Final Fantasy VII — Fundamental Christians, Scientologists, and Final Fantasy VII Fanboys

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This here is the definition of an overrated game.  But I want to make things perfectly clear before I continue: this is also an excellent game.  There are some things wrong with the game that could’ve been improved with a little bit more time and attention, but there are some things wrong with the game that can simply be attributed to the period of time during which it was released.  No, the reason this game is overrated is because it’s not nearly as good as all the fanboys say.  This is definitely not the best game ever.  Top 25, probably.  Top 10, that might be stretching things.  But the number one best game of all time, it is not.

Oh Barret, you’re so silly!

Instead of focusing on what Final Fantasy VII was not, let’s focus on what it was.  It’s definitely the next logical progression from Final Fantasy VI.  Squaresoft seemed content to gradually improve their sprite graphics on the SNES, but they must’ve known they couldn’t continue doing that forever.  When they decided to make VII, they suddenly got this brilliant idea that they wanted to move into the third dimension.  The unfortunate thing is that, by today’s standards, Final Fantasy VII is ugly as Sin, especially compared to what they were able to accomplish later on with Final Fantasy IX.  But in 1997, a fifty hour RPG that made use of 3-D graphics was mostly unheard of.  Other RPGs on the PlayStation only got as far as incorporating so-called “2.5-D graphics”, where the environments were sort of 3-D, but the sprites were only 2-D.  Non-Squaresoft 3-D RPGs were few and far between, and I don’t think I can even name more than one.  Anyway, Final Fantasy VII definitely represented Squaresoft’s early experiments in the third dimension, and I respect them for having been willing to use the series as a testing ground for the capabilities of the PlayStation.  Such an experiment must’ve been successful, considering the next game in the series used far better graphics and was released only a couple years later.  Then came Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy IX, Vagrant Story… the sky was the limit.

It’s just too bad that they had to start from the ground and work their way up.  Final Fantasy VII was a game that only managed to squeak by in areas that later games managed to excel at.  It was the first of the Final Fantasy games to feature pre-rendered backgrounds onto which 3-D sprites were placed, but the game was released before controllers had analog sticks, so characters were restricted to walking along rigid axes through areas designed for full 3-D exploration.  I sure look forward to the next time I leave my house and zig zag across my city’s streets as if I have difficulty with acute angles, don’t you?  You could probably blame Squaresoft for this one because they had to be aware of the hardware’s limits and could’ve made things easier for us, but they didn’t.

Hey now.  Spoilers.

It wasn’t just hard to control your character in these environments, it was often hard to see where you needed to go, too.  Instead of there being a camera that zoomed in towards your character when you were moving towards the rear of an image, the camera was either static, or it panned from left to right and/or up and down.  None of this helped you to navigate around hard-to-see obstacles.  If you were trying to insert your character into an open barn door and the barn door was a tiny portion of the screen, good luck.  Then again, the entire game was full of environments where tiny sprites were expected to travel around, so it was like Squaresoft expected everyone to have 30 inch high definition televisions, and I don’t think high definition even existed in 1997.

Also, there was a striking difference between in game sprites and FMVs.  Characters rendered in FMV were far more detailed and proportioned better than their sprite versions.  That didn’t stop most characters from staring vacantly even during an FMV.  Squaresoft obviously needed practice with facial expressions.  I could forgive such expressions in battle because maybe Squaresoft was going for “fierce” instead of “vacant”.  Also, kudos to Squaresoft for programming a 3-D battle system that didn’t slow down and lag even when three characters fought five enemies.  I don’t know how they were able to do it in VII, then drop the ball when they programmed IX‘s battle system.

Have you ever had a hard time naming your characters?
Hmm… no, that’s too silly.
An aching back could be from any number of things, not just an excess of breast tissue.
And calling direct attention to her breasts just isn’t funny.
Almost… but I’ll go with it.

Final Fantasy VII had something to do with saving the planet from a villain who thought that he was the chosen one and wanted to destroy everything in an effort to bring about the Promised Land.  Also, there were other villains who were destroying the world in an effort to make big bins full of money by selling energy drilled up from the ground, and doesn’t that sound familiar?  I think that was how it went, anyway.  I could look it up on Wikipedia, but I shouldn’t have to.  A game should be easily understood without you having to interpret typos, grammar issues, and poor translation choices.  I don’t know who looked at the English script of this game and thought that it was perfect because trust me, it wasn’t.  It was atrocious, and I don’t know how anyone thought they could get away with it.

