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Review: Final Fantasy VII-A Long Time Coming

FFVIIHow on earth should I go about this?

Reviewing a game that literally everybody knows can be a difficult thing. It can be hard to talk about something that millions of people have already voiced their opinions on and it can be hard to find a way to differentiate yourself from them. No matter how hard you liked or disliked the thing you were playing it can be really hard to find a unique way to express your feelings. Really, this could go for any form of entertainment, but I find it to be especially difficult with video games since, well, I guess it’s what I know the most. There are so many games that I want to review for this website that thousands upon thousands of people have already discussed and dissected and studied to near death but I never knew exactly how I wanted to go about doing it. I suppose the only way I can think of doing it is by looking at the game through the lenses of how I experienced it and not so much through a purely subjective point of view. Will this work? I’m not really sure but it’s how I want to discuss a game that put me through so much, both in terms of gameplay, and my life. A game that has touched millions through its use of unique narrative, gameplay, and visuals. A game that really didn’t need this long of an introduction: Final Fantasy VII.

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This was captured from the 2015 PS4 re-release.

Final Fantasy VII is a lot of things. It’s a cyberpunk/fantasy hybrid with elements of class warfare, climate change, and the dangers of excessive capitalism. It’s a story about a group of freedom fighters trying to fight against a nigh-impossible battle to protect the planet and those they hold dear. It’s a story about identity and discovering who you truly are and where you stand in the world, no matter how hard that truth may be to discover. It’s a hard as fuck JRPG that is hard to follow and keep track of because the map and in-game direction isn’t that great if you leave for a while, it’s so, so much you guys. But what is it to me? Well to me it’s a game that has been in my crosshairs for the better almost 18 or so years. I was introduced to Final Fantasy through Kingdom Hearts, as I imagine most people my age were. I remember seeing those weird anime characters standing next to Donald Duck and Goofy and just thinking “Wow…this shit is so cool.” It was then I was introduced to Cloud Strife-or at least a simplified version of him-and I was blown away. His spiky hair and massive sword made a huge impression on me and that was only compounded by his inclusion into Kingdom Hearts II. It was around this point that I heard rumors of a movie based off of Final Fantasy VII was being released and I sought it out as fast as I could.

I ended up not liking it, but my point still stands. I was somewhat enamored by Cloud and his group of friends.

As I grew older and got into RPGs more I was finally given the chance to play Final Fantasy VII when it got re-released on the Playstation 4 and to say that I was hooked would be an understatement. I was obsessed with the game, playing it anytime I could between going to classes and my part-time job. I loved its settings, its characters, everything. Then…came the incident. You see like I stated above I was going to college at the time and I was in the middle of finals so I had to put less focus into the game. When I came back to it I was completely lost and because I couldn’t recall where I was in the game I had to essentially stop playing. This. Has. Haunted. Me. For. Years. I was so devastated by this that I could never find the courage to come back to it, even with the announcement of its remake. It seemed like I was never going to go back to it.

But then like like 5 days ago I went “Ahhhhhhhhhh Fuck It.” and restarted the game and beat it in 3 days.

Was this compounded by the impending release of the Final Fantasy VII Remake? Yes. Did I play it unhealthily long during each sitting? Yes. Do I regret it? Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh maybe the way I played it, yeah. But I don’t regret playing it at all. Final Fantasy VII is just. It’s something else, man.

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Case and point.

Final Fantasy VII is a JRPG if ever there was one. If you’ve played any JRPG from the era, ESPECIALLY a Final Fantasy game, then you know what to expect from this game in terms of gameplay. The game retains the Active Battle System introduced in Final Fantasy IV and retains its sense of active tension and stress-inducing strategy building. I think. I haven’t played FFIV. Probably the biggest addition to the FF formula this game offers is the Materia system, a feature that I not only love but hate as well!

Materia replaces the need for requiring specific party members to use spells and gives players the option to give members of their party the spells instead. While you have to buy or find a majority of them, especially the summons, the player is allowed complete customization to design their party as they see fit since you don’t earn spells by normally leveling up, but by leveling up each Materia’s AP meter. While this is super cool the game never properly teaches you how to use Materia to its fullest, at least in my experience. Outside of a minor tutorial blurb near the beginning of the game you never get the opportunity to learn what each specific Materia does since their descriptions aren’t really….Descriptive.

There were several super important Materia that I never got to utilize to its fullest potential simply because I had no idea what the damn thing did. Maybe there was an option to receive a more advanced tutorial but I never found one.  This is only a minor complaint on the gameplay though since the general combat in FFVII is super fun and engaging, especially with the frantic ATB system and the Limit Gauge. Oh god, I nearly forgot about the Limit Gauge. That funny little bar will let your party members pull off devastating and helpful attacks during combat and can also be leveled up by how much you use it. You can expand it further by finding each character’s hidden final limit break. I loved using these so much since all of them are visually interesting and fun to pull off. Now as much as I enjoyed the gameplay in this game to me that isn’t what makes Final Fantasy VII so special, it’s the story that makes this game work.

