#343 Final Fantasy VII

Posted: 26th February 2011 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

33rd game played so far

Genre: Role-Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Square-Enix
Publisher: Sony

Final Fantasy is quite possibly the biggest RPG franchise known to man at this point in time. The game was named that because, when the first game was created, Square took a gamble by making it. It was the last game they could finance, and if they didn’t make it, they’d like be bankrupt. The game was a big success and Square is still around to this day.

After three games on the NES (Final Fantasy 1-3, although only the first made it out of Japan), and three on the SNES (4-6, although five didn’t make it out of Japan, and the other two were renumbered to II and III so it wasn’t noticed they were gone), as well as a few spin-offs like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Square stopped publishing for Nintendo.

Final Fantasy VII – the number was kept for all markets this time – was made for Sony’s Playstation and was a leap for the series in many ways. The first to use 3D-graphics instead of sprites, its visuals are distinctly different from the sprites of earlier games, and the storyline was updated to match. You start off as Cloud, a spiky-haired warrior with memory loss. An old and boring story now, but at the time it appealed to many, and its legacy remains.

Our Playthrough

As we say, we play the games until completion or for at least five hours. With Final Fantasy, we had no choice but to go for the latter, as going through it completely would’ve meant a blog hiatus of a few months. For those in the know, this put us in the Shinra building at the 65th floor.

Our Thoughts

Now here we are; the big one in the JRPG world. Well, one of the gargantuan titles anyway that defined the genre for a lot of people as well as helping to popularise JRPGs in the west. It truly started a sword and hair fetishism that seems wholly unnecessary. Yes, Cloud really does epitomise the emo JRPG character that all the genre’s detractors have grown to despise.

When it comes to animated characters I definitely agree with Matt Groening’s rule that you need to create a recognisable silhouette (which explains the hair in his animated series). However, the hair of JRPG protagonists tends to take this a bit too far. Thank god it eased up a little bit for Tidus in Final Fantasy X. I don’t think it’s that recognisable either.

Now, the sword is actually more worrying. Outside of battle, you don’t really see him carrying it around- and a sword taller than Cloud would stand out. The Freudian overtones are obvious and we’ll stay above them. This is something that is sort of addressed at some point when you engage in a little bit of light transvestism. When you get the wig from the strongman (don’t ask) he pulls it out from what appears to be Speedos… we are then advised that we may want to wash it first.  It’s a small acknowledgement to the bottomless pit that is an RPG’s pocket.

Even worse is that you get these after having a squat contest. The overtones are obvious, and these games often being associated with straight boys living in their basements drooling over the female characters in these games (which, I’m sure, none of our readers actually are) don’t seem as true as the comments this game seems to make on the topic. It’s a very happy game when it comes to those things; in the old sense of the word obviously. Very much so.

If we’re going to continue with the commentary of things being old I am going to draw attention to the graphics. This is especially highlighted by the quality discrepancy between gameplay and cut scenes. That is probably the most jarring thing in this game – and especially when other games of the age did it well. It’s a bit odd – in part they wanted to go for some realism, but they also wanted something more cartoony, and that’s jarring. The backgrounds are lovely, but the characters seem pixelly and, as jarring, don’t scale well. This isn’t helped by the apparent design decision of turning a 2D game into a 3D one, something that I don’t have confirmed, but that seems to have happened, based on the movement model and the fickleness of interaction. It’s almost as if some 3D models replaced the sprites, the perspective was changed in a few places, and nothing more. There is also a character, very early on, whose torso appears to be floating somewhat over his legs leaving a gap where the background can be seen through.

In fact, the main character Cloud’s arms are not always attached to his torso, as they taper into a point where they’re supposed to join. To be fair, you get somewhat used to it. What is interesting is how Cloud has possibly the worst looking of the characters during gameplay. Aeris looks somewhat passable as do Barret and most of the enemies. I mean if you were unable to get the pixels of a haunted house/turtle monster right it would be fairly awkward indeed. Yeah, for some reason the guy you’re looking at the most seems to be the most awkward, when you’d expect the greatest care to have gone into his model. At the time, it probably looked good.

Since we will be covering Final Fantasy VIII soon I will make a brief mention, but I think the move to a more humanoid character design was a great help to the series considering the technology available. It was only from the sixth generation consoles onwards where the more deformed chibi-like characters could be better rendered. In any case, the graphics are jarring and don’t help this game be as enjoyable now and you basically need to get yourself past that first before you can really enjoy it.

The criticisms of graphics solely lie with characters as the surroundings do look fantastic. The dark atmosphere is very well realised with the seedy settings and the murky surroundings. Dilapidated buildings, a train graveyard, drug references… fantastic. In fact, that makes the colourful, cartoony characters a little bit more jarring, with the characters not seeming to fit in with their environment. It’s a dark and gritty game, with some rather disturbing scenes – and not just if you’re bothered by crossdressers. (Apologies to readers of the transgender, intersex or transvestite variety. I don’t think I said we were.)

The gloomy steampunk look is then broken up by occasional moments of beauty (such as the flowers growing in an abandoned church) and these are all the poignant due to their infrequent and brief appearances. It is a fantastic way to juxtapose the more innocent world of the Aeris and the Ancients with what Shinra and the rest of humanity have done with their world. In fact I am not sure Final Fantasy VII could be made now as you are (in essence) assuming the role of a terrorist group. Well, there have been more games like that, but it does stand out now. (Not anywhere near as much as Rambo 3 where the lead character helps out the ‘noble Taliban’. If nothing else, Final Fantasy VI did this before – something we will learn about in the future)

Games have been made post-9/11 in a similar vein and have been met with much umbrage. I think the thing that really stands out with Final Fantasy VII is that you are a down-trodden people fighting the capitalist giants. I read somewhere that this would be now seen as an allegory of you taking the role of a Palestinian against Israel… but since this is not a political blog than I shall not elaborate on this more. It certainly makes you think.

So something else, the music. It’s hard to say much about these directly, as at a certain point, there is less improvement in this, but the sound track is good, and while you don’t have the fluent changes between scenes where you don’t notice the music changing, it makes for a more rousing setting when it does. In particular, at one point you have a fairly subdued background music that you’ve heard before… until the boss drops in and the game bursts into a rock soundtrack. You knew something big was going to happen right then and there. The soundtrack of course the work of Nobuo Uematsu who has done the music for the vast majority of the main series with Final Fantasies X-2 and XIII being the only ones to not feature any music written by him.

Now, be aware, there’s more Final Fantasies to come that we’ll discuss, in other to get through our collection of Kat’s games. We’ll probably be playing some smaller games in between – these games are massive (we’ve only seen a few bits and pieces of this game) and we want to focus on them for a few hours at a time, restricting our play time more or less to weekends only but it’ll be a large-haired, boyish charm gaming streak that’s coming up for us.

Final Thoughts

I guess that we will have a set of more succint final thoughts once we have played our way through Kat’s Final Fantasy collection for the PS1. Needless to say that despite there being a fair degree of niggles with the controls as you make your way around the world (as well as some navigation issues with the menu screens) it is easy to see that this is where a lot of modern RPGs from both Japan and the West have taken a great deal of influence from. It is little wonder that spin-offs of this particular Final Fantasy setting have continued to be made.

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