Final Fantasy VII
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • PlayStation
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • SCEA
  • Released:
    • JP 01/31/1997
    • US 09/03/1997
    • UK 11/17/1997
Score: 95%

This review was published on 07/05/2013.

Final Fantasy VII is a role-playing game developed by Square and originally released for the Sony PlayStation in 1997. This is the seventh game in the main Final Fantasy series, and the first one released on the PlayStation. It's also the first 3-D Final Fantasy game with Full Motion Video sequences, or FMV for short. Up until this point, all the Final Fantasy games were released on Nintendo platforms, so this switch of allegiance was a big deal. Initially, everyone was expecting Final Fantasy VII to come out on the Nintendo 64. There was even a Final Fantasy demo shown running on N64 hardware at some point. Square claims they weren't able to make the kind of game they wanted with N64's cartridge format, so they needed the PlayStation's CD-ROM format to get things done. The amount of hype for this game was immeasurable; it had one of the biggest pre-release promotional campaigns around. When it actually came out, it got rave reviews and was a huge success. As of this writing, Final Fantasy VII is still the best selling Final Fantasy game of all time. This game single handedly stole the spotlight from the N64 and tipped the odds in Sony's favor. You could say this game was a game changer. In addition to that, Final Fantasy VII made Japanese RPGs popular in North America. Thanks to this game, companies were more willing to localize JRPGs for Western releases. Many RPGs that came after sought to replicate that success by copying its formula. It's safe to say that Final Fantasy VII is a historical game that had a significant impact on the gaming industry.

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Final Fantasy VII's setting is similar to Final Fantasy VI, in which it's a fantasy game set in a world with magic and advanced technology coexisting. Wherein Final Fantasy VI had a steampunk theme, Final Fantasy VII has more of a cyberpunk theme to it. The game starts off inside the industrial metropolis city of Midgar, a city ruled by an evil corporation known as the Shinra Electric Power Company. For whatever reason, this corporation kind of acts like the world's government, playing the role of an evil empire. If you played Final Fantasy VI, then you should be intimately familiar with the concept of evil empires. You begin the game as the protagonist, Cloud Strife, a self-proclaimed ex-member of Shinra's SOLDIER unit. Cloud and a few others are part of a resistance group referred to as AVALANCHE, which is trying to stop Shinra from doing its evil deeds. What evil deeds are these, you ask? Well, Shinra built a bunch of things called Mako reactors that supposedly siphon the planet's power to harness unimaginable amounts of energy. AVALANCHE believes that these reactors are slowly killing the planet, so their mission is to shut down all reactors and ultimately take down Shinra. This is the basic premise of the game, but like Final Fantasy VI, things quickly evolve to become much more complicated. In fact, this game has one of the most complex plots out of any Final Fantasy game, with many fans still devising theories as to what certain events in the game mean. Final Fantasy VII starts with a great premise to an even greater story.

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Most of the first part of the game takes place in the gritty, downtrodden, dystopian city of Midgar. It's more like a series of cities inside one big, metallic dome. You don't get to see the world map until much later in the game, which is very unusual in the RPG world. It's actually kind of a spoiler to reveal that piece of information, because many first time players assume that the whole game takes place in Midgar. I decided to reveal that information here so anyone who hasn't played the game before isn't under the impression that the game has the same type of environments throughout. The industrial styled environments are much more subdued once you leave Midgar, as there is a whole, wide world of green to explore out there. You've got forests, jungles, caves, beaches, deserts, icy mountains; all the varied scenery you'd expect out of an epic adventure. There are also a lot of other cities besides Midgar, each with their own themes. I like Costa del Sol, which is a nice beach town that would be a great place for a vacation if the fate of the world wasn't at stake. Final Fantasy VII has a combination of natural and industrial themes to its environments that are a sight to behold. I wish more RPGs would go this route.

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The cast of playable characters in this game is much less than in Final Fantasy VI. Most of the characters get a decent amount of development, but the game mostly revolves around Cloud. Many of the other characters have their development tied to Cloud and his past. He's the main character, after all. Final Fantasy VII is the first Final Fantasy game to introduce a black character. His name is Barret and he's a black man with a machine gun replacing one of his hands. Barret has a potty mouth, though his obscenities are all "censored" for us. The guy's kind of this game's comic relief, as he has some of the game's funniest lines. There is a more serious, emotional side to him, though, but that's a secret. Tifa is another character you start off with. She kind of reminds me of Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, in that she has some big assets. Beyond her physical appearance, she doesn't have much else going on. Tifa is one of those characters whose development depends on Cloud, so she's kind of vapid on her own. Aeris, or as some fans prefer to call her, Aerith, is another major character in the game. There's something really pleasant about her, like she's never worried about anything, no matter how dire the circumstances are. A big portion of the story revolves around her development, making her one of the better developed characters. Cloud's character development alone is more complex than anything in previous Final Fantasy games, but overall, Final Fantasy VI had a more varied, more interesting cast of characters.

