Checkpoint: Final Fantasy VII

checkpointlogoThis column originally ran on February 23, 2010.

The year was 1997. America was waiting for its next great RPG, one that would catapult the genre to new heights in the country. Instead, it got Final Fantasy VII, which confused a lot of people (wasn’t this series just on III?). To commemorate the recent release of Final Fantasy XIII, Checkpoint takes a look back at Cloud’s misadventures, and we try to fathom why some call this the best game of all-time.

Final Fantasy VII had some good characters...and Cloud, Cait Sith, Vincent...
Final Fantasy VII had some good characters…and Cloud, Cait Sith, Vincent…

Arch Deluxe

Lee: Final Fantasy VII was Square Enix’s first time stepping into the world of CD games with the main series. The result was a three-disc saga of trials, tears and SEPHIROTH (more on him later). It was a good game, but it was not without its flaws. Let’s start with the story.

Chris: This was the first game in the series that really focused on telling an overarching story, as opposed to a more confined tale with character-driven plot points. Overall, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Shaun: Well, if the story wasn’t so damn convoluted, it could have been. And at times, the narrative is strong and engaging. It’s just some aspects were so unnecessarily complicated that it somewhat ruins the experience.

Lee: I didn’t have a problem with the story. Then again, I don’t need everything to fit perfectly to have a good time. I can fill in the blanks with my own imagination.

Chris: Well, lucky you. For the rest of us, trying to figure out why exactly we should care about Cloud’s whining and lying and when exactly Sephiroth shows up is more of a chore than a delight.

Shaun: When the most cherished and highly praised scene involves a guy scewering a main party member, except it’s not really the bad guy, it’s another bad guy pretending to be that bad guy, it’s problematic.

Lee: Wouldn’t you be crying if God cursed you with that hair?

Chris: But Shaun, the bad guy who wasn’t the bad guy posing as the bad guy could stand in towering flames while staring at you with his steel-blue eyes. That’s important story right there.

Shaun: Although, Square has a knack for creating completely nonsensical end bosses, and I guess angel horse Sephiroth fits in that category. I did like the scene where you beat the hell out of ol’ Sephi with Omnislash, though. That was great.

Chris: Right. Although why Sephiroth had to be shirtless was beyond me. Then again, you could argue that scene was also in Cloud’s head.

Lee: Actually, that scene pretty much meant the final boss was a pansy.

Shaun: Guys, did you see the boss fight before that? His shirt just got shreaded in the chaos. That, and it’s much more metrosexual to have your shirt off during epic fight scenes. He’s just fashionable, that’s all. Always fashionable.

Lee: Long girly hair = gets caught in plane turbines. Not exactly fashionable if you are dead.

Chris: Okay, I’ll just admit this now and let my street cred forever hold its peace: the first time through this game, Aeris dying made me sad. I didn’t cry (showed you, Tidus!), but it was sad.

Shaun: Well, part of the problem was that unless you sucked at playing games, chances were she was actually part of your core party. You lost not only the character, but the party member.

Chris: And the only healer worth anything. Yes, everyone could have healing materia. Not the same.

Shaun: That’s why it was so ballsy so kill her off. We make fun of it (because some people make it up to be the greatest scene in modern entertainment), but it was an excellent scene, and took some guts on Square’s part. Never before had they killed such an important character halfway through the game (and they stayed dead).

Chris: Yeah, as poignant as, say, Cyan’s family getting killed in VI was, this was much different. An unexpected time, an important character, and they set you up for it the whole way. Unless you were Lee and dated Barret.

Lee: I dated the hell out of Barret.

Shaun: And I can’t even begin to attempt to describe the scene with the brain-dead Clouds. Apparently they are inside…his head? His psyche? Sure, Square. Whatever you say.

Lee: That was the lifestream helping Tifa see inside Cloud’s thoughts.

Chris: So Aeris was trying to help Tifa understand women?

Lee: Yep. One point I wasn’t pleased with was the end of the first disc. You do all that work to get someone to like you, and then he watches another party member die. Damn you Barret! That ride was for nothing!

Shaun: Overall, I would still say it’s one of the better stories from the series, but there are moments that fanboys squeal about that are either silly or plain don’t make any sense.

