Tag Archives: Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

For those wishing to read my 2012 article on the original Final Fantasy VII, including facts about that games development and what the franchise means to me, please feel free to check out the link http://waynegmadden.com/final-fantasy-vii-ps1

I also write this article in response to the article published by Metro on April 26th 2020 whose author said he felt Square Soft would regret having remade the game and started this project – https://metro.co.uk/2020/04/26/square-enix-going-regret-ever-starting-final-fantasy-7-remake-readers-feature-12607826/ – I believe this is completely wrong.

As already discussed in a previous article, there is no game which – for me – holds more nostalgia and delight, than that of Final Fantasy VII. Indeed, even in 2019, I was still downloading the XBox One port of the title and the Nintendo Switch port of the title; both to examine and criticise the engines of these systems whilst (believe it or not) still exploring the game on PS1 and through emulation on PSVita. You could say I’m a little obsessed.

A remake of the original game – released in 1997 on PlayStation – has actually been in discussion for almost as long the game itself. It was first decided that Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX would be remastered for the PlayStation 2 in the early 2000s. It was said the games would be sold separately and not really much more beside, though it was evident from the beginning that it was the 7th instalment fans were most eager to get their hands on.

In 2005 and then again, on the games 10th anniversary, in 2007; there was conformation that a reboot of the seventh instalment was being planned. However, other projects demanded precedence, and so Square were unable to comment further on when the games would see the light of day. Soon, in light of other developments and the PlayStation 3 – and even 4 – many simply forgot that the title had been promised, especially when other ports of the original on current generation consoles started to appear as a viable experience.

However, there were four people who never forgot. At a meeting between the four men most responsible for the game; producer and series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, director and co-writer Yoshinori Kitase, artist Yusuke Naora, character designer Tetsuya Nomura, and writer Kazushige Nojima – all agreed they’d reached “that age” and if waiting longer, it could potentially be the case they’d be too old to work on a reboot at all. This led to an understanding that it was now or never. The official announcement came in 2015. It was happening.

When you think of the scope of this project, similarities can be drawn with Guns N’ Roses ‘Chinese Democracy’ album, if only because the online community became so transfixed on it’s legendary and mythical appearance. In the same vein, many began to consider that the project might never be released, and since we live in an age where consumers are used to receiving something almost immediately after it’s announced – the idea of waiting for anything seems unrealistic. But FF7 wasn’t just any game, it was a title Sony had initially spent 1 Million Dollars promoting prior to launch in 1997. And whose original budget had exceeded 40 Million Dollars.

Additionally, whilst it might be able to count on the automatic support of a percentage of gamers, it was newer/younger players that the title also needed to capture, considering their wants and needs – people unfamiliar with the story, the nostalgia and the game play. This was, of course, just part of the reason for the Switch and XBox 1 ports, they allowed the current generation to capture as much of the PlayStation’s original magic as possible – whilst also lining pockets and using the market research data.

Rival games like Last of Us, God of War and Spider Man also played their roles; there was absolutely no point in Square – or Sony – releasing this game at a time when the majority of gamers might be interested in another similarly exclusive title. Like the original, this game needed to be centre of attention, though perhaps even more so – since there really was so much more to prove this time around. And there was twice as much pressure.

With Kingdom Hearts 3 another main focus for Square Soft, the studio couldn’t give full attention until Final Fantasy VII until this project was completed, leading to rumours that the project had been scrapped at some point in late 2017. These rumours were always denied, but it wasn’t until May 2019 that the first teaser trailer was announced – and again it wouldn’t be until June that any playable functionality was shown – but when this happened, it won several awards at E3 2019 including ‘Best Console Game’ before it had even been released.

Pushed back in January 2020, due to concerns over tweaking the titles already mammoth production, fans were treated to a playable demo. We played the games first chapter – within the Shinra reactor – as Cloud Strife teamed with Avalanche. There is no denying that the game looked incredible and those first moments were a chance to actually control the modern day Cloud for the first time. But would it still be enough to make sure that the game became the long awaited worthwhile success?

In it’s first three days, it shipped and sold over 3.5 million copies, fears were somewhat dissipated. In all, it had become one of the single biggest game launches for the PlayStation 4.

