Posted on October 13, 2019
Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces: Limited
Final Fantasy VII – A game that truly needs no introduction. The first Final Fantasy game released on the PS1, and for some reason the first Final Fantasy for an oddly large majority of Final Fantasy fans, this is the game that everybody who has even the slightest interest in JRPGs knows about (even people who don’t like JRPGs usually still at least know about the game).
Released early in the PS1’s life-cycle (early 1997 in Japan, late 1997 in North America and Europe), this was the first Final Fantasy game to feature 3d graphics and FMVs (Full Motion Videos, people call them “Pre-rendered cutscenes” nowadays…), which not only took fans by storm, it also changed the perception of how games, particularly other JRPGs, should strive to look. While nobody can argue that Squaresoft wasn’t the graphical powerhouse during the 16-bit era, Squaresoft completely changed the game and were in an entire different realm during the 32-bit era.
With a development budget of around $40 million USD at the time (around maybe $55 million USD equivalent nowadays?), Final Fantasy VII set the bar and established a new standard for JRPG quality, and whether you like Final Fantasy VII or not, it’s almost impossible to ignore its influence on most JRPGs that followed it.
Many people who have played Final Fantasy VII consider it to be either the greatest JRPG of all time or even just the greatest game of all time. Are the masses just blinded by nostalgia, “my first Final Fantasy/first JRPG” syndrome, and/or Tifa’s “Makou Reactors”? Are the masses actually on to something? Let’s find out!
Score – 35/40
Story – 9/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 9/10
Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Turn-based)
Platform: PlayStation 1/PS1
Release Date: JP: October 2nd, 1997 (International ver.) / JP: September 14th, 2005 (Advent Pieces: Limited ver.)
Length: 30～60 Hours
Table of Contents
Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces: Limited PS1 Review
Before we even get started, I do want to point out that I do realize that Final Fantasy VII is a game that doesn’t really need anymore reviews. Not only has it already been reviewed inside-and-out by every single major video game publication in existence, its notoriety alone is enough to make anyone who’s interested in it play it. They especially wouldn’t go through all the trouble to find some tiny little retro RPG blog and read the review from there.
So, with this in mind, I figured I had a sort of “1-up” on most other reviews by reviewing Final Fantasy VII International instead! The original Japanese version of Final Fantasy VII didn’t have some of the stuff the English version had (such as Emerald/Ruby Weapons), so they pulled something similar to the Kingdom Hearts “Final Mix”es and created Final Fantasy VII International, which is just the regular base Japanese game with the additional content from the Western releases included.
So, in all honesty, Final Fantasy VII International is basically just the English version of Final Fantasy VII translated back into Japanese (dodging all of the hideous English translation butchering). This means i’ll basically be reviewing the Final Fantasy VII that everyone else has played, but the screenshots and names of stuff will all be taken from the Japanese version.
Enough rambling though, let’s finally get onto the review!
The story in Final Fantasy VII might be the hardest part for me to talk about. One reason, of course, is that the game spans 3 discs, which means that overall there is just a lot of different stuff going on during the game. The other reason, which i’m not sure if this can be considered a spoiler or not (I personally wouldn’t consider it a spoiler, more of a “heads-up”), is that the game’s story kind of does a complete 180 and changes drastically after about the first 5-10 hours, depending on how fast you progress through the beginning of the game.
This means that if I review the first few hours of story like I usually do, it won’t really serve too much of a purpose in conveying what the actual majority of the game is about. It would also be kind of weird to just do a hop-skip and start talking about the story after the direction changes, so i’m kind of unsure what to do. I guess in this kind of scenario, i’ll just talk about the beginning of the game like normal, and the main part of the game can just be kept a mystery. Keeping things a mystery is always a good thing I guess…
The game starts off with one of the most memorable intros in gaming. A young man named Cloud is riding on the top of a train while it pulls into a guarded station. Upon stopping, a group of people get out and start running past the guards, and then Cloud jumps off of the train and immediately starts attacking the guards. Cloud then meets up with the previous group of people and discusses their plan to attack a Makou Reactor, a type of reactor that is sucking Makou, a magical essence that resides within the games’ planet, out of the planet at an alarming rate. A powerful organization called “Shinra Electrical Power Company”, who basically runs the entire city of Midgar where the story is currently taking place, has built multiple reactors to siphon Makou for its own personal use.
The group introduces themselves as “AVALANCHE”, and while they themselves wouldn’t label themselves as such, AVALANCHE is essentially an ecological domestic terrorist organization (how’s THAT for opening of a game?). AVALANCHE has hired Cloud, a mercenary who used to be a member of “SOLDIER”, the elite private military group of Shinra Company (told you they run the entire city!). Cloud was able to reach the coveted rank of “1st Class”, which means that he is essentially a 1-man army, making him the perfect candidate for AVALANCHE’s planned assault.
Cloud joins up with the leader of AVALANCHE, a man named Barett, who has a gun implanted in his arm. The two make their way through the reactor and set off a timed bomb deep inside the core. The team succeeds in blowing up the reactor, which they see as a good thing. Their mission may have been shortsighted, however. By blowing up the reactor, they also blew up a decent portion of Midgar as collateral damage, meaning that lots of innocent people were killed in the process.
Shinra officers begin to pursue the group, so the group does everything they can to make it back to their “home-base”, a bar named “7th Heaven” located in the Sector 7 slums in Midgar. Upon arriving at 7th Heaven, the team meets Tifa, who is the owner of the bar and a member of AVALANCHE. After regrouping, AVALANCHE sees news coverage of their attack on TV, which leads to some of the members finally realizing the actual impact of their recent mission.
The group decides to lay low for a while and wait for things to settle down. In the meantime, Cloud meets a woman named Aeris (ret-conned years later and changed to Aerith) in a nearby church, who tends to a small group of flowers that have grown inside the church thanks to some sunlight that beams through a hole in the roof. Shortly after meeting Aeris, a man enters the church with a few Shinra soldiers.
