Top 100 PS1 Review: #2 – Final Fantasy 7 (1997)

Story Telling Matters. 

The Remake with all the bells and whistles can’t compete with pure polygonal poetry. 

Final Fantasy 7 PS1 IntroApe’s Ranking: #2/100
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar

There is a scene in the Final Fantasy 7: Remake where the line is clearly drawn in the sand between new and old. It’s in Shinra HQ where the president is making a lengthy speech about destiny, fate, environment, power, and money. It has the double sin of being lengthy WHILE not saying anything important. It’s like squeezing a dry lemon: lots of movement but no juice.

This is endemic to the entire Remake. More dialogue, more graphics, and more action that ends up being less emotional. It’s no different than when I watched the bloated Star Wars prequels and realized that just because you have “more” doesn’t mean it’s going to make things better. Meeting the president in the original is super impactful, and he doesn’t even bother saying a word (for those who know why – 🥰).

But, was I giving the original too much credit? Nostalgia is a helluva drug, and it must have been at least 15 years since I last heard the whir of a PS1 in the middle of the night as I roamed the streets of Midgar. Were things really better with those horrendously looking blocks?

Yes. Yes they were.

FF7 PS1 Intro Edios
Cinematic.

[OVERVIEW]

Shinra is a corporation that builds reactors around the world to power society’s energy needs. However, they use their position as a monopoly to dominate government and operate without any oversight. These reactors run on Mako, the life source of the planet, and its production creates deleterious effects on the environment.

AVALANCHE is a renegade group that opposes Shinra. Barret Wallace, its leader, wants to make a statement and blow up one of the Mako reactors at the main city Midgar, they just don’t have enough members to pull it off. They recruit a mercenary, Cloud Strife, and are able to successfully detonate a Mako Reactor.

Cloud, not wanting to get further involved, wants to leave but gets pulled back in by his childhood friend and AVALANCHE member Tifa. With Shinra publicly decreeing AVALANCHE a terrorist group, Cloud, Tifa, and Barrett team up to fight the unscrupulous corporation.

What follows will be a fight for the very world itself.

FF7 Escaping Midgar
Escaping Midgar is a seminal moment in FF7.

[ANALYSIS]

Finishing FF7 is mentally exhausting. It’s easy to see why it continues to capture the imagination of those who enter its orbit. I just spent hours going down rabbit holes of theories and lore to fill in the gaps. This is because the game has so many independently strong threads. One could make a solid game built upon just the fumes of any FF7 vignette.

Theme Coding.

At its core, FF7 is about the classic theme of technology versus nature. Shinra heralded in an era of immense abundance as its Mako reactors now make anything possible due to unimpeded energy. The game constantly makes you ask: at what cost?

Town after town has a personal story about their dealings with Shinra. Within these individual stories are a bunch of secondary themes that are investigated deeply and resonate outside of the game within our own world.

Barret’s hometown was traditionally a coal mining society. When Shinra spiels to them the future of Mako, everyone accepts it but one person. The lone dissenter thinks that they should stick to their roots and culture. Barret tells him that it’s a sign of the times. Instead of working in the dirt, they’ll now have more freedom to seek other opportunities.

When trouble occurs at the new Mako reactor, Shinra uses it as an opportunity to move in and kill most of the town cementing their dominance over that climbing lower class.

Vignette 2
Barret as he watches his town in flames. Each character has strong personal ties to the story.

Class is a frequent theme. While technology promised to lift everyone out of poverty, it only stratified the social structure. This ossified hierarchy is best represented by Midgard’s division of upper vs. lower plate. Those upper class Shinra employees live in the better conditions reaping all the benefits of the technology while the lower plate inhabitants wallow in squalor and bear all the cost.

Real Life.

One cannot play this game and not reflect on our current situation. Barret’s situation seems particularly poignant living near West Virginia borders. A people promised a better life because of technology really only were left behind. How similar those debates must have been 30 years ago: living room presentations with corporation representatives and growing division between young and old.

I also cannot escape what technology has done to us. Social media might be our today’s Shinra, pushing outrage to just garner more data points to sell to the highest bidders. Anything worthwhile doing in life requires sustained attention, and how many of us still have that after being bombarded with the algorithms of Instagram? The promises of a global society connected and interacting without barriers has led to echo chambers, distrust, and tribalism.

Technology vs. Nature. Past vs. Present. Proletariat vs. Bourgeoisie. It’s all here in a million different ways.

Vignette 5 ff7
There are also plot points without the weighty themes, like when Red XIII learns the truth about his father. 

No McGuffin Allowed. 

Can I get an amen? No dumb shit quests to collect peripheral items only to unnaturally extend game play. Everything you do is tied directly into the plot or the characters, so you have immense emotional capital to keep pushing you forward.

At one point, Shinra plans to try and blow up a meteor with a byproduct of his mako manufacturing called “Big Materia.” This almost is McGuffin-esque as it is a hitherto aforementioned plot device. However, it all fits seamlessly into the FF7 universe:

  • It keeps Shinra as a player on the plot and as an antagonist all the way till the end of the game.
  • It makes you revisit previous locations to further individual story/character plot points.
  • It culminates in finishing the story arc of Cid and fleshes out his character.

After escaping Midgard, the narrative device pushing things forward is trying to catch up to Sephiroth. This does two things for the narration. First, it builds the mythology of Sephiroth. You never see him visually, just what he’s left behind or done. Second, you learn more about each individual character and why they are committed to fighting Shinra. It’s all meaningful and has a purpose.

Ending ff7
The ending is open-ended leaving us to decide which themes win out. 

All of the Above.

While we don’t know how it will exactly play out with FF7: Remake, I’m sure it will follow the playbook mentioned in the intro: lots of words, tons of scenes, and incredible CGI. I worry about the loss of meaning, though.

What makes the original FF7 so good at storytelling is that it is was at a time where technology was good enough for you to do almost anything you wanted but you were still constrained by space. You couldn’t fill every moment with superfluous content. It meant picking and choosing, bringing a scalpel to your work.

Giving these blocky characters life required ingenuity, and that shines through with every animation, conversation, and interaction that was kept. At the end, you realize that these guys are your friends, and you are sorry to see them go.

[CONCLUSION]

Give me good storytelling any day over bloated CGI cut scenes.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Average Game Review: “There are many people out there who claim that Final Fantasy VII is overrated. I tend to disagree with those people. This game is one of the most famous classics for a reason. It was incredibly innovative for its time. I don’t think it’s the best of the series, but it definitely had an influence on every JRPG to come after.”
  • The Reformed Gamers: “Square had successfully captured the attention of a new audience with a classic bate and switch. Not necessarily a bad one, but one where they intrigued us with the promise of fantastic visuals and wound up hooking us with tried and true story telling chops.”
  • Up The Monitors: “All told, Final Fantasy VII is and was a brilliant game, with a wonderful story, and more plot twists and shenanigans than Poiroit’s time in Harlem.”

Author: Casual But Smart

I review the top 100 books, movies, albums, and games of all time.

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