Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.
People born after the mid ’90s might not be aware of this, but Final Fantasy wasn’t always the insanely popular household name that has exactly 3,583 games within its franchise. Final Fantasy was never shrouded in the shadows of obscurity when it came to the states, in fact it was always one of the most popular JRPG series on the Nintendo consoles, it just had nothing close to the stranglehold on the market it does today. It was much more a niche market, though while the fans lacked the numbers they hold today, they were no less enthralled by these marvels of merging meaningful storytelling with video games. This changed approximately 20 years ago on September 7, 1997, when the follow up to the SNES cartridge Final Fantasy III appeared as a three CD-ROM game called Final Fantasy VII on the Sony PlayStation.
As stated by Final Fantasy VII director Yoshinori Kitase in an interview with us, this was a very nerve-wracking title for Square
Enix for a number of reasons. The SNES was nearing the end of its commercial lifespan, so Final Fantasy VII was considered for the Nintendo 64, which would have been logical since Final Fantasy has always been a Nintendo series. The ambition to make Final Fantasy VII into the game we all member today exceeded what would have been practical. Cartridge based games were getting increasingly expensive — N64 games would range from $50-100 at launch where CD-ROM based games were typically $40-70 — and the ones on the higher end of the scale typically had multiple discs, so cost was a factor along with the fact the N64 couldn’t properly render all the polygons Final Fantasy VII wanted to throw at it. The planned but never materialized 64DD peripheral was considered a viable solution until it was projected that it would require about 30 discs to properly run. So the “fourth” installment of an established Nintendo series was making the jump from a cartridge filled with 2D sprites to a multiple CD-Rom format filled with 3D polygons on Sony’s system. Plus the budget of roughly forty million was astronomical and unheard of for a video game at the time and the team was composed of well over five times the normal amount of developers, so if this title flopped it could have been disastrous.
In hindsight, the trepidation about the success of Final Fantasy VII is laughable based on the existence of Advent Children, Crisis Core and numerous Play Arts figures and Sephiroth wall scrolls. Also, for the love of all that is decent and good in the world, do not Google Sephiroth Cloud fanfic. You’re Googling it right now, aren’t you? Go ahead, get it out of your system, this article isn’t going anywhere just please wash your hands before returning to the keyboard. Besides, I’m sure it’s nothing you haven’t seen before or isn’t already in your bookmarks. Needless to say, this game single-handedly made JRPGs part of mainstream gaming. There have been many great JRPGs before this and many that came after, but this was such a leap in technical advancement of what Final Fantasy titles looked and sounded like, and it’s one of the stronger stories in the franchise. This isn’t my personal favorite Final Fantasy, but it is in the upper portion of my list and its popularity is very much deserved. I have played through it multiple times and have fond memberies of it (Editor’s note: Chrisssssssss).
Because jumping ship from Nintendo to Sony and returning to the proper numbering system, Final Fantasy VII took many creative liberties with what a Final Fantasy game can be, which was basically an early onset of Final Fantasy Disease even though it took many years and more entries before that diagnosis was named. Final Fantasy has always had a history of opposing evil empires, such as the possessed king of Baron in Final Fantasy
II IV and the devilish duo of Emperor Gestahl and Kefka in Final Fantasy III VI. Final Fantasy begins no different with Cloud and Barret on a mission with Avalanche to bomb a mako reactor operated by Shinra. Perhaps it was because I was older or it dealt with similar themes to real world events, but the heroes of the game are essentially eco terrorists. In fact replaying Final Fantasy VII in the 21st century can conjure up some interesting thoughts if you look at it through the right lens as far as the role of Avalanche and the Shinra corporation in society, but we’ll leave some of those musings to our readers’ own minds. Freed from the shackles of Nintendo, the tone of Final Fantasy VII was much more serious and darker than previous entries and we actually saw some mild profanity make its way into the game which nowadays is nothing thanks to about half the titles in my personal collection, but this was noteworthy in 1997.
Ever since the very first Final Fantasy there has been an element of sci-fi, even though the first five entries had a much greater focus on the fantasy aspect. This shifted in Final Fantasy VI when it took on a more steam punk element, but despite swords, dragons and materia, Final Fantasy VII looked and felt more sci-fi than fantasy. From the opening bombing mission in Midgar to Cid’s failed rocket launch into outer space, everything looks a lot more contemporary in Final Fantasy VII than previous games, which does make the allegory of the draining mako energy from the planet to facilitate modern convenience at the cost of causing irrevocable damage to the planet a tad more thought provoking. The idea of Sephiroth being grown in a laboratory incubation tube echoes the horrors that were done to the espers underneath Vector in Final Fantasy VI but this title felt like a laboratory of a mad scientist than some magitek mayhem.
Final Fantasy games are known for great, memorable characters, and Final Fantasy VII is no exception to this as the player characters and NPCs have some of the most memorable characters in the series, but this title went above and beyond in developing the main villain Sephiroth. Prior to Sephiroth we had some great villains, Golbez was a evil looking knight character who was really a puppet of a much greater evil and Kefka was a complete lunatic, essentially Batman’s arch nemesis The Joker except with the powers of a god. Sephiroth’s story is more sympathetic. He was born, taken away from his mother before she even got to him. Terrible experiments were done to him, making him the most prized soldier of the Shinra empire, a super soldier used for Shinra propaganda and promotion and someone all the other soldiers idolized. That was until the incident at Nibelheim, where he learned the truth of what he was. He was not this great soldier, he was a monster, a product of military experimentation and born from the Jenova Project. Shinra’s answer to Captain America’s been torn apart, and with his broken heart he went on a rampage where his madness continued to consume. His quest was to gain the Black Materia, bring about the end of life on the planet while transforming into a god. He becomes a greater and more powerful evil than the one that created him.
