The widespread success of Final Fantasy VII cannot be overstated. Though the backlash of hate against the game’s popularity and its fanbase is notorious, it cannot halt the widespread love for the game. There are two points I’d like to make to demonstrate that FFVII, as its own franchise, is alive and well.
First, of course, is the existence of “The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII.” Though Dirge of Cerberus (PS2) didn’t do well critically or in terms of sales, Crisis Core (PSP) and the Advent Children film made international waves. Second, and perhaps even more important, is the success of a $10 downloadable version of Final Fantasy VII. Released in North America’s “PSOne Classics” section of the PlayStation Store in June of 2009 (right when E3 started), FFVII has remained in the top 5 products sold list on PSN almost every week for the next seven months. It held the #1 spot, off and on, during the last few months as well. Dozens of new releases, old and new, big and small, hit the PSN store each month. But the universal appeal of Final Fantasy VII helped it to sell extraordinarily well in the last half of 2009.
Like other “PSOne Classic” releases, FFVII on PSN plays on both PSP and PS3. For a strong audio experience, provided you have good speakers, you’ll want to play on PS3. But I found that, even with its weak speakers, I much preferred playing FFVII on my PSP. The smaller screen size helped offset the aged graphics, and being able to play FFVII “on the go” was a wonderful experience.
Please note that the scores given for this review are a subjective aggregate of how the game looked and felt 13 years ago and how the game compares to current-generation RPGs. And with that subjectivity in mind, please bear with me as I open my review with a personal history of FFVII play.
The first time I played Final Fantasy VII was on its North American release date, September of 1997. I didn’t even own a PlayStation yet, but my friends did and we all got together to watch (and take turns playing) the opening portion of the game. I was 13 at the time. I am now 26, so it’s been half a lifetime since I last played the game.
While many other RPG fans would revisit FFVII over and over throughout the years, my first experience with FFVII compelled me to beg my parents for a PlayStation so that I could continue playing FFVII. I won, and before 1997 was over, I had beaten the game. No, I hadn’t just beaten it. I had conquered it. Visions of gold chocobos, King Arthur’s court, and two Weapons named after precious gems had all gone from fantasy to reality.
I can’t believe it’s been that long. I also can’t believe what a huge impression it left on my mind. My single, solitary play through this game left me making many mistakes (such as: missing Alexander, missing Bahamut ZERO, not recruiting Vincent until disc 3). I didn’t turn to a walkthrough until endgame, and when I did, I was surprised by just how much I missed. So I devoted myself to finding everything I could. And I did. And when a friend of mine started up the game after me, I coached him on what not to miss, and he too became a completionist. He even picked up Aeris’ ultimate weapon and final limit break.
Fast forward 13 years, and let’s talk about my second experience playing FFVII.
Now, FFVII was released on the PSN store in June 2009. However, I was busy with plenty of other RPGs, and I really wasn’t convinced I’d enjoy the game as much now as I did back then. But, over time, a desire to remember gnawed away at me. So, in January 2010, I decided to play the game for a second time with these three questions in mind: how much of this game do I remember? Can I pick up all the secrets without a walkthrough? And most importantly, will I still enjoy this game?
Short answers: a lot, yes, and yes.
In case you’ve never played before…
This section of the review is dedicated to the two or three people who miraculously stumbled upon RPGFan without having played FFVII ahead of time. FFVII tells the story of Cloud Strife and the planet he inhabits. The planet is dying from overconsumption of a life-source kind of energy called “Mako,” harvested by a mega-conglomerate corporation called Shinra. At the game’s opening, Cloud is working with an eco-terrorist organization called AVALANCHE to “save the planet” by destroying Mako reactors in Midgar, a metropolis that relies on Mako energy for its existence. One day Cloud meets a girl in a church in Midgar’s slums named Aeris (spelled “Aerith” in all FFVII-related work since FFVII). It turns out she’s a member of an ancient civilization called the Cetra, and she may hold the key to saving the planet. There’s also some super bad guy named Sephiroth that everyone keeps talking about. He, and not the members of Shinra, poses the single largest threat to the planet.
