As a self-identifying gamer, it has always been a bit crap that I hadn’t played Final Fantasy VII or ever had my own copy. I’ve waited a while to remedy this because of the ever-impending remake that is on the cards. However, whilst playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, I had a thought. I want to play Final Fantasy VII as close to the original as possible and this remake was altering so much of it that, for some, it could be considered a new game. So I bought a copy on PSN and have been playing it for the last two months.
Considering that I spent a long time on this game I think it’s fair to say that my opinion of this game has drastically altered since my brief try 5-6 years ago. I don’t think it helped that, back then, I didn’t get out of the first area – so I didn’t get to see the summons system, meet most of the playable character or get to see the large open(ish) world.
It’s not that this game didn’t have any issues for me. For one thing, as much as I loved the materia system – where you can level up and swap around magic/skill orbs – the way to swap them between characters was tedious. Especially when, for story reasons, everyone’s materia was all mixed up and you had to re-assign everything (damn it Yuffie!).
There were also some towns (like the beach one) and some minigames (like the snowboarding) that really distracted from what was otherwise an excellent and cohesive world. Sure there was some tonal whiplash, but for the most part it was handled with aplomb… apart from the snowboarding bit which really shouldn’t not have happened so close to the games bit emotional sequence (which would have been more shocking had I played it 12 years ago).
On the flip side, the variety in this game is startling – not quite up there with what they did in Final Fantasy VI, but not too far off what you got in later games like Final Fantasy X-2. Whilst I ended up settling on a party of Cloud, Red XIII and Barret because of their Limit Breaks – for most of the game I rotated through 4 characters and enjoyed experimenting with different tactics and combinations. I mean, I only dropped Cait Sith (a giant remote controlled plush toy) because his big ability can go wrong and insta-kill the party… which I found out during a boss battle.
The story lines this this game are also, on the whole, excellent. Whilst I was annoyed at Yuffie for messing with my materia – it was fun playing her side-quest storylines and getting a massive water dragon as a prize. Similarly, where I began the game really being annoyed with Cloud as being another moody pointy-haired protagonist, you really do start to care about him as a main character. Sure there are times where he is a bit generic in a JRPG way, but man has he been through the wringer.
I would also like to get into the, now kinda retro, environmental and genetic engineering messages within the game – but I can see the word count increasing at a stupidly quick pace and I have work in the morning. Needless to say, Shinra and Sephiroth are fantastic and timeless villains and how they work them into the mythology and message of the game was pretty damned cool.
So whilst I still think Final Fantasies VI and X are better on the whole, I am definitely turned around on VII. Would I have completed this if it wasn’t for the extra buttons that were added on the PSN release and had to really grind my way up? Honestly, I cannot tell but I am glad that I could enjoy the game for the story, combat and variety rather than getting annoyed about mining frogs for experience points.