During this trip down memory lane, I'm going to talk about Final Fantasy VII and why it left such a great impact on gamers around the world, including me!
Final Fantasy VII was released in North America during September of 1997. I was in fifth grade elementary school at the time, most likely busy with my school work while anticipating Christmas. I had not owned a PlayStation until October of that year because I was mostly a Nintendo/Sega person at the time. I owned a Nintendo 64 and assumed that would be the only console I would ever need to own for the future. I thought "PlayStation" sounded like some sort of child's diaper-changing station. I wasn't reading gaming sites or blogs at that time, so how would a child know anything about an unknown console from Sony?
So why did I even buy a PlayStation? Oh, now I remember. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the Mega Man series. So when Mega Man X4 was released on the PlayStation in October of 1997, I knew I had to do whatever means necessary to play the latest installment of the Mega Man X series. I had never even played a Final Fantasy game or even knew about the latest release of the series.
I can't remember the exact date, but it must have been December or late November when one of my good friends at the time had picked up Final Fantasy VII for his PlayStation. This particular friend's parents were divorced, so he seemed to always have every game and every system that was available. Other kids were envious of him, including me.
My friend told me about this amazing new game, Final Fantasy VII. Well, I wasn't going to ignore a game suggestion, so if I remember correctly, I rented Final Fantasy VII from Blockbuster. First of all, it was the only game I had seen that had 3 discs! "THREE discs! That must be one epic game!" I must have thought.
Well, I turned on my PlayStation and selected New Game from the game menu. I was treated to an amazing CG (Computer Generated) cutscene that acted as the opening to the game. "Well THAT was amazing," I must have thought. My early relationship with Final Fantasy VII quickly dissolved as the game started and I encountered a random battle, typical in RPG games. Well, I had never even played a traditional turn-based Japanese RPG. I was very confused as I was taken into a random battle facing two enemies versus my character. How could I attack?! There was a menu at the bottom of the screen. It had the options Attack, Magic, and Item. "Uh Oh," I thought. This was outside of my gaming comfort zone. I had never played a game that used menus to attack before, so I didn't think this game could be any fun.
Games from series such as Mario, Mega Man, and Zelda all had characters that you controlled when fighting other enemies. These types of the games were the only ones I had ever played. Final Fantasy VII was my first Japanese RPG. I thought the game couldn't possibly be fun having to choose what actions my characters do, so I turned my PlayStation off and later returned the game to Blockbuster.
I had previously mentioned to my Dad that Final Fantasy VII must be a great game since my friend loved it. Well, I didn't realize it, but after telling my Dad that, he had gone to the store and already secretly purchased it for my Christmas present. After playing Final Fantasy VII for the first time by myself from Blockbuster, I was disappointed and told my Dad that Final Fantasy VII was a terrible game. So he secretly returned my Christmas present without me realizing it.
I think it wasn't until I went over to my friend's house or he came to mine that I actually got to see what was after the beginning area of Final Fantasy VII. It was after he played the game and showed me how the fighting system worked that I got to experience more of the story and be drawn into this deep and engaging world. After that happened, I must have told my Dad that Final Fantasy VII was an amazing game. Well, he had had enough of going behind the scenes trying to buy me Christmas presents, so he confessed that he had already bought the game once and returned it based on my comments. So yeah, he ended up having to buy Final Fantasy VII twice.
Final Fantasy VII was such a revolutionary game for me in many ways. It was the first game I had ever played that used in-game cinema movies. This absolutely blew me away. Of course, this is nothing special now, but at the time, this was a new element to video games.
The characters were 3D models (horribly constructed polygons, I might add) that were placed on pre-rendered backgrounds. There is something magical about playing games that make use of pre-rendered backgrounds. It's as if every scene was masterfully created by an artist for the sole purpose of you, the player, to walk through and study all the intricate details.
Starting with the PlayStation 2, Final Fantasy games would steer away from using pre-rendered backgrounds and be in complete 3D. This doesn't make a Final Fantasy game bad, but I felt the wonderful details in scenery were lost in that transition. That's why I always fondly study the scenes in Final Fantasy VII when I play. Am I the only one that feels this way?