Chris: Like the entire ending.

Shaun: Yeah, what happened there?

Chris: Okay, so here’s what I think. I think some green stuff stopped the meteor they were all worried about. I think Red XIII had kids. And Marlene survived. That’s it. That’s all we got.

Even a mega-company like Shinra can't manufacture character development, Cloud.
Even a mega-company like Shinra can’t manufacture character development, Cloud.

Compunction Junction, What’s Your Function

Shaun: And I think the fact that you no longer have a dedicated healer brings up an interesting point. While the character designs were pretty solid, the battle functionality of all of them was not. Yuffie? Sucked. Cait Sith? Sucked harder. And Vincent Valentine had the worst Limit Break ever.

Lee: I didn’t mind Yuffie that much. She had her second to last limit break, which was like Omnislash.

Chris: I kinda wish Vincent had turned into a giant mech instead of a demon. I think it would have made the game…no, not better. Something.

Lee: Robotier?

Chris: Gundamier.

Lee: Mecharific.

Shaun: Yeah, but as it was, an uncontrollable, existential Frankenstein monster was not cutting it. And yes, he was existential.

Lee: That’s why I had him with his shotgun and the double cut materia.

Chris: As much grief as Yuffie gets from most folks, I didn’t hate her. I never used her, mind you, but I could at least tolerate her. I just can’t understand for the life of me what Cait Sith was supposed to be. Yes, I know, he was the one non-corrupt guy in Shinra. Doesn’t help the actual character that goes around with you.

Lee: I would have to say my favorite character was Biggs. He lives on in my heart. That’s why I was dating Barret. I was just sleeping with him to get more information about the love of my life.

Chris: At least he goes out like a pimp in this game, unlike in VI. “Hey what’s this laser Tritoch is spewing augggggggggggh.” Done.

Lee: Or Chrono Trigger. Going back to the torture room. Thanks for playing.”

Shaun: Red XIII was probably my favorite. An awesome looking dog with a neat name and decent combat potential.

Chris: I always imagined Red XIII with a British accent. Maybe it’s because of how proper he talks when you first rescue him. But the idea of him with a monocle always amused me.

Shaun: You know, I see it now that you’ve mentioned it.

Lee: I didn’t really pay attention to what he said. Those captions were really subtitles, and you don’t get those in real life.

Shaun: Well, he’s a DOG, Lee, what do you expect?

Lee: Dogs don’t have fiery tails. The end.

Shaun: Some do. It depends. Largely on whether or not you set them on fire, but still…

Chris: He’s right. Think about Charmander. Fiery tail. Clearly a dog.

Shaun: Great, now we have to deal with PITA. I think that’s them on the phone.

Lee: My GOD, we haven’t talked about King Pimpmaster III. Cid Highwind. That guy was one of the best characters.

Chris: And smoking in a video game? Gasp!

Shaun: Yeah, Cid was solid. Interesting character and great for the party. And his lance was sweet.

Lee: Aside from the Whine Master, Cid probably drove the story the most. How do I get to new areas? Ask Cid. Airship not going fast enough? Cid’s got your back.

Chris: Dude just rolls around in his airship, lighting up and firing missiles.

Lee: I didn’t really care about the remaining characters. Tifa was okay, but using a slot machine to determine whether or not I do damage with my limit break reminds me of the Gambling Fiasco of ’87. Not a big fan of that one.

Chris: I was okay with Tifa’s character, even if her character model was ridiculous. She owned a bar, beat up enemies with her fists and didn’t play the archetype female lead character.

Shaun: At least they scaled her back a bit in future sequel type things. I actually really like her character when she is not Dolly Parton.

Lee: She wasn’t terrible, but I didn’t use her in the end game until I was forced.

Shaun: Cloud was not the worst character in the game, but the older I get, the more annoying I find his attitude to be. You just…want to shake him. Wake up! Stop whining and go save the world! Unless Sephiroth drowns in your tears, your crying isn’t helping anything.

Chris: Man, I just pictured Sephiroth slipping and falling face first into a small puddle of Cloud’s tears and drowning, and it made my day.

