Tons of lore, an extravagant score and the girl next door

Final Fantasy VII (1997)

I’ve been trying to put some time into just why Final Fantasy VII seems to be so much more popular than the rest. Even here in Europe, where we didn’t get much in the way of RPGs, FF7 made an impact on hardcore and more casual gamers alike. We didn’t get much in the way of RPGs, including Final Fantasy I to VI, Dragon Quest I to VII, and other titles without Roman numerals like Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger. We didn’t get any of that stuff, check fantasy star. So why is it that Final Fantasy VII just took everything by storm? It’s a fascinating question, and I believe I’ve cracked the reason for it.

This may not explain why women also like as well but I think the story of Final Fantasy seven and why resonated because it is all about how the boy who thinks he’s great but turns out to be a geek at heart, managed to ascend with the girl next door. And the girl next door in this case has cans bigger than her head, which, you know, only adds to the pathos and the intrigue.

It’s an interesting thing about Final Fantasy VII, if you’re at all interested in that most neckbearded of subjects, Japanese gaming history. The whole Final Fantasy gig was strictly a Nintendo thing right the way up to the sixth game, or the third game as it was in the US. Or the nothing at all, released here in Europe. But then, following the whole thing with Nintendo and Sony and the CD add-on and the fallout there.

Add the fact that Sony were entering the market with their CD-based console and nailed it right from the off. They weren’t gonna be like the Sega CD, from when Sega were managed worse than Ratners Jewellery. And they weren’t gonna be any other failed CD-based console that cost several hundred dollars either. They actually managed to put together some hardware that wasn’t a complete load of rubbish, and in an alternative universe it might have been leeching off the SNES.

But Sony’s product was able to do high-quality video and audio, at a resolution that didn’t make the final product look like a pig’s arse. Squaresoft, naturally, were aiming for more than “pig’s arse” with Final Fantasy. The series really was just going from strength to strength, and it was becoming clear that Nintendo consoles weren’t going to hack it anymore. We all know what it’s like to outgrow technology – . this was the world of 3D, something to wow us all.

And not only that, but what eventually came out was on three discs, and even that by itself just sounds so grandiose, doesn’t it? One mere cartridge seems quaint, and they now seemed so expensive and lumbering compared to CDs, which cost nowt. That meant they could ship three CDs, that sounded so much bigger and better than anything that Nintendo could do with their stone age N64. We won’t even talk about the Sega Saturn with its lack of 3D capabilities, its lack of grunt, its lack of coolness, even its lack of Sonic for heaven’s sake.

But Final Fantasy VII was a game that I came quite late to, so late indeed that I had already seen it being described as the best game ever by, I don’t know, hundreds of thousands of sources. Not just the geeks either, but the supernerds as well. And I’ve seen people read the same thing about Ocarina of Time. But when a game is called the greatest ever, you’ll get Melvin-Come-Latelys like me coming to play it, and the game turns out to be nowhere near as good as expected. Yes, the game has been truly overhyped. When I played Final Fantasy VII though, and looked bpast the low-poly Lego man character models, I found that this game hadn’t aged badly at all, and it actually did draw me in.

And it was interesting, because you get this idea that Cloud, the most famous of Final Fantasy protagonists, would just be one of those ellipsis merchants, giving it “…” all the time. You’re thinking he’s gonna be withdrawn, angsty, he won’t talk. And true, later portrayals of the character did exactly that. But the Cloud you see in vanilla Final Fantasy VII is pretty damn goofy. And crucially, and I’m dropping a major spoiler here with very litle warning for you, eventually it’s revealed that he’s not quite the badass you had him down as.

And this all gets borne out when he returns home, having told everybody he was gonna be the top dog. He’s gonna be the sensational professional footballer of the Final Fantasy world, but when he comes home he’s actually only playing Sunday League. He’s only a lackey, an NPC that just happens to be playable. Of course, none of us can bear this kind of exposure and embarrassment, so it’s little wonder Cloud had to construct one hell of a life cover-story so that he doesn’t look a right pilchard in front of Tifa, the girl next door.

He’s just a little guilty of doing what we all do – letting on that we’re much better than we really are. And that’s what it’s all about, and any man who’s ever been made to feel inadequate will know the score. And trust me, that’s a daily process for me. So it’s not hard for me to with sympathize with Cloud, and it’s no wonder my fellow losers hold him up as one of the best gaming protagonists ever.

If his dreadful masculine inadequacies don’t entice you and all your fellow neckbeards, then his ridiculously spiky hair and enormous Buster Sword will. These traits are nothing new for anime and PS1 games of course, but they were relatively new tools for what was an emerging RPG market in the US and Europe, which hadn’t really received RPGs positively before. That hair helps, and also very, very large swords compensate resorts so it would almost have to say, and ultimately the battle system and FF7 is a big game.

The last disc actually is very short, and we later learned that the majority of the space on each disc was actually given to the full-motion videos. These FMVs now look quite quaint, but at the time, even stuff like the motorcycle FMV in this game, or the sword fight at the beginning of Final Fantasy VIII, were stunning. I remember looking at the FF8 intro as a kid, and actually thinkin that they were real life, and when I realised it was the game, I then dialed my stupidity down slihtly by thinking that graphics would never get any better than that.

So that was definitely something that the Nintendo 64 couldn’t contend with. And on top of that you have the usual top notch soundtrack, one of the best of the era. And a very nice battle system actually, easy enough to understand. Not too daunting for newcomers, which Final Fantasy games can sometimes be. An intriguing plot, even though it’s got an awfully mangled translation to content with, although that just makes it a funnier trip.

And you can play updated versions now with a bit of retranslation then they’ll let you speed up things and cheat your way to godly stats. This got a PC release as well and there’s all kinds of mods available for it, but I only ever like to talk about the vanilla game. FF7 is not my favourite, and I wouldn’t say it’s objectively the best. I like 8 more, and probably 6 is better in my opinion but 7, I think is timeless.

I’ll talk about the Final Fantasy VII Remake another day – after all, there’s only so many PlayStations and games I can fit into my house. People were dying for that remake, but it was never going to surpass the original, which we just had to accept. Just like the real Cloud could never surpass the Cloud that had been built up.

But Final Fantasy VII is a homier game than you might expect, if you’re one of those six people out there who haven’t played it yet. Nearly everybody has great memories of this one. Even with its mega-popularity, I would actually call this the Final Fantasy next door. It may not be the prettiest these days, but it’s alway the one to aspire to.

30 April 2021

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