My retrospective about Final Fantasy VII and why it had such a great impact on me when I was growing up. Buckle up and get ready for this trip down memory lane!
A Final Fantasy VII Retrospective!
Final Fantasy VII was released in North America during September of 1997. I was a fifth grader in elementary school at the time, most likely busy with my school work while anticipating Christmas. I had not owned a PlayStation until October of that year because I was mostly a Nintendo/Sega person at the time. I owned a Nintendo 64 and assumed that was all I needed. I thought “PlayStation” sounded like some sort of child’s diaper-changing station. I wasn’t reading any gaming news other than Nintendo sources, so I had no idea about Sony’s new game console.
How did I end up buying a PlayStation? I was (and still am) a huge fan of the Mega Man series. When Mega Man X4 was released on the PlayStation in October of 1997, I knew I had to do whatever means necessary to play it. I had never even heard of Final Fantasy.
I can’t remember the exact date, but it must have been December or late November when one of my good friends at the time had picked up Final Fantasy VII for his PlayStation. This particular friend’s parents were divorced, so he seemed to always have every game and system that was available. I was always envious of his luxurious gaming life!
Let’s Get Final
One day, this friend told me about this amazing new game, Final Fantasy VII. Well, I wasn’t going to ignore a game suggestion, so if I remember correctly, I rented Final Fantasy VII from Blockbuster. First of all, it was the only game I had seen that had 3 discs! “THREE discs! That must be one epic game!” I thought.
Well, I turned on my PlayStation and selected “New Game” from the menu. I was treated to an amazing computer generated opening cutscene. It focused on a girl staring at stars until it zoomed out to showcase an entire city, psyching the player up for what lies ahead.
My early relationship with Final Fantasy VII quickly dissolved as the game started and I encountered a random battle, typical in RPGs. Well, I had never played a traditional turn-based Japanese RPG before. I was very confused as I was taken into a battle facing two enemies versus my character. How could I attack?! There was a menu at the bottom of the screen. It had the options Attack, Magic, and Item. “Uh Oh,” I thought. This was outside of my gaming comfort zone. Fighting through a system of menus couldn’t possibly be fun.
Games from series such as Mario, Mega Man, and Zelda all had characters that you controlled directly when fighting other enemies. Most of my gaming experiences were formed around action or platform games. Final Fantasy VII was my first RPG. Assuming I would never get further in the game, I turned my PlayStation off and later returned the game to Blockbuster.
Make Up Your Mind
I had previously mentioned to my Dad that Final Fantasy VII must be a great game since my friend loved it. Well, I didn’t realize it, but after telling my Dad that, he had gone to the store and already secretly purchased it for my Christmas present. After playing Final Fantasy VII for the first time by myself from Blockbuster, I was disappointed and told my Dad that Final Fantasy VII was a terrible game. He secretly returned my Christmas present without me realizing it.
I think it wasn’t until I went over to my friend’s house or he came to mine that I actually got to see what was after the beginning area of Final Fantasy VII. After he played the game and showed me how the fighting system worked, I experienced more of the story and became drawn into this deep and engaging world. After that happened, I made a comment to my Dad that Final Fantasy VII was an amazing game. Well, he had had enough of going behind the scenes trying to buy me Christmas presents, so he confessed that he had already bought the game once and returned it based on my comments. He ended up having to buy Final Fantasy VII twice. Sorry about that, Dad.
Final Fantasy VII was such a revolutionary game for me in many ways. It was the first game I played that used computer generated cutscenes. This absolutely blew me away. Of course, this is nothing special now, but at the time, this was a new element to video games, especially those coming from Nintendo consoles.
The characters were 3D models (which were ugly, even in 1997) placed on pre-rendered backgrounds. There is something magical about playing games that use them. It’s as if every scene was masterfully created by an artist for the sole purpose of the player to walk through and study all the intricate details.
Back Then and Now
Starting with the PlayStation 2, Final Fantasy games would be completely in 3D with nothing pre-rendered other than the cut scenes. This doesn’t make a Final Fantasy game bad, but I felt the wonderful details in scenery were lost in that transition. That’s why I always fondly study the scenes in Final Fantasy VII when I play. Am I the only one that feels this way?
Of course, good graphics don’t make a fun game. Final Fantasy VII had amazing graphics at the time, but they are very outdated now. Despite that, the deep story, fun battle system, and unique characters all came together to form an amazing experience.
I know there are some people that do not like Final Fantasy VII and that’s okay. Some people complain about the mistakes in translation, the break away from traditional fantasy setting, or how over hyped the game can seem by fans. Final Fantasy VII was my first Final Fantasy game and remains my absolute favorite of the series.
The plot of Final Fantasy VII is long and complicated, so I am just going to throw a few points out there. The full plot of Final Fantasy VII can be found online for those that are interested.
In the beginning of Final Fantasy VII, the main character Cloud has just joined a rebel group that is trying to destroy reactors that are harming/destroying the planet. When I first started, I thought the game was going to be about going to each reactor and doing the same thing over and over again. Well, something happens that completely changes the direction of the scenario you thought was going to happen. Rather than Shinra, the organization that is the main enemy in the beginning, a new enemy known as Sephiroth emerges.
