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A Retrospective on Final Fantasy VII

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The game development company Square — now known as Square Enix — released “Final Fantasy VII” for Sony Playstation in Japan on Jan. 19, 1997. This game is the seventh installment of the famous Final Fantasy role playing game (RPG) series. It was responsible for popularizing the RPG genre in the west, selling over 1 million copies in North America alone.

The game’s plot centers around Cloud Strife, a mercenary who leaves the Shirana company’s army, SOLDIER, to work for Avalanche, an eco-terrorist organization who seeks to fight Shinra for their “Mako” reactors, machines that can suck life energy out of the planet. Strife must work with his friend Tifa and Avalanche leader Barret to expose Shinra corruption. Meanwhile, another SOLDIER member, Sephiroth, shows up despite his perceived death several years prior to the start of the story. He returns wanting to become a god by absorbing life energy from a meteor impact. Cloud and his friends must prevent the meteor from striking and defeat Sephiroth. 

In addition to the game’s main plot, there are also many side diversions that players can pursue. There is, for instance, an arcade in the game known as the “Gold Saucer,” where players can participate in various minigames such as snowboarding or motorcycle-riding. The game also features a sidequest where players can breed and race chocobos, yellow chicken-like birds that serve as one of the franchise’s mascots. As an incentive to complete these sidequests, both the arcade and chocobo racing give players access to powerful items. For instance, “Chocobo Racing” can help the player, as a particularly fast Chocobo will grant the player items like the Cat’s Bell, which heals a character for each step that they take. Likewise, scoring more than 5,000 points in the minigame “Shooting Coaster” may allow the player to obtain a powerful weapon called Flayer.     

The game also has several combat elements that added to its complexity. For instance, the game has a system of special attacks known as “Limit Breaks” that are more powerful than an average attack. These are executed through gradually filling a meter during each character’s turn. When the meter is full, the character can perform his or her Limit Break, which is usually a strong, offense-oriented move. Another combat-related element that lends to the game’s complexity is the Materia system. Materias are crystals that the player can attach to their weapons, allowing them to gain special effects such as casting spells or summoning creatures.       

Final Fantasy VII  was critically acclaimed, garnering praise from gaming blogs such as IGN and Gamespot, which both rated the game a 9.5 out of 10. Both sites noted the game’s graphics, which were better compared to other Playstation games at the time.

One of the main reasons why this game succeeded was because of its marketing. Squaresoft, Square’s North American subsidiary, released multiple commercials for the game, emphasizing its cutscenes and graphics. This stood in stark contrast to the advertisements for the franchises’ previous installments, which did not give a good indication of its graphics or gameplay.

Another reason for the game’s success was its CD format.  Previous installments in the franchise were released for cartridge-based systems like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Because of the ambitious scope of most RPGs, which often feature high amounts of text, lengthy quests and multiple characters, they require more expensive cartridges. Companies frequently passed on these extra costs to consumers, resulting in games like “Final Fantasy II” costing $70 in 1992, while a platformer like Super Mario World was just $50 in 1993. Because of this, the Final Fantasy series was not very successful in America. 

However, since Squaresoft decided to go with Sony’s Playstation, a disc-based system, instead of Nintendo’s cartridge-based Nintendo 64, the game could take advantage of CDs, which were cheaper to manufacture and held more data. As a result, RPGs were more accessible, with a copy of Final Fantasy VII costing only $50 in 1998. This was only 7 dollars more than a discounted copy of Crash Bandicoot in 1996 ($43), a smaller disparity compared to the $20 difference just a few years prior. The CD format also allowed Squaresoft to put many cutscenes in the game, which played a significant role in the game’s marketing campaign. In fact, Square was so confident in the game that they released an ad that insulted Nintendo’s cartridge-based games. Ironically, in 2019, Square Enix released “Final Fantasy VII” on a Nintendo cartridge.    

There’s no doubt that “Final Fantasy VII” revolutionized the RPG genre by introducing it to a new audience. Through many aspects, such as graphics, story and marketing, the game was able to succeed in ways that previous attempts had not.          

Bailey Kanthatham is an Entertainment Contributing Writer. He can be reached at bkanthat@uci.edu.