Of course, what makes a great game is not necessarily good graphics. Final Fantasy VII had amazing graphics at the time, but they are very outdated now. Despite that, the amazing story, fun battle system, and unique characters all came together to form an amazing RPG experience.
I know there are some people that do not like Final Fantasy VII, and that's okay. Some people complain about the mistakes in translation, the break away from traditional fantasy setting, or how overhyped the game can seem by fans. Final Fantasy VII was my first Final Fantasy game and remains my absolute favorite of the series. Younger gamers might feel that Final Fantasy X, the first FF game for the PlayStation 2, is the best. That's fine with me, but I do hope those people will attempt to play older Final Fantasy games and give them a chance. I did this with Final Fantasy VI for the Super Nintendo. (Or Final Fantasy III as it was known in the US) Final Fantasy VI would have been an amazing game for me had I played it as a child. The graphics do not wow me as they would have if it was still a 16-bit world. (And I'm sure the same can be said about people that play VII for the first time now) But that's all right; I recognize that Final Fantasy VI is still an amazing game. It's not my favorite, but I like and respect it.
The plot of Final Fantasy VII is long and complicated, so I am just going to throw a few points out there. The full plot of Final Fantasy VII can be found online for those that are interested.
In the beginning of Final Fantasy VII, the main character Cloud has just joined a rebel group that is trying to destroy reactors that are harming/destroying the planet. When I first started, I thought the game was going to be about going to each reactor and doing the same thing over and over again. Well, something happens that completely changes the direction of the scenario you thought was going to happen. Rather than Shinra, the organization that is the main enemy in the beginning, a new enemy known as Sephiroth emerges.
To me, Sephiroth is one of the greatest villains in video game history. He's seen as someone to be admired and respected in the beginning. However, as more of the story is revealed, the player witnesses Sephiroth lose his sanity and turn into a very powerful enemy. The game constantly reminds you of his power and how weak you are in comparison. Sure, I had played games with bosses before, but I think Sephiroth was the first villain to make me somewhat nervous/afraid due to his theme music.
Speaking of music, Final Fantasy VII has some of the best video game music around. The music was composed by Nobuo Uematsu who did most of the music for the Final Fantasy series until recently. As a matter of fact, I am listening to the original Final Fantasy VII music as I write this.
Later in the game, there is a main character that dies. This was so shocking for my friend and I, as well as many people all over the world. How could they have killed off that character? I don't believe I had ever seen the death of a person handled in such a way like Final Fantasy VII portrayed it. The Mario, Zelda, and Megaman series are fast games where if one dies, you simply start over. There was no such thing as a supporting character dying, or at least one you really cared about. The closest to a character dying I can think of that was somewhat tragic was the death of "Zero" from MegaMan X1 on the SNES. But that death was nothing compared to the character death in Final Fantasy VII. There was no blood or anything, but there was music and the characters in the game reacted to the death. A person that had been with you early on in the game would no longer talk with you. You'd never get to interact with that character again. It's not like this was near the end of the game, this was only near the end of the first disc. My adventure was nowhere near over and I already felt like I lost someone special. That moment was very unique in video games, or at least in my experience with them.
Another thing that makes Final Fantasy VII so special is the expansiveness of the world itself. Once your team of characters escapes the starting city known as Midgar, you realize just how much of an adventure lies ahead. There are so many towns to visit with different characters and personalities. When I entered or left towns, I would wonder what all the people would do when I was not there. It's so fun to think about! Have you ever read a book and wondered what the characters did after the ending or when you weren't reading to progress the story? The feeling is like that. We develop these universes from the games in our mind and can continue developing them if our imagination is powerful enough.
It's funny how I've changed since I first played Final Fantasy VII. When I was young, I mostly played with the characters that I considered the "main" ones. They were the characters that joined you early in the game such as Tifa, Barret, and Aeris. I rarely wanted to play with the characters that join the party much later in the game. Now that I'm playing it in 2010, I'm actually using some of the later characters and enjoying it.
