Final Fantasy VII - Retroview

A Misunderstood Game
By: Michael Beckett

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 8
   Music & Sound 7
   Originality 6
   Story & Plot 7
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 3
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Very Easy to Easy
   Completion Time 30-40 Hours  

Battles are fairly uncomplicated, with the only major changes from FF6 being the Materia system and the reduction of the fighting party from four to three.
Battles are fairly uncomplicated, with the only major changes from FF6 being the Materia system and the reduction of the fighting party from four to three.
Final Fantasy VII

   Final Fantasy 7 is a powerful and emotional game that nevertheless has some serious flaws. One of the best Squaresoft games to date and an instant classic, Final Fantasy 7 is second to none in depth of gameplay and plot. In the final analysis, Final Fantasy 7's major flaws - a poorly thought out graphical style hobbled by technological limitations and a story with some serious questions in need of answers - don't compare with its complex combat system, character building and plot.

   Character building in Final Fantasy 7 is handled primarily by Materia, which are attached to weapons and armor. There are five types of Materia, each with a unique effect. Green Materia enables the use of Magic, while Blue Materia can be linked with other forms of Materia to up attributes and add special effects, such as MP boosting or multiple castings. Red Materia allows summoning, Yellow Materia extends your list of commands, and Purple Materia adds a wide variety of independent effects, such as increasing your max HP or MP. In many cases, though, Materia destroys the unique abilities of individual characters by removing the most obvious differences between them; the character's unique abilities. The differences between characters have become more subtle, on the level of individual attributes. For example, Aeris will never be a fighter because of her low Physical Attack stat just as Barret will never be a mage because of his low Magic Attack stat. The combat system itself isn't particularly complex. Final Fantasy 7 bears far more of a resemblance in this respect to earlier FF systems than its other aspects. The basic setup is; see ATB fill, when ATB filled, make command, attack, cast magic. Battles are limited to "See Spot Run" tactics, for the most part. The majority of battles are decided by the character setups you decide on before-hand.

   Materia selection and distribution controls are well done, and control in general is tight and responsive. This game was made during that slightly confused period directly between the SNES and the PSX, where RPG designers weren't sure if Circle was the A button or not. This can make the controller a bit uncomfortable during long stretches of gameplay. There is a customization menu, however, which handles subjects from controller functions to window color. General screen layout seems artistically done so as to point the player down the correct path in any given dungeon. It even feels like the music is pointing you down the path, which does give the game a certain linear feel.

   Like the graphical style, the music feels a bit outdated in the modern setting. Themes feel a bit MIDI-ish, but are still a great improvement over previous Final Fantasies' sound quality. The compositions themselves are well done, and the large number of remix albums on the market speaks to their resiliency. In particular the final boss themes - Jenova ABSOLUTE, The Birth of God, and the explosive choral theme One-Winged Angel - are among Nobuo Uematsu's best works. Other sounds in Final Fantasy 7 are a bit rare. Sword slashes, footfalls after jumps (but not footsteps for some reason) are the only sound effects besides that which accompanies magic castings. If the technology had been up to it at this point, Final Fantasy 7 would have benefited from some quality voice acting. It would have also benefited from a better, more cohesive graphic style, but more on that later.

Final Fantasy 7 features some of the most beautiful locations this side of a Myst game.
Final Fantasy 7 features some of the most beautiful locations this side of a Myst game.

   Perhaps after seven Final Fantasies, Squaresoft was ready to try something new with their flagship series. While players may or may not agree with the decision to mature-up the Final Fantasy series, it is certainly a step in a new direction. Instead of the earlier FF titles' Paladins and airships, we have...well, Soldiers and airships, actually. But the style is certainly more modern. Final Fantasy 7 is original, but underneath the smaller combat party and polygonal graphics, it's still Final Fantasy, and still loathes forgetting its roots.

   One notable divergence from the roots of Final Fantasy is the plot. While the general idea is still Save the World, the ideas and philosophies are handled in such a way as to make FF7 unlike any of its predecessors. Final Fantasy 7 deals with environmental terrorism and technological advancement alongside the more usual problems of life, love and loyalty. The technological alongside the traditional, you might say. While the plot can get a bit preachy and at times downright weird, its biggest problems stem not from the uncertainty between old themes and new, but in exposition. There are events in the plot that seem purely random that never get explained. The ending in particular is very open to interpretation, and that coupled with the number of rumors that flit back and forth on the Internet like so many deranged fairies, means that much of the story is a big question mark.

   The translation isn't a big help with this. Done in the early days of "Write Me Own Translation" Sony, there are typos and confusing dialogue all over the place. Certain statements are almost inexcusably vague or poorly written, and in general does no justice whatsoever to the plot of this game. The translation does succeed in one aspect, at least - characterization. Many characters have highly unique ways of speaking, and all of the characters feel like unique individuals. A passing grade, but just barely.

   Despite a fairly large number of characters and sidequests, reasons for replaying Final Fantasy 7 are fairly few. The Materia system renders the characters in FF7 a fairly homogenous lot, and every single sidequest can be finished the first time 'round. The Weapons - extremely difficult optional bosses - do add a bit of replay, but not much. The best reason to replay FF7 is to try once more to fully grasp the plot, or at least come up with a few new theories about your favorite part.

The difference in quality between FMV and in-game graphics is truly huge.
The difference in quality between FMV and in-game graphics is truly huge.

   The main difficulty with Final Fantasy 7's graphics is that they were quite advanced for their time, but the overall style does not work very well. While FF6's pixel, sprite and Mode 7 look can be called a style choice, FF7's heavily polygonal look is less a decision and more a necessity due to relatively un-advanced graphics tools. In general, a bit more attention should have been paid to character models, and to the vast disparity between those shown in combat and those shown on the field. I'm not sure if what the art director was going for was a polygonal equivalent of the super-deformed look of the SNES Final Fantasies, but that's what he got. It's a look which doesn't mesh well with the combat sequences, with their fairly detailed and certainly not super deformed character models. Also, seen in light of the very advanced FMVs featured in Final Fantasy 7, the field models look quite primitive. Taken a bit at a time, Final Fantasy 7's graphics are impressive. Taken together, the individual sections of this game are separated by a graphical gulf the size of the Grand Canyon.

   Final Fantasy 7 takes up three discs, though to be honest, the first two are the actual game with the final disc being the bit where the player side quests and gains levels and eventually finishes off the final boss. Difficulty isn't very high - with the correct preparation, a reasonably experienced RPGamer can breeze through Final Fantasy 7. A bit of Materia here, a bit of attention to levels there and soon enough (thirty to forty hours later) you're done. Not to say it's not enjoyable, but a bit of challenge never hurt anyone.

   Final Fantasy 7's high tech look may not be everyone's cup of tea, but underneath FF7's style, it still holds true to what has made Final Fantasy a great series - great heroes, earth-shattering events, and innovative character development schemes. Anyone who ever doubted the PSX was a system capable of delivering a game worthy of being called a classic must now fall silent, for Final Fantasy 7 will long be remembered as one of the finest Role Playing experiences ever.

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