In January, I played around with the thought of taking a second look at certain games - ones I've deemed masterpieces, utterly horrible games that for some reason might've deserved a second chance, and perhaps even some games I know to have misjudged in the past. Well, since it's RPG Time! and I'm currently engaged in yet another (and very likely the last) playthrough of my favourite video game in history, I think it's time to look back at perhaps the most popular and influential Japanese role-playing game of all time. 16 years after its original release, Final Fantasy VII has still not been remade. No-one knows why, except the big wigs at Square Enix - they know what's best for us gamers. Or so they say.
|My brother always misread this as "Stinking|
Staff". It kinda stuck on me, too.
Why is that, exactly? Square wasn't any better in making their products known, and they had plenty of problems to go with the already annoying refusal by North American testers, which translated to us gamers: "the Japanese wanna fuck the world". It was always made Japan's fault if we didn't get those games. Anyway, as an avid reader of a Finnish video game magazine I have mentioned way too many times for my own comfort, I can safely say that even though neither Square or Enix managed to get their products up for international release, Square's games were promoted a hell of a lot more than Enix's. Let's put it this way: both companies had a huge hit in Japan, at the same time: it was Square's game that we were told about, extensively, while Enix's game might've been briefly mentioned. I don't remember reading one single Dragon Quest review, ever, but I damn well remember reviews for both Final Fantasy IV (II) and Final Fantasy VI (III), plus Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest on the side, and we Europeans didn't have the slightest potential to see these games at the time. So you see: I knew this series long before its time. Oh, I might as well mention that Chrono Trigger - a game that was also never released in Europe in its original form - got a six-page review complete with illustrated character profiles, while Illusion of Gaia (Illusion of Time in Europe) got a common two-page commentary with a large font, a lot of screenshots, and just some vague text that could easily be summarized as something like "Enix needs to try harder". I don't remember one Enix game getting over 90 points, and in turn, I don't remember one Square game besides the semi-serious Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest getting under 90 points. As much as I owe that old magazine, I see its errors in judgement clearer and clearer as time goes by, and the more I play horrible games they declared the best in the world, and at least perfectly playable games they declared horrible wastes of time.
|Jenova - the root of all evil.|
It took three years for the first Final Fantasy game to make it to North America. It sold quite well, well enough for cult gamers to look forward to a sequel. What most people did not know was that the game already had two sequels, better games at that, but only back in Japan. A fourth game, originally planned as the last NES title in the series, was in works for the then-upcoming SNES system. So, instead of letting North America have their two previous games, Square had their localization team change Final Fantasy IV's name to Final Fantasy II in the U.S.. Get this: they did it so gamers wouldn't feel confused. Short-sighted, much?
|Summon magic looked incredible in action, and|
it was always exciting to try out a new piece of
1994 - the time of Final Fantasy VI. A change was coming, the wind was turning. Final Fantasy VI was the most epic, the biggest game ever seen. And, apparently simple enough, 'cause the U.S. loved it. As if to completely disregard the efforts made with Final Fantasy V, the development team (with Sakaguchi as producer) picked up from where Sakaguchi and his closest cohorts left off in Final Fantasy IV. Traditional fantasy mixed with futuristic and industrial landscapes was to become the series' trademark, as well as individual scenes and features that were made to squeeze all the juice out of the current platform - in this game's case, the famous opera house scene, and the multi-phased final battle against Kefka, who was the first in line of several truly memorable, incoherently evil, criminally insane lead villains in the Final Fantasy franchise. After witnessing the overwhelming response to the game in Japan, the development team was feeling pretty damn good and wanted to explore the game's daring themes even further. But, Nintendo was Nintendo. They had their rules. Renaming the game Final Fantasy III in the U.S. was utterly expected, but what Square did not expect was Nintendo telling them to ease up.
|Welcome to Gold Saucer, where minigames are|
born and where they come to die...
Shocking, but definitely worth it.
|...Yes, even the bad ones.|
In spite of the transition to 3D, Final Fantasy VII retained a familiar basic look, but constantly surprised the player with the most fantastic FMV cutscenes of the era, special cinematics in combat such as the use of magic and summoning, its sheer size, and finally, its well-known vulgarity - which has been outdone about a million times over since, but at that time, it was a game you necessarily didn't want your 13-year old son to get infatuated with. Mild language was only the start of it - some of the first tasks in the game were taking part in a terrorist mission that would most definitely cost dozens of innocent lives for a "greater purpose", and saving a young girl from a local mob boss with extreme sex addiction, by dressing yourself up as a girl and attempting to shift the old bastard's attention to yourself. This also included going to a local whorehouse to gain some more accessories for your disguise, including a bra by (strangely enough) taking part in a gay gathering. Later on, in the end of "part one", came the most shocking scene of all: the unavoidable death of a lead character, the most pure- and kind-hearted one at that. Trolls went to ridiculous lengths in spreading rumours how you could resurrect Aerith, and they still do it after all these years - IT IS NOT POSSIBLE. These are the same people who spread rumours about how you could create a Sephiroth clone, and took screenshots to "prove it". They took those screenshots from Cloud's flashbacks and actually thought even a total retard wouldn't notice the difference. But, seeing how active trolls have remained surrounding the myths of the game just goes to prove how popular it still is.
