So I got involved in the SaGa series recently (yes, I realize what the title of this post is). I’ve really been enjoying it. It’s clear the influence the early games had on RPGs as a whole, and even the later, flubbier games are interesting because they’re always trying to do ambitious things. I’ve played through the three GameBoy games in their entirety, and then I played the first PS2 Game and SNES games (I’m at the final boss of the second one right now). I’ve been doing a shitton of retro gaming lately. (I also scored the original Harvest Moon for SNES for a steal at a local shop and am v v excited to dive into that next.)
All of this is to say that despite how nearly unplayable a lot of old games are, I enjoy them quite a bit (even when I give up on the stupidly hard final bosses like I’m afraid is going to happen with Romancing SaGa 2…), and I think I’m pretty good at keeping them in perspective and seeing them within the context of their original release instead of judging outdated mechanics by modern standards.
So why the fuck can’t I get through Final Fantasy VII?
To be clear, the problem I’m having with FFVII isn’t that I don’t like it. It’s that it’s like being roofied. I’ll start playing it, slowly get bored, go do something else, and then a month and 3 other games later remember that I had started FFVII and never gotten more than an hour in. I have attempted to play this game four times across three different platforms and each time I got about an hour in before just… stopping. Not on purpose. Not because I strongly disliked it. Just totally unintentionally… phasing out. I know this is repeating my metaphors, but the game is like a goddamn narcoleptic to me and I’ve been struggling to place my finger on why.
I generally approve of FF’s move toward cyberpunk. I like it, in theory. It makes the series different from typical fantasy and lets its have fun with world and character design. It opens up room too, I think, for more pointed commentary on the modern world and, indeed, FFVII opens with the protagonist helping coordinate and plan an ecoterrorist attack, which is veeeeery different from your typical fantasy RPG.
I think the reason the RPG power fantasy tends to fall backward into rote ‘save the world’ plots is, at its heart, because feeling righteous is a good feeling. Saving people is nice. Helping people is great. At its core — independent of all perversions of cultural norms like heteronormativity and patriarchy etc — I think what power fantasies really are is the manifestation of a very human desire to be able to have a palpable, positive effect on the world.
This makes opening with a terrorist bombing interesting and, theoretically, complex. Even if we acknowledge that older games aren’t going to be as concerned with body counts and no one’s going to talk about how the janitor probably didn’t deserve to die to spite EvilCorp, I think there’s a lot of room to look at why people might be driven to this kind of action in an oppressive society, and why the protag was driven to help.
One of the reasons I was struggling to get invested, I think, is that if FFVII comes to this question of “Why are we doing a horrible thing?” it comes far too slowly (or not at all). This leads into the next thing keeping me from getting into it, which is that the game waffles between “silent protag you can project yourself into” and “angry loner with Important Backstory who Doesn’t Care,” and ends up with the worst of both worlds. The guy has too much of his own personality for me to implant my own motivations, but what is there is nonetheless very empty and pretty douchey. He’s not helped by the background characters, who react to carrying out terrorism with the same attitude RPG party members typically have to like, earlygame cave raids — no one is really taking is seriously or thinking beyond their own interests. Which is not super sympathetic when you’re murdering civilians instead of clearing a cave of slimes.
The game then doubles down on this, by having the second sequence be literally identical to the first, forcing you to go through the exact same dungeon a second mind-numbing time to plant another bomb, and it’s in going through Mission 1, Take 2 that I’ve typically found myself drifting off into space because the blank wall has become so much more entertaining than the Switch. I do think I got through the second mission once, but I honestly am not sure, which says enough in and of itself.
But, as is my experience with FF generally, I want so badly to understand this game. This game was (and still is) hugely popular and influential. I assume that a nonzero amount of people here have played it. I’m truly curious to hear some takes. What about this game has resonated with so many people? Is the opening generally regarded as being slow? Was there something about when it was released that might be causing nostalgiavision? This may sound combative, but I don’t intend it to be; I seriously want to hear what non-me people’s experience of this game was. I mean, I didn’t particularly enjoy FF VI, but I at least got through it. I’ve tried so many times to play this game and I literally cannot.
Anyway this isn’t really a review, but you know what’s pretty worth checking out? Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song for the PS2 and Romancing SaGa 2 for the Switch! Every time I turn on my Switch the logo for FFVII stares back at me in judgement as I boot up Romancing SaGa 2.