The Soapbox: Final Fantasy VII, After Fifteen Years
I’m sure you’ve all noticed, by now, I’m kind of an opinionated guy. When asked to do a new Weekly Edition, I thought to myself: “Well, why shouldn’t I do a straight-up rant piece?” It seemed only fitting that I use this opportunity to… well… get on my soapbox, hence the title. I wanted to get this thing off on the right foot and talk about something that has a very big spot in my gaming heart: Final Fantasy VII.
Some of you love the franchise. Some of you despise it. Some of you used to love it and now, you despise it. What I do know for a fact is that a lot of you that do love it or hate it started forming your opinions of the franchise based on Final Fantasy VII. With a series of characters, plots, and scenes that were easy to love, easy to hate, and thoroughly easy to relate to, overall, Final Fantasy VII was the first game in the series to feature pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and fully 3D battle sequences. Technically, it was a masterpiece for its time. This game paved the way for future graphical and technical greatness, down the road, thanks in part to initiative started by Final Fantasy VII and the funds it, no doubt, garnered and continues to garner, to this day. It won all kinds of awards and still holds a high place on many gaming listings and continually comes up on gaming sites, such as this one, though, these days, it comes in the form of remake rumors.
When I was at work, a little while back, the subject turned to this game, for some reason. Most of my coworkers are younger than me so, when we talk games, usually, we talk more about current releases than we do about anything from back in the 90s. If we do, we’re talking about games much older than Final Fantasy VII. Anyway, we started talking about how the game holds up now that the game’s on its fifteenth year and it really got me thinking about the game and what it would be like if I fired it up today and plowed through it.
I’ll be totally honest, here, folks. I love the game. I absolutely cherish it. It was one of the first games I literally obsessed about, the very first being Super Mario Bros. 3 because that was the first game I was able to share with my brother in terms of dedication, and it was the first game in which I became emotionally attached to the story and its characters. There was a lot of changes in my life because of this game – I lost friendships, I built friendships, I changed how I studied at school and I changed a lot of other things to suit my interest in this game. Half of my early writing and my knowledge of web programming comes from my desire to share my interest in Final Fantasy VII. I don’t know if I’m making my point clear, this game is kind of a big thing when you’re talking about its contribution to my life. I want to be painfully obvious when I say that I love this game, inside and out.
That being said, I can’t play it anymore. I have three iterations of the game – the PSX version, the PSN versions, and the PC version – and I’ve played them all for longer than I can track, especially the PC version, as I totally took the game apart and analysed every last bit of information on every disc. If there’s something to know about the game that one can confirm about the game that’s not story-related, there’s a good chance I know about it. I have played around with the game on several cheat devices to experiment, on my own, with how easy the game is to break. I think I’ve, pretty much, played the game out. There’s more to it, though, than the fact that the game is simply boring to me, now, in terms of gameplay.
I look back on the original release of the game, now, which remains, largely, unchanged, and I see a washed-out mess. In my honest opinion, the only thing that got the attention, fine-tuning, and time it deserved, was the music. Everywhere else in the game, I find that there’s just no consistency. Looking back on the plot of the game, even, there’s no even flow to keep the game going. The localization was complete and utter murder and, sometimes, I can only laugh at how pathetic the translation was, in places. If you know anything about game design, at all, you would know that this game hit a certain point in development where it was rushed out the door before any more real development could be done. This would be the only explanation for the lack of any real polish in the game.
That’s not the only thing, though – the story is high on dramatics, high on catharsis, high on character development and flashbacks, but very low on pacing. The plot moves along like a sputtering car giving its all for that last bit of gas at the end of the tank. It’s had so many retools to the canon, over the years, that it’s honestly hard to keep up with what’s canon, what’s “fanon”, what’s speculation, what’s been retconned, and what’s simple nonsense. It’s almost as if we’re seeing parallels to Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, here, where Anno was pushed to do things a certain way and, sometimes, the material was rushed and watered-down. They also deemed it necessary to go back and make everything right, to make everything fit their original vision, which is why End of Evangelion and the Rebuild series exists. Instead of admitting their faults, though, Square-Enix would rather just consider their additions to the canon clarification or adding context. It’s just silly, really.
