Final Fantasy 7 - A Retrospective
By Phantom Knight
Final Fantasy 7 - The Greatest RPG ever
(Major Spoilers in this article!)
Part 7 was my first introduction to the world of Final Fantasy. It blew me away on pretty much every level. Not only did the initial trailer I saw draw out some heavy emotions due to the great editing and music employed but it also looked like this game that would change the landscape of games for the future, at least in my view it did.
Final Fantasy 7 is, without doubt, a trailblazing RPG as it broke into the mainstream games market. Receiving extremely high review scores and huge sales figures it bucked the trend in many respects for a turn-based RPG. It was the 2nd biggest selling ps1 game behind Gran Turismo, selling almost 10 million copies.
FF7 received 9 / 10 from Edge magazine, 96% from GamesMaster, 9.5 / 10 from GameSpot & also the same score from IGN. Most other reviews for the Playstation 1 followed this pattern of high scores. The results were in. It was as close to a perfect game as you could get during the Playstation 1 generation.
For those of you who don't know the story from FF7, it follows Cloud Strife and his " band of merry men " (& women) as he reluctantly quests to save the world. I say reluctantly as, at the start, Cloud is like a petulant child only really interested in himself. Essentially a gun for hire he has no skin in the game and to be honest was, looking back, a little annoying. At the start, he is hell-bent on revenge for a series of incidents you learn about throughout the game. The destruction of his home town being the main motivating factor. As his experience and emotional direction changed throughout the game so did he. He evolves into a better person who cares for others more than himself. Great development that you could see unravel over the 60+ hours.
7 had everything in terms of story. One of the most vicious, powerful and charismatic villains in video game history. Sephiroth was and is one of my favourite gaming villains ever. The look, feel, emotion and gravitas the writers bestowed upon him made him a truly imposing figure. I actually remember being a little frightened of him in the sense that he seemed so much more powerful than you would think you could ever become. His power seemed limitless and you seemed feeble in comparison.
The game itself is a huge open-world environment spanning three discs which at the time was a big deal. I for one was definitely shocked at the size and scope of the game once I had left the Main Town Midgar. Once entering the open world I was filled with many emotions and feelings. Wonder, intrigue, joy, trepidation but most importantly, excitement. I was almost shaking with glee realising that the game was going to continue for what I could only imagine being many many hours.
Final Fantasy 7's story has many poignant moments that still stick with me to this day and is a testament to the writing and craft utilised in this game. That said I was a young 16yr old boy who hadn't experienced much "life" at this stage, but it did definitely leave its mark on me in a gaming sense. I would come to use Final Fantasy 7 as my benchmark for future Final Fantasy RPG games & games of a similar nature. This was both a positive but as you will find out later a terrible negative.
My journey with the game was an emotional one. I was heavily invested in the story and gameplay. I remember trying desperately to stock up on Phoenix downs to avoid that horrific "GameOver" screen, trying to max out my limit break's and reaching the "weapons" whilst simultaneously frantically trying to recall if I had saved my game just prior or not.
Of course, there is one incident that made me shed a small tear and that was the death of Aerith Gainsborough. Strangely enough on my second playthrough having the knowledge of her passing I callously spent next to no time trying to level her up and I knew she would be a "dead weight" come the second and third discs. Her passing affected me at the time emotionally but it wasn't until I finished the game and took stock on the experience as a whole, did I really start to appreciate the storytelling aspect that I had taken part in.
Remember this was not the era of Game of Thrones where everyone and his best friends dog get annihilated from episode to episode. Aerith's death was a huge event in terms of storytelling within my own & many others gaming experience. I hadn't played many if any, games where one of the main protagonists was killed early on. It strangely reminds me of the film executive decision where Kurt Russel and Steven Seagal are sent to rescue a hijacked plane and in the very first few moments of action Steven Seagal, a big star at this point, couped it leaving poor "egghead" Kurt Russell to take over the mission. A silly analogy with no REAL connection to Final Fantasy 7 but it still remains in my memory whenever I think of Aerith's Death.
After her Death the revenge and subsequent search for taking on Sephiroth was clear. There were many tumultuous tasks on the horizon for Cloud and his " crew " all of which I was completely ready for with my new found vigour and need for revenge. I was invested. Needless to say after this huge event in the story I found myself exploring the huge open-world Squaresoft had created rather than completely pursue the main quest.
The graphics at times on the ps1 were astounding and really made me come to appreciate that type of art style. The soundtrack was another element that was heavily evident from the get-go and was something I couldn't help but enjoy. The music at the mako reactor at the start of the game is one of the many highlights for me. I have even gone so far as to purchase the soundtrack and listen to it from time to time to this very day. (Cosmo Canyon!!!)
Circling back to the story, there are so many elements that teach you how to be a better person within Final Fantasy 7. Yes they are not very subtle but they are there nonetheless. Sacrifice, tolerance, acceptance, compassion, love and many more emotions and feelings are evident. Red Xiii being treated as an equal despite being a lab experiment, Selphie & Vincent being accepted as part of the team despite their chequered histories. The love and bond they develop with the crew is a very engaging piece of gaming. Beautiful concepts that for me, as a 16-year-old really communicated with me in a media form that I could understand. I was never a huge reader when younger and I often found subtlety within writing difficult to comprehend. Within a game, you can incorporate visuals, writing, music and gameplay to all help point towards the feelings that the writers and developers are looking to convey.
Final Fantasy 7 is a game I will always remember with love as it was the first video game to bring to the surface huge emotions. The story was an epic one and told in such a beautiful & captivating manner that many RPG games to this day still pale in comparison to me. Many times I have put a decent number of hours into a game and thought. "This isn't as good as Final Fantasy 7, causing me to either ditch the game or race through it to the finish not really appreciating the work that has clearly been put in. The immense standards set by 7 in many ways have ruined some games for me.
Final Fantasy 8 was a game, at least initially, I was not a fan of due to the radical departure, in my mind, from materia to a draw system. This threw me and the dreaded comparison with 7 struck. It wasn't until years later that I indeed picked up 8 and played through it realising that it is indeed a masterful game also but still not as good as 7 in my book. This "curse" continued for years and even although 9 released to great review scores I wasn't sold as I didn't think it would measure up to 7. It wasn't until the PS2 came along and Final Fantasy 10 that I got back into the series. After finishing 10 my vigour was renewed as I felt the game tried extremely hard to reach the heights 7 created. The visuals were immense due to the new console power and the junction system reminded me somewhat of my beloved materia. It still has not crept above 7 in my fav list of final fantasy games and I doubt it ever will.
If you haven't played Final Fantasy 7 for a long time I urge you to put it on and lose yourself for a few hours in that world.
I recently did and it still is my favourite RPG.
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and the trip down Final Fantasy lane.
By Phantom Knight