9.13.2013

Playing The Final Fantasies: Episode VII

Cast of Final Fantasy VII


SPOILERS: If you haven't played it (you should have by now), turn back now!

Welcome to the third installment of my journey into the realm of unplayed Final Fantasies. For no good reason, I've been trying to play every numbered game in Square's flagship series, as well as revisiting the old favorites. I try to follow them up with these entries. Bear in mind that they aren't reviews - as I'm not qualified to write them - they are merely my thoughts from my experience with each game. Last time I focused on Final Fantasy VI, which I consider to be the best in the series - at least out of the ones I've played. This time around, I'll be discussing the third title I managed to complete - Final Fantasy VII - a name that should be familiar to anyone who has ever played a single RPG in their lives.

Let's face it, FF VII has had a rough go of it. When it came out in 1997, it was kind of a big deal. It was the first game in the series to go full 3D and feature cutscenes. To date, it has sold copies than any other title in the series. People who may have never even played a Final Fantasy game can probably recognize Cloud Strife (the game's protagonist) by his trademark spiky hair and massive sword:

Defying conventional hairstyles since 1997.


FF VII proved that RPGs weren't just a niche genre of games - it made them a real contender in the world of consoles. It's had more spin-off games than any other of the Final Fantasies. No one can deny the legacy that VII has had in the world of gaming. But as with anything massively popular, criticism seems to arise from every corner - some warranted and unwarranted. However, I feel that a bit of revisionist history has been written about the game. Because of its intense popularity and constant mentioning in any discussion of the greatest RPGs, many present-day gamers have gone back to play this game only to be turned off by its blocky graphics and confusing story. 

I mean, I don't mind them.


Let's be honest, even upon its release, VII wasn't without its flaws. But this isn't a history lesson - it's merely a bit of background so as to provide you with a frame of reference as far as what I was taking on in my first playthrough of this behemoth of a game.

Much like the previous two titles I had played through (VI and IX), VII opened a memorable picture. There was no title screen or epic opening cutscene. There was nothing but a picture of Cloud's Buster sword and a simple choice:

My body is ready.


I knew then that this would be quite a journey.

I enjoyed the fact that the game started off fast, putting you right in the middle of action. You are Cloud Strife, an ex-member of an elite military group known as SOLDIER, who is now a mercenary working on a job for the terrorist group known as Avalanche. I must admit, all that sounded pretty awesome. I was immediately thrown into a series of battles with dudes wielding machine guns and automatons armed with lasers. All this was a lot to take in, as I had mentioned in my previous entries that I chose to shy away from the newer FF titles because I was turned off by all things non-medieval and "fantasy." Much to my surprise, I had no trouble becoming immersed in the world of VII. Instead of magical crystals and wizards, there were nuclear reactors and greedy corporations. It was admittedly all a new experience, but it didn't bother me one bit.

Quite a bit different atmosphere.


Upon leaving the game's opening location and being released into a wide-open world, I found myself falling more and more in love with the game. The story seemed to become a little convoluted later on as I tried my best to follow the events surrounding Cloud's origin. I admit I got a little lost but not so much that I was turned off to playing.

As far as the characters go, they were a very solid group in terms of personality. As a testament to the game's legacy (or perhaps a product of my extensive nerdiness), I could have named every playable character in the game prior to ever having played it. It was sort of a step down from the huge cast of characters from FF VI, as there were only recruit eight - and two of them are entirely optional. Despite the small cast, there was some good variety. One of the characters is a cat riding around on a toy Mog wielding a megaphone. Another is a vampire-like dude sporting a revolver. The games's relatively simple Materia system was a welcome addition, even if it took away from the individualism of your characters, as far as their role in battle is concerned.

Points for originality.


There were a couple of things I was prepared for, having read and heard so much about the game over the years. In the same way that Cloud Strife serves as a sort of icon in the RPG world, so too does his eternal nemesis Sephiroth. The silver haired, black-garbed, Masamune-wielding villain suffered from the unfair task of having to follow the game that featured Kefka as the antagonist, who I believe is the best villain that the series has to offer. I was ready to meet this Sephiroth. He did not disappoint, but as mentioned he was nowhere near as cool/crazy as Kefka. 

The rules for this game: have obscenely large swords.


And then we come to what is one of the most intense scenes in all of gaming, let alone the FF series. You know what I'm talking about. Unfortunately, I knew way beforehand what the scene was, but not when it would occur. Still, I found myself on the edge of my seat in anticipation. The abruptness of it surprised me, and Cloud's lines as held the dying Aeris shook me. While it didn't grip me quite as much as Celes' suicide attempt from FF VI, it still deserves all of the infamy it has gained over the years.


She was just a flower merchant!


I obviously enjoyed the game, because I clocked more hours into it than either of the previous two. My file came in at around 45 hours, compared to the 33 hours of IX and 26 or so of VI. I know that my file stills pales to what a hardcore gamer could accomplish with this game. The main reason that I spent so much time on this game as opposed to the previous titles is again, because of its legacy. I wanted to know all about the Golden Chocobo and Omnislash. So I found myself doing absurd things. I traveled the world to breed the perfect Chocobo so I could attain the Knights of the Round summon. I battled my way to 32,000 points in the Golden Saucer arena to win Omnislash. I got the ultimate weapons and final Limit Breaks for my endgame party. I killed scores of Magic Pots in the last dungeon to max out my Materia. And yes, I defeated both the Ruby and Emeralds Weapons.

Optional super-bosses.


While none of these things might seem crazy to a diehard FF fan, I felt proud of myself. At least I could hold a decent conversation about the game as to what my accomplishments were. Because you know, beating the optional bosses in FF VII is a topic that regularly comes up in conversations today..

In conclusion, I obviously had a lot of fun with the game. I get its flaws, but they weren't enough to detract from the game's magical world. It didn't become my new favorite (IX), nor do I think it dethrones VI as the best in the series. However, the things this game did for the world of gaming cannot be denied. I'm happy to have finally played it, even sixteen years after its release.

Next time, I'll be writing about a FF that has some of the best gameplay in any of the games I've played by virtue of its perfect job system. But of course that's merely my unqualified opinion. Be sure to check it out!

Until then,

-JDS

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