It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Game!
Today, nearly ten years after the release of Final Fantasy VII for the PSOne, I have finally decided to write a review for it. In all my years in video games, playing hundreds of games on dozens of different consoles, I have never heard more mixed reviews for a game than I have for Final Fantasy VII. Some love it, some hate it, but one thing is for certain; this is the game that made the Playstation. The game is revolutionary in some respects, a disaster in others, but all-in-all it is a solid game, though I wouldn’t recommend it to the casual gamer.
The story begins as a simple good-guys-for-hire (AVALANCHE) taking on the evil corporation/de facto world government (Shinra Inc.) to prevent a global-scale ecological disaster. However, as the game progresses, the story incorporates different characters, changes circumstances, and ultimately culminates in a hyper-evolved showdown between the forces of good and evil. Explaining all the details here would be a nightmare, so I would suggest playing it yourself. You gotta see it to believe it!
I’ve heard all the arguments about how overly complex and muddled the plot of Final Fantasy VII is and how both gamers and game reviewers wish the story had some “coherence” or “consistency,” but after hearing all their arguments and playing the game for myself, I have to politely disagree with them. Yes, the story of Final Fantasy VII is complex and is difficult to follow (at least for the average gamer), but not only is it entirely possible to follow if you try, but you also have to look at the size of the location the game itself takes place in. It does not take place in some factory, in some village, or even in some city, your party’s voyage spans an entire planet, a planet overflowing with many different types of locations, peoples, customs, ideas, technologies, flora, and fauna. The complexity of the world of Final Fantasy VII is not unlike the complexity of the world you and I live in, and dumbing down the storyline from its present form would do a great deal of injustice to the relative complexity of the world Final Fantasy VII takes place in.
That and the game makers seemed to be a bit puzzled in deciding what kind of game Final Fantasy VII was going to be. While they had a RPG base for it, they weren’t quite sure what direction to take it in. Their solution: throw a little something for everybody in there, that way no one can complain. Well, that’s exactly what you get in Final Fantasy VII. There are so many diversions, games, challenges, and hobbies you can pick up that there is truly something for everyone in this game. Like chocobos? Well, after using them to pass a particular portion of the game, you can breed them, race them, use them to access otherwise inaccessible areas of the game and unlock some awesome goodies! More of a fighter than lover? No problem! Grab your favorite weapon and head on out to the open world because there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of different enemy types to fight. Dragons, robots, biological monstrosities, rogue soldiers, big friggin' monsters that are much more powerful than the final boss and are completely unnecessary to complete the game, it’s all here. Whatever your favorite punching bag is, Final Fantasy VII has got it. Feeling a little Magellan-like? Well, you’ve got an entire planet at your disposal, so sail away! You can go anywhere and do anything in this game and I believe that Final Fantasy VII deserves credit for being the true ancestor to the Grand Theft Auto series that would later popularize this kind of gameplay.
Now that I’m done with that excruciatingly long rant on the plot, now we’re on to the actual combat. The battles run off of a time-based turn system. Basically, you can move once your timer has filled up. You can choose to attack with your weapon, defend, cast a spell, use and item, and later on in the game, you can summon one of many awesome monsters, steal items from enemies characters, mug them (stealing plus inflicting some damage), morph them into objects for you to collect, and even use enemy attacks that you’ve acquired throughout the game! Right next to your timer is a limit meter, and as you take damage, this meter fills up. Once it fills up completely, you can execute some spectacular limit breaks that do brutal damage to your enemies. Each battle is like a mini war and can get very intense and immersive. This is one area of the game that stands out prominently.
The graphics are solid, but the character design suffers from a mild case of inconsistency. One second, the characters have a scrunched, blocky look (like on the World Map or inside a town/city) and the next second they have a tall, dark, lanky, emaciated look (like when you go into battle). It fluctuates so much that pinning down a person with their outward appearance becomes a nightmare. The FMV does shine when it makes a rare appearance, but some consistency would have been appreciated for all spots in between.
Speaking of characters, they’re a mixed bag much like the graphics. Some of them are cool and useful; others are boring, useless, and/or completely unnecessary to finish the game. A good game is one that makes every playable character useful (or that can at least contribute something to the game’s overall objective), but alas there are at least two characters that do neither in Final Fantasy VII and just makes you think that Squaresoft tagged these two characters on as afterthoughts rather than as original ideas. Quality beats quantity any day of the week, Squaresoft. Remember that next time.
The battle music kinda sucks too as only two tracks are used for the entire game (save for the tracks used in the final boss fights). It’s something you’ll just have to get used to because there is no way to turn off the music (!)
All in all, Final Fantasy VII is one of the most idiosyncratic games of all time. It has the power to be immersive and frustrating at the same time. It can also be fun and tedious, creative and boring, and nearly any pair of contrasting adjectives you can think of. While I do agree that it’s not the greatest game of all time, it is certainly one of the better games made for the PSOne. I recommend it to RPG fans and to patient gamers, but not to the fast-twitched or ADD-afflicted.
+ Truly epic in scope
+ Immersive and complex
+ Unprecedented level of depth
+ Solid graphics
- …With some terribly inconsistent character design
+ Cool looking spells, limit breaks, and summon monsters!
- Shitty battle music
- A few useless characters
+/- Not for the fast-twitched or the small-minded