For those unaware, Final Fantasy VII takes place in the fictional city of Midgar, you play as Cloud Strife – a mercenary who takes a job with environmental terrorists Avalanche. Avalanche is led by Barrett Wallace and their mission is to help aid the planet, by stopping the use of Mako, a natural energy source harvested by the Shinra Electrical Corporation. Cloud is a former SOLIDER operative, who are the private guard of Shinra, and upon the request of childhood friend Tifa Lockheart decides to assist Avalanche on their plight. Cloud has his own demons, however, plagued by the death of another SOLIDER operative, named Sephiroth; known as one of the greatest warriors who has ever lived, he is struggling to come to terms with this and his own past.

The game’s original incarnation took you from Midgar to the world, literally traversing the games map across several continents. In this remake, you play about 10%-15% of the original title, and only perform the original Midgar missions, whilst at the same time expanding upon that initial story and going further into the details of the timeline. This gives for a rather unique perspective, allowing the player to focus on the initial missions (which they remember) but also including ‘Director’s Cut’ style components that the game simply wasn’t able to facilitate at the time, for a number of reasons.

Storytelling has also been altered, in some cases drastically, in order to atone to the wishes of both the online community and also the wishes of its creators. A great comparison for this would be Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, which effectively modernised and ‘reinvented’ the idea of Batman in a modern setting. By taking a more authentic approach to their franchise, Final Fantasy VII is a more believable story; and that might seem strange from a game that is effectively a classic JRPG; but it’s one which originally strove to break rules and boundaries on it’s initial release and looks to do the same here.

***Published as unfinished piece****

Albums That Influenced You

Music is the great collaborator. Music brings us together, and chances are, even someone who has no opinion or interest in anything has some interest or opinion in at least one form of music. Think about it, how many people have you met for the first time, through University perhaps or in a new job, where to break the silence and learn more about them you might ask what type of music they enjoy, what sort of bands or artists they listen too and maybe who they’ve seen live?

More than any other pastime, however, music is something that it is so easy to get involved in. Now, whilst learning an instrument does possess challenge and skill, listening to music, purchasing and collecting records and albums, attending gigs and singing in the shower are all – in some ways – relatively inexpensive. And with the advent of high speed broadband and legal streaming services like Spotify and iTunes direct to your mobile device it’s now easier than ever to find virtually all the music you’ll ever want. And on top of that, you can expend far less effort than even 15 years ago in doing so.

I first started discovering music when I was 13. Of course, I was listening to music and specific artists before this, but it wasn’t until I was at that age that it had such impact on me, affecting the way I dressed, my career aspirations and even my political beliefs; between the ages of 13 and 18 I discovered artists and groups that have stayed with me until today as a result of their influence at this important time in my life. My younger brother played bass in a band, and that ended up affecting his music taste in a huge way, as he went on to play some live music in local venues. Personally, I worked in Radio, and so everything from choosing the music for my shows to learning about new artists and promotions had a huge impact on my life as well.

For this article I wanted to take a look inward, and talk about albums that have influenced me. But there’s nothing like a little friendly competition to get the thoughts moving. I mean, how horrible would it be if everyone looked the same and listened to the same album; so in that spirit of diversity and difference – as well my thoughts and ramblings – I would encourage you to comment by giving me YOUR thoughts on the albums and the music which helped shape and define the person you are right now.

Metallica – St Anger (2003)

Metallica were a huge influence on me. I actually got into the band indirectly from Queen, another one of the huge influences that will feature on this list. I ended up purchasing a video cassette of the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert from April 1992 where, following Freddie Mercury’s death, the surviving members of Queen staged a large benefit concert at Wembley Stadium. Several bands who performed during the first portion of the day – Metallica, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses most notably – would go to become some of my favourite artists of all time. And in truth, it’s unlikely I’d learned of them at the same time as I did if not for Queen and their appearance at that performance.

So when I started to get into Metallica properly, St Anger was the first album released with me being a fan – and for that reason it holds a huge place in my heart – as I can even remember taking the bus to town on that June day in order to buy a copy of the album. Many might expect me to say I hated the album, but considering my first live experience with the band would be just a few days later (as part of the ‘Madly in Anger World Tour 03’) and I’d already listened to practically everything Napster were giving away the Winter previously (!) there really was no denying that I just loved this album because it was new material from Metallica.

