It’s funny, you know: many of those that grew up with Final Fantasy VII, or were first introduced to the series on the Playstation with Cloud and his partners from AVALANCHE, never understood why the 16-bit predecessor Final Fantasy VI was a big deal. After all, where were the computer graphic cut scenes, or the detailed 32-bit backgrounds, presented in a somewhat isometric style? The SNES didn’t have the same horsepower, and due to heavy marketing by Squaresoft that showed off the then-impressive cut scenes involving Cloud, Aeris and the villainous Sepiroth, the game was a hit “" the biggest Final Fantasy success at that point as well as the biggest since. It was hard to argue with that, even for the early adopters who knew that FFVI, on the strength of its wonderful narrative, fantastic characterization, its heavy flirting with more open-ended, western styled role-playing games combined with traditional Japanese elements and its steampunk aesthetic, was the superior title, 16-bits or not.
I say that it’s funny, because now that Final Fantasy VII has released on the Playstation Network store, available to play on either your PS3 or your PSP, a new generation of gamers that grew up in the 128-bit era and have already had a taste of HD gaming may wonder why it was such a big deal. Even with the cut scenes, it sports a much more cartoony, sprite-like look to it than the games that followed “" the kind of thing that many jaded gamers would refer to as “kiddie.” If you don’t believe me, check out some of the thoughts around the Internet every time a 3D DS RPG comes out sporting a chibi look. The innovations it brought are not as apparent all these years later for those who are unfamiliar with the game, but have played the titles that were heavily influenced by it.
This is a long-winded way of saying that Final Fantasy VII, for all of its wonderful moments, shows its age when you play it today. That doesn’t make it a bad game though “" it’s still one of the best Final Fantasy titles, even taken out of context, due to a few memorable characters, both good and bad, as well as a well-done, though occasionally convoluted, story. Don’t let its looks fool you, as it’s still one of the best RPG experiences money can buy, more than a decade later. It just may not have that same “wow” factor that it did when you first popped a CD into your PSX last decade, at least for new gamers.
The beautiful soundtrack is still there, as are all of those summons, Limit Breaks, and the Materia system that many fans love. Cloud, Tifa, and all the rest still have intriguing back stories, and unless you religiously play the game each year, going through the quest to experience everything again is worthwhile. There is plenty I have forgotten about in the game that returned to me along with loads of nostalgia, which is a good feeling to have. There’s certainly enough here that those new to the series can also enjoy the story, as long as they are willing to look past the cracks in the game’s once seemingly flawless armor.
But, just like 32-bit generation gamers should have given earlier Final Fantasy titles like IV and VI a chance (then titled II and III), those who never played FFVII should give this a spin, because there’s a fascinating piece of gaming history here for you to experience. No one is asking you to pay upwards of $80-100 on eBay for the game either, since you can now get it for just $10 on PSN.
I’m purposely avoiding a “proper” review for this gem, because I don’t think it needs it. Its history and legacy should sell the game on its own, and that’s coming from one of those crazy people that thinks Final Fantasy VI is the absolute pinnacle of the series. If you have played Final Fantasy VII before and loved it, download it for a nostalgic run through your past. If you have never played it, but enjoy RPGs, then download it, because it is certainly worth your time, especially for just $10. Go see what all the fuss is about, and take on Shinra and Sepiroth.