Final Fantasy VII journal - entry one

I’ve known the general story of Final Fantasy VII for years now. Even the most basic search results have a tendency to spoil the game’s “huge plot twist”. And knowing how kids from my generation who grew up with anime like the original Transformers and Gundam Wing can sometimes forget how things actually were and simply look back on entertainment from their childhoods through rose-colored glasses, I was skeptical (to say the least) of Final Fantasy VII’s ability to hold up some fifteen years after its initial release. At the same time, this is one video game that I had previously never experienced – heck, the closest I’d come to indulging in the Playstation One classic was watching the Advent Children film (which left something to be desired, I might add). So while I felt it was a necessary and logical course of action to fill this void in my gaming experience, my expectations were not set particularly high.

For some inexplicable reason, I was under the impression that Cloud would be a rather quiet protagonist, allowing the other party members to convey the story (not unlike Link from Ocarina of Time, released the following year). However, Cloud is a rather talkative fellow – perhaps even more so than Lighting in FFXIII or Cecil in FFIV (the other two core Final Fantasy titles I have played that are driven by a predetermined cast of characters). And this probably has a lot to do with the fact that FFVII is, at its core, a story about Cloud. Yes, Tifa, Barret, Aeris, and company are important, but every cutscene or flashback concerning another character ends up coming back around to reveal more about Cloud.

The battle system is fantastic – considering how akin to FFIV’s it is, it may end up among my favorite battle systems in the series. The Limit Breaker ability is a nifty addition, and while Cloud, Barret, and Red XIII’s powerful attacks are nice, I find Aeris’ Healing Wind the most convenient of them all. The boss encounters thus far have not been overly imaginative, but there has been decent variation, at least. The top-down perspective with Cloud traversing pre-rendered surfaces can be a bit confusing at times, as it is not always clear whether a doorway or a ramp leads from one surface or another. There have also been a few instances where I came across spots that looked like they would lead to new areas, but found they were simply empty spaces.

Now that I have some context for characters and plot points, I have a greater appreciation for the soundtrack. Yes, it’s MIDI, but I can appreciate it – Majora’s Mask is host to one of my favorite soundtracks in any video game, and it uses the same format. The graphics look pretty good for their day, though the cutscenes are far more visually appealing than the greyscale streets of Midgar. And though I’ve only scratched the surface on the relationship shared by Cloud and Sephiroth, the development of events has been rather believable and well-paced. I actually feel a little bad for Sephiroth now that I’ve seen the first flashback detailing his mission to Nibelheim.

Both the sometimes-vulgar language used by characters and the recurring theme of death in FFVII make it pretty clear to me why this game earned a ‘T’ rating. Barret’s mannerisms are a bit excessive and his depiction is somewhat racist, to be frank. Many of the artistic and style choices, along with subplots and minor events, are typical of 1990s Japanese entertainment. Final Fantasy VII would seem overly cliché if it weren’t for the fact that it does a really good job at combining the industrial futurist city of Midgar with old world weapons and modern modes of transportation. It’s a curious approach, but also thoroughly interesting for its day. Though I can’t say it has surpassed Final Fantasy IV for me in terms of its overall quality, Final Fantasy VII is certainly playing out far better than I had anticipated.

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