Thinking about it now, I can even remember my friend (the same one who I bought the album with) ringing me up one night – at a time when we’d first got mobile phones – to tell me that he’d seen the ‘St Anger’ video on Kerrang TV. Now, Kerrang TV was a subscription service, and you needed to phone in and request specific tracks that you wanted to listen too. Since Metallica’s new single was LITERALLY just being released, Kerrang had aired the video at the stroke of midnight before it was part of the rotation, and then every 20 minutes thereafter. The video itself was filmed at San Quentin Federal Penitentiary in California; and believe it or believe it not, myself and my family took an incredible vacation to California not long thereafter. Giving me another reason to love the nostalgia and the memory of the album a lot of people really seem to hate.

Green Day – American Idiot (2004)

By the time I saw Green Day on the American Idiot Tour (in January 2005) I’d already seen a few bands live. But this particular performance always holds a special place in my heart regarding live shows. For a start, and to this date, I’ve not seen Green Day live since – and the venue in which the gig was held (Dublin’s Point Depo) no longer exists. It was also the place where I’d seen my first ever concert, in 2003, and this album was exactly what I needed at the time.

It was actually my brother who’d been a Green Day fan for long before this, and he ended up detesting American Idiot save for one track, feeling the band had completely devalued their earlier sounds. I would soon come to find out that certain bands I love (such as Machine Head) would have a habit of taking the previous special appeal they had to fans in a time and place and repackaging and re marketing it for a new generation 10 years later. So, thanks to my brother and a friend of mine, I was slowly introduced to Green Day and encouraged to come to their performance.

Personally, I’d just recently started University, and my life itself was going through some pretty major changes. Looking back, I’d actually reflect and say American Idiot was released during one of the most turbulent and challenging periods of my entire life to date. It is perhaps the only album released during that period that I still look back on with fondness, and will occasionally belt out ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ with nostalgic glee to anyone deaf enough to listen. It’s definitely funny for me how this album really forced me beyond my skin and – in a sense – was me looking to accept a new group and a new form of music into my life; probably taking the Punk thing too much to heart as well, although stereotypically a few Summer’s late.

New Kids on the BlockYou Got It (The Right Stuff) (1988)

From the bands second album ‘Hangin’ Tough’ (released 1989) the earlier single – known commonly as ‘The Right Stuff’ – was released by NKOTB in 88. In that year I would have been 3, and its also the year my younger brother was born, so it’s extremely unlikely that I’d of heard the album or the single – and remembered it – at that time. However, I can tell you that I once asked my mother to obtain a copy of the album from her friend, if I gave her a blank cassette. It seemed like even a weird request to my mother at the time, but I got the album back – and it was definitely because of the love for this song.

I won’t lie, this was a long time ago, but I did want to make special mention because it did play some small part in my musical tastes and does hold a fondness to this day. It’s cheesy, it’s 80’s and it’s Pop – but actually it’s still a great tune. I’m just sorry I don’t have more information about my experiences with it.

Nobuo Uematsu – Music of Final Fantasy VII (1997)

I don’t listen to a lot of Classical Music. I appreciate it, and it’s use in film scores, but I can’t think that I am actively engaged in listening to such music. That being said, I absolutely couldn’t do this list and not include the music of a particular video game – which, by definition of it’s creation – is a classical piece. Final Fantasy VII was originally released for PlayStation in 1997 and I won’t go into a speech about the game on this article because there’s already at least two articles on that website to cover such things. Suffice to say, one of the huge reasons the game had such an impact on me was because of the music, and I can definitely remember this being the first time I cared so much about a game’s soundtrack.

To me, Uematsu’s soundtrack is essential to the game itself, bringing you deeper into the story, introducing you to the nature of the characters and creating tension or building hype without saying a single word. Much like Die Hard will use ‘Ode to Joy’ as Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber finally realises the vision of opening that safe, the music within this game brought you closer to it, and gave you a bigger context for it. Remember, this was at a time when Sony (already a leading music producer worldwide) had revolutionised gaming with the sound chip of the PlayStation – games like Wipeout and Grand Theft Auto, for example, took advantage of stereo quality sound to insert the music of known artists into video games. FFVII used it as a character; and that was a big deal, especially for an RPG (Role Playing Game) which meant you spent a lot of time with Cloud and his compatriots wandering valleys and hills in search of Sephiroth.

I have so many great memories of playing this game originally. I remember in particular going into town after school one Friday to collect the game from my favourite store, with a friend from school, and remarking on the bus back that it would probably take me the entire school holidays to finish it. If I have a particular favourite piece it’s either ‘Shinra Theme’ or ‘Those Chosen By The Planet’ but ‘Tifa’s Theme’ is also a big one for me. And a small special thanks to Uematsu for his work on re imaging the soundtrack for the 2020 remake which, once again, captures the beauty and the majesty of the game as I’d expect with incredible advanced technology.

