Bennu Reflects on "Final Fantasy VII"
Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) still holds a somewhat special place in my heart. It has a reputation as one of the most popular PlayStation One games of all time. It was, in a similar fashion for many other young gamers at the time, my first taste of a J-RPG. And, although it's been decades since its initial release, I still enjoy revisiting it from time to time to indulge in some self-satisfying nostalgia.
For clarity's sake, I do have to point out that it's certainly not a perfect game. By today's standards, unfamiliar players would probably be turned off by its somewhat dated graphics, text-box dialogue, and awkward mini-games. They wouldn't be wrong.
The modern era has spoiled us with high-definition visuals, surround sound audio, professional voice acting, and much tighter and more refined gameplay than ever before. However, it's not the same. It doesn't beat that feeling of waking up early on a Saturday morning to explore a new town or city on the expansive world map before anyone else wakes up. That sensation of visiting the Chocobo farm and tending to your flock of Chocobos cannot be beaten. The same can be said when flying around the world map in the Highwind with no particular destination in mind; just for the pure pleasure and thrill of seeing the whole world zip past in a blur of blue and green.
For a young boy, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I laughed at some of the awkwardly translated dialogue. I wept during certain emotional scenes. I remember I was petrified of Jenova as a child. Those first encounters at the Shinra headquarters and later during the flashbacks at Kalm used to terrify me and I would cover my eyes because I was so scared.
I don't do horror well. I never have. Yet, I still played through the game because I was spellbound by it. Something about it just drew me in.
Part of the Family
I grew attached to the party members. They became like an extended family to my vibrant young mind. Barret, with his crass attitude and coarse language made me laugh constantly. Tifa, despite her busty physical appearance, never really registered as a love interest in my mind. I always took the 'childhood friend' aspect of her backstory as gospel and thought of her as more of a sister to Cloud. Hence why I probably used to name her after my actual sister (although as I got older I'd wind up naming her something else when I had new names for my party members).
Aeris was the automatic love interest in my mind for Cloud when I was a boy; something that I eventually grew out of as I got older and became more well-versed in love and the lore of the universe. But I remember, at the time, how sad I was when the party visited the Forgotten City for the first time. That particular locale still stands as my favourite place to visit in the game.
Yuffie and Red XIII were characters who I frequently used in my main party purely because I enjoyed their respective fighting styles more than their story beats. Mind you, they're both well-developed characters with their own sense of identity and purpose. I'm just a bit particular about party formations and quickly grow to have a set few favourites.
To be fair, I have tried out varying party formations over the years; I suppose having recently replayed the game on the PlayStation 4 with Yuffie and Red XIII makes them stick out a bit more than the other characters. Cid and Vincent were decent characters too, but I never really found myself using them as much as the others. They're not bad at all; I think it's more a case of me having gotten used to a certain formation by the time they join the party.
As for Cait Sith, well...I think there's only been one time where I really gave him a proper crack in the party. He's not bad in the early game but kinda falls behind after the first disc. It's just really hard to find a certain fighting style with him. His health is a bit higher than normal but I used to find myself loading him up with Magic and Summon Materia just to give him a fighting chance. As a result, this would lower his health considerably which would offset his original health advantage. If anything, he ended up becoming more of a Materia storage unit which was really disappointing as I enjoyed his story later in the game.
Cloud, on the other hand, was easily the character I resonated with the most. His cool, confident demeanour at the start of the game are what drew me in initially. However, his internal battle with his sense of identity and themes of mental illness were quite profound and enthralling for me. For a young boy struggling to find his sense of identity in the world, Cloud's struggle truly made me feel immersed for the first time in a video game.
In fact, Final Fantasy VII as a whole was one of the inspirations that made me want to be a writer as an adult. I loved the upbeat yet solemn tone of the game; the exciting thrills and depressing melancholy of a world struggling to get by. That kind of contrasting duality reflects much in our world, giving the planet of Gaia a deeper sense of realism.
With the re-release of the game on the PlayStation 4, along with news of its remake picking up once again after a several year absence, I've finally gotten around to playing through it once more and obtained the Platinum trophy as a result. It was actually a lot more fulfilling than I initially thought as it enticed me to do things I've never done before. Things such as breeding a Gold Chocobo, collecting the four secret Materia from the Materia Caves, going on a date with Barret at the Gold Saucer and even vanquishing Emerald and Ruby Weapon.
As a kid, I never managed to do these tasks. But now, over twenty years later, I've finally managed it and surpassed my younger self. And it sure is satisfying.
Anyone out there who has fond memories of Final Fantasy VII, I definitely encourage you to pick up the digital re-release on the PlayStation Store. Aside from some minor edits to the script to make it less wonky the game is pretty much intact and as you remember it. The character models look a tad bit sharper and the music is the same classic Nobuo Uematsu beats one is used to.
My personal favourite tunes in the game include 'The Shinra Corporation', 'Chasing the Black-Caped Man' and 'You Can Hear the Cry of the Planet'. These three particular tracks are all truly wonderful and resonate with solemn beauty in their own respective ways.
The Only Flaw...
If anything, the one thing I'm disappointed with is that the game flew by too quickly. I put in about fifty hours into the game and accomplished practically everything I had set out to do. I explored every nook and cranny of the world map, vanquished all the Weapons and bred and raised a family of Chocobos. I collected all four secret and Huge Materia, played all the mini-games and conquered the Battle Arena at the Gold Saucer. I raised my main party to max level and amassed over 100 million Gil through levelling and selling many copies of All Materia. I even bought the villa at Costa del Sol to use as a private residence for the party during grinding sessions to rest and recover.
Most of these things I never did as a child; so to experience them as a fully-grown man is incredibly liberating. I've surpassed my younger self and accomplished something new in an old, beloved game.
It's been an absolute pleasure to play through Final Fantasy VII one last time. The two-week journey I had with the game was something I'm proud to make my first Platinum trophy on my new PSN account. It's a great game and, although it does have some minor flaws, it still mostly lives up to the nostalgia I have for it.
New fans may be turned off by the more dated graphics and lack of voice acting but if one is able to look past these initial aesthetics one is bound to find a compelling J-RPG experience that has stood the test of time.
Rating: 8.75 / 10
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