Julkaistu 21. huhtikuu.
Honestly, I don't care much for writing these glowing pieces on highly-acclaimed games. It's the whole "preaching to the choir" aspect that bothers me. I ran into this before back when I reviewed Resident Evil 4. Everyone knows FF7 is a great game, so why even bother with the review? I should just save myself the time & effort, make a humorous reference, then sit my ♥♥♥ down and drink...oh right. So I have to say something significant. I have to put words on a page that somehow match the importance and majesty of this classic JRPG. So let's get started.
Like any other game series, Final Fantasy has had its humble beginnings, its ups, downs, controversies, and even today we're uncertain of where it'll go next. Like any good lemming we follow along, buy the latest games, all the while hoping that eventually Square-enix will take the franchise back in the direction we want it to go in. The thing is, there's always been one path, and game-development isn't about what "we" want. FF13 might be a wildly different game compared to FF1, but if you played through most of them, you could see how such a divisive entry could be released. It's the accumulation of elements, taking what works, changing what doesn't, and evolving into something different. But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves.
Final Fantasy 7 is probably not the best JRPG of all time. When it comes to opinions; I don't touch best/worst anything. FF7 is a great JRPG, and certainly a remarkable entry in the series. Part of its quality is in its spectacle. Yes, I'm actually talking about the flashy stuff. Even in its earliest entries, Final Fantasy was always about grandness. In FF3 for the Famicom there was the discovery that your world, was just a tiny floating island in a much larger world. FF7 works in a similar fashion, with that tiny island being Midgar. The battles in FF games have always pushed for more special effects. Everyone remembers their first time casting Ultima in FF6, just like the first time they summoned Knights of the Round.
This touches on another aspect of FF. No effort (no matter how slight) goes unrewarded. One of the aspects I've always enjoyed about FF, is that I can wander into a forest in the middle of nowhere, and possibly bump into a unique monster. Perhaps this monster has a cool special move, that looks really neat, and maybe I'll be able to make it my own (via blue magic or otherwise). Other entries (like FF9) mix things up, like having mini quiz-shows hiding in the forest. It relates to one of my favorite aspects of the original Baldur's Gate. By simply wandering the outskirts you're bound to encounter more than just monsters. There's a lot of neat little discoveries in the dozen or so optional areas BG1 had. FF7 is a much more linear game, yet it still understands the importance of deviation.
The character models...I actually can't complain about them. Yes, nowadays we can simply mod everything so that it looks uniformly superb but...well I'm starting to see the appeal of those blocky wonders. This isn't nostalgia talking either, this is something I just noticed in my most recent play-through. Squaresoft put a lot of work into giving NPCs life. Even today, NPCs in RPGs are only good at standing around, walking in random directions, or (in the case of later Bethesda RPGs) doing a bunch of "radiant dynamic AI" actions that somehow look more robotic than if they were just scripted. A lot of NPCs in FF7 do things, memorable things, things that humans would actually do. Early in the game, there's this woman waiting at a train-station. Now this woman isn't anyone important. In fact, you're supposed to pay attention to the flashback this woman is a part of. Regardless, her boyfriend/husband arrives via train. He's back from war, and he's so happy he does his best Gene Kelly impression, by swinging around a streetlight.
I can't state enough just how brilliant these little moments are. There's no dialogue between these unimportant NPCs, they don't factor into the plot, and yet they add so much. The two most recent FF games I played through were FF13 and FF13-2. The few times I ran into NPCs they're just...standing around. Sometimes they walk, and they say a line or two when I walk past, but that's usually about it. Actually, FF13-2 did have the kids that run around the beach, one of them trips a lot. It might not sound like much, but that little bit of life makes the experience a lot more believable.
Complexity. The first Final Fantasy was practically Wizardry with an overhead view. Even then, it had numerous ideas that offered replay value. The most obvious one is the class system. Once you decided on your party, that was it. Whether you went with the traditional (Fighter, Monk, White Mage, Black Mage) the different (Thief, Thief, Red Mage, Red Mage) or the ridiculous (Four White Mages), you were stuck with that party until you won the game. FF1 was an altogether difficult entry, with numerous random encounters that could wipe you out. One of my most memorable party-wipes was when my party of 4 was killed by a handful of ghouls. Every round they did 1-2 damage, and every round they paralyzed everyone. That was about 25 years ago...sheesh.
By the time FF4 came out, the random encounter was no longer a serious threat. I never saw the easier battles as a "dumbing down" of FF. These RPGs have numerous mechanics and design decisions to keep track of. What better way to drill this into the player's head than through actual combat? The battles are there so you can figure out how everything works. Look at this way: You're always getting a new party member, new spells, espers, materia, junctions, jobs, gambits, etc upon etc. So naturally, you'll want to try things out, and not get killed in the process. It's like a tutorial...without actually being a tutorial (though FF has plenty of those as well).
Most of the depth and challenge in FF comes from taking away all of the stuff you receive. This difficulty has to be player-imposed, but it works wonders for extending the value of these games. FF7 is no different, as there are low-level runs, no materia runs, and so on. Even something as simple as choosing not to use limit-breaks can massively change the game. After all, once a party member takes enough damage, their fight command is replaced with limit. Now what? Hopefully that character learned mug, or has some items that do damage. Heck, you might have to kill them yourself so their meter will drain. Suddenly those bosses you meteorained through become a lot more interesting.
The best part is, even if you play through FF7 and take everything that's given, it's still an enjoyable JRPG. This is due to pacing. Unless you're trying to max out everything, FF7 is a +/-30 hour game. That is PERFECT! I can not emphasize it enough. Those hours are going to be spent in various locales, doing a wide variety of things, and having a grand adventure. I can't tell you the number of RPGs that I've given up on, simply because nothing happens for 5-10 hours at a time. A game having 100s of hours of "content" just isn't a selling point for me anymore. FF7 moves quickly enough, and still tells you all you need to know in terms of story/characters. It isn't spectacularly written, but it's an effective story that is appropriately-paced.
All of this is why I think Final Fantasy 7 deserves respect. It encompasses everything that makes JRPGs work. No really, I believe this game is an example of flawless execution. I mean, a game like Xenogears might have a better plot & more interesting characters (to me), but between disc 2, the platforming, and t h e s l o w - m o v i n g t e x t t h a t c a u s e s m y b r a i n t o g o n u m b, I regard it as a "more than the sum of its parts" kind of JRPG.
Still, it's like I said waaaaay back, FF7 is probably not the best JRPG of all time. It does a pretty good job of making you think it is though.