Kid Rock – Cocky (2001)

I’d heard of Kid Rock after he sampled Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’ to rework the track into ‘American Bad Ass’ in 2000. It was largely due to my love of WWE (then WWF) and the use of that particular track for The Undertaker’s theme tune when the latter made his return in May 2000. Shortly thereafter, Rock covered ZZ Top’s ‘Legs’ for a WWE Compilation and also released ‘Cocky’ on Atlantic Records; which had several songs sampled by WWE, most notably the title track (which I’m almost positive was used as a PPV theme) and ‘Lonely Road of Faith’ which was used in a rather nostalgic video about wrestlers out on the road. ‘Cocky’ itself went on to become even bigger, thanks to ‘Picture’, a duet with Sheryl Crow.

Kid Rock also ended up becoming an inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame, as well as touring several highly successful albums to date. In 2004 I saw him live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and then again in 2008 I saw him open for Bon Jovi in Kildare, Ireland. So he is officially the only artist I’ve seen in my life – so far – on two different continents. And I’ve just realised typing that, it’s not true, as I also saw The Supersuckers in both Dublin and in Tower Records in Los Angeles at an in store performance. Either way, Kid Rock’s album influenced me greatly, and my appreciation of his music stays with me to this day, I’ve even a copy of ‘Live Trucker’ on Vinyl.

Guns N’ Roses – Live Era (1999)

I bought the album in Golden Discs on Grafton Street in Dublin. I didn’t have enough money for the album and the guy behind the counter let me off with a Euro, or a Pound, at the time. I didn’t have enough because I still needed to pay for my bus fare home and when I got home I sat and listened to the album from start to finish. It was my first Guns N’ Roses record and I later got it signed by Gilby Clarke, who toured and recorded with the band between 1991 and 1993. I wish I still had it but I foolishly sold it when I lived in Edinburgh in 2008.

This album, for all intensive purposes, was created to supplement contractual obligation and make the main members of the original Guns N’ Roses at the time (Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan) some quick cash. People have been critical of it’s production, and it’s value, but at the time of release – and certainly at the time I purchased it – this album was the nearest thing to a Greatest Hits and captured the band as I loved them most, live. I wouldn’t see those three men live together until 2017. People might not understand but before Spotify, and if you weren’t intending on downloading illegal music and creating your own compilation, an album like this really was the best way to hear this music.

On top of anything else, the album also contained a full colour booklet, featuring photographs and imagery which showed me pictures from previous tours. Despite this band having effectively fractured years before I could even comprehend their importance to my musical taste, they are one of the most important musical influences to me. Period. I’m still a member of the fan club to this day.

Queen – Innuendo (1991)

I could have put any Queen album on this list – with the possible exception of the ‘Cosmos Rocks’ and ‘Hot Space’ – and it would mean just the same. Innuendo doesn’t even feature my favourite Queen track of all time (that’s either ‘Save Me’ from ‘The Game’ or ‘It’s Late’ from ‘News of the World’) and the band itself, these musicians – and particularly it’s lead vocalist – have had the greatest influence on me. In essence, they are the perfect band in my eyes, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a fan of them. Fact.

This album I received on cassette, for Christmas, in 1995. No idea whatever happened to my cassettes from when I was younger but I used to have a special yellow box where I kept my favorite cassettes and they were virtually all Queen originals. A lot of my music at that time was blank copies etc.

Their influence and their music has been with me my entire life. And I can’t think of anything more to say because that sums up exactly how I feel. I’ve grown out of other bands, grown into bands, developed tastes, picked apart material here and there. There is nothing I can’t love (yes, even the albums mentioned at the start can be loved) about this bands output. They are flawless.

I’ve really enjoyed sharing this list with you, I’d love to hear from you guys too about what music ranks in your inspirations…..

The Last Story (Wii)

This review was written in 2012, when I was working with a charity and writing pieces for a gaming magazine, that was released digitally that year. As a result it will more reflect the situation of that time and will not take into account what has changed since then. Please Enjoy!

