Remembering the Classics: Final Fantasy VII

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When I first began this column way back in April 2013, I knew that eventually I would write a post about my all-time favorite game. I wasn’t exactly in a rush to do it, to be honest. The entire purpose of this column is to connect the game/series/franchise in focus to a bit of news that connects with it. Fortunately I’ve been able to follow this method on a weekly basis ever since and have never needed to write something up for the sake of content. This meant that I’ve had my personal top game on the back burner since the beginning, willing to dish it out if necessary but ideally keeping it back until it’s actually relevant. The ideal situation was a guarantee too, because if there’s one game that will never leave the public consciousness, it’s Final Fantasy VII.

Sure enough, here we are, hot on the heels of Sony’s big E3 announcement that yes, a complete Final Fantasy VII remake is coming. It’s incredibly surreal that this is even a reality. Over the past several years while Square Enix has remade other Final Fantasy games countless times, FF VII (and the other PlayStation hits FF VIII and FF IX) were regularly passed over. FF VII especially was in demand, but it was declared too massive for effort, along with Square Enix stating they wouldn’t make it again unless they could top it in quality. People were even told to just give up on the prospect and accept that it would never happen. Fans refused, however, and now their patience is paying off in a big way. The footage shown at E3 looked incredible, proving that this massive undertaking is being faced with supreme confidence. That’s only fitting, really. FF VII is a legendary title and deserves nothing less than the best.

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When FF VII first came way back in 1997, it marked a significant turning point for both the franchise and its genre. Prior to this game’s release, Japanese role-playing games weren’t very popular internationally. For Final Fantasy in particular, only FF I, FF IV, and FF VI received the global treatment, and even then the last two came over as FF II and FF III. The real second, third, and fifth entries were simply kept within borders. This was also the time when the industry was making a major leap into 3D environments. FF VI looked gorgeous on the Super Nintendo, but was naturally limited by its cartridge space and system design. The PlayStation and its use of CD-ROM was unparalleled, so Square really wanted their next game to make a huge splash across all markets. Stunningly gorgeous CGI cutscenes that were never seen before was a great first step.

A lot of content changes came with this technological evolution as well. The first five Final Fantasy games all featured medieval settings with castles, knights, kings, etc. The sixth entry was definitely more modern but still contained some of these elements. FF VII completely threw all of this out. Instead of a castle ruled by an evil overlord, we got Midgar, a sprawling city divided into economic sectors and ruled by the mega-corporation Shinra. Main character Cloud and his allies weren’t knights or wizards. They were simply a group of normal beings (well, normal by franchise standards. Looking at you Red XIII and Cait Sith) connected by their mutual desire to save the world. We’re even first introduced to them as Cloud joins eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE, lead by Barrett who has machine gun for a hand, in an attempt to blow up a major Midgar reactor.

Naturally all the player controlled characters are thrust on a journey where the entire world hangs in the balance. The story unfolds like a dramatic epic. Cloud is introduced as a cocksure former member of the elite fighting group SOLDIER who believes he can handle things on his own. As he seeks answers for how his former idol Sephiroth has returned from the dead, he learns the horrific truth of his past. Everything he believed was a lie, fabrications brought upon by experimentation with alien cells that made him Sephiroth’s genetic clone. His literal self-discovery is surrounded by other characters who have their own burdens to overcome. The overall story is one filled with humor and tragedy. At one point, you go on a date at the Gold Saucer, a massive amusement park that you can spend hours in. At another, you watch one of your closest friends get brutally impaled by the main antagonist’s sword. Yeah, this game gets heavy. A good amount of characters die, or have died, in devastating ways.

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All of this is what made FF VII such a huge success. Final Fantasy characters had never come to life in such a manner before, and it made the emotional beats resonate even further. Combine that with a stellar score by Nobuo Uematsu and you have atruly memorable experience on your hands. The full weight of major events is never lost on the player too. When Cloud learns the truth about his history, a twist reveal that is perfectly delivered, you feel a profound relief that this broken man has finally become whole. The same can be said as each character overcomes their obstacles. You truly want this group to succeed no matter what their background is, and that makes all the difference. Plus, FF VII showed that a JRPG really can juggle both modern and fantastical elements in a perfectly believable fashion.

Of course, FF VII isn’t everyone’s favorite game. To many it’s not even the best Final Fantasy out there. What makes this title stand out from the rest for me is the impact it had both on my gaming history and personal relationships. My memory is a little fuzzy on what my actual first Final Fantasy experience was, but I do know that FF VII was the one to turn me into a super fan. I’ll never forget the day my cousin recommended it to me because it turned me on to what a great JRPG can offer. An epic story, heavily strategic gameplay, and the idea of fighting against an insurmountable obstacle. The latter is especially notable as your protagonists have to find a way to stop a supernatural meteor from decimating Gaia, their world.

Despite how amazing the game is, it’s my personal connection to it that has firmly placed FF VII at the top of my gaming list. My cousin recommended this game to two of my brothers as well, and we three jumped into the experience as a team. We were together when we saw Cloud hop off that train to start the story. Strategy guides weren’t exactly prevalent with us, along with still having dial up internet, so all the twists and turns were complete surprises. Sephiroth killing Aeris shocked us to the core. Summons like Bahamut Zero and Knights of the Round were missed because we had no idea they existed. Sephiroth was presented as such an unstoppable force, it was an event for us when my older brother decided to be the first to take him on. He ultimately lost due to a freakish turn of events, and to this day I remember it clear as a bell. We really did turn a single player game into a group experience.

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As for me, I would always reset the moment I reached the North Crater. Sephiroth intimidated me so much, I never believed I could actually stop him. It took several playthroughs before I even attempted the battle, successfully I might add. To be honest though, I think a part of me also didn’t want the story to end. The journey, not the destination, was what I loved, and I still enjoy it 18 years later.

Whenever the FF VII remake comes, which ideally will be within a few years since it’s planned for the PlayStation 4, Square Enix must deliver with flying colors. This is a game that people have wanted for years. The fact that Square Enix is even doing an overhaul of this scale is insane. Seriously, the amount of man hours that will go into this is bound to be staggering. It’s very likely that expectations are already unreasonably high. But if they can give us the game of peoples dreams, the FF VII remake will be a monumental moment. It will prove that a game nearly two decades old can get brought to the modern age with a total overhaul. It may even prompt Square Enix to attempt this for FF VIII and FF IX too. One step at a time though. We need to get through this one first, and I cannot wait for it.

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Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.
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