Final Fantasy VII

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good at keeping them in perspective and seeing them within the context of their original release instead of judging outdated mechanics by modern standards.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.

27 Comments

  1. Roarke says:

    I never finished FF7. I think I lost the second disk or something. Either way, I was too young to really ‘get’ any of it, being less than ten years old (I also failed to beat Ocarina of Time as a child because fuck that game was scary).

    Like you, when I tried to go back and finish the classic as a young adult, I just zoned out and couldn’t progress. I could see why the game became such a classic – its tone and world were so different back then, and it did a lot of cool things to stand out – but there wasn’t much I could see worth holding up 20 years later, the way I’d suggest there is for PS:T.

    A brief list of the things I liked: the opening ecoterrorism (holy shit are we the bad guys!?), the early game taking place in the slums of an extremely unequal society, and Shinra Tower’s immensity. That was one of those things that they surely could only do on the PS1 and had not done so before; the fact that the first instance of it was a megacorp headquarters instead of a demon’s castle feels much more notable to me now. I definitely think the move towards cyberpunk, like you say, is a good idea.

    Speaking of games worth playing on the Switch, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is just fucking delightful. I’ll go to bat for that game any day. It feels, in a way, like the game IntSys had been wanting to make in the decades since that series began. Almost every major mechanic, from the Support/dating sim system to the class/skills system, builds on elements the series had been incorporating for years instead of just rehashing them. And as any work with VN/Dating Sim/Dragon Age relationship meters needs, the characters are really good.

    1. Kestrad says:
      Seconding the recommendation for FE: Three Houses so hard. (Hi, I’m a long time lurker on this site, sorry for crashing your comment!)

      What really made three houses so interesting for me was how it subverts the series’ classic formula. The main characters are divinely blessed as always – characters have major and minor “crests,” a deliberate throwback to the major and minor holy blood in the FE game that directly inspired this one – but instead of a typical chosen ones narrative, the game takes a long, hard look at the social consequences such obvious dividers of status cause.

      The game does have its share of issues. FemC’s outfit is just incomprehensibly stupid, especially considering how most other female characters actually had okay outfits. It’s also annoying that the female leaders are the most controversial ones, though exploring my (complicated) feelings on that topic would be incredibly spoilery and probably best left to someone more eloquent.

      1. Roarke says:

        There’s no better reason to crash a comment.

        FemC’s outfit is just incomprehensibly stupid, especially considering how most other female characters actually had okay outfits.

        Yeah I have no defense for that. Maybe they were trying to force you to buy a DLC with better clothes for her.

        It’s also annoying that the female leaders are the most controversial ones

        Without getting into it too much, I’ll take it as a trade-off of them being the more interesting characters. Also, a lot of the folks who think Edelgard is ‘controversial’ would be kissing her feet if she was a guy.

        1. Kestrad says:
          Also, a lot of the folks who think Edelgard is ‘controversial’ would be kissing her feet if she was a guy.

          Yes! Yes! A hundred times, this. Also, it was really hard not to read Edelgard’s need for control in the context of her being a woman in power and therefore needing to keep an iron grip on everything, lest she be branded hysterical. This context also makes Rhea’s crimson flower post timeskip characterization really disappointing.

        2. Actislazyandwontlogin says:
          Also, a lot of the folks who think Edelgard is ‘controversial’ would be kissing her feet if she was a guy.

          I come from the future to say this is the truest fucking thing ever and Edelgard is the only sane person in Fodlan.

          I can’t help feeling that Western fetishization of religious institutions also plays a role in angry dudes ranting about her being a meanie for wanting freedom and equality.

           

          1. Roarke says:

            It’s always nice to get endorsed by the future.

            I can’t help feeling that Western fetishization of religious institutions also plays a role in angry dudes ranting about her being a meanie for wanting freedom and equality.

            I hadn’t really noticed much from angry dudes beyond personal animus towards Edelgard or even creepier personal identification with Dmitri, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some pro-theocracy attitude there.