In an episode of Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper recounts to a policeman the series of games that had been robbed from his apartment, making special mention of Final Fantasy 1 through 9 (and nothing after). I can personally relate, since the original Final Fantasy is my favourite game of all time, and Final Fantasy 7 was arguably the most pivotal game I’ve ever played (sorry Scott). Once Final Fantasy 9 had drawn it’s credits to a close I doubted they would ever repeat past glories. I mention this because when the man who created Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and it’s iconic orchestral scores, Nobuo Uematsu, reunited for an original title on Wii I knew it was going to be something special – The Last Story is just that!

The game begins on the seemingly innocent setting of Lazulis Island, shortly after a period of Civil War, that has seen their Empire on unsteady ground. Enter a group of Mercenaries hired at the bequest of Count Arganan (the ruler of the region) to clean up some monsters in the area. Jumping right into the action it’s here we begin our quest, as you control Zeal (Elza in the Japanese version), one of the Mercenaries in this rag tag collection of friends. They hope that their unique service to the Court will eventually make them Knights and they plan on gaining honour, prestige, treasure and alcohol along the way.

The characters are all as unique as you’d expect, and although you only play the majority of the game as Zeal, you will come to know each of them in their own special way. Whether or not the title refers to a hidden text that Sakaguchi had submitted, or had rejected, for a previous Final Fantasy remains the subject of conjecture – either way – this is a powerful and emotive script. Without taking too much from the major plot points, this story isn’t the most original thing you’ll see, doubtless this matters however, as it’s still a compelling and intimate adventure. No far reaching wilderness or majestic roaming of the Globe contained herein.

Those familiar with Final Fantasy will really enjoy the mechanics of combat in this game. There’s a little magic but you don’t need to worry about equipping the latest Materia to everyone and it’s generally easy to understand. For more novice players there’s a handy auto equip function that allows you to suit everyone up with the best you’ve got in your kit at the time – kind of like a Football Manager AI picking the best players for the team – and this is a really nice touch. It could be most likened to combat in FF7 Crisis Core, which is free flowing, and which gamers simply engage in battle in real time and then a small levelling up ceremony neuterers the end of that particular session.

Because this is a Wii title, and not something overly common on the format, you’ll also find battling is pretty easy – series bosses will have particular quirks to help you beat them – and generally you’ll find yourself progressing throughout the story without a major problem. Some of the harder bosses are contained in Optional Missions, that can extend the main storyline for a few hours at least, and don’t really give you anything of consequence you can’t already purchase in the market. That being said, you really should level up as much as you can, and take every available opportunity to grow in stature, equip more powerful weapons and take advantage of upgrades. This is because, after all, this is a Final Fantasy title (albeit unofficially) and staying one step ahead of the game is what battle mechanics are all about. While playing this game I used a Walkthrough Guide, unofficial mind, from a Japanese player who’d translated the guide into English. At some points I noticed that certain obstacles just didn’t exist and there have been theories online that the game has removed a few of the harder enemies (although nothing you’ll miss) to make the game more PAL friendly.

Graphically, and keeping in mind that this game only runs on a 60Hz television, this is the finest looking game I’ve ever seen on Wii. You’ll have a few frame rate issues through the faster paced scenes but it’s nothing that should dissuade you from the fact this is a clean, crisp and well rounded looking game, with everything from the deck of a ship to Market Stalls being recreated with fantastic and vivid imagination. As Zeal runs through town for example, bustling over the bridges and crawling through back alleys, you’ll really soak up the atmosphere of this game in more ways then you can imagine. And, to add to that, Uematsu has once again created an iconic score on par with the his best work of Final Fantasy, Crisis Core and Lord of Arcana.

It’s deep, it’s rich, it’s powerful and adds to the game on a whole new level – especially during the meteor shower scenes which are reminiscent of Cloud and Tifa’s meeting in Niblehiem all those years ago at the beginning of FF7 (again, Scott, I’m sorry). Another connection to FF7 means the games length takes on a life of its own, and at the point where most titles are ending this one just keeps going – the single player alone clocks up near 20+ hours even for the most experienced of players.

As you progress throughout this game you’ll encounter a number of different regions and area’s throughout which to traverse. These include the decks of ships, underground passageways, cobbled streets, a Castle Courtyard and a lavish Ballroom. All of them allow you to play a different type of game, with underground passages providing little light, and the cobbled streets being overrun with people. It’s a great touch that really makes for expansive and long lasting play – just because you’re good in one area doesn’t mean you’ll be good in another (or even traverse it with such ease) – and the cut scenes provide for an engaging storyline that allows you to soak up the dialogue with pleasure. The voice acting can, at times, seem a little wooden – although the more powerful characters really bring their roles to life.

