Final Fantasy VII is still one of the best JRPGs of all the time and a timeless classic that’s worth playing to this day.
Final Fantasy VII is one of those titles that, over the years, has acquired a legendary status. Not only does the game make an appearance on “best games of all time” lists on a regular basis, but people who talk about the game do so with earnest and passion. It’s also true that a long time has passed since the release of the PlayStation version of Final Fantasy VII, so is this Japanese role-playing game worthy of all that praise and more importantly, does it still hold up after all those years? If you want to short answer, here it is: Final Fantasy VII is still one of the best JRPGs of all the time and a timeless classic that it’s worth playing to this day despite some minor issues.
It terms of gameplay, Final Fantasy VII is a mix of both old and new. The Active Time Battle system (ATB for short) is still here and for the most part, it works remarkably well as a way of handling combat. Battles trigger randomly as you explore the different environments or whenever there’s a special event, such as a boss fight. Something of note is that the battle screen is displayed in 3D, a first for the Final Fantasy series. Also, as you fight enemies or you are hit by them, your limit bar increases and when it’s filled up completely, you can unleash a powerful attack known as a Limit Break. One of the new parts that the alters the combat is called materia system. Basically, each weapon has empty slots and you can equip a substance called materia which not only affects the statistics of that weapon, but also grants it additional effects. Nevertheless, materia is a double-edged sword, since the benefits you obtain usually come with disadvantages of their own in some cases. For instance, as your magic level increases, your physical attacks are decreased.
The gameplay might have some compelling new systems and mechanics, but if there’s a part where the game is fondly remembered, that’s the story and incredibly memorable cast of characters. In Final Fantasy VII, you assume the role of a group of rebels that belong to an eco terrorist group known as Avalanche in the post-industrial city of Midgar. Cloud, Barret and Tifa are some of the members of the group, but as you progress through the game, more characters join your cause, including Aeris, Red XII, Yuffie and Vincent Valentine. Avalanche is a response to Shinra, a mega-corporation that’s using a new technology known as Mako reactors that’s literally sucking the life out of the planet. All the members of your team have different reasons to join Avalanche and I found most of them quite convincing and compelling. In general, the story is simply one of the best in a JRPG even to this day and while far from perfect, the storytelling is one of Final Fantasy VII’s strongest suits.
So what makes Final Fantasy VII so special? Well, the game excels in different departments (technical, narrative, soundtrack, character development and the list goes on and on) and when all those different aspects come together, they help create a unique experience that took the world by storm back in 1997. Whether fans think Final Fantasy VII is the best of the series is a debate for another time, but regardless of how they feel about it, they can’t deny that this is simply one of the best titles in the genre.
One of the best parts about Final Fantasy VII is that this game holds up well enough in this day and age. One the one hand, seasoned JRPG fans will find ways to exploit the materia system and the game’s mechanics and on the other hand, younger players might struggle when it comes to the dated visuals and some people might look at the story and wonder what the fuss is all about. But I found it easy and accessible to play this game so many years after its release and that’s seldom the case with classic games.
But despite the legendary status that Final Fantasy has acquired over the years, this JRPG is far from perfect. For starters, the character design (which uses super-deformed or “chibi” characters most of the time) give the game a sillier tone which clashes with the serious narrative. One moment Cloud is snowboarding and the next he’s having a metaphysical discussion with Sephiroth. It’s like the game never has a steady tone and since it’s constantly jumping between dead serious and plain silly, this made it harder to take the story seriously at times.
Also, the story is too convoluted for its own good. To be fair, this is one of the first titles that had such a complex narrative where so many elements came into play. But if I had to explain the plot to somebody without a Wiki at my side, not only would that take a while, but I’d realize that there are multiple parts I barely remember. A questionable translation definitely doesn’t help and the vulgar speech of certain characters and use of Americanisms of others (Barret, I’m looking at you) constantly made me wonder if this was the intention of the writers or if the translators took some liberties.
Final Fantasy VII has some problems and some parts of the JRPG have aged poorly, but if you don’t mind playing games that came out decades ago and if you want to get lost in a gargantuan world that will take you dozens if not hundreds of hours to explore, this game will not disappoint. Even after so many years, the PlayStation version of Final Fantasy VII remains as one of the best games of all time and the title achieved that with deep character development, a colossal map with dozens of side-quests, a memorable cast of characters, a magnificent narrative that became the blueprint for role-playing games and use of cutting edge technology. Final Fantasy VII pioneered in several aspects and, for better or for worse, few titles will be able to achieve what the seventh entry in the Final Fantasy series managed to pull of back in 1997. I guess it’s true when they say that seven is a lucky number.