            The history of Fodlan and its state at the beginning of the game felt more interesting than the usual Fire Emblem fare, imo. I thought it was great the game kept feeding you little details, like that the church was in an incredible strategic location, or brokered peace after rebellions against the once-unified Empire, without outright saying ‘Rhea has spent a thousand years dividing and weakening humanity to keep her grip on what is essentially a theocracy’ until closer to the end.

            Someone in Edelgard’s position would normally be a straightforward Fire Emblem villain, but I thought her story and the overall narrative of the game did a pretty good job asking, if there’s no such thing as a just war, how long are you supposed to endure an unjust peace? I really wish her route had been longer.

            1. Act says:

              I’ve been thinking about this since way back with the Hunger Games, and I also think part of it is that Americans in particular really struggle with the idea of just war.

              We’ve seen over and over in YA how rebellions keep getting portrayed as at least as bad as the oppressive governments, and I can’t help but think it’s also tied to the messaging around civil rights agitation and how those crazy brown people (or whoever) just need to do things peacefully if they want to stop being murdered in the street! There’s a real fetishization of peaceful solution as the “right” way, (which upholds the status quo for cishet white dudes, because literally no one was ever freed without fighting) that I think is reflecting in the really irrational rejection of what Edelgard stands for. After all, if she’s right that sometimes oppressed people need to cause damage in the short term to create a more just world in the long term, what does that say about the refusal of those same dudes to side with a movement like BLM? I think a lot of them are very invested in seeing her as wrong for some very IRL reasons.

              I also think Americans are very insulated from the idea of just war as just by time. WWII was almost a century ago now, and in the meantime our exposure to war has been, what, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq? Deposing democratically elected leaders in South America and the Middle East? For pretty much everyone left alive, waging war has become synonymous with abuse of power and deception. Add to that that the American Civil War doesn’t even get taught as being about freeing slaves, and what conception of just war and its complexities do people in the US even have?

              Anyway when I write a paper about 3H Edelgard and just war will be the topic.

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            2. CrazyEd says:

              We’ve seen over and over in YA how rebellions keep getting portrayed as at least as bad as the oppressive governments

              It probably doesn’t help that so many of the armed rebellions in living memory and recent history (though, and I stress this for fear of mischaracterzaton, not all) have installed governments that were almost inarguably worse than the oppressive/”oppressive” governments they replaced.

              The American Revolution was not an example of an armed popular front galvanized by The Cause to take to the streets in armed rebellion against the government. It was actually kind of a stand out exception to many of the common characteristics of revolution, especially of colonial revolution, in that the leadership of the American Revolution was already the leadership of America. America just wasn’t sovereign.

              When, say, Algeria or India became independent from their colonial overlords, it wasn’t the colonial government that formed the nucleus of the new independent state. And that causes difficulty in establishing a new state (though that’s not to say some states, like India, didn’t manage pretty well despite that difficulty). Even in cases of modern wars of secession like Kosovo or the Frozen Conflicts of the Caucuses, those governments were formed out of the revolutionary groups that originally started the fighting.

              (Ironically, one of the few notable exceptions to this that come to mind was the American Civil War, where it was the legitimately elected state governments of the southern states that attempted to secede rather than non-state revolutionary groups. They’d basically already set up a complete government even before they’d lost the Civil War, because they just went and formed their own American Government (with whiskey. And constitutional protections for slavery). And, yet, even then, they’d fall into the category of “governments worse than the ones they sought to replace”. Because, you know, constitutional protections for slavery. There was also, to a different and somewhat lesser degree, the Revolutionary Dail of the Irish Free State, but more on them later.)

              But I digress. The age-old rebellion story question of “What do we do after we’ve won?” was already pretty much 90% answered for the Continental Congress from the start by the mere existence of the Continental Congress. They only needed to replace the very top of the hirearchy rather than completely redesign what their hirearchy would be and how it would be organized.

