I remember being rather curious about Final Fantasy VII: I was quite young at the time it was released, and had just purchased my first large, grey PlayStation. I knew next to nothing about the Final Fantasy series, the reason I was curious was the strange large block-shaped box that the game came in – not like the other PlayStation games at all. As well as this, the cover of the game was pretty dull looking, just the name and a strange green meteor type thing and it was soon after that that I decided that I should find out about this game; find out why it had a bulky box, why it had the boring cover, and why it was Number 1 in the game charts for such a long time.

It was common knowledge at the time of its release that Square’s Final Fantasy VII was a ‘revolutionary’ and ‘awe inspiring’ RPG that was a must-have for any self respecting gamer. I found out that the same simple design found on the cover had been used for all the other previous Final Fantasy games, and was a logo for the series. I also discovered that the bulky box was necessary in order to house its 3 discs. Yes, 3 discs!

Starting Final Fantasy VII up for the first time is, as when starting up any Final Fantasy game, a very exciting experience – I still remember hearing the eerily good and unique jingle that we’re all used to being played out to me for the first time.

I soon discovered that the “X” button on my PlayStation controller, the button I was used to being the “action button”, but in Final Fantasy VII I needed to use the “O” button instead. The “O” button and 3 discs?! Already a pretty unique game.

Needless to say, I was soon captured by the brilliance that is Final Fantasy VII (would I really be writing this review for this site if I didn’t?).

You start off in control of a seemingly rebellious young man named Cloud. He has big, yellow spiky hair and a very anime look about him – not your everyday character at all – at least at the time of its release. Not long after playing, I encountered my first battle. I was simply walking along, minding my own business, merely trying to get from point “A” to point “B”, and the screen started swirling and the music changed – I was being accosted by three robot type things!

I quickly jabbed at the “X” button again, forgetting that was not the action key I was so accustomed to. This didn’t really matter as the games battle sequences are turn based. I had the Wait option turned on, so I was nice and safe pressing an irrelevant button. Once I was calm and composed, I read my options, and attacked my enemy. The idea of having HP (health points) and MP (magic points) was very interesting, as was the EXP (experience points) gained from winning the battle.

I was intrigued by the different party members. This is one of the best qualities of the game. Being able to change party members, being able to equip different weapons and Materia to my colleagues was a very enjoyable thing. It made you feel like you were actually there, immersed in the game. Not at all like the reality, being in another, made-up planet, with a plastic pad in your hand, moving 2-dimensional people around your television.

After several enjoyable hours playing, wandering contentedly around the city of Midgar, I was wondering when would be the time that I’d need to insert disc 2. Surely it would be soon.

But it wasn’t. In fact, I had only just uncovered the surface of the game, which really starts when you first find yourself on the World Map. The place I had assumed was my home for the next 2 discs was in fact just one town in an entire world.

The story line is quite broad. Basically, Cloud, and his employees, the AVALANCHE group (led by Barrett Wallace) are on a mission to save the planet. Oh, is that all, I hear you say. Well, yes, it is all. But where we’re used to “saving the planet” being shooting a few baddies or picking up golden stars (or coins, whatever), you actually feel like you’re actions are having an affect. Hey, you just need to look into the sky; who’s not going to want to remove that ugly purple thing from the sky?

But it’s the characters that make the story so enjoyable, and this is probably because you gain party members along your journey. You’re not stuck with the same ones for the entire time (ahem, Final Fantasy 10-2) and your characters relationships and personalities develop before your eyes as you progress through the game. These characters range from those you have at the beginning of the game, like Cloud, the cocky, yellow haired, ex-SOLDIER play-boy; Barrett, the burley black guy with an attitude; Tifa, the attractive and feisty bar-maid/political rebel; Aeris, the cutsie flower seller who just happens to be one of the most important people in the world, and part-time love interest of Cloud. Then we have Red XIII, the ‘dog’ type beast who’s intelligence far surpasses that of the other characters; Cid, the crazy pilot; Yuffie the Materia-thieving 16 year old ninja-girl; Vincent the vampire, and save the best ’til last: Cait Sith, the extraordinary megaphone-playing cat, who’s mode of transport is an over-sized, magically animated stuffed Mog. Hey, only in a Final Fantasy game, eh?

All these characters combined help make the game lively and anything but linear; sure it’s not an entirely open-ended game, but you just want to keep continuing with the story because each little bit is so much fun!

Then we have our baddie, Sephiroth. He is a former SOLDIER and was a kind of mentor to Cloud. He also happens to be arguably the best bad-guy of any game. He has the look (silver hair, black clothes, big, big sword), he has a troubling and mysterious history (not just a ‘rebel without a cause’ type), and he most certainly has the attitude.

In my honest opinion there have been very few characters in any Final Fantasy game to rival the characters in VII. Cloud is probably my favourite main character from the Final Fantasy series, though I enjoyed Yuna from Final Fantasy 10-2, and am fond of Final Fantasy IV’s Cecil (shame about the name, though, eh?).

All this sitting in Final Fantasy VII’s favour, and I have only barely mentioned its graphics. They’re incredible. The anime style character design is generally exceptional; all the characters are clearly defined and even with its static background (on most parts of the game) the appearance remains undiminished.

The battles boasted probably the best graphical displays, all characters and enemies are animated, and each attack is uniquely different. The summon Materia is exceptional for a PSOne game. There’s a few of the summons here that we’re all very familiar with: Shiva, Ifrit, Ramuh, Leviathan and Odin to name just a few, and when used, the player is rewarded with a stunning graphical sequence, as well as a hefty chunk of the enemies HP being reduced.

The FMVs in the game are, or were, brilliant. With today’s PlayStation 2, X-box and GameCube, we’re used to slightly more impressive graphics, but back on the old PlayStation they were special, even unsurpassed.

The music was, as it is always in any Final Fantasy game, excellent. You will remember the little tunes for a long time after completing the game.

Personally, I find the same battle music slightly tedious after a while, but it certainly is atmospheric.

The materia (magic), the summons, the mini-games (oh, the merry hours wasted in the Gold Saucer) and chocobos, along with frankly everything else, made this game totally unique and unrivalled as the best game out there in my eyes.

It is unique, even against the incredible series in which it is a part. It stands out as one of, if not the best Final Fantasy – it has everything you can imagine.

So all I have left to say is that Final Fantasy VII earns a very deserving 9.5 out of 10.

by Alex Sains.

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