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good at keeping them in perspective and seeing them within the context of their original release instead of judging outdated mechanics by modern standards.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

19 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. 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.

  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.

  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.
    1
    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.

    1. Act says:

      Ah, that’s good to hear, thanks!

  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.)

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