When in battle, besides using weapons, characters could use magic through the use of "materia" which could be equipped to characters to give them various abilities. This was such a unique concept for me. Most of the games I had played before Final Fantasy VII usually had set upgrades or weapons. I had never encountered something like the materia system. If one was clever, he/she could link materia together to really perform some excellent magic/tricks in battle. Looking back, I don't think I was very good at using materia effectively. Now I find myself looking up different materia combinations in order to get a jump-start on the enemy. Now that I think of it, I wasn't very concerned with weapon or materia stats when I was younger. I just cared about the weapon that dealt the most damage, which was a major mistake. Going back now, I carefully inspect every new available weapon and weigh the pros and cons of other stats and not just strength. Well, at least I learned, right?
Getting near the end of the game, your characters have to go down into a crater at the northern continent to face off against Sephiroth. Wow, this was certainly an exciting way to lead to the final part of the game. Once your characters make it to the bottom of the crater and fight a boss, they are taken even deeper inside the crater where Sephiroth awaited to prevent you from stopping his plans. Could a final boss be any more epic? The fight with Sepiroth starts and you're anxious to beat him as fast as possible. My jaw dropped after I beat Sephiroth in the first battle. After defeating Sephiroth for the first time, he comes back in a SECOND form! This time he's even more powerful and has a crazy summon spell that has to be seen to be believed. After beating Sephiroth's second form, it's assumed that he's finally gone. Cloud and the others start heading back up the crater but there is actually one more battle with Sephiroth, but this time it's only the main character fighting. Once that's over, the game's amazing cut scene starts.
The ending cut scene of Final Fantasy VII is about 13 minutes, and wow! It's extremely suspenseful. How did I feel about the ending when I was younger? I think I was a bit confused by the ending and felt somewhat cheated by how the game ended. Now that I watch the ending as an adult, I actually feel that it's a warm ending, and a message of hope and the power of faith in humanity. I still think the ending left a lot to be desired in terms of closure. I knew the planet was not destroyed, but that wasn't enough. After spending countless hours with characters and being in towns, I wanted to see what happened to them. How were those people continuing to live their lives? In the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) game, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the ending of the game shows every character that appeared in the game continuing with their lives after the final battle is over. I suppose that's the reason I wanted the same thing for Final Fantasy VII.
So, after 1997, the universe of Final Fantasy VII was sealed up, never to be reopened. It wasn't until 2005 that the Final Fantasy VII universe would be revisited. SquareEnix, the company that developed Final Fantasy VII, released a Final Fantasy VII movie. A movie! And it supposedly would take place two years after the game ending. It was called "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children". The hype was incredibly strong. I remember always checking websites for the latest screenshots/developments. I watched the teaser trailer countless times. I would get a chance to be reunited with the characters I spent so many hours adventuring with together.
The movie was released in 2005 on DVD in Japan. I'll never forget that the movie was actually leaked on the Internet before the official Japanese release date. I remember waiting for it to download. When night fell, the download had finished and I watched the movie without English subtitles. It wasn't until the next day that a fansub group had released external subtitles to be paired with the movie file. I rewatched the film after getting my hands on the subtitles. The beginning of the movie contained this statement from the director, "To those who loved this world... and have spent their time together with their companions in this world in the past: reunite once again to endure this time."
So what did I think of the movie? There were good points and bad. The movie itself was absolutely stunning. The 3D animation, the characters, and the world itself were beautifully rendered. I got to see the characters I spent so much time adventuring with become even more alive. They looked better, had facial expressions, and even voices. The action scenes were amazing and kept me on the edge, especially the final battle.
Let's talk about the music. The Final Fantasy games are known for their fantastic music composition thanks to the great composer Nobuo Uematsu. Because of this, I was expecting great things from the movie since Uematsu was in charge of the film's score. My opinion is mixed on the overall music used in the movie. There are orchestrated/revamped versions of songs from the game that are stunning. For the music that is original to the film, I found them not so great.Possible Spoilers!
