What Final Fantasy VII Taught Me

Some of us are only capable of learning lessons the hard way.

Article by Nadia Oxford, .

Today marks 20 years since Final Fantasy VII hit North American shores, and I'm hard-pressed to think of another game I have such a complicated relationship with.

I'm a huge fan of Final Fantasy VI. I know, it's hard to believe, but I've dropped a couple of hints about my adoration here and there. I automatically assumed Final Fantasy VII would wind up on the N64, and my adoration for Nintendo and Square properties would conveniently be sated via a single console. I even bought into the rumor that a Silicon Graphics workstation demo of Final Fantasy VI was a new Final Fantasy game for Nintendo 64.

"Final Fantasy 64 is real, man! Like justice, mercy, and Santa!"

But game news moved much more slowly in the mid-'90s, and while I was dreaming about a new Final Fantasy on Nintendo's 64-bit system, Squaresoft had long since realized the PlayStation was far better suited for its needs. And when game magazines started publishing news blurbs about Square's disdain for the N64's cartridges, I desperately clung to the screenshots of the Silicon Graphics demo as proof that Final Fantasy VII would never come to the PlayStation. Never mind that the demo looked far better than any N64 game screenshots published at the time – and never mind I knew in my heart of hearts that Squaresoft wouldn't simply recycle Final Fantasy VI's cast for Final Fantasy VII.

The truth inevitably came into the light: Final Fantasy VII was coming to PlayStation. As someone with a deep emotional attachment to Nintendo and cash enough for an N64 or a PlayStation, I had a big problem. I settled on the N64 and salved my wounded heart by scorning Final Fantasy VII whenever the chance arose (I was a budding internet user, so chances were myriad!). I also convinced myself I wouldn't need the game once Quest 64 came to the N64.

Ladies and gentlemen, the preceding sentence is the funniest thing I've ever written.

Denial is a hell of a drug.

Thankfully, my period of denial was short. I realized while Nintendo's franchises are exclusive to its own hardware, third parties like Squaresoft, Capcom, and Konami were pressing their best games onto CDs. And, to be honest, "Buy Nintendo systems for Nintendo's properties, but buy other systems for third-party games" is still the law of the digital land.

So I started saving up for a PlayStation and Final Fantasy VII. My parents weren't impressed with my goal, nor were they receptive to my grand awakening about the differences between cartridge games and CD games. To them, all Nintendo Boxes were one in the same; they thought I was being ripped off. There is nothing new under the sun.

Even after I acquired a PlayStation and Final Fantasy VII (insert Final Fantasy victory theme here), my relationship with the game proved rocky. As a massive fan of Final Fantasy IV, VI, Secret of Mana, and more traditional-looking RPGs, I wasn't impressed by the dark, smoky streets of Midgar. When I finally gained access to the world map and discovered I could visit more traditional RPG landscapes like forests and plains, I let out an audible "Wheeew." To this day, I still feel a sense of relief when the gang puts down the Motor Ball boss on the Shinra highway. When they ponder what to do next while looking at the sunrise, I feel like the game's finally starting for real.

"I am large."

At the same time, the scene makes me a bit sad. Midgar isn't my favorite setting for an RPG, but it's interesting. I'm still blown away at how meticulously Square built each room in the slum. Every single one tells a story through its posters and belongings. Broke buses are shops. Metal tubes are counters. Small televisions flicker with a constant stream of Shinra propaganda. Nothing else in the game looks as genuine as Midgar.

Then there's the scene where Aeris is taken away by the Turks, and Cloud and co. decide they should probably tell her mother, Elmyra. No joke, Elymra's recollection of finding and raising Aeris still kills me whenever I watch it. It's wonderfully choreographed, and accompanied by an orchestrated rendition of Aeris' theme that only plays a few times throughout the game. The scene not only cements Aeris' importance to the plot, but it also conveys the loneliness that inspired Elmyra to adopt Aeris in the first place.

Some of Final Fantasy VII's enemy models are ... cooler than others.

But before that, you walk down the streets of Sector 6 and encounter a ridiculous enemy called a Hell House. That's right. Most of the enemies you fight in Midgar are bandits, thieves, and attack dogs, but once in a while you just run into a haunted dollhouse of some kind. Why? I don't know. My best guess is that it was easy to build with polygons, and someone at Squaresoft needed their "My First 3D Modeling Project" badge.

Ah, but isn't Final Fantasy VII's masterful delivery of serious themes ten minutes before it spins off the rails the reason why so many of us are writing conflicted memorials now, 20 years later? Final Fantasy IV delivers a straight-forward but compelling pastiche of Star Wars' struggle of good versus evil. Final Fantasy V gives us a deeply customizable battle system. Final Fantasy VI tells a tight, easy-to-follow story about the folly of pursuing power. And Final Fantasy VII veers to and fro while it talks about environmental terrorism, economic decline, war, genocide, identity crises, poverty, etc, etc, etc.

Playing Final Fantasy VII is like watching a puppy pick up new scents on a walk: Its movements don't make a lot of sense, but damn, it's fun to experience. How appropriate it's also the game that taught me this industry isn't as straightforward as I initially believed.

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Comments 14

  • Avatar for riderkicker #1 riderkicker 7 months ago
    People still believe FFVII will be on the Switch.
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  • Avatar for Vodka-Tonic #2 Vodka-Tonic 7 months ago
    Cool story, Nadia. I still remember the day it released, when I pretended to be very sick so I could stay home from school (sophomore year I think), and as soon as the house was empty I was on the city bus, headed to the mall for my pre-order copy of FFVII. I was sick for days.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #3 NiceGuyNeon 7 months ago
    I missed it in 1997, so maybe I don't have 2nd grade rose-tinted glasses but this game is stupid regardless of how influential it is. It's a good RPG and worth playing today, but it's stupid.

