Is it just nostalgia: Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII, the game that is the start, middle and end of the JRPG genre for some people and whenever the genre is mentioned this one will ultimately rear its head, so this week I’ll be looking at this title, has it held up or is it just down to nostalgia?
Final Fantasy VII: often touted as the god of all JRPGs and for a lot of people it was actually the first one they played as most JRPGs actually missed earlier consoles, Final Fantasy VII was the title that brought the attention to the genre in a big way, at least in the UK. In America, classic titles such as Final Fantasy IV, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, The Dragon Warrior series and most importantly Super Mario RPG had already gained a decent amount of coverage but for those in the UK, Final Fantasy VII was most likely the first.
It brought stunning (for the time) visuals, the world bigger than most were used to and a first for some a death of a major party member. (Spoiler Warning. This was no way shape or form of the first console game to do this no matter what die hard fans will allow you to believe) for those new to gaming, it was a big deal. The game also boasted a huge amount of sidequests boosting the game’s game time a significant amount. For clarification, this analysis is based on the PS1 Disc version of the game running on the PS3, therefore load times will be improved over the load times than if I were running it on the PS1 or PS2.
Gameplay wise the game is standard for the Final Fantasy series, explore a large world with various dungeons, fighting monsters and staggering around an overworld. And it does most of this as per what you would expect. My first issue with the game and an issue with a lot of the genre is that most battles are INCREDIBLY slow paced. Not only do we have the turn-based system in which you have your turn then the enemy have their turn but you also have the Final Fantasy ‘Active Time Battle’ system, an annoying system in which each character must wait their turn before acting (Personally I turned this off and went with the traditional JRPG turn-based one) not only this but with the PS1 being a disc based console we have to load in each battle. This makes each and every battle in the game extremely long winded, even if you are going to just mash X throughout, compare this to Earthbound, Breath of Fire IV or Suikoden which makes a good amount of Final Fantasy VII is a chore, from early on in the game you will be immensely overpowered which means you simply have to hammer X to get through the battles as quickly as possible.
Bosses are the exception and will take a good few minutes of attacking, thankfully with the Limit Breaks each character gets to unleash their special attacks which make things even easier, then there’s the Materia system, allowing characters to learn special skills or attacks and improve their performance in battle. Thanks to a lot of these features there isn’t much challenge in the game outside of the ultimate optional bosses.
The world of Final Fantasy VII is an interesting one, with the first quarter taking place inside Midgar, a technology advanced city which the rich and powerful reign over the poor who live in squalor, a lot of interesting things come from this area of the game and is the focal point of much of the characters motives and goals, you’ll return to it multiple times on your quest as to be expected from it’s set up. On the other hand its pretty much the only memorable area of the game. I have vague recollections of the Golden Saucer and the town with the Artillery in the middle but Midgar easily overlooks them in terms of scope. Sadly most, if not all areas outside of the towns fall into this trap too with multiple forgettable dungeons and mountains for the heroes to encounter.
Speaking of Heroes, Final Fantasy VII actually boasts some of the more memorable cast in the entire franchise, although this is likely due to the amount of exposure it gets but it’s definitely worth pointing some of them out, Tifa, Barret, Red, Cait Sith and Cid are all exceptional characters who liven up some of the darker moments in the franchise and add a unique charm, while in most JRPGs the heroes are often relegated to a plucky group of teens interfering where they shouldn’t (pesky kids) and by having a diverse cast meant I actually cared for the characters on a whole a bit more. Of course, there are two optional characters: Yuffie the Ninja and Vincent the Vampire, however, they were simply small additions to the time and didn’t add much to the overall game.
The issues with the cast for me was both Aeries (Or Aerith depending on the version you’re playing) and Cloud and Sephiroth. Aeries issue was ultimately due to the world of spoilers ruining her forever as (MAJOR SPOILERS EVERYONE IN THE WORLD KNOWS) she ultimately dies in the latter stages of the game, and knowing this and the flexibility of the party system meant as soon as I was able to I bumped her out of the team and never used her again, and thus never really cared about her. It was quite a disappointment that the overall major part of the character was ultimately, ‘they died’
Cloud, on the other hand, was a chore to like from the start, moody and had the personality of an inanimate carbon rod – he was simply too dull to care about, and being the main protagonist the game constantly attempts to make you care about him. When the ultimate reveal happens you either care too little or have guessed it prior, most of his memories are unlocked as the game progresses giving you a nice look into his world if you care.
The final piece to the game is the villains, while I felt Shinra and Jenova were well-designed characters overall, with clear goals and motive, although Jenova’s was slightly complicated. Sephiroth, on the other hand, seemed a little unsure. Most of his identity was simply a whiny man-child with a god complex and while he manages to kill off Aeries he never really felt threatening, compare him to other final bosses from other games such as Final Fantasy VI’s Kefka, Suikoden 2’s Luca Blight or Ganon in the Zelda franchise and Sephiroth simply doesn’t compete.
Graphically the Final Fantasy games pride themselves on being over the top CGI experiences, unfortunately, the years have not been kind at all to VII with most of the world being a mess, the characters looking ugly and the CGI looking like one of those cheap bootleg versions of Frozen or Tangled you see in ASDA. It now just looks like a mess, a playable mess and unlike Sprites or Cel shading, the game looks terrible in this day and age, as do most titles released in that era.
Is Final Fantasy VII still a good game or just saved by nostalgia? Honestly. It’s mixed. While multiple aspects of the game are fantastic, namely the side characters and Midgar a lot of it is let down by being outdated. The combat system and loading issues really began to grate on me long before the halfway mark and then there’s the forgettable dungeon design. Time, unfortunately, has not been kind to the title and I’m really hoping that the PS4 remake is going to fix a lot of it (although from what has been revealed sounds like it will bring many, many more issues to the table.) Sadly time has not been kind to Final Fantasy VII and its certainly a title that has been aided by nostalgia, if it wasn’t the first major 3D JRPG on a console that was attracting a new age of gamers it would be a forgettable footnote in the genre. While it is an undeniably important title, the other landmark title for the genre: Pokemon Red and Blue would be released months later.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with Nostalgia at all, if you love Final Fantasy VII all the power to you and of course this is simply my own opinion.
Do you feel it still holds up as well as it did then?