Game Description: Featuring seamless 3D gameplay and animation, Final Fantasy VII contains hundreds of pre-rendered, computer-generated backgrounds and features real-time battles, vast map screens, and a complex and engrossing storyline. Published on three CDs, Final Fantasy VII will be one of the largest and most richly detailed gaming experiences ever created.
One of the most eagerly anticipated games of 1997, Final Fantasy VII (FF7), did not disappoint fans when it finally was released. With plenty of hype already surrounding the game, Sony further promoted it with commercial spots that resembled movie trailers, begging to elevate the integrity of videogames up to a status equal with more mainstream media like film and television. There was no question that the game would sell record numbers despite Sony's initial no role-playing games (RPGs) stance. The question remaining then was, "whether the art was good enough to push past the hard-core gaming audience and find its way onto a more pop and cultural status?"
As the game begins, I was treated with a visual feast for the eyes and epic orchestra music for my ears. Utilizing Silicon Graphics Imaging (SGI) workstations for the rendered, full-motion video (FMV) sequences and static backgrounds, mixed with real-time generated polygons, FF7 is a virtuoso production with the most advanced gaming technology to date. The way the game blends its visual composition seamlessly between the FMV and the player-controlled real-time represent a technological triumph for the PlayStation's hardware, considering that all of this is accomplished with virtually no load-time from the CD.
While the presentation is cutting-edge, I can't say the same of the gameplay. The game has a feel that is distinctive to all of the Final Fantasy games and to the Japanese RPG genre in general. Being a sequel, some repetition and familiarity is expected and the game is not derivative by any means, but, at the same time, FF7 has a hard time defining its gameplay elements with the new visual format. Trying to find ways to push the plot forward while involving players interactively becomes the game's most difficult task. Since the story is extremely complex, players are often restricted to a path. This is nothing new within the context of the rich tales previously associated with the Final Fantasy series, but here in Part 7, it doesn't blend so well with the new visual format. I was often traveling to specific areas of interest, but within restricted paths (due to the complex graphics), so that getting to any point ranged from being an uninteresting chore to being little more than a frustrating obstacle course. In older RPGs, the journey was often part of the quest, but in FF7 the journey becomes a hassle in between the meat and potatoes of the game. Inadvertently, FF7 feels less like an RPG and more like the computer graphic quest games made popular by Sierra and Lucas Arts.
Another problem is Square Soft's and Sony's attempts at promoting the game to be as legitimate as any other art form. While this is admirable, it does make some of the weaker elements of FF7 more glaring. Take, for example, the story and the characterizations. FF7 has a rich story and some of the most complex characters ever created, by video game standards. Compare those two elements in FF7 with anything from novels and motion pictures and it becomes painfully obvious how weak the story development is, at times, and how paper-thin the characters' personalities are. There isn't enough in FF7 to match the depth of screenplay in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane or the complexities of characters exhibited in Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver. The childish motivations of Cloud and the cliched antics of Barret aren't enough to drive FF7 to something greater.
Still, FF7 deserves credit for trying to push videogames further along the cultural scale even if they do ultimately falter by a narrow margin. When Square Soft announced at SIGGRAH that they were going to push the envelope of computer graphics, they weren't kidding. They accomplished that goal thoroughly, but didn't manage to find an evolution between the typical grammar of games and something else that the mainstream audiences could relate to (something that only a game like Myst has accomplished in recent years). The game does a great job of bringing new visuals to games, but it didn't affect my perception of the world or my emotions to any great extent. If Square Soft wants videogames to be compared equally to other forms of art, then they are going to have to gain that respect by producing a game that is more intellectually and culturally aware and not a game that is essentially a video game screaming for attention and respect.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes
We never thought we'd have say this about a Squaresoft RPG, but parental discretion is advised here because Square goes overboard with heavy potty-mouth dialogue and sexual innuendo throughout the game. The dialogue translation is below average and we just can't shake the game's symbol of stereotyping that is Barret. His very inclusion into this game will certainly put off gamers who are sensitive to even the most basic concepts of racism.
A Final Fantasy fan will probably ignore all of this and pick this title up, if they haven't already, and it is a good title for those new to console RPGs.
But for those wanting more, we'd recommend Chrono Trigger on the SNES (arguably the best console RPG ever made) or Final Fantasy II or Final Fantasy III (also on the SNES). Be warned though, there is a title called Final Fantasy Anthology (due at the end of October for the) and it is a collection of Final Fantasy III and the never-released Final Fantasy V.
Wading through all the praise and admiration of the game, I noticed that what was overwhelmingly noted for its greatness, on a consistent basis, were the graphics and sound. But don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking either. In fact, I believe that the CG full-motion video and backgrounds, as well as the symphonic music are the best on the PlayStation since its very inception. However, as impressive as the visuals are, other companies, namely Namco and Tecmo, were already producing them albeit on a smaller scale. Looking at it critically, the music is spectacular but that's never been enough reason to call a game revolutionary. All of these things have to come together within the game to create a completely new experience and Final Fantasy VII (FF7) doesn't do that.
Make no mistake about it, FF7 is a graphical showcase, first and foremost, and an RPG second. No matter what Square says about trying to add movie-like elements to their games to aid in storytelling, they are obviously in love with their SGI machines and are determined to put them to use at any cost. Graphics took such a precedence over gameplay that playing through any part of the game was akin to being lead by a leash; I was allowed some freedom, but if I really strayed, I was snapped back to path by the designers' invisible, yet heavy hand. It was as if the artists set a mandate that players were only to see all of the levels the artists had worked so hard on and the players would be allowed no deviation from this. The last thing an RPG should do is take the reins out of the hands of players.
Plus, there are still remnants from the old 16-Bit series. Super-Deformed (SD) characters are used here for some reason. With a high-tech look and the sheer complexity of pre-rendered graphics and sophisticated CG movies, this type of character model looks ridiculously out of place. Even more confusing is that more detailed and more realistically-rendered models are available, but only during battle scenes. Back are the paper-thin characters who are not likable, yet are somehow supposed to win us over anyway with their coolness. Cloud is an enigma from beginning to end and I am beyond the years of caring for that cool, brooding hero who's never short on chicks (this hero stereotype is extremely popular in anime, which subsequently inspires their counterparts in videogames). There are also some new changes to the Final Fantasy world that could take some getting used to. There are only 3 characters to use in battle now, instead of the usual four. Magic must now be bought or found (like in the original Final Fantasy) and not just awakened from within the character. And there are now a bunch of mini-games thrown in to break up the monotonous parts of the game. But what I really have to take an issue with is Barret, the only black character in the game. Why is it that the black character is the only person in the game that is an ignoramus? And why is it that his dialogue consists mostly of cursing and is so grammatically incorrect that you'd need an Ebonics handbook to get what he's saying?
Under other circumstances, FF7 would have been an enjoyable game. But after the aforementioned hype and unprecedented media attention, my expectations were raised to a level that FF7 just couldn't reach. With all its deficiencies in basic gameplay compiled with the design issues Chi had mentioned, FF7 is still an excellent example of what wonderful things can be done with the CD-ROM medium. Square wanted to sell the industry on the graphics and the new medium and once they delivered, the mainstream media was satisfied. Hopefully, the next time around, Square will learn from this and release a worthy successor. Until then, FF7 should be regarded as a good game that fell short of greatness.