Lee: I am currently laughing out in the open air.

Shaun: Well, good. It’s a good thing when the struggle between the title’s protagonist and antagonist evokes that much ridiculous hilarity.

Chris: Look, Cloud was a good fighter. Of course, that was about as much character depth as he had, so I guess he’d better be good at it. Unfortunately, he makes for a tepid, boring, boorish main character. I blame Cloud and his unfathomable popularity for Squall. And for Tidus.

Shaun: And if you play Crisis Core, it only drives this fact home further. It actually makes him worse. You know, Zack was likeable. Arrogant in the beginning, but likeable. I guess that’s what we call a “character arch.” Why couldn’t Cloud have been like Zack? Ha, whoops. I guess that’s actually the existential question the whole game is based around. My bad.

Lee: I’ll be honest, that part of the game confused me. I would probably have to play it again to keep track. Was Cloud just a clone the whole time? Did any of that really exist?

Shaun: He thought he was Zack, who was a hero. That’s pretty much it. He just believed it so hard with his estrogen that it became his reality.

Chris: And really, the fact that they had to make an entire spinoff on a different system 11 years later just to explain said major plot point is…well, it isn’t good.

Shaun: You know, the sad thing is that when you’re not running dumb errands for Aeris, Crisis Core actually has a better story than VII.

Lee: Okay, what was the Crisis?

Shaun: The crisis was the core of everything. I actually really don’t know.

Chris: We’ve missed talking much about a couple characters. I liked Barret, and his whole dad angle actually was pretty good. Vincent and his dark, emo, vampire ways never really did much for me. Although at least he didn’t sparkle.

Lee: I just assumed Vincent was a television actor who lost his memory and transferred his starring role to his real life. Everything that had to do with him was actually a prop. Lucretia was just an animatronic robot left on set.

Shaun: I think that should have been the plot for Dirge of Cerberus. God knows it would have been better than the plot they actually used. Something about Genesis, I’m not really sure.

Chris: I think Dirge of Cerberus should never have existed. That saves both problems.

Shaun: Well, you and pretty much all of the gaming industry. I like Reno. Why couldn’t Reno be in the main party.

Lee: Hojo.

That's right, kids. Clothes aren't flammable. Go have fun!
That’s right, kids. Clothes aren’t flammable. Go have fun!

Limit Breaking the Habit

Chris: Let’s talk about gameplay a bit. This is classic turn-based RPG material here, and while I rip on most parts of this game, the combat isn’t part of that. It did a lot of things right.

Shaun: Well, the classic turn-based system was really finely tuned, and moved pretty briskly at the time. Also, I loved the materia system. It’s similar to leveling up with weapons using AP points, but it was addictive and well implemented.

Chris: The materia system was pretty solid. Balanced. It let you customize your characters to an extent, without making them all too similar (one of the few complaints I have about IV or VI). Limit breaks and the vastly different weapon types everyone used helped with that as well.

Lee: I was a fan of the introduction of limit breaks. If you wanted to sit back for a bit in the middle of combat, you used a limit break and watched the shiny scenes.

Shaun: Actually, that was one of my only complaints, and it was not something that has ever really been addressed. Yes, Limit Breaks and Summons are shiny and cool, but when you summon Bahamut for the 500th time and still have to sit through the whole animation, it becomes tiresome.

Chris: And Knights of the Round…ugh. Look, it was cool the first few times. But then…

Shaun: That animation lasted for about 80 minutes. I could go to the DMV and come back and it would only be about halfway done. Combine this with two mimics and you have an ability that can kill anything, if you live long enough.

Lee: I never got Knights of the Round. Damn Chocobos didn’t want to pop out a blue one.

Shaun: Worth it. Kind of. Depends on how much you like your free time.

Chris: Lee hates it. Like most things.

Shaun: You’re better off with Ifrit then, Lee. Ifrits almost as good.

Chris: What about Sephiroth’s limit break of sorts? Supernova? Huh? Anybody like that? Supernova?

Shaun: I didn’t like it much when I was eating it.

Lee: Yeah, Supernova was a little ridiculous. Especially if he did it twice. Where did all the other planets come from?

