Friday, November 5, 2010

PS1 look - Final Fantasy 7

Whoo boy where do I even begin with this one? Aside from being critically acclaimed, arguably one of the most important reasons behind the success of the Playstation, and the jump-starter for a Golden-age in regards to Japanese RPGs, Final Fantasy 7 is still a highly sought-after remake and it's still #1 in the Playstation 1 message-boards at gamefaqs. Huh? Hold on a second. What in the world are people still doing talking about this game? Are they running polls for who would win in a fight between Tifa Lockheart and Cynthia Rothrock? I could have sworn every piece of Cloud/Sephiroth fanart was drawn from epic battles to loving embraces to things that would make any sensible person give up on humanity.

Why exactly is that? The game is a relic and I'm saying that in the nicest way possible. Its storyline has become legendary for its usage of tropes we take for granted in every RPG, most of the characters are laughable and useless, its sitting on enough retcons and side-games that should have tarnished its legacy beyond recognition years ago, and everyone on the internet will be the first to tell you if they dislike it. The legend of how FF7 sucks is almost as big as the legend of FF7 itself.

The only way this piece is going to achieve any sense of normalcy is if I ignore all talk not related to the game itself and that's just what I'm going to do. Final Fantasy 7 is still a game and surprisingly despite everything it has held up rather well, since in the end it is an entry in the Final Fantasy series. These games are notable for the many different ways they can be played through. Back in Final Fantasy 1 there was beating the game with all white mages, using no espers in part six, and seven is no different with no materia runs, no item runs, runs where the player beats the game with Aeris (isn't she supposed to die?), and so on and so forth.

The story is something that I've kind of grown to appreciate. Sure it revolves around tired standards such as amnesiac heroes and ancient civilizations but I can't really fault it because after all this was before that sort of nonsense became really commonplace. I think the main thing to take away from the story of this game is that it never really takes itself too seriously. One of the villains has some hatred for Tifa that is never really explained and at one point she attempts to have her publicly executed. This feud is settled with an epic bout where the two of them reach the point of showdown and proceed to slap each other silly. It's ridiculous sure but I find it to be charming and coupled with the exaggerated animations and little touches like Cloud being able to do stunts while parachuting into Midgar and it's all pretty amusing.

Even when the actual plot and story doesn't hold up I find that the themes it explores are nicely done and despite lacking in subtlety the point comes across well. The ending for example is really interesting as it depicts a rather interesting scenario. If the planet is capable of being saved should humanity be saved as well? They may have been the driving force behind nearly destroying the planet and even the protagonists carry their fair share of flaws but maybe they're deserving of a second chance. I'm not very good at explaining these sorts of thoughts but the way I saw it Aeris' death was less the death of a person and more the death of innocence itself. It sounds cheesy and all but if all hopes of the future rest on the innocent, who spends their lives seeking peace and fall at first sight of the wicked, then how are they able to save the world? It's obviously not the kind of issue that can be solved by some ultimate white magic. Cloud was able to resume the fight because of the memories he shares with others but more importantly it's the hope he shares with everyone including Aeris'. This hope takes the form of the White Materia Holy, the counter to the Black Materia Meteor, and humanity's place in the middle is up to the decision of a higher power (which in the case of FF7 at least would be the planet). But that's just the way I see it, and I'd go further but I'm sure everyone got tired of reading stuff like this over a decade ago.

The game itself is as I said a relic. It represents a time that even Square-enix let alone any other RPG-developer will never revisit. Each location aside from the world-map is designed using pre-rendered art. Sometimes it can look good and even striking but in the context of the game it doesn't really work. There are a lot of locations where it takes a long time for the character to move from one end to the other. This can lead to quite a few boring dungeons as they'll consist of over-long straight lines just to run from one end to the other. Due to all of the pre-rendered assets there are also times where it isn't exactly where the player is supposed to go. Square rectifies this by making most treasures easily visible and offers a toggle setting that slaps red and green indicators on the screen which dictate exits and objects that can be interacted with. Still nothing can really be done about the long walks it takes to reach certain places.

The battle-system is nothing entirely new to Final Fantasy fans but the materia system is very clever. It offers a ton of customization and for those willing to put in the time it can lead to making characters practically invincible or even so incompetent that the game becomes more difficult to beat. It's a very good system as it can even be completely optional for the extra-challenge. Sure this limits the identities of the party-members down to their base-stats and limit-breaks but I can see why it was done. Giving everyone unique abilities would most likely lead to Final Fantasy 6 all over again which means nearly double the number of playable characters. As far as this play-through is concerned though all I really focused on was limit-breaks and enemy-skills and I didn't see a party member die until towards the end (thanks to an instant-death attack). Yeah part seven is definitely one of the easier games in the series but that just leads to more possibilities for a greater challenge.

As far as pacing is concerned the game really didn't pick up for me until the materia started pouring in. That says more about me than anything as I've said it many times before I like numbers and bars. Numbers that get higher and bars that fill up are the strangest addiction to me so quite a bit of the early game wasn't really interesting. Since the very end of the game consists of nothing but top-level materia that are relatively easy to level thanks to a handful of monsters I could very well still be playing it right now but eh I have other things to do. The one section that really threatens the pacing involves a bunch of fetch-quests throughout disc 2. These tend to involve mini-games and I tend to hate them in RPGs. In fact I'd say part seven would definitely have been a better game if there weren't so many forced mini-games. Actually I'd probably do away with chocobo raising/racing if I was given the chance. I've still never forgiven the yellow-feathered bastards for the years they took off of my life in the Final Fantasy 10 mini-game.

Still aside from some glitch that causes the game to crash every time I access Barret's armor menu I've enjoyed this recent playthough of Final Fantasy 7. It's still a pretty class title even if time has numbed its presentation quite a lot. The customization and multiple ways of playing through the game represent the highs, while the dungeon design and pacing represent the lows. I'll also never understand Sephiroth's appeal but whatever.

Game Rating - 3.5 out of 5

It's a good-to-great entry in the series, what more do I really have to say? Yeah there are a few issues that need worked out but considering the time and everything that's been said I expected something much worse when I decided to revisit Final Fantasy 7 after a decade or so.

My Rating - 3.5 out of 5

Again it was a pretty decent ride and I've managed to gain a bit of an appreciation for this game that I didn't have in the past. I'll refrain from comparing it to other Final Fantasy games because for one that's just not my preferred method of discussion and for two it's been so long since I've played through most of these games I can't possibly consider my opinion on any of them to be valid.

So whatever the case if you have a Playstation 3, ten dollars to burn, about thirty to forty hours, and a memory of FF7 almost as bad as Cloud's, you may want to give a revisit some consideration. I guess any other Playstation would work just as well but I wouldn't pay whatever ebay sellers are expecting for this game.

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