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Final Fantasy VII’s English release changed video games 20 years ago this week

  • September 10, 2017

A revised history

And yet, Final Fantasy VII isn’t nearly as universally loved as it once was. Never before has a game’s legacy and reputation seen such a tug-of-war. Where its graphics were once praised as revolutionary, people now say the “Popeye-people” models are ugly. Where its music was once celebrated to no end, fans now say that the soundtrack is loaded with filler they prefer to skip over on playlists. Its story is a rip-off of lesser known anime, Chocobo breeding it a huge waste of time, and most damning of all, Materia isn’t nearly as deep as you thought it was!

I’m hardly innocent in this evolving view of Final Fantasy VII. I go back to it every once in a while, and like a favorite book or movie, I find my feelings change each time I play. The last time I dove into it, it must have been three years ago, I remember not liking it that much. This was at a time when I was only looking for two things in an RPG: either sweet 16-bit retro graphics (that classic Dragon Quest/early Final Fantasy feel) or the ability to break a game’s mechanics wide open. Naturally, Final Fantasy VII doesn’t have 16-bit graphics, and breaking the RPG mechanics is surprisingly hard because there is hardly enough substance there to break.

Final Attack + Phoenix… Knights of the Round. Great… Did I master the game? Does that make me good?

The localization too really leaves a lot to be desired since it leaves out a good many story details. I went pouring over the Wikipedia page recently while getting ready to play this weekend, brushing up on the plot, and I couldn’t remember half of this stuff being in the game. The clones, the reunion, the Jenova specimen mutating into Sephiroth, the Nibelhiem coverup. I mean, I saw the scenes unfold before my eyes countless times, but events were not explained in proper English, I guess.

Or, I was just twelve years old when I first played, and I couldn’t really grasp it all.

Regardless, Final Fantasy VII has acquired a reputation over the last decade or so as a game that is all flash and low on substance. Some claim that it was merely he graphics that lured in a lot of people and turned the course of video gaming history, and they are not entirely wrong. Of those 10 million who bought a copy, I can guarantee that not even half beat it.

These critics, myself included, also say it is a game that didn’t really deliver anything new on the gameplay front. Super Mario 64 used 3D to recreate how we approach the Mario formula. Metal Gear Solid did as well. Final Fantasy VII used 3D to re-establish everything we already did in Final Fantasy VI with a more modern aesthetic. In fact, it’s even shallower than Final Fantasy VI because characters don’t stand out from one another in combat. Apart from Limit Breaks and the occasional long range weapon, few characters are able to really be unique to the game, becoming nothing more than hollow vessels for your Materia setups.

Only the magic user Aerith, a name I’ve gotten used to finally, is unique among her teammates, but yeah. You can’t really take advantage of that in the end game, can you?

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