Chris: Let’s just get one thing straight. Any attack that destroys half the solar system but can’t ever kill your party is NOT an awesome attack. You can’t implode Jupiter and then do 94.6% damage to your party’s HP. You can’t. I don’t care that it could cause every status effect in the game. You can’t.

Shaun: Maybe it was just a trick. Sephiroth was just a magician, that’s all. A big, horsey, angelic magician.

Chris: Yeah, and he did that trick where he wasn’t even in Disc One! What an awesome villain.

Lee: Sephiroth is sort of a magician. He made his nipple rings disappear before your fight. I KNOW he had them.

Shaun: Well, my problem was how it kind of ruins the plot if you think about it. So, the big threat in the game is a meteor coming and damaging the earth…but Sephiroth just called on this thing that obliterated planets and landed here. Wouldn’t this classify as worse than a meteor?

Chris: Exactly! I just can’t figure out for the life of me why people don’t understand this.

Lee: I agree with that. He could extinguish life on other planets, but not the one we were on. And didn’t he want to leave Midgar for other planets. That is difficult to do if you blow up the other planets.

Chris: Oh, and one more thing: Why in the holy hell is that version of Sephiroth called “Safer Sephiroth”? He melts the freaking solar system! It takes all of the awesomeness of One-Winged Angel to keep this from being the worst thing ever.

Lee: Wasn’t it Seraph Sephiroth? Or was that another of his 50 versions?

Shaun: Seraph Sephiroth is redundant. From this day forth, it is Safer Sephiroth to me. It’s a trick used to goad Cloud into thinking the coast is clear. “Oh, it’s cool guys. This Sephiroth is safer than the one that killed my girlfriend. The coast is clear.”

This explains so much. Wait, no it doesn't.
This explains so much. Wait, no it doesn’t.

Un-Better With Age

Shaun: The thing is, the characters, especially Cloud and Vincent, have aged poorly, as has the story. The only thing that helps this game endure is the gameplay. This is one of the best examples of turn-based in a genre that will probably be obsolete for the most part pretty soon. Every new Final Fantasy wants to create faster and more streamlined encounters. XII was real time, and in XIII, you are more like a general issuing roles for your party. Both advances are fun, but I miss turn-based sometimes.

Chris: Even though I’m a much bigger fan of active battle systems (i.e. Tales series), a good turn-based system can still pull me in. X had a good one — quick, flexible, engaging. Valkyria Chronicles had a good one, although that’s more of a tactical RPG. It’s still possible.

Shaun: As far as how its legacy went, I can sum that up fairly easily: not well. Other than Crisis Core, which has its fair share of problems, nothing from this compilation has been worth anything.

Chris: No. The original game is good. Great, even, despite all of its problems. But the idea that Final Fantasy VII is the best game of all time is insulting to the entire industry.

Shaun: VII is not the best game of all time. It’s not even the best game in the series. In my opinion, it’s not even the second or third best in the series.

Chris: And the clamor for remakes and sequels and spin-offs have resulted in a lot of crap outside of CC. Even Advent Children wasn’t that great.

Shaun: Advent Children had some cool scenes, and made Tifa likeable to me, but was not a complete film at all.

Lee: Wasn’t a big fan of “Hey Kids, Sephiroth is back.” But why? Because we want more fans.

Shaun: Yeah. They revived him in a way that made me less angry that just bringing him back from the dead and creating zombie Sephiroth, but it still didn’t need to happen.

Chris: Let’s see. VI is better. X is better. XII is probably better. I’ll reserve judgment on XIII until I actually play it. IV is better. VIII is not better. IX is better. That puts VII at least sixth. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s “average” even within its own series, let alone the greater gaming community. VII was extremely influential to the FF series as a whole, and it brought an entire generation of gamers in the States into the RPG genre. It also introduced a new side of PC gaming. But it doesn’t stand up on its own as a game.

Shaun: Yeah, pretty much sums it up. That does not mean it’s not a great game, and it was certainly important…but its praise is a little undeserving. A lot undeserving.

Lee: Well, if you have never played another Final Fantasy you might like this game more.

Shaun: That’s true. It caters to an audience that may not classify themselves as fans of RPGs.

