Review: Final Fantasy 7 (PSX)

By Drew Wilson

In this review, we check out the 7th iteration of the main Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy 7. Released on the Playstation 1, this RPG game came with a then staggering 3 CDs and was too large of a game for the Nintendo 64. We take a look at this rather large game and see if it’s worth playing.

This particular game was released in 1997 and is the 7th installment in the main Final Fantasy series. While it was released as the next installment of the game Final Fantasy 6 (Final Fantasy 3 on SNES), it would contain a completely different plot-line with completely different characters – a departure from other series which typically continue along with either a similar setting, similar characters, similar feel or all three. This series does not do this.

The plot follows Cloud and members of Avalanch as they try and stop Shinra and Sephiroth as they threaten to destroy the world with the use of materia. That’s, well, the whole plot essentially.

Before I go any further with this review, I should probably preface this review with my expectations of this game. This game is what was released after a game I played that is currently only one of two games to have, thus far, scored a 100%. So, my expectations were very high to begin with. Contrary to some other comments on this game, I was not expecting it to match how great the previous game was. Then, I remembered that this game was on 3 CD’s which is monumentally larger than the SNES cartridge. Knowing how playable and large the SNES release was, my expectations were even higher that there was more great content in this game. I also saw many reviews that said that this completely blew Final Fantasy 6 out of the water in terms of how great this game in – almost universally so. So, suffice to say, I had extremely high expectations that I was in for a really good time playing this game.

Then I actually played the game.

The last thing I expected was a game that was badly designed and barely playable. In terms of enjoyment, I sunk a lot of hours and effort just trying to enjoy the game. As I approached the 4th hour of gameplay, I felt that I had given it enough chances to interest me and cut off play there. To date, this is the worst long haul (meaning requires a lot of extensive gameplay) game I have ever played. Virtually every time I picked up where I left off last, I actually dreaded it thinking, “I want to play something else so badly right now.” So, if you don’t want to read a review that tears into exactly why this game was bad, you can stop reading here and go elsewhere.

Still with me? OK.

So, you start with the first city by sabotaging a Mako plant. Afterwards, you board a train and follow through some lengthy prologue. Alarms sound, so you are forced to make your way to the back of the train. Eventually, you have to climb off and make your way to the hideout. So far, this game is extremely linear where there is only one path to follow and an instance where you have to go through a portion of the train with a timer. So, essentially, use the run command.

By this time, I was already a bit disappointed because I thought it was a lame idea to incorporate guns in a turn-based combat involving swords. The idea is silly because a gun is much more deadly than a sword to begin with. Plus, I felt that the combat was extremely slow compared to other RPG games in that there are individual animations involved in each move your characters make. So, I immediately knew that this game was going to have enjoyment drag as a general rule. Sure, the animations looked interesting at first, but after you see them a 12th time, you wish they were turned off. Yes, I searched in vain for a way to turn off these animations, but came up empty handed. A feature that should have been in this game. Instead, we have continual repetitive unskippable content you are forced to sit through clogging up a no-brainer turn-based combat system. To be blunt, the developers wrecked something that is hard to wreck.

Outside of the combat system, there is the movement system. There is essentially standing, walking and running modes. The movement is extremely robotic with no real animated transitions between them. The end result is silly instant full stride movements and characters turning as if the ground they were on rotated for them or they were running full steam ahead, yet only turning 45 degrees. We’re talking about a game that was made in the same year as Turok and Goldeneye 007, so I don’t see technological limitations as something to blame here.

Then there is the places off of the train. Many comment about how amazing the graphics were in area’s such as this. The reality is that a lot of these areas are simply pre-rendered images with occasional portions having simple animations or affects. The end result is that you have a game that is simply a glorified pop-up book with limited places to move. Added to the mix is the look of characters and items which are actually very simple polygons with basic textures and limited effects dotting the landscape. This, I felt, hurt the look and feel of the game as there is no consistency between the models and the background at all.

In addition, some of the cut-scenes are pre-rendered movies that were dropped onto the disc’s. I wasn’t really a huge fan of this as it seemed to just be a case of trying to patch up some of the deficiencies of the look and feel of this game. In other words, they were faking it.