The man introduces himself as Reno (レノ, Reno), who goes on to reveal that he is part of a special Shinra taskforce called “The Turks”. Reno tells Cloud and Aeris that he’s been sent out on a mission to find and retrieve Aeris. Aeris panics and tells Cloud that she’ll pay him if he agrees to protect her. Cloud accepts and does everything in his power to escape with Aeris.
Cloud brings Aeris back to her home, where her mother is waiting. To make sure her mother doesn’t worry, Aeris pretends that Cloud is her new boyfriend. Aeris offers Cloud to spend the night at their home, which Cloud accepts, but feeling a bit uncomfortable, Cloud attempts to sneak out during the night. After sneaking out, Cloud tries to make his way back to 7th Heaven, when he’s suddenly stopped by Aeris who insists on going together. Cloud reluctantly agrees and they make their way through the slums.
On their way back to 7th Heaven, they see Tifa all dressed-up and riding in the back of a strange looking wagon that’s headed towards “Wall Market”, a really shady marketplace ran by a sort of mafia boss type of guy named Don Corneo. The two believe that something isn’t right, so they head to the Wall Market to see what’s going on.
Will AVALANCHE be able to successfully stop Shinra Company? Will Shinra’s Makou Reactors do too much damage before the group can stop them? Why does Shinra Company want to kidnap Aeris? Since Cloud was originally a member of SOLDIER, will he end up siding with Shinra again?
I know this is kind of a bad place to suddenly stop, but the Wall Market is the first place in the game that could contain decent spoilers just because of all the stuff that happens there. They aren’t exactly “story” spoilers, but there are a lot of things that happen in the Wall Market that are better to actually experience blindly yourself first rather than hearing about them, so I think it would be better for me to go ahead and stop here.
Like I mentioned above, the story kind of shifts almost completely after a certain point in the game, at around the 20-30% mark, so what happens near the beginning of the game doesn’t really have a huge impact on what happens later on. Since this summary doesn’t really give a good idea of what is actually going on at the beginning of the game, i’ll sum it up briefly – your main goal in the beginning of the game is to basically try to destroy Shinra Company. The game is around 30-60 hours long depending on how much side stuff you do, though, so there’s plenty more story to be had!
I know some people who already know about the game might wonder why I didn’t mention a certain character at all in the story summary. This is because a certain character doesn’t even make their first appearance until the “story shift” that I keep talking about. You don’t even see what they look like for at least the first 5-10 hours of gameplay, so suddenly talking about them when they aren’t even truly story-relevant yet would just make stuff more confusing…
Next, we’ll talk about all of the characters we’ll eventually run into during our fairly long journey!
Final Fantasy VII definitely has a lot of characters that are important to the story that you’ll have to keep track of, but thankfully the main party only has 9 characters you’ll have to worry about! I’ll list them and paraphrase their Japanese introductions from the official manual below!
クラウド・ストライフ (Kuraudo Sutoraifu, Cloud Strife) – Cloud is a 21 year-old ex-SOLDIER who is currently working as a mercenary who’ll take any job he can get. He’s hired at the beginning of the game to help AVALANCHE attack Shinra Company, but little does he know he’s about to get sucked into a conflict that puts the entire planet at risk. His 2-handed Buster Sword is capable of splitting anything in-front of it in half.
ティファ・ロックハート (Tifa Rokkuhaato, Tifa Lockhart) – Tifa is a 20 year-old member who helps keep the party motivated during tough times. Though she has a cute face, she’s actually a fierce hand-to-hand fighter, as well as a core member of AVALANCHE. She might have feelings for Cloud, but she somehow can’t seem to tell him.
バレット・ウォーレス (Baretto Uooresu, Barett Wallace) – Barett is a 35 year-old man with an intense hatred towards Shinra Company. He’s the leader of AVALANCHE, and has a special gun implanted in to his arm that allows him to shred his enemies. A certain event happened in the past that led to the death of his wife, so Barett lives together with his daughter Marin.
エアリス・ゲインズブール (Earisu Geinzubuuru, Aeris Gainsborough) – Let me stop all of you that are going to say “it says Aerith right there in the picture!”. This is a version of the game that comes boxed together with Advent Children, so this is after the whole alt+f4 ret-con that they pulled years after the initial release. People can say it was originally supposed to end with a “th” all they want, but both “Aeris” and “Sephiroth” end with a ス (su) in Japanese because there isn’t a “th” sound in the Japanese language. If they can turn the “su” into SephiroTH instead of SephiroS, they could have easily called her “Aerith” the first time around if they wanted to, too.
Anyways, Aeris is a 22 year-old girl who passes her time selling flowers in the streets of Midgar. She meets Cloud by chance, but she’s destined to play the biggest role in the group’s travels. If you had to break her fighting style down, Aeris is suited more towards a magical fighting style.
レッドサーティーン (Reddo Saatiin, Red XIII) – Red XIII is an aggressive-looking beast with fiery red fur. Red XIII’s age and gender are “officially” unknown (he definitely uses male speech in the Japanese version, plus a certain scene all but confirms that he’s a guy), but it’s told that his knowledge surpasses that of humans. Being a beast, Red XIII’s efficient at using his claws and fangs to take down enemies. Everyone else about his past is unexplained, and it can’t be confirmed if Red XIII is even his real name or not.
シド・ハイウインド (Shido Haiuindo, Cid Highwind) – Cid is a 32 year-old man with a bad mouth but a warm heart, he’s a pilot that absolutely won’t let go of his dream. Whether it’s at sea or in the air, he’s happy as long as he has a ship. His ultimate dream is to be able to make it to outer space. Cid’s weapon of choice is the lance.
ケット・シー (Ketto Shii, Cait Sith) – Definitely a case of either the Japanese not being correct for the English name, or the English not being correct for the Japanese name (probably the English not being correct as always). Both Cait Sith’s age and race are unknown. If you judge it by how it talks, it seems like it might be male. Cait Sith will always be found riding on top of a giant stuffed moogle that seems to be alive. Cait Sith uses megaphones to attack his enemies, which matches up with his happy-go-lucky attitude.
