Final Fantasy VII – boy, is that a title. For years now, people would discuss this game back and forth amongst each other, poring over its many detailed facets, and the entire time I would just nod my head and play along as if it all made sense. You see, I never played this game with the oxymoron name. Not only did I never play it, I was barely aware of what it was about outside of the names of the lead character and villain, the infamous death scene at the middle of the game, and what I could gleam from the general thematic way the title was perceived by people at large.
So it was with this empty frame of mind that I decided to finally play one of the most famous video games of all time, as sort of an “experiment” to see what all the fuss was about. It seems like half of everybody I know played it in their younger years and view it through nostalgia-tinted goggles, and the other half are absolutely sure that it has to be garbage because it’s so well-known and the only people who like it are the before-mentioned nostalgics. Why not dive into it headfirst without any sort of bias?
And that’s exactly what I did.
You could go on and read the rest of this article if you want (actually, please do that because we can always use the hits), but if you really want to get right to the meat of it: Final Fantasy VII is a tragedy. No, not in the sense that the game itself is tragic (although it as at certain moments), but in the sense that the entire way it’s portrayed by both long-term fans and Square Enix itself is in many ways belittling and trivializing of it. This is a game whose tone has been completely misconstrued and altered by the culture at large, and a game that unduly suffers for it. That is the tragedy of Final Fantasy VII.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start off with the actual retrospective review. Final Fantasy VII is a turn-based RPG that takes place in a dystopian universe where the world is essentially ruled by a mega-corporation hellbent on harvesting the innate life-energy of the planet to fuel its unending control. Our heroes boil down to a group of eco-terrorists working to bring down this almighty corporation, through considerably unsavory means, who slowly evolve into the only group capable of saving the world from an ancient alien menace. It’s an odd and (somewhat paradoxically given the original release date) refreshing tale populated by colorful characters and driven forward with real momentum.
What truly caught me off-guard about the story was the fact that it’s completely different from what I had been led to believe it was like by promotional material and the way fans referred to it. By all accounts I was expecting a plot wrought with emo characters discussing their wounded emotions in the rain as J-Pop blares in the background. That is, after all, how Square Enix has advertised the world of FFVII through spinoff games and movies. So I was caught by surprise at the funniness of it all. Oh, there’s drama to be sure (albeit of a solemn melancholy type rather than an overwrought form), but it’s punctuated throughout with a constant sense of humor. This is a game where the hero, Cloud, leads the group into the final battle by uttering the phrase, “Let’s mosey”.
That’s to say nothing of the gameplay. Final Fantasy VII is a turn-based RPG that makes use of an “active time” bar to determine turn order. Think of it like Golden Sun on hyperdrive, but with a higher degree of character customization through the use of the brilliant Materia system. In a manner strangely similar to that of BioShock, FFVII takes care to bring its various magical spells and special attacks into the realm of true plot importance. The gist of it is that the energy that flows through the planet manifests into a solid form called “Materia”, which comes in a variety of types, each with their own ability (throwing fireballs, healing, etc.). Characters can be equipped with this Materia in the same way as weapons and armor, thus determining their skillset in battle. There’s a whole undercurrent to the plot involving the use of Materia in warfare and manufacturing it artificially, which only adds another level of nuanced gameplay-story combination.
On top of the core system of fighting, the world of FFVII is brimming with fun and interesting side quests. It’s the kind of game where you tell yourself you’re going to continue on and fight that boss in a few minutes, only to find yourself hours later in the middle of a side story which adds more detail to the characters while getting new items and Materia. There’s breeding and racing the ostrich-like Chocobo, optional “Mega-Bosses” in the form of Godzilla-sized creatures which roam the overworld, hidden dungeons and villages, and more. What’s even better is that all of this side content yields rewards which make a real impact on the main quest – anything from an ultra-powerful Materia spell to a ridiculously useful weapon. Additional plot content that adds depth to the cast is just a great bonus.
The look and sound of the game are exemplary too. The characters are rendered in 3D and yet retain the sort of super-deformation typical of old school sprites. Some may find this jarring, but I actually greatly enjoyed it. The pre-rendered backgrounds are essentially illustrations on which the characters walk around on. Again, your mileage on that may vary, but I loved the amount of little details it brought to the proceedings. Everything always looked just right. The music, being composed by Nobuo Uematsu, is (needless to say) brilliant. Don’t take my word for it, listen to it yourself.
“But Dylan”, you’re probably thinking to yourself. “Why make us sit through a review of a game from years ago that most of everyone has already played?” Well, there actually is an answer to that – I wanted to both enlighten the people who’ve never played it, and possibly send a reminder to those who have.
You see, speaking as someone who has just finally stepped into and completed Final Fantasy VII, I can’t help but feel that everyone has it wrong. All horribly wrong. Maybe I’m just absolutely terrible at gleaming context and emotion from stories (which is fully possible), but the overarching feeling I got from this game was not one of angsty sorrow and bleak rage. This was not a game that at all fits the endless pieces of fan and official art depicting Cloud as a dark figure with flawless skin and mopey eyes. Final Fantasy VII continuously exudes one thing above all else: charm. It’s a really damn charming game, and that’s all there is to it.
And continuing to speak as someone who’s just finished it for the first time and has now fell in love with that specific sense of charm, seeing images like this chills me to the bone:
Apparently, this is what the world has decided Final Fantasy VII is. Not a game and world of unique life and color, but a teenager’s idea of what constitutes “dark” and “edgy”. Cloud is no longer the stalwart hero who happens to have some baggage, but the uncanny valley mannequin with awful hair who spends all his time coping with the unfairness of life. Where’s the potency? Where’s the sense of wonder? Where’s the charm? I’ve now watched the movie “sequel” titled Advent Children, and it felt more like fan fiction by way of a depressed sixteen year old than an actual follow-up.
That is the tragedy of Final Fantasy VII – that it is no longer remembered for what it actually is, but what people assume it must be like based on what Square Enix treats it as. It doesn’t matter what the game itself is like anymore, only what the side content says the game is like. And that is a damn shame.
Do you agree with this sentiment? Or am I due for a lynching? Let the comments decide!