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Sephiroth is the main villain of the game, and he's a stark departure from Kefka of Final Fantasy VI. Instead of being a demented joker, Sephiroth is a cool, calm and collected individual who prefers to remain serious. You could say he's a little too serious. Why so serious? This was one of the first Final Fantasy games to have a multilayered, complex villain, with an actual past and even some character development. He's one of the most popular Final Fantasy villains, up there with the likes of Kefka. Actually, he's way more popular than Kefka. Sephiroth has a black outfit, long hair, and a really big sword. I bet he's real popular with the ladies. Jokes aside, he's a legitimately great villain, the kind that you love to hate. The game humanizes him with a powerful back story that aims to make you hold empathy for him. Life treated him unfairly in the past, and so he gave in to his rage, seeking revenge against the world. It's the sort of thing we are all at risk to succumbing to, but usually resist. Sephiroth is the "what if" scenario of what would happen if you gave in to your anger and hatred, choosing to take it out on others. I'm talking about mass murder and the destruction of all mankind, of course. Don't you sometimes wish for that sort of thing? No? I guess I'm alone on that one. Anyway, Sephiroth embodies total evil, the kind that scares you. He's a fantastic villain for a fantastic game.

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Nobuo Uematsu is a genius. He's a veteran composer for the Final Fantasy series and the main composer for this game. While the game's music benefits from the PlayStation's CD format, the credit for the music's incredible quality really belongs to Uematsu. Final Fantasy VII, much like Final Fantasy VI, has one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. It's basically in the top 10, or even top 5. I'd even go so far as to say it's in the top 3. From the rocking boss theme to the sadder tunes, this game has a huge amount of variety to its music. A big focus in the game is the emotional cutscenes, and the music greatly enhances the impact of those emotional scenes by a thousand fold. There is one particularly sad scene later in the game that benefits from the moving soundtrack immensely. Alone, this scene is already depressing, but combined with Nobuo's masterful work, it'll move you to tears. Another powerful piece of music is Sephiroth's theme. To this day, this theme still sends chills down my spine. It evokes a sense of horror, as if something terrible is about to happen. And whenever this theme plays, something terrible usually does happen. There are almost no other games out there with more moving music than Final Fantasy VII.

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Battles in Final Fantasy VII are a lot like the previous three games in the series, utilizing the Active Time Battle system devised all the way back in Final Fantasy IV. The ATB system determines turn order in battle by giving every entity its own bar that gradually fills up over time; whoever has a full bar gets to execute a turn. That gives battles a slight sense of urgency as you have to quickly enter your commands, but it's still a turn based system. For the most part, battles in Final Fantasy VII aren't radically different from the previous games. You can select commands to perform physical attacks, cast magical spells, and use items. One thing that kind of sucks is that you can only have up to three characters in your party at a time, unlike the standard four from previous entries in the series. It's not a big deal, but four was a good number. The menus in battles are all pretty streamlined and fights are over quickly, which prevents combat from feeling tedious.

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The big addition to the battles in Final Fantasy VII is the Limit Break system. Final Fantasy VI had a similar mechanic, but that mechanic wasn't really utilized much. In Final Fantasy VII, the Limit Break mechanic can have an immense impact on a battle. Each character has a Limit Break gauge that fills up as they receive damage. The more damage inflicted on them, the faster these bars go up. Once a Limit Break bar is full, characters can perform a special move that often results in a devastating attack. For some characters, Limit Breaks actually result in restorative effects like healing injured comrades, but Limit Breaks are usually about inflicting tons of damage. Characters will learn new Limit Breaks as you progress through the game, and it's always important to keep an eye on those Limit Break gauges. It's a simple concept, but Limit Breaks add a lot of excitement to the battles in Final Fantasy VII.

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Materia are crystallized orbs of magic that can allow a normal human being to cast magical spells. Much like Final Fantasy VI, the people of Final Fantasy VII no longer have the innate ability to use magic like the Ancients of old, so they must rely on an artificial means to do sorcery. That's where Materia comes in. Materia is a lot like the Magacite from Final Fantasy VI, but way more versatile. Weapons and armor will often have slots in them that Materia can be inserted into. Sometimes the more powerful weapons and armor will have little to no Materia slots, whereas weaker gear might have more slots. Due to the technological developments in the world of Final Fantasy VII, Materia is mass produced and can be found in stores throughout the game. Materia is divided into several categories, the first category being magic. Magic Materia will usually have a spell or series of spells attached to it, like Fire Materia will let characters cast fire magic when equipped. You can gain AP in battle to level up Materia, and doing so will unlock new spells to be used. For example, Fire Materia starts out with the basic Fire spell, but leveling it up will unlock stronger fire spells like Fire 2 and Fire 3. Magic Materia also includes healing spells and buff spells. A Materia will be considered mastered once it has been leveled up to its maximum potential and all its spells have been learned. As a result of this system, all characters in the game can use magic. Not all characters should use magic, though. Like in any RPG, some characters are better with magic than others. You can still give magic to a character that sucks at it, but that's usually not a good idea. The magic system in Final Fantasy VII is very flexible and very good.