|Ominously put, I'd say. The first and last time|
the whole team's present.
|Still one of my favourite scenes ever. Not a |
pleasant one, though.
|Gigas - a perfect example of having way more|
bark than bite.
|Shinra, Inc. - a whole group of standout villains.|
|The best incarnation of series stalwart Cid.|
That last line was perhaps a little misleading, 'cause there's nothing wrong with the game. As a matter of fact, I'm amazed how much kicks I still get out of this old friend after spending most of my life with it. I started playing Final Fantasy VII when I was 13 years old, and it was my second or third real RPG experience. I bought an official strategy guide for the game even though I didn't actually own the game, just because it looked so damn fancy and I loved the game - I wanted to learn to play it better, and through that book, I eventually learned to play RPG's the way they're supposed to be played. I learned one more thing from that book: how to squeeze absolutely everything out of the game. Nowadays you can squeeze everything out of a game in several ways, by several choices. Final Fantasy VII didn't have those choices, it was very linear in that sense - so, after 16 years, I still play the game just as I played it back then. I stay in the same grinding spots, figure goals for myself - such as "I'll stop after everyone's leveled up once each, used their Limit Break once each, or reach 10,000 Gil" - do everything in the exact same order as always, have everyone use the same equipment and materia as always, and use the same dialogue choices as always, because I know the minor consequences and benefits of each action. If I had the chance to really put myself in Cloud's boots, I'd prefer Tifa as the potential girlfriend, but I just think going on a date with Aerith (still localized Aeris in the re-release, by the way) fits the plot better - it's just how it was meant to be. As Commander Shepard or the Grey Warden, you can pretty much line all the pretty girls/boys/Liara up and take your pick, and the game lives by your rules, not vice versa. This freedom of choice was kinda present in Final Fantasy VII, but Aerith was the only date to make some sense out of the three possible options. That's why I set my sights on her, every - single - time. I know the game inside out - when I started the game up (with shaky hands) on the PC, I was certain I would've forgotten a lot of it by now, and indeed I had, some small details, and, with the PC's higher resolution, I found myself focusing on some details wholly new to me. Still, there was no ring rust - like I said, I grew up with this game. It's like riding a bike.
If we're going to review the game, let's go all the way - graphics and sound. Can you hear the evil laughter already? Well, in all seriousness, Final Fantasy VII doesn't look much like anything nowadays, but back in 1997, it was the most beautiful game ever made. Back then, those masses of polygons on pre-rendered (and glitchy) backgrounds was considered realistic and pretty. People gasped at how gorgeous the FMV cutscenes were, when they were actually totally out of proportion (several proportions at that), laggy and didn't feel like they belonged in the game at all. Still, they have retained their very own type of attraction, the old-school attraction, you know. Don't get me wrong - I'm not criticizing the game at all. It's just funny that the PlayStation - although it was clearly the best console of its generation - has the biggest library of once great-looking games that look grainy and outright ugly nowadays, and in turn, the much more polished Nintendo 64 games have begun to look better than they originally did! There are exceptions, including, but not limited to, the two sequels to this game that were released on the original PlayStation - Final Fantasy IX in particular. Even VIII still makes your chest throb during certain scenes, when it comes to purely audiovisual values.
Let's skip everything else, I don't feel the need to go over the game's wide variety of pros and the few cons (OK, I'll say it: chocobo breeding). Let's just focus on this re-release. In a word, it's useless. Final Fantasy VII goes for about the same price on Square Enix's website and Steam, as well as the PlayStation Network. Well, the PlayStation version is of course Final Fantasy VII in its purest form, but if you had the choice right now, and you've perhaps never played this game, THEN I would direct you towards this re-release. The reason? Simply put: the somewhat better English translation that helps you understand the plot a bit better without having to dig up the rest of the VII series (it's recommendable though, assuming you like the game and its mythos). Originally, I failed to understand half of what was going on in the end of disc two (PART two in this case), and even many years after learning exactly what's going on through some other source of information, I still don't understand it on the spot. The original localization of the game was just horrible - but then again, in the game's defense (somewhat), pit the translation against Final Fantasy IV's original translation, and you've got yourself a literary masterpiece here.
|...and here we go.|
So, let's summarize: higher graphical resolution that might introduce you to some whole new details you might've missed during your years with the game, high-quality sound that however "comes complete" with odd mixing you can't play around with, and decent localization. That's all you get from this particular version of the game - if it's simply the greatest J-RPG ever made you want, you can get it from just about anywhere. A remake of this game is probably never going to happen as much as we'd like it to, and perhaps this really IS the next best thing - but it comes as a far number two.
After all these years, I might've grown a liiiiiittle bit tired of certain aspects of this game - such as the long, half-cinematic sequences, superbosses who you cannot beat with any other strategy than just one single extremely repetitive one, and chocobos in general; it's funny that as ultimate of a Final Fantasy experience the game is, it has the most annoying and in turn, most force-fed chocobo features out of the whole series. (Note: breeding's ten times more annoying on the PC since there's no soft reset like in the PlayStation version.) Still, in its entirety and most of all with its still quick, correct and comfortable tempo, Final Fantasy VII is the most functional and tide-turning Final Fantasy game of them all, and thus, my favourite game in history.