ユフィ・キサラギ (Yufi Kisaragi, Yuffie Kisaragi) – Yuffie is a 16 year-old girl who’s a self-proclaimed “Ninja”, although you can tell she’s not quite there yet by her clothes. In order to get her hands on “something”, she follows Cloud and the party around, attempting to rob them. Yuffie uses a giant shuriken to attack her enemies.
ヴィンセント・ヴァレンタイン (Binsento Barentain, Vincent Valentine) – If you’re wondering about the Japanese name, they also don’t “officially” have V sounds, but the “B” sounds are implied to be “V”s when they’re spelled this way in Japanese. Vincent is a 27 year-old man shrouded in mystery. He decides to join the party and fight against Shinra Company, due to his own personal reasons from his past. Vincent’s body seems to be in good shape, but it looks like he can transform under certain circumstances.
セフィロス (Sefirosu, Sephiroth) – Cloud’s superior back in his SOLDIER days, Sephiroth was the legendary SOLDIER 1st Class hero that everyone aspired to become. Sephiroth uses an extremely long Katana, and his swordsmanship abilities are kept secret. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Each character in Final Fantasy VII is different from the rest and has their own personal motive for joining the party. Although i’d personally say that 2 characters don’t really have that deep of a motive, they still contribute to the overall story, 1 of them in a sort of important way. Characters also develop quite well throughout the story, so chances are you’ll become interested and invested in at least most of the characters you’ll meet though-out the game.
Most characters aren’t the same by the end of the game as they were at the start. Barett’s first impression would give off the feeling of him being an angry, reckless rebellious anarchist or terrorist. By the end of the game, you might see him as more of a father who thinks he’s fighting the good fight to help create a better planet for his daughter Marin to grow up in. Seeing some of the backstory and thought-processes of certain characters really made it feel like they truly went through a long adventure and grew as people as a result.
Next we’ll move on to graphics, something Final Fantasy VII does pretty well!
One thing Final Fantasy VII was known for back in the day was its graphics. Anyone who saw commercials for the game on TV will vouch for that – the introduction of full blown FMVs in JRPGs was something that nobody had ever seen before (not even just JRPGs, the world had basically never seen FMVs at all at that point in time). The FMVs in Final Fantasy VII propelled the game out of the niche RPG genre and basically made Final Fantasy VII THEE Triple A blockbuster game that everyone had to play.
People nowadays might not be as familiar with the concept of FMVs, considering games nowadays don’t really have that much of a divide between gameplay and pre-rendered cutscenes. To be honest, most games nowadays just have in-game cutscenes created with the actual game-engine (think Monster Hunter World), so pre-rendered cutscenes for the most part aren’t even around anymore (the last time I saw some were in FFXV back in 2016).
For those of us that do remember how FMVs were back in the 90s/early 2000s, we’d be able to tell you that the graphical difference between in-game graphics and FMVs was astonishing – games looked like they were made during completely different generations if you compared how a game like Final Fantasy VII looked during actual gameplay versus how some of the cutscenes looked. Here’s a quick look at a rare occurrence in the game – a scene that transitions in and out of an FMV in real-time!
Since Final Fantasy VII was a very early PS1 release + Squaresoft’s first real attempt at using FMVs, the quality of the FMVs were a bit low if you actually looked at them objectively. The reason everyone went bonkers back in the day (including my dad and I!) wasn’t because we thought the FMVs were super high-quality, but rather because we had never seen anything like that before, so for us that was basically “this looks like real life!”, most likely the same feeling everyone is gonna have when they boot up the Final Fantasy VII Remake for the first time next year (that’ll be way closer to “real life” though, at least!). Here’s an example of an FMV that made people go crazy, even though it’s extremely short…
If you keep a close eye of the FMVs throughout the game, you’ll probably notice what I mean when I say they’re kind of low quality. Like I said above, I understand that FMV technology was still brand-new, and i’m sure they didn’t have any motion acting and anything going on so all of the character movements were probably animated by hand.
During some cutscenes this becomes super apparent, in the motorcycle escape scene for instance. During some parts of the scene, it almost starts to look like claymation. Some other cutscenes look really good though, like the cutscene that plays at the beginning of the game, as well as another cutscene that nobody really likes later on in the game, so overall they’re pretty hit or miss, which also adds to it all. If they were either all good or all kinda iffy it would be okay, but the inconsistency of the cutscenes gives a slightly “off” feeling.
I’m sure it had to do with either budget issues (the budget was absolutely huge though), being unfamiliar with the technology still, or even just maybe how team-structure was back in the day (programming was kind of like every-man-for-himself in Japan until just recently actually, to be quite honest…), so maybe separate artists did their own FMVs by themselves and everything ended up just being a mish-mash of everyone’s work. This isn’t directly a complaint against the FMVs or anything because they’re definitely a product of their time and they were basically the first batch of professionally done FMVs in history. I just wanted to point this out because you’ll have legions of Final Fantasy VII fans that’ll try to convince you that it’s the best looking PS1 game ever made (the real deep fans will even try to tell you it’s the best looking games of all time…).
The game isn’t all FMVs, however! The game has 3 other graphical categories – regular gameplay, in-combat, and overworld movement. As I said earlier on, these are vastly different from how the FMVs look. I guess it would make sense to cover the general graphics first, so we’ll go ahead and start there.
Final Fantasy VII (VIII and IX will follow the same idea) uses a mixture of 3d models displayed over a pre-rendered background image for its art style. What this means is that you’ll have a picture that was hand-drawn by an artist as the 2d background, and you’ll have 3d characters/npcs essentially walking around “on-top” of the image. This is probably hard to understand through a brief explanation like this, especially considering that nobody has even really used this technique since the end of the PS1 era.
