Review: Final Fantasy VII (PS3/PSP)

01-coverFinal Fantasy VII
Developer: Squaresoft
Publisher: Squaresoft
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Re-Release Date On PSN: 6/01/2009

Earlier this year I got the opportunity to review Suikoden after it was released on the PSN. Today I get to review a game I had some fond memories of but haven’t touched in over five years. I got another taste of it again with its prequel last year. This game has many fans, some more rabid than others, and over time it has been placed on a pedestal by most as one of the best RPG’s ever made. While I like the story and the combat system, Final Fantasy VII has not aged as well as one would think. Just how does it stack up in today’s market as a PSOne Classic on the PSN? Let’s take a look.

Story
While Final Fantasy VII has this wonderfully dark and somewhat cyber-punk storyline going for it, you need a road map and a construction crew to get around the bulk of the plot holes to figure out what really is going on. Even with the extra games and movies in the Final Fantasy VII compilation I had a hard time following this game and I’ve played it before!

02-storyYou start off as Cloud, an ex-SOLDIER who’s gone mercenary and working with a terrorist group called AVALANCHE. AVALANCHE is hell-bent on bringing down the evil mega corporation called SHINRA by destroying the MAKO reactors around Midgar that AVALANCHE believes is sucking the very life from the planet itself. Cloud is just along for the ride at first, but after meeting and making friends in the group he decides to stick with them.

After AVALANCHE’s second hit on the MAKO reactors, SHINRA takes it personally and moves to wipe out a whole section of the undercity just to get at AVALANCHE. Our Heroes barely escape the attempt and raid SHINRA’s headquarters to retrieve their friend who was captured during the attack. After several blunders and an escape from prison, they find almost everyone at SHINRA has been executed, including the president of the company, by Sephiroth’s hand. After another harrowing escape from the building Cloud decides that Sephiroth is the bigger threat and manages to convince everyone else of this as well and the party begins chasing the black-caped man around the world.

While this sounds like it’s exciting and fairly straight-forward, there are a few problems with this. One of the bigger problems with the story is the translation. It’s often-times confusing and not very well done. Some of Aeris’ dialogue sounds like it was ripped right from Engrish.com. Cloud also rarely if ever gives any kind of reasoning for why he thinks Sephiroth is trying to kill the world, but the rest of the party just goes along with it. They do get something of an explanation later on, but their immediate ‘put Cloud in charge!’ reasoning really doesn’t make sense.

This is a fairly straight RPG story in that you don’t have many options to deviate from the story and are given even fewer story-telling options. While this would have been great when the game came out, with all the RPG options we have for story-telling now it doesn’t come across as well as it could.

Story Rating: Above Average

04-cutsceneGraphics
One of the bigger selling points in years past was how well Final Fantasy VII looked. While the rendered backgrounds and CG cutscenes have stood the test of time fairly well, most of the character models outside of battle really don’t cut it anymore. Their blocky look really doesn’t look that good on a big screen tv, but on a PSP is far less noticable. You spend most of the game looking at these models, and it just can’t hold up to the newer models in more recent RPGs. The battle scenes still look decent and on the PSP look fantastic, but the lower resolution textures really take away from the visual feel.

Summoning and magic effects still look fairly impressive, but some of them carry on far too long and there’s no way to skip them. Overall I wish this game held up better over time as I remember being slack-jawed the first time I played through it. It’s far from terrible looking but some texture re-vamping and a slight model overhaul would do the game a ton of good.

Graphics Rating: Decent

Sound
I’ve definitely gotten spoiled with the glut of recent RPGs with full voice acting. I kept hoping for any kind of voice overs but then remembered there aren’t any. The basic sound effects for the game feel very generic. Where the audio in this game shines is in the music, but even that has a bit of tarnish to it.

While the music was very well done and has some of the most memorable pieces in it, what hurts it is the synth style it’s played in throughout the game. This isn’t the best synth I’ve ever heard and in some areas that repeat themes over and over again, such as the Chocobo theme, the music can be grating. The battle music is fantastic and several other themes are really well done even with the synth style. If the music alone could be re-done with a full orchestra I think that alone would boost the game a lot.

Sound Rating: Great

03-combatControl and Gameplay
This game has a great combat and magic system, but controlling your character on screen can be a bit of a bear. This game came out before analog stick support was more popular and so it uses the directional buttons to move around, which would be fine, but it can make it a bit difficult to get your character to face just the right way to talk to a person, or to maneuver around different obstacles. At one point I got stuck in a bar between two people I’d just talked to and could not free myself and had to load up my previous save. Lucky me that was only a five minute loss of game play.

Save points are scattered around at key points, and some not so key. You can also save on the world map itself, as well as change out party members there. Unfortunately when you’re playing this on your system and need to shut it off and go do an errand or some such you can’t find a save point fast enough. Luckily for me the PSP just stops the game when you switch your system off.

