Widely regarded as one of the greatest games of all time; Final Fantasy VII not only set the Final Fantasy franchise in a new direction, it became a defining moment in JRPG’s, winning new audiences in the west and setting a new, lofty bar for the genre itself. Square Softs Final Fantasy VII was the first in the series to receive full polygon rendering, bringing familiar magic spells like ‘Firaga’ new splendour and awe, as well as series recurring summon creatures like Bahamut to life.
Whilst the pre-rendered backgrounds with polygon overlays and its cinematic cut-scenes broke new ground for the franchise and gaming in 1997 in general, it was the story that truly set this game worlds apart from others in the genre as well as anything the gaming world had to offer to date, and is now hailed as one of the best pieces of story-telling that has graced our pixelated screens.
The game follows and centres around the games protagonist Cloud Strife, introduced as a cold-hearted mercenary working for a eco terrorist group called AVALANCHE. These eco-warriors believe that Mako Energy, the source of power in this modern sci-fi twist to the series, comes directly from the life-force of the planet and that the Shinra Company who utilise it for the populace of Midgar are destroying the planet. Cloud has a muddy history with the Shinra Company, having once been part of its military structure. This past catches up to him when rogue SOLDIER Sephiroth, who was believed dead, begins to weave into the story with reality shattering results for our hero.
Random encounters are the series staple way for the player to encounter enemies and this entry was no different, albeit now being in glorious polygon form. The Active Time Battle system of Final Fantasy VII was a refined improvement on previous entries (which were already great, I might add) with attaching, magic spells casting and summons all seamlessly accessible from one convenient menu. The introduction of Limit Breaks gave each character a powerful unique attack that became available after taking several hits, which could easily turn the tide of a battle.
Magic is portrayed in Final Fantasy VII as a by-product of Mako energy, via condensed balls of Mako energy that when equipped to your weapon or armour would bestow magic such as Fira, Blizzega and Thunderja as well as incredible summons such as the fire demon Ifrit and ice queen Shiva. Unlike some other entries in the series, before and after FF7, any character could equip and use magic and summons in battle, offering potential tactical advantages for each character beyond their standard weapons attack.
Another win for Final Fantasy VII is how much of an awesome bad-ass each of the main characters are. Barret, the leader of AVALANCHE, has a chain gun for an arm; Vincent Valentine can turn into a beast reminiscent to a Behemoth, and Sephiroth wields a masamune samurai sword twice his size with finesse and splendour. Never has the bad guy of any game been as popular and as idolised as Sephiroth, despite his atrocities.
Arguably the most memorable scene of Final Fantasy VII, and considered to be one of the most emotional moments of in gaming history even now, was the moment that Sephiroth murdered Aerith right in front of Cloud. The player had just managed to find her again from a lengthy search and the atmosphere, beautiful music and serene setting could not have been more tranquil and uplifting. It was sudden, it was unexpected, and Sephiroth may as well have plunged his sword into the player’s heart for how much it impacted them, and I am not ashamed to admit that I cried. Quite a bit.
With a powerful, compelling story, intriguing and lovable characters, and visually and technically beautiful gameplay, Final Fantasy VII left an immovable imprint on the gaming history, but more importantly our hearts. It has influenced the creation of many other games, and it’s story has expanded to anime’s, CGI films and even other game spin-offs. Now finally, after years of desperate pleas from fans for a full HD remake (and several teases of its possibility for years), the fantasy has finally arrived! Whilst teasers and snippets of in-game scenes look utterly gorgeous, certain elements of the story and the entire battle system is set to change. It’s got us all on edge, but I have no doubt it will be phenomenal. Just don’t mess with the Gold Saucer Square Enix! We love our Chocobo racing!