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Final Fantasy VII Review

by Lassarina Aoibhell

I have noticed that fans of Final Fantasy games can be divided into two classes: Old-school, and post-Playstation. The category "old school" covers six Final Fantasy games (ten if you count Mystic Quest and the Game Boy games, which weren't actually FF games.) The category of "post-Playstation" refers to anyone who started the series at Final Fantasy VII or later. I've also noticed that the people who love or hate FF7 can also be divided along these lines--post-Playstation FF fans are far more likely to enjoy FF7, or so it seems to me. Being an old-school FF girl, I really can't say the same.

Final Fantasy VII was Square's first attempt at a Final Fantasy for the Playstation. As an RPG, as a game, I suppose one could classify it as average. But given that Final Fantasy has a history of truly extraordinary games, "average" is hardly a compliment. I suppose if you came to FF7 with no previous experience of Square's genius, the game would be good. But if, like me, you came to it with preferences shaped and defined by the brilliance of Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy IV, it's only a few short steps up from utter crap.

I suppose I'm not much for innovation in RPGs. I like fantasy themes, specialised characters, great music, and interesting variations on the standard plot. It's kind of like my preference for fantasy over sci-fi. I like the old standards presented in new ways. Final Fantasy VII is the first FF game to exist in a world that my friend refers to as "steampunk post-ap." It's a fairly accurate categorization, and if that's your thing, more power to you. Personally, I'm not a fan. But I could live with the steampunk atmosphere if the other aspects of the game were good enough to outweigh it.

They aren't.

As a writer, I'm obsessed with characters and plot in RPGs. The characters in Final Fantasy VII did nothing to reach out and grab me and demand my attention. With the exception of the "villain" Sephiroth and the optional character Vincent Valentine, the characters had about as much depth as your average cardboard cutout--and in most cases, approximately the same amount of brainpower. Each character has a notable trait--Barret and Cid are temperamental and swear like crazy, Aeris is (supposedly) sweet, Vincent is dark and brooding. But most of them don't have any more dimension than that. I like my characters rounded and three-dimensional. FF7 does not deliver. In a cast consisting of only 9 playable characters, only four are given a decent backstory--whereas Final Fantasy VI, for example, had 14 playable characters of which 12 were given excellent backstories. It's a sad day when the optional character has the most depth.

The plot, like the characterisation, is lackluster at best. I suppose if one is being fair, you have the usual RPG storyline: the world is in danger of destruction, beat the bad guy! However, there's only one character (not even the main character) who starts out with a reason to pursue the plot. Cloud's just along for the cash he gets paid. Most characters' reasons for joining the party are flimsy at best. There's no clear sense of unity toward a common goal as one finds often in such games. There's no effort to create any kind of real plot twist. Colour me distinctly unimpressed.

But even the fact that I dislike the atmosphere of the game, hate the characters, and think the plot is the epitome of lame might not be enough to make me loathe the game outright. Good music and gameplay will go a long way toward making me grit my teeth and endure mindless drivel. Sadly, FF7 has neither of these things, either.

First let me say that in my honest opinion, Nobuo Uematsu is a god. I love his work and I own the OST's to most of the FF games. When I started playing FF7, I figured even if I hated everything else, the music had to be good, right? Wrong. There are only two tracks that are truly pleasing to me--Aeris's theme, and "Anxious Hearts." The rest of the music is "blah" at best and terrible at worst. I hated it. In fact, this game drove me to an extreme only one other game ever has--I muted the volume and started playing soundtracks from other games on my stereo. I suppose that, technically speaking, the music is fine. It rubs me completely the wrong way. The sound effects were reasonably good, but the music was quite displeasing to me.

Gameplay assists poor characterisation in turning each party member into a lifeless cardboard cutout. Some characters have higher magic stats than others, and some have better physical stats. Each character has a unique Limit Break that he/she can use when he/she has taken enough damage. Other than that, every character is exactly the same. Skills, spells, and basically any battle action other than "Attack" or "Item" are learned from Materia orbs. Materia levels up by gaining AP, and you acquire new skills or spells as it does. Anyone can equip Materia, and what you can equip is limited only by the number of "slots" in your weapon or armour. It's helpful because you can pick and choose the spells and skills your character will use. On the other hand, it's annoying as all heck because when you switch characters out of your party, you have to remember to switch your Materia around as well. I ran into a distinct problem of forgetting who had what, and not being able to find my Cure/Fire/Ultima spells when I needed them.

Levelling Materia up is one of the most annoying aspects of the game. You have to find enemies who give high amounts of AP--and these are rare--and then you have to wander around fighting them to learn new spells and acquire the best skills. Of course, you don't need the best spells and skills. FF7 has absolutely no element of challenge. Only the optional bosses are remotely difficult, and even they can be managed if you happen to have raised the most powerful Summon Materia to high levels. There's no need for battle tactics or status spells, unlike other games. The Attack command and some healing spells will see you through nicely. For this reason, I despise this game. I want to be challenged, dammit!

Speaking of challenge, looking at this game, I think that the graphic designers must have been anatomically challenged. The characters have huge blocky shoulders and upper arms, toothpick-sized forearms, and gigantic boxing gloves for hands. They look like someone stuck together the right polygons for the graphics in all the wrong proportions, and forgot to smooth out the resultant mess. Everything has a slightly harsh shape, that isn't helped out much by fuzzy edges. In terms of detail and movement, it's a vast improvement on the SNES FF's, but in terms of sheer quality, the older games win. The game looks half-finished. Now, I recognize that the Playstation can only handle so much, but compare the FF7 graphics to, say, Final Fantasy IX and you'll see how rough the images are. I'm not much for graphics--as long as I can tell what's going on, I don't really care how pretty they are--but the graphics in FF7 are just not that special.

All in all, I honestly feel that FF7 had potential. There were many things in this game that, if done right and properly balanced, could have vastly, vastly improved it. However, the game has an almost half-assed feel to it. The plot is skimpy, the characterisation is flat, the music is bad, the gameplay is lame, and the graphics are rough at best. It could have been much better, and it ended up being terrible. Then again, maybe that's just the old-schooler in me talking. You know, the one who likes good games.

Characters 4
Plot 3
Music 5
Graphics 5
Gameplay 6

Overall: 4.6

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