As a game that consistently tops lists of the best games ever, which is considered one of the defining titles of the PlayStation era, it may be surprising that until now I had never played Final Fantasy VII. For all the respect and reverence it’s gained over the years, the city of Midgar and its meteorologically named inhabitant had remained unknown to me. With the recent PC rerelease, I finally found the opportunity to play the ostensibly classic game and tell you what I thought.
One of the first things to observe about the rerelease is that the install process is nothing short of labyrinthine. Once you find a way to download it (oh, by the way, it’s not available in Europe, so you’ll have to lie about your location if you live there) you’re given a downloader, which downloads all the game files for you. Then you need to manually install the game (entering your serial number twice) and create a Square Enix account to enable cloud (heh) saving. Done all that? Good, after an hour’s work you’re ready to play Final Fantasy VII.
The game opens with a fairly action-packed sequence in which the protagonist Cloud Strife and a gang of rebels attack a government facility after disembarking from a train – Whether intentionally or not, this is more than slightly reminiscent of the opening of Final Fantasy XIII, so it’s good that it works so well. It serves to feed the core aspects of the game to the player in a controlled environment before letting them loose, and really showed off the extra power the PlayStation brought to the field with its FMV cut scenes and 3D graphics.
The PC rerelease adds to these graphical innovations by scaling up the 3D models to HD resolutions and although it does demonstrate the lack of polygons in the models, it compensates by giving them crisper edges with little aliasing. Unfortunately, the backgrounds haven’t received the same treatment, remaining at their original PlayStation resolutions, which creates quite a jarring contrast. One question that immediately springs to mind is why? While the backgrounds are pre-rendered graphics, they must have originally been created from 3D models, and a company as big as Square must surely have the game’s resources still available. Why couldn’t they simply have re-rendered the game’s background images (totalling around a thousand at most) into higher resolutions?
These niggling questions will pop up from time to time in your rerelease experience – For instance, one challenge tells you the button functions required to proceed, but not the actual keys they’re mapped to. Why? The improvements to the game are very welcome, certainly over the buggy and rushed original PC release, but they occasionally distract as much as they help.
One thing that didn’t see an improvement (and a good thing too, as it didn’t need fixing!) was the soundtrack, ably composed by the semi-legendary Nobuo Uematsu. Once again, his music manages to fit every style and situation, from frantic electronic beats in the tense moments at the heart of a reactor to the melancholy orchestral pieces of the Midgar slums, all the way to the gripping and climactic One Winged Angel. If there is a single aspect that turns Final Fantasy VII from a good game into a great one, it’s the music.
That the music appeals so much is fortunate, because a core part of Final Fantasy, its combat, is somewhat lacking. It’s perfectly functional – your characters charge forward and knock numbers out of the enemies, then they do the same to you; rinse and repeat. However, everyone involved might as well have been dunked in treacle for how slowly they all move, even with text and battle speed set to full. The Limit Break system, hinging on a bar that slowly fills as the characters take damage and allows them to unleash the occasional super move, is fine. What isn’t fine is the way it’s seemingly impossible to save your Limit Breaks for later and attack normally (if it is, you’re certainly never told how). Oh, and you can bet that you’ll get and have to use limit breaks the random battle before a boss fight, but that’s not the game’s fault – I’ll just go back to cursing fate as usual.
The enemies are all nicely detailed in their 3D models and the battle screens as a whole look far better than the rest of the game by virtue of being in full 3D rather than using pre-rendered backgrounds. The textures haven’t been improved much, and the animations drag on and use low-quality special effects, but it’s certainly all very nice for the PlayStation and serves its purpose well.
For all Final Fantasy’s reputation for whiny protagonists and poor writing, it’s not as bad as all that. It suffers from a case of verbal diarrhoea, taking twenty words to say what could be said in five, but it’s altogether a fairly compelling story with a well-developed protagonist. It’s also the catalyst for JRPGs set in futuristic locales, so if you’re interested in gaming history it’s well worth a look too.
I never thought I’d hear these words coming out of my mouth (and still haven’t – this is a written review) but if you haven’t played Final Fantasy VII, you should definitely give it a try. It’s not perfect by any means, but as an important piece of gaming history, it’s certainly worth experiencing. A few pacing problems and some weird graphics don’t hurt the overall experience, and as a £7 purchase for both PC and PSN, there’s no real reason not to test the waters.
Final Fantasy VII is a good game marred by a few niggling flaws. Nonetheless, it’s definitely worth picking up. 7.5/10.