We all have games we buy and play over and over, from new-generation console re-releases to experimental builds running on a Canon printer. Final Fantasy 7 is one of those games for me. It's not necessarily my favorite game, or even my favorite Final Fantasy, but playing through it every so often makes me warm and happy. Nostalgia: It's better than a wool sweater.
It's just a bit of a shame when nostalgia turns around and bites you on the butt. My love for Final Fantasy 7 scuffs up the new Switch port in a small but significant way. The longer you retain warm feelings for a game, the easier it becomes to notice its imperfections every time it enters and re-enters the spotlight.
When Final Fantasy 7 was announced for the Nintendo Switch, I decided to jump on it. While I technically already have a handheld version of Final Fantasy 7 through a download on my PS Vita (RIP), I admit I've been spoiled by the Switch's larger screen. And, again, when I espy a new port of Final Fantasy 7, I must make it mine.
For the most part, I'm having a good time re-living Final Fantasy 7's biggest and best moments on the Switch. It looks good, or at least as good as a PlayStation game can look in this HD age; the pre-rendered backgrounds received a bit of a clean-up and have as much charm as ever. The polygonal character models have likewise been tidied up. Granted, this makes Cloud and company look as hilariously primitive as ever, but if you're any kind of Final Fantasy 7 fan, you know what you're getting into with its glorious 22-year-old modeling.
Don't spend too much time laughing, though. Revisiting the shanty homes of Midgar, buying Materia in shops fashioned out of abandoned buses, and making weapon purchases across large ventilation pipes that serve as counters has me more convinced than ever that SquareSoft poured enormous effort into making the world of Final Fantasy 7 a living, breathing place. Sure, it's polluted, dark, and grimy, but it's unquestionably alive.
If you haven't played Final Fantasy 7 yet (I don't know why you haven't, but I've no room to judge, I only recently played Final Fantasy 9 thanks to its HD re-release), I don't have a problem recommending the Switch iteration. It's a very decent-looking port that thankfully does away with the weird gaping sex doll mouths from the 2013 Steam release (itself a weird holdover from the classic Windows 95 edition of the game). There's also the option to speed up the gameplay 3x and turn on invincibility, which is a great option when you just want to do a little grinding.
There's just one big problem with the port: An audio bug.
The audio bug.
Yes, like the upgraded version of Final Fantasy 9, the relaunched version of Final Fantasy 7—the version you'll find on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the Switch—resets overworld and dungeon music after every random encounter you mop up. I'm not surprised. Even Square Enix ports that seemingly have effort put behind them will show off at least one blown spark plug if you look under their hoods. Worse, this music bug is present in the Steam port of the game, which is going on six years old. Is it even proper to refer to this issue as a "bug?" At this point, I think it's just an oversight Square Enix clearly has no interesting in fixing.
In the grand scheme in Final Fantasy 7's content, this music reset isn't a huge problem. If you're about to play Final Fantasy 7 for the first time, there's a chance you won't even notice the issue (no, not even if you've read this article. My writing tends to slip off people's brains like a Crisco-dunked kid going down a Slip 'n Slide). When you've played Final Fantasy 7 as many times as I have, though, the error is a real let-down. I think Final Fantasy 7's opening bombing mission is one reason the game's still legendary in many people's minds, and the foreboding Mako Reactor music defines that mission as much as its industrial backgrounds and battles. The tolling bells that punctuate the song at the 50-second mark are the piece's strongest "instrument," but thanks to the random encounter reset, you rarely hear them.
The reset is even more noticeable when you hit Final Fantasy 7's overworld. Most Final Fantasy overworld themes loop after a minute or two, but 7's theme is a real production at over six minutes long. No way the re-release is letting you hear all of that though, unless you stand perfectly still for half a dozen minutes. It's a shame, because it means you miss out on several cool build-ups and cooldowns, as well as a few interesting tonal shifts. Final Fantasy 7's overworld music doubles as its main theme, but thanks to the bug, it goes from being a grand project to a stuttering afterthought.
What makes the whole fiasco even more disappointing is a Final Fantasy 6 retrospective recently published in Famitsu reveals series composer Nobuo Uematsu specifically requested that Final Fantasy 6's music resume where it leaves off prior to a fight. "We'd get requests from Mr. Uematsu like 'When it goes from the map into a battle, I want the music to pick up where it left off when it goes back to the map,'" recalls Final Fantasy 6 sound engineer Eiji Nakamura. Presumably Uematsu appreciates how tiring it can be to hear the same 20 seconds of an overworld theme again and again. Remember listening to the crash of the opening chords in Final Fantasy 6's moon dungeon again and again? Talk about a great way to make you learn to hate an otherwise energetic piece of music. It's the kind of repetition that grates on your parents and prompts them to ask you've finished your homework.
Again, the Switch iteration of Final Fantasy 7 still comes recommended; seemingly every re-release suffers from this music reset, and at least the Switch offers a great handheld experience (if you're a purist, consider downloading the emulated version of Final Fantasy 7 via the PSOne Classic library—that is, if you have a PlayStation 3, PSP, or PS Vita to play it on). But experiencing these musical hiccups made me realize more than ever how tightly Final Fantasy's retro music intertwines with its atmosphere and gameplay. I hope Square Enix also realizes someday.
On the bright side, I think we can assume the looping bug won't be a problem when the Final Fantasy 7 remake arrives. Our grandchildren will surely appreciate that when they finally get to play it.