I think I’ve mentioned it before, but let me clarify. I did not own a Playstation until the mid 2000s, and finally bought a PS2 this year. I was raised a BBS and PC gamer, first with an Atari 400, then an Amiga 500, followed by a Powermac 7100, and culminating with a move to the Windows platform shortly before the launch of the Everquest beta. In fact, aside from the family NES, the first new console I owned was an Xbox, in 2002.
Along with a desire to dedicate time towards revisiting classics and old favorites, this lack of experience with what many would consider to be the glory days of the console has played a significant role in shaping the roster that would become my 2008 play list.
Along with the Metal Gear Solid games, a series that I’ll be taking up shortly, one of the key entries in my pile of shame (I’ve been collecting the games for the play list for some time now) was Final Fantasy VII.
I did experience a bit of Final Fantasy VII back in 1997. There was what came to be a communal Playstation at a friend’s house, and through that year and the next I either watched or played through maybe 8-10 hours of the game, was familiar with most of the summons, and knew bits of the story. Still, I’d never sat down and actually played the game (or most of the other games in the series, for that matter, as the only two I’d played through until recently were the original Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy X), and as such, I don’t have the intense familiarity and nostalgia with the Square Enix juggernaut that many gamers do.
Thanks to custom firmware and a couple of handy applications, I was able to rip my copy of Final Fantasy VII and play on the PSP, the four inch screen giving the graphics less of a dated feel. While the game does have moments where you are forced to navigate off in the background, rendering Cloud as a diminutive heap of pixels in the distance, overall the game felt at home on the portable, and ran without a hitch.
Total time from the main theme to finale was nearly 40 hours, and that was with minimal attention given to ancillary objectives such as Chocobo collecting, Fort Condor battles, or the various Gold Saucer challenges. Of the secret characters, I welcomed Vincent into the party but managed to tell off Yuffie, causing her to run off into the forest, never to be seen again.
I had wondered how the story and would hold up after these years and without nostalgia to bolster it, and was left pleasantly surprised. Sure, Final Fantasy VII has its over the top moments and bouts of melodramatic silliness (it wouldn’t be a JRPG without ’em), but the chord of solid (and serious) storytelling held true throughout. While Aeris’ death â€” one of the most talked about moments in gaming history â€” was in no way a surprise, it was still affecting, and I felt for Cloud (er, driph), Barret, Tifa, Red XIII, and the rest of the cast, hoping that things would go well for them as their journeys progressed. Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack, backed by solid pacing and extraordinary cinematography, was effective and moving, and now that I’m able to connect the sounds with the moments I understand the emotional attachment many have to tracks such as “Aeris’ Theme” and “One-Winged Angel.”
My quibbles with the game are few. Mini-games, of which there were plenty, were a diversion at best and tedious at worst, although some, like the Fort Condor battles, were surprisingly sophisticated for playing such a minor role in the presentation. The random battles were bothersome but not gamebreakers, although I will admit to some tense (and impatient) moments running from point A to point B, cringing as the battle theme suddenly spooled up and the screen swirled. Finding just where to step was aggravating at times, the optional cue points an absolute necessity, although a healthy chunk of the blame can be attributed to playing the game on a screen it was never intended for.
So what’s next? Well, I’m already an hour into and enjoying the fan-service-heavy Crisis Core, to be followed by an evening spent with Final Fantasy VII Advent Children, Square Enix’ 2005 followup film. I’m even considering a run through the much-maligned Dirge of Cerberus, although I have a feeling I’ll have reached my fill of VII by that point. For now, I’m hooked, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a fanboy, I am a fan.
I’m still utterly baffled by the exorbitant prices the discs fetch on ebay, though. 9.5 million copies of the game were sold, people! 9.5 million!
Final Grade: A