              Hell, many founding fathers didn’t even really want the charismatic hero of the revolution to be the first leader the country, they just kind of accepted that he had to be. Washington was actually kind of an asshole, but America loves its wartime presidents.

              (FDR wouldn’t go down half as well in history if we’d lost WW2. Because we won, Executive Order 9066 has gone down as an unpleasant footnote in his presidency, rather than what I’d like to say is one of his greatest injustices but really it might not even hit top 5 worse things he did. Hirabayashi v. United States and Yasui v. United States were both overturned on wrongdoing by the American government in the original trial rather than on constitutional grounds and it took Donald Fucking Trump of all people to get the court to overturn Korematsu v. United States and remind people of FDR’s attempt to subvert the Supreme Court by adding as many of his cronies to it as he needed in order to pass the New Deal.)

              But I digress, again. Compared to setting up entirely new systems of political and economic organization, creating the new federal government was easy, especically considering how weak the original federal government was (being closer to a mutual defence treaty between thirteen semi-independent states than the federal government of a single nation-state).

              Compare that to so many of the armed popular revolutions of the 20th century, starting with the October Revolution and the ensuing Civil War (as the February Revolution never really had time to set up a lasting government before the October one, and much of the Civil War was the Soviets preventing non-Russian ethnic groups from creating breakaway nation-states in Eastern Europe or Central Asia), the Spanish Civil War, the Chinese Civil War, Cuban Revolution, the Cambodian Civil War, the Saur Revolution and the counter-revolution (the Soviet-Afghan War), or the Rwandan Civil War.

              (You can throw the First French Republic in there too, as although it is not exactly recent history much less living memory, many of the groups on that list were directly inspired by the Jacobins, and their legacy on revolutionary politics is felt even today.)

              The Germans baaaaaarely avoided all out civil war in 1918 thanks to the SPD promising massive concessions to the elite of the German Empire when integrating them into the new republican order to convince them to team up with them to stop the communists from completely overthrowing the government.

              On a happier note, the Finnish Revolution was a pretty positive one, all things considered, though it helped that the Russian Civil War happened and (unlike in Russia) the White Finnish Army defeated the Red Finnish Army in the civil war that followed immediately after, and they had time to set up an independent state by the time the Soviets were in any position to reclaim Finland.

              The Irish also managed to set up a decently non-oppressive state between their independence from the United Kingdom and losing their status as a Dominion of the British Empire, and most of the troubles (and the Troubles) happened much later, and for different reasons than pure indepedence. Unusually, the communist and non-communist revolutionaries were actually pretty unified in their goal during that one, and the ensuing civil war to determine which faction would remain in power after independence was between the group wo approved of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and those who didn’t (the ones who approved would become the government of the modern Republic of Ireland, and the ones who did not became the Irish Republican Army).

              I’m no expert in the history of the Irish Revolution though, but it’s possible the communist elements were just never powerful enough to do so, and played a junior role in that partnership, or that Irish interest in communism during the Interwar period was tied to their nationalist desire for independence (similar to many elements of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, who were fighting for a free and independent Vietnam no matter what form it took). The IRA did basically secede from itself to form the Provisional IRA when the Original IRA became infested with people who wanted to establish rule not just over the whole island but establish commuinist rule over it, so that’s totally possible.

              (Also, as a side note, again out of for fear of mischaracterzaton, I specifically excluded military coups from this list, so that’s why you might notice the absence of revolutionaries such as Gaddafi or Nasser, as well as the 1973 Afghan coup d’état that was itself overthrown by the Saur Revolution. I also avoided relatively bloodless revolutions, even if the regimes that followed them were arguably worse than the regimes they overthrew, to focus primarily on armed populist uprisings like those featured in Young Adult rebfic.)
               

              Reply
    2. Act says:

      I’m actually playing the DS port of the original Fire Emblem right now. I’m very interested in Three Houses but unfortunately $60 on one game is a lot to me right now.

