15
Jun
09

The Big Final Fantasy VII Post

One of my summer goals with this blog was to finally play several of the Final Fantasy games. I finished FFVII recently, finding that it coincided with the gameFAQs best game ever contest rather nicely. I’ve dabbled with FFVII in the past, but never played it all the way through until recently. While playing, I was absolutely STUNNED at how overrated this game is.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. I have to acknowledge the impact and influence of Final Fantasy VII. Yes, it helped bring a JRPG market to North America and I’m sure it helped Playstation sales too. However, if we’re acknowledging the influence and lasting appeal of this game, then we also have to observe it with a modern eye and see how it holds up. Today we’ll be tackling gameplay and technical stuff. I imagine next post we’ll be tackling the story. We will be using another game from Squaresoft as a counterpoint, to show that I’m not just a hater… and to help show why I dislike so much of FFVII.

Around the middle of disc one, I was ready to say this game had pretty good RPG gameplay. As I played on though, I started to notice several things that bugged me.

1) There is no challenge to it. Now, some might argue that there’s no challenge to any RPG. If you level grind enough, you can make it through anything. I didn’t level grind though, and I breezed through this game. I don’t demand all my RPGs to have bosses that require four solid hours of killing the same monster over and over beforehand, but none of them even slowed me down. There’s nothing clever to the combat either… you can win all the fights doing roughly the same thing. The depth of the strategy only goes as far as “oh shit, fire heals him, better not use fire”.

This might sound like a challenge gamer type complaint, but look… the fans of this series DESPERATELY mine this game for challenge. You need look no further than all the speed runs, no materia runs, and low level runs to realize that.

– Chrono Trigger uses a similar active time battle system, but has dual and triple techs that require several characters to be “ready” at the same time, lending a small but interesting level of tactics to each battle. Trigger also makes much better use of area of effect spells. Also, many of the battles can be avoided if you’re so inclined. There are no random battles.

2) The boss battles range from uninspired to uninteresting. When I realized the game was going to make me fight several differently coloured JENOVA bosses, I really started to get annoyed. Palette swaps are a common way of not coming up with new enemies in an rpg, but you really shouldn’t be palette swapping boss battles. They all came off as very samey, and once again they lacked any strategy whatsoever.

– Chrono Trigger has been criticized for being too easy, I’m pretty sure it had some palette swapped monsters too, but at LEAST it had interesting and memorable boss battles throughout. The dragon tank, the robot guardian, and zombor all kick the shit out of the FFVII boss battles.

3) The materia system is lame. It allows for a great amount of character customization, but because of the way that customization works, it removes all the personality from the characters, and the strategy from building them. All I did for the first half of the game was fill as many materia slots as possible to rank up my materia, and later on I mixed and matched ’em according to whomever was in my party. Each character became less of a character and more of a magic holder that each has different limit breaks.

– Chrono Trigger has the typical “give each person an element” magic system, but it makes each character feel more unique. It makes SENSE that the nerdy girl would throw little bombs and use a hypnotic wave gizmo. She can’t trade magic rocks with the cave woman from 65 000 000 BC to give her the gift of fire.

4) The mini games are atrociously bad… and often mandatory. They crop up at strange sections in the game where all of sudden FFVII feels like stringing together a series of short and gimmicky mini games that give out a mostly useless reward. I’m thinking of the marching, the dolphin jumping, the submarine scene, the chocobo races… they were all poorly justified within the story or just poorly executed.

– Chrono has a few mini games. Some hold up better than others. The race across the junkyard is kind of weak, but at least it made sense within the story. The rest of the mini games that I can remember are all optional. There is one that many players should do, but it’s technically optional… if you get my drift.

5) The battles are slower than should be allowed. The unskippable summon animations are irritating of course, but I’m not just talking about those. At times, the battle slows to a crawl as the game camera zooms around to show whatever it feels like showing. At other times, the battle moves along at a decent (but still slow) pace. Often, you will queue up all three party attacks and not even know what order they will come out in. Initiative is completely unclear. Sometimes you’ll set all your party attacks, only to find the enemy pummel you several times in a row. It would be nice if there was some way of knowing the order of attacks, or at the very least move the battle along at a good pace so that it doesn’t matter quite so much.

– Chrono Trigger moves along at a nice clip, but still has extravagant magic animations for the big attacks and spells. Some of the triple techs never get old.

6) The game looks like shit. Even the fans HAVE to admit this. The cut scenes look fine… the environments are pretty… the battles look a little worse…  and the character models in the in game graphics look HORRENDOUS. Easily some of the worst graphics in the history of the Playstation. Easily. It seems Square made some type of technical tradeoff with several aspects of the graphics, and it totally doesn’t hold up… and it didn’t hold up at the time either, if you look at similar titles of the same year.

– Chrono Trigger came out two years before and it still looks sexy because it didn’t sacrifice some aspects of the graphics in order to allow for others to shine. The developers obviously wanted the whole game to look nice, and not just parts of it.

In Thursday’s post, I’m going to talk about the most praised part of FFVII: The story. See you then.

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