The World of Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy VII
Between "Final Fantasy VI" and "Final Fantasy VII", released in 1997 for the Playstation console, there was a break of almost three years - the longest waiting time ever for the fans of the series. Those were years of a particularly fast development of technology, appearance of new-generation console systems, groundbreaking new techniques, the new age of 3D graphics and CG movies. "Final Fantasy VII" was one of the most monumental achievements of Square, a genuine monster of a game, that used all the advanced technology to enhance the visual experience, yet remained true to the core of the series and successfully continued the new path of lyrical intensity first stepped on by "Final Fantasy VI".
While the exterior part of the story actually served as a frame for the little personal stories about the characters in the previous game, "Final Fantasy VII" brillianty combines a truly fascinating story with plenty of deeper glances into the souls of its characters. The story of "Final Fantasy VII", being as epic as ever, becomes significantly darker, partly becuase it relied more on rather dark mythology, cosmology, and pseudo-history, partly because of the futuristic setting of the game. "Final Fantasy VII" is the first game of the series to abandon medieval fantasy entirely - although earlier Final Fantasies could also not be, strictly speaking, classified as such. The sci-fi direction of "Final Fantasy VII" is much clearer than in earlier games. The Shinra Corporation is after Mako, a mysterious energy that supports the life of the planet. Cloud, an ex-member of an elite group of Shinra mercenaries, switches sides and joins Avalanche, a terrorist organization that tries to undermine Shinra's plans. However, after a sudden murder of President Shinra, the small resistance group realizes someone else is involved in Mako hunt as well. The game opens in the city of Midgar, the largest Final Fantasy city ever, and while the heroes visit standard little towns and fight standard medieval monsters on their journey, the sight of the futuristic Midgar, and the appearance of an evil corporation instead of an evil empire or kingdom, symbolizes a new direction the series has taken.
As in "Final Fantasy VI", the most interesting and convincingly presented events concern the heroes themselves. "Final Fantasy VII" follows the steps of "Final Fantasy IV" by having one main character, whose importance overweights all the rest. Cloud is undoubtedly one of the most complex characters ever seen in a game. He has to fight not only his own deep psychological problems, but also to find out the truth about his very existence. Once he becomes the leader of a group of adventurers, he also has to face a different kind of responsibility: responsibility toward his comrades and the goal that unites them. Other characters play much larger roles than being just a supporting cast for Cloud. "Final Fantasy VII" deals with the phenomenon of love much more boldly than "Final Fantasy VI". It introduces such typical motives as triangle relationship, jealousy, etc. While the relationship between Cloud and Aeris is vague and uncertain, Tifa's love for Cloud becomes one of the central issues of the game. Love is still not the overwhelming force like in the later Final Fantasies, but it nevertheless bears an enormous importance for the game. The characters of "Final Fantasy VII" also have to face complicated moral problems. The terrorist Barrett, with his primitive vision of justice, finally realizes than his actions have costed many people their lives, and has to deal with the problem of the responsibility of someone who fights for a noble cause in front of the innocents caught in this fight. Barrett's antagonist in the game is Reeves, one of the managers of the evil corporation Shinra. The figure of Reeves is a perfect example of the psychological depth of "Final Fantasy VII", that clearly avoids presenting white and black characters, trying to understand everyone's motives and recognize a human approach and genuine care for people even by supposed villains. The decidedly evil characters of "Final Fantasy VII" are also much more interesting than the caricature maniacs of the previous games. "Final Fantasy VII" features one the best villain character casts ever. Cloud's former mentor and ultimate adversary Sephiroth, with his complicated past and his unclear motives, is often considered the best Final Fantasy villain character. "Final Fantasy VII" is rich on psychological transformations of its heroes, sudden revelations, childhood flashbacks, and hidden complexes, and gazes deeper into the human soul than any Final Fantasy before.
Gameplay-wise, "Final Fantasy VII" is a direct descendant of "Final Fantasy VI", with its class-less party and the ability to learn magic. The informal class distinctions are even more vague than in "Final Fantasy VI". In some cases, an inclination towards a certain class is obvious (Cloud being a typical fighter, Tifa a monk, Yuffie a ninja), but its is quite impossible to determine the class of some other characters (Barrett, Red XIII, etc.). The system is by far not as flexible as in the previous game or in "Final Fantasy V". Equipment slots have been reduced for the first time in the series, as well as the number of active party members, which was limited to three. Character development is almost automatic, with very few ways to actually raise someone's stats. Interesting is the connection between weapons and magic spells (called "materia" in the game), with some weapons allowing to activate (equip) more spells than others.
While not being as non-linear as both previous games, "Final Fantasy VII" still offers plenty of exploration and optional areas. There are tons of secret locations, items, weapons, and particularly powerful materia scattered around the game world. Just like in "Final Fantasy VI", there are two optional characters, which you can recruit or disregard at your choice. There are sub-quests that become available only if you have a certain character in your party. A characteristic feature of "Final Fantasy VII" is the abundance of mini-games. In a location called Gold Saucer, you can spend hours upon hours playing various mini-games and gaining rare items or materia.
The music of "Final Fantasy VII", that continues the lyrical style of "Final Fantasy VI", belongs to the most profoundly beautiful video game musical scores ever. The Aeris theme, the Nibelheim theme, and many other melodies reveal not only the depth of Japanese melancholy, but also the great talent of Nobuo Uematsu, who once again proved he could handle masterfully virtually every musical style, while maintaining his own distinct personality as a composer. Following the setting of the game, the music became even more personal and intimate in "Final Fantasy VII", fitting the tragic story and the macabre futuristic society as perfectly as the cheerful epic music of earlier Final Fantasies fitted their medieval setting.
For the first time in Final Fantasy series, the sensual side of a game - its atmosphere - enjoyed an equal opportunity, being previously overshadowed by storyline, character cast, and gameplay. "Final Fantasy VII" oozes an intense atmosphere, that was possible to achieve only with the help of brand new visual techniques. The pre-rendered backgrounds of "Final Fantasy VII" give every town and every dungeon a distinct look and feel - something that was impossible to have with the simple generic towns of SNES Final Fantasies. Each location is envelopped in atmosphere: the dark, futuristic sections of Midgar, the careless, sunny beaches of Costa del Sol, the bizarre outlines of Cosmo Canyon, the "Chinese" houses and pagodas of Wutai. A mysterious power emanates from all the locations of "Final Fantasy VII". The battles experienced the most notable graphical change: no longer were they the static, flat pictures of two opposite parties performing clumsy, almost comical movements, but dynamic, thrilling events, with wonderfully animated 3D characters, flashy spells effects, and even more flashy monster summon animations. "Final Fantasy VII" exploited the abilities of Playstation to the full, occupying 3 CD ROMs, each one full of breathtaking CG graphic movies. Many important events of the game are presented through CG sequences.
"Final Fantasy VII" is an amazing gaming experience, almost shocking in its infinite grandeur, with its atmosphere, its monumental story, its profound characters, its godlike music, its rich and versatile gameplay, and its new stunning visuals. By taking a turn in the direction of a futuristic setting, "Final Fantasy VII" decidedly changed the whole feeling of Final Fantasy, while maintaining its original spirit by presenting an epic story and a huge, fantanstic world, populated by mythological creatures. "Final Fantasy VII" is the most universal, world-embracing game of the series, considered by many fans the best of all Final Fantasies.
"Final Fantasy VII" was later ported to the PC, becoming one of the rare console-style RPGs for this platform.
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