RETRO REBOOT - Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation)

Well, it was going to happen eventually. When I started to get into game analysis about a decade ago, I really had little intention in focusing on Final Fantasy VII in any significant manner, because it's hard to say anything that hasn't already been said. My primary goal was to talk about mid-range video games that interested me from a design aspect, and FFVII was never that. It was a good game, but also contributed to a lot of problems I grew to have with JRPGs, tropes that are still a stubborn nuisance to this day. 

This is the first grossly overpraised video game I can recall, and fortunately the passage of time has allowed even the die-hard followers of its lore kind of admit doesn't quite up too well. Mind you, I'm not using that as validation to justify my stance. I think it's the Nickelback of Japanese role-playing games; not as terrible as its haters claim, but not as great as its more fervent fans believe it is.

Since I might have future projects that go into greater length, I'll avoid prattling on about deeper fixtures of Final Fantasy VII. First, there's its more notable qualities. Final Fantasy VII did open the floodgates for more general acceptance of JRPGs. The genre always had a solid audience and there were critically acclaimed entries like the Lunar series, Ys, Illusion of Gaia, Chrono Trigger, and Dragon Quest. FFVII's timing and marketing brought in a portion of another growing fanbase during the mid-late 90's; anime fans. Its success ushered in some of the cooler and more experimental games of the era on the PlayStation, some from under SquareSoft's umbrella.

The downside is, many other developers tried to follow in SquareSoft's footsteps, and there were many efforts to copy the formula of Final Fantasy VII. One of those being the genre foregoing its once crisp writing and direction in favor of overly bloated, convoluted scripts filled with protracted dialogue and themes thicker than Polish borscht. Final Fantasy VII's story doesn't even make much sense to the point that its fans have spent two decades on the internet filling in the plot holes themselves, imagine hopping into Xenogears because the mechs looked cool, only to be blindsided by deep, protracted philosophical diatribes about religion. Tetsuya Takahashi formed Monolith Soft and has been doing it ever since in the Xenosaga and Xenoblade series.

Thanks to the incorporation of FMV sequences, the pacing is ripped out of the player's hands and I have to sit and watch a movie for minutes on end as the game tries to explain to me why this stuff is important. I didn't need RPGs to be turned completely into talkies, and so many of them prattle on for an eternity. Thanks, Final Fantasy VII.

As far as gameplay goes, it's fine. Final Fantasy VII's turn-based battle format incorporates Active Time Battle, a trait seen in many of SquareSoft's games like Parasite Eve and Chrono Trigger that uses variations of it. VII introduces the Materia system, which feels similar to the skill system seen in Final Fantasy IV. Blue (assist/support), green (magic), yellow (command), and pink (independent) can be equipped by any character, some add in-battle skills or boost attributes. It's very user friendly and every character can use them. Some drawbacks to using a lot of green Materia on a character is it can lower their physical strength.

The difference is a character doesn't have to master the skill to use it, rather the Materia itself levels up while the magic or its properties are attributed. So the penalty for relying on it don't feel all that heavy. Raw feats and attributes matter little when you can frontload a strong weapon, or pair a Luck+ Materia with Deathblow and boost its hit rate considerably.

There's so many easy ways to exploit this system, I could write an editorial alone on how to completely demolish this game. Levels don't mean much when you can max out very strong magic and HP increase Materia less than midway through Disc 2. Materia is flexible, but absolutely destroys the party dynamic of a JRPGs, since the only thing that separates them are their Limit Breaks. Barrett can easily be a speed demon, Yuffie can be a powerhouse, and Vincent can be a white mage. There's no personality amongst the characters in battle and they all feel like blank slates that can be OP with a trip to the menu screen. Except Cait Sith, he's absolute trash.

The visuals, I do like. Final Fantasy VII's backgrounds are all prerendered hand drawn images with 3D character models that travel on them. I feel like this period of gaming aged the worst when it comes to graphics, but this is still a very unique look to me. The in-battle and world map portions are fully 3D rendered, and granted those look pretty rough and are missing a lot of textures, highlighted by some of the closeups. In a minimalist manner, it's not terrible, but rendered pretty draconian quickly, as Final Fantasy 8 and 9 would outclass it in the visuals department just a few years later. The CGI sequences are well done and have high quality for their time. Yeah, I completely buried cut sequences a few paragraphs ago, but that doesn't mean they don't look neat.

The plot is a clunky sandwich to try and explain in a concise manner. I give Final Fantasy VII lots of credit for providing social commentary on the environment and a government driven by unregulated capitalistic greed (and people complain there's too much politics in today's games). I hate these characters, I find the main party to be a rather unlikeable group. Cloud is a blank slate with little traits interesting about him. Barrett is a violent hothead whose wanton acts of destruction causes collateral damage and inconveniences civil workers employed in the lower ranks of Shinra who are just looking to earn a wage the best way they know how. Tifa is a selfish, dishonest sow who is singlehandedly responsible for exacerbating Cloud's identity crisis. Vincent is a brooding adulterer who rightfully got his comeuppance for getting his hand caught in the nookie jar with Lucrecia (what a weird punishment from Hojo. "Bang my wife, eh? Well, I give you the power to transform into a devil with destructive powers). And Yuffie is a shrill, obnoxious, beastly teenager who only benefits from being an Aeris surrogate after she dies (spoiler). Aeris and Reeve are the only characters with a moral compass, and Red XIII is essentially a 15 year old, so I'll cut him some slack for some of his impulsiveness in his character arc. These "heroes" has rather poor motivation for the actions they're carrying out and Shinra is simply viewed as the big bad. Even when Barrett learns that Shinra isn't harming the planet and the cycle of destruction is inevitable, HE DOESN'T HAVE A SINGLE MOMENT OF PAUSE NOR ADMITS HE WAS WRONG. Blood is on his hands, but hey, "muh Marlene!!". I would cover Barrett in meat baste and feed him to jackals if I had the opportunity. 

Final Fantasy VII is a solid RPG. The music is very memorable, the game is full of side quests, and there's a lot to do in it. Its status as an influential title is something that can't be disputed, I just don't think it's all for positive reasons. It doesn't play like the best of its lot, JRPGs that precede and succeed it show more polish, like Valkyrie Profile and Chrono Cross. The story is just all over the place that even the 2005 CGI movie Advent Children simply added more questions than providing answers. FFVII's greatest contribution in my eyes, without the boom period it provided, I wouldn't have gotten a remastering of Lunar The Silver Star Story, my favorite JRPG of the 90's. 

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