There are a total of nine playable characters, two of whom are optional recruits (Yuffie and Vincent). These characters all level individually via experience points. Only three members can be in combat at a time: the reserve members gain a fraction of the total experience awarded in battle, so that they do not become entirely useless if left in reserve for too long. But leveling the individual characters is only one half of the game’s growth system. FFVII took the “Espers” of Final Fantasy VI and made something far more versatile: the Materia system.
Materia, apparently a crystalized form of Mako energy, are little colorful spheres that house the knowledge of the ancients. There are five kinds of Materia: magic (green), summon (red), command (yellow), support (blue), and independent (purple). Every character can equip weapon, armor, and accessories. Accessories don’t have materia slots, but weapons and armor do have slots. Each individual weapon and armor will have a different number of slots, and some equipment will enhance materia growth (double or triple), though there are also some pieces of equipment with “no materia growth.”
Each piece of materia has a predetermined amount of AP (points, like exp, awarded after battle) required to level up, and with each level comes some sort of improvement to the materia. Once the materia is mastered–each materia is different, but the level max is between 2 and 5–a new materia will be born at level 1, and you also have your mastered materia to equip.
Some examples of each materia: magic has the traditional fire ice and lightning, as well as status effect spells (bio, sleep, poison), enhance spells (haste, barrier), restorative magic (cure, life) and super-powerful magic (flare, comet, ultima). A magic materia will have its own name, and as you level it up, you gain access to different spells. For example, one high-level materia is called “contain.” Within it, you find a powerful spell under each of the four elements (freeze, break, tornado, and flare). In other cases, such as fire materia, it’s simply Fire, Fire 2, and Fire 3 that you gain access to as the materia grows. For Summon materia, leveling the materia determines the number of times per battle that you can summon the creature contained in the materia (again, max is 5). Support materia, which only works when linked to another type of materia in a way that makes sense, can have a variety of effects. For example, adding “element” support materia to fire materia equipped to a weapon will add that elemental type of damage to standard attacks. Setting up the same linkage equipped to armor will allow you to either negate or absorb damage of that type. “All” support materia is the only way you can make single-target magic materia become multi-target. Exceptions are magic that requires single target (comet), or magic that is already multi-target (ultima). As the “all” materia levels up, the number of times you can go multi-target increases (max is, again, 5). Command materia can sometimes have improved versions of the command within it: for example, steal upgrades to mug, 2x cut upgrades to 4x cut. Finally, independent materia is exactly that: independent. It cannot have a paired effect with support materia, and it generally offers passive traits. Cover, counter attack, statistics up, the ability to breathe underwater, the ability to lure chocobos, and many other things are covered via independent materia.
Finally, every bit of materia has the ability to affect your base stats. Most magic and summon materia will decrease your max HP, strength, and/or vitality, while it will increase you magic damage and max MP. Some command materia will increase strength, dexterity, or vitality.
Because each bit of materia has a level of its own, it can be swapped from character to character in the main menu. This means that you can make Cloud a great fighter and Tifa a great magician, but then switch their roles seamlessly between battles if need be. All you need is the right materia.
Moving on: spoilers included
Okay, that’s about all the basic information I can bare to rehash. Everything from here in the review assumes the reader has played, and beaten, FFVII. I can hardly call it a spoiler alert anymore, but if you’re upset by me “revealing” the fact that Aeris dies, you probably shouldn’t read the rest of this review.
So here I am, 13 years after first playing FFVII, re-experiencing everything as an adult. I went into it with the recent knowledge gained from Advent Children and Crisis Core clearly in my head. I was watching to see if there were any inconsistencies. Surprisingly, I didn’t find any. Everything adds up. Aeris even said she “used to” have a boyfriend in SOLDIER. Oh hey, it was Zack!
The consistency of the plot among the Compilation of FFVII really is startling. People want to trash the whole concept for being a selfish cash grab, but the people who work on all things FFVII really are keeping things together. Knowing what I know now made FFVII a great experience. I knew more about each character, including supporting characters such as Tseng, Reno, Rude, Hojo, Marlene, and (of course) Zack. This brought even more power to the plot. However, as for the writing itself, I was left wanting. Aeris seemed to be almost entirely without personality, and Barret’s Mr. T-esque lingo grated on me even more this time around.
