Final Fantasy VII . A name synonymous with RPG gaming. It is spoken about with reverent tones by its massive fan base. It still sells for hundreds of dollars online. It is constantly and consistently the topic of discussion as to what Square Enix is doing and what they should do. But did FFVII really raise the bar so high that no other RPG will ever be good enough? It seems that would be the case. But was Final Fantasy VII really all that revolutionary? Was it really so much better than its peers like Legends of Dragoon and Chrono Trigger ?
The Story of FFVII
The immense and often convoluted story of FFVII was one of the very things that made it so enthralling to the gaming masses at the time. It had a little bit of a detective feel to it, as well as being a solid RPG. It incorporated great gameplay (for a turn-based game) into an increasingly deep story. Add in some seriously cool gameplay elements and the ability to customize your characters, units, weapons and formations and you have the recipe for a truly awesome experience. Nothing else at the time was anywhere near the grandiose scale of FFVII in scope and size.
Societal and Ecological Commentary
This game teetered on being preachy at times. With the constant warnings about harvesting Gaia’s energy and the irreparable damage that it could do to the planet. It got a little old after a while. We get it. We are trashing the planet and sapping every last ounce of fossil fuels from the Earth. The Shinra Company became a metaphor for gross consumerism and ecological destruction for profit. Only by saving Gaia’s energy from being overharvested would save the planet and all life on it. Then you add in the whole Jenova thing (meteoric cataclysm causing detrimental changes to the atmosphere), and you got the makings of a real big mess.
One of the incredible things about this game (and all subsequent FF titles) was the amazing detail put into crafting intensely cinematic cut scenes to help further the story as you play. Seeing the characters come to life on the screen in one of forty minutes of full motion video as you journey through their adventure adds a whole new level of depth and fullness to the game. This area alone would raise the bar for all RPG games that would follow. But at the time, there wasn’t a game on the market that could match the excellent cutscene productions of FFVII .
The combat system of FFVII seems pretty straight-forward. But as your character takes more and more damage during combat, a meter fills. Once that meter reaches its limit, you are able to unleash either a devastating attack against your enemies or a monumental buff that assists the whole team. This was called Limit Break. It would become a mainstay of the FF series and would appear in ever title that would follow in the series. It also became a new standard attack for other RPGs as well. Again, a type of attack still used today in RPGs. So in this respect, the game really does live up to its hype by providing gamers with the ability to have that one truly epic last act of defiance in the face of adversity.
Taking The 3D Plunge
FFVII was one of the first titles to make the transition from 2D graphics to a rendered 3D world that characters could traverse in a more free nature than some of the more linear titles of the day. This game removed the feeling that your characters were on a rail and were bound to a specific gameplay style and story. The player’s ability to take his characters essentially anywhere, including in the sky on an airship and underwater, is one of the things that lent a new and fresh feeling to FFVII and helped to set it apart from the other games of the day. This concept would become the type-set for player immersion in future titles.
This guy is the queen mother of panty-waisted, would-be badasses. This guy is so emo he makes actual emo kids look like they belong on Sesame Street singing campy little tunes about numbers and shapes and cookies and such. I used to think that Tidus from FFX was quite possibly the whiniest character in Final Fantasy history until I played through FFVII again and I realized that the gold medal definitely goes to Cloud. And sadly, this angst-ridden, emotionally scarred character mold would become the standard for a great number of RPGs that would follow it. Hell, look at Lightning. She’s like a female clone of Cloud. Pissy, emo and just a little bit wussy…even under all that armor and with all those combat skills. Yes, we’re still talking about Cloud.
Prior to the game’s release in America, there was an extensive marketing campaign that lasted three months and led directly up to release day. No media outlet was safe from it. FFVII made appearances in Pepsi commercials. It showed up in both DC and Marvel comic books. It made appearances on every major network in America and even graced the pages of Playboy and Rolling Stone magazines. This sort of media and market saturation would become the benchmark for many games to come. Call of Duty anyone? Although, I am pretty sure you didn’t find Cloud Strife on kid’s underwear.
These dyed-in-the-wool, kool-aid drinking zealots believe that there IS no other RPG beyond FFVII . These guys make the Trekkies that you see at geek conventions look like GQ cover models. They are so entrenched in their belief that the concept of the modern RPG didn’t come along until the advent of FFVII makes them sound just a little crazy and super hard to talk to. Also, did the game really alter their state of consciousness so much that they would be critical and dismissive of any RPG game that would come along after FFVII ? Yes. But the question we would like to ask is why are the so fervent in their belief? What makes this game so much better than anything else out there? Alas, the answer is always the same–they start ranting, then berating, then they storm off in a huff and post about it on Facebook.
Why was this guy such a huge deal? Could he fight? Sure. Did he whip our asses more times than we care to talk about? Yes. Was he an absolute a-hole character in the game? Absolutely. But why has he been revered as one of the greatest bad guys in gaming? The dude has obvious mommy issues and maybe even a slight Oedipus complex. Let’s face it. He was a spoiled rotten brat and wanted his mommy. Also, he carries a giant, long, curved sword with two blades. You think that maybe, just maybe, he was over-compensating for something else? I feel like his twin-bladed katana was most likely the physical manifestation of his ‘other’ inadequacies. That, and his constant need to kick somebody’s ass makes us believe he probably wasn’t really all that.
The Materia System
The one super-cool thing that totally lived up to its hype in the FFVII legend is the Materia system. You could snatch up these little orbs of glowy goodness all over and attach them in sockets on armor and weapons or you could use them to attain new skills in magic or summoning, which seriously comes in handy later in the game. This concept of giving the gamer physical objects that would radically affect the attributes of weapons, armor and characters would become yet another gold standard in RPG gaming. Even FFX-2 had a completely silly system using spheres to not only change their character’s clothes, but their attributes as well. So at least something good came from all the insanity surrounding FFVII .