To me, Sephiroth is one of the greatest villains in video game history. He’s seen as someone to be admired and respected in the beginning. However, as more of the story is revealed, the player witnesses Sephiroth turn into a very powerful enemy. The game constantly reminds you of his power and how weak you are in comparison. Sure, I had played games with bosses before, but I think Sephiroth was the first villain to make me somewhat nervous/afraid due to his theme music.
Speaking of music, Final Fantasy VII has some of the best video game music around. The music ranges from bright, cheery themes to dark, mysterious cave-like atmospheres. I have a few albums in my music library which I play sometimes through my house. The great thing about the music from this game is it sounds amazing on the Playstation audio chip. Back in the day, game audio composers could only work with the simple hardware inside game consoles. The music may sound odd to a non-gamer, but when those musical notes are applied to an orchestra or rock band, people finally understand the charm of video game music. The game was composed by Nobuo Uematsu who did most of the music for the Final Fantasy series until Final Fantasy XI.
A Shocking Death
Later in the game, there is a main character that dies. This was so shocking for my friend and I, as well as many people all over the world. How could they have killed off that character? I don’t believe I had ever seen the death of a character handled in such a dramatic way like Final Fantasy VII. The Mario, Zelda, and Megaman series are fast games where if you die, you can start over. There was no such thing as a supporting character dying, or at least one you really cared about. The closest to a character dying I can think of that was somewhat tragic was the death of “Zero” from Mega Man X1 on the SNES. However, that death was nothing compared to the character death in Final Fantasy VII. There was no blood or anything, but there was music and the characters in the game reacted to the death. A person that had been with you early on in the game would no longer talk with you. You’d never get to interact with that character again. This wasn’t near the end of the game, but only the end of the first disc. The game was not even close to being completed and I already felt like I lost someone special. For my experience with video games, this was a truly unique moment.
Another thing that makes Final Fantasy VII so special is the expansiveness of the world itself. Once your team of characters escapes the starting city known as Midgar, you realize how much of an adventure lies ahead. There are so many towns to visit with different characters and personalities. When I entered or left towns, I would wonder what all the people would do when I was not there. It’s so fun to think about! Have you ever read a book and wondered what the characters did after the ending or when you weren’t reading to progress the story?
Characters and Battles
It’s funny how I’ve changed since I first played Final Fantasy VII. When I was young, I mostly played with the characters that I considered the “main” ones. They were the characters that joined you early in the game such as Tifa, Barret, and Aeris. I rarely wanted to play with the characters that join the party much later in the game. Now that I’ve played it again much later, I find myself enjoying the abilities of the different characters I didn’t use much before.
When in battle, besides using weapons, characters could use magic through the use of “materia” which could be equipped to characters to give them various abilities. This was such a unique concept for me. Most of the games I had played before Final Fantasy VII usually had set upgrades or weapons. I had never encountered something like the materia system. If one was clever, he/she could link materia together to really perform some excellent magic/tricks in battle. Looking back, I don’t think I was very good at using materia effectively.
Now I find myself looking up different materia combinations in order to get a jump-start on the enemy. Now that I think of it, I wasn’t very concerned with weapon or materia stats when I was younger. I just cared about the weapon that dealt the most damage, which was a major mistake. Going back now, I carefully inspect every new available weapon and weigh the pros and cons of other stats and not just strength. Hey, at least I learned, right?
Getting near the end of the game, your characters have to go down into a crater at the northern continent to face off against Sephiroth. Once your characters make it to the bottom of the crater and fight a boss, they are taken even deeper inside the crater where Sephiroth awaited to prevent you from stopping his plans.
Could a final boss be any more epic? The fight with Sepiroth starts and you’re anxious to beat him as fast as possible. My jaw dropped after I beat Sephiroth in the first battle. After defeating Sephiroth for the first time, he comes back in a SECOND form! This time he’s even more powerful and has a crazy summon spell that has to be seen to be believed. After beating Sephiroth’s second form, it’s assumed that he’s finally gone. Cloud and the others start heading back up the crater but there is actually one more battle with Sephiroth, but this time it’s only the main character fighting.
Once that’s over, the player is treated to a 13 minute cutscene which acts as the ending. While watching the cool computer generated graphics was dazzling back then, the graphics have aged poorly. The ending itself doesn’t show what happens after the final battle, but rather what the distant future looks like without the main characters. It’s disappointing considering what a long journey it was to get through the game and not receive any closure.
Final Fantasy VII was a breath-taking game, and one that left its mark on my childhood. To younger gamers today, it may appear ugly and uninteresting, but it will always have a special place in my gamer heart. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t have time to spend hours playing through an RPG, but if a Final Fantasy VII remake ever happens, I just might have to make an exception.
Edit: Well, it looks like a remake of Final Fantasy VII has been announced for the PS4 and PC. I guess I’ll have to get a PS4 and make time to play RPGs again!
Thank you for traveling down memory lane with me. If you have any memories of your own with Final Fantasy VII, please share them in the comments because I’d love to hear about them!