Final Fantasy VII - A Not So Retro Retrospective
Struck by lightning on terra, carried by a squall, left floating on a cloud.
08.10.15 - 1:06 AM
Nearly twenty years after its initial release on PlayStation, I beat Final Fantasy VII for the first time.
I was given a copy by a colleague about 5 years ago, but hadn't had the time or motivation to actually play it until this year. I think most of you would agree with me if I said it was one of the greats, one of those "must-play" titles if you want to be a true RPG connoisseur. It's consistently voted as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, RPG of all time in amateur polls and professional features, and whether it's given special treatment through rose-tinted glasses or not, it's clear that FF VII has had a significant and lasting legacy.
Even in 2015, I can see why this is the case; VII has a remarkable cast of likeable characters and tells an exciting story filled with evil villains and troubled heroes. Not to mention the excellent gameplay, of course. Still, what is it about Final Fantasy VII that makes it so memorable, so loved in the community? Plenty of other games have equally stellar casts, the combat was improved by the releases of IX and X, and obviously game graphics have improved by nearly unimaginable amounts, yet Final Fantasy VII remains a fan favourite. Why?
I think it's simple: charm.
The greatest entries in the Final Fantasy series deliver a heartwarming, occasionally cheesy, level of magic. I'm not talking about Cura, Firaga, or Haste, but about how Barrett carries Marlene, or Aerith plays on a slide, or Red XIII reacts to the truth about his father; it's the little things, and they didn't need fancy graphics or voice acting to pull it off. Though I would personally argue that Final Fantasy IX creates an even more immersive and charming environment, VII did it first and deserves full credit for doing so. As much as I adore Final Fantasy VI, there's only so much you can convey in a 2D sprite world — FF VII has technology on its side.
My particular experience with Final Fantasy VII and its spin-offs is a particularly odd one, and I'm sure it has shaped my perception of the original. Growing up I had a Nintendo 64, so I spent far more time playing The Legend of Zelda and Banjo-Kazooie than I did RPGs. Final Fantasy wasn't even on my radar until I bought a PlayStation 2 as a teenager and first tried Final Fantasy X, which I adored. After that I played XII and then went back to tackle some of the older entries in the series.
The Advent Children film was actually my first exposure to Cloud and Midgar, and it was without any English since a friend of mine had brought the DVD back from Japan. Two of my friends and I watched it together, with very limited Final Fantasy experience between us. We knew Cloud and Sephiroth, but not much else, so we took to making up our own story and dialogue that centred on Rude's sunglasses and Kadaj constantly saying "mother." I think Red XIII and Cait Sith completely confused us.
Years later, I bought a PSP, and Crisis Core was the first game I grabbed. It had me completely hooked. Zack's story was more compelling than most I'd encountered in games before, and I couldn't put it down as I blazed through from the thrilling beginning to heart-wrenching end. It put a few pieces together in the Final Fantasy VII story for me, but I knew there was so much more to discover. I actually watched Advent Children again in English shortly after this, but without having played the main game, it still confused me.
Just this year, I finally took down a Mako reactor, watched Aerith's fate, flew a rocket into space (sort of), fought the monstrous "Weapon," and defeated the One-Winged Angel. Though some of the events around the middle of Disc 1 were less exciting, all these years later, I still found the story of Final Fantasy VII compelling; even though I already knew many of the major plot points. Watching Zack appear on screen for the first time welled up some feelings I hadn't experienced since Crisis Core, and pushing towards what I knew would be an epic final battle with Sephiroth drove me on.
Perhaps because of its iconic nature, I was glued to the screen during that final fight — I'm not even sure I blinked. I panicked when Supernova was cast (mostly because of how long the animation takes), freaked out when Vincent was turned into a frog and silenced, and silently prayed over and over again that Sephiroth wouldn't cast Shadow Flare too often (though I eventually turned it against him with Enemy Skill). And that amazing music — the perfect background to an epic fight. The similar track seemed contrived in the fight against Ultimecia, but here, tied to Sephiroth, the dramatic tones just work.
With its huge scope and powerful villains, Final Fantasy VII is the epitome of an epic adventure. Though I normally don't give much credit to the "back in my day..." conversations from gamers like myself who grew up with the classics, there's truth to it in regards to FF VII: they don't make them like they used to. VII doesn't have the meticulously edited script of XIII or the dramatic romance of X, but its rough-around-the-edges identity is what makes it so special. Now, excuse me while I go pop Advent Children in my Blu-ray player and track down a copy of Dirge of Cerberus.
Update: Since writing this editorial, the Final Fantasy VII Remake has been announced. Here's hoping they manage to retain the charm and quirkiness that makes the game so great.