Final Fantasy VII (1997)
It was in 1998 during college that I first discovered the Final Fantasy series. Glancing through Playstation Power Magazine’s monthly forum devoted to Final Fantasy VII, I became intrigued by this RPG legend rated 97% and considered a milestone in gaming. Its worldwide influence cannot be conveyed in words but for me, personally, Final Fantasy VII was a major inspiration, especially in directing me towards Norse mythology with its use of the god, Odin, and by 1999 it had made its biggest impact for I had taken the first step into the world of writing fantasy fiction.
The story begins in Midgard, a futuristic city run by the Shinra Corporation whose chief crime is the use of eight reactors that suck Mako energy out of the earth to fuel advancing technology but draining the life force of the world. A mercenary group, Avalanche, opens Final Fantasy VII by destroying Mako Reactor No.1 in their quest for world preservation. Amongst their numbers is a new recruit, Cloud Strife, formerly a member of SOLDIER, Shinra’s force of elite warriors. The exploits of Avalanche in Midgard form only the basis of the story which quickly takes Cloud and his companions outside the city in pursuit of the elusive Sephiroth, another former member of SOLDIER and renowned as the greatest warrior Shinra has ever produced. Cloud and Avalanche’s fight against Shinra soon develops into an epic struggle to stop Sephiroth bringing calamity onto the world.
The first in the series to embrace 3D, Final Fantasy VII remains a visual dream. The cut scenes are still delightful perhaps none more beautiful than the end of the first disc whose imagery is etched into one’s memory by music heavily pronounced in its poignancy. The characters have an anime look about them with large striking eyes managing to capture a myriad of emotions. The backgrounds, rich in detail and easy to navigate, contain some memorable settings including Cosmo Canyon, Wutai and City of the Ancients. Some of the locations leave an imprint in your mind long after you have finished playing. Cloud’s hometown of Nibelheim, sleepy and seemingly insignificant, is the setting for a pivotal moment in his past, one that haunts Cloud throughout the game and remains with you long after the surprising revelations towards the end of the game.
Final Fantasy VII follows the usual RPG formula with a party of characters you can pick and choose from, equipping each with different weapons and armour, and levelling up via those random battles that are either a blessing or a curse dependent on your mood. Each weapon or piece of armour contains slots which are filled with materia, crystallised forms of Mako energy, that allow your characters to use and learn spells. Modifying your selection of materia and allocating them to the limited number of slots you contain is the key to success. For instance, two slots in a piece of armour may be connected allowing you to combine the strengths of two pieces of materia. In this example the best combination would be materia such as Ice or Restore in one slot and All in the other which would allow you to cast that particular spell on all enemies or characters rather than one at a time. There is a plethora of materia divided into five groups – red is summon materia concerning powerful gods, purple is independent materia that enhances a character’s status such as increasing HP, blue is support materia which is placed in linked slots to enhance other materia (as with the example above), yellow is command materia that gives you more battle options rather than just attack, and finally green is magic materia which covers elemental, curative and defensive spells. Prioritising your party’s needs is essential as there are never enough slots to accommodate all your materia.
The advances in gaming consoles today boasting increasingly stunning graphics can make elements of Final Fantasy VII show its age a little but this is quickly compensated by the immersive experience this title offers. Aside from the main story there are some welcome distractions most notably the crazy world of the Gold Saucer offering everything from a firework illuminated gondola ride to the competitive world of chocobo racing. The various towns, villages and cultures couldn’t be any more different but the whole package works brilliantly. Beneath these fantastical elements Final Fantasy VII addresses not only ecological concerns with Shinra’s draining of the world’s mako, but the oppression of minorities such as the coal miners in Coral, all too reminiscent for me of struggling UK miners in the 1980s.
Final Fantasy VII has deservedly written its place into gaming history. Of all the titles in the series this one probably resonates with more fans than any other. Cloud is one of the series highpoints, a complicated and flawed hero, while Sephiroth is easily the best villain ever to grace the Final Fantasy world. This should be one of the ten RPGS that all future incarnations in this genre measure themselves against. Narrowly surpassed by the eighth and tenth instalments, in my humble opinion, Final Fantasy VII still makes up the holy trinity of games in Square Enix’s brilliant series. Need I say more?
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