Lee: I enjoyed playing it. But I haven’t replayed since that first time. And that was probably nine or 10 years ago.

Shaun: Just recently, I decided to download it on my PSP and play it again. I have a feeling it’s not going to age well, but at the same time, I am anticipating a fun time. I think that is a more appropriate legacy than anything. Overblown, and sometimes silly, but ultimately a fun entry in the franchise.

SPOILERS
SPOILERS

Outtakes

Shaun: I’m sure Twilight Tweens love this game.

Lee: They are called Twihards.

Chris: I mean, when Sephiroth is shirtless at the end there, he’s almost like Taylor Lautner, right? …I’m embarrassed that I even know that guy’s name.

Lee: Who?

Shaun: He’s better than Robert Pattinson.

Lee: Who?

Chris: He’s like the male version of Taylor Swift.

Lee: Oookay. I think I know who that guy is.

Shaun: No! Taylor is so much better.

Lee: Taylor is a guy’s name.

Chris: I can totally imagine Cloud singing You Belong With Me to Sephiroth. For hours.

Shaun: I’m thinking more Teardrops on my Guitar. And Cloud sitting under a lone tree on the top of a hill and sobbing onto his acoustic guitar. Taylor was the best part of Valentine’s Day, I’ll tell you that. The movie, not the day.

Lee: Hold on! You saw that movie and didn’t check your balls at the door before you entered this chat. I don’t even know you anymore.

Shaun: I didn’t check my balls…at the door? Before the chat? The mixed metaphors are confusing me.

Lee: You had me thinking I was chatting with a man. I could have been hitting on you this entire time.

Chris: Cloud probably loves Crossroads.

Shaun: And Lady Gaga. Who am I kidding, Lady Gaga is great.

Chris: I bet when he’s not off pretending to be Zack, he sits in his dressing room, puts on a blonde wig, and calls himself Hannah Montana. But when the wig is off, he’s a completely different person!

Lee: But he’s actually Miley Cloud, and his friends just can’t figure it out because he goes the special school.

Shaun: This sounds like Final Fantasy VII-2. And in real life he thinks he’s Miley. Double the identity crisis, double the fun. And he has the best of both worlds.

Chris: I bet if you took away Cloud’s hair gel, he’d look like Jewel. And sing in a whiny voice like Jewel.

Lee: You can’t take away his hair gel. That is half of his character.

Shaun: And Vincent bares a striking resemblance to JC Chavez. You could probably form the entire group of N’ Sync out of VII characters.

Shaun: Sephiroth is Justin Timberlake. Cait Sith is Lance Bass. It’s perfect.

Chris: But…Lance Bass voiced Sephiroth.

Shaun: Ha! Forgot about that. What happened there? That’s worse than Jesse McCartney voicing Roxas.

Chris: I don’t know. But it explains so much.

Lee: And Justin Timberlake voiced Yuffie.

Shaun: At least Jesse McCartney is not playing Prince Zuko anymore. What a disaster that would have beeen.

Chris: Right. You might as well cast Jeff Goldblum as Aang then.

Lee: WTF?

Shaun: Ah, that was good. What an obscure thing to say. I love it. Obscure, and yet perfect.

Lee: I just died a little on the inside.

Chris: I GOT A FEELIN’

Lee: THAT TONIGHT’S GONNA BE THE WORST NIGHT

Shaun: Lee, that’s not how it goes. I appreciate your enthusiasm though.

Lee: I’ll probably be dreaming of Jeff Goldblum now. I hope you are happy.

Chris: Imagine him with a shaved head and a blue arrow. It’s hilarious. Wait, by “hilarious” I meant “haunting.” My bad.

Lee: Can I imagine him getting eaten by a T-Rex. Yes, yes I can.

Shaun: Jeff Goldblum was the main character of a movie where people thought they were dogs. And so did he. ANd it was this mental thing.

Lee: But it has to be an Eagle-T-Rex.

Shaun: Probably the worst movie I have ever seen.

final-fantasy-vii

Checkpoint is a series of discussions run by Chris, Shaun and Tech Guy back in their college newspaper days. For more entries in the series, click here.

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