      1. Roarke says:

        By ‘the original Fire Emblem’, do you mean the first one ported to the US? That’s Fire Emblem 7, and it remains one of my favorites.

        1. Act says:

          Nope, I mean the actual first one, Shadow Dragon and the  Something Something.

          1. Roarke says:

            Ah. I didn’t finish that one; it’s kind of dry and boring. Edit: I don’t really mean to just shit-talk the one you’re playing like that. It just didn’t meet my expectations for the series, having played several by then.  I’d really recommend FE7, which is GBA. Though, this does bring up something rather relevant back to the Final Fantasy discussion, which is that ports and remakes really have it bad in terms of expectation vs. quality. I remember trying FF3 on the DS port and just found it the most stale thing imaginable, but everyone was hyped to finally have it come overseas. 

            One FE game I’d say is a frickin’ amazing remake is Fire Emblem: Echoes on 3DS. That is, I believe, a remake of the second game, but they really, really freshened the game up and revitalized it. I couldn’t believe its basic framework was over twenty years old.

  2. Was there something about when it was released that might be causing nostalgiavision?

    It’s been a very long time since I played this and I barely remember any of it, but I think this is a likely factor. FFVII was extremely ambitious, and a lot of the things it did were firsts for popular video games. It leaned heavily on FMVs and 3D environments that I think are pretty impressive even today, and like you said, it was a move to a radically different setting and tone than most RPGs. It was one of the first times a video game made overt and topical social commentary, and had a very twisty and complex plot (probably a bit too complex, honestly, but some people go wild for that kind of thing). It was big, it was flashy, and it was daring.

    (A lot of people also cite the major party member death as a big deal, even though multiple earlier FFs already did that. Possibly those people are a later generation for whom FFVII was their first RPG or at least their first FF.)

    I honestly have no idea how it’d hold up if I were to play it now, though. It does the irritating thing a lot of FFs do where it bait-and-switches the social commentary, swapping it out for a blander, more typical fantasy stop-the-apocalypse plot after about the first third of the game or so.

    If you can’t play through it yourself, you may be interested in watching an LP at least up to the end of Midgard, as that is widely considered to be the best part of the game and the one with the most social commentary.

    1. CrazyEd says:

      ChipCheezum did a wonderful retrospective on Final Fantasy 7 as an introduction to his Let’s Play of Final Fantasy 7 Remake.

  3. The Reeds of Enki says:
    I’ve never played it either, but I’ve also had a large curiosity for the series, if nothing else but for how popular it is. If I had to say one thing that FFVII did that stood out the most, it would probably be its legacy of quality minigames. Having never played it, but still knowing that it apparently had some really good minigames in it, and actually seeing its legacy in other places branded by the Final Fantasy title, I can imagine that could be a part of what made it so popular. In the MMO, FFXIV, one of its more famous minigame clusters, the Gold Saucer, lives on in something called the Manderville Gold Saucer, which makes me think FFVII was something Square Enix decided would inspire its future games, even the ones that are decidedly more fantasy-oriented (as FFXIV is). The other stuff you mentioned, like the whole “are we the bad guys” bit, and the switch to cyberpunk, probably also helped.

    Another part was the theory that Aeris could be resurrected if you found the right combination of Easter Eggs, and people love a good Easter Egg hunt– Shadow of the Colossus has a huge community of people convinced that a hidden colossus was out there, if only they found the right easter eggs. That kind of legacy makes for a kind of legend that goes beyond just what the game inspires intentionally and keeps it relevant whenever one of the groups obsessed with rooting out easter eggs does actually find a new one.

    Also, mobile posting isn’t working for some reason. I don’t know if it’s a problem isolated on my end, but it’s just a black brick that defies all my attempts to inscribe anything in it.

    1. Act says:

      I definitely miss the old-school game culture where wild theories spread by word-of-mouth and they were right just often enough that you felt you had to try every one. There was something special about that. I have very fond memories of Pokemon myths on the schoolyard.