The storyline itself gives you that “save the planet” feel with borderline eco-terrorism mixed with social in-equality. This is something I could go along with from a storyline perspective, but by the time you leave the first city – a name I can’t even remember – that whole plot-line is half thrown out the window in favor of stopping some white haired guy with a long sword. Why? I don’t know.

While you are venturing around in the city, though, there is almost no adventure element. Almost every time, in order to progress in the game, you have to follow the one narrow path from point A to point B with occasional simple mazes that could barely be called mazes along the way (more like, walk around 2 or 3 obstacles to progress). So, really, this is more of a linear game with only set actions that may change the dialogue later on more than anything else.

Options have changed a lot in this game. In the previous game, you had armor, a helmet, something for your left hand, something for your right hand, and a separate menu for “relics” which is essentially two accessories. In this game, you had a weapon, an armor-like item, and an accessory. So, your equipment options are literally cut in half which is a major drawback here.

In addition to this, there is a materia system. This is a major change from the esper system of the last game. In the esper system, you had a particular mythical magic-wielding creature that has been reduced to it’s purest form. Equipping them not only allowed you to eventually learn the magic through an esper point system, but also allowed you to summon that creature to use a special attack. After you learn the magic, you can equip another esper to learn other magic spells while being able to retain the magic spells you learned from the previous esper. In this game, you can equip materia which allowed you to “learn” the magic contained in that materia. However, unequipping that materia means you no longer have access to that particular magic. Materia points are earned after winning battles, but the points go to that particular materia item, not to your character learning magic. Summoning mythical creatures was axed and placed in a very particular piece of materia as it’s own magic spell. If you fully master a piece of materia, you have to keep it equipped on a particular character in order to retain the more powerful spells. The downside to this is that you won’t be powering up any other pieces of materia in your inventory.

In Final Fantasy 6, you could simply hit a button to essentially distribute an attack magic spell across all enemies (dividing up the damage accordingly). In Final Fantasy 7, this nice little feature was essentially axed. Instead, you had to equip items that allowed you to “pair” the materia so you can have the magic effect apply to all enemies. However, if you want to attack a single monster, you have to have materia not paired with the “all” materia or unequip the all materia between battles. I thought this was unnecessarily convoluted when there was a nicely working system found in Final Fantasy 6.

In Final Fantasy 6, characters had a special ability. Locke, for instance, could steal items. Edgar could use tools. Shadow could throw items. Terra could morph. Each character had their own unique traits that they could bring into battle unique to their personality. In Final Fantasy 7, this feature that allowed interesting strategy to form was, well, axed. Instead, these interesting fighting strategies were locked away into materia as well. This allowed characters to have traits that really didn’t suit their personality while fighting in battle. This idea really made little sense here.

What Final Fantasy 7 did introduce was a limit feature where characters could use a special attack once they take on a certain amount of damage. While an interesting feature, it sort of made gameplay a little clunky. Once a character reached a limit, you could no longer access an attack command. Instead, if you wanted to save that limit for a boss, you had to use magic or simply defend until you finally use the limit command. After you use a limit command, you can finally gain access to the melee attack command again. Kind of clunky game mechanics here.

Final Fantasy 7 continues along with the tradition of containing mini-games. Final Fantasy 6 had great mini-games like figuring out what time it is in Zozo (required a fair bit of problem-solving), traversing a broken bridge to obtain Gogo, and solving various dungeon puzzles like those found in Cyan’s dreams. Final Fantasy 7 had some mini-games, but they weren’t quite as interesting. There was the minigame of protecting the van. Unfortunately, the game was designed to have “cool camera angles” rather than being practical and allowing you to see where the heck you were going or where you were swinging your sword. This made a game that might have been fun into a game that was frustrating and not really worth replaying (if you want a game like this that is actually well designed, play Road Rash 64). There is the snowboard minigame with very poorly designed controls. This made what might have been a fun little minigame simply unplayable (if you want a snowboarding game with controls that were well designed, try 1080 or one of the Snowboard Kids games). There was the submarine minigame that almost looked like a colorscheme away from a game found in the often lambasted Nintendo Virtual Boy… uh… thing. There’s the arm wrestling minigame which was really just a single button mashing game. There was a fighter game which was simply glorified rock paper scissors. There was the hoops throwing game that was half decent to play for a few minutes. All it was was a single button timing game (the basketball didn’t even look like a basketball). There was the CPR minigame to save the little girl on the beach. Really, the game just looked completely ridiculous and unrealistic. There’s a defend the condor mini-game which was a stripped down Ogre Battle game. I thought it was passable for a minigame. There was the gas chamber mini-game which was really a semi-frustrating “guess the button combination” game. In all seriousness, a mini-game is supposed to be a short game found within a game. A mini-game isn’t supposed to be a borderline waste of time that was thrown in last minute in an effort to try and make the main game look interesting. So, the mini-games in this game was, by and large, a huge letdown.