What I really love about this game though as I said, is the combat system. This game uses the ATB system which keeps it on a moving timer so you have to pay attention to who’s turn is what and how fast the enemy is attacking. This isn’t terribly difficult and keeps you interested. The Materia system is great as it earns a kind of experience as your characters do so the Materia levels up a bit as you do and can become fairly powerful. Sometimes you have to get inventive with how your Materia is scattered about your characters depending on equipment they’re wearing and where you’re headed as you can’t swap out characters in battle like you could in more recent installments of the Final Fantasy series. This game also establishes the 3 party member rule that so many RPGs seem to use even today.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Good

Replayability
There’s a ton of things to collect in this game. In fact to get a perfect game you could spend hours upon hours trying to get everything. On a normal run-through this game could take you about 40-50 hours of play. Trying to get everything in the game possible could easily run you over 100 hours, but those hours will be grinding. Even though it’s Final Fantasy grinding and we expect it, this grinding will not be fun. Really the only reason to replay this game is if you enjoy the story. This isn’t like Mass Effect or Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII where you carry over your levels and gear to max out everything. You start fresh every time.

Replayability Rating: Below Average

05-cutscene2Balance
This is probably one of the easier Final Fantasy titles out there. While you can die or get game overs, it’s incredibly rare. Phoenix Down is fairly easy to get, and then there’s the Revive Materia when you don’t want to waste one of those. The boss fights may take awhile, but most aren’t impossible. I actually had a harder time with the first boss fight in the MAKO reactor than I did fighting Jenova on a freighter later in the game. It might offer up a challenge to those who’ve never played console RPGs or even RPGs in general, but it’s just not there anymore.

Price-wise you can’t really beat this though. You’re getting 40-100 hours of gameplay time depending on how thorough you want to play or max out. Looking on ebay, the price of the game has dropped considerably, but if you want this one new and in good shape you can pay up to $125 bucks for a disc copy, but on PSN it’s only $10. That’s a steal. I think I paid $20 for it originally when I first got it and I thought I’d gotten my money’s worth then. Add to that the ability to trade your save games between the PS3 and the PSP and you can take this bad boy anywhere.

Balance Rating: Enjoyable

Originality
This was the seventh game in the actual Final Fantasy series but it was a huge deviation from their normal games. They stream-lined and simplified equipment and the magic system. It was one of the first big RPGs to take that full 3D (kind of) leap. But then it went and borrowed from the cyber-punk genre that was popular at the time and kept that whole save the world storyline that all of the Final Fantasy games have. While it was fairly unique at it’s time and was hailed as ground-breaking, many games have come and gone that have done things more original than this one.

Originality Rating: Enjoyable

Addictiveness
Even though I’ve played this before and knew where it was going and what headaches I was running into, I kept playing. There’s something that keeps you playing beyond the story. Be it the combat system, the often quirky and bizarre character interactions, or just hoping to get to that next bit of pretty. When I wasn’t playing this on my PS3, I dumped my saves to play it on my PSP when I was out and about at the dentist’s or waiting to pick up my wife from work. Other than up this was the first game to really pull me away from Valkyria Chronicles which I’ve been playing over again on my PS3.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

06-combat2Appeal Factor
With the original game, the re-release of Final Fantasy VII Advent Children on Blu-Ray, several sequels and a prequel, you have to wonder if this would do well? I can see it appealing to those who want it on their PSP, but I’m betting a bunch of people already have the disc based version. For people who haven’t ever played the original or got sucked into the FF VII universe through Advent Children (yes I’ve met them in real life) and never played the RPG in the first place, this might be their chance to get it without breaking the bank, well if they already have a PS3 or PSP anyway.

Appeal Factor Rating: Great

Miscellaneous
While I’ve been a bit harsh on this game, I still love it and do enjoy playing it. Being able to take this massive game on the road is going to come in handy when I go visiting people later this summer. I do think this game could benefit from a better translation, some tweaking of the graphics and sound to accommodate the high-def audience that own PS3’s. But really you’re just getting the same game you’d get if you had popped the original discs in with this game, and that’s sometimes what people want.

What might have helped this on the PS3 is the options to change the screen size like you have on the PSP, to play it at original size, to scale it up to top and bottom, or to zoom and fill the screen. As it is, the PS3 just takes the game and fills the screen with it, mercilessly stretching it across my HD screen. The PSP was far kinder to the game. I do wish they could have tweaked it just a bit.

Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable

The Scores
Story Rating: Above Average
Graphics Rating: Decent
Sound Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Good
Replayability Rating: Below Average
Balance Rating: Enjoyable
Originality Rating: Enjoyable
Addictiveness Rating: Great
Appeal Factor Rating: Great
Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Gaming Rexes are sad! A straight bundle of the original PlayStation title, the PSN release weighs in at 1.4 GBs which can fill up a PSP memory card and take up a bunch of hard drive space on your PS3 quite fast. If you don’t have this game on disc, this is definitely one that’s worth the price if you’re a Final Fantasy fan, or even if you’ve heard a lot about the title but never played it. My first console RPG, I’m still enjoying this game over a decade later and with this release you don’t have to worry about missing or scratched discs and can lug it around with you if you have a PSP.

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