While this game has a lot of replay value, you do also get Multiplayer, which adds to proceedings a life of it’s own and becomes a game within itself. Thankfully, there are still a good amount of people left online playing this game, as you participate in team battles in either “Deathmatch” or “Co Op” environments and fight amongst a collection of arena’s which – although smaller, then say, Transformers Cybertron Multiplayer, do provide some good ground for beating the unholy hell out of your buddies. Another good reason for MP is the ability to play as characters from the game, and not just the original collection of Mercenaries, as you get to choose from a healthy collection of Major and Minor characters that appear throughout the story. Its not a Deathmatch MP party unless you’re playing as General Astar!

If there’s one particular flaw with The Last Story, and it’s hard to find, then it perhaps lies with its familiarity that we’ve already mentioned. At certain points throughout the plot (like when one character discovers the secrets of his dead father) you have a certain sense of deja vu from previous titles of a similar nature. That’s not necessarily a setback, but you do have to wonder just how original this title can be, given the rich tapestry and history of its principal creator and director. I speak from the point of view of an advanced gamer with a lengthy experience, but if you’re anywhere near new to the idea of playing JRPG’s (Japanese Role Play Games) then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, or if familiarity is something you want to experience then all should be good.

That being said, what idea doesn’t rip off another idea in the process, and can a game truly be as unique as it might have been a decade ago. More powerful gameplay mechanics have demanded that games are a lot more than just blocks falling at random intervals – and gamers are starting to demand more (especially in the wake of FF7 & FF8) – if a game says its RPG, then prove it.

In summary, I find a game like this a lot more accessible then the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles or (what I’ve seen) of the upcoming Pandora’s Tower. Of the three, and none of them are connected, it’s seems the most intimate and interactive that a JRPG can be – and even though it sticks to the usual unfrequented love and depressing misery – it takes a lot of humour and change from the criticisms that were launched at Xenoblade. For one, there’s a lot more Welsh and Irish voice actors, and the cast seems to have been plucked from all over the United Kingdom as opposed to just London. It’s also a shame that a game like this has come at the end of the Wii’s lifespan (although with consoles retailing second hand in the UK currently at £40 you can’t be beaten) because you could have so much more to build on if the Wii wasn’t departing for Retro pastures.

This is a really great game and more people need to play it. Now.

Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

This review was written in 2012, when I was working with a charity and writing pieces for a gaming magazine, that was released digitally that year. As a result it will more reflect the situation of that time and will not take into account what has changed since then. Please Enjoy!

First, some facts; FF7 was produced using over 120 artists and designers. It was the most expensive game of it’s time, undertaken by a company who only a decade before had just escaped bankruptcy, one which now controlled a budget (for this game alone) of $45 million. Because of the graphics being used in this game at the time and the programmes, such as Power Animator and Soft Image 3D, this went far beyond what the seasoned animators at Square had been exposed too before. They themselves were in awe at what was being created. They were coding a classic and they knew it.

Plus, on top of all this, Sony levelled a $100 million advertising campaign (yes, you read that right) in order to create hype and anticipation about the title. In 1998 Eidos paid a cool $1 million just for the rights to port the game onto PC. On a new console, with graphics that had never been seen before, and giving long time fans an unfamiliar concept to what they were used too – Square found themselves in familiar waters – FF7 would either propel the company to success or would spell Square’s ultimate end. If the entrance scene of the game is any indicator on success, then I’d say Square nailed it, gaming history was about to be made.

There’s been an awful lot said about this title in the past decade. So much so, in fact, there are websites and blogs dedicated to pages and pages of random comments and theories, designs and ideas, about this game. A lot of people are wholly convinced they know more about FF7 then those who developed it. Before this game came along, I was a different person, since all gaming ever represented to me was getting from level to level, powering up, and finishing the quest. Capcom’s Resident Evil the year previous had shown me what it was like to think about a game’s story, but between solving puzzles and being scared fruitless by zombies, I wasn’t eager to play as much of it as I would. When I look back at my time spent with Final Fantasy 7 however, the original time spent on my PS1 in 1997, it’s hard to imagine that I’m the same gamer or even person I was then – so influential and impacting is this software’s effect on me.