Graphically, the in-game events look just fine on a PSP, though they do look quite dated on a PS3 with an HDTV. Regardless of the console you’re using, the FMVs definitely look dated. Most in-game graphics of this generation top the FMV sequences we drooled over in 1997. But considering what a huge graphical breakthrough this game was in its original release, I cannot undersell the importance that FFVII holds for people who like eye candy in their RPGs.
Maybe I’m just that much better at gaming as an adult, but I did not find FFVII to be a challenge at all. I went into every new dungeon or boss with optimal equipment and materia, and I conquered anything that came in my path. No, I did not fight Ruby and Emerald this time around, primarily because I didn’t feel like going through the lengthy chocobo breeding process to get Mimic and/or Knights of Round materia.
But I did all of the side quests outside of chocobo breeding and Ruby/Emerald battles. I got ultimate weapons and final limit breaks for all characters. And when I went down through the Northern Crater to take down Sephiroth, I (yet again) found no challenge there. Okay, so maybe I duplicated 99 megalixirs using the W-Item glitch. Like I said, if I could remember it without a walkthrough, I did it.
FFVII felt so small this time around. I thought the game was huge, larger-than-life huge, as a kid. But it’s not. The world map is remarkably tiny. The number of memorable locations can be counted on two hands. Most dungeons are short; the number of rooms per dungeon is usually a single digit. But the observant player is rewarded. Materia hides in every corner; just look for a glowing sphere, and pick it up. Add it to your strategic layout and be ready to take down the next boss. Following this pattern allowed me to take down this “three disc” RPG in under 40 hours. If I hadn’t done side quests, it would’ve been under 30 hours.
Seriously, think about how small FFVII is. Disc one: bomb some reactors, dress up like a girl for Don Corneo, get out of Midgar, chase Sephiroth from one continent to the next, recruit some characters, head to the northern continent, watch Aeris die. Disc two: finish up at the Northern Crater, lose Cloud, get Cloud back, visit a few Mako reactors, kill Hojo in Midgar. Disc three: do sidequests if you want; else, kill Jenova/Sephiroth in the Northern Crater. The end.
The trick to getting the most out of FFVII, like most JRPGs pre-2000, is to talk to as many NPCs as you can and do as much unnecessary stuff as you can. Some say “the devil is in the details,” but in this case, all the good stuff is found in the details.
Annoying stuff I noticed
I know this game is meant to be a direct port. But would it have killed Square Enix to do one final QA cycle on this PSOne Classic before releasing it on the PSN store? There were plenty of little typos in the script that would bug me to no end. Examples? How about “Knowlespole” in the optional dialogues between Ifalna and Professor Gast (Aeris’ parents)? Anyone who knows a lick of kana knows that should be rendered “North Pole.” And hey, for consistency’s sake, why not just default Aeris to be “Aerith” now? You call her that in Crisis Core and Advent Children, don’t you?
And how about this one? You’re in the battle arena at the Gold Saucer. Do you want to continue to the next battle? “Off course! — No, way!” are your two options. Two typos in one menu, impressive!
The control can be finicky at times. Because your 3D sprite is mapped against pre-rendered backgrounds, the paths to follow are not always obvious. And as a result, pressing “up” won’t always send you up. Sometimes it will send you diagonally up-right, and sometimes it’ll send you to the left, and sometimes you’ll move toward the screen (presumably “down”). Knowing which way I’ll be going when I press on the directional pad is a basic requirement for exploration. It can be a real problem, at certain times and in certain locations, throughout FFVII.
Shall we play it again?
I’ve weighed out the good and the bad, and I’ve come to a conclusion. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to play this game again. And by “like me,” I mean that you’ve enjoyed at least some of the products released in Compilation of FFVII, and when you were younger you thought FFVII was a great RPG. Turns out, it’s still a great RPG. FFVII deserves its place in the spotlight. It may be a little overrated by some fans, but that doesn’t mean the game itself is bad. It truly is one of the best PSOne RPGs, and it’s easily the best PSOne RPG of 1997. So help FFVII stay in that top 5 list on the PSN a few more weeks by downloading it for yourself. Again, playing it on PSP is a treat, so if you have one, go that route.