If there’s one game that stands out above all others when considering the history and popularity of the role-playing genre, that game is Final Fantasy VII. Revered not only for it’s amazing story, brilliant characters and cinematic qualities, Final Fantasy VII is potentially (along with the original Halo for Microsoft) the most important game ever made, dragging the console world into the mainstream and setting up Sony’s PlayStation brand as arguably the most dominant gaming product in history.
Final Fantasy VII is credited with breaking the Japanese role-playing genre outside of Japan, selling a staggering 10 million copies worldwide and becoming the biggest selling PlayStation game outside of Gran Turismo. It’s difficult to imagine what the gaming landscape would look like if Nintendo had decided to use CD-Rom technology instead of cartridges for the Nintendo 64 as the additional storage space of a CD was ultimately what made Square develop Final Fantasy VII (all other Final Fantasies were made on Nintendo consoles) for Sony’s fledgling PlayStation.
The legacy of the game itself is also enormous, spanning the decade since its release and bleeding its fingers into every conceivable tie-in you can think of. sequels (Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core, Final Fantasy VII Dirge of Cerebus), films (Final Fantasy VII Advent Children), even horrible tasting magic potions (uniquely foul energy drinks from Japanese beverage conglomerate Suntory) have been created out of the fervour surrounding the original Final Fantasy VII.
The beginning of the game itself is one of the most memorable moments in a game full of outstanding ones. For many it was the first time video games realised their potential for the cinematic, realised the beauty that could now be created with CGI, realised that video games now had the scope to be just as powerful as any book or film. The sweeping orchestral score complemented by some stunning visuals accentuated the PlayStation’s superiority over any home console that had come before it and signaled the end of gaming as we knew it.
Far more important than the stunning graphics and huge world of Final Fantasy VII were the characters that inhabited it. Some of the most recognisable protagonists ever conceived: Cloud, Aeris, Barret, Vincent, Sin, Yuffie, Cid, Red XIII and Cait Sith face off against the gaming worlds most dynamic and, perhaps, number one villain, the evil Sephiroth.
Sephiroth and Cloud are strikingly designed and written, each so determined to succeed that they will do anything to achieve their goals, whether those goals are the destruction of the world, of the saving of it. Sephiroth is responsible for one of the greatest tragedies in the history of gaming (see Phantasy Star 2 for the other), when he coldly dispatches the innocent Aeris and forever writes himself into the annals of gaming history.
That single moment showed the growing maturity of gaming, something that would become even more visible through the next ten years as genres outside of the story heavy role-playing genre began to develop hearts, souls and minds to cater for an ever increasingly intelligent, and more importantly, aware audience.
This narrative complexity was backed up by a magnificent blend of CGI graphics and hand-drawn art. Both grand in scale and intimate in execution, Final Fantasy VII was a landmark in the progression of video games and served as a wake-up call for developers around the globe to push the limits of technology to assist the storytelling process instead of being the storytelling process.
This graphical leap was complemented by arguably the best musical score in gaming. Nobuo Uematsu’s score is one of the major reasons that the game is as emotionally powerful as it is. Thoughtful, commanding and measured in equal portions, the score, capped by the magnificent “One-Winged Angel” (Sephiroth’s theme — undeniably the best video game composition), adds an extra layer of resonance to a game packed with feeling.
The ending of the game, after hours of shocking twists and epic battles, is deliberately ambiguous, initially leaving it up to the gamers themselves to make up their own minds about the fates of Cloud and his friends. Subsequent films, anime and other spin-offs have enlightened a passionate audience about the destiny of Midgar and its inhabitants but many prefer to end on the lingering image of Red XIII watching as nature reclaims the huge city and restores balance to the world.