Final Fantasy VII holds a very special place in my heart. At the age of seven, gaming was very much something that held a sense of wonder and enchantment for me, and I guess not much has changed over the past twenty odd years. There was a plethora of games in my home, a few of which I played fervently throughout much of my childhood. From the original Final Fantasy titles to Sonic the Hedgehog to California Games, all the way through to Lemmings to Rampage, most of my spare time as a child was spent with a controller in hand.
Every single one of those games I played holds different memories for me, both good and bad. Yet, as much as I loved them, there are very few that would still hold my interest now, at 30. They wouldn’t necessarily keep me coming back time and time again, eager to play them
No, that special game appears at another time, later on in my life. About four years later, to be exact. Because in 1997, when I was a mere eleven years old, a game that changed the way I looked at video games forever was released. It took everything I knew and had experienced in games previously and turned it on its head. Gone were my days of 2D platforming and plinky plonky music, and in their place was an in depth story – which I probably never really understood when I first played it, to be honest – and characters with real lives. My linear stories and limited landscapes were replaced with an entire world map, and I didn’t even have to go where it wanted me to, for the most part. I had the freedom to play a game how I wanted to and to go where I wanted to go. Yes, probably somewhat predictable to anyone who knows me, I’m revisiting Final Fantasy VII… again.
Much like the infamous sandwich spread, you either love or hate Final Fantasy VII. Some deem it overhyped and nothing special, preferring the later instalments in the series, and others would have happily given their left (or even right) arm for the upcoming remake if it were necessary (which, happily, it isn’t!). There are a more than a few reasons to me considering it a defining game in my gaming history, but the main one is that it is almost entirely responsible for my obsession with RPGs and JRPGs. It was the first game of that sort I’d ever set my hands on, and I was terrible at it. I mean, really, really bad – but I persevered.
And boy, am I glad I did.
Winding my way around Midgar’s dark, dank Mako reactors and the downtrodden settlements beneath, I still revel in the amount of detail from a game of its age. I still take in every small part of it, remembering how thrilled I was, 19 years ago, at how… good, it looked. There was no hyper blue hedgehog here, no butt-bouncing Mickey Mouse in his Castle of Illusion or tiny death seeking lemmings, no overly cheerful music that kind of detracted from any sense of danger you might otherwise feel. This is atmospheric, and dark, and feels no shame in allowing you to grow to love a character before brutally taking them away. More than playing a game, it felt like you were directing some sort of blocky, fantastical movie.
From the blackest of story lines in death and loss to the downright bizarre in dressing up a big, manly ex-soldier as a woman and competing in squatting contests to win a transsexual’s wig, there’s never a dull moment playing through Final Fantasy VII. One minute you could be fighting goblins, the next feeding nuts to Chocobos in the hope of breeding one of another colour. What’s that? Are we going into space now? Oh, go on then.
Of course, we can’t talk about Final Fantasy VII without considering the amazing soundtrack. There’s one thing that strikes me about the music in this game, and it’s something I come across very rarely in games – everything fits. There’s not one piece of music that plays at any given point where I think it shouldn’t be there, or it just sounds ‘wrong’. Every piece is wonderful in its own right, and every single track still resides in my music collection today. As detailed and wonderful as the setting and story of the game is, the music just sets it off beautifully. From the peaceful tones of Kalm Village to the dramatic and wonderfully orchestrated One Winged Angel, the soundtrack is just stellar.
It seems strange to some when I say this, but even now, with games like the upcoming Skyrim remaster, or Dragon Age and Mass Effect to satiate one’s appetite for an open world RPG, I’ll still return to Final Fantasy VII from time to time. There aren’t really any surprises for me now, but it still draws me in in such a way that no other game has quite managed since. It genuinely changed the way I look at video games for the better and concreted them as a big part of my life. And that’s an experience I think everyone who loves games should have.
Overview: Final Fantasy VII offers one of the last examples of a truly great RPG – from its turn-based battles and massive open-world freedom to its hidden secrets and mini-games to while away the hours (which will disappear faster than you realise), it offers a breadth of exploration and depth of story that very few games since have managed to muster. With the remaster now confirmed and hopefully upon us next year (even if it is in instalments…) I can’t think of a better time to revisit the original.