Now, given the amount of rubbish that exists online about this game, that’s a bold statement to make. But you need to remember that when Final Fantasy 7 first hit Europe it was far beyond anything that Square had done before. For a start, it was on PlayStation (having already had too much power for both SNES and N64), importantly moving away from both Nintendo (a relationship that would remain fractured for years as a result, not least due to Nintendo’s shunting in the PlayStation’s own development history) and, of course, the traditional cartridge. That might not seem like a lot upfront, but given Square wanted FFVII to be the game where they moved into 3D, having it on the processor speed of a PlayStation made that dream come true. If it had been financially possible to put this game over several cartridges and maintain the same the same level of quality then Nintendo would now be the world’s leading games entertainer. But it wasn’t.

In actuality, the game was released on three compact discs, which made it more economically cost effective to produce than cartridge, sold more copies per market and allowed Square to think about marketing Final Fantasy to the European Market. Final Fantasy might be a household name now, but in 1997 and prior to FF7, only a combination of titles had made it as far as Europe – and they were both imports – with FF4 released to the North American market as FF2. There’s a lot of reasons for this but the main one could be that the complexities of some FF titles didn’t appeal to the gaming public en mass until FF7 broke that mould and made it more acceptable for gamers to enjoy harder, longer and more challenging titles. So if gamers had heard of this “Final Fantasy” they certainly wondered why it was on it’s 7th instalment and what the hell it was all about. Little knowing that no Final Fantasy was interconnected in any way, aside from some creepy fan-boy rubbish, or some demented Japanese Easter Eggs.

In the same way of “dumbing down” the story by changing pivotal game play to suit more casual gamers, FF7 also greatly reduced the complexity of the fighting systems from previous titles, allowing players to only equip one item and one piece of armour per character. Also, the Materia (or Spirit Magic) system is – quite frankly – genius, and allows you to pick and choose what attacks to best use with what character. For example, should Aerith be the group healer, should Cid hold the power of Thunder, and so forth. It’s a basic concept that applied to all kinds of online role playing games these days as well, such as World of Warcraft and Warhammer, and while I won’t be so bold to say that FF7 inspired all these games how to fight I will say that the fighting system in FF7 made it a lot easier for newer gamers to grasp the complexities of previous Final Fantasy titles, whether they’d played them or not.

To look at the complex story, let’s start at the start, in the City of Midgar. This is the fictional city in which our story begins and in which you’re introduced to the character you’re going to spend at least a few months playing as, Cloud Strife, a former member of the organisation Shinra whose about to turn whistle-blower (in a manner of speaking) and assist in the destruction of one of their nuclear reactors (he might have just sent a letter but the Buster Sword tells us he means business). Cloud’s joined Avalanche, a group of mercenaries set on protecting the planet, and led by the one “gun-armed” Barrett.

As much as Cloud insists he’s just there for the money you can see there’s more too it then that, thrown into a world of adventure we cared little about before it began, but which we will never forget nor want to leave again. Just as the characters grow, you’ll grow too, taking on a number of new members to your group (as well as loosing a few) and then leaving the City for the Countryside, Countryside to Harbour, Harbour to Boat, Boat to New Continent – and before you know it you’re traversing the Globe and saving the entire Planet. Of course where most games will have ended by the time you reach the Midgar climax (Shinra’s President dead, the company in shambles, an image torn down…) FF7 just keeps going, giving you probably the best value for your money of any game you will EVER play.

Characters are instantly recognizable, unique and loveable, with Tifa (Cloud’s best friend) and Aerith (a flower girl from the Slums and so much more) complementing the more hard fought like Barrett (the leader of Avalanche with a secret in his past), Red 13 (the last of his kind, wise and yet not infallible), Cid (an airship pilot who dreams of going to Space) and Yuffie (a young girl with the heart of a Ninja). There are also the more stupid characters, like Cat Sith, which I’ve always retained a soft spot for even if he was a Shinra Spy.

In fact, so compelling are some of the stories for FF7 (such as Red XIII discovering what really happened to his father) they’ve been copied, years later. Then there’s Sephiroth, a man who in reality should have an article just about himself, probably the most legendary bad guy in video game history. Even the mere mention of his name will make grown men cry; remembering the moment when he shoved a sword through a young girl’s heart, and ended a romance that could have blossomed throughout the ages. President Shinra, Reno, Hojo, Rufus, Hed’gar and Reeve are all very well and good…but it’s Sephiroth who became your main obsession – as Cloud struggles to remember why he faced the most legendary swordsman in history…and lived. The first few hours of game play are almost meaningless (I don’t really mean that though), only when you wake up with your cell door open and a trail of blood leading upstairs, do you fully understand just what you’re playing and where you’re going.

