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SummaryGreat 32-bit capture of the original spirit of the series, yet it lead everyone in the wrong direction
The GoodFF7 represents the quantum leap the series made after a 3-year hiatus to a more sophisticated platform. After their break-up with Nintendo Squaresoft finally came to Sony's PSX to develop the next installment of their long-running series. Would the spirit and soul of the series get lost in this new high-powered (at the time) platform? would we get lots of cgi and no game? thankfully no. At least not yet.
FF7 remains true to the spirit of the series, which is to deliver a strong, solid storyline with deep, complex characters on it rather than giving you a free-form rpg experience. Sure, you get stats and there is a certain level of non-linearity regarding what you can do, but no one will mistake this for a Ultima game, or a Wizardry. As it goes, FF7 story is one of the best, coming close to dethroning FF6 (my all time favorite) when it comes to character development, seriousness and emotional punch. There's a lot more to like though. The action is perfectly balanced with the use of cool cinematic animations for each summon, magic, etc. You may hate all the stupid materia management hassles you have to go through, but they are still worth it.
On the technical side of things, the game didn't really take full advantage of the posibilities the new platform offered, and made a lot of concessions to their long-time design trademark, which gives you elements you either love or hate. For instance the SD (Super Deformed) characters. The reason they were kept like that was to keep the tone and emphasize the emotional aspects of the game, it is a long known fact that there's a reason the japanese manga characters are (usually) drawn in simple big-eyed "naif" ways. Because simplicity conveys much more feelings than complex ultra-realistic drawings. The simple, almost childish, character design tells our brain "this isn't finished" and thus forces us to interpretate by ourselves, to see beyond them and find for ourselves what's there. It's this interaction that causes the game's emotional moments to be so much powerfull, because you "see" whenever Cloud boils with anger, you "feel" Tifa's despair at her un-answered love, all because they are represented in the simplest of ways, with the same facial expresion that you can never quite make out.
This ever present simplicity of graphics has always been a staple of the FF games (and well, practically every japanese rpg) and here is made evident by the use of much more realistic backgrounds, while you could attribute the naivete of the graphics in the snes games to technical limitations, their intentionallity becomes undeniable when we see it on the psx, where the SD characters are placed over super-realistic (or at least pretty good looking) pre-rendered backgrounds.
Essentially everything that made the FFs so great is here, and all with tremendous whiz-bang cinematic effects and cgi. However...this is a double edged sword....
The BadI could point out here the technical deficiencies of the game (the midi-like tunes through most of the game, the use of simply shaded polygons, instead of textured ones, etc.) but there is a much bigger problem in this game that needs to be pointed out, and it's not even it's fault.
The biggest problem with FF7 was what resulted of it, it's biggest problem was what it caused. To put it bluntly: Squaresoft is going the way of the once mighty Origin. And where Origin died by trying to Hollywoodize itself, using actors and expensive sets, Square is headed by using catchy cgi, and graphical glamour.
And where did it all start? with the Playstation, and with FF7. Gone where the days of submiting creative content to a limited platform, a whole new horizon seemed to be ahead, but as us pc gamers known, technological quantum leaps often bring a lot of mediocrity with them. What would Square do with greater graphical detail and cgi cutscenes? well exploit that of course! And to the max if needed! Really, I don't think they are the best in the business (just look at any Capcom or Namco cgi cutscene) but they seem to be the ones that use it the most, often with disastrous results (just look at Parasite Eve).
From FF7 on, Square would totally submit their games to this cinematic treatment, and though their games haven't always been the pinacle of interactivity, the illusion of it was still there. Now, it's gone, shattered to pieces. Forever? Who knows.
Don't believe me? fine, don't think of the cgi, but let me give you an example of how this philosophy has seeped into the bones of the series spirit. Look at the cover of this game. Cloud stands proudly with that "complex hero" look ready to take on all comers, quite far from reality really but a very good omen. Gone from this point on is the humble aproach to storytelling the FFs used to have, gone is that excellent "collective hero" concept were there wasn't really a main character you could pinpoint and say this is him! this is the one that has to kill Gonzo and win the game! Now we slowly take the plunge towards a more marketable heroic aproach. And while Cloud still remains on this side of the fence, not far from us is the "Totally Cool" superhero-that-shops-at-Gap which would soon take over (yes, Squall, I'm talking about you).