Try to imagine a town where all of the buildings and everything are already drawn before-hand. The programmers then add map teleporters to the doorways of buildings and stuff to go from map to map. No need for 3d artists to create buildings/pipes/doors/store signs. It’s all drawn up and ready to go. This might have been why Squaresoft was able to create 3 huge Final Fantasy games within a time frame of about 4 years (they take like 5 years to put out a single main-line game nowadays, for comparison…though they weren’t always creating 10 different shovel-ware games at a time in the meantime back in the 90s).
Personally, I love the old Pre-rendered background art style on the PS1. I understand why the technique faded away (there’s only so much you can do before you hit a “realism limit”), but there’s something really cool about the art style you could achieve with this technique. Especially judging by Final Fantasy VII’s 3d model quality (very very low quality), I actually think the game would have looked way worse overall if it stuck with a normal all-3d art style. Instead, some of the areas in the game look sort of photo-realistic with the pre-rendered backgrounds, to be honest! Especially some of the towns and and inside some of the Makou reactors!
One really cool thing I like about the art style in Final Fantasy VII is their use of neon-lighting! It works extremely well with the pre-rendered backgrounds, and they went really overboard with the intensity of the lighting, which I like a lot. The game definitely has some cyberpunk vibes going on (only in the first city though), so having the neon-lights shining on-top of some hunk of metal weapon shop in a slummy part of town looks super cool. Another thing that probably wouldn’t look quite as cool if they went with a full 3d polygonal approach!
Pre-rendered backgrounds aside, next we’ll have to move onto the 3d graphics you’ll see when you’re walking around exploring stuff. I know a ton of people have nostalgia for Final Fantasy VII, and with this entry in the series having a lot of spin-offs and stuff made many years later (the Advent Children movie, for example), it seems that a lot of fans remember the game looking way better than it does.
The 3d polygons in Final Fantasy VII are some of the lowest quality 3d polygons you’ll probably ever see, bar the absolute most primitive 3d PC games from the early 90s. This too was Squaresoft’s first foray into 3d artwork, so we gotta give em a pass on this too (most JRPGs were still going full 2d without a care in the world, like Arc The Lad/アークザラッド and Beyond the Beyond). Even though it was a first attempt, that still doesn’t mean I can just turn a blind eye and call it all amazing. I know this analogy has been used a million times, and i’m personally not going to use it as a diss, but the 3d characters in Final Fantasy VII honestly look like Lego people.
I don’t know if they purposefully wanted to go for some type of “Chibi-Kawaii” (small and cute) art style or whatnot, but the characters have extremely disproportionate bodies. People’s arms are usually toothpick small, with their shoulders and hands being huge and blocky, usually 5x-6x the width of their arms. Characters have no details on their faces whatsoever, except of course their eyes. I always heard that characters didn’t have mouths, and since I haven’t played the game since it was released back in ’97 I thought people were just clowning on the game on purpose, but right off the bat I noticed that they truly don’t even have mouths…
In terms of environments, the characters’ scales are actually kind of decent when compared to the size of pre-rendered buildings and background objects. These are usually rather small too, to fit with the really small 3d characters (Final Fantasy VIII fixes this really well with the “human-sized” characters). The characters in Final Fantasy VII really do look like little toys that you’d get out of a 50-cent machine, when you see them running around on the map…
The characters you’ll come across aren’t extremely varied. For the most part you’ll mostly see a mix of townspeople and Shinra soldiers, which is nothing out of the ordinary really. Depending on where you are, some towns will have special looking townspeople, but overall you’ll basically just be seeing the main characters, Shinra-related characters, and a handful of townspeople. Pretty common JRPG stuff from that time!
Next, i’ll jump to the overworld graphics, since its mostly the same kind of stuff. When you’re exploring the overworld, you’ll finally have (mostly) fully 3d control, depending on if you use the overhead camera mode or front-facing camera mode. Points of interest such as towns, forests, and buildings are all in 3d, while dungeon entrances are usually just a 2d flat black hole in the side of a mountain (the mountain is 3d at least!).
Your character looks pretty much the same when they’re running around on the overworld as they do when you’re exploring the maps. The only difference is they’re a bit more zoomed out than usual, so they appear even smaller than they normally do.
Moving on to environments, the environments themselves aren’t too varied. For the most part, you’ll only see plains, mountains, forests, and water. There are some exceptions, such as the the rocky area around Cosmo Canyon, the area filled with bridges in the mountains near Wutai, and of course if snowy northern continent. Most games up until Final Fantasy VII’s release all had fairly basic world maps, so this isn’t anything too out of the ordinary.
Just like in Final Fantasy V/ファイナルファンタジーV, Final Fantasy VII allows you to explore underwater with a submarine. While the explorable area underwater is much smaller than the size of the overworld (you’ll be able to explore it all in about 5 minutes), it does use completely different assets and houses a few separate explorable areas (and one of the two superbosses in the game!), so its definitely a nice addition to the game.
Last but not least, we’ll talk about the graphics during combat. This is definitely where Final Fantasy VII shines the most compared to other games during its time. Not only do the characters and battle environments look nice, but they also spent a lot of time creating amazing looking spell animations. Another thing i’m a huge fan of is showing a characters’ equipment on them during battle, and even though Final Fantasy VII only shows different weapons, it’s a big step up from the previous Final Fantasy games on the SFC that only showed your characters’ weapon for a split second during attack animations!
First off i’ll talk about how the characters look during battle. Your own party members are a HUGE step up from their regular quality. They no longer look like deformed Lego people – they finally resemble human beings, both in scale and design! There is a whole lot more going on in regards to character design, too. Each characters’ clothing/accessories, their faces, their range of motion/animation, everything is much more detailed than it is during the other parts of the game.
