Boy, am I ever starting to feel old. It’s hard to believe that it has been sixteen years since Final Fantasy VII was released. What’s less hard to believe is that the game has been given a brand new release on Steam so many years later because, hey, Final Fantasy games stand the test of time perhaps greater than almost any other franchise out there. So, to celebrate the return of Final Fantasy VII on Steam, I’m going to review the game for those who haven’t played the game. Yes, there are still people in this day and age who haven’t played this massive game!
So what’s the gist of this game? You play as Cloud, a man with spiky blonde hair who states that he was once a member of SOLDIER, an elite fighting division of the Shinra Company. What’s Shinra? They’re pretty much one of the shadiest fictional corporations ever, and the player is quick to find out as Cloud aligns himself with Avalanche, a group of rebels who vow to take Shinra down using any necessary means. Cloud and Avalanche are quick to get in over their heads, and that is when the story really kicks off.
Without giving any spoilers, how is the story as a whole? Honestly, it’s a bit confusing when you only play through the game once. I was roughly thirteen or fourteen when I first played Final Fantasy VII, and there were a lot of plot points that I didn’t pick up on simply because the game only alludes to certain things that occur, relying on the player to put the pieces together themselves. If, after you’ve beaten the game and find yourself with any “but how/why/who did…” questions, hop online and find some decent FF7 forums. They’re full of devout fans who will gladly fill in the blanks for you.
In terms of characterization, Final Fantasy VII perhaps is right up there in terms of how good the dialogue is and how memorable the cast happens to be. The dialogue may be the best of the entire franchise, though it’s presented in a poor fashion at times, neglecting to make it clear to the player who is speaking at certain points in the game. The playable characters are almost in a league of their own. Several steal the show here such as Barret with his over the top personality that seems to have been inspired by Mr. T of all people. There’s also Aeris, who I believe to be the absolute queen of innocence in the RPG genre. There are also numerous NPCs who are very exciting and enjoyable. Just about every NPC who works for Shinra is incredibly two dimensional, making it feel like you’re really up against real people in the world of Final Fantasy VII.
The graphics of Final Fantasy VII are a bag of mixed nuts. While the pre-rendered backgrounds still look pretty decent despite being a tad bit grainy, the 3D in this game has aged terribly. Field models look blocky and almost like Lego characters while some enemy models in battle are difficult to identify. Final Fantasy VII was one of Square’s first forays in proper 3D, so it’s easy to forgive. It’s worth saying that nothing looks flat out “ugly” in this game even today, and that deserves applause.
Final Fantasy VII’s sound is a different story. While most of the sound effects are certainly very old school, they still sound quite charming and nice. The music can be very nice as well, though a bit of modding is required to get it to sound properly. This is because Square-Enix decided not to use the original Playstation midi music, but rather inferior midis that shipped with the 1998 release of the game. In order to get your music sounding like the proper Playstation soundtrack, you simply need to download a great music mod called Anxious Heart that will fix everything up for you in no time. Once that’s done? You’ll have one of the absolute best soundtracks ever to grace an RPG at your disposal.
Gameplay is quite good. It revolves around the traditional ATB battle system that has been present in Final Fantasy ever since the series had its debut on the Super Nintendo with Final Fantasy IV. Characters are highly customizable by using the materia system. Back in 1997, the materia system caused a huge splash for how open ended it allowed gameplay to be. So, how did materia work? Each piece of materia that you acquired would grant you an ability. Some would allow the wearer to cast magic spells (fire, cure, etc.) or summon Final Fantasy mainstays such as Bahamut or Ifrit, while others would give characters new battle commands such as enemy skill, sense, or steal. Beyond that, there were materia types could also boost stats and grant passive abilities like reduced encounter rates, the ability to lure chocobos, and more. The materia system was highly customizable but, once you got the hang of it, I found it to be very easy to abuse and exploit.
Final Fantasy VII also has minigames coming out the wazoo. The game has its own central minigame hub that you can freely access later in the game, and there are plenty in the story itself which are, fortunately, quite enjoyable. There are a few mandatory minigames which may induce groaning, but they are few and far between. Final Fantasy VII was one of the first RPGs that tried to give the player more to enjoy than just constant battling, and it did a great job of it as one of the first games to go down such a route.
Would I recommend Final Fantasy VII to anyone? Oh yes, I would actually recommend this game to just about anyone. This is the game that introduced a new generation to RPGs, and it was one of the hugest video game landmarks of all time for a very good reason. Final Fantasy VII had such a huge impact on the video game industry and has so much mass appeal that you’d be insane not to give the game a try.
+ Best overall characterization of any Final Fantasy title.
+ Robust battle system always made fighting feel enjoyable.
+ Wealth of things to do in a world brimming with optional content.
– 3D has, unfortunately, become rather dated.
– Materia system is easy to abuse once you get the hang of it.
– Not including the original Playstation quality soundtrack by default was rather daft.