20 Years Later: Final Fantasy VII
Today, I would be hard pressed to play RPGs. I would attribute that to simply lack of time more than anything else. The average role playing game back in the day clocks in at around 40 hours a week. That’s a full time job commitment and as a kid though, you have all the time in the world. You can squeeze in about half an hour during weeknights after homework and then have the whole weekend to play. You become an adult and responsibilities happen: bills, careers, families. Adulting is some damn bullshit, ain’t it?
On September 7th 1997, my life was changed forever. Final Fantasy VII wouldn’t be the first RPG I have played. Just over that summer, I was immersed into Chrono Trigger and that was what turned me onto the genre. As ground-breaking and memorable as that game is, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
My first glimpse into the future doesn’t begin on September 7th, however. It starts just months before release date. My mom had a friend whose house I would go to every so often and it just so happen that her son was also heavy into video games. Whenever I went over there, I would sit in front of the TV with him for hours on end and play just about any video game I can get my hands on because this guy had every system at his disposal. He was an older cat and was a gaming geek to the core. Like I’m talking about he was able to import games from Japan and somehow play them on his systems here in the states. Because of this, he was able to put me onto games months before they were ever released here or not at all. Of course one of those games was Final Fantasy VII.
The caveat though? It was just the demo. Mind you, this isn’t like gaming today where you can download a demo to the hard drive from the convenience of your console and play it later. To be ahead of the pack back in the day, you had to either have subscriptions to magazines that provided demos or you got to have the joog.
If you read my video game list on this here OPUS, you would notice how I mentioned about Metal Gear Solid changing demos, but I may have to take back that statement. The VII demo is legendary to me simply because I had the chance to play this game before it was released to the public. It was as perfect as 15 minutes can get. You get the cyber punk feel that was prevalent in the 90s thanks to movies such as Blade Runner, Akira, and Ghost in the Shell. The full motion video intro to the demo that would be in the video game is ingrained into my memory bank forever: what looks to be the stars in space initially is Materia lights as Aeris looks on and begins to walk the city streets as the camera zooms out so you can see the city of Midgar. The logo hits the screen and the camera zooms into another section of the city as Cloud and the rest of the AVALANCHE squad emerge from the train to begin its assault on Reactor 1 in Sector 7.
I couldn’t wait to brag to the homies about what I played the following Monday at school. I made sure to not even ask my mom for anything for the next few months until the game dropped. And when it released, that weekend I locked myself in my room and didn’t bother to go outside and play. Couldn’t get any more authentic than that and being it was a 3 disc game, I made sure I got the most out of my first experience with VII.
I said it before and I have to reiterate my point again for those in the back seats: this video game is absolute perfection to me. Pure bliss. The graphics for its time was ground-breaking, with its Pre rendered backgrounds and 3D characters. It was the first for the genre and is a big reason why the game was multiple discs. The city of Midgar felt enormous and the experience of playing in a city like that to this day still hasn’t been replicated in any video game. Once you step foot outside, you see that Midgar is a small piece to the “Planet” as a whole (or Gaia as I have recently learned the world is retroactively referred as). VII was the first Final Fantasy installment to have a modern day setting and it instantly becomes relatable to the gamers.
The term “Active Time Battle” is prehistoric today and for many that are reading this, probably have no clue what that means. This was used to describe the play of RPG’s back then. In layman's terms, your squad and the enemy would take turns inputting actions in order to gain victory. I know, it sounds nerdy as fuck and it’s why the games have mixed feelings. You have to be patient but for those who love it, FFVII is perhaps the pinnacle of RPG battling. This is in part due to the “Materia” system in which enables the characters to cast spells. From gaining battle experience, you can not only make the character stronger, but the materia stronger, allowing countless strategies you can put forth when you battle enemies. This is as much as I can give you before I start to geek out and you lose interest so I’ll stop it here.
Any buff of the genre will tell you that if the battle system is the meat, it’s characters and storyline is the skeleton for these games. I always make a mention that playing RPGs are the reason I am invested in a movie or show’s storyline and dialogue. The characters found in FFVII are iconic and is why the game has a permanent place on my Mt Rushmore. Very few if any main character in video game history are as complex as Cloud Strife and his story arc is amazing to witness. Even the supporting cast got depth to them: Barret Wallace was a coal miner in his hometown before being outcasted and this became the driving force for him to start AVALANCHE. Tifa Lockhart is Cloud’s childhood friend whose relationship with him can be best compared to Issa and Lawrence on Insecure. Aeris Gainsborough is a free spirit from the slums that changes Cloud’s outlook on life forever and is also one of the last of the “Ancients”: an ancient race with powerful magic capabilities, whom the Shinra Corporation is hunting for to exploit her. All of these characters are linked to the villain Sephiroth and over the course of the game, themes of life, death, and redemption are woven into the storyline as the cast sets to stop Sephiroth from destroying the planet.
It’s been 20 years since this game has dropped and has moved an entire generation. All those youtube videos you see of otakus crying tears from the video to the Final Fantasy VII remake are as real as it gets: that’s the kind of impact it had back in 1997. I know just about everything about this game and there is no logical reason as to why I should even play the remake when Square Enix finally drops it. But I’ll find a way from my schedule to feel like a kid again. Who knows? We may get a big reveal since its the 20th anniversary so stay tuned to that. Shout out to Yoshinori Kitase for creating a masterpiece and my favorite video game of all time.
“I don’t care what it is. If it’s Square, take my money.” - A Wise Twitter nigga