Enemy monsters look really nice, with lots of variety in enemy designs! Final Fantasy VII includes a big change that pretty much all JRPGs from then on included – idle animations for enemies and your own party members (though Rudra no Hihou/ルドラの秘宝 had this back on the SFC)! Now, of course having “frozen” 3d characters fighting each other would look way worse (it never really felt that “out of place” back in the 2d games), so it was more of a necessity rather than a stylistic choice i’m sure, but this is something that all games moving forward would emulate.
Going back to monster designs, Final Fantasy VII has a wide variety of monsters as per usual. One thing I noticed is that the game has very few reskinned monsters, which is always a great thing. You can safely expect to see new kinds of monsters in each new area you go to. Bosses are awesome too, as one would expect from a Final Fantasy game. Some of the bosses begin to look over the top (the game has a lot of mechanical-type bosses, and a few alien/biological-type bosses with some crazy designs), but all around each boss looks great, and most are really big (some even looking like they’re more than 10x the size of the party)!
Next we’ll move on to spells. The spells in Final Fantasy VII look great. You can tell a lot of time was put into them in an attempt to show off some of the early power of the original PlayStation. The early-game spells like basic elemental spells (Fire, Thunder, Blizzard) look kind of basic, but that’s always by design in FF games. Because of how the ability system works in Final Fantasy VII, you’ll be stuck with only the basic spells for almost half of the game, but after you start to level up some of your Materia, you’ll be able to see some really awesome stuff.
The usual big-hitters like Flare, Ultima, and some of the Blue Magic (which is called “Enemy Skill” this time) go above and beyond, not only looking amazing but also putting out the damage they look like they should! There’s one more thing that you probably won’t be surprised to hear – summons look spectacular in Final Fantasy VII!
The game not only has a fairly large amount of summons to choose from, they all have unique animations. Even the most basic summons like Chocobo have decent length animations, which is quite different from old Final Fantasy games where summons like Shiva or Ifrit would just pop off a quick attack and leave.
Even people who have never even played Final Fantasy VII before might know of a certain summon called “Knights of the Round”. This particular summon is known for 2 reasons – 1st, it’s easily the most damaging summon in the game. The entire summon consists of 13 separate attacks, and if you can manage to get a high enough magic stat to make it so each hit does 9,999 damage, you’re looking at 130,000 damage from a single summon. As you might imagine, this can lead to basically killing anything in the game with little effort (even the superbosses if you’re willing to spam it 6 or 7 times).
The 2nd reason is because of its meme-worthy animation length. The entire summon animation takes around 1 minute and 30 seconds (there’s only one other animation that’s longer than this in the game, but you’ll have to find that out the hard way…). Now, that’s definitely fine in terms of the damage/time ratio, considering most other spells/summons will only be able to do a single 9,999 damage hit while still taking up anywhere from 5-30 seconds. It’s just kind of hilarious to see a single summon animation just go on and on – you could honestly go to the bathroom or get you a snack/something to drink and the summon animation STILL won’t be done yet by the time you get back. It looks crazy, though!
I think that about covers all of the battle-related stuff worth mentioning. The battles are definitely one of the better looking parts of the game! While the pre-rendered backgrounds and stuff during exploration might just be a particular preference of mine, I can’t really see anyone who loves old-school JRPGs not being at least slightly impressed with how the battles look, especially if they’re coming straight from FF4, FF5, or FF6.
Overall, Final Fantasy VII had good graphics for its time. Final Fantasy VII does bear the curse of being the first Final Fantasy released for a new console generation (just like Final Fantasy IV), so its expected that the next 2 Final Fantasy games basically leave it in the dust. I think things would have looked better overall if they took a more FF8-styled approach when it came to character design, though. There’s something about the lego looking characters that just unnecessarily kicks the already primitive 3d graphics down an extra notch. Some people might find them charming, but if we’re going to talk about “quality”, I think its a bit of a separate issue (I think FF4’s graphics and art style are charming, but that doesn’t mean FF4 looks better than FF6, objectively speaking…). Final Fantasy VII almost immediately gets outpaced by most other JRPGs that came after it on the PS1, but its influence on graphics in the entire Games Industry at the time of its release is undeniable! If you decide to play the game, appreciate it for what it was and what it was able to do at the time of its release!
The gameplay section feels like it’s going to be long, mostly just because there’s a lot more going on overall in Final Fantasy VII than in any other Final Fantasy game that’s come before it. Final Fantasy VII is filled with mini-games and optional content, so much so that you’ll almost double your potential playtime if you decide to focus on the side-content! I guess to keep things easy to follow, i’ll start by talking about the standard game-loop, and then at the end i’ll go over all the different optional stuff.
In general, Final Fantasy VII plays like all of the other Final Fantasy games that have come before it. You spend your time running around towns and dungeons, killing monsters for EXP/GIL to get stronger and buy better gear, rinsing and repeating this each time the story progresses.
In terms of general gameplay, there’s nothing too different from the other Final Fantasy games, except the fact that Final Fantasy VII is in 3d. Running around the overworld is basically the same as always, except this time the game’s superbosses are actually out walking around on the overworld instead of being tucked away in dungeons like usual.
Like the older games, you have both naval and air travel available. You’ll eventually gain access to a submarine which will allow you to travel by sea and also explore underwater. Later on in the game, you’ll get the series’ iconic airship, which will allow you to travel all over the world (except for a few specific areas).
Characters get stronger through leveling up and getting better equipment. Final Fantasy VII uses a basic equipment system, where you have Weapons, Armor, and Accessories. Weapons and Armor are pretty straightforward, but Accessories are your general FF accessory items. Some of them feel similar to the Accessories in Final Fantasy VI, which grant you auto-haste and other passive abilities instead of just directly buffing your stats.
One cool thing that I mentioned back in the Graphics section is that Final Fantasy VII finally shows your characters’ weapon at all times. This is the first time a Final Fantasy game has had each characters’ weapon out during entire battles, but finally getting to see that new weapon you equipped looks like is really awesome. Seeing armor is something that you basically never get to do, and even when you do you have to wait until the PS2 for it to even become mainstream. Even just seeing weapons was enough to make you think you were dreaming back in ’97!
