Tuesday, April 22, 2008

RPG Nostalgia: Final Fantasy VII

I guess it's time to come clean folks. Let it be known to all with whom I've had conversations with concerning RPGs online or in person, I have what some consider a dark and terrible secret to reveal: Until about a week ago I have never really played Final Fantasy VII. I say "not really" because while I technically fought a few random battles on my cousin's copy, I never really did anything of merit in the game, except maybe cast his hard earned "Knights of the Round" over and over again because of how cool it looked. Now some people may think that fact may invalidate my previous statements about how it is the most overrated game of all time, but after playing it I still have come to the same conclusion. I guess now though I can use logic and reasoning to connect the dots and if not make people understand my sentiment, then make them understand why I have this sentiment.

It all started a few weeks ago when I got a hankering for some RPG action. I really can't explain it, and apparently this phenomenon isn't unheard of. I had an unblemished, unplayed Rogue Galaxy sitting around, but after a few hours I decided the combat was too New-Age/Western/Action RPG for my taste at the time, and decided I needed something a bit more old school. After much deliberation I decided to see what all the fuss was about and borrowed a friend's copy of VII. I don't feel as if I need to explain the premise/story/battle system to anyone, the basics are well known to anyone who has played any Final Fantasy game (Well maybe not if you've solely played XII, so get on it all 3 of you). You save the world, and a lot of times it involves crystals, but not always. You struggle against a main antagonist, and sometimes he's a complete bastard, and sometimes he's not so much of a bastard when push comes to shove. All of the games employ the basic functions for RPGs, with each adding it's own little flair in the form of a gameplay change. Sometimes these are awesome, but nobody's perfect. But why is it that VII generates such a rabid following? Why am I not one of those rabid followers?

Don't misunderstand me, I like Final Fantasy VII. It's a real good game. It just happens to be overblown by it's abnormally vocal fans. To prove that I do like the game, I'll tell you what I really like about the game as well as what it's shortcomings are, instead of just railing on it for a few paragraphs. First off, the Materia system is great. It's intuitive, and while it has endless possibilities, you can put any amount of time and effort into it and still be effective in battle. In fact, it's almost too good. A small chink in the armor of this system is, in fact, it's infinite amount of combinations. I am of the opinion that when developers place a vast amount of gameplay augmenting abilities in the game, be it in a battle system or the entire game itself, in a way it sort of passes the buck onto the player if they don't like the game. In a way the can just dismiss any issues a person has with the game by saying, "Well if you had done x, y and z instead of that, you wouldn't have had a problem," rather than just making "x, y and z" part of the gameplay off the bat. However, to this concept's merit, it means in the case of Final Fantasy VII that the player can choose his or her party based more on the characters themselves than their abilities (with the exception of their bare bones stats and Limit Breaks), and any game which willingly gives me the ability to throw the more annoying characters under a bus has got my seal of approval. I can only imagine a world where I don't have to deal with Gau's abortion of the English language, or Palom and Porom's constant bitching at one another.

The story is an interesting aspect of the game to me. I like the back stories of the characters and their character progression for the most part. There are some stereotypical elements in there, but with a decent amount of twists (Highlights for me include Aeris's parentage, Barret and Marlene's story, and pretty everything about Vincent). However, the overarching, big part of the plot concerning Sephiroth is a bit hamhanded. I mean, the entire game could have come to a screeching halt if someone had simply lied to Sephiroth and told him his mother's name was Susan. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to tell him his mother is named Jenova, and then send him to a reactor with her name plastered in big letters on the front of it, or make detailed reports called "Jenova Project." His intentions aren't too clear and his reason for this whole mess of death and destruction is really only understandable from a 15 year-old's perspective. He's not really nihilistic or insane, he's not bent on global domination, he's not hatred incarnate, he's just pissed because Shinra messed with his momma. Now I might have tainted my appreciation for the story because of my prior knowledge of many of the big plot twists (Who dies, who is a dirty rotten snitch, etc.) because of talking with people who had finished, but then again, if you read the last page of a novel, it really shouldn't interfere with your enjoyment of the rest of the story anyways.

One thing I know puts me in contention with a majority of people who played VII, nay, a majority of "gamers" in general is my disapproval of all the mini-games. I guess I don't have a real problem with the games themselves so much as I do the impact they have on the game and every developer & fan since then because of VII's iconic status. Nowadays if your game doesn't have another game inside of it, that seems like a blemish to some people. I'm sorry, if I want to play cards, I'll play cards. I won't boot up a game so I can play a completely different game that has no connection to an RPG. Besides, it's not like people wouldn't buy real Triple Triad or Tetra Master cards if you put them out, you'd make a killing (Well you would have when those games came out more so than right now, but you get the idea). Now, not all mini-games in RPGs are terrible, a notable exception is the Monster Arena in Dragon Quest VIII. Not only can you get money from hunting monsters, they actually help you in battle, which ties it into the game itself. Also, the Monster Arena doesn't hold endgame items hostage and force you to play if you want them (However the fact that the last whip in DQVIII is from the casino and bought with a retarded amount of "points" makes me want to punch a baby, but you don't have to use whips so that makes it slightly less frustrating). If you want Cloud's final Limit Break, you absolutely have to do the Battle Arena, and since fighting in the Battle Arena costs you Gold Saucer Points instead of Gil, have fun playing useless carnival games for a few hours. Just put it at the end of a long dungeon, dammit. That way I don't have to pray to God I don't get a certain handicap and start screaming at a virtual roulette wheel when I do.

A big reason for VII's fandom in my opinion and popularity is because it was the first big RPG on the Playstation. Up until the Playstation, gaming wasn't really that mainstream. For instance, I was one of of two kids on my block with an NES and a SNES, and nowadays you can't walk into the typical American home without tripping over a PS2 and 3 DS's. Once the Playstation became popular, the entity known as Joe Gamer came about, a demographic who liked playing games, but didn't understand that games existed before he came on the scene, so he doesn't understand that many of the things he liked about VII had already been done. Including killing off your love interest. Just remember next time you hear a grown man talk about how he cried as Aeris layed dieing on the ground, Nei was getting killed before it was cool.

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