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Game Review #1 – Final Fantasy VII

To all new and previous readers of my work, I would just like to point out this is my first non-fiction piece of work, and I just want to give a brief description of what I plan for this blog to be before I get down to the nitty-gritty.  I call this blog, Roux’s Reviews (a play on my online moniker), and shall consist mainly of…you guessed it, reviews. 

I shall mainly be reviewing video games as this is a media format I greatly enjoy; however, I will also occasionally cover film, television and literature – and possibly the odd rant or two if I’m honest.  I in no way claim to be a professional critic, I merely just what to expand on a format of writing, and maybe my insight can aid readers on whether or not to purchase a game or not.  So…lets begin.

I start this blog with a review of Final Fantasy VII.  Just to explain, as a gamer, my favourite format of games is RPGs.  A genre that seems to split the gaming community like marmite; I however, love them instead of hate them.  I was hooked after playing my first RPG, Baten Kaitos, on the Gamecube; but due to the lack of RPGs on the Gamecube I was forced to buy a PS2 to get my RPG fix.  It was there I played a game called Final Fantasy XII (a game I will review later in this blog) and fell in love with Final Fantasy, thus I wanted to play the others in the series.

Final Fantasy VII is a major game, whether people like to admit it or not.  It was a major turning point in the Final Fantasy series, and in some respects, the RPG genre too.  Final Fantasy VII was the first 3D Final Fantasy and the first to have a futuristic feel to the game, things that had never been seen in the series before. 

Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997 for the PS1 and has received much love over the years including several spin offs – on various different media formats – and has even been given the title of the Greatest Game Ever (a claim I always take with a pinch of salt as gaming technology is forever moving forward, and you are always guaranteed to have someone dislike a game because it is impossible to please everybody).

As I review this game, I try and keep in mind that this game was released over 10 years ago and cannot be held to the same standard as modern day games, and it is with that knowledge in mind I try to keep this review fair (as I will with all my reviews).  I also want to point out that this review will have major plot spoilers for the story, if you have yet to play this game then I strongly advise you to take heed of this warning. 

I shall start with the graphics, which in my opinion, are very poor.  Now I know I said in the previous paragraph that I understand this is an older game and cannot be held to the same graphical standard of today’s game, and nor do I do that; in fact, I even credit the game for its graphical achievements.  In some places the FMV sequences are absolutely stunning for a PS1 game of its age; however, in some places they are very poorly designed making navigating very difficult.

There was one time in the game where I spent two days trying to find my way out of a junkyard – I went up and down cranes & poles, in and out of nooks & crannies that lead absolutely nowhere trying to find my path that led to the city.  I eventually found my way out of the junkyard by accidentally walking into a pile of junk and discovering I could walk through it to continue my journey from A – B.  For some reason I didn’t think to do this, maybe it was because the pile of junk looked like a solid object and as you know, it is physically impossible to walk through solid objects – unless you have an intangible form – and I would only attempt to walk through such an object if I saw an opening I could physically squeeze through – which of course I did not due to poor graphical design. 

Another instance was when I was exploring a mystical and ruined city.  My path continued on top of a cliff path which I had to reach by climbing a shell and jumping down from the connecting branch.  I climbed the shell, walked across the branch closest to the path and then found…I was stuck.  Back and forth I went, all with no luck as the logical conclusion to my navigational problem was not going to work.  Instead, I had to climb to the very top of the shell – way beyond the path I had to carry on walking along – and walk across the highest branch of the shell – which wouldn’t physically be able to support the weight of my character – and jump down from there to reach my path – a jump that in real life would no doubt be very dangerous and cause physical injury. 

It was with many instances like the ones explained above that I found the game infuriating.  I understand not wanting the game to be easy, but this was down right ridiculous.  I was not walking off the beaten track to find a hidden, and optional, treasure chest or secret area.  I was travelling from A – B, a mandatory part of the game if you wanted to complete it; I should have been able to navigate my way from point to point. 

Then there was the world map, which was also a nightmare to navigate, what with its bland and generic surroundings, coupled with vague clues on where to go next, E.G: ‘To reach the next town you must walk through the forest’ – ‘What forest?  The one in front of me?  Or the one behind me?  Maybe it’s the one to the left or right of me?  In fact, scrap that; I’ll just use the tried and tested, and tedious, technique of running round in circles and happen upon chance to come across the town I need to go to next.’

Most of this I put down to poor graphical design, being unable to recognise or find my way, and thus affecting the game play.  Factors to which in my opinion make bad graphics, even if it does have some pretty FMVs.

Another problem I faced was the speed you travelled at on foot, which was painstakingly slow!  You crept millimetre by millimetre to get to your next point and often ended up screaming at the television screen for your character to hurry up.  After two weeks I discovered you could move faster by holding the X button down – yippee!  This does however, raise an issue I hate. 

When Final Fantasy VII was released on PS1, the console used a controller that only had a D-pad.  Unlike an anolog stick, where you can control your speed by how much pressure you apply, you can only move at a default setting when using the D-pad buttons.  In some cases you can change your speed setting with a single press of a button, or going into a game menu, in other cases, you have to hold down a button…continuously!  Game developers please take note: THIS FEATURE IS ANNOYING! 

