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Quite simply, Final Fantasy VII is one of the greatest stories humanity has ever known. I don't think anyone would dispute that. But there are other aspects of the genre that an RPG requires to be considered good. Does Final Fantasy VII live up to those requirements? The answer is no. Final Fantasy VII does not just live up to those requirements, it surpasses them, setting new standards.
Let's take a look at the graphics first, specifically the pre-rendered backgrounds and FMVs. Even today, a little over a year later, they are still amazing. And I don't just mean technologically amazing, I mean artistically amazing. Technology will eventually become outdated, but art never will. And it is the artistic aspects of Final Fantasy VII's graphics that make them so amazing. Hundreds of animators worked to bring the image illustrator's (Yoshitaka Amano) vision to life. Every single blade of grass, every shingle on a roof, has been tediously rendered, and beautifully textured and colored. This attention to artistry will keep the graphics impressive even when the technology eventually becomes outdated.
The other half of the graphics, the polygons, are also impressive. But unlike the pre-rendered graphics, which depend on the technology of Square's computers, the polygons are generated in real time, and therefore depend on the Playstation's capabilities. And while those capabilities are limited, Square still managed to create fantastic polygonal models. They animate so well; all the characters' gestures and expressions really add to the game. The only time that the polygons ever have faults is during the battles. The battle landscapes can be somewhat pixellated, and they flicker sometimes. However, they are still incredible.
Another thing that an RPG needs is good music, and Final Fantasy VII is easily Nobuo Uematsu's best. The music is packed full of emotion, especially songs like "Aeris", "One Winged Angel", and "Valley of the Fallen Star". True, there are some tracks that are somewhat dull, but they were intended that way. The music for the sewers is not exactly going to be ethereal. IT'S THE SEWERS! If the music for the sewers makes you feel yucky, then Uematsu-san accomplished his goal.
"OK, the music's great, but how's the actual sound quality?" Well, it's a mixed bag. Some tracks are great sound-wise, like "Valley of the Fallen Star." Native American-esque drums echo in the background, and you will really feel as if you are in a canyon. However, other tracks do not sound as good. "Main Theme", for example, has an instrument that sounds like someone blowing too hard on a harmonica in a very low octave. Overall, however, I think that the sound quality for Final Fantays VII is very good, but not as good as Wild ARMs, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Xenogears.
"That takes care of the multimedia portion of the game, but how is its gameplay? Is it original? Is it fun? Is it deep?" Final Fantasy VII excels in the gameplay department as well. Like any good sequel, it keeps many of the elements from its predecessors, while introducing its own. The Materia System is somewhat like a combonation of Final Fantasy V's Job System and Final Fantasy VI's Magicite System. The magic user doesn't learn magic, the Materia orb does. This means that you no longer have to build up EVERY character with EVERY spell. Materia is attached to weapons and armor in slots. Some slots are attached to each other, allowing for combos. For example, "All" Materia attached to "Fire" Materia allows you to cast a fire spell on all the enemies in a battle. There is a lot of depth to the Materia System. It forces you to carefully choose which weapons and armor you buy. The strongest weapon might not be the best choice, because it might not have many slots for Materia. Or maybe the one with the most slots doesn't have any linked slots. Or maybe it has a ton of slots with many coupled together, but the rate of growth (the rate at which the Materia learns a spell) isn't so good.
It may seem that the Materia System takes away any individuality from the characters as far as gameplay goes, but this not so. Each character has their own limit breaks, which are special attacks that can be performed when that character has received a certain amount of damage. (This makes things much more challenging than in Final Fantasy VI, where many of the special skills, such as Edgar's Tools or Sabin's Blitz could be done at anytime with no check on them, since they didn't use MP.) Individuality is also maintained by the types of weapons, long range or short range, not to mention that each character's stats are much different, even if they are all on the same level. For example, Aeris and Vincent are always very good with magic, while Barret or Cid are better suited to physical attacks.
To add a touch of variety every now and then, mini-games are scattered thoughout the game. They include snow boarding, a motorcycle chase, a submarine battle, and much more. You can go back and play these games again at the Gold Saucer (an amusement park) in slightly modified forms. One of the minigames alone can occupy you for hours!
Replay value is high in Final Fantasy VII, because there are so many sidequests that you can miss, and you can always try playing through the game with different characters. Sometimes certain events won't occur unless you have a certain character with you.
And now we get down to what is truly the heart of an RPG: its story. And as the title of this review says, Final Fantasy VII is one of the greatest stories humanity has ever known. Hironobu Sakaguchi has been called the "consumate storyteller" by many, and Final Fantasy VII proves it. Never has any RPG contained such a highly philosophical, spiritual, and moving storyline. Deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian religions, as well as many others, Final Fantasy VII is a beautiful story of the sanctity of life, and how not even death can triumph over life. In my opinion, Final Fantasy VII rivals great works of literature like The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, and many more.
To support the story are incredibly fleshed out and touching characters. By the end of the story, you will truly care for some, while you may dislike others. This is a sign of each having unique personalities and their own traits. I personally loved Aeris and Vincent, while others may like Barret or Cid.
The last thing to consider is the writing quality/translation. Overall, Final Fantasy VII has a very, very good translation, with many different dialects, idioms, and catchy lines. However, there ARE several errors, such as "This guy are sick." , "How could this be happen?" , "I'll be stand there." , etc. But the other 95% of the writing is beautiful. In a game with so much text, a few errors are to be expected, and they really aren't THAT bad anyway. Not to mention that what some may perceive as errors are actually just different dialects. For example, Bugenhagen at one point says, "You want an old man like me should go first?" Some saw this as an error, but it is in fact a dialect, and it fits Bugenhagen perfectly. Another example is a certain boss in the game who has as part of his name "Safer". This was thought by many to be a mistranslation of "Seraph", but after researching some of the symbolism in the game relating to Judaism, you would find that this is actually correct.
Overall, Final Fantasy VII is a masterpiece. Not only is it one of the greatest RPGs of all time, it is one of the greatest games of all time. May there be many more!
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