I completed Final Fantasy VII. Here’s my thoughts.
The game is thought to be the best game in the franchise by many people. It was the first 3D game, the first to feature full motion videos, the first with correct numbering in the West, the first for many things in the series. Does that make it groundbreaking? Well, it depends. It set the stage for an amazing line of RPGs on the Playstation and beyond, redefining the genre and the expectations for it. It catapulted Sony into success, which would pave the way for the future Playstation consoles. The game itself is not very much different from what you would expect in a JRPG, but certain design choices turned it into such a hit.
For one, the characters. The characters weren’t as developed as those in IV and VI, which set the standard for character development overall, but where Square sent it flying was with the subtle animations and gestures. They rotate, point, jump and move around the screen almost robotically but it’s very clear what their emotional state is; you can imagine just how they’re saying their words by context and animation.
Two, the story. Many people will point at the famous Aerith death scene as the defining factor of the entire game. I disagree entirely. Aerith’s death sets in motion many more enveloping story milestones that keep coming and coming all throughout Disc 2, all fueled by the contempt they build toward Sephiroth, both explicitly in writing with Cloud and implicitly through boss fights and interaction with the Shinra that send a reinforcement of “This guy pisses me off, look at all the crap him and the rest have done to the world!” to the player. While it’s unfortunate that the entire first half of the game is simply setting the foundation for the major story, the conclusion of the first half is not the high point—it is just the starting point for an incredible build up to the climax of the game.
What is an artistic work without flaws, though? Final Fantasy VII is undoubtedly a flawed game. To list off a few, the Materia system is an ultimate failure to make units customizable due to the importance of certain Materia combinations (Restore + All, to name one example) and a strangling lack of Materia that provide physical stats as opposed to Magic. It is challenging all throughout the game to get Materia to level, but many Materia are entirely useless and the detriments to using most (reduced max HP is really bad) outweigh their limited usefulness. You’re better off leaving all your Materia save a few Command ones on your spellcaster and forgetting the rest until the very end of the game.
Another problem is the villain, Sephiroth. This may be attributed to a rather poor localization job, but Sephy is not given much of a character besides wanting to destroy the world. He’s not an Ancient, nor is he Human, but he feels inexplicable vengeance towards Humans for destroying the former. His presence and purpose do not connect well; it would have made more sense to make him an Ancient and have him be a more reasonable antonym to the divine-like Aerith. In that scenario, Cloud wouldn’t have any significant role besides association with Aerith and Sephiroth; this I feel would have made more sense than trying to shoehorn Cloud into significance by having Sephy convince him he’s a creation of Hojo.
Final Fantasy VII is a very well-written and designed game that is not without flaw. Some of that could be attributed to the game being incomplete at release, and others could just be part of the way older games were made. Nevertheless, the 30 hours it takes to complete from start to finish is very much worth the journey, and surely the average person will take one or two morals away from the story about reservation of life and giving back to the Planet.