A masterpiece that stands the test of time as one of the greatest stories ever told in video game format.
One of the biggest draws to any RPG is the engrossing tale it tells. If you are a fan of cult classic movies you will probably know the feeling when you are in for something special, a style that is unique as well as a plot that intrigues you no matter how often you've viewed it. FFVII tells such a tale. I could easily compare FFVII to movies in this way. I get the same feeling from FFVII as I do from cult classics such as Escape from New York, Blade Runner, Dune and Midnight Express. I suppose I am grouping atmosphere and storytelling with the actual plot here, but they both go hand in hand for the most part. You could take any convoluted story and give it the power to pull you into the world it has created as long as the telling of the tale demands the viewer's attention.
That being said, I could also compare it to some more recent critically acclaimed story driven games such as Uncharted 2, GTA IV and Half-Life 2. The emotion of the characters allows you to get to know them, to the point where you feel for them or even perhaps feel "through" them as if they are a window into the game experience. This is integral to any masterpiece in the modern video game world, where once games were based on simple point based goals, now games take on the same roles as novels, and I believe FFVII was perhaps the first game to actually delve into characterization on the level of film and literature, where as other games merely had dialogue to drive a narrative with a bare minimum of character development. Every character has a story to tell, has a deeply developed personality and traits that we can grow accustomed to as the game progresses.
As with any classic, I am able to return to this game throughout my life and experience it anew with the same potency even though game technology has vastly improved. It is like reading your favorite book and remembering why you were so fond of it to begin with. You may know the details, but the feeling you once had is merely brought back to mind with nostalgia. It is not only a richly told adventure, but a journey that one takes part in not for the sake of finishing, but for the opportunity of the experience.
Forget the fact that FFVII was released in mid 1997. Forget that the character textures are jagged and polygonal, being nearly reminiscent of the pioneers of 3D gaming such as Virtua Fighter, Virtua Cop, Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil. Instead pay attention to the ways the game integrates the visuals into the storytelling and how it takes a dark artistic pre-rendered backdrop to drive the atmosphere. At the time of its release, no other RPG had such a cinematic approach to its overall game play; it led the example for almost all RPGs to follow. Such graphical achievements in its time cannot be understated, but even when compared to modern games, FFVII still has its charms. The look and feel of the menus make them pleasure to navigate, especially in combat, where their simplicity does not detract from the action. Even the sound effects of the navigating the menus are memorable, akin to the sound effects in Zelda, Castlevania or Super Mario Bros. The detail in the spells, especially the lengthy and epic summoning spells, is remarkable and have since became a hallmark of many Final Fantasy games to follow.
In many ways, the soundtrack can make or break a movie, and in my opinion it can do the same for a story driven game. How well received would cult classics, such as Halloween or Escape from New York, be without John Carpenter's atmospheric synths or how could Blade Runner capture its mysterious science fiction mood without its memorable futuristic jazz themes? However I believe that FFVII's soundtrack is much more epic and if you have never had the pleasure of hearing Cosmo Canyon, Tifa's or Aerith's Theme orchestrated, I highly recommend going into it as you would any other classic soundtrack. In fact, I would even dare say that this games soundtrack is on the level Basil Poledouris soundtrack to "Conan the Barbarian" or Ennio Morricone's "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly". There are moments where the story drives the characters emotions home and others that merely give expression to even the most mundane points in the story. Some themes are touching, while others are inspiring. I would rank FFVII's soundtrack up with Diablo 2 and Megaman 2 & 3 as being one of the greatest game soundtracks. The Final Fantasy series of games have always been noted to have extraordinary soundtracks, but to this day I find that FFVII's themes capture the essence of what a soundtrack should relay as far as a sense of emotion goes. It is notable that while the PSX was capable of CD quality music, Uematsu chose to use MIDI format in the soundtrack and the sounds were recorded in a studio instead of completely being synthesized.
Many of the typical aspects of RPGs at that time were present, such as turn based style combat and linear paths with random monster encounters. However, it isn't the well implemented conventions that made this game exceptional, but as many have stated before, it is the Materia system that continues to give FFVII an involving and customizable combat. Mixing and matching materia remains my personal favorite spell system in any RPG, with the exception of the job system in Final Fantasy Tactics (PSX). Discovering the locations of various materia, leveling the materia and working towards the black materia still remains enjoyable. There are mini-games abound throughout the game, including the motorcycle and snowboarding events, Golden Saucer mini-games and Chocobo races. The hidden bosses such as Ruby Weapon still are a blast to challenge. Even though there are a large cast of characters to add to your party, you can only have 3 in combat at any given time, so it allows for a wide variety of choices. Each character has special moves called Limit Breaks, which can be executed to deal massive damage. Having multiple different characters in your party with different and learnable Limit Breaks spices things up a bit, however one can still customize them all with materia for unique combinations. It is especially satisfying to equip Cloud with a combination of double cut, cover, counter, mime, master command and hp absorb; Cloud will take the damage of an attack done to another party member, counter attack with a chance of double cutting (4x-Cut if mastered) multiple times due to the Mime materia all while stealing HP from the target and performing a random Master Command.
Final Fantasy VII is a classic and is deserving of all the hype it has gotten over the years. I know many feel that it is overrated, but then it all depends on when you first experienced this game and how involved you got into it. It was a prime example of how video games could create an experience on the level of film and literature and was revolutionary in the way storytelling and gameplay blended together to create a one of a kind fantasy adventure.