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Final Fantasy VII: Why it's an unbeatable RPG

A look back at Square Enix's finest fantasy...

About halfway through Final Fantasy VII's first disc you find yourself entering a squat thrust competition with a wrestler.

Why? Because he has a wig that you need to dress up as a girl and infiltrate a brothel, and he'll only part with it if you prove you're fitter than him.

Now, imagine playing this for the first time back in 1997. Up until then your only experience of role-playing games had been swinging a broadsword at a haunted tree - and now, suddenly, you're trying to out-squat a man in his underwear to win a powdered wig.

People remember FFVII for its enchanting story, endearing characters and vast, open world, but our foremost memory will always be dressing Cloud up as a prostitute to sneak into a knocking shop.

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It was Squaresoft's curious sense of humour and love of the absurd that made it so appealing. Gamers jaded by the humourless Tolkien-inspired fantasy worlds that dominated the genre immediately fell in love with the near-future steampunk setting and Tetsuya Nomura's striking character designs. But beyond its JPRG peculiarities lay a game with incredible depth and variety that you could play for a hundred hours and never get bored of.

It was a masterclass in narrative and pacing, with a story that people still excitedly discuss and debate to this day. The basic premise is that you, a mercenary hired by eco-terrorists, are fighting against a mega-corporation making its money from sucking the life out of the planet and converting it to electricity.

But there are so many different sub-plots and side-quests that it's impossible to provide any kind of meaningful synopsis. It's a game about a lot of things, but primarily the nine people that comprise your party. And one in particular.

Everyone remembers the moment it happened. With a sudden, cruel flash of steel the game's sweetest, most vulnerable character was no more. And you'd only managed to upgrade her Limit Break to level 2. It's a bold game that kills off one of the story's most important characters, but a bolder one that strips your party of its main healer a quarter of the way through.

Aeris' death made some people cry, it made some people angry, some were glad to be rid of her, some swore vengeance on her killer, Sephiroth. But it really doesn't matter how it made you feel - the important thing is that it made you feel something. And then the screen fades to black: 'Please insert disc 2'.

BATTLE STATIONS
But when they weren't toying with your emotions like a cat batting a mouse around in its paws, the developers were getting you into amazing fights with screen-devouring dragons and, occasionally, small dancing cacti.

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With every new FF comes a convoluted new combat system, but we haven't enjoyed any of them nearly as much as VII's. Its Materia system saw you slotting coloured orbs together to create different effects - for example, combining a blue All Materia with a red Fire Materia let you cast a fire spell on every enemy on the screen at once.

That's the simplest example, but it was extremely customisable and, with a bit of imagination, you could create complex chains of Materia with dozens of different effects.

You could also summon monsters, which at the time provided some of the flashiest visuals available a home console. They may have taken an entire minute to sit through - and in some boss battles you'd cast them ten or twenty times - but we didn't care.

One summon in particular, Sephiroth's Supernova, cast during the final battle, took three minutes to complete and saw a meteor tearing through every planet in the solar system before crashing down violently on top of your party.

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