Final Fantasy VII has a special place in my gaming history. While the game initially came out in 1997, my young self got into it a year or two later. I have clear memories of planning my trip to Toys “R” Us to buy this game with my hard earned money that I scrapped together from doing chores here and there. My parents didn’t just buy us consoles if we asked, so my brother and I had to hustle to get by. I was able to get my PS1 thanks to some sort of graduation event in my life where the extended family showered me with a few hundred dollars (if I remember correctly it was about 550$ at the time), the sudden influx of money meant it was time to buy a console.
I was the type of kid that had a massive collection of video game magazine, back when that was the main way to get information on what was going on in the industry. EGM, PSM (unofficial playstation magazine), and Next Generation were a monthly staple in my reading. I would read them cover to cover, including all the captions, no matter if I cared about a game or not. I just absorbed all the information and screenshots that I could, and I would imagine what the games looked like in motion and dream about when I’d get to play them.
Role playing games weren’t really my thing back then, so seeing the praise of the Final Fantasy series over and over in all my magazines started to influence me and I thought I should give it a try. I knew that a rental would be a bad option, so running up to the video store would be a waste of three dollars for one night of gaming. So a fifty dollar donation to Toys “R” US was the call I had to make. I remember where the game was in my store, that’s how much of an impact this all had on me (whether this is normal or not I’m not going to look to deeply into). It was in a middle isle, top row, just the slip and not the game. To get the game you had to first pay the cashier and then go around to the person in the cage to give them your slip and they’ll retrieve your game. I still have my copy and the memory cards with my saves, but it might be hard going back to that version at this point in my life.
On my initial playthrough when I first got the game, this is where I got stuck. I didn’t know about grinding out levels so when I got to this boss I was under-leveled. I stopped playing for a week or so until I realized that I can just run around outside of this boss encounter and fight monsters over and over until I was strong enough to take him down.
While I’m sure the majority of people out there know about FF VII and have perhaps played it. What I realized on this playthrough is that the story is a lot less complicated that what I remembered. I had memories of flashback sequences, slow dialogue, Shinra, and Sephiroth. In the end it all boiled down to a story of a small group of people trying to stop Sephiroth and Shinra from doing stupid shit to the planet. It was smaller that what I remembered and that feels like a good thing today. It could also be that I played the majority of the game at 3x speed, which was a great feature to have.
Character development is a little lacking, especially for those party members that weren’t from the Midgar portion of the game, but that’s okay. I never felt a real connection to characters like Vincent, Yuffie, and Cait Sith. The character design is still spot on and iconic.
The story doesn’t resonate with me as much as other games in the series, which is the biggest negative I have with this RPG. For example, I played FF VIII while in school and the setting in that game really hooked me and I was able to relate more to it. So if I play it now I’m reminded of that time in my life, and it all just clicks, add to that the card game and I’m golden. Playing it on the Switch in this updated version with the ability to 3x and power through fights, helped in getting a better sense of the story beats than how I played it in the past. I always wanted to level up and do all the side quests, so you’d go hours without story and then have to remember what the hell was happening. So this did help with my understanding and is a nice transition to playing the remake when it comes out in a few weeks.
The music in this game is on another level. Every single track is something that was instantly recognizable. It’s amazing how the sound of this game can make you remember playing even though I haven’t touched it in a decade, and originally played it a decade before that. With no dialogue for characters in cutscenes, all you’re treated with is a wonderful musical score and text boxes. It’s a fantastical leap in technology from the transition of 16 bit Super Nintendo cartridge based system to the 32 bit Playstation and it’s CD format.
The graphics in this game are pretty astounding also, for the time that is. While the updated, upscaled, pre-rendered backgrounds and cut-scenes all look really clean, they did a great job on that, they are slightly blurry but that’s to be expected. The rendering resolution of the FMVs must have been like 320 x 240 or something. I don’t think they did some big AI based up-scaling to really improve the backgrounds, but maybe I’m okay with that. If there was an option to swap between them that’d be nice, especially for the price they’re still charging for these games. The characters and interact-able objects in the levels, like materia and item chests, are all rendered at a much higher resolution. This makes spotting those little materia balls hidden in the environments a lot easier to spot.
It’s just so impressive to see a game that was developed in about two years, from the mid-90s , look this good. The amount of work that was done on the backgrounds is breathtaking. It’s impressive that they were able to go from 2D sprite work, to learning a 3D application and modeling and rendering all the backgrounds required for this game. How well does it hold up to FF VIII and FF IX, I’ll have to report back since I’m going to start up VIII next.
The animation in the FMV is a little hilarious to see, if you look closely you can tell how early in development the technology for animating characters was at the time. I’m not knocking the game at all mind you, I’m just looking at it as a person who loves computer animation and character modeling. The backgrounds and special effects were all pretty decent for the time, it was mostly the character models and the animation that really needed to be improved. I mean, just look at the difference from one of these scenes to the opening of FF VIII, it’s a generational leap in technology that’s fascinating to see. It just blows my mind that in 1997, you could load up this game and see stuff like this coming out of a console. Almost makes me want to load up Fear Effect and see how that holds up. 🙂
Playing this game on my Switch was the best decision I could have made. The ability to just pick it up while watching something and put it down whenever was a game changer. That and the ability to increase the speed of the game are so critical in enjoying these older, slower RPGs of yore. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to use the ability to heal and gain your limit breaks by pushing in a button, but I wound up using it more often that I thought. Certain times I’d be in a fight and just not want to use my heals, so I’d tap it to top everyone off easily, or if I was trying to level up my characters just leave it on. I’ve already beaten the game once or twice so I didn’t feel like I was missing out too much. Heck, back in the day I got the best chocobo, whatever that color is (black or gold?), and beat all of the ultimate weapons. So I put in my time on this title and feel no shame using the assists. The one downside, or upside perhaps, was the lack of achievements or trophies. That might have (probably would have) caused me to get all of them and spend way more time with the game, which isn’t what I want at the moment.
I ended up finishing the game in like 16 or 17 hours by the in-game clock. A great little RPG from the PS1 era, on a modern system, with nice quality-of-life improvements. Is it the greatest RPG of all time? No. Not at all. Is it a classic that everyone should play and experience? Definitely. It’s okay that it’s not the best ever, nothing is being taken away from what it is, it was a monumental achievement in the evolution of a genre and the technology around it. It has some of the most loved and iconic characters ever in video games, as well as a slap fight that I found utterly hilarious on this playthrough. I can’t wait to reevaluate the progression of the series by going through VIII (one of my favorites) and IX (the one I only played once on PS1).