I recently reviewed Final Fantasy VIII, a game that is quite literally the marmite of the series. So, I figured it was only fair to review the one that so many people consider the “best game ever made”; Final Fantasy VII.
Now, obviously this is a very adored and much loved game by a huge portion of the gaming world… So, I’m more than a little nervous about writing this review. But in the end, I’m going to sit here and be completely honest about the game. So, my rotten vegetable shield is in hand – let’s get on with it!
One of the very first things you notice about Final Fantasy VII’s story is that it won’t be the usual hero’s journey that you’re used to in RPGs. You start off as a mercenary working for a group of eco-terrorists. I mean, that’s a huge difference from the typical farm boy whose home is destroyed. On top of that, the first “quest” of the game involves you bombing a power plant reactor, causing huge damage and massive disruption to everyone in that district of the city.
In other words, you’re effectively the “bad guys” in the eyes of the city’s citizens. That is a crazy way to start an RPG! And things only end up getting crazier as the story progresses.
The characters, for the most part, are amazing. From the mercenary with some serious identity trouble to the last remaining member of an ancient race, you’ve got one heck of an eclectic mix of people. And I think that’s probably why so many people love these characters and end up cosplaying them so often.
On top of this, you have one of the most memorable antagonists in video game history – although not the most maniacal as some claim (that honour goes to Kefka from Final Fantasy VI). Sephiroth, however, was certainly an endearing villain that struck fear into my young little mind. From his seemingly insane ramblings that end up making a lot of sense, to the strong religious connotations, everything about him will stick with you for years to come.
However, there are some things that have definitely been exaggerated about the game over the years. For example, many people talk about how shocking the character death was, stating that it was the first time a major character had been killed part way through a game. This simply isn’t true, however… In fact, it had even happened a number of times in the Final Fantasy series as well!
It is also a common thing to hear that Sephiroth was the strong and most powerful villain in the Final Fantasy series. However, as mentioned before, he was beaten to this honour by Kefka from the previous game. For example, Sephiroth wants to destroy the world… Kefka actually does it, halfway through Final Fantasy VI!
So yes, the storyline is utterly epic. However, it isn’t the absolute best ever. Of course, the “best” storyline is very subjective, but games like The Last of Us have far more emotional moments, and games like FF6 and FarCry have more memorable villains… And then, when it comes to plot twists, games like Silent Hill 2 excel far better than FF7.
Again, it is a truly wonderful storyline, but it isn’t the best ever made.
One of the biggest selling points for Final Fantasy VII when it first came out was that it was the first Final Fantasy game to use 3D models. The pre-rendered background meant that everything felt so much more realistic and immersive that anything else you had experienced from the RPG genre at the time.
Then, the battles started and you were treated to a huge jump in the quality. To this day I am still impressed with how good the graphics look in the battle scenes. The animations are smooth, especially the magic and Limit Break attacks. The summons are amazing, especially the likes of Bahamut and Shiva, and of course Knights of the Round.
The FMV cutscenes are all done really well, and whilst they do jog your immersion a bit due to the sudden change in graphics, that’s just something that happens on the original PSX. All in all, everything just came together brilliantly.
However, the graphics are definitely a product of their time. They were outstanding when the game was released, but once again, even the Final Fantasy series itself would quickly outshine FF7. Released just 13 months later, Final Fantasy VIII looks infinitely better than FFVII.
But again, it is important to remember that Final Fantasy VII was the first time Squaresoft (now Square Enix) had made a 3D Final Fantasy game. So with that in mind, I have to give them a huge pat on the back for a very successful job!
Okay then, here is where things are likely to get a bit touchy for many people reading this. You see, the gameplay is one of the most sacred aspects to Final Fantasy VII fans.
We’ll start with what I consider the most important aspect of a role playing game, simply because it is something you’ll experience countless times; the battle system. By the time Final Fantasy VII came out, Squaresoft had been constantly refining the ATB (active time battle) system. So, when you play FF7 and get into a battle, the turn-based aspect of the battle system felt quick and tactical. You had to play things out with far more care than on a standard turn-based system.
The menus in battle were easy to navigate, with each action being categorised brilliantly. Everything was easy to find, even if there were huge amount of magic that you might have to scroll through. This meant that you could get your head around a strategy easily, and really focus on how to win each battle.
When it comes to exploration, the game felt huge at the time. Each section of a town, city or dungeon felt connected to the world as a whole. Nothing seemed out of place.
Each “map”, or “level” that you went through had multiple paths to go down and search, whilst each city and town was full out houses, shops and alleys that you could explore. On top of that, there were sections of the world map that you needed to find or work out how to get to. A great example of this would be Lucrecia’s Cave, which you needed to maneuver a submarine through a hidden underwater tunnel to get to.
Customisation of the characters was incredibly deep with the materia system, allowing you to completely change the base role each character played in battle. For example, if you want to change Cloud Strife from a full “warrior” type character to more of a cleric, you can equip healing and support based materia to him.
Finally, one of the best aspects of the game was the mini-games that were included. You see, in a game that can range from 12 – over 100 hours depending on whether you want to find and do everything, you can get bored with the gameplay. So, by having your experience changed up every now and then with mini-games, you get to play a different kind of game whilst recharging yourself.
Final Fantasy VII included a whole host of different mini-games, from a battle on a moving motorcycle to snowboarding and even an entire arcade! Final Fantasy VII’s gameplay is, to this day, one the game’s strongest points. In fact, I have to agree with many people; FFVII has some of the best gameplay ever made. However, again, it isn’t the absolute best.
Well, okay, that’s not 100% true. In terms of mini-games it is probably the best game I’ve seen. From the arcade to the incredibly intricate chocobo breeding, it wins on mini-games. However, I would say that there are other RPGs with more engaging battle systems, like the Push Battle System from Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call (aka Nocture), or the CTB battle system from Final Fantasy X. On top of that, customisation of characters is far better in Final Fantasy Tactics, amongst other games. And whilst we’re talking about other Final Fantasy games, I feel that the exploration in Final Fantasy XII far outshines FF7.
And yes, these games all came later… But I think it is fair to compare Final Fantasy VII to them when so many people consider FF7 to be the best game ever made.
And That’s All Folks
Final Fantasy VII is certainly an amazing game. The graphics, for the time, were incredible. The mini-games are, to this day, outstanding and truly awesome. Being able to customise your characters to suit your own play style using the very intricate materia system whilst also having to explore and find areas of the world that you can’t just get to normal, all make for a wonderful game.
However, when you take each aspect of the game individually, there are many other games that outperform Final Fantasy VII. For example, The Last of Us has a stronger story, Kefka was a more memorable villain and Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call has a more engaging battle system.
Of course, that’s when you’re taking each aspect out of context. Whilst these games does one specific thing better than Final Fantasy VII, even I (who prefers FF Tactics and FF8 personally) have to admit that I’ve yet to find a game that does it all better than FF7. When you take these aspects as a whole, rather than individually, Final Fantasy VII really shines.
I reserve judgement as to whether it is the single best game ever made, but it certainly is one of them!