Released in 1997 by Square (now SquareEnix), Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) frequently ranks highly on lists of top games and is considered by many to be the greatest game of all time. It certainly is within its genre of Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) at least, and has popularised the genre outside of its home market, being an instrumental force in helping to sell the original PlayStation console.
With the announcement at this year’s E3 event that a full remake is in the works for the PlayStation 4, I thought it would be a good idea to go back and revisit the original game, 18 years later, and re-evaluate what makes this game so good, as well as what aspects of it could do with being changed or updated for the remake.
- Story – 8/10
The game’s story revolves around Cloud Strife, an uncaring mercenary who joins the eco-terrorist group ‘AVALANCHE’ to combat the evil mega-corporation Shinra from draining life from the planet to use as an energy source. Over time, Cloud and his comrades are swept up in a much larger, planet-threatening conflict against Sephiroth, a formerly high-ranking member of Shinra’s ‘SOLDIER’ program who becomes disillusioned with the world when he discovers the true nature of his heritage. Despite the title, FFVII is perhaps one of the most industrial based games in the franchise, certainly at the time at least, and carries a strong, though rather blatant and sometimes forced, eco-friendly message that is worth thinking about, certainly in our society that is so enamoured with industrial expansion and production.
For the most part, the story itself remains strong after so many years, though it is somewhat convoluted. The subsequent creation of supplementary material helps to flesh out story elements that aren’t addressed fully within the game itself, but this should not have been necessary had the game already done it successfully in the first place. While most of the extra material that is available in the West is set after the events of the game, and therefore has little bearing on the story, one notable piece is ‘Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII’, a prequel game on the PSP released in the West in 2008. It follows the story of Zack Fair, a minor character who is barely mentioned in the original game, but whose story has major repercussions on the main characters and helps greatly in fully understanding Cloud’s backstory which, when viewed under a critical lens, is done only quickly and roughly in the later parts of the original game. I’ve played through this game multiple times, and I still have trouble wrapping my head around it without referring back to Crisis Core’s story.
- Gameplay – 7/10
FFVII uses many of the same gameplay mechanics as the games in the franchise both before and immediately after it, but not without its own unique twist. As was tradition with the older games in the franchise, battles are conducted using the ‘Action Time Battle’ (ATB) system, which entails the use of a special gauge for each character during battle that fills up gradually. Once it is full, that character can make an action e.g attack, use magic or items, defend, etc. Once they make an action, the gauge empties and begins to fill again. This system effectively finds a middle ground between traditional turn based battles and more modern action RPG’s, as the combat requires you to think on your feet, but can be toned down if you find it too fast paced. While the director in charge of the remake has stated that he plans to make changes to the games combat engine, I am of the belief that it is perfectly fine the way it is.
By far the most interesting mechanic of the game is the Materia system. In most previous titles, characters were designed to stick to a single class or job, such as a warrior or a mage, but the Materia system allows you to attach any skill onto any character. This allows for such a level of customization that has not been easy to replicate in the series since, and remains one of the most praised features of the game today.
However, there are certain segments of the game that feel entirely out of place and present pacing issues. Far too often, the story is broken up by mini-games that serve little to no purpose other than to break up the action, and are often either infuriatingly tedious or out of character in what is normally a dark toned world. Among these include a motorcycle chase sequence, an impossible-to-lose CPR section, a squatting competition, a snowboarding game, and the Final Fantasy equivalent of horse racing, but with giant, ridable ostrich/chicken hybrids called Chocobos. Fans may take particular issues with that last one, as the tedious and oftentimes expensive breeding aspect was required to get some of the game’s best equipment and magic.
- Music – 10/10
The Final Fantasy series has always been praised for its music, and this game is no different. As always, Nobuo Uematsu’s status as one of the greatest composers in the video game industry is more than deserved, as his musical style is effective both in a grand scale and conveying subtle emotion. Among the entire franchise, FFVII boasts some of the most memorable music; In particular the extremely emotional ‘Aerith’s Theme’, the intense boss battle theme ‘Let the Battles Begin’ and what may well be one of the most memorable character and final battle themes in the entire franchise, if not of all time in ‘One-Winged Angel’. These tracks all stand out and are frequently performed in the various orchestral concert series that the music of the franchise has spawned.
- Aesthetic – 3/10
Back in 1997, this game was a technical marvel. The video game industry was in a state of transition, as the PlayStation was released only three years before, and the Nintendo 64 came to the West in the same year. A transition was being made between the 16-bit, 2D sprite graphics of the SNES to 3D polygonal graphics used in the above consoles and as such, the graphics of FFVII were seen as revolutionary. However, looking at it now, it is clear that the game has aged poorly, perhaps the worst of the entire franchise. The games that came after it looked better, perhaps as the companies involved had learned how to use this level of technology better so that they could create character models that looked like more than some cubes with ridiculously spiky hair. Even the games in the franchise before VII still look good, as their sprite art has a crisp, retro feel to it, perhaps even a sense of timelessness. Either way, the blocky character models and pre-rendered backgrounds of FFVII look extremely bad by today’s standards, even with the recent remastered version on PC, and are perhaps the main reason why a remake is so badly desired by fans.
Another issues with the game is its poor translation. In the late 90’s, not a lot of care or budget was put into localisation teams, so a lot of games around this time, particularly those made in other countries like Japan, have odd translation issues including misspelled or mistranslated names and oddly stilted dialogue. In the case of FFVII, there are also some issues of racial stereotyping that occur due to the translation, particularly in relation to one of the main characters, Barret, whose dialogue portrays him rather unflatteringly as the ‘angry black man’ stereotype. While fans may remember the bad translation work of this era fondly, it seems clear that a more accurate translation will be necessary for the upcoming remake.
- Overall – 7/10
FFVII’s story and gameplay mechanics remain solid and enjoyable, though the game may be in dire need of a graphical update. While the graphics of a game are by far the least important component when it comes to telling a compelling story or providing a solid gameplay experience, it is the largest factor when it comes to people’s first impressions of the game, and as a result many people may be turned off by the dated visuals. Either way, FFVII remains one of the most influential JRPGs of its time and its mark can still be clearly seen by the fact that a remake is in production, as well as the recent announcement that Cloud is to appear as a downloadable character in the latest entry of the Super Smash Bros. franchise. In light of these factors, for the interesting and moral story, as well as the solid gameplay mechanics, I give this game a rather fitting overall rating of 7/10.
If you are interested in the game, you can learn more about it and even purchase a Steam compatible PC version of the game at the Final Fantasy VII Official Site. Alternatively, you can watch the FFVII Remake announcement trailer or the more recent gameplay trailer below
FFVII Remake Announcement Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZj0eemFkVQ
FFVII Remake Gameplay Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3sBZ5Nr4hc