i love it when an rpg comes together.

when rjbs met ff7

When I was a sophomore in college, my friend Kevin lived in a pretty filthy little studio in Allston. He had a PSX, I had a N64, and we argued now and then about which console was better. N64 had Goldeneye; PSX had FF7. The “but it’s got FF7!” argument didn’t hold water with me, because I never played it. It’s not the kind of game you could play with a friend, really, and while the graphics looked good, I had gotten the impression that the game was motorcycle-centric. (One early ad featured Cloud storming out of Shinra HQ on a motorcycle – the sequence that introduced the bike battle.)

About a year after the release of FF7, Kevin and I moved into a new apartment, which meant I had long-term access to the PSX. I’d been convinced, by Parappa and Bushido Blade, that PlayStation had some OK games, and Kevin swore up and down about FF7’s sweetness, so I got down to playing it pretty soon after we moved.

It was awesome.

plot

FF7’s plot, more than anything else, distinguished it from other RPGs I had played before. While RPGs often deal with “SMALL FISH ENTERS BIG POND; SAVES WORLD”, FF7 just kept upping the ante. Cloud was a small town boy who moved to the big city, then tried to save the city, then tried to save a bunch of cities, then tried to save the planet. The threat changed from “security” to “the big megacorporation” to “Ancient Evil.”

The characters were hardly deep, living beings, but all carried with them a rich history that showed the roots of the plot, stretching back to infinity. Square didn’t create a plot and stick it in a world, they created a world that implied a story that had to occur.

graphics

The key to FF7 wasn’t so much the graphics, but the visuals. What I mean is, the fidelity of image reproduction and the smoothness of polygons didn’t make me say “wow” as much as the artistry.

Don’t get me wrong, the graphics are pretty good. The characters are pretty low-polygon when in normal play, but they look fine. The FMV is great, and the overworld and combat graphics are good, too. At the time, the game was revolutionary in its graphics. Compared with today’s games, the graphics are crap. The /look/ remains striking.

I think mdxi will disagree, but I think FF7 has a very steampunk look to it. Midgar, the giant central city of Planet, was more cyberpunk, but out in the rest of the world you found villages with fishermen, water wheels, inns, and huge Mako reactors. Condits ran through the roofs. Technology was too complicated and too big. For crying out loud, one fort had a cannon the size of Florida sticking out of it!

When I think about FF7, I remember Cannon, and the Airship, and Jenova. Everything looked like someone cared enough about it to really /work/ on it.

play

I’m not sure I’d change much about FF7’s play. Its collision detection was a little annoying, I guess, and it would be great to be able to use the analog stick for running around, but those are just footnotes. The controls were fine.

While there were a lot of things you got to do in FF7, the most critical activity was battle. The battle system was pretty much identical to everything else up to that time, but it introduced a realtime element. I like being able to take my time when playing RPGs, but FF7’s real time combat (there was some gimmicky name for it) only affected me when in combat; it gave the battle a sense of real urgency. I couldn’t just wander off and take a nap while Cloud and Tifa hung out in Sephiroth’s shadow. I had to stand and fight. (And die.)

imperfections

I don’t want to say, though, that FF7 was the perfect RPG. It still had glaring flaws, some of which are accepted mostly because That’s How RPGs Work. I don’t like that kind of answer.

For one thing, it occasionally stuck in pointless puzzles that served only to annoy. Why did I need to complete the “dolphin jump puzzle,” which consisted of “hitting O while standing in the right place.” That skill never came in handy. I think they wanted to provide variety, but variety needs to be a variety of /good/ things, not just a bunch of stuff.

For another, it suffered from the common RPG malaise of Really Specific Triggers. Before you can go to North Whatevertown, you’d need to talk to everyone in your party. Fine. Unfortunately, you have to talk to Tifa /after/ Red XIII, or you couldn’t get the Magnificent Frobdangler. Nothing would indicate this order. I must’ve spent forty-five minutes on the airship, just trying to figure out how to get everyone onto deck together.

rjbs shuts up

Yeah, so… FF7 was damn good. I’m playing it for the third (I think) time, now. It still hasn’t gone out of style. I would love to see a game with all of its awesomeness done with modern graphics and technology (but not voice acting, plzthx) but, as mdxi has prophesied, that is unlikely. A game of FF7’s quality will need to be something new and revolutionary; nothing will equal or best FF7 at FF7’s own game.

Written on January 9, 2003
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