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The other categories of Materia include Summon Materia, Command Materia, Support Materia, and Independent Materia. Summon Materia lets you summon great, mystical beasts to wreck havoc on your enemies, like the almighty dragon, Bahamut. It's basically the same deal as Magic Materia, just more powerful and it consumes more MP. Command Materia will give your characters new commands to use in battle, like a command to steal items from enemies. Support Materia is interesting in that, alone, they don't do anything. However, when placed in a slot connected to another Materia, Support Materia will impart certain effects. The best example of this is the "All" Materia, which can be connected to a Magic Materia to allow the magical spell to target all foes or allies instead of only one. There are a large number of Materia combinations available to you in the game. As for Independent Materia, these provide simple benefits to your characters like increasing their maximum health or MP, among other things. An interesting thing to note is that Materia actually changes your stats; Magic Materia tends to lower a character's physical stats, but raises their magical stats, making them more adept at magic. To that end, the Materia system allows for an insane amount of character customization. Simple yet full of depth, Final Fantasy VII's Materia encourages experimentation and is awesome for doing so.

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Equipment in Final Fantasy VII is much simpler than it was in Final Fantasy VI. There are only three slots of equipment; one for a weapon, one for armor, and one for an accessory. All armor consists of "bangles," and any character can equip any bangle or accessory, for the most part. Weapons are a different matter, as there is a specific type of weapon that can only be used by a particular character. For instance, only Cloud can use swords, only Tifa can use gloves, and only Aerith can use staves or rods. Weapons are considered either short range or long range, with long range weapons able to do full damage to enemies in the back row. Certain enemies can only be hit by long range weapons, too. Strangely, a weapon's range can be altered through Materia, so you can get characters like Cloud in on the long range action, if necessary. As mentioned before, weapons and armor have slots to insert Materia, but accessories do not. Accessories provide various beneficial effects, like granting immunity to negative status ailments. And that's about it, really. There's not much more to the equipment in this game than that. The customization in terms of equipment was simplified so the focus would be more about the Materia. Pretty much all of a character's customization comes from Materia. Final Fantasy VI definitely trumps VII in terms of equipment, but the Materia more than makes up for it.

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If you like mini-games, then you'll love the Gold Saucer. The Gold Saucer is a location you visit later in the game. It's an amusement park of sorts that is filled to the brim with all kinds of activities. There are many mini-games and many prizes, making the Gold Saucer a place that you can sink countless hours into. Even though you're required to visit this area for plot purposes, most of the mini-games are totally optional. Therefore, you can avoid them if you're the mini-game hating type. The Gold Saucer is divided into "squares," and the squares will have mini-games pertaining to a specific category. There's a rollercoaster mini-game where you shoot targets down to get points, a cool submarine game where you shoot down enemy subs, a snowboarding game, a motorcycle game, a Chocobo racing game, and some smaller mini-games. Some of the mini-games available in the Gold Saucer are actually seen at other points in the game, but many of them are unique to this fanciful area. The snowboarding and motorcycle games are probably the best mini-games in the whole game, in terms of how developed they are. You also have a small battle arena, where you can test your strength to win prizes. The Gold Saucer is a pretty nice place to relax, and chances are, you'll find something in it that you'll like.

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There are quite a few side quests available to you in Final Fantasy VII. Some of them can be done early in the game, but most of them can't be fully completed until nearly the end of the game. A lot of the side quests are actually located inside of the Gold Saucer, but there are quite a few outside of it, as well. The most infamous quest is the Chocobo breeding one. You read that right; this game lets you breed Chocobos. If you're not familiar, Chocobos are big, yellow birds that are ridden like horses in the Final Fantasy series. At some point in the game, you reach a farm that lets you feed and breed Chocobos. You can improve a Chocobo's attributes by feeding it various greens, and breeding two Chocobos of particular attributes will sometimes birth a new breed of Chocobo. They're all yellow normally, but through the magic of breeding, you can get Chocobos of different colors. You're able to ride any Chocobo that you own, and the differently colored Chocobos are able to cross different terrain. For instance, yellow Chocobos can only run on normal terrain, but blue Chocobos can either cross rivers or the ocean, depending on the shade of blue. There is even a Chocobo that can cross mountains. In order to get the best Materia in the game, you'll need to breed the world's ultimate Chocobo: the mythical golden Chocobo. This bird can cross every terrain imaginable, literally making the world your oyster. Not that it matters, since you'll have the airship by this point in the game. The only purpose to getting this Chocobo is for the Materia. Admittedly, this side quest is too tedious and requires too many hours of play time to be worth the reward, but it demonstrates just how vast this game is.

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What more can I say about a game like Final Fantasy VII? It's one of the best Final Fantasy games, one of the best RPGs, and one of the best games in general. The music is absolutely breathtaking, the plot is intricately woven with tons of astonishing twists, the mechanics are deep, the themes are interesting, and the game just rocks. It's also very long lasting, as the game can take around 50 or 60 hours to complete. There are a couple of flaws, though. Namely, the graphics have not aged well at all. The pre-rendered backgrounds still look good, but the polygonal character models all look like Popeye the Sailor Man and the FMV sequences aren't terribly impressive anymore. This game also suffered from the poor localization practices of the time, so the dialogue isn't perfect. However, everything else about the game has stood the test of time, and it's still one of the best RPGs out there.

Word Count: 3,333

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