One feature that plenty of people have said was a huge feature in this game was the side quests. The side-quests in this game, I found, were more like side-objectives more than a “side-quest”. The only real side-quest I found in this game was taking Yuffi to her hometown. This could be found after accessing an island via the little broncho which was, as far as the player is concerned at that point in the game, a one town island. In other words, you could accidentally find yourself on this island only because it’s one of the last islands you’ve never been to before.

One of the great features of Final Fantasy 6 was the concept of a “world of order” and a “world of ruin”. The first half of the game was in one world and the other half of the game had you exploring the other world. It completely reorganized the landscape, gave everything a new look and you didn’t have to venture too far before accessing an airship that allowed you to fully explore this new and open world. This feature was scrapped completely for reasons that is completely beyond me (you had 3CD’s to fit a second world on there for crying out loud!). Instead, after Meteor was cast, you got a pinkish squiggly drawn in the sky to denote your new world. Everything else largely stayed the same with only the dialogue changing. The concept of scrapping such a great feature for this game completely bewilders me especially when it would have made sense for the storyline that is involved.

The overworld in and of itself was a bit disappointing. When you finally leave your first city (I’m not aware of a way to get back into that city once you leave), all you have is rather basic textured polygons that’s supposed to represent topography. With the standard grainy textures often found in a PSX game as well as the mostly linear gameplay that seems to permeate throughout the first disc, the “cool” factor wears off after you cross the desert with the chocobo (and obtaining that chocobo was annoying to boot).

One of the things that I had some good expectations of this game was a compelling storyline. Once again, this was a major disappointment. There is a formula this game can follow and as long as interesting twists on this formula is introduced, you can have a workable and interesting storyline as seen in previous Final Fantasy games. This game fell completely flat on this front. Rather than having characters that are deep and understandable, you have a set of characters that are extremely flat and stereotypical. The worst character in this game would be Seth Cait and, despairingly, is one of the main playable characters in the game. That character was so bad, you could have taken Ultros from Final Fantasy 6, replaced Seth Cait with him, and things would have made infinitely more sense. Things get ludicrously bad when he is revealed to be a spy where he says that he knows things and Cloud essentially welcomes him back into the party. Um… what? Then his knowledge on things simply goes away and things continue on almost as per normal which makes all of zero sense. Should have had Seth Cait restrained if the storyline is to retain and hint of credibility. Red XIII gave the storyline a pulse when the true nature of his father is revealed, but that element of the story has been done to death by the time this game came out. The storyline tries to be interesting when the truth about Cloud is revealed, but the execution of going into his mind was been done a million times over (and more successfully in Final Fantasy 6 with Cyan and Breath of Fire 2 with the wise tree and the memory tower to name two examples). By and large, I found the characters extremely flat.

The storyline itself, I found, was contrived and almost as if there was a bunch of plot points that needed to be put together. So, the creators just made something up last minute that somehow manages to have all these plot points connected and just threw the resulting mess into the game. It barely made sense half the time and when certain elements were revealed, I had the thought of, “Wow… this game still kind of sucks in this department.” At least with Final Fantasy 6, you had an impending army invasion and a secret hideout for the resistance movement, then you knew that a battle was going to take place at some point as well as some politics thrown in the mix. The mythology was gradually woven into the storyline and everything not only made sense, but the storyline seemed to just grow as you play it. This game was like, “OK, mythology, toss it into the bin, check. Evil bad guy, toss it into the bin, check. Conflicted character, toss it into the bin, check. Does it all make sense? Well, it was put together in a sequence, so it must. Let’s leave it as that and go for it!”

