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Saturday Gaming Retrospective - Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII – PSone
By Louis Bedigian

Another look at the world’s most beloved and best-selling RPG

It was the RPG that changed everything. The game that made American and European players take a second look at a genre that was once thought to be exclusive to the tastes of Japanese gamers.

Final Fantasy VII was not only the biggest RPG ever made -- and not just the first RPG to break the technological barrier and show what could be done with 3D hardware – it was also the first RPG to grab the average player and make him realize that these pixelated characters can be more than just a bunch of on-screen avatars. They, more than we ever knew, could be likable, highly cherished characters that we would never forget.
 


When simplicity is better

What were its Cultural Impacts and/or Importance?

Final Fantasy VII was an epic, heart-wrenching masterpiece. Combining the original tale of evil, corporate dominance and the struggle for survival with an impeccable, import-worthy score and a remarkable battle system whose power and origins were rooted in the story, Final Fantasy VII turned everyday gamers into role-playing fanatics. For the more than 10 million players who took a chance on a franchise that was largely ignored by outsiders (those who didn’t play RPGs regularly up until this point), this game proved to be a journey unlike any other.

Now that more than 12 years have passed, and now that more than 100,000 fans have shelled out another $10 to purchase the PSP/PS3 version via PSN, a couple questions must be answered.

Saturday Gaming Retrospective

What Areas of Gaming did it Advance?

The pre-rendered backgrounds and high-end CG video sequences helped push the boundaries of video-game storytelling while creating a catalyst that Square and Sony (Square developed it before the merger with Enix; Sony acted as the American publisher) could use to attract those who were leery of playing through a 40-hour turn-based adventure. Final Fantasy VII set the new standard for what RPGs should look and sound like for the next four years – a standard that did not change until Final Fantasy X arrived at the tail end of 2001.

Since that time, almost every RPG released has switched over to real-time backgrounds and (when possible) real-time movie sequences. But that’s only because the current game consoles allow developers to do what they wanted to do all along: create the most breathtaking worlds, produce the most beautiful characters, and design the most spectacular battles possible. Final Fantasy VII wasn’t designed to defy those dreams – it used pre-rendered elements to brilliantly circumvent the limitations of the existing technology. At the same time, it inspired developers to get to the point where they are today.

Saturday Gaming Retrospective

Does it Stand the Test of Time?

Without a doubt, the story, music, characters and gameplay of Final Fantasy VII stand the test of time. To this day, I am amazed at the depth of the characters, the intricacies of Shinra, the complexities of Sephiroth and Hojo, and the powerful emotion that exists within the main cast.

It didn’t take long for the dialogue to age; while some of it is very good, there are plenty of moments that, in the event of a remake, could use a serious touch-up. But it’s not how the characters speak (sometimes with very poor English) that counted with gamers, in 1997 or in 2010; what mattered most was what the characters were saying, and how those words impacted their lives. This wasn’t a happy, mega-joyous story with a perfectly positive outcome. Final Fantasy VII’s story was dark, deep, and filled with characters who were truly miserable. It was through that misery – and all triumphs the player goes through with them – that made us connect so deeply with this polygonal cast.

When it finally ended, when the journey came to a close, most of us were as amazed as we were devastated. Games like this don’t come along every day, or even every decade. I’ll never forget my first time beating it, particularly because I had to play through it twice to see it end. Foolishly, I thought it’d be safe using just one save file. Consequently, I cornered myself into the final level with characters that were too weak to survive.

After dying numerous times, I made up my mind: I would start from the beginning and play through it as quickly as possible, all the while creating a party of six characters who were unstoppable.

Saturday Gaming Retrospective

A Blessing in Disguise

In a way, my mistake was a blessing; when a great TV series is coming to a close, I like to re-watch all the episodes before the finale airs. That’s kind of what happened here – it was a second chance to experience the game, almost fresh again, before seeing how it all turned out.

The fact that I still remember not only the game but my experiences with it is a testament to the RPG Square created. In playing through it again on PSP, I have started to think about the playing through other Final Fantasy games again – something I hadn’t thought about in years. But that’s only because Final Fantasy VII does what any great novel, movie or TV series has done: it makes you want more.

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