Okay, here it is, the first review in the Ranking Final Fantasy series. As mentioned in that introduction thread we are starting at VII, perhaps the most well-known Final Fantasy of them all. That means we have a lot of stuff to talk about. Likely there will be things we fail to mention that are important to fans of the game and, even more likely, we will probably be dropping spoilers everywhere so if you haven’t played this game yet.. oh who am I kidding? Everyone has played VII. So let’s assign some scores to the various areas of the game and see just how well it does.
Here’s a look at the various box art the game released with.
Japan release box art.
This is quite hard to find now.
NTSC (North American) art.
The one I’m most familiar with.
PAL box art.
The non-Japanese releases came with content not found on the original Japan release and so, some time later, it was rereleased in Japan with the title, ‘Final Fantasy VII International’.
In Midgar, a city controlled by the mega-conglomerate Shinra Inc., the No. 1 Mako Reactor has been blown up by a rebel group, AVALANCHE.
AVALANCHE was secretly formed to wage a rebellion against Shinra Inc., an organisation which is absorbing Mako energy, destroying the natural resources of the planet. Cloud, a former member of Shinra’s elite combat force, SOLDIER, was involved with the bombing of the Mako Reactor.
Can Cloud and AVALANCHE protect the planet from the huge, formidable enemy, Shinra Inc.?
ASM: The story has more psychological elements to it then previous FFs, making it feel much more mature and adult. While VI itself was technically just as mature of a story when you stop to think about it, the new hardware and graphics allowed for the story in VII to have more of an impact. At times the story felt almost confusing due to the fact that not many RPGs to that point had included pyschological elements such as identity crisis, and dramatic use of permadeath, but overall the story itself is extremely engrossing, and the world building was very intensive, allowing for incredible immersion into the story itself. It does end in a way that leaves a lot open to personal interpretation. Grade: B plus
GG: I found the story deep and engrossing but could get a little confusing sometimes. Remember this story was fleshed out with animes and follow-up games such as Crisis Core. With so much happening between the major characters it may be easy for some gamers new to the RPG genre to get a little lost. It does progress at an excellent pace, becoming more emotional and desperate as it ramps up towards the end. Grade: A minus
Final Fantasy VII introduced a wide variety of well-fleshed out characters, many of whom went on to become stars in the gaming/rpg world.
Cool and reserved Soldier with a past that he really can’t remember. Starts the Tetsuya Nomura era of designs with spiky hair, belts, zippers, and weather related names. Speaks softly, and carries a big ass sword. – ASM
The ultimate flower girl/symbol of innocence/nice girl who just happens to also be the key to saving the world. Just watch out for falling swordsman. Wields rods and falls into the white mage healer archetype. – ASM
The well-endowed heroine that contrasts starkly against Aerith’s innocent image. Gets the short end of the stick when it comes to Cloud’s attention at times. – GG
The first black man in the FF series, who is unfortunately stereotyped as slightly “gansta thug” Has a gun for a right hand, which was a bit of a first for character archetypes for FF – ASM
Has there been another Final Fantasy since VII that had an animal as a party member? Does Kimari from X count? – GG
The huh character of VII, a remotely controlled cat and moogle plush, who fell slightly into the gambler archetype. – ASM
Airship pilot with an attitude, a lance, and a great name. Even so, it’s likely he got the least use out of everyone. – GG
One of the two secret hidden characters of VII, a ninja archetype, who also steals your materia and is kind of annoying. – ASM
The other hidden character, who was cool, reserved, and all around bad ass. – ASM
The best bad guy in any final fantasy game, perhaps? His story is developed along with Cloud’s almost as if they are two sides of the same coin. You end up rooting for him much of the time. – GG
Favorite Character – ASM – Cloud, his style influenced me right as I was getting on the internet, and my handle ever since has been Cloud.
Favorite Character – GG – Sephiroth. Ya, I liked him more than Cloud. Se-Phi-Roth! No, really. I’m fan enough to buy things like this.
Least Favorite Character – ASM – Yuffie. I simply hated that going through her story line would make you lose all your materia settings. By the time you get her she felt underpowered and not as interesting.
Least Favorite Character – GG – Cait Sith. Looked somewhat ridiculous and the random attacks couldn’t be counted on.
Character Grade by ASM – B
Character Grade by GG – B plus
The Battle System
Final Fantasy VII arrived with an ATB system where you can use standard attacks or use magic associated with equipped materia. Characters stand in the front or back row and will take and also give different damage depending on in which row they are standing. Characters with long range weapons can be just as effective in the back row.
