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Final Fantasy VII: A Detailed Review

Introduction

Final Fantasy VII, a groundbreaking role-playing game (RPG) developed by Square Enix, originally released in 1997 for the Sony PlayStation, is often considered a masterpiece of the genre. Its rich narrative, complex characters, and innovative gameplay mechanics captivated players worldwide. This review will provide a comprehensive overview of the game, detailing its pros and cons, gameplay mechanics, and offer five alternatives for those looking for similar experiences.

Part I: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Engaging Storytelling: Final Fantasy VII boasts a captivating narrative filled with political intrigue, environmental themes, and character development. Players follow the journey of Cloud Strife, a former soldier turned mercenary, as he becomes embroiled in a struggle against the malevolent Shinra Corporation and a looming apocalyptic threat.
  • Memorable Characters: The game features an ensemble cast of memorable characters, each with their unique personalities and backstories. Notable characters include Cloud Strife, Aerith Gainsborough, Tifa Lockhart, Sephiroth, and Barret Wallace.
  • Innovative Graphics (for its time): Final Fantasy VII was a pioneer in utilizing pre-rendered backgrounds and polygonal character models, which was revolutionary in 1997. The game’s cinematics were also cutting-edge for its era.
  • Rich Worldbuilding: The game presents players with the vast and visually diverse world of Gaia. Players explore various locations, from the sprawling metropolis of Midgar to the quaint village of Nibelheim, each with its unique charm and challenges.
  • Strategic Gameplay: The turn-based combat system provides a blend of strategy and action. Players can customize characters with Materia, a magical substance that grants unique abilities, and strategically plan their attacks, making each encounter a puzzle to solve.
  • Soundtrack: Nobuo Uematsu’s iconic music score has become legendary, featuring tracks that are deeply ingrained in the gaming community’s collective memory. The music enhances the emotional impact of the story.
  • Emotional Resonance: The game masterfully delves into themes of identity, loss, and redemption, leaving a lasting emotional impact on players.
  • Diverse Mini-Games: Final Fantasy VII offers various mini-games, including snowboarding, Chocobo racing, and a motorcycle chase, adding depth and variety to the gameplay.

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Cons:

  • Dated Graphics: Despite its revolutionary graphics for its time, Final Fantasy VII’s graphics have not aged well. Modern players may find the character models and pre-rendered backgrounds blocky and less visually appealing compared to contemporary games.
  • Pacing Issues: The game’s pacing can feel slow at times, especially in the early hours, and some players may find the storytelling overly verbose.
  • Translation and Localization: The English translation, while serviceable, has been criticized for its awkward phrasing and occasional inaccuracies.
  • Random Encounters: Some players may find the frequency of random enemy encounters in the game’s world map and dungeons tedious, as it interrupts exploration.
  • Linear Overworld Exploration: While the game’s world map appears vast, the actual exploration is somewhat linear, with limited opportunities for free exploration until later in the game.
  • Lack of Voice Acting: As an older game, Final Fantasy VII lacks voice acting, which may make it less engaging for those accustomed to modern RPGs.
  • Save Point System: The game relies on save points rather than allowing players to save anywhere, which can be frustrating during longer play sessions.
  • Endgame Content: While the main story is engaging, the endgame content and optional bosses can be challenging, potentially frustrating some players.

Part II: How to Play Final Fantasy VII

Platform: Final Fantasy VII is available on multiple platforms, including PlayStation, PC, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices. The most popular version for modern players is the “Final Fantasy VII Remake” for PlayStation 4 and 5, but this review primarily focuses on the original game.

Gameplay Overview:

Final Fantasy VII is a classic turn-based RPG. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to play:

  • Character Development: You control Cloud Strife and eventually a party of characters. Characters level up through battles and gain experience points (EXP). As they level up, they become stronger and learn new abilities.
  • Combat: Battles are turn-based. When it’s a character’s turn, you can select actions like Attack, Magic, or using items. One unique aspect is the Materia system, which allows characters to equip magical orbs to enhance their abilities.
  • Materia System: Materia is the heart of the game’s customization. Each character has slots in their weapons and armor to equip Materia. Materia grants abilities like magic spells, special moves, and passive enhancements. Players can combine Materia to create powerful combinations.
  • Exploration: The game is divided into towns, dungeons, and a world map. In towns, you can interact with NPCs, visit shops, and advance the story. Dungeons are filled with enemies and puzzles. The world map connects locations and allows for exploration.
  • Story Progression: The game’s narrative is divided into chapters, and players must follow the story to advance. The game offers a degree of freedom for exploration, but the story remains linear until later stages.
  • Save Points: To save your progress, you need to find Save Points. These are usually found in dungeons and on the world map. It’s essential to save frequently to avoid losing progress.
  • Side Activities: Throughout the game, there are numerous side activities and mini-games. Some are essential for progression, while others are optional but offer rewards.
  • Random Encounters: While exploring the world map and dungeons, you’ll encounter enemies randomly. Battles are frequent and are a primary source of EXP and Gil (in-game currency).
  • Magic and Summons: Magic is a crucial aspect of the game. Characters can use Magic Materia to cast spells. Additionally, there are powerful summon creatures, like Ifrit and Bahamut, that can be summoned during battles.

Tips for Playing:

  • Level Up Strategically: Focus on leveling up characters you plan to use in your party. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s essential to build a balanced team.
  • Experiment with Materia: Try various combinations of Materia to discover powerful synergies. Some Materia combinations can make battles much easier.
  • Save Often: As mentioned earlier, save points are crucial. Save before entering challenging areas or battles to avoid losing progress.
  • Explore Thoroughly: Take your time to explore the world. There are hidden items, secrets, and mini-games that offer valuable rewards.
  • Master Summons: Summons can turn the tide of difficult battles. Master using them effectively to make tough encounters more manageable.

Part III: Top 5 Alternatives to Final Fantasy VII

If you’re looking for games similar to Final Fantasy VII, here are five alternatives that offer engaging stories, memorable characters, and rich RPG experiences:

  • Final Fantasy VI: Often regarded as one of the best entries in the series, Final Fantasy VI offers a deep and emotionally resonant story with a diverse cast of characters. Its 2D graphics are classic, and the game’s Espers system provides depth to character customization.
  • Chrono Trigger: Developed by some of the same creators of Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger is a classic JRPG known for its time-traveling narrative, memorable characters, and innovative combat system. The game features multiple endings, encouraging replayability.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: While not a traditional JRPG, Breath of the Wild shares similarities with Final Fantasy VII in its open-world exploration and the depth of its storytelling. It’s a modern classic and offers a unique blend of action and adventure.
  • Persona 5: This turn-based RPG mixes traditional gameplay with elements of social simulation. It features a modern-day setting, an engaging storyline, and well-developed characters. The game’s fusion of turn-based combat and character relationships is a highlight.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles: Known for its expansive world and real-time combat system, Xenoblade Chronicles offers a rich narrative and a variety of characters. The game provides an open-world experience with an engaging battle system that keeps players on their toes.

Conclusion

Final Fantasy VII is a seminal RPG that has left an indelible mark on the gaming industry. Its compelling narrative, memorable characters, and innovative gameplay mechanics have made it a timeless classic. While it does have its flaws, they are often overshadowed by its numerous strengths. If you’re a fan of rich storytelling, character development, and strategic gameplay, Final Fantasy VII is well worth experiencing. And if you’re looking for similar games, the alternatives listed above provide excellent choices to satisfy your RPG cravings.

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