There were a few questionable scenes in Final Fantasy VII that were played for comic relief but might not hold up as well with the remake. There are a few cringe worthy moments in the game, but one that really sticks out is the making Cloud a drag queen sequence when he is trying to pass for a beautiful young lady to spend the night with Don Corneo. This features a squatting minigame and Cloud ends up in a hot tub with gigantic bodybuilders rocking pornstaches. In the original game the 3D character models looked like Pixar rejects, especially now since the sands of time have not been kind to this title’s visuals, but this sequence could be a bit more provocative and disturbing with the realistic graphics the remake will have. In 1997 this sequence, as bizarre and out of step with the rest of the game, worked as comic relief. Its presentation was done in such a silly manner it was hard to really take it seriously or be offended by it. Twenty years later with more realistic character models and voice acting this sequence may make the shift from comedic to just awkward. Purists may disagree, but there are a few other sequences in the game that could benefit from an edit or omission, but we’ll just have to see what is done in the remake, though I am hoping it doesn’t get George Lucasified and I regret voicing an opinion of support to change. Since the original version of Final Fantasy VII is available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Steam, I’m actually okay with some alterations in the remake since the original format is being preserved and readily available.
As different as Final Fantasy VII was from the previous entries, it had enough elements to make it feel like a proper Final Fantasy. The story is complex and engaging, with many interesting characters that come and go at certain points in the story before eventually the game just gives up on party management and lets the player assemble any three person team they see fit. Classic and new summon monsters return, as do classic spells mixed with a new limit break system, which we get the most rudimentary version of in Final Fantasy VI. The characters were all memorable in their own way, though some more favorable than others. The strength of the story and characters is best exemplified at the death of
Spoilris Spoilrith Spoilris (Editor’s note: technically Spoilris is correct if we’re talking about the original US Final Fantasy VII) and the emotional impact it had on everyone, where countless players scoured the internet, looking for a super secret item to bring Spoilris back to the life after she was killed by Spoiliroth (though there is a compelling theory floating around that Cloud was the real killer). The story was really such a strong point in this entry, and while the expanded universe of Final Fantasy VII has gotten a little bit nuts it’s no wonder why people want to revisit this world and characters.
The story was great enough to stand on its own, but what made Final Fantasy VII so amazing is how the game presented it. The 3D character models for the scenes out of combat have not aged well, but the cutscenes and models used in battle still look fine, but in 1997 this was an extremely impressive title visually. This was on top of great JRPG gameplay, and while the first several hours felt restrictively linear the open world quests at the endgame made up for it. Having to farm chocobos for give or take eight hours to get the ridiculous Knights of the Round materia was rough, but this was a great thing to have when fighting Emerald Weapon, one of the ridiculously overpowered Godzilla monsters that served no purpose to kill other than bragging rights. You got some powerful items for beating them, but let’s be honest if you can take out the weapons you really don’t need their items. The wealth of things to do in the endgame and powerful toys that could be acquired made it one of the most enjoyable segments of the game, before you went to fight Sephiroth in an epic battle to the death to save the planet. Or just save the planet by being a cheap bastard and using Knights of the Round, though the length of that summon animation didn’t really make the cheap route much quicker.
And on the note of Sephiroth, Nobuo Uematsu is one of the most renowned video game composers and this title is a grand example of why. The dramatic score whenever a cutscene filled with dread occurs, the tension that came with the opening theme during the bombing mission, the melancholic theme of Aeris or the guitar and keyboard driven boss battle theme. There is a wealth of fantastic music in Final Fantasy VII, but one track simply destroys all of them: One Winged Angel. This tune has unfortunately become the video game equivalent of Stairway to Heaven, a song that has had so many iterations whenever an incarnate of Sephiroth makes an appearance in something with some tie to Final Fantasy VII where after 20 years it’s lost its luster and where it once inspired awe it feels like obligatory inclusion. This may be true but twenty years when you went to fight Sephiroth the first time there was something magical about hearing the Purple Haze inspired intro give way to the Latin chorus. If the summoned meteor and his new winged form wasn’t enough to convince you he was now a god the song One Winged Angel dispelled any remaining doubts. Using Knights of the Round to instantly end the fight no longer seemed right, any adversary with this theme music deserved an honorable battle.
The amazingly slick production values on modern Final Fantasies and the immense popularity of the franchise can be traced back to Final Fantasy VII. The SNES entries are among my favorite on the platform, but I only knew a handful of people who really cared about Final Fantasy back then. Anyone who plays games now at least knows of the franchise, and even if they don’t care about any of the games personally, they know someone who does. Final Fantasy had a respectably-sized following and the games were of extremely high quality prior to this, but this is where their popularity exploded, and all the fans can wage war about which subsequent titles are amazing and which ones don’t count as a real Final Fantasy. Being the major breakthrough title in the franchise, the graphics and sound do show their age. The thought of hearing all the music redone with either live orchestration or higher quality sound samples is exciting, and seeing realistic character models beyond what we saw in Advent Children would be appropriate to the tone of the original. There will likely be other tweaks to gameplay and translation, but twenty years later I’m ready for a fresh take on this story. Besides, if you want the original, it’s only a download away.