GG: Loved the Materia system in FF VII. It was simple to understand but had a surprising amount of depth. Combining different materia produced different results and some of the combinations you could come up with were surprisingly powerful. Sure everyone had Cure-All, or elemental magic-All for most of the game and they worked great but what about a Final Attack (cast when you’re killed) – Revive combination? Ya, you raise yourself with your final attack. Nice! Grade: A
AMS: As GaiGun noted, the Materia system brought a new style of customization to the battle system that allowed for an incredible number of battle styles. For the truly invested you could come up with some great ways to overpower yourself and “break” the system. One major change as well was the addition of official Limit Breaks, that started a new FF trend, leading to some form of Limit Break being included in each following FF title. Grade: A
The Character Levelling System
VII still used the Basic system wherein each level gets you more HP and MP and you purchase new armour and weapons when you come across it. However, the biggest factor in leveling your characters are the materia you can equip to the various weapons and armour. This can increase, and sometimes decrease, certain stats making for infinite combinations with their pluses and minuses. The equipped materia also gained levels leading to stronger more powerful spells.
ASM: A new twist on the leveling system that gave you greater customization of your character’s basic parameters based on the equipment and the materia used. Thoughtful planning and major time investment could wield you some pretty powerful combinations that could let you overwhelm even the strongest boss. Grade: A
GG: I really liked this system. Not only was it easy to understand but it had a lot of depth as well. I never felt like I was in over my head and I was missing out on things due to a lack of understanding. It was really satisfying to level good materia while at the same time managing who had what so that not one set of materia leveled while a good chunk of it sat unused. And one of the things I remember being wowed at was that when I equipped a new weapon I could see my character holding it on the battlefield. Awesome. Grade: A
The Limit Breaks
Limit Breaks are powerful attacks, or other handy status boosts, that can be performed once the limit bar is full. The limit bar is slowly filled as enemies attack the character.
ASM: Definitely a new innovation to the already innovative ATB system, that would allow for some flashy moves, and turn the tide of battle. How about that Omnislash? Grade: A
GG: Having access to powerful attacks that you could unleash when the time was right added a new element to some of the major fights. Cloud’s limit breaks were all great but I can’t say the same for those of Cait Sith. Grade: B plus
Summons, powerful monsters you could call to aid you in battle, weren’t new to Final Fantasy VII but they definitely took the idea farther than ever before.
ASM: All the classics, and then some new comers, summons were jaw dropping at the time due to the new graphics, but the downside was that some summons were incredibly long. Knights of the Round, I’m talking about you. Heaven forbid you put on a 4X materia and mimiced it. You were in for a ten minute wait. Grade: B
GG:I love how these were a major part of the game by having them linked to a materia that you had to equip but part of me feels that they turn into a crutch for some players who may not feel the need to get the most out of the battle system. Still, mind-blowing at the time. Grade: B
Mini-Games, Sidequests, and Extras
GG: Not only did Final Fantasy VII have sidequests out and about in the world but they had a whole place where you could play different mini-games, the Gold Saucer!
Final Fantasy VII was loaded with extra stuff you could do but, really, just race and breed chocobos until you have a Gold one. Then the game is yours. Completing certain mini-games in VII really helped you in some of the tougher battles. It was easy to lose yourself in all the extras and forget that you had a mission to save the world to accomplish. Grade: A
ASM: The addition of mini-games, such as chocobo racing and breeding, along with the Gold Saucer was quite innovative at the time. Sidequests included the addition of the “Weapons” and other stories that would reward you with powerful materia. The balance overall was great, with some light games such as snowboarding, and some in-depth like the chocobo breeding, but nothing that went overboard to a point that it detracted from the experience. Grade: A
Most Memorable Moment
GG: Aerith!!! No!!!!!
ASM: Aerith is a given, so besides that the part where the Junon weapon blows the head off of the weapon was something that made me go wow.
Moment we’d most like to forget
ASM: I was never a fan of the Wutai storyline and Yuffie, so meh to that.
GG:When you say the wrong thing to Yuffie and she’ll never join your party, Wutai is vacant, and that means no Leviathan materia for you? Oh and the whole cross-dressing sequence.
