Like many, it was their very first JRPG. For others, it wasn’t – but regardless of experience with the genre, there’s no doubt that Final Fantasy VII has stuck in the hearts and minds of its players. When people look back at the Sony PlayStation, it’s likely that this game will be among their most cherished memories.
But why is that? What was it about Square-Enix’s seventh main entry into the series that made it so special? That’s what we’ll answer here. So, grab your Phoenix Downs and have your Buster Sword ready as we list five (by no means exhaustive) reasons why FFVII was great.
JRPGs (or RPGs in general) depend upon the quality of their storytelling more than any other genre. When a player has to sift through countless turn-based battles and explore a multitude of dungeons, the extra story is like a reward for their efforts.
Where the story was concerned, Final Fantasy VII really delivered. The plot revolving around the sinister Shrinra Company and its contamination of the environment through Mako Energy was original for games at the time. Imagine learning that VII was going to have huge environmental themes in its narrative? You’d scoff, but the execution was so well done and created a unique atmosphere that people really dug it.
And yes, the environmental message is only one part of the story. Most of the game has your party pursuing main antagonist Sephiroth across the world map, who wants to destroy the whole planet with a giant Meteor. But the villain and his tragic story is so intriguing, it keeps you playing. Then there’s his relationship to the main protagonist.
An ex-SOLDIER-turned-Mercenary who eventually decides to save the world from his former mentor’s sadistic plot, Cloud doesn’t seem all that original initially. Yes, he’s freakin’ cool. Yes, he has a big-ass sword. But, at first, he seems to fit the bill of a traditional JRPG hero.
But as the game’s story unfolds, Cloud is more screwed up than he first appears. Turns out he was never the experienced ex-SOLDIER he claimed to be. Instead, he took his identity from his late comrade, Zack – his past, his clothes and, yep, even his badass sword. Cloud mentally convinces himself that it was he who was the ex-SOLDIER. Alas, it wasn’t so.
This was a pretty major plot twist at the time of release. By making Cloud an identity thief, Square essentially deconstructed the tired trope of the gung-ho, moral blank slate JRPG protagonist. Cloud Strife was certainly a man with a past – but not the one he, or the players, had thought. It made him all the more interesting.
If the Final Fantasy VII remake footage is anything to go by, the game promises to blow the original’s graphical power out of the water. And I’m not just talking about the original’s in-game graphics either – even back in 1997, it was generally thought the childlike character models were blocky and awkward. But the pre-rendered backgrounds, beautiful music and the player’s imaginations more than made up for it at the time.
No, the in-game visuals featured in the remake look like they’ll put even the original’s lauded FMV sequences to shame. But back in the late ’90s, the FMV sequences were like nothing ever experienced. Particularly, that famous opening sequence set in Midgar truly set the tone of the game, all the while being gorgeously cinematic and unrivaled by its contemporaries. The scene where Cloud buries Aeris also comes to mind as powerfully epic, supported by Square’s CGI mastery.
What makes a Final Fantasy? Well, the visuals, yes. The battle systems, for sure. But the music in a Final Fantasy game truly tops off the experience. Particularly during this time in the series’ history, music was required to convey the emotions of certain moments given that facial expression technology was way off. And man oh man did VII‘s music convey its message.
Who can’t get their hearts wrenched by Aeris’s theme, especially as she’s laid to rest by Cloud in the Forgotten City? Who can’t feel the downtrodden nature of the Midgar slums merely by listening to ‘Anxious Heart’? And who can’t feel the epic finality of the battle with an angelic Sephiroth when listening to the orchestral ‘One-Winged Angel?’ Some of the game’s most defining moments come to mind merely by the sound of their music. VII, to this day, still retains some of the franchise’s most iconic tunes.
Here’s a tale as old (and strange) as time – before DLC was a thing, extra content actually came packaged in the actual game itself. Shock. Horror. Not only was Final Fantasy VII’s epic story strung along 3 discs but so was its incredible world and a heap of extra side content. Optional bosses such as Ultimate Weapon were there if you were feeling brave enough. And if you wanted to take a break from turn-based killing, then you could raise a Chocobo on a farm and take it to the races. The game also had some variety in the form of minigames, whether that be snowboarding or motorcycling, both of which could be accessed in the Gold Saucer area after their completion in the story. There was also hidden materia abound including the fabled ‘Knights of the Round’ materia. VII was Square’s most content-heavy JRPG at the time and kept you in its world beyond its main quest.
As the remake comes ever closer to release, we can only hope that it manages to retain what made the original great while expanding upon it in a unique and satisfying way.
What are your favorite parts of FFVII? What would you like to see in the remake? Let us know in the comments below.