As for aspects of the film that bothered me, the plot was somewhat confusing or uninteresting. The movie introduced new villains that were subpar. It was only after Kadaj, one of the three new villains, ended up resurrecting Sephiroth that I felt Cloud and his party were actually in trouble. After watching the teaser for the movie so many times, I think I ended up imagining how the film would turn out, and Advent Children was different than I expected. I blame the teaser trailer for being different and giving off a completely different feeling. There weren't only new villains; there was a new character in this story. Denzel is an orphan that was living with Cloud until Cloud himself became ill. I felt Denzel was utterly a pointless character and I had no sympathy for him nor did I care about his situation. I think the movie failed in that area. I didn't care about Denzel or the new villains because I thought the movie didn't do a proper job of introducing them and convincing the audience they were real characters worth caring about and that they belong in the Final Fantasy VII universe.
Cloud, the main character, was mostly depressed and unwilling to fight until near the end of the movie. It didn't make a lot of sense to me until I went back later and read a lengthy write-out of the plot on Wikipedia. Maybe that's why I feel another movie is needed. I felt I waited forever just to see Cloud "wake up" enough for the final battle.
The ending to Advent Children is perhaps a little bit better than the game. At least all the characters are together in the end and Cloud realizes he didn't need to be depressed because in his words, "I'm not alone." I think it was very emotional to see one of the characters that died from the game appear to Cloud in the end. Maybe I'm the only one that thought that part was a great moment and a way to give service to fans.
Okay, so those were my thoughts on the original movie. Since that time, there has been a new version of the film released on Blue-Ray called "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete". It includes 20 minutes of new footage placed throughout the movie. I recently sat down to watch it to see how I felt about it compared to the original. The new version includes scenes that do help the audience sympathize more with Denzel the orphan, as well as better explaining some of the plot that appeared confusing in the original. The score for the movie slightly changed as well. I could hear some more themes from the game in the movie, which made it much better than the previous songs used.
Overall, I think the movie itself is the best treat for fans of Final Fantasy VII. I am so grateful that this movie was made so that fans could have one more look into that universe. How does the movie stand alone as a movie? It doesn't. It looks pretty, but would be really difficult for a non-Final Fantasy player to understand or get into. This movie is strictly fan service for the fans that love the game.
When Sony showed off the PlayStation 3 for the first time, SquareEnix had a tech demo running that showed the intro scene from Final Fantasy VII being rendered in real time. I remember seeing the video and hearing everywhere cheer when they saw a very impressive Cloud character model jump down from the train. This Cloud looked like he jumped out of the Advent Children movie and into a new game. He no longer looked like a little polygonal character with spiked hair from the original PlayStation. I don't know about other Final Fantasy VII fans, but I was very excited to see that tech demo. It gave hope to the many fans of the world that perhaps SquareEnix was going to remake Final Fantasy VII and make an even better world for the players to explore.
As of this writing, the folks at SquareEnix have stated that there are no current plans to remake Final Fantasy VII on current generation game consoles. Another indicator for the reason that SquareEnix is avoiding a remake is the problems that occurred in the development of Final Fantasy XIII for the PS3 and XBox 360. Gamers called the game very linear because the developers did not have the resources, time, or manpower to create open worlds with towns and places to explore. It is simply too time consuming and expensive to create games like the old Final Fantasy games of the 90s on consoles capable of HD graphics. Well, that's the reasons I've heard from the developers, anyway.
Here's my take on a Final Fantasy VII remake: I don't need a complete remake. I want an "enhanced" version. Fix the polygon models and update the 3D parts, but leave in the pre-rendered backgrounds. The cut scenes could be remade using the 3D animation style from the Advent Children movie. Boom, a remade Final Fantasy VII without the need for a completely 3D game like Final Fantasy XIII. I've seen users take the PC version of Final Fantasy VII and add custom patches to make the game look spectacular. I think that would be the best way to approach a Final Fantasy VII remake. It makes the old fans happy to see their game get a slight update in visuals and it attracts new players that might not have tried the game before due to being put off by the horrible looking polygonal characters from the PlayStation era.
In conclusion, Final Fantasy VII was a breath-taking game, and one that left its mark on my life. No matter what spin-offs or games are released, I will always have the original PlayStation version in my mind, where all the characters are still living peacefully.
Thank you for traveling down memory lane with me.