ASM: I remember getting the Digicube release prior to the US release of the game and listening in anticipation. While there are a number of memorable pieces, such as One Winged Angel, JENOVA, and the other battle themes, to be honest, my first impression was that for the most part the sound quality itself was not as good as I had built myself to believe. This is in part due to Uematsu not being used to sound design on the PSX coming from the SNES, and this would improve in VIII and IX. Also, for main theme, which is in general the field theme, I felt it was slower and not as adventure inspiring as the themes that had come earlier. Regardless there are some tracks that I love even now, but VII’s soundtrack as a whole isn’t near the top of my list. Grade: B
GG: Some of Uematsu’s best work are found in the opening theme which is so well known that the first couple of notes conjure up waves of nostalgia. Aerith’s theme as well is fantastic. Along with those deep emotional pieces you have some great fun themes such as Gold Saucer and chocobo racing. Other highlights include One-Winged Angel.
It really came into its own in Advent Children.
But let’s let Smooth McGroove have a shot.
So epic. I do find though that some of the darker more moody tracks can get to me if I’m listening to them for too long. If I’m stuck somewhere and can’t figure out where to go. Grade: B plus
GG: Before we talk about the game itself I wanted to ask where you were when VII released. At that time my gaming consisted of full seasons of NHL ’96 with my roommate when we weren’t working our full time jobs. I saw a commercial for VII and thought, “what? An FF for PlayStation?!” The next day, between shifts, I went to the local big box store where they had just received their copies and picked it up. I slept so little the next several days. How about you?
ASM: I was in eleventh grade, I had it reserved and it was notable because the game reservation came with a cloud t-shirt. I think VII was one of the first games to come with a pre reserve bonus in the US. I remember going to the mall during lunch break and having to sneak around so I wouldn’t run into my dad, who managed a store in the mall. VII was notable as well for opening up RPGs to the North American market. A lot of people who never played RPGs bought it due to the marketing blitz.
GG: This is definitely true. I remember seeing the commercials and seeing it in the number one spot for quite a while. When you got into it what did you think at the time? I remember playing it for three or four days and finally leaving Midgar. The game told me to switch to disc 2 and I turned to my roommate and said, “holy ¥&/. I’ve been playing for 25 hours and I just finished disc 1. This game is huge!”
ASM: I remember seeing an ad for it in the movie theaters like a movie preview. I played it non stop. I had a paper route so I would finish around 5:30 or 6 am then play till I left for school around 7:30. I think the biggest thing to me was how more mature it felt. From the translation being more colorful to the storyline. Less censorship.
And while we aren’t talking graphics as in how they were good or bad, but in this case the jump from snes to psx was a definite big impression. Due to more realistic backgrounds the story came off more real so to say than pixel art.
GG: I was going to comment about it being more mature as well. Everyone remembers the cross-dressing part but just after that when the girls are being chased around the Honey Bee Inn was a moment where I discovered just how adult the game was. And there’s the homoerotic undertones of the interaction with Mukki the bodybuilder. It was a little shocking at the time and when you think about it Square hasn’t pushed that envelope as far as they did with VII for any of the games that came after.
ASM: Yeah albeit no FF has been more realistic in that way. VIII has a semi post industrial feel with Seed and trains and all that. But IX was fantasy, XII as well. In general they have avoided such daily life type of things. Just look at the gold saucer. Or Costa de sol. The date thread there they had. Or the villa you could buy. They pushed the envelope but backed off since. But I think it’s fair to say once you open that door… Games like Ryu ga gotoku or gta5. You can put so much in that you don’t know where to stop.
GG: You say realistic but if you wanted you could roll out a party of a dog, a cat riding a stuffed doll, and a dead guy. That said, you’re correct with what you said. Had they kept pushing FF would likely have become a different type of game and many people would have probably stopped playing them.
I also think little things like that helped endear us to the characters. Cloud’s backstory isn’t revealed in great detail in the game so it would have been difficult to like him without watching him go through these little adventures.
ASM: I mean in terms of world building. The talking dog and stuffed animal and cat. Well that’s the fantasy part right 😉
GG: Indeed. There are a couple more points I wanted to bring up. First time you used a summon materia, likely it was Shiva (?), what was your reaction?
ASM: Amazing. But by the time I got to knights I was like. Ok too long. Especially if you used the quad materia with mimic command? Have it go off. Make a sandwich come back in ten minutes and it’s still going.
Here’s one back at you. Mini games. VII was really the start. The Gold Saucer, tower defense, Coral wasn’t it? And of course, Chocobo breeding.
