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.