Looking back on the game, it’s really a short wonder why I attached myself to the game so strongly. In terms of dramatic plot that had cohesion, Final Fantasy IV and, to a degree, VI, were way better. In terms of likeable characters, VI and V had VII trumped. In terms of consistent and stable gameplay, almost all the games prior – though, to be fair, the 2D structure for the games in the past had been perfected by those points and have had many more attempts – were superior. From the day I started sharing my interest in the game up until today, I believe that the fanbase, for this game, for the most part, is crazy.
It wasn’t until I started really thinking about it, today, that made me realize why I attached myself to the game, and it’s actually so painfully simple that it breaks me in two to think I was so easily gripped: I wanted to avenge Aeris’ death. It was a damn shame that I had to use Cloud to do so because, as a character, he should have been taken in a different direction than he went in, but I wanted Aeris’ death and sacrifice to not be in vain. I was driven to save the world because that’s what Aeris would have wanted. It wasn’t about defeating Sephiroth – I almost found him to be a victim in this story but that’s a different story for a different day – but, to me, it was about saving the world from Professor Hojo’s machinations. Everything could be rooted back to that guy and when I took him down on the way to the Sister Ray… oh, it was so satisfying. It was because of him that Aeris had to die, that everyone had to suffer these events. Going to the Northern Crater to take care of business there was just tying up a loose end. If Hojo had survived, you would have seen more atrocities, guaranteed. Thanks to Crisis Core, a lot of my suspicions were affirmed.
I could go on about why I attached myself to Aeris and how I believe she’s terribly misunderstood, as a character, but I’m sure most of you have heard the argument before. Let it be known that it was Aeris’ martyrdom that pushed me on, in that game. It led me to the obsession that pretty much took me to where I am, today, as a gamer, and, to some degree, as a person.
Some day, I’ll go on about the finer nuances of the game and its story, but now that I’ve established that it’s an utterly ugly game that should have been given another year before being released, I come to the conclusion, the point of the article, the raison d’etre: to answer whether or not the game has aged well. It hasn’t. It was ground breaking in a lot of ways and it made people overlook a lot of its faults, which is a damned shame, if you ask me. It deserved a lot more love than it got.
As an addendum, there’s probably a question you guys might be asking me, seeing as it comes up regularly, in gaming news: “If it was remade, would you play and enjoy it, then?” Probably not. There’s something to be said about staying true to the original and with how the overall plot has been messed with and how games have come along since then… I don’t think it would ever stay true to the source material without creating everything, again, from the ground up. I don’t know how I’d feel about that. It most certainly deserves a second chance and it needs the kind of production value other games in the franchise have gotten since then… in order to make something that would be satisfying to me, you would have to recreate the whole damned Compilation to fit under a single game. No more of this separate title stuff, just remake the whole damn thing. Put it all under the same banner, make it all an RPG, and cover all the story-related stuff. Of course, we’ll never get that, it’s a huge gambit and do you remember the last time Square took a huge gambit because they listened to demand that almost guaranteed sales but wanted to stick with their artistic integrity? Remember The Spirits Within? Did you buy it? Did you even see it in theatres? Probably not. I loved the movie. I have owned both the DVD and Blu-Ray. I also saw it twice in theatres. That caused the closing of a whole studio and dinged Square so hard that it, in my opinion, necessitated the Square-Enix merger. Of course, everyone would want their proverbial balls on the line again, though, right?
Bottom line is this: I won’t be going back to anything Final Fantasy VII anytime soon. I think I’ve pretty much run the game into the ground and I think Square-Enix is guilty of this, too. I think we got the Final Fantasy VII they thought we wanted but we never got the one we deserved. What do you guys think? How does it hold up after all this time?
Also, time to make a few plugs to the music I’ve been listening while writing this - it’s a great remastering of the soundtrack for the game, one of the best in the series – and also my follow-up video where I pretty much summarize what I think of the game, today, fifteen years later.