Final Fantasy VII, often listed as the game that inspired the massive popularity of all the follow-up games in the Final Fantasy Series, is considered by most gamers to be one of, if not the single greatest game in the world.
A poll conducted by the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu listed Final Fantasy VII as the second best game in their compilation of the “Top 100 Favorite Games of All Time”. In 2005, users of GameFAQs.com listed Final Fantasy VII as “The Best Game Ever” and it managed to place second on the list even in 2009.
The story begins with the protagonist, Cloud Strife, joining up with team AVALANCHE (made up of Barret Wallace, Tifa Lockhart, Biggs, Wedge, and later Aeris Gainsborough, Red XIII and Cid Highwind) to take down Shinra Company, a company who’s Mako mining projects are slowly destroying the planet.
After learning of Aeris’ past and that she is the last surviving Cetra, the Turks (working for Shinra Co.) kidnap Aeris and take her to the Shinra Building for testing. A rescue operation to retrieve Aeris ends up failing and the entire AVALANCHE team gets thrown into the Shinra Co. prison cells. They manage to make a miraculous escape though as most of the personnel in the building are killed by a mysterious man in black, presumed by Cloud to be his former SOLDIER teammate, Sephiroth. The resulting fight to the terrors of Shinra Co. and Sephiroth are fought out all over the world of Gaia (referred to as “the planet” in the game).
According to Square-Enix there are no planned re-makes of Final Fantasy VII, but from the number of spin-offs (Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and a host of others), the number of references to FF7 in other games (nearly all of the games in the Final Fantasy Series contain some reference to Final Fantasy VII) and the sheer amount of players to complete this game multiple times (including trying to beat the game under various self imposed restrictions, such as using no Materia) to this day ensure that the legacy of Final Fantasy VII will live on for many, many years to come.
Final Fantasy VII is undeniably one of the best games ever made. It is one of my favourite games and the one I enjoyed most in the series, but to be fair, I haven't played Final Fantasy VI (which many fans of the Final Fantasy series claim to be the best title in the franchise). Putting aside the back-and-forth over which of the two games is the best, there is no doubt regarding the impact that Final Fantasy VII has had on the RPG genre and the gaming community as a whole.
The reason why Final Fantasy VII is considered such a great game has to do primarily with the story (as well as the music). The main plot doesn't stray too far away from your typical sci-fi adventure; a young, relatable main character joins a team of misfits on an adventure to save the world. But the Final Fantasy series has an interesting way of tying in elements of fantasy fiction with futuristic components to create a very unique world and setting (which is officially referred to as Gaia in follow up games in the FFVII franchise, though it is only referred to as "planet" within this title itself).
The story begins in the huge industrial town of Midgar. It’s dark, damp and dreary, and the atmosphere does a great job of giving the player the feeling that they are trapped in a dystopian, technology-driven and bleak world. The story takes a huge turn after the team escapes from the Shinra Building. The narrative moves from a single town to a story that unfolds across an entire game-world and this is where many gamers become permanently drawn into the world of Final Fantasy VII.
The detail put into each of the backdrops and into the world map are fantastic and there is enough character development around each of the main cast to keep you vested in the story. All except for a few… Final Fantasy VII has two optional/secret characters that can be obtained during a regular play-through: Yuffie Kisaragi and Vincent Valentine. They are incorporated fairly seamlessly into the story if you obtain them - Vincent’s story is a little bit harder to follow up on (finding Lucrecia’s Crystal Cave is not easy) however it is almost impossible to complete a play through without running into Yuffie or her home town of Wutai. But did you notice that neither Yuffie or Vincent appear in any of the full-motion cinematic videos (FMVs) that occur throughout the game?
Final Fantasy titles typically include a couple of wacky, non-human characters, and while I take no issues with the addition of Red XIII (a talking mutant feline), Cait Sith is a terrible character that no one in their right mind would use any more than required to complete the game. He feels tacked on and out of place - but my biggest issue with his character has to do with a few scenes in the Temple of the Ancients. *Spoiler Alert* Cait Sith kills himself in order to obtain the Black Materia from the Temple and then reappears very shortly after in a "new body". It's hard to become immersed in a story and feel any sympathy for a character like Cait Sith when he can just reappear in a new body if anything happens to him. Everything that he is involved in from that point onwards is inconsequential. Send him into every battle by himself - who cares if he gets killed? He can just reappear in another new body. Was no one else bothered by this? Maybe it was just me…
The character that stood out for most gamers was the primary villain and antagonist for the story, Sephiroth. The writers did an excellent job of creating a villain with a compelling backstory. His story is deep enough that at certain points of the game you find yourself sympathizing with his situation. This is an element of the game that was executed better than almost every other Final Fantasy title. Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX had final bosses and villains that basically appear out of thin air and aren't involved in the majority of the plot (of each respective game). Final Fantasy X almost had the same issue, but they did spend some time adding clarity around who (or what) Sin was and tying it back to Tidus’ story.
Sephiroth is the character that leaves a lasting impression. From the first interactions early on in the game where he and the main characters are friends, to watching him slowly go mad from the realization of who and what he is, to the final battle against him in the core of the planet (namely, the very last scene). Creating an effective antagonist, and doing it as well as the game writers did, is not an easy task and I commend them for what they were able to accomplish.
The background music, composed by none other than Nobuo Uematsu, is top notch. Nobuo Uematsu conducted the music in most of the previous Final Fantasy titles and many to follow Final Fantasy VII. He is considered one of the most famous and well respected composers of video game music and this title stands as a testament to his skills as a composer. It left a lasting enough impact on me during my first play through that I bought the original soundtrack and still have many of the tunes permanently etched into my brain.
But make no mistake - despite the fact that this is my favourite game and despite the numerous awards and accolades the game has received, there are some glaring flaws and issues. For example, this was the first Final Fantasy game to transition to a 3D style environment with pre-rendered backgrounds and this transition was not flawless. The graphics have aged poorly (to say the least) and many new players and fans of the franchise who go back to play (or replay) older games in the series will comment on how the graphics look terrible.
There are also a ton of bugs and unfinished areas of the game. There is a full section on the Final Fantasy Wiki detailing areas of the game that were dummied out, or rather, removed so that they could no longer be accessed during a regular play through yet still visible in the games coding. There are misspellings galore (which I identify as one comes across them in the walkthrough section) and tons of items which have no use (including the Tissues received from Battle Square and the 1/35 Soldiers that can be obtained in Junon). There is also nothing more irritating than having to hold the Cancel button in order to run throughout the entire game; completely unnecessary.
The Materia system was very straightforward with a relatively quick learning curve, yet it was complex enough to allow you to employ a ton of different strategies and Materia combinations. There was also a lot of end-game content to explore before the final battle against Sephiroth, so the replay value for the game is fairly strong. I personally have played through it at least 10 times and I continue to enjoy each play through.
The number of remakes, additions, and prequels to come out of this game is huge. There is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the strongest (if not the strongest) titles in the Final Fantasy series. I highly recommend that you give the game a try if you have never been exposed to it. This game will remain a timeless classic and its impact on RPGs will continue for years to come. Overall score: 10/10.