For my first review, I’ve chosen my absolute favourite video game; Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII. With the confirmation of a PS4 remake in the near future, along with the fact that I’ve just finished playing it again (my playthrough count has now reached double figures), I thought it an appropriate choice. I won’t restrain my summary within a typical 1-10 rating, however, as no praise would seem suitable and any criticism I venture to suggest would cause me substantial emotional distress.
Anyway, down to business. The game centres around former SOLDIER Cloud Strife and his band of miss-matched companions which includes a stuffed animal named Cait Sith, chain-smoking, abrasive astronaut Cid Highwind and Barrett Wallace, a man with a gun for an arm (travelling via plane is undoubtedly a nightmare) as they attempt to save the planet from the insidious Shinra Inc. energy company and the genocidal, legendary warrior Sephiroth.
After the initial two or three hours of play contained solely within the city of Midgar and the Shinra Inc. headquarters, you discover that Sephiroth is the main threat to their world, due to his seemingly limitless power (well over 9000) combined with an obsessive determination to achieve his goal. From here, the plot and characters develop at a nice, even pace, which picks up momentum as you venture out into the wider world. You discover Cloud’s memories of his past (including his relationship with Sephiroth) are unaccountably vague and confused, foreshadowing later events. The rest of the story is a wonderful, deep narrative that won’t be revealed here but, even accounting for my bias, some of the greatest moments in video game history take place during this spectacular tale.
The gameplay meanwhile is Final Fantasy VII at its best, showcasing the most enjoyable turn-based combat system imaginable, one which stands comparison with the very best JRPG’s ever created. Indeed, the ‘active’ option will cause AI opponents to act during your turn, which makes for faster-paced action than the series is often credited with. Nonetheless many are sure to find this style far less exciting than hack-and-slash games or modern first-person shooters such as Call of Duty. Equally, modern gamers playing for the first time may be frustrated by the comparatively limited scope for exploration, at least when compared to recent RPG’s, such as Bethesdas Skyrim or Fallout titles. I appreciate this point of view, however, I recently heard the argument stating the problem with turn-based combat is that “they’re just too unrealistic”. I understand the point, but if realism is an issue, it may be difficult to find many games that are could be considered playable. After all, is hiding behind a wall for 30 seconds to allow your bullet wounds to heal any more faithful to reality?
Graphically, many people will be familiar with the criticism levelled at Final Fantasy VII and its blocky character designs and, occasionally, indistinct surrounds; something that was noticeable even by PS1 standards. Though I agree to a certain extent, I would argue that the background artwork and colour scheme, in general, is wonderfully evocative and vivid, particularly evident in areas such as Cosmo Canyon where ochre and orange hues are used to create a gorgeous desert tribal idyll, or Midgar’s dystopian themes, encapsulated by the use of a bleak, dark pallet.
The soundtrack meanwhile is an absolute joy. A vast array of instrumental and classical masterpieces that evoke sadness, optimism, foreboding and a panoply of other emotions at different stages of the story. Indeed, Nobuo Uematsu’s score is so popular that some of the compositions have made and still make the Classic FM hall of fame (in the top 10 no less).
All things considered both new and veteran players will enjoy everything the game has to offer. The characters are excellent if somewhat odd, the graphics are questionable but charming and the gameplay is deeper and more intuitive than many people care to admit. Therefore, if you enjoy an immersive narrative set in an exceptionally realised world full of extraordinary and distinct lore, buy Final Fantasy VII; after all, it’s only £7 on the PS3 store and only a few quid more on PS4 – which is cheaper than a box of condoms and arguably, more fun.