So it's time. I don't even really know how to approach this game for this retrospective. Like how can I objectively talk about my favorite game of all time? How can I really put a critical (ha) lens on it? I guess the answer is, that I simply can't so you will have to take the following wall of text with the knowledge that to me it's the best game ever made......actually maybe? I don't know. Here we go.
Final Fantasy VII:
Final Fantasy games for a long time have always had this touch of science fiction within them. As far back as the first game there were warmech's to fight and robots and various types of ships or submarines or space ships or all three. But all that sci-fi has been sprinkled into a very fantasy setting which makes sense because of the name of the series.
Final Fantasy 7 hits different immediately as the opening shows a huge city sprawled out before the player. The cinematic focuses on a girl whom we don't yet know and pulls back to an aerial view of the entire city of Midgar with a big imposing tower in the center. It's semi-futuristic, it's industrial, it's very different from any FF games setting yet even as the camera pulls in to a train pulling into a station you get the feeling of the modern touch to all of this. The guards have guns, the big black dude who's apparently you're ally has a gun for an arm. Yet you....Ex-Soldier, have a big fucking sword.
This was my first FF game back in the day and the image of the first battle didn't click with me that the guards im fighting are shooting me with machine guns, and i just have a sword, it's a big sword, but it's just a sword so I shouldn't win this fight. But after playing through 6 games and coming into this one it stands out a bit to me.
Final Fantasy 7 wasn't just my first Final Fantasy game, this was my first RPG game. Never had I played games with exp, level ups, or anything like that. I was used to Crash Bandicoots, Metal Gears, Marios, things like that. I still remember my first thought when I got into the very first fight in FF7, "Oh this is one of those stupid menu games." Meaning you just picked options on a menu and watched things happen. This was nothing like Street Fighter or Streets of Rage where you were an active part of the gameplay. But since I was a kid and didn't have money to go get another game I kept playing, needless to say I got over the "menu game" thing pretty fucking quick.
I think what grabbed me about the game first was all the story. I had played games with story before but it was usually just a few lines of text before going through entire levels of gameplay before getting anymore out of the story and it wasn't good story either. But here in FF7, the characters talked all the time, after almost every battle and sometimes even during there would be dialog, story, the characters felt real in a way no other video game characters had felt before.
So everyone knows how this plays out right? You are part of a terrorist group called AVALANCHE in all caps because reasons, and you are battling against an evil electric company because the fuel they use to power the city is the life essence of the planet itself called Mako. What was so captivating about this game for me was not the environmental message, I was a bit young to really get it, I just thought it was a planet saving quest like any number of other save the world adventures before it. But what was really interesting was like the obvious set up for the game. It was three discs at the time and there are eight reactors in Midgar, so I remember thinking, "ok so there's probably only a few reactors per disc and then the final disc will be attacking the tower directly. FF7 does a really good job keeping the scope of the story small, Midgar is where you are and that's the only thing that matters. There is very little about the world beyond Midgar at any point during Midgar, some references to the promised land and the Gold Saucer but nothing that directly suggests the game is much bigger than you think.
But at the second reactor things go wrong, the president of Shinra shows up to taunt the party and uses a new prototype weapon to fight you. The best boss theme music plays for the first time and you battle a very easy robot because back attacks are broken. The robot explodes and Cloud falls to his death. Welp, game over then, guess the game is short than I thought. What are the other two discs for?
Wait he lived? Unharmed!? Oh right flowers, yeah I guess you could fall from a skyscraper into a pile of flowers and be okay, that makes sense. So from terrorist to body guard, why is Shrina after a flower girl? Three hours into the game and it expertly begins to build up the world and that there is more going on with Shrina and even the people you befriend than you would expect.
If I could say one thing that FF7 does absolutely brillantly, better than any game in the series, is the build up. From the world outside Midgar, to the big villain Sephiroth, they do a fantastic job building up these characters and these elements of the story better than ANY entry in the series. Nobody is teased and built with such ominous effect as Sephiroth. During Midgar Sephiroth is a legend, also a soldier like CLoud but better than any Soldier anyone has ever seen. There is no indication that he is the bad guy or where he is now or anything. It's really great but is greater by what happens when the party storms Shinra's tower.
Turns out we storm Shrina HQ much faster than I ever thought, Aeris (it was Aeris in the original PS1 version) is taken by Shrina, AVALANCHE's home sector is brought down and the only choice left is to take the fight direct to the boss himself and get Aeris back. The invasion doesn't go super well, as the party is captured and thrown in jail. At least we're thrown in the cell next to Aeris, that's cool, saves us the trouble of finding her when we break out of this joint.....as soon as we figure out how.....
Oh never mind the door is open, wait why is there blood everywhere, why are all the guards dead? Where is the alien thing in the tank? Let's go ask the president....oh he is dead with...a....big....sword....impaled....into his back. Sephiroth? But wait? Why would he help us? Where even is he?
Well the Vice President shows up, and Shinra guards aren't too happy with us murdering the President so we are chased out of town and....then the game shifts dramatically. Cloud knows that is Sephiroth is alive and doing shit, then it's not gonna be good shit and he has to chase him down to stop him. So we go from focusing on Shinra and Midgar to chasing Sephiroth across the world. It's a huge focus shift that blew my mind and it was still disc 1!? Holy fuck how big is this game!?
That's just a brief overview right. The funny thing about FF7 is that I think it has the most lore and deepest story layers than any other Final Fantasy game. Truly I think this is the peak of Final Fantasy story telling. No other game has a world this built, this fleshed out, this deep even down to the tiny subconscious motivations of each character.
Now I have to split this post due to word count.