Surprise! Final Fantasy VII is really good.
Since Sunday morning I have put 20 hours into Final Fantasy VII. Considering I have also been working extra long hours at the office, you would be right in assuming that almost all my non-work, non-sleep time this week has been spent sitting in front of the television with a controller in my hand. (Yes, a controller! More on this later.) I haven’t put this much time into a single player game since the Mass Effect series.
So why do I love Final Fantasy VII? Let me count the ways:
Until I asked around this week, I did not realize that the characters of Cloud, Tifa, Aeris, and Sephiroth existed only in VII. (And the Advent Children movie I believe, but that isn’t a game.) They’re all such prominent figures in game culture mythos that I am boggled by their limited actual presence.
And to be honest I don’t really get the character worship, but I think that is at least in part because I’m a jaded adult. I mean, Cloud is kind of whiny, Aeris and Tifa seem to have interchangeable personalities thus far, and Sephiroth .. is just 32-bit bangs.
I’m not even that gripped by the story itself. A bunch of plucky downtrodden environmentalists taking on an evil corporation to save the world is a well-worn story for me by now, and although I’m sure there are plot twists later I’m fairly certain that it won’t turn out to be high literature.
What I do find quite striking is the storytelling. Flashbacks are used really effectively, both interactive ones and basic conversations. Camera movements are clearly carefully thought out and convey mood. The traditional battle structure (which can get pretty tedious) is borrowed by the story at one point entirely to show how awesome Sephiroth is compared to a young Cloud.
The use of technology and game functions to serve the story is stunningly well done and extremely refreshing in an era where story often seems saddled with awkward game mechanics. (Bioshock Infinite, I’m talking to you.)
The JRPG features!
Final Fantasy is also the first JRPG I’ve played myself, although I’ve watched friends play them in the past, and as it turns out my inner masochist loves the old school style.
There are a ton of secrets in the game, most of which I’ll never discover because I don’t have the patience. You need to find save points before you can take a safe break most of the time. The materia skill system is insanely deep with literally hundreds of different possible combinations, some of which will be absolutely useless. Friends have warned me about horrible grinds to get to the maximum level and obtain the best weapons (which I probably will not do, to be honest).
Earlier in the week I chose to sneak into a certain building, and the game then made me run Cloud and friends up 60 flights of stairs. Like, literally, six screens with 10 flights on each screen. The blow was slightly softened by amusing dialogue between the characters along the way, but it was still a fair bit of time to be mindlessly waggling the joystick.
Can you imagine if, I don’t know, Assassin’s Creed 4 made you run up 60 flights of stairs? There would be outrage. It’s insane, and I really dig it.
It’s old like me!
Folks who listen to the podcast have probably heard me complain about modern console games and my poor old thumbs. I’m just not good at dual thumbsticks. Fortunately, Final Fantasy VII comes to us straight from 1997, when games were 2D and controllers had a lot fewer buttons. It plays as smooth as silk on my USB 360 controller.
This is particularly useful because the default keyboard controls for the Steam version are weird and awkward. Press [PgUp] and [PgDn] at the same time to turn around in battle? Ooooh, yeeeah, no.
I seriously never thought I would enjoy this game as much as I do, but here we are. Once I’ve finished it (another 40 hours or so, probably), I have IV, VI, and X on my list to play. Basically I’m suddenly set for single player games for a looooong time.