I do not like having to continuously press a button down, alongside using the D-pad, to travel at my desired pace.  When playing games you normally want to get stuck in, and often go charging in at full throttle like an over excited puppy and generally do not want to tip toe about the place.  In some instances you need to sneak about and a slower pace is required to do that, but these situations are often few and far between.  In fact, there was only one time in Final Fantasy VII that I needed to walk slowly, and really and truly, it was more of a case of avoiding a squeaky floor board than walking slow and sneaking about.  The faster travelling speed on foot should have been the default setting for the D-pad instead of forcing me to hold down the X button all the time…grrr!

Another annoying feature of this game was random battles.  Battling is an important part of RPGs for developing and levelling up your characters; however, random battles are absolutely horrible, and I thank the heavens a majority of modern day RPGs no longer use them…oh thank you great creator!  Regardless, Final Fantasy is famed for its random battles, and it is only in resent instalments of the game that they have started to move away from this.  If you want to play the earlier games, you’re just going to have to grin a bare this fact of random battles. 

However, this is also a negative point of the game, even though it is standard for a game of this genre and age.  It is quite alarming just how much you are bombarded with these battles; and often upon my lips was the phrase ‘What…another one!’.  This problem becomes worse if you are travelling at a snail’s pace.  There are just sometimes when playing RPGs where you don’t want to battle and just want to travel from place to place without being bothered by unwanted battles – more often than not with this game it will be when you are trying to find an almost impossible to see exit thanks to the poor graphical design.  Yet with random battles, the opportunity to fight when you want is taken away from you.

Going into further detail with the battle system, it uses turn based game play based on probability (a feature that divides people into a love and hate of RPGs).  It’s a fairly simple system to use and easy to master, however, it can be somewhat boring.  Thankfully the menus aren’t overwhelmingly too long as you scroll down the lists of available commands; this is thanks to the materia system of character development.

Character development of this game is relatively simple, only having to upgrade one armament and weapon.  Each piece of armour and weaponry has slots to contain materia, equipping your character with certain abilities.  The more powerful your weapon or piece of armour, the more materia you can upgrade it with, however this doesn’t become too excessive to become confusing. 

Materia can also be levelled up with regular use, EG: a level 1 cure material will only heal a small amount of your health, level it up to level 4 and it will cure a large amount of health.  It also becomes important to equip your character with appropriate materia to make sure you have diversity of abilities.  However, as you gain items which hold more materia and your character reaches the higher levels, this no longer becomes necessary as your characters become excellent all rounders and become good at pretty much everything, taking away the tactical intrigue of battle.  Also, some veteran players of RPGs can be left feeling unsatisfied with the simplistic character development.

Another aspect of character development is their development in the story.  RPGs are lengthy games; intriguing stories and engaging characters are important to keep you in for the long haul.  The three main characters however, are somewhat annoying and boring.  Cloud Strife is a brooding whinge bag, Tifa Lockhart is plain boring and Aerith Gainsborough is a shit stirring bitch!  Yes I said it, Aerith is a bitch – I’d say worse about her, but I fear it would be censored.  It really is the other characters who are more interesting – except Yuffie, she’s annoying – but you are forced to watch a pointless love triangle between the three main characters, which results in no romantic conclusion!

The three main characters I didn’t care about, and nor could I understand their tales to tell, it was all beyond my intellectual capabilities.  I spent most of my time wishing Cloud would stop being so pathetic and whining; and grinding my teeth whenever the shit stirring devil in disguise, Aerith, was given screen time.  The best moment in the game really and truly was when Sephiroth impaled Aerith on his big, long sword – no pun intended – and put that she devil to death – it was the only time I did the happy dance in the entire game! 

I would go into detail about the ridiculously complicated and mind boggling story, but it is far too long winded.  If you really want to know what happens, I suggest looking it up on wikipedia, you’ll no doubt get a clearer explanation than playing the game.  I’ve played this game through, and I’m still none the wiser with what was going on and feel un-concluded with certain things that happened.  In all honesty, I wasn’t really concerned about what happens in the story; it’s long winded, confusing, implausible and I don’t care what happens to half of the characters anyway. 

For the most part, I have been pretty negative in this review, and that was because playing this game really wasn’t an enjoyable experience.  There were a couple of moments I did enjoy, with some puzzling game play or interesting action, but they were few and far between.  The game was a chore to play, what with being bombarded with random battles, having to continuously press the X button, frequently getting lost through no fault of my own, using a simplistic but uninspiring battle system and being force fed a story that had me saying ‘What the fuck…you can’t be serious’ repeatedly, coupled with characters that I hated really did prove to be a game I wasted my life with.  If I am honest, had Final Fantasy VII been my first RPG, I probably wouldn’t be the fan of RPGs that I am today.

Personally, I’ll probably be trading this game in, one play through was more than enough, perhaps too much.  Even though people may want to cry that it was the game of its generation, I struggle to see how.  The issues I have highlighted would not only be relevant today, but also over a decade ago when it was released.  Were it not for the fact I was so stubborn to complete this game I would have turned it off and changed it for a more enjoyable game, and I would have had those feelings if I had played the game when originally released.

The game really isn’t worth the hype it gets, certainly not now, and certainly not when originally released.  Though I acknowledge the huge leap SQUARE (now SQUARE Enix) made with the first 3D Final Fantasy, it is clearly obvious they have moved on greatly from Final Fantasy VII.  The game has issues that make the game un-enjoyable to play, issues that are hard to overlook because they are so infuriating.  Do not be fooled by the hype, this game is mediocre at best, if you can get passed the hindering issues it has.