Equipment usually contains slots which are used to equip “Materia”, which are items that are used in Final Fantasy VII’s ability/skill system. Materia are basically “equippable abilities” – i.e by equipping a “Fire” Materia, the character that equipped it would suddenly have access to the “Magic” command and “Fire” magic. Whether you can only cast “Fire” or all 3 fire spells “Fire”, “Fira”, “Firaga” depends on what level the Materia is.
Materia are essentially non-permanent Espers from Final Fantasy VI. Back in Final Fantasy VI, if you equipped a character with an Esper that taught Cure/Fire/Haste, that character would always be able to use Cure/Fire/Haste as long as you master those spells with the Esper equipped on that particular character. Even if you unequip the Esper and equip a new one, that character can always use Cure/Fire/Haste.
In Final Fantasy VII however, the spells learned are basically “learned” onto the Materia. If you equip Cloud with a Guard Materia and get the Materia to level 5 and unequip it from Cloud, Cloud will lose the ability to Guard. If you instead equip that same Materia to Red XIII, Red XIII can instantly learn how to Guard. For those that read my Final Fantasy VI review, you’ll remember that I complained about the Esper system a bit because it allowed everyone to basically all become the exact same character by the end of the game. Final Fantasy VII shares the exact same problem, except you’ll have to go out of your way a bit to make all characters feel exactly the same.
Most Materia have anywhere from 3-5 levels. Whenever you level a Materia to the max level (won’ t really be able to reliably do this until pretty much 2 screens away from the last boss of the game), the Materia creates a fresh copy of itself. This means if you max out the Counter Materia on Cloud, a brand-new 0AP Counter Materia will end up in your inventory, so you can just slap it on another character and level that one too. Get the 2nd Counter Materia to max level and boom, suddenly your entire team can counter attack enemies whenever they get hit.
I’m sure you can see a pattern here, but when you get towards the end of the game and you start maxing out Materia left and right, eventually your team will all be rocking the same good stuff, making it basically the exact same as the Final Fantasy VI Esper system. Only difference is, leveling Materia in Final Fantasy VII before the very last dungeon in the game is so mind-numbingly slow that it is just completely non-viable.
One cool thing about the Materia system is that some equipment have linked slots, which means you can link two separate Materia together. This opens up the possibility for combos, some more broken than others. For example, you can have something like Magic Counter + Ultima, which will make it so you counter enemy attacks by automatically casting Ultima. One of the cheesier combos which will make killing even the 2 superbosses in the game a snoozefest is HP Absorb + Knights of the Round. Knights of the Round is a summon that does basically 130,000 damage, so pair that with HP Absorb and your character will heal for 9,999 every single time they summon Knights of the Round. Other things like Target All + Cure makes an easy early-game AoE heal.
Only a maximum of 2 Materia can be linked together, so the system isn’t anywhere near as deep as it could have been. Considering the fact that even basic magic such as Fire and Blizzard needs to be equipped in order to actually use them, some of your slots are always going to be “used up” with basic stuff like Target All + Cure and such, so you’ll usually only have room for just 2 or 3 “fun” Materia combos. I definitely prefer the ability systems of Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI way more, just for the fact that the work you put into each character feels special, rather than just being able to toss abilities back and forth between characters on a whim.
Next we’ll move onto combat. Combat plays pretty much the same as all of the other Final Fantasy games up until now. Combat is turn-based, and you choose your commands from the typical Final Fantasy-style Combat Menu. Everything a character can do is determined by what type of Materia they have equipped, so there aren’t really any specialty characters like you’ll find back in Final Fantasy IV.
One new addition to the combat in Final Fantasy VII is the introduction of Limit Breaks. Limit Breaks are special character-specific attacks (sometimes they aren’t attacks but healing spells, etc) that trigger after filling a gauge which increases whenever a character takes damage. Limit Breaks are usually fairly powerful when you unlock them, and will usually be your best source of damage per turn until very late in the game.
Limit Breaks have 4 separate levels, with two Limit Breaks per level. You’ll begin the game with a single Limit Break. If you kill a certain amount of enemies with a certain character AFTER using your 1st tier Limit Break an unspecified amount of times, you’ll eventually unlock the 2nd tier Limit Break. Do the same thing with the 2nd tier Limit Break and your Limit level will increase, which unlocks Level 2 Limit Breaks where you’re given the 1st tier Limit Break for level 2. You’ll continue this progression until you get to the 2nd tier Limit Break for level 3, at which point you’ll need to find an item that allows that character to learn their level 4 Limit Breaks.
I have heard rumors before that Final Fantasy VI had something called a “Desperation Attack” which sounds like it does something similar to Final Fantasy VII’s Limit Breaks, but i’ve never personally had an option to do it during my playthrough, and i’ve never actually seen one before, even online, so I think it’s safe to say that Final Fantasy VII is the first Final Fantasy game to truly implement something like this. Final Fantasy VIII and IX will go on to use similar mechanics (VIII’s mechanic is more of a random chance when low on health, rather than building up a gauge like you do in VII).
This covers the main gameplay that you’ll encounter in Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy VII does something that most other Final Fantasy games didn’t bother doing up until then – having a ton of side-content! Final Fantasy VII has quite a few different activities you can do, such as catching and raising your own personal chocobos, racing chocobos, doing a ton of other mini-game at Golden Saucer, the equivalent of a theme park within the game, as well as taking down a pair of Superbosses!
Raising chocobos is one of the more famous aspects of Final Fantasy VII. The game has a few different types of chocobos that you can breed which allow you to access different areas of the world map. For example, blue chocobos can run on water, black chocobos can cross mountains, and gold chocobos can traverse all types of terrain in the game.
You start out by simply using any type of Greens on a chocobo that you encounter in a battle (there are chocobo tracks on the overworld that will allow you to sometimes run into chocobos in battle), and if you can kill the surrounding monsters before the chocobo finishes eat the Greens, you’ll be able to catch it and store it at the chocobo farm. If you’re able to catch a male and female, you can choose to mate the two and breed a new chocobo.
