Final Fantasy VII – Groundbreaking Left Behind

1997 was an incredibly long year for me. After recently discovering Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, I was craving more RPG’s. Final Fantasy VII was on the horizon. There was an article about the game nearly every month in Electronic Gamers Monthly (R.I.P.).  Particularly in the January issue, as the game had just released in Japan. It was a painfully long wait until the game finally released in September that year. Gamers learned what localization time meant. FFVII established so many standards with not only RPG’s, but video games as a whole, that it’s funny to look at the industry now and see how many of those are currently abhorred.

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Originally, FFVII was intended to be released as a Super Nintendo title. Due to resources being shifted to Chrono Trigger, the game was pushed to next generation consoles. Namely, the Nintendo 64. Squaresoft knew they wanted to make the game more cinematic with 3D characters inside of the 2D sprites. Test footage was created, a 5 minute battle of 3 FFVI characters (Terra, Locke, and Shadow), fighting some random monster. Don’t ask me why Terra’s ass is hanging out. It became clear the amount of memory needed for such a project was high. Since Nintendo stubbornly stuck with using cartridges rather than CD-ROM’s, Square famously had a falling out with Nintendo, opting to develop FFVII exclusively for the Playstation.

FFVII is widely credited with making JRPG’s (Japanese Role-Playing Games) popular outside of Japan. There had been many in the last decade to come to North America, but none had the marketing campaign this did. Television ads, movie commercials, magazine ads in Rolling Stone and Playboy, along with ads in Marvel and DC books (this was when people read comics). It was with much fanfare and critical praise when the game released.

Featuring what is now a cross of stereotypical and oddball characters, FFVII introduced the world to Japanese character design. First there was main protagonist Cloud (I really thought his name was pronounce Clod when I was younger because I couldn’t believe it was really Cloud). He of perpetually spiky hair and obnoxiously large swords. Tifa, whose special powers included giving erections to teenagers everywhere. Sephiroth, probably one of the most iconic antagonists they’ve created (still really not to clear what his plan was. Evolution and stuff). But most importantly, Aerith, who died at the end of of the first act (originally romanized as Aeris). In one of the best moments in gaming, Aerith was killed by Sephiroth, in front of her love Cloud. The developers even fooled gamers for years into thinking there was a way to bring her back by including high level equipment and abilities for her in later parts of the game.

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For the first time on home console, a game was released across multiple discs. FFVII spanned 3 CD’s due to it’s length and nearly 50 minutes of cut scenes. Looking at disc length became a way of measuring how along a game would be, and by some weird immeasurable extension, how good it would be. FFVIII and FFIX were both 4 discs long and therefore amazing (not really). The cut scenes did look fantastic at the time, but there was a noticeable difference in quality between them and actually gameplay, though no one seemed to care. Non-battle scenes had 3D rendered characters on prerendered backgrounds (basically static images). While I’m sure FFVII was not the first game to do this on home consoles, it stuck around through the Playstation 2 era at least. Battle scenes were completely in 3D, with the camera panning around the battlefield constantly. Summons, when used, had long movies that accompanied them. The more powerful the summon, the longer the cutscene. In 1997, this was awesome. Knights of the Round took over 2 minutes to complete.

It’s amazing how much has changed since then. People like their characters to be a little more anatomically correct (i.e. less boobs), weapons of credible size, and less whiny. I don’t think anyone in the last decade was happy that a game came on more than one disk. More over, way too many games have inserted unskippable animations or cutscenes. It’s nice to see a summon once or twice, but I have things to do. As far as cutscenes go, try playing, or more exactly, watching Metal Gear Solid IV. And prerendered backgrounds are inexcusable today. Many games have dabbled with or tried to shy away from many of these tropes, including the Final Fantasy series. I think they learned their lesson after FFXIII, maybe.

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FFVII has become a dynasty, spinning of numerous sequels. Advent Children – direct sequel movie ; Crisis Core – a prequel on PSP; Before Crisis – another prequel on mobile phones; Dirge of Cerberus – a third person shooter on PS2, because why not. Crisis Core was fairly popular and Advent Children was pretty to look at, but nonsensical. Fans have been clamoring for a remake to the original game. If Square didn’t stupidly show a tech demo of opening redone on PS3 back in 2006, the idea wouldn’t have been put in everyone’s heads.

I can’t begin to count the hours I put into this game. A fighting game from Square released a year before FFVII, Tobal No. 1,  with a playable demo of the game. I wore that demo disc out. I played through FFVII completely at least 5 times, doing a perfect playthrough and getting everything in the game, including all the master materia and beating both weapons (gamer cred yo!). I would kill to have that kind of time on my hands again. I don’t know if I’d bother playing a remake. I’ve moved on.

How many FFVII games have you played? Who was your line up (Cloud, Tifa, and Vincent)? Comment below!

Seriously, what the hell was Cait Sith?

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18 responses to “Final Fantasy VII – Groundbreaking Left Behind

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