The music of this game (produced by Nobuo Uematsu) adds another depth and layer to the game all by itself. This magic is still being recreated today (check out my review in this issue for The Last Story) but in 1997 it was unheard of that a Final Fantasy game would have such a deep, rich, compelling and lengthy soundtrack (the official soundtrack from Japan is itself spread across three discs). Sony, being masters of audio, obviously made PlayStation the best sounding console they could as well as it graphically outdoing everything on the market. This sound was rarely utilised as much then by those brandishing Final Fantasy in their name. Tracks like ‘The Turks’ and ‘The Golden Saucer’ are perhaps as about iconic as they come and provide just as much of a nostalgic transportation back to your original play through and locations as playing the game does now.

The 3D effects aren’t the kind you’ll find on 3DS, but do get the job done, with excellent backdrops and beautiful layouts as you traverse across mountain ranges, deserts and city slums. Graphically, this wasn’t the best game for it’s time, but that doesn’t matter when you think about how deep and compelling the storyline is. Also, and unlike previous Final Fantasy titles, this game didn’t start in the deep end with little introduction. There’s a gradual (and completely UN-Japanese like) cooling off period as you come to learn and know your characters. Asian gamers might never have experienced this before (the original Final Fantasy has us first fight the main protagonist within 10 minutes or less of the game starting), but it was a stroke of genius on the part of Square, who couldn’t have foreseen how easily agreeable the plot was with Western gaming.

Even the game’s sequel (in number only), Final Fantasy 8 (reviewed in our last Game On Issue), had criticisms from people who said the story was too far detached from real world events and didn’t gently break the players in. These are people who just don’t get the Final Fantasy series, but unless every nerd bought 15 copies, FF7 couldn’t (and wouldn’t) have sold in the numbers it did without appealing to those who just weren’t RPG fans (for the record, as of May 2010, that number is 10 million copies). FF7 broke a lot of sacred code and convention when it came to JRPG games, but the gamble paid off, and a game spanning over three discs was the glorious result.

Of course, to play devils advocate, there are a lot of legitimate reasons why people would hate FF7 – not because of what it is – but what it did to gaming culture in general. Before 7, virtually nobody in Europe had ever heard the term, and few people in North America had legitimately purchased Final Fantasy. VII created a vacuum in time and space that needed to be filled with everything FF including remakes, spin offs, development titles and ports. In fact, since 1997, we’ve had 110 Final Fantasy games released across 15+ different platforms. And in this case, due to the phenomenal success of FF7, this is mostly all down to Cloud and his friends.

Plus, FF7 attracted a lot of fans, including the kind of cos play and Anime porn fans who felt it would be somehow interesting (and erotic) to dress as members of the game for conventions. The internet is littered with graphic artwork of the female characters of FF7 and rarely has a video game produced this kind of need. If the legacy of Final Fantasy 7 is bad movies, ports of games only four people in the world will ever want to play on their IOS (one of them works for Game On) and really bad porn then we’re in trouble. No, there are a lot of reasons to hate Final Fantasy 7, once you turn the game off and go out into the real world. That’s if you find the time after playing for months on end and trying to succeed in the ultimate quest.

This all sounds like a lot of gaming though, and it is, we know at least one reporter here who (with all the proper medicines and magic to make sure he wouldn’t be stuck too long) attempted to play a run through of the game in one sitting (extreme health warning) having traversed the land before. It took him just under 37 hours to do so. On top of that he ignored several “optional” quests and never spent any of the wasteful nights we spent in the late nineties betting on Chocobo Races. Actually, I should correct myself, I still do that now!

If you want to see what we nearly ended up with on NES, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC-ervoOpAM and thank yourself very, very lucky. Although it still looks iconic there too.

The point to this waste of Ink is that it’s a very long game (and this has been a very long review), and you’ll really want to play it, with a few hours on the occasional evening you get to use the TV or PC (in-between Dancing On Ice and Coronation Street no doubt) meaning you might be finished by Christmas if you start right now. And, when you’re finished, you’ll feel sadness actually having to say goodbye to a collection of friends. Let’s hope Square make good with their promises, hinted in 2010, of actually exploring a sequel.

In short, play it now, and find the Promised Land.