We're nearing the launch of Final Fantasy VII Remake for PlayStation 4 on April 10th. So before we all deal with the news, I would like to take a moment to talk about why the original is so special.
Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997 on the PlayStation. I was 11 years old, but I understood before the start that the game would be a big deal. There is a lot of mysticism behind Final Fantasy VII. First of all, it was a big deal that it was going to be an exclusive PlayStation. Until then, Final Fantasy had been living on Nintendo consoles. Seeing such a big franchise change seemed to be a sign that times were changing. Sure enough, Sony would soon overcome Nintendo as the market leader.
As silly as it may seem now, even the name was fascinating. Before that, I was used to a completely different numbering system for the series. In the United States, for example, Final Fantasy VI in Japan was Final Fantasy III. So we suddenly moved from Final Fantasy III to Final Fantasy VII. It was fun to use the limited resources available at the time to find out why we missed a number of entries in the series. It was a random piece of marketing brilliance because I was more interested in the franchise.
But despite all this intrigue and hype, the actual game was a shocking representation of the spectacle. I remember watching a video of Final Fantasy VII before it came out, something I probably downloaded from AOL or something. It was short, it just showed Cloud going down a few steps and getting into a random battle. However, the mix of 3D characters from Final Fantasy VII against pre-rendered backgrounds looked spectacular. Yes, these blunt, triangular characters may look primitive now, but they showed so much more movement and action than the 2D characters I was used to.
The real highlight of this video, which was probably displayed at a resolution so low that I don't dare speak its dimensions, was when a character used a summon. In Final Fantasy, these are powerful spells that literally summon creatures, monsters, or gods into a special attack. These were neat in previous games, but they became huge and epic in Final Fantasy VII. I remember seeing the summons from this video, Leviathan, for the first time. He conjures up a tidal wave that rises and races over all enemies. It was by far the coolest thing I've ever seen in a game.
Then I was allowed to play the actual game, which has one of the most iconic openings ever. I think we all remember the first time we saw the camera zoom out of the mysterious flower girl and look down at a futuristic city. Then we came back to concentrate on a train racing into a train station. Pre-rendered cutscenes were still rare and exciting, and this was the largest that most of us had ever seen.
And the whole game was littered with fantastic cutscenes, vast landscapes and epic incantations. Now I don't want to downplay Final