    I think Tifa got into a catfight on top of a cannon where the ladies slapped each other? Cloud cross-dressed to seduce some mob boss who I don't think had any significance to the plot? I mostly don't remember if it had any significance because the plot is an incoherent (stupid?) mess. And Cloud was snowboarding after everyone's first waifu was murdered? It's just such a silly, stupid, unassuming game that people take way too seriously.

    Cloud is just the corniest character. He says ridiculous things that are not cool at all but then he tries to act cool and rides off on a motorcycle. Guy needs a damn tricycle, really. He's a goofball pretending to be a badass and the lines in the game show that. But there's going to be an issue once this new remake comes out: Cloud's going to be boring, and likely not stupid, silly, or goofy in any fun way and definitely a mopey loser who doesn't smile or laugh. Ever.

    Also, somewhere near the final fight Cloud says "let's mosey!" I will bet good money that that line does not make it into the remake because Final Fantasy is a super serious game series and Final Fantasy VII is the most serious entry in the entire saga. Obviously!
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #4 LBD_Nytetrayn 7 months ago
    @riderkicker Could happen. Would anyone be surprised by a straight port of the PC version while the remake goes to other platforms?
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  • Avatar for pdubb #5 pdubb 7 months ago
    I remember denial being so strong that I tried to hold out for Quest 64 as well. When my friends were playing all their cool Metal Gears and Final Fantasies, I at least had Zelda eventually.

    FF7 taught me more than anything else, that I must have the attention span of a concussed goldfish because there was a LOT of items and encounters I totally forgot about.
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  • Avatar for nimzy #6 nimzy 7 months ago
    Final Fantasy VII felt like a wild road trip that somehow ends up saving the world. The unreliable narration and some of the more bizarre things that happen between Midgar and the final showdown at the Northern Crater make it feel like you're playing something ripped straight out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I was not prepared for the first time I played FFVII, and most of the game's themes washed over me like a wave (although some of this could be blamed on the translation).

    It was instead the little things about the game that drew me in: the sound effects and responsiveness of the game's menus, the detail put into the prerendered backgrounds, the amazing soundtrack, the endless possibilities of the materia system, and the novelty of the faux-modern setting and character design. It would not be until years later when I played through the PC port that I discovered that the story beats laid out on top of that had more depth than I had previously imagined.
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  • Avatar for Nuclear-Vomit #7 Nuclear-Vomit 7 months ago
    Sob... Why Couldn't Aeris roll out of the way!?
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  • Avatar for Vaporeon #8 Vaporeon 7 months ago
    Great article, Nadia. I also was initially dismayed by the dark, bleak slums of Midgar and was relieved to get out in the world. Also liked the puppy analogy. And now I'm going to have the Quest 64 overworld song in my head all day, ha! I actually really enjoyed Quest 64 since I played it before I knew anything about PS or FF7.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #9 The-Challenger 7 months ago
    In retrospect it makes a lot of sense. These games are notorious for using at least two world maps to extend the real estate. Heck the second Final Fantasy even did the whole, the world you knew, is in fact, simply part of a greater whole.

    Having said that, I still found the first impression of Cloud's madness (or whatever) immediately engrossing. I wasn't sold on the game within the first few hours, but I did enjoy Cloud's fucked up narrative right from the moment he temporarily blacked out and started to hear voices.Edited September 2017 by The-Challenger
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  • Avatar for Outrider #10 Outrider 7 months ago
    I was torn about FFVII. I was really intrigued by how different and dark it was ("Oh man, they're swearing!") but also kinda hated it because it was so different from FFVI and felt very tryhard (which was true). I was also a Nintendo fanboy and was annoyed I couldn't play it (and, yup, played Quest 64, which was charming but not a good game).

    I got around to playing it on PC a few years later but never finished it. I really need to do that one of these days. I've got my save file from the beginning of the second disc floating around somewhere on my PC, but at this point I think I should just start over from the beginning (and maybe install a bunch of user mods to make it look and sound better; I did that with FFVIII on PC and it's great).
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #11 Arvis-Jaggamar 7 months ago

    Why is it that the folks who know the least often say the most?
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #12 MetManMas 7 months ago
    It's a li'l hard for me to go back to these days, but there are quite a few things I still like about Final Fantasy VII.

    1) The sci-fi anime influence: You see it most in Midgar and Junon and with the weapons, but FF7 is basically like "What if Akira and Neon Genesis Evangeilon had a baby?", and that's a big thing I love about it. I really wish more jRPGs would go to the sci-fi well.

    2) The in-battle character and enemy designs: While the battle models show their age, they're still top of the line stuff for 1997 and look a whole lot better than many later non-Square PSone games. What they lack in textures, they make up for with effective use of colors and polygonal construction that really makes the models pop in a way that slapping textures on a blocky dummy does not.

    3) Non-human party members: I'll take a flaming coyote/cougar thing or an animatronic cat doll piloting an animatronic giant monster moogle* over candy-haired Ye Olde Medieval Anime teens or school kids any day.

    * Yes I know Cait Sith's controlled remotely by a human I don't care shut up
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #13 NiceGuyNeon 7 months ago
    @Arvis-Jaggamar You can explain why I'm wrong to help me understand a point I may have missed when I went through the game and its movie, or you can post insulting and vague comments with no purpose to fuel a discussion.

    Your choice, but if you go with the latter, don't @ me.
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  • Avatar for autentyk #14 autentyk 7 months ago
    "One AND the same", for fuck's sake.
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