Also, I found the gil oddly programmed. Whenever I was grinding, it wasn’t necessarily trying to get higher levels or even develop the materia, I was just trying to get enough gill to equip my characters with decent items. I thought that this was either a case of monsters not dropping enough gil or everything was way to expensive. In any event, by the time I was able to afford most of my stuff, my characters were ridiculously overpowering and almost every battle was incredibly easy with little challenge available. Also, I thought the initial equip of the Buster Sword to be visually strange when practically every other weapon for Cloud was more powerful. That should have been an end-game weapon, not an initial equip weapon when it comes to looks – especially considering the last user of the Buster Sword.

So, having all of this in front of me. I found myself scrambling to find one good element in this game. I even made it part way through to disc two looking for it, giving the game an untold number of second chances along the way. The only time this game was even remotely interested was when the plotline and progress was fast paced. At least, then, I thought something interesting might be forthcoming. In the end, I just didn’t find anything and I was tired of playing a game I didn’t like. So I cut it off after I docked the submarine (you’d think a submarine would have been obtained before a flying ship, but that’s just yet another complaint I have in an absurdly long list of complaints I have about this game).

Graphically, this game had moments of either being superficial or really bad. It was either superficial with pre-rendered sequences or simply unimpressive altogether. Sometimes, these pre-rendered sequences had the basic polygon characters in it which made it visually jarring. Sometimes, it’s just pre-rendered backdrops which, with any items being visible in the scene, also made for for a visually jarring experience. Then there’s the unimpressive elements which was the overworld map with an extremely limited polygon count in the topography as well as characters that almost could have been rendered on a SuperFX chip on the Super Nintendo. In fact, depending on the camera angle, you could see through the mountains due to graphical errors. The camera was poorly designed as it can be somewhat “stuck” being ahead of you because the camera circles around your character as fast as the character turns. So, you are left with occasionally “fixing” the camera angle so you could actually see where you were going. My thoughts when I was fixing the camera angle was “and people thought Super Mario 64 was bad for this. This is worse because the camera doesn’t have anywhere near the kinds of obstacles that was found in Mario”. Probably the only positive thing I can say about this game is that there is a nice variety of monsters you can encounter overall – though it takes hours of gameplay just to see them. The effects in the battle sequence can often be pixelated which I thought was sad. Of course, the saddest thing was the fact that the graphics for a muted character in battle is identical to Final Fantasy 6. Three CD’s worth of content and they couldn’t even be bothered to even attempt to improve on it.

In the audio department, I thought that this game was a step back from Final Fantasy 6. I’m not surprised because the music in Final Fantasy 6 was absolutely stunning, but the music in Final Fantasy 7 was quite bland for a game that had far fewer limitations than what was found on a SNES console. I would go so far as to say the music in Final Fantasy 6 spanked the music in Final Fantasy 7. The only remotely memorable music in Final Fantasy 7 was the music for Cosmo Canyon and the general battle music – and only just barely. Everything else I heard was largely meh. Some of the sound effects were cringe-worthy. The sound of a dog barking was almost a lower quality sample from Final Fantasy 6. Others were half decent and passable.

Overall, I found this game to be a great lesson in how a huge game in terms of data capacity doesn’t necessarily make a game good. It makes it a large capacity game, but it can always be a bad game regardless. I was really fighting to find this game entertaining, but there was only fleeting moments of attempted quality at best. If it weren’t for seeing the high scores on other review sites, I would never have made it out of the first city and wrote this game off as a really bad game not worth playing. Instead, I have a game that has logged nearly 5 hours of game play – 5 hours of my life I wish I had back. At the end of the day, I found this game to be a colossal waste of time with no element anywhere that was praiseworthy. Not worth playing. Stunning considering the knockout game that preceded this.

Overall

Furthest point in game: Got submarine. Cloud parked at level 60. Played for 4 hours and 57 minutes.

General gameplay: 8/25
Replay value: 0/10
Graphics: 3/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 28%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85



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