The Greatest RPG Ever Made?
I love video games. If I'm ever given the choice between a shopping spree or a gaming marathon, I'll happily sit in the dark with a bowl of chips and a controller. However, I've never played even one Halo game, so I don’t think I can fully wear the badge of “girl gamer.”
I got started a little late on technology. When I was a kid, my mom would buy my brother and I just about any toy we desired except video games. In her eyes, sweetened cereal, sandboxes, and video games were things to be avoided because they were bad for your health (according to the evening news). However, when a neighbor was cleaning out her storage and came across a Sega Genesis her kids didn't want, mom didn't object to letting us have it (yay for free toys!).
A year later, she bought us a Playstation from the local game exchange store with a handful of games from the used “greatest hits” bin. All of the games I had played up to that point were platformers and sidescrollers, so I was intrigued with the acronym “RPG” while reading the jacket of Final Fantasy VIII (no, that’s not an error). Following the awesome experience of playing VIII, my brother and I went on to find out as much as possible about every aspect of the game. That investigation led to the discovery of the world of Final Fantasy games.
Final Fantasy VIIwas released in 1997, but it was nearly 2004 when I first read about it in a gaming magazine. Well, more specifically, it was a column about the character design, but the game seemed cool, so I wanted to get my hands on a copy. Naively, I walked into Best Buy, asked the head sales rep in the electronics department if the store had a copy of Final Fantasy VII, and was laughed at hysterically. Feeling very confused and slightly offended, I headed to Target, then Toys ‘R’ Us. The last place in town that could possibly have had it was the game exchange. Deafening silence fell over the tiny store when I asked the pimply clerk on his laptop if they had even a used copy to sell. Sadly, I returned home empty handed, but determined to find the game and add it to my game library.
My brother and I did eventually get our own copy of the game from a friend of his as a birthday gift in 2005, and from what I understand, that copy was given to him as well. I can almost guarantee you that you will not find a hard copy of this game in any store. A new copy from Amazon will cost you close to $200 (though it is possible to nab a used one at your own risk). Copies playable on the Playstation 3 were released in 2009, and an updated PC version was released July 4, 2013 on Steam. So what on earth makes this game such a commodity? Surely, it can’t be that good, right?
In my opinion, it is a good game, a great game even. I'm not going to lay down the entire synopsis so I won't spoil it. I'm not going to assume that you have or haven't played the game instead, I will share my experience of the so-called "greatest rpg of all time."
What draws me into a game is good solid character design/development, and that is what grabbed my attention when I first read about VII. The second thing is storyline, not too cheesy, not too depressing. I hated Final Fantasy X for both of those infractions, but that is another blog for another day. The third requirement I have is an expansive world, there has to be a decent amount of things to do beside advancing the story. Final Fantasy VII contains all three components. The characters were really cool in my opinion, but I have friends who don't like Cloud Strife because of his moodiness throughout the game. I found him no more brooding than Squall Leonhart of Final Fantasy VIII; in fact he’s less whiny. Character development keeps my attention in lengthy games, and it was interesting to watch the "party" learn to trust one another, but also settle their own issues. Cloud in particular had the most amount of development, having had to come to grips with his own identity. My favorite character was Cait Sith/Reeve Tuesti, I love cats and Moogles (stop judging me). Lastly, the presence of cross over characters is always a fun thing, and I found myself chuckling heartily at the bumbling Wedge and Biggs, as well as noting Cid Highwind's name.
The complexity of the story, beginning with AVALANCHE, then the murder of Midgar's president Shinra and the discovery of Jenova was amazing. When Aerith was killed (trust me, not really a spoiler), I expected her to come back to life at some point in the game because she was such an important character. However, it became clear that important characters, in that story at least, didn't necessarily need to remain living to influence the lives of others; Zach Fair and Lucrecia Crescent to be specific. The plot stew had reached a lovely thickness by the second disc, but it was easy to follow. Each time the story would get exceptionally depressing (Final Fantasy games have a tendency to do that) there was adequate comic relief peppered in.
I didn't like the world map itself because of its crudeness, but I did appreciate its size. The world of Final Fantasy VII contained plenty of "distractions and diversions," namely the amusement park The Golden Saucer. The amount of monsters to fight was satisfactory and I liked the uniqueness of every inhabited location. In addition to the regular monsters, the inclusion of optional bosses was also welcome. There was a certain satisfaction in defeating the Ruby and Emerald Weapons after several hours of hurling the controller at the television in defeat. Side quests were also in good supply and just as exciting as the main game. Keeping up with the series' lore, Chocobo breeding was included as a minigame.
All things said, Final Fantasy VII met my criteria for a "good game." If you haven't already noticed, I left gameplay out of that criteria, and I might just be a terrible judge of games for doing that. The reason I don't judge a game by its graphics or ease of play because a decent story is what makes the game, not flawless CGI. I had high hopes for the game because of all the hype I had read about it. By the time I played Final Fantasy VII, I had completed VIII, IX, and was in the beginning stages of Final Fantasy Tactics. I was familiar with the time based battle system having already dealt with it in VIII and IX. The game play itself was not completely enjoyable for me. Because I had dealt with more advanced games already, I wasn't thrilled with the polygonal sprites outside of battle sequences. It dampened some aspects of my experience of the game, but it certainly didn't keep me from playing it again. I believe you have to play a game at least twice to get it's "full flavor" so to speak. That is why I've played VIII six times now (again, stop with the judging).
The only way to judge something is to compare it to something else. In comparison to the other two Final Fantasy games that I played at the time, how does VII stack up? In graphics, it obviously does not compare, however in characters, story, and battle system it holds its own. Critics of the game's influence appear to be hung up by one thing and one thing only: graphics. I think this conclusion has been made so widely not because the game is lacking, but because so many people have played it so many years after its initial release.
To be fair, though I enjoyed it as a ten year old, I have no desire to play Pac-Man for hours anymore. It's no longer exciting to me, and there are far more advanced games to play today.That is one of the reasons why Final Fantasy X was such a monumental failure in my opinion. Everything was pitched out the window in an attempt to focus on innovative animation and voice acting. Graphics alone do not make a game "good." At the time of its release, Final Fantasy VII's use of 3D space in battle sequences and polygonal sprites was applauded, yet that is, in my opinion, a minor detail of what makes the game so amazing.
Final Fantasy VII was definitely one of the most sophisticated games of the late 90s, and that is why it holds its title of greatest RPG. Final Fantasy VII’s innovations, though they seem ancient now, set the bar for RPGs following its release.The significance of the game is undermined because of the technology that currently exists. Viewing the game with its historical context in mind is essential to see its importance and contributions to gaming. I believe that Final Fantasy VII is both an awesome game, and the greatest RPG ever made.