Final Fantasy VII – Developer: Squaresoft – Publisher: Sony – 1997 – PS1/PC/PSN
Final Fantasy VII was the first truly epic RPG of the Playstation generation. Spanning 3 discs, which was unheard of at the time, it was an adventure like no one had seen. The game boasted state of the art graphics, had stunning (for it’s time) videos and an epic story with more twists and turns than a theme park ride.
Taking control of Cloud Strife, you are a new recruit in a faction of freedom fighters called Avalanche, who are lead by Mr. T-a-like, Barrett. A huge man, with a gun for an arm. The game starts off in the industrial city of Midgar, which is run by an all powerful, world dominating company called Shinra. Midgar is made up of 8 sectors, which are powered by 8 reactors that convert a substance extracted from beneath the earth’s surface known as Mako. It is thought by many that Mako is what keeps the planet alive as well as its inhabitants. Avalanche believes that the Mako reactors are destroying the planet and have set out to sabotage them.
When the action starts, the Avalanche team are en-route to reactor number 5 with plans to destroy it. This beginning section is to get you used to the controls, characters and generally how the game works. However, it doesn’t throw you in at the deep end. This is a massive game and you are still learning new things after a good couple of hours.
The attack on the reactor is successful and it is destroyed. It turns out that Cloud was once part of an elite group of soldiers known as, er, SOLDIER. This will become integral to the story as it gradually unravelled throughout the game. After the reactor is destroyed, the team, who as well as Barrett are made up of other environmental hopefuls, Biggs, Wedge and Jessie, head back to their hideout in the Sector 7 slums. Here we meet Tifa. She looks after things behind the scenes and soon becomes part of the crew. It turns out Tifa and Cloud were childhood friends (or more than friends depending how you read into it!) before Cloud left their small town to join SOLDIER.
Following a flashback sequence, you awake the following day, ready to take down the next reactor. This time however, Shinra are waiting for you. This is the catalyst that starts the chain of events leading to your epic quest of not only taking down Shinra and trying to save the planet, but also against another evil, Sephiroth. He believes he is a descendent of ancient settlers of the planet, and vows to complete their work, by summoning a giant meteor to ‘cleanse’ the earth of those not worthy to live there.
Throughout the game you meet a lot of characters. Some that will join your quest and those that recur as you proceed. These can range from weird and funny, to the quirky and downright odd! There are many different towns and areas to discover and explore, taking in the steam punk/cyber punk environments of the cities and towns, to the quaint villages and creepy marshlands. Various modes of transport are at your disposal to help you get around, including the ostrich like Chocobo. These provide an entertaining break in the game-play, as well as providing a useful method of getting to certain areas. If you breed the right type of Chocobo, that is. Later on in the game you can breed certain Chocobo that allow you to travel over particular terrain (mountains, shallow water, deserts) to get to secret areas.
A good percentage of the game is spent travelling the world, finding yourself in different situations, but another portion of the game is the battle sections. These are initiated at random as you are proceeding through each area. All the battles are fought in the same way, using a turn-based battle system. This means that each character has to wait a certain period of time before being able to attack an enemy, or use magic etc. The range of enemies you face can vary from the very weak and ridiculously easy to very nasty and tricky. You eventually learn to adapt to each enemies fighting style. The majority use elemental magic, which you play off and use to your advantage (e.g. a dragon would be resistant to fire but weak against ice and water attacks). At the end of each battle, depending on whether you have killed the enemy, you are awarded EXP, which helps you level up, which will give you more HP (Hit Points – health, basically) and MP (Magic Points – the amount of magic you can use is determined by how much MP you have), as well as making you stronger and more powerful. You usually game items at the end of each battle as well as money.
The way the magic system works i.e. the spells you can cast, is through something called the Materia system. Materia is and precious rock/stone which is a by-product from Mako. Each stone has its own power and ability. Green stones allow you to cast magic spells, yellow give you extra abilities, purple can change certain parts of your characters status, blue can change effects of green material and red allows you to summon monsters that deal great damage to enemies. These are very useful when it comes to big boss fights. Like the characters, Materia also levels up. This will increase the attack power of magic, or increase the amount of times you can summon for example. You tend find Materia either being sold by merchants or occasionally along your path.
A normal play through will take on average of 40+ hours. And that is without hanging around to get every piece of Materia, fight every enemy and complete every mini game. So vast, vibrant and full of character this world is, the hours fly by in no time. I’m currently on what is most likely my 15th play through of this game and have clocked around 30 – 40 hours already, having only completed the first disc! I could probably recite the script from this game word for word I’ve played it that much!
All this and I haven’t even touched on this games wonderful score. Although the quality of the music is relatively poor by today’s standards, as it was all most likely created as midi files, it is truly epic and at times, very moving. It is a score that I listen to, to this day, even going as far as having one piece of it played at my wedding!
I can say with no exaggeration that I have put as many hours into this game in the last 14 years (it’s really been that long?!?) than I have into anything else I have ever done! And it’s a game I still play, and enjoy as much as the day I first bought it. This was the first game I truly fell in love with and will probably never have the same feeling towards any others. I may be looking through rose-tinted nostalgia, as this is my favourite game, but this comes from a time what I saw as a renaissance in gaming. The PS1 era really bought about a golden age in video games. The transition to 3D graphics really saw the quality go through the roof!
I know this game does divide a lot of people due to it being quite the slow-burner, but to those who haven’t played it, I urge you seek it out. If you don’t mind your time being so consumed in such a way! This is now available for download on PSN, along with numbers VIII (which I’m almost equally as fond of, and may post a write up in the near future) and IX.
It’s gonna have to take something phenomenal to replace this as my favourite. Every now and then, rumours of a remake surface. Unlike Resident Evil, in which the remake worked wonders, after playing the last couple of FF instalments, I’m not sure it’s such a good idea! I think a handheld re-release would be a good move, however it can be downloaded to the PSP through the Playstation store.
Final Fantasy VII gets 10 out of 10.