Without using a guide, you’ll have a very hard time actually breeding anything besides a basic chocobo because the breeding requirements to breed a green or blue chocobo are pretty cryptic. It involves racing a certain amount of times + using a certain type of Nut item from the breeding menu, and not only that the order that you choose the male and female to mate also has an effect of whether or not you can breed a special chocobo.
One of the main reasons for even breeding chocobos is for Chocobo Racing! Chocobo Racing allows you to race your own chocobos for different prizes at Golden Saucer. Why bother going through all the trouble to raise different types of chocobos, you might ask? Well, winning an S-Rank race (the highest rank) gives you a chance to get some of the best Materia in the game! The prizes at the end of races are selected by a random roulette however, so the chances of you getting the exact thing you want are pretty low, meaning you’ll most likely have to race quite a bit to get what you actually want.
The real reason to go through all of the trouble to raise a gold chocobo (it’ll take you about 7-10 hours to do unless you’re one of those people who’s into manipulating RNG) is for the legendary Knights of the Round Materia – the undisputed most powerful summon in the entire game. There’s no way to get this Materia without a gold chocobo because you can’t get to where its located by airship. There is another way of getting it without raising a gold chocobo, but you’ll need to kill one of the Superbosses in the game to do it, and chances are you’re probably only going to be able to kill that Superboss with Knights of the Round, so it’s kind of a moot deal.
Chocobo Racing isn’t the only thing you can do at Golden Saucer – there are a lot more mini-game to be played there! You can play a submarine mini-game where you hunt other submarines in a virtual reality ocean arena, you can do some sports mini-game, and you can fight in a battle arena which rewards you with points that you can turn in to get some items, as well as the strongest Limit Break in the game!
While Golden Saucer might be fun, I felt that too many good items were locked behind the mini-games. One character’s best Limit Break is locked behind the battle arena points. This wouldn’t be a big deal except the fact that the battle arena points reset whenever you the leave the arena. The Limit Break costs 32,000 points, but the general max amount of points you can get for a 10-round battle is around 1,000, meaning you’ll have to do 32 separate 10-round battles without leaving the battle arena, and that’s assuming you get good RNG point multiplies during each battle.
For me, in an RPG the best gear should be unlocked by either doing long side-quests (like Chrono Trigger), or fighting really difficult optional bosses. Having a lot of good stuff locked behind mini-games just isn’t a design choice that i’m a big fan of. On the flip side, someone who just sat in Golden Saucer all day playing mini-games will come out with way better stuff than someone who progressed through and got to the final parts of the game. That just doesn’t make much sense to me personally.
The last thing i’ll talk about are the Superbosses. Final Fantasy VII only has 2 Superbosses in the game, who go by the name Emerald Weapon and Ruby Weapon. You’ll encounter both of these Superbosses on the world map this time, which is a first for a Final Fantasy game (Doomgaze doesn’t quite count, he’d be closer to Ultima Weapon in Final Fantasy VII if we’re gonna compare).
These bosses are fairly difficult if you decide not to cheese them. While most superbosses in the Final Fantasy games were a DPS race to see if your guys could kill the boss before they did anything, the superbosses in Final Fantasy VII work a bit differently. They have so much HP that rushing DPS won’t be enough to do the job – you’ll have to actually use a bit of strategy to buff your team and keep heals up, as well as doing enough damage. One of the bosses even has a time limit you’ll need to worry about unless you equip a specific Materia that gets rid of the time limit.
While the superbosses are hard, there are certain Materia setups that you can do that essentially make it so you can’t die even if you try. I personally enjoy being able to get ridiculously strong in my RPGs, so I do appreciate at least having the option to just wipe the floor with superbosses, as long i’ve earned the ability to. I advise trying to take them on normally, or at least with a setup that you came up with on your own first before going for one of the auto-win setups. There are people who say they still haven’t killed either of the superbosses even though they’ve played through the game a ton of times, so they are definitely a challenge worth taking on! They also give great rewards, which is always an awesome thing!
Everything I wrote above combined is basically what you can look forward to when you play Final Fantasy VII. If you decide to skip all of the side-content, you’re looking at around a 30 hour game on your first playthrough. If you go through all of the trouble to get yourself a gold chocobo and take out the superbosses, you’re looking at an extra 10-20 hours, bringing your playtime close to 50 hours. There’s definitely a lot of content to get through in Final Fantasy VII, so make sure you’re prepared for quite a beefy game!
Considering the fact that Final Fantasy VII is the first Final Fantasy game for the PS1, one would assume that players coming directly from the SFC trilogy would be expecting an out-of-this-world soundtrack. With the PS1’s CD audio capabilities, was Final Fantasy VII’s OST able to surpass Final Fantasy VI’s OST, which is still widely considered to be one of the best OSTs in all of gaming?
Sound quality-wise, you’d have a real hard time convincing everyday gamers that a cartridge-based MIDI soundtrack “sounds better” than a CD soundtrack. While I personally prefer FF6’s OST all around (that’s not even badmouthing FF7’s OST, FF6’s OST is honestly just almost perfect), I can’t deny the huge step-up in overall sound quality in FF7’s OST, even as a really early PS1 title.
Things like the bass line in “Oppressed People” that you’ll hear when you hit the Wall Market, to the adrenaline-pumping “J-E-N-O-V-A”, and the almost unbelievable orchestration of the legendary “One-winged Angel”, these are all compositions that couldn’t be done to the same effect back on the SFC hardware. While there are some songs on the OST that seem like they could slip their way into the FF6 OST without anyone noticing, the FF7 OST is filled with songs that really show off the new audio potential of the PS1’s cutting-edge hardware!
