Final Fantasy VII (PS1) Review

Final Fantasy VII

I have a confession to make: I’m David Hogan and I don’t like turn-based RPGs. It’s not that I look down on those who do or anything stupid, but it’s just not my thing, I find it tedious, especially the older ones where you have to grind and level up and face endless random encounters. So why (beyond this being the Smash Ultimate marathon) am I reviewing Final Fantasy VII? Well, I played through it from start to finish in 1997. Why? Well… mostly peer pressure (EVERYONE at school was playing it…) but the story, setting and soundtrack had me completely hooked. How does it hold up today? Well, it’s funny you asked…

Background:

Final Fantasy VII 1

The first time you hear “THAT” piece of music! (Note that all screenshots come from GameFAQs as I didn’t have time to replay the whole game, unsurprisingly…)

Final Fantasy VII was the first core Final Fantasy game not to come out on Nintendo systems, instead appearing on the Playstation on January 31st 1997 in Japan, before a translated version hit the US in September of that year, and in Europe two months later. It has since been ported to the PC, various mobile platforms, the PS4 and coming next year to the XBOX One and the Nintendo Switch, meaning after over two decades FFVII is finally coming to a Nintendo console like its six predecessors.

Although a popular series already in Japan, and even with Final Fantasy VI (known as Final Fantasy III in the US…) had a strong following in the west, VII is what turned the Final Fantasy property into a major hit franchise around the globe. People still look back fondly on characters like Cloud, Sephiroth, Tifa, et al, and THAT Aerith scene, not to mention the soundtrack. It’s why Cloud was chosen as a DLC character for Smash 4 and why he’s still in Ultimate, despite being the protagonist of the seventh game of fifteen (core games only, well over that including spin-offs!) he’s still the most recognisable.

Gameplay:

Final Fantasy VII 3

A good look at the battle menu! … and Ifrit, I guess.

Final Fantasy VII is still very much a traditional turn-based J-RPG. You have an overview map where you can travel to locations like towns and caves (and can get into random battles), then in towns you can walk around, talk to people, get side-quests, buy items and initiate main missions that advance the story. The story is told between a mix of dialogue boxes with in-game models, and a few CGI cutscenes.

The actual battles, as I said, are turn based. You have your party in a row and your enemy/enemies in front of you. When it’s time for one of your party to attack you chose what to do via a menu, you can either attack with your weapon, with magic (also known as Materia), summons (summoning giant creatures to do massive damage if you manage to meet the summoning requirement) or use items, which can deal damage, status effects (poisoning enemies, stat boosting your party) or heal (which can also be done via Materia). You also get “Limit Breaks”, which are powerful special moves unique to each character that you can do if you’ve taken enough damage.

Your characters level up the more you fight, and the more you level up the stronger you become and the higher your level the better the loot or purchasable weapons/items, but at the same time the tougher the enemies become. It’s all a tried and true method of rewarding constant play, a classic reward incentive still used by most RPGs now, and used by many before this.

Graphics and Sound:

Final Fantasy VII 4

The most important item in the game! … or a gag, I can’t remember.

The graphics come in three “flavours”. The map screen has tiny versions of the characters running around (or flying on an airship), walking around in towns/cities has a weird, undetailed “chibi” versions of characters walking around pre-rendered environments, and then the battles have more detailed character models doing the fighting. While I feel using detailed 2D sprites would have been better for walking around towns, it’s fine. The CGI cutscenes were often impressive at the time, but it goes without saying they’ve dated terribly…

The soundtrack on the other hand is the opposite, it’s still just as good now as it was then. The benefit of a CD soundtrack (though still mostly using digitzed tunes), it has some unforgettable tracks, the sombre “Aerith’s Theme”, the orchestral “One-Winged Angel” or the catchy battle or boss battle themes. It’s an all-time classic. The sound-effects are fine, by the way, but when talking about sound of Final Fantasy VII you have to focus on the OST…

Story:

Final Fantasy VII 2

Noooooooo!!

The evil industrious Shinra Corporation has been mining the planet’s Lifestream, damaging their own world for the sake of financial gain. The rebel group known as AVALANCHE is trying to stop them, even if it means battling against the Shinra’s SOLDIER or Turk groups. That’s the very basic premise you’re given when you start, but boy does it get more complicated…

Our main protagonist Cloud Strife for a start has a convoluted background. He is introduced as a former member of SOLDIER, but it turns out he was a regular Shinra grunt who befriended actual SOLDIER Zack Fair, the two of them eventually being captured and experimented on for four years before escaping. The trauma of going through that and seeing Zack get killed was enough to mentally break Cloud, causing him to construct a new identity for himself based on Zack’s life and his own fantasies. He joins AVALANCHE and befriends Barret Wallace, gruff but likable with a gun for a arm, and reconnects with childhood friend Tifa Lockhart.

Over the course of the game the trio gain more and more allies as they uncover a plot by former SOLDIER ace Sephiroth to cause a meteor to crash onto Earth and absorb the planet’s Lifestream into himself. He went crazy a few years ago when he found out he was merely an experiment, someone who as a fetus was injected with the cells of an alien being known as Jenova that had tried to conquer Earth 2000 years ago. One of Cloud’s allies was a member of the Cetra, a near-extinct race of people who were responsible for protecting the Earth from Jenova. Aerith, as she’s called, is loving and caring party member, who… famously is killed by Sephiroth in an unexpected cutscene toward the end of the first third of the game. It’s a proper shocking moment (or at least was back then) as a playable party member being killed off was unthinkable!

So anyway, they do eventually defeat Sephiroth, stop the apocalypse and all have a lovely time (well, apart from Aerith…), and Cloud’s unsociable and distant personality begins to crumble around his new friends… though judging by work set later in this game’s timeline, it never goes away entirely…

There is a lot more to it, characters I haven’t even touched on like the wise talking animal Red XIII, the blatantly designed only to be cool Vincent Valentine, or the bizarre comedy character Cait Sith, but I don’t want to be here all day…

Thoughts Then:

Final Fantasy VII 6

The world map view (complete with airship) since I haven’t shown it yet…

While I wasn’t a fan of the grinding, constant random encounters type of gameplay, I did love playing through the game. Whether arriving at school the next morning to talk with friends and compare how far we’ve gotten has anything to do with it I’m not sure, but this 13-year-old played it all the way through to the end. It was great, but I never did play it again, due mostly to the sheer length of it all… (note that instead of “I played it again… many times” it should be more “I played it for ages, due to how long it was”…)

5 Star Game Old

Thoughts Now:

Final Fantasy VII 5

The second most famous cutscene in the game…

Giving it a quick go it’s still playable, the J-RPG is nothing if not still a relevant method of playing RPGs, but it’s still just not my thing. It’s nostalgic, and I’d still gladly listen to any song on the soundtrack, but I won’t be playing it again. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, just too much of a time sink on something I’ve already finished before…

4 Star Game New

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