist for FFVII fans who want to spend months leveling up to kill them and earn rewards they no longer need. They emerge from the crater just after the body of the real Sephiroth is discovered (there are, like, four of them, even though the cast refers to them in the singular form), and the masterminds behind Shinra devote their time and energy into battling the enormous monsters. One of my favorite cutscenes occurs when Rufus, son of the president Sephiroth killed, prepares an absolutely gargantuan canon to be fired at a rampaging Weapon. They nail it dead-on in the face, complete with carnage, and then the Shinra execs are horrified because the cannon didn’t do any damage… even though it just got its fucking face blown off. I know this plot has a lot of inconsistencies, but fuck me sideways.
Speaking of inconsistencies, AVALANCHE evidently hates Shinra so much that they’re willing to oppose anything Rufus does, even when it would help them in the long run. Example. When the apocalyptic meteor is hanging in the sky and everyone is screaming doomsday, Shinra comes up with a reasonable plan: They’re going to gather pieces of the appropriately-named Huge Materia, load them into a rocket, and launch it in the meteor’s direction, hopefully destroying the giant rock once and for all. But that’s a big no-no! And so Cloud and the gang participate in some rather complicated sequences to steal the Huge Materia, and then launch the rocket into space anyway, only without its intended cargo… and then are surprised when the plan doesn’t work! Huh!
You know, in the end, I’m not entirely sure why Sephiroth wanted to kill Aeris in the first place… well, why he wanted to kill her specifically, anyway. Maybe he wanted to rid us of one of the most irritating, worthless RPG characters of all time. In that case, I owe him a favor. Were it up to me, I wouldn’t have pursued him into that crater. And if he had been serious about destroying the world with the meteor, I would have sat home and watched the panic erupt on TV. Then maybe getting to the end of this catastrophe would have been a whole lot simpler. Then again, I could have just turned off my PSX and played something else. The explanation as to why I didn’t may be the key in figuring out why so many people love FFVII so much. As for me, call it masochism.
Community review by Billy_theMonkey (June 20, 2008)
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