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It’s also hard to keep track of which party member has what Materia since the game only SOMETIMES unequips the Materia from them.

A good story makes or breaks an RPG for most people. For a lot of players, myself included, if the story in your massive, hours-long video game isn’t good or even interesting then what’s the point? Luckily FFVII nails it with its story even if it’s a bit muddled in how it presents it sometimes. When I said FFVII was a lot of things I fucking meant it, you guys. There are so many story elements in this game such as plot twists, set pieces, and missable story bits that the game can feel a bit overwhelming and confusing at times but if you stick with it, it starts to make a lot more sense. The basic story covers themes of identity, self-worth, trauma, environmentalism, idealism, and the dangers of excessive capitalism. To describe the story in great detail would be an utter disservice towards where the game goes, even if you’ve probably seen the more iconic parts of the story. The game is honestly too long and complex to put into words (truth be told I’ve gone on far enough in this review as is) but to put it simply-it’s an incredibly gripping story from start to finish.

Throughout the game, I was met with scenes of levity, dread, heartbreak, empathy, and satisfaction…even if the translation is a bit iffy and dated at times. Cloud and his group of friends are all extremely likable and relatable (minus a few characters….Yuffie) and almost all of them are given equal screentime to shine and grow as people. The only two that don’t are Yuffie and Vincent but that’s because they’re optional party members, the story will play out the same if you don’t grab them and that’s a real shame because Vincent’s backstory is genuinely fascinating and engaging. I will say though that the highlight of the game’s story is Cloud by FAR since his arc is unbelievable. Simply unbelievable. Without giving too much away (assuming you haven’t played it) Cloud never seems fully there if that makes any sense. He always seems to talk strangely and has constant personality shifts and many of his friends, specifically Tifa, wonder why he is the way he is. The places this game takes Cloud is absolutely thrilling and downright bone-chilling that you simply have to experience it for yourself. All of these things make up a truly wonderful story that is only cemented by its positively abhorrent villain, Sephiroth.

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Absolute prick of a man. I love him.

This horrid bastard takes an already great story and amplifies it to the stuff of legends simply by existing. Not only does his presence practically overwhelmed you with a sense of dread, but his actions and mannerisms will shock you to your core. While not without his reasons, Sephiroth is a truly evil being with no sense of remorse for his actions and will torment you throughout the game by his pure visage alone, all culminating in one of gaming most iconic, powerful, and gut-wrenching scenes. If you know what it is, you know what it is. This is further elevated by his tremendous boss fight and impactful theme and an ending sequence that can only be described as EPIC….buuuuuut I ran into an issue here. Please keep in mind that this isn’t going to be a review so much as a small story about what I experienced during the final act.

So I want to take a moment to talk about what this re-release adds in terms of extra features. So if you press L3 on the Dualshock 4 the game will play in 3x the speed. This is really helpful since summons and certain spells can take 30 seconds, sometimes upwards to a minute and a half, to play. It’s a really good feature for people with shorter patience and it also makes navigating the world map easier. Now the other feature is a bit more…sinister to me. See near the end of the game I was given a save crystal so I can save anywhere I wanted to in the final area. The problem is that this final area is filled with some of the most fucked up enemies in the game and I used my save point earlier than I should have. This was when I found out that if you press R3 during combat the game will not only refill your Limit Gauge but your health and magic bar as well. For free of charge. With no consequence. Now normally I would ignore something like this since it feels like cheating…..but I was super far in the dungeon and I wasn’t about to repeat it all over again so I used it when I ran out of magic….and during the final boss.

I’M SO SORRY I JUST DIDN’T WANT TO SPEND MINUTES UPON MINUTES GOING BACK THROUGH THAT FINAL AREA AGAIN. I didn’t feel good doing this since I think it robbed a  lot of the weight of winning that final encounter for me but it did not diminish the impact the ending holds as a whole. Now far be it from me to tell you how to play your video games but if you play this version of FFVII PLEASE do yourself a favor and don’t use this feature. I think it destroys a lot of the engagement this game has to offer.

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This is how I felt at the end.

There is still so much to talk about with this game it’s insane. I didn’t even mention how beautiful the soundtrack is or how well a lot of the visuals have held up but this review-retrospective thing I’ve been doing has gone on long enough. I think I’ve made my point here. I love Final Fantasy VII to death. I think it’s one of the most important games ever released and it still holds up to this very day. The messages and themes behind this game are timeless and worth experiencing if you haven’t already. I’m sure everyone is going to be playing that shiny new remake that just got released, hell I’m probably even playing it now as you read this, but that doesn’t mean that the original is without merit. No matter how good the Final Fantasy VII Remake is, there is no replacing the original. If you haven’t played this game you are doing a disservice to yourself. This is only the second Final Fantasy game I’ve ever beaten and I am kicking myself for not doing it sooner.

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