Here’s a thought experiment for you: imagine yourself in a bookstore, buying a book.  It doesn’t… yes, an actual book made of paper.  Don’t laugh, I’m serious.  Just pretend that this is thirty years ago, Kindles don’t yet exist, and people had no choice but to use actual, real money to purchase books made of paper.  Okay?  Good.  Now, it doesn’t matter what else is going on there at the bookstore.  Maybe music is playing on the radio, maybe Sherlock Holmes is discussing with Watson the particulars of Moriarty’s latest criminal scheme, maybe you’re slowly and involuntarily transforming from a human into a playful collie.  It doesn’t matter as long as you’re there buying that book.  Now take it home, and when you get to your mansion, apartment or doghouse, try to read it.  If you are turning into a dog, we’ll assume you’re an intelligent, literate dog.  Anyway, the book doesn’t care how literate you are, for it contains pure gibberish.  Its grammar is off, its spelling could be better, and some of its script just doesn’t make any sense.  Like, “Say, do you think Cloud’s… Going to fight to the end for AVALANCHE!?”  Where did that come from?  I chose one of the more forgivable lines, but trust me.  I could’ve picked on the more famous “This guy are sick” and “Off course!” lines instead.  Wouldn’t you feel cheated if you purchased a book like that?  And this game is considered the best game ever!  That’s absurd, and I bet you agree, too.  There’s a good collie.

As for the soundtrack, it was great if you listened to it with an artistic ear, but its sound quality was crap.  It was like they still thought they were programming an SNES game.  And come on, the PlayStation was capable of playing audio CDs.  You can’t say that it wasn’t able to reproduce great sound.  I know, I know, audio synthesis is not the same as audio playback, but still I have a hard time thinking that the PlayStation was only capable of awesome things sometimes, when it felt like it.  At any rate, I think that Nobuo Uematsu began to hit his stride on the PlayStation and especially with this game, if you ignored the quality of the synthesis.  I believe that the PlayStation was where people began to realize just how beautiful video game music could be.

Psst, Bolt.  Zoom, zoom.

Not just the soundtrack, the game in general was artistically one of the best games Squaresoft made.  Its technical merits were rather poor, but fanboys didn’t seem to care.  What they never realized was that, just as in a figure skating competition, it’s impossible to win based on artistic merit alone.  These fanboys don’t like to admit that they had to muscle their way through the technical aspects of their golden calf.

I mean, come on.  Who designed Final Fantasy VII‘s minigames?  I’d like to know who looked at the Rampart series and thought “I can do better than that!”  It’s a wonder the tower defence genre became so huge today, considering the poor execution of the Fort Condor minigame.  G Bike, the crazy motorcycle chase, stood out as another awkward minigame that I’m thankful I was only forced to play once.  The occasional timed jump and timed button press at various parts in the adventure got annoying real fast.  And what was up with that marching band game?  I think there were far too many distractions from the main quest in Final Fantasy VII to consider any of them valid.  I would’ve expect this kind of bullshit from an adventure game, not an RPG.  I know the game was trying to be more realistic, but come on!  I don’t l-

Sorry, but to continue reading this review, you have to give CPR to a drowning victim.

You see what I mean?  I wanted to get stronger so I could defeat Sephiroth!  I didn’t want to have to waste time pressing buttons over and over and over until the game arbitrarily decided that I’d fulfilled its hidden bullshit meter and let me continue with th-

Sorry, but to continue reading this review, you have to make Mr. Dolphin jump.

Um… I’m not sure I want to sleep in a bed with a skull pillow.

Oh, and did you know that this game contained the most awful method of acquiring chocobos that I’ve ever encountered in a Final Fantasy game?  You couldn’t buy a chocobo or rent one like in previous games, but you could catch one, if you were lucky.  First you needed to buy Materia designed to lure chocobos, then you needed to buy Greens that were designed to distract chocobos from the fact that you were slaughtering the native fauna and occasionally the native flora all around it, then you needed to get into a battle with a chocobo and toss those Greens in front of him fast enough that he didn’t get spooked and run off before you could even take your turn.  Then, when you did capture the chocobo, you couldn’t ever get off of it or else it’d run away and you’d have to catch another one.  It was easier to acquire a chocobo later on, since your characters did get faster as they levelled up, but you shouldn’t have needed to grind in order to be fast enough to get a chocobo without random enemies whaling on you while you waited to select your first command.  Naturally, when your enemies went first, this spooked the chocobo.  Plus, you couldn’t skip getting one, since you needed one to cross a swamp.

I cannot say this enough, this wasn’t a shitty game.  It was a beautiful game with shitty aspects.  Despite containing a translation that turned the back story into gibberish and a collection of inane tasks that had to be completed to continue the game, Final Fantasy VII could and still can stand on its own wobbly legs.  Honestly, if you can get past how awkward the game feels, like a teenager who took his first steps out of high school and into college, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.  You might even join the legions of fanboys who set fire to anyone who finds fault with the game.

Flame on.
Screen shots generated by author

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