Friday, August 1, 2014

Final Fantasy 7: The Gameplay

I've focused most of the past FF7 blog posts on the story, mostly trying to make observations about the story that perhaps some of you hadn't considered before. Through it all, I don't think I've really touched upon the non-story elements, especially the gameplay. So, in this final blog about the most popular Final Fantasy I'll stop rambling about the story for a while.

Beyond the graphics and the story, Final Fantasy 7 introduced several new concepts to the realm of jRPGs. For one thing, they were some of the earliest (and certainly the biggest name) to tackle the problem of bringing jRPGs to a 3D world. This turned out to be an arduous process compared to the 2D RPGs, requiring much more time and a much bigger budget. That said, FF7 set many standards that 3D jRPGs continued to use for years.

That said, the game's 3D adaptation was hardly perfect. One of the strangest things was movement sometimes. Most of the time up meant up, down was down, etc, but the controls were not static; sometimes up meant up/left or up/right, which was pretty disorienting and sometimes made exploration frustrating.

The 3D allowed for much more dynamic-looking battles with moving cameras, changing angles, and lots of swooping back and forth to focus on action as it happened. This made battles much more fun to watch! However, because the cursor stayed on the enemy or character even when they were hopping across the screen to attack or whatever, that made targeting really easy to accidentally shift unexpectedly. I can think of several times I accidentally healed an enemy because someone had jumped over to the enemy side, causing the cursor to jump that way as well and move to an enemy when I was in a rush. I've also accidentally cast offensive magic on my party members in much the same fashion.

The Materia system was unique, though I'm not sure how much I really like it. I used to have a big problem with it since I was used to FF6 in which all of the characters had cool, unique abilities that made them interesting to use, plus when they learned magic they learned it forever and didn't have to trade their abilities back and forth. Comparatively, pretty much any character in FF7 could be basically the same as any other one skill-wise  is you simply transfer the materia from one to the other.

That said, I enjoyed managing materia and finding good combinations, and limit breaks provided... sufficient differentiation between character play-styles. So, I wouldn't say FF7's system was better or worse, just different.

Limit Breaks kept things fairly exciting, though. They were flashy, powerful, and came often enough to keep battles interesting.

Summons were flashy and exciting to use, too, when I first played the game. However, now that I'm no longer being wowed by the animation of the summons, using them just seemed like a waste of time: they were long, unskippable movies that cost a lot of MP and did honestly mediocre damage for the most part. I almost never used them, opting to master the use of regular attacks augmented by the occasional regular magic now and then. The only time I really used summons extensively was during the Ruby and Emerald Weapon fights, neither of which was terribly enjoyable. Even Safer Sephiroth fell to a combination of regular attacks and Limit Breaks, which made the battle feel very quick. As it turns out, if you don't have a bunch of magic and summons equipped to bring down your Strength you can hit pretty hard.

Finally, the music: it all sounds really good. Some of the tracks don't happen enough, like the music that plays when you're trying to recruit Yuffie. Some of the music plays way, way too much, like the standard battle music that plays for every single random battle in the game as well as several bosses (including the Ruby and Emerald Weapons) and certain scenes outside of battle. The most memorable scene in the game for me was when Cloud overcame Sephiroth in the Nibelheim reactor, where the overworld music you had heard for most of the game, which disappeared with the appearance of Meteor, suddenly comes back and provides the perfect dramatic background music for the scene. It was a powerful thing.

Anyway, FF7 isn't my favorite jRPG or even my favorite Final Fantasy. However, after getting over my initial, 12-year-old excitement for the game and going through a period of jadedness about the game, I found myself impressed with the game once again despite an arguably more mature outlook and experience with many far newer video games. The only places the game doesn't really hold up anymore after 17 years are the graphics and the localization. The graphics came about during an awkward time at the dawn of the 3D era, and even the FMVs that don't feature the blocky, hyper-polygonal character sprites feel weird and are kinda funny to watch. Also, the localization was handled during a strange transitional period for Square, just after they lost the talents of Ted Woolsey, the guy who had done such great things for FF6, Chrono Trigger, and most of the other SNES-era Square games. The result is a game filled with typos, inconsistencies, and strange statements that would have benefited from the work of Woolsey or, later, Tom Slattery.

So ends my series on FF7. I hope it was sometimes insightful.

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