Final Fantasy VII is a perennially popular game, but one that is almost as fashionable to hate. It’s true that it has its flaws and probably isn’t even the best Final Fantasy game, let alone the best RPG ever made, and it’s probably equally true that the reason for its popularity is because it was many players’ first RPG. But even so, there aren’t many games that have spawned a CGI feature film, an anime short film, several novellas and four spin-off games, and I think the only Final Fantasy that would be more anticipated than XIII would be the much-rumoured FFVII remake. It really is a franchise in its own right.
Anyway, it was the latest chapter in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core, that originally got me interested in revisiting this world. The PSP game is very impressive, but I got the feeling that some things were going over my head, given that I’d never finished Final Fantasy VII. I hadn’t finished a Final Fantasy game full stop, with a save at the end of Final Fantasy IV Advance being the closest I’ve got. Yes, I’m ashamed.
Back when it came out I didn’t have a PlayStation and so had little opportunity to play it – I don’t think I even got out of Midgar around release – and my most successful attempt so far was almost three years ago, when I bought a new NTSC copy and actually made it to disc 2 (OMG Aeris dies!!!1) before petering out somewhere on Gaea’s Cliff, about 19 hours in. With custom firmware PSPs supporting multi-disc PS1 games, I worked out how to get my original PS1 save ported to the PSP – it involves a chipped PS2 and some homebrew voodoo -and, after familiarising myself with the abilities that I’d left on the characters, I powered on through the previous sticking point.
What usually happens with JPRGs is that I enjoy myself up to a point until I find myself underlevelled and give up, and as I was determined that this wouldn’t happen this time, I found out the levelling hotspots and spent several hours grinding and finding my party’s ultimate weapons and final limit breaks. Cloud and Cid with their ultimate weapons can now cause up to 9,999 damage with regular attacks, and my high-level materia and summons meant that I could take down Diamond Weapon and Ultimate Weapon in four turns each. These are supposed to be reasonably challenging bosses ;)
In short, by the time I reached the endgame my levels were in the low 70s, with most guides recommending 60-65 to make it comfortably possible, and after putting it off for a few months I was able to finish the final dungeon without too much trouble.
Now allow me to stop waving my virtual genitals around for long enough to say how good this game really is. As I said, yes, it’s flawed – the ‘see what sticks’ mentality with the innumerable mini-games, the way that the materia system effectively does away with specialisation, the poor English translation – “This guy are sick”, “Off course!”, etc – and the occasionally poor storytelling are the worst offenders – but it’s still one of my favourite RPGs.
I like the characters and, if you’re willing to read into the parts of the story that the game never tells you – how many people are actually aware that it wasn’t Sephiroth himself who killed Aeris? – it has a remarkably well-developed and interesting universe. Final Fantasy IV-VI are superb games, but which Final Fantasy world do you remember most? Apart from maybe Kefka, is there a more memorable villain than Sephiroth? And between those two, I don’t think there’s any contest over who wins in terms of depth of character and motivations – just being a bit mad and megalomaniacal doesn’t really cut it. And do any other RPGs have moments as memorable as scenes like Aeris’s death or Sephiroth’s razing of Nibelheim?
It’s hard to be surprised by Final Fantasy VII because even if you haven’t finished it, its great moments have been picked apart so much that it’s become the closest thing that gaming has to Star Wars, but that’s not to say that it’s not nice to have joined the club and actually finished a Final Fantasy – this may even be my first finished JRPG, embarrassingly. For its flaws it does have a good story, it does have some of the best characters in the series, and it does deserve at least some of the popularity that it still has. I also found that it’s a brilliant game to play on the move, so if Square has any sense it’ll bring it to the PSP legitimately and stop those who don’t play theirs in less legally nebulous circumstances from a good opportunity to re-experience it.
That or finally do that PS3 remake, of course…