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Review by: David Laprad
Published: July 9, 1998
I can uphold this burden no longer. I must confess to sitting here, blinking at the screen and fighting sleep after a marathon gaming session of epic proportions. It has been ages since a game has gripped me in this manner, and I have been reminded of the reasons for devoting so much of life to this splendid pastime. However, this game, which was brought to life on the PlayStation, has been fraught with difficulties, and although it is a true classic, there are a number of peculiar deficiencies. The combination of its brilliant, content-rich design and frustrating technical aberrations has made this a notable PC title, and the en vogue topic of discussion in gaming forums.
The series has had a long, robust life, and taught its creators, Square Soft of Japan, the definition of financial success. More than 5 million copies of the PlayStation version have been sold, and the PC port will add to that number. The artistic vision has been consistent throughout, and as the technical specifications increased, so did the ambition of the design. Although the series altered its focus from title to title, sometimes concentrating on the adventuring, other times emphasizing the battles, this seventh incarnation can be seen as a consummate blending of all elements. It is a perfect amalgam of character development, plot threading, and hard-core battles, as well as an elaborate quest well-worth commencing — if you can get it to work.
Final Fantasy VII features a far-reaching narrative, though initiates need not concern themselves with the events of prior titles. There is no continuance; the plot thread begins the moment the camera pulls back from a beautiful and pure Aeris Gainsborough to reveal an immense, futuristic metropolis. Within moments, you are fighting as Cloud Strife, an ex-SOLDIER and warrior-for-hire who has joined the underground resistance movement AVALANCHE. Although Cloud’s motivations are unclear, the group is aiming to detonate a Mako reactor operated by mega-conglomerate Shinra, Inc., a foul corporation that is draining the lifeblood of the planet and compressing it into materia, the stuff of magic. Shinra governs Midgar, the teeming urban center of the opening shot, with the iron fist of SOLDIER.
The title undergoes a remarkable number of twists, turns, and heart-wrenching surprises, and gamers will have no trouble losing themselves in the grand, operatic fable. Despite the child-like appearance of the characters, a distinguishing attribute of Japanese games, the themes that flow through the narrative are mature. Prostitution, rape, deception, greed, and baneful corruption permeate the plot, and suffuse the game with powerful dramatic tension. The narrative is, at heart, a science fiction-tinged dream that raises manifold questions. Although the flower girl Aeris is a portrait of innocence, what about her tragic past? What is the significance of the ambiguous flashbacks and bewildering amnesia Cloud experiences? Plus, what frightful dangers motivate the conduct of Shinra? The answers are not simple, and propel the game forward with rigorous purpose. The ultimate goal is to defeat a fierce warrior named Sepiroth, who is rumored to be dead, but manages to prove the gossip false. While the flashbacks and dialogue can become tiresome, this is a well-scripted plot, and I admire the scope and attention to detail.
The game world challenges the narrative for sheer magnitude. I spent ten hours alone in Midgar before moving on, and that is just the first, infinitesimal hump. There is an enormous world to explore, brimming with hidden goodies and curiosities. The game is stocked with detailed towns bustling with action and movement, and full of engaging characters. A large number of environments saturate the game, and extensive exploration is critical to finding all the items needed to defeat the fearsome adversaries. This confers a deep sense of adventure, requires persistence, and offers the pleasure of discovering something remarkable. It is unfortunate the sumptuous backdrops, which appear to have been stretched, have lost some of their shine in the conversion to the PC. At times, the combination of the blurred background graphics and erratic surfaces make navigation a chore.
Complementing the well-scripted plot is a balanced set of ten characters. You can have up to three characters in the group at one time, though depending on your approach, not all of them can be befriended. Most of the characters shoulder the burden of a troublesome past, and the interaction between them is one of the high points of the game. Emotions run the gamut from unrequited love to mistrust, and I cherished watching the characters interact, grow, and learn about each other. Even better, I was an integral part of the process. Incredible, magical power rests within these people, and there is something alluring about shaping their virtual lives. Plus, modeling the group and experimenting with the innumerable combinations of magic gives the game significant replay value. The sole missteps are the well-documented, and inexplicable, street slang of Barret, which is painful to read, and the sometimes awkward language translations. A little re-scripting was called for to polish the dialogue, though I guess this is one of those nostalgic qualities — a diplomatic manner of describing a blunder — that gives the series character.
Cloud is a near-constant in the group; thus, he is well-balanced. He has vigorous attack and spellcasting skills, and a good amount of health and magic points. Barret Wallace, another of the starting characters, leads AVALANCHE, and has solid attack strength. He is a good partner for Cloud during the initial encounters, but becomes defunct as more powerful characters are introduced. You also begin the game with Tifa, another fighter who can also cast an effective spell. As you progress, you will unite with other characters, all of whom have unique strengths and weaknesses. A solid group consists of Cloud, a good spellcaster, and a strong fighter. I admit to being partial to Aeris, a peerless spellcaster, and Red XIII, a solid close-range fighter with enough health points to be placed in the front of the group during battle. Square Soft lightens things up with Cait Sith, a feline character who rides on a huge, stuffed Mog. He is weak in all areas, but has the dopiest attacks. There are also secret, hard-to-find characters, including Yuffie Kasagiri, who is one of the most potent fighters in the game.
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