Monday, 18 January 2016

Finally Finished...Final Fantasy VII

This is the first post in one of my new features, 'Finally Finished...', where I write about games I've finally finished playing. In today's hectic life it's rare I finish a game and that means some classics get left behind. Join me as I try to finally finish them.

It’s taken almost twenty years, multiple attempts across numerous platforms, but, over the Christmas period, I finally, finally finished Final Fantasy VII.

Some background: I generally don’t get on with JRPGs. I don’t like how slow they are, I don’t like turn-based combat and I hate random battles. Having said that, I like good stories and strong characters, so JRPGs were always a genre I wanted to like but never could.

I originally played Final Fantasy VII at release. My cousin bought it for his PSOne (no idea why, it was never going to be his type of game!). Prior to my recent replay, I only remembered snippets of what I’d seen and done with the game. I remembered the general gist of the story; I remembered a couple of the sections and I remembered most of the characters, despite not having played the game for years. I also remembered the (now dated) graphics, the random battles and the turn based combat – combat I hated so much I tended to run away from every battle just so I didn’t have to go through it. This had a knock-on effect, though, where because I was skipping battles, I wasn’t levelling up. By not levelling up, I wasn’t getting stronger and this came to a head when I fought the Demon Gate boss about three quarters of the way through disc one. It could kill my team in one to two hits and I was either missing or doing minuscule amounts of damage. I tried a few times before giving up in frustration, never to play the game again…or so I thought…

Damn you, Demon Gate! It's taken almost 20 years to get over what you did to me!

Cut to many years later and here I am, having just completed the game for the first time thanks to the re-release on PS4. I’m not going to lie to you; the addition of the cheats (x3 speed, unlimited health and limit breaks and turning off random battles) had a large part to play in my achievement. Knowing I could turn off random battles if I just wanted to walk ten feet without the swirly screen and battle music kicking in, or putting the clunky, slow overworld stuff on x3 speed to make everything that much quicker or, yes, activating what was essentially god mode to tough out a few battles here and there, made all the difference. Purists would say I cheated, that I can’t count it. Well, screw those guys. It’s taken me nearly 20 years and I needed the incentive! It’s not that the game is hard, per se, but it is quite clunky and some of the design is archaic, so having those extra boosts to get past the worst bits, where I would no doubt have given up in frustration without them, really helped.

Final Fantasy VII has always been praised for its story and, overall, I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. It had a lot of humour, way more than I expected . One of my favourite bits, and it wasn’t even this big thing, was the weird little animation they had for Red-XIII when he was dressed as a sailor and trying to balance on two legs whilst on a boat. He just kind of jiggled up and down, it was an inconsequential, blink and you’ll miss it thing, but it had me in fits of laughter.
Hahahaha....gets me every time!
The story may have seemed cliché by today’s standards, but it just goes to show that good stories are timeless as, despite the aging graphics and archaic gameplay, I was always compelled to see what would happen next.
Man date with my boy Barrett
The only story beat that fell flat for me was Aeris’ death (spoilers!). Despite not getting that far when I played originally, I was well aware of this ‘shocking’ turn of events (it's hard to go 20 years without seeing some spoilers) to the point that, when it finally came, I didn’t really care. It wasn’t a shock, it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t even particularly like Aeris as a character. Many will consider this sacrilege, I know, and no doubt the experience was diminished through knowing about it in advance, but honestly? I don’t think I’d have been that bothered if it had been a surprise. The rest of the cast, however, were great – often to the point where I was disappointed I couldn’t have them all in my party all of the time. Vincent was interesting, Red XIII was cool, Yuffie was funny and Cid was amazing – definitely my favourite character. The weakest non-Aeris character, for me, was Cait Sith, simply because although I liked the revelation of who he really was, I’m not a fan of the seemingly obligatory weird animal mascot character in these types of games. He was also pretty rubbish to take into battle.

Cid. The man, the myth, the legend.
"Shut up! Sit your ass down in that chair and DRINK YOUR GODDAMN TEA!"

At E3 last year, Square Enix announced they were remaking the game for the new generation of consoles and, understandably, people were excited. They’ve since released a couple of teaser trailers and, whilst the game looks nice, I can’t help but feel a bit of the charm of the original is missing and there is a lot of stuff in the game that I don’t think will make the cut for the remake. Cloud, for example, will probably be a vastly different character. Everything I’d ever seen of Cloud outside of the game itself had him come across as a typical anime hero: young, brooding, mysterious and miserable with, let’s face it, terrible hair. 
Aww, so cute!
Boo! So angsty!

But playing through the game, I was truly shocked at how well rounded he actually was. Yes, those sides of his personality exist, but he was also funny, sarcastic, cocky, unsure, confused, caring and determined. I have a horrible feeling that many of these traits will be lost in an attempt to make him seem ‘edgy’ and ‘cool’ – just look at the characters from the upcoming Final Fantasy XV to see what I mean!

Here come the Emo brigade...

From an aesthetic point of view yes, FFVII has aged, but once you get past the blocky characters, now-dreadful FMV and stunted animations, you see the game’s charm shine through. You genuinely begin to care about what happens to these poorly rendered little people and the journey they’re going through. The music deserves special mention, too, as it is genuinely amazing – so much so that the soundtrack now features on my youtube soundtrack playlist, which I listen to whenever I have a deadline or need to concentrate on something for work.

So, does Final Fantasy VII deserve all its praise and accolades? Does it deserve to be considered one of the best games ever made? Well, ignoring the dated graphics and mechanics, trying to appreciate it ‘as it was’ way back in 1998, for the story it tells, the characters it presents and the adventures that await you…yeah, it totally does deserve it. Every bit of it. It is a phenomenal experience and I’m only sorry it’s taken me this long to truly appreciate that fact.

As for the most important question, Tifa or Aeris? I’m totally a Tifa man.

Oh Tifa, I miss you already...


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