One thing to mention though, the Final Fantasy VII OST clocks in at a ridiculous 4 and a half hours. This is absolutely huge, even when compared to some of the longer SFC/SNES OSTs, which would clock in at around 3 hours tops. Now, of course it’s unfair to compare cartridge-based games and CD-based games, even more-so if you’re going to compare it to a game with multiple discs. With 4 and a half hours of music available, there’s gotta be at least a few songs for everybody, so you’re sure to find something you like here!
Anyways, onto the music! First off, i’ll keep it simple and start off with Final Fantasy VII’s main theme. I honestly don’t think i’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t at least like the game’s main theme (or the main portion of it at least). While it does tend to drag on a bit in my own opinion at least (from the halfway mark, on), the first 3 or 4 minutes of this song is ridiculously hard to top…
This next song is “Oppressed People” that I mentioned above when talking about the new instrumentation capabilities of the PS1. This song isn’t one that I particularly like, but it definitely fits the area that it’s played in when you first hear it, and I really do want to drive home the point about just how much more Uematsu was able to do with the PS1 compared to the SFC!
Here’s one of the songs that I personally thought wouldn’t be much of a shock if someone told me it was actually a Final Fantasy VI song. Sure, there are a few parts where that “PS1 sound” kicks in, but most of it could pass as a 16-bit song i’d say!
Next up is definitely my pick for the best boss battle theme in FF7, or even just best battle theme altogether. I know saying that might get me a lot of flak because that means I like this song better than the last song i’ll be linking, but it should at least be good enough to give you some idea why! If only this song would get played more than just a handful of times throughout the entire game…
Next up is Aeris’ theme, for undisclosed reasons. It’s also used as a boss theme once, which makes things complicated…don’t listen to it with other people in the room.
Of course, no assessment of Final Fantasy VII’s OST would be complete without mentioning “One-winged Angel”. This is the song that Final Fantasy VII fans try to convince the rest of the world is better than Final Fantasy VI’s “Dancing Mad” (nope, i’m sorry). While I personally couldn’t tell you “One-winged Angel” is better with a straight-face, I definitely can tell you that the instrumentation beats “Dancing Mad” without a doubt (“Dancing Mad” takes the cake when it comes to composition though, admit it!), as it rightfully should being the next last boss theme in line.
If we stop comparing it to “Dancing Mad”, however, it’s easy to see why “One-winged Angel” reached such a legendary status in gaming history. First off, it basically took the “vocals” from the Opera scene in FF6 (another legendary song) and cranked it to 11. Not only that, the One-winged Angel’s own name is chanted throughout the song, giving the player a real sense of danger and fear. Hearing the song in-game and seeing all the theatrics that go on while the song is being played also helps the song feel truly frantic. If you went out of your way to level up even slightly throughout the game, however, you’ll probably end up beating the One-winged Angel before the song even hits the half-way point though (and before he uses his absurd attack), so be aware of that…
Overall, Final Fantasy VII’s OST is a great taste of what’s to come in terms of the OSTs for the next 2 PS1 Final Fantasy games. While it’s not my personal favorite FF OST by a long-shot, there are legions of people who absolutely swear by it. There are definitely a lot of great songs to listen to, but I personally feel there are a few more “filler” songs in this one than there usually are in other FF OSTs. As I said though, overall it’s a really nice OST and definitely worth a full-listen, at least once (it’s long though)! Listen to it below, if you’d like!
Should you play it?
There’s no real reason not to play Final Fantasy VII if you enjoy JRPGs at all. It’s still quite vanilla in terms of JRPG games, except for the fact that there are a lot of mini-games, and you’ll have to play a lot of them if you want to get some of the best items/skills in the game. Other than that, the Materia system is just the Esper system from Final Fantasy VI except characters don’t permanently learn skills, and the growth rate of skills this time is probably around 20x slower.
Final Fantasy VII has everything else you’d need. A really great soundtrack, decent first-attempt FMVs, fun combat (although attack/spell/summon animations can be really long sometimes), a good story (that can be confusing to many people, according to what people say online), and a meaty length (I did pretty much all of the side quest stuff, except for one or two, and finished in around 50 hours), so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth!
Which version should you play?
It’s gonna be a hard-sell to try to convince anyone to go through all the trouble to get a Japanese version of the game and play it in Japanese when you can pretty much play Final Fantasy VII on ANYTHING in English, and usually for extremely cheap (unless you’re going for an original Black Label). I do have one really strong point in my favor though – the English translation for Final Fantasy VII is absolute garbage.
I know I gave Woolsey a hard time in my Final Fantasy VI review, but I think even Woolsey could have done a better job than whoever translated (can you even call it that?) Final Fantasy VII. Judging from how many people seem to have no idea what’s actually going on in the story, people describing characters as being vastly different than how they are in the Japanese version, and things like character names becoming weird in the English version, Final Fantasy VII is another game that you have to play in Japanese to get the “true experience”.
Elitism aside, the actual content in the English version and Japanese version of the game is essentially identical. Final Fantasy VII International is basically just the English version of the game translated back into Japanese with the addition of Emerald/Ruby Weapon + some balance changes. Therefore, if you don’t mind having to sit through a butchered translation, you won’t be missing out on anything by just playing the regular English version.
A big thing I do want to point out is if you want to have Advent Children versions of Cloud, Sephiroth, and Aeris on your game discs + you want the surprising awesome 4th disc (“Perfect Game Guide”, i’ll have to do a separate post in the RPG Gear section for this), you’re gonna have to get the Final Fantasy VII International Advent Pieces: Limited version like I have. Only trouble is, these are big box set collections with Advent Children stuff inside of them, so they go for quite a lot – especially if you’re just wanting the game itself. If you’re already a fan of the game and want some extra shwag like a shirt, hat, necklace, Cloud figurine + more, this is definitely a box set you’ll want to get your hands on. Shipping will cost a ton because the box is huge, so buying it from overseas will probably run you close to $150 USD or higher…
Now, onto the final score…
Final Score – 35/40
Story – 9/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 9/10