Final Fantasy VII was for me what it was for a lot of people, the first Role Playing Game I ever played. I have since played many RPGs that were made prior to FFVII so I am quite aware that it didn’t give birth to all of them but it was iconic and special to me because it was the first. Despite having an NES and SNES I pretty much played sports, action, platformers, and puzzle games prior to this experience. Since then the genre is one of my favorites if not my single favorite. This game also presented to me a mechanic that is now necessary in almost all games that I play: earning experience to level up and increase skills. So many games and genres have adopted this game mechanic, even sports games. For me the best mode in a sports game where you control one athlete and you gain experience over time which you spend to increase your ratings. No matter what kind of game I’m playing I want there to be an RPG element in it and I have this game to thank.
For its time FFVII had such a new, fresh, and amazing art direction. With the game being on the PlayStation it had the space on the discs and the hardware to really push the game graphically. The video cut scenes were great and the game just had a fantastic look to it. Coming from a 2d sprite history with previous Final Fantasy games Square had created an awesome new visual to turn based strategy games with its 3d visuals. While the game played the same in terms of selecting your action then selecting a target the animations made the somewhat tedious selection process a lot more bearable for RPG fans. I’m not sure whether the fact that I hadn’t played RPGs prior to FFVII made me appreciate the updated graphics less since I had already been familiar with the graphics of the PlayStation but nonetheless the game was stunning for the time period.
This is one of my favorite game soundtracks of all time and could be argued for holding the top spot. I listen to it at work, I used to listen to it when I did school work, I even listen to it occasionally when I play other games! Another aspect brought on by the increased memory of a disc based game allowed composer Nobuo Uematsu to create a more orchestral score to the game and move further away from the midi/chip tune style of video game music. Many of us can probably recall from memory a lot of the songs in the game and can place where in the game the music was featured. It of course has the classic battle music as well as the victory song. The sound effects were done well and complimented the background music.
The story takes place on a planet called Gaia which is run by Shinra, a huge corporation acting as the world government. Shinra which is based in the city Midgar is using Mako energy which is believed to be the planet’s lifeblood in order to run the city. Midgar is a completely industrialized city with people also living in sectors underneath the massive metal plates with not much greenery present. The story begins with the main playable characters who are a group called Avalanche who are attempting to cease the use of the Make reactors as they believe it is sapping the planet of its lifeblood. The main character in the story is Cloud Strife who is presented as being a former member of Shinra’s Soldier unit who joins up with the rebel group Avalanche in the beginning of the game as a mercenary for hire. Barrett and Tifa are the other main characters within Avalanche. Tifa is Cloud’s childhood friend and can become a love interest throughout the game. Cloud crosses paths with Aeris who a Shinra scientist, Hojo, believes is an “ancient” who can find a land with limitless Mako. The team meets Sephiroth (the main villain in the game) who has stolen Jenova from Shinra which is an experiment that Hojo is working on. I will not continue on with a full plot summary, for that you should play the game. You also meet five other playable characters who add a good mix of personality types and fighting styles.
I really enjoyed the cast of characters and the story although it was a bit hard to follow at times. I find that for whatever reason it’s sometimes harder for me to follow a game story that takes place over 60 hours of gameplay as opposed to just reading the story on paper. The game uses plot twists very well, although one point in the story has led to much “nerd rage” and definitely effects the way you play subsequent playthroughs. I won’t spoil it just in case there is someone who is unfamiliar with the game and wants to play it. In RPGs I always name the main character (if male) after myself and then fill the rest of the cast in with names of my friends. There have been multiple game restarts of this game where I wanted to change a character’s name so I had to start over.
At its core FFVII is very much a Japanese RPG with the way it handles battles. You can attack, use items, use magic, etc. There is an Active Time Battle system (which was introduced in FFIV) which makes it so that the turn timer does not stop while the player selects their options. You had to act quickly or you could be skipped in the turn order. Battles in the open world are random and when you are in a hostile area will just randomly occur and take you in to battle. Magic (I’ll discuss later) and summons work well and with the 3D graphics, the summons look awesome.
(Disclaimer: I love to grind exp in RPGs)
Like many JRPGs of its time there are moments where you need to take some time and grind out a few levels to increase your character’s potency. I don’t mind this at all in fact I like to try to keep a balanced team in the course of a game so I wind up grinding a lot to pull character’s levels in line with the rest of the group. Experience gain also plays a huge role in the magic system so it can benefit you to work on your exp.
Materia is the magic system of Final Fantasy VII. It has its own section because a couple sentence blurb in the middle of this article will not do it justice. In my opinion it is the best magic system that I have ever used in an RPG. I have not played all probably not even half of the RPGs ever created so this is probably a short sighted opinion, but I don’t care. And going from Materia to the draw system in FFVIII was a slap in the face, but I digress.
How does it work? Your weapons and equipment have slots in them which you place the Materia inside of. This gives the character the ability to use that magic or ability. It is found in the world either as mob or boss loot or it can just be picked up off the ground. Weapons can have multiple slots and those slots can be linked which if the right combo of Materia is placed can have some very beneficial effects. If you pair ‘Fire’ with ‘All’ then your fire spell will hit all of the enemies that you are in combat with. Materia gains experience over time through combat and will level once it hits the threshold to have the magic become more powerful. When you level it to its max level it is considered “Mastered” and it splits, creating a brand new piece of Materia. Your weapons and equipment can also have exp multipliers on it to raise the level quicker. The amount of combinations that are possible along with direct control over how powerful the spell can get based on its leveling mechanic mixed with the easily swappable nature of the Materia is what makes it the best magic system that I have encountered. The fact that it was not replicated in other Final Fantasy games is a travesty. I understand that you look to innovate and bring new systems to new games, but that was so amazing it deserved more time in the genre.
There is no better way to end this article then off the back of swooning over Materia. I hope you all enjoyed reading this and I hope that it inspires some of you to go out there and dust off your copy of the game or play it for the first time. You can get the game in numerous forms. The discs on the original PlayStation, the PlayStation network which I have it on (PS3 and PSP, I’m not positive about PS4 and Vita), and for the PC either the original PC discs or through Steam. Please leave comments below or through e-mail or social media. As always thank you for reading this and all of the articles on the site. I hope that you all enjoy Final Fantasy week as much as we enjoy writing about it!
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