      I’m not having any issues on mobile — are you on Android or another platform?

      1. Do you feel as though that social aspect of gaming is what makes a franchise (or particular game within one) so popular? Like, people rumoring about the celebi in Ilex forest, or with me, specifically, the stuff about the regis, back when Emerald was the latest and greatest game in the series. I read an article where the/a creator of the Legend of Zelda made dungeons purposefully difficult, so people would have to band together, form groups on the playground or on the couch together, sharing tips on how to beat it. Mario is a game I can remember passing the controls to a friend who could actually beat that one particular spot I always had difficulty on.

        That social aspect of gaming, that conspiratorial gathering of people solving mysteries, or at least hoping to, I think, is what contributes to major games’ popularities, like FFVII. We as a species are so inherently social that I can’t help but figure that’s why, that games forced us to cluster with likeminded people to find out how to open the cave that let to regirock, or beat floor 8-C in Super Mario Land (I think that’s how the levels were labeled?), even the search for the “true ending” which could reverse Aeris’s death– or any other major video game conspiracy in the era when, like you said, things really did have just enough credibility to warrant investigation.

        Edit: As for mobile woes, I’m using an Apple product. In retrospect, it’s happened before on my Android, though, so it’s probably just something wrong on my end.

        1. CrazyEd says:

          I read an article where the/a creator of the Legend of Zelda made dungeons purposefully difficult, so people would have to band together, form groups on the playground or on the couch together, sharing tips on how to beat it.

          Unfortunately, he failed utterly, and it kind of just ended up being groups of people forming on the playground to ask the guy who shelled out for the strategy guide how to beat all this obtuse nonsense.

  4. Actislazyandwontlogin says:
    I would just like to say for my own self-aggrandizement that last night I finally beat the final boss of Romancing SaGa 2.
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    1. Roarke says:

      Always feels good to overcome something that’s kicked your ass.

      1. Act says:

        I’m very very glad we as a species have moved on from the SNES thing where games were unbeatable because of the final boss, but damn is it satisfying to finally win after like two weeks.

        1. Roarke says:

          Yeah, now the unbeatable boss is off the beaten path, hanging out in a “You Must Have This Much Free Time To Enter” bonus dungeon.

  5. Oh, also —

    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.

    This is actually intentional. There is what I believe is a legitimately clever twist about Cloud that is a metacommentary on power fantasies and the ways we project ourselves onto video game characters. Whether or not the end result makes for an enjoyable character and story is still a matter of taste, but the dissonance you’re feeling is actually what the writers were going for.

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    1. Act says:

      Ah, that’s good to hear, thanks!

    2. CrazyEd says:

      I already said it below but blah blah blah Raiden basically same deal with Cloud. FF7R did an amazing job of showing just how cool Cloud acts without implying you should agree with that assessment of his character.

  6. SpoonyViking says:

    Well, may as well just copy-paste what I wrote way back when about this game:

    I think FF VII had a very interesting setting and premise, but I felt both were very underutilised. I honestly wanted the whole focus of the game to be on the AVALANCE-SHINRA conflict (preferably with at least a bit more nuance to SHINRA, but I could live with the current cartoonish villainy of the president), with Sephiroth being more tied to it; basically, I’d have preferred it if they cut out everything about Jenova and the Cetra.

    Also, I like swords; actually, medieval weapons in general are very cool. But I think I’d have preferred it if they went whole-hog with the cyberpunk thing, instead of this weird mix and match where I’m thinking “Why the heck would anyone, even supersoldiers, choose to wield melee weapons in a world where firearms are widely available?”

    (I mean, they could have at least tried to handwave it. Dune had a pretty good explanation, for instance, if also more than a bit handwave-y.)

    1. CrazyEd says:

      Metal Gear Rising Revengeance would like to know your location. And then rip out and drink your Spine Gatorade.

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