GG: Ya, VII was where the games within the games really took off offering a good distraction from the story when you needed a break. I spent a lot of time snowboarding.
Actually the side-quest bonus thingy that blew my mind was discovering that there were two extra playable characters, Vincent and Yuffie. During my first play through, when I found out I missed out on them I was beside myself. I had never encountered that before. Or since, if I think about it.
ASM: That’s true isn’t it. Not since has there been secret characters.
GG: So… Big question; Tifa or Aerith?
ASM: Aerith. never really used Tifa in my party setups.
GG: Likewise though you don’t get the choice about halfway through the game. 😉
ASM: Permadeath is a bitch, eh.
GG: Dude! spoilers!
But in all seriousness, my jaw dropped at that scene.
ASM: When you think about it permadeath wasn’t new to the series but for some reason it was really shocking in VII. Could be because Aerith was billed as a big main character. Tellah in IV, Gaf was it in V, and even Shadow in VI were supporting characters. They haven’t really used that trope since VII, I think.
GG: Good point. I think it had such an impact because you saw it happen in an in-game graphics cut scene. Likely you had spent some time with her leveling her up , watching her character develop, and then that happens. If they used it again it would never have the impact it did on VII. This leads me to one of things we have talked about quite a bit and has to do with VII. Crisis Core.
ASM: For being fairly forcefully wrenched in the timeline CC worked fairly well, albeit if you were to go from CC to VII to AC then the lack of caring for Zack in VII is blatant but then yeah since they obviously never thought they’d spin it off to hell and back.
GG: It doesn’t seem they planned to extend the VII universe so much but I think it speaks volumes to the world and characters they created that people just want more of it. Come on CC was awesome. It was bittersweet to see all those characters fighting for a normal life when you know what is going to happen to them.
ASM: No denying that at all. Much better than DC by far.
GG: I admit. I cried tears. In a manly way.
ASM: We all did man, we all did.
GG: When the remake was officially announced fans at the event and around the world were overjoyed. It seems VII holds a bigger place in fans hearts. Why do you think that is?
ASM: It’s the first main stream FF, the one that was marketed to the masses and was a hit to the non-RPG players. Plus there is a generational gap it seems where a lot of new younger gamers started with the psx, not the Nintendo or SNES.
GG: That’s my take on it as well but I think the inclusion of cut-scenes and such, which wasn’t something that could be done on the cartridge FF games, provided a more impactful emotional attachment. And Sephiroth.
ASM: Memorable villain eh? Much more the Edea or Kuja or Seymour that’s for sure. Overall the villains from the later games haven’t been as clear cut.
GG: It’s the Katana. That thing is badass. Se Phi Roth!
ASM: Still though I think it’s a valid point. You knew from the end of disc 1 that it’s all Sephiroth, as he goes down hill. He’s a Kefka-type villain that worked well. After VII though it’s more like… (saving discussion of later games for later posts)
ASM: Looking back at FFVII now nearly 20(!) years after its release, I have a bit more tempered opinion of the game. At the time in high school, with the advent of the PSX, I was easily wowed by the graphics, and the music, and the story. It was at the time an innovator, and honestly what brought RPGs into the mainstream in the US. It would set the base of what to expect from Final Fantasy going forward, and brought many new characters there were able to be fleshed out more thanks to the advances in gaming technology. With that said, VII is definitely a much better experience once you have gone through some of the extended world building that you saw with Crisis Core. The ending itself left something to be desired, but if you can look past the overboardness of the fan service of Advent Children, it in itself makes up for the ambigious ending of VII. Overall, VII has left a lasting legacy and impression for me, as well as the industry and fans.
ASM Final Grade: B plus
(ASM’s most recent VII swag picked up the last time we met up in Akihabara.)
GG: VII is what got me back into RPGs since my Playstation was pretty much reserved for EA Sports titles. It relit the fire that I forgot was still there after VI (III) and remains burning until this day. At the time it felt like this game had no real flaws but as more time passes and you look back with more perspective you can see some dings in the VII armour. Still, underneath it all, it’s a solid game that is as absorbing to play now as it was twenty years ago. The spiky-haired protagonist is one that stands out amongst others in the series and going back to spend time with him is something you don’t regret. Bring on that remake! (which I fear may tarnish some things…)
GG Final Grade: B plus/strong>
Combined Final Grade: