This is the big one, ladies and gents. This is the Final Fantasy game. Look up any ‘Best Video Games of All Time’ list and chances are this one will be on there somewhere.
Which, in retrospect, is pretty impressive. Because Final Fantasy VII is unlike any of the other games in the series that came before it. Not only is it the first game in the series to use 3D graphics, it also was the first to step away from Nintendo hardware for the Playstation. It had to prove itself to a whole new audience while showing its prior fans that these new changes were for the better.
And it knocked it out of the god damn part!
The Shinra Corporation is sucking the planet’s life force, Mako energy, dry, killing the world. Terrorist cell AVALANCHE is out to stop them. To help their efforts, they hire ex-SOLDIER Cloud to help them fight. But they’ve got more than Shinra to worry about; Sephiroth, the strongest SOLDIER in history, has returned, and he aims to destroy the planet completely. It’s up to Cloud and his friends to stop them and save the world before it’s too late.
That summary really doesn’t do the game’s plot justice. This is easily one of the most beloved and well-written video game storylines ever, with tons of twists and turns that will always keep the audience guessing. It tackles surprisingly mature themes of loss and grief in a way that still holds up to this day. It’s tear-jerking, it’s bizarre, it’s heartwarming, it’s funny, and it’s wonderful.
At the heart of it all is the characters. Cloud is one of the most iconic video game protagonists ever, and for good reasons; his journey of self-discovery and overcoming grief is incredibly compelling. The rest of the cast is just as good; from the gruff but loving Barret to the kind and mischievous Aerith and the caring badass Tifa, from Cid to Vincent, the party members of VII are the best in the series, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Except for Yuffie and Cait Sith. Those two can go away.
Then there are the baddies. Shinra is full of some pretty strong villains. Rufus is fantastic, Heidegger is disgusting, Hojo is genuinely creepy, and Scarlet gives off massive ‘Oh ho ho ho’ energy in every scene. The Turks are great too; they’re more like antagonistic anti-heroes and I love every scene they pop up in.
But forget about them! Final Fantasy VII has my favorite video game antagonist of all time: Sephiroth!
This dude takes every single scene he’s in! His design should be silly, but he’s so chilling and badass that he makes it work! Dude’s even got two music tracks and they’re both amazing! ‘Those Chosen By the Planet’ is the most sinister track I’ve ever heard in a video game and ‘One-Winged Angel’ is one of the best final boss tracks ever; it straight-up has the choir shout Sephiroth’s name in the chorus and it’s still amazing!
Honestly, my only real complaint about the writing in VII is the side content. All the stuff with Yuffie and Wutai sucks ass; Corneo coming back was a complete waste of time. Fort Condor is a fine enough side minigame, but when you’re forced to play it in the actual plot, it sucks ass. The only side quests I actually liked were Vincent’s plot and the side bosses.
Now, let’s talk graphics. This is the department wherein Final Fantasy VII has aged the most poorly. Once, it’s blocky character models and CG cutscenes were revolutionary. Now… not so much.
Even still, I love how this game looks. It’s got a rough sort of charm to it that makes me smile every time I see it. Besides that, it’s instantly identifiable; one look at any screenshot is all you need to know what game you’re looking at.
As per usual, the music is absolutely amazing. VII probably has my second favorite soundtrack in the franchise (it would be first, if not for XIV’s insane track list). Each piece fits its given scene absolutely perfectly. The opening song, Bombing Mission, is insanely exciting, Aerith’s theme brings a tear to my eye every time, Cosmo Canyon’s theme is a fucking banger. The list of tracks goes on, from ‘The Great Warrior’ to ‘Let the Battles Begin!’ to ‘Flowers Blooming in the Church’ to the earlier mentioned ‘Those Chosen By the Planet’ and ‘One-Winged Angel’. This OST is one of the best in gaming history!
Except for the Gold Saucer theme. I never want to hear that song again as long as I live.
My one problem with the visuals is the pre-rendered backgrounds. Don’t get me wrong, they look pretty good. But sometimes it can be kinda tricky to see what you can and can’t interact with. Worse, there are times where you’ve got to move so far into the screen that Cloud basically becomes a speck, which can make navigating certain screens really annoying.
Finally, we come to the gameplay. Which has more depth and content than any Final Fantasy to come before it!
Combat on the surface level is just about the same as the last few games. Once again, the active-time battle system returns. Your party of three gotta defeat whatever enemies cross your path using this system. Same as IV, V, and VI.
However, there are two systems that make VII the most deep and customizable game in the series to date: the Materia system and the Limit Break system.
Let’s start with Limit Breaks. These are what give each character their individuality and depth. Take enough damage and that character’s attack option will be swapped out with the powerful Limit Break option. These can range from high-power attacks to party-wide heals to stat buffs. In a pinch, these can save your life. Plus, they look cool to boot!
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of variety between the moves themselves beyond appearances. Cait Sith and Tifa are the only ones with unique mechanics, those being slot machines that dictate the effects. But most of them just boil down to ‘press button to slaughter enemies’, especially if you go through the trouble to get their ultimate Limit Breaks.
Then there’s the Materia system. This is where the real depth of the game can be found. Find enough of these magic little marbles and you can create some game-breaking combinations!
Each character has three equipment slots: one for a weapon, another for a piece of armor, and a third for an accessory for stat buffs or special effects. These first two are the most important: each one has slots to insert Materia.
Materia itself contains all your usual Final Fantasy jazz. Magic, summons, stat boosts, extra commands (Steal, Sense, Attack X4, All Attack, so on and so forth) it’s all there. Equip them to gain the options to begin with, connect separate Materia to create combos.
For example: let’s say you have a piece of Fire Materia and All Materia. Equip the Fire Materia and you’ll gain the ability to cast that spell on a single enemy. Put it together with an All Materia and you can hit every enemy with it.
One of my favorite combos is Counter-Spell connected to a Summon Materia. Get hit by an enemy? Summon the Knights of the Round to show them exactly why that was a bad idea.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Put together the right combo and you can split the game right in two!
On top of that, Materia can level up. This expands the options given to by that Materia. For example, leveling up Fire will give you access to Fire, Fira, then Firaga. Max that level out and that Materia will give birth to a new one at level one. Need to duplicate a powerful rare Materia? Get ready to grind!
It is an RPG, after all.
Now, you won’t spend all your time walking around and getting into fights. There are a few special minigames sprinkled throughout the game to add variety. From everything at the Gold Saucer to chocobo breeding to snowboarding to submarine battle to Fort Condor, there’s a lot more here than battle.
Honestly? I don’t really like any of them. Most of them are half-baked and not all that much fun to play. Some of them are poorly placed and actively hurt the story. Oh no, Aerith just died! Anyways, time for snowboarding!
But in the face of how good everything else in the game is, that’s more than forgivable. The minigames all fairly short and over before they can do any real damage to the game’s quality. The story and the combat more than make up for its shortcomings.
Final Fantasy VII is a classic that deserves the title. It shines as brilliantly as a new cut gem, despite its few blemishes. The plot is one of the best in the genre and its combat is the peak of the series to this point. If any game deserves to be called a masterpiece, it’s this one.
Unfortunately, it’s success turned out to be a double-edged sword. At this point, VII has basically become independent from the rest of the franchise. It’s gotten a movie, spin-off games, and of course: the Remake (which is more of a reimagining and a sequel rolled into one but let’s not talk about that.) Some of them have been pretty good, but none have reached the same heights as the original game.
It’s arguable to say that the rest of the series hasn’t. Good games though some of them may be, none are as well-known or popular as VII.
God knows the next one doesn’t…
Man, VIII fans are gonna rip me apart next time.