Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PC, PS
Final Fantasy VII has the distinction of being the best title in the Final Fantasy franchise according to people who’ve never played any other Final Fantasy game. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a solid RPG. However, I don’t feel it deserves all of the accolades it’s received over the years. Hell, I find the previous entry in the series vastly superior, so this review will differ from the hundreds of articles out there in that I might knock down Cloud’s celebrated journey a peg or two.
For instance, it might seem like a cheap shot to mention that the graphics have aged poorly. However, even by 1997 standards, they look extremely polygonal. Granted, Final Fantasy VII was released at the dawn of the 3-D era, but allow me to make a parallel with cinema. One of the first movies to use CGI massively was Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park back in 1993. I doubt it’d be remembered as a classic today if the characters had been chased by poorly textured, cubical dinosaurs.
Anyway, on to the plot, which starts out simple enough: a bad guy, Sephiroth, wants to ascend to godhood by destroying part of the planet and merging with the Mako energy released when it tries to heal itself, so it falls onto the young mercenary Cloud and his friends to prevent the death of millions. From this point, things get terribly convoluted, but, considering Final Fantasy VII is, well, a Final Fantasy game, I suppose I can’t complain too much about that.
What I can gripe about is the character work in Final Fantasy VII. Cloud, our hero, is a bore. The fact that his main attribute consists of being too cool to talk, or maybe too cool because he doesn’t talk, makes him one of the most obnoxiously generic protagonist in the history of the franchise. The villain fares a bit better. He’s menacing and has a well defined goal, but, to me, he still pales in comparison to Kefka in Final Fantasy VI, who lowered your guard early on and kept you guessing with his actions. Sephiroth’s ridiculously long sword just can’t make up for the lack of surprise here.
Indeed, Final Fantasy VII was the first game in the series to feature non-traditional weapons: Cloud’s silly giant buster sword, gun-arms, a robot moogle driven by a robot cat, pinwheels and origami cranes used as shuriken, etc. I figure many of these were designed this way to compensate for the limitations of the graphics engine. Unfortunately, they started a trend, and now every new Final Fantasy release has at least one character using an impractical object to fight, like a doll, a blitzball (kind of like a dodgeball), or whipping moose antlers.
It’s not all bad, mind you. As is tradition, the magic system in Final Fantasy VII was changed from the previous instalment. Here, characters equip their weapons and armours with “materia”, which gains levels as it’s used in combat, unlocking more powerful spells. Green materia is used for classic magic, red for summon magic, yellow and purple for extra abilities, and blue to power up other materia. With so many choices and a limited amount of equipment slots, this system requires players to really think about what they want their party to achieve in combat.
Look, at its core, Final Fantasy VII is a good RPG. Unfortunately, its graphics are so dated I can’t even bear to watch clips of it on YouTube, much less play the game. Rumors of a remake have been circulating since 2008, and the bigwigs at Square Enix haven’t ruled out the possibility, although they say new games must take precedent. If it does happen, I hope the developers will consider grafting a personality onto Cloud without altering the story. Personally, I’d also do away with the buster sword, but it’s become so iconic to the game that riots might ensue.