Saturday, September 17, 2005

Final Fantasy VII

Genre: Roleplaying Game
Platform: Playstation, Win. 95/98/2000/Me/XP
Credits: 1997 Square Co., Ltd. Screenshots by RPGFan.

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Cover Description:
The Shinra Corporation is draining our planet of its life force. Cloud Strife, a cold-hearted mercenary, accepts a mission from a group of eco-warriors, unaware that it will lead him on a journey that will change not just his life, but the lives of every soul in the universe... Welcome to Final Fantasy VII — an epic adventure on 3 CDs where sorcery and science collide, where friendships are lost and won and where one man can make a difference that lasts forever!

An innovator. A classic. >>> by skysenshi

It has been eight years since I have played Final Fantasy VII, back in the glory days of the Playstation One. It was one of those games that you just do not forget. In fact, during the early years of my web sites, I would pepper the pages with pictures of Cloud and Tifa and even named the Fridge's video game wing after Red XIII. It's a wonder why people never asked why I haven't reviewed Final Fantasy VII when it's usually a must-have for all archive sites. Then again, up until this year, I purposely didn't want to come up with an opinion for it. I mean, what's there to write about that hasn't already been said by all other reviewers? Furthermore, I was afraid that my memory of the game has greatly diminished that it would be difficult to whip up words to describe the experience.

With the release of the DVD movie Final Fantasy: Advent Children, however, I was bound to change my mind. The movie, while obviously not strong enough to satisfy non-FFVII fans or act as a stand-alone production, struck gold. It was then that I began to remember.

Story and Characters
FFVII characters are among the most unforgettable pieces of video gaming history that Square ever served its clients. If you explore the game thoroughly, you'd learn that even the very minor characters had personalities and side stories that can range from hilarious to downright inspirational. I could just recall the laughs I had when the original villains of the Shinra Company would be shown arguing about one bungled project after another. There were even hints of love angles going on in Shinra.

As for your party members, they're a mixed bag. You have a frisky but cute petty-thieving ninja (Yuffie), an angsty vampire (Vincent), an ancient feline (Nanaki/Red XIII), a short-fused engineer (Cid), a fatherly gun-toting tough guy (Barrett), and a talking stuffed toy (Cait Sith). But who could forget the big three, who began the age-old argument of "Tifa versus Aeris"? Fans everywhere seemed to have never gotten over the debate of who deserves to be with the troubled Cloud more: martial arts expert Tifa or the gentle flower lady Aeris? What's even amusing here is the fact that despite Tifa being kick-ass and Aeris being a softie, it's Tifa who's shy and Aeris who's more aggressive when it comes to showing their feelings.

The overall premise of Final Fantasy VII is an epic of grand proportions. What makes up for having a cliché summary is the fact that there are so many aspects of FFVII to explore. Even the little silly things mean so much.

It was the game that defined the Playstation One. You will notice the huge leap from Final Fantasy VI as this was the first Final Fantasy installment that went 3D. It's also the first to have full-motion video sequences. Of course you can't really expect it to be as refined as the next FF that came after it, but you'd know that hard work was definitely poured into the presentation. Replaying my old saved file, I even find the blocky 3D sprites quite adorable now. What I like about this aspect of the game is the fact that the character designs are distinctive. You can identify each and everyone of your party members even if all you'd see are their silhouettes. We all have Tetsuya Nomura to thank for that.

The music is top notch. What do you expect when you put Nobuo Uematsu at the helm of the musical scoring? The pieces One Winged Angel, main villain Sephiroth's background music, and the Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII still manage to give me goosebumps. It's also good that like all FFs, this one retained the overall flavor that past and present FFs have while making a distinct atmosphere that can only be felt here. Those familiar with FFVII would notice that these sounds will be used as kickers for Advent Children.

Gameplay and Battle System
Innovative! It was a huge step that Square took. So huge that even in this century, it's still being used as a standard for future games. Even then, not many games could live up to the standards it set. While the FF series were already known for creative gameplay and battle systems, FFVII just upped the ante by a mile. It's not overly complicated, really, but it provides just enough challenge for gamers from all ages to appreciate. The random encounters, however, can be a tad annoying; nothing that non-wussies can't handle, though.

The battle system introduced rocks/gems/circular glowing thingies called materia. These are classified into different colors, which would also have different purposes. For example, red materia are for summoning powerful deities while green materia are for curative spells. One would equip these materia onto your characters' weapons and armors and they would give you the skills necessary for battle. You can use them as is, or you can use them to dish out powerful materia combos.

What I especially love about FFVII are the Limit Breaks. You can unlock several powerful attacks and unleash them when you're ready to go berserk. What's even niftier is that you can set which Limit Breaks you want to unleash. I have never forgotten the beauty of Cloud's Cross-Slash and Omnislash because of this. FFVII, in my opinion, still has the best Limit Break system in all FFs released.

Of course, I still have a couple of gripes that I hadn't gotten over, especially since my brother and sister keep laughing about these. There's the really nausea-inducing snowboarding quest—all that white is just not healthy for your eyes—and the Temple of The Ancients' rolling rocks that I had to avoid. I always ended up flat on my back so that's one of those times I tore my hair out in frustration.

Quests and Extra Features
There are a lot! This is probably my most explored FF game due to the quests and extras. There's the fun chocobo racing, wherein you raise these cute and cuddly giant fowls for breeding and monetary gains. I still remember how fast my heart palpitated whenever this black chocobo, Teo, would join the race and I'd scream when he'd try to overtake. There's also the famous Golden Saucer, where highly entertaining mini-games can be played for various prizes.

Believe it or not, it seems that a huge chunk of FFVII is all about the subquests. As a matter of fact, the characters that are loved by many, Vincent and Yuffie, can be recruited upon completing certain conditions or quests. The most powerful summoning materia, Knights of Round, can also be acquired when you've bred a golden chocobo, which can fly through areas inaccessible to any other means of transport. Furthermore, every one of your party members' final Limit Breaks can be achieved by participating in mini-games, going island hopping, or whatnot.

Now, if you're one blood-thirsty fiend eager to fight bosses, you can also pick on the "Weapons" or gigantic beasts residing in three areas of the world map. It's better to challenge them without a walkthrough, because that adds a bit more spice to your adventure. I remember my brother and I using tactics that none of the other FAQ writers have ever mentioned and that made victory even sweeter.

This and Final Fantasy VIII have sparked debates between old-school and new-school gamers. I have been a gamer for most of my life—nearly two decades, in fact. I am, nevertheless, thankful for releases such as this. While it's nice to dwell on how satisfying the good ol' days of videogaming were, one should still commend innovation for bringing gaming experiences to monumental heights. I don't think I could go back to the torturous enemy-encounter-every-two-steps time of the first FFs or the no-save nerve-wracking sidescroller of the first Castlevania. Final Fantasy VII in itself opened doors to more creative pursuits. And that, plus the new employment positions that became available due to the new technology it brought about, is enough.

HIGHEST LEVEL ACHIEVED: 99 all characters
RATINGS: Gameplay 10; Battle 10; Story 9; Visuals 7; Characters 10; Sounds 10; Replay Value 10

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