Long recognized as role-playing games par excellence, the Final Fantasy
series gets a technological makeover in this installment (and series debut on the PlayStation). Shedding the two-dimensional graphics and limited sound capabilities of its predecessors, Final Fantasy VII
features lush 3-D graphics, beautifully animated "movie" sequences, and soundtrack-quality music. Coupled with the game's intricate storyline, endearing characters, and immense yet highly imaginative world, these new advancements make for a quite an engrossing experience.
The story of Final Fantasy VII centers around a solider named Cloud Strife, who joins forces with Avalanche, a group of resistance fighters, to take down an evil mega-corporation known as Shinra. (The fate of the world hangs in the balance, of course.) Truly epic in scope, this four-disc game requires a considerable amount of time to complete---this reviewer gladly gave up over 80 hours of his life to finish it. But it's definitely a rewarding adventure that every PlayStation owner should consider undertaking, especially since it's now one of the low-priced "Greatest Hits" titles. --Joe Hon
- Intricate and absorbing storyline with endearing characters
- Immense and highly imaginative game world
- Special battle system
- Beautifully animated movie sequences
- Your friends and family may feel neglected
Never before have technology, playability, and narrative combined as well as in Final Fantasy VII. The culmination of Square Soft's monumental effort is a game that will enrich just as it will entertain. Yet, for all the boundless praise it so rightfully deserves, Final Fantasy VII is not without its shortcomings and occasional design problems. These are enough to make some gamers (who are unfamiliar with RPGs, to be sure) wonder just why anyone would bother playing through it in the first place.
This is the most dazzling visual experience to date on any console. Film-quality computer-generated cinematics blend seamlessly with pre-rendered background artwork to create the strikingly realistic world of Final Fantasy VII, both beautiful in its grandeur and terrifying in its detail. The overworld and battle sequences are presented in full polygonal splendor with just a touch of texture mapping for good measure. But you haven't seen anything until you witness some of the more powerful magic spells in the game. Massive dragons heed your bidding, dwarfing your gigantic enemies tenfold; an earth titan tears the ground up from beneath your enemies' feet, flinging them aside like toy blocks. Some of these summoning spells cut to over half a dozen different camera angles as the catastrophe unfolds. Meanwhile, a masterfully orchestrated soundtrack - courtesy of veteran composer Nobuo Uematsu - is a major force behind the intense emotion of Final Fantasy VII. The synthesized musical score hearkens Final Fantasy's golden age on the Super Nintendo, consciously staying true to its roots.
Yet for all its top-notch graphics and sound, truly the best aspect of Final Fantasy VII is the plot that these peerless aesthetics help weave. Join the enigmatic mercenary Cloud Strife in a journey that will take him to the very source of his being in an incredible quest where the fate of the world hangs by a precious thread, threatening at any instant to be torn by the charismatic, tormented villain of the story. Final Fantasy VII's moving plot is influenced by some of the greatest works of science fiction film and literature, including Frank Herbert's Dune, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and even Godzilla.
If you were to strip away the story, scenery, and musical score, Final Fantasy VII would otherwise be very much like any other Japanese RPG you've ever played. You still must face countless random monster encounters while keeping a close eye on your hit points and magic points, and you will witness your characters grow stronger with every experience level they attain. Battles are fought in typical Japanese RPG fashion (albeit with fully polygonal graphics), with your team on one side and any number of opponents on the other. You exchange blows until you or the enemy is defeated. Fights are made interesting with the introduction of Limit Breaks (devastating desperation attacks) and Materia, the curious colored crystals that let your party use magic and other special abilities. Materia can be found or purchased and mixed and matched to create all sorts of interesting effects. Best of all, there are more than enough hidden Materia, weapons, and optional plot sequences in the game to merit playing it through at least twice.
Some have gone as far as to call Final Fantasy VII the hands-down best game ever made. And if you enjoy a good Japanese-style RPG, chances are you will agree. However, Final Fantasy VII, for all its astonishing features, is not a game with the sort of mass appeal that its massive marketing blitz may lead you to believe. For one thing, you can't finish it in a sitting, as Final Fantasy VII will be a solid 40 to 50-hour commitment for the average role-playing gamer. Otherwise, you might be taken aback by the extensive, text-heavy dialogue; there is no speech at all in Final Fantasy VII, in the interest of letting your imagination do a little work. Though you will make many small-scale decisions over the course of the game, on the whole, the story follows a very linear path. This linearity is a by-product of the plot's complexity, however - certainly a respectable sacrifice.
Sony's translation of the original Japanese dialogue is direct and first-rate, much to the relief of Final Fantasy purists everywhere. Nitpickers may identify a very occasional spelling or grammar error ("Off course!" agrees Cloud at the Golden Saucer battle arena), but otherwise this text-heavy game reads just right, flawlessly conveying each character's distinct personality. Even the foul-mouthed costars of the game retain their affronting attitudes, as Sony went as far as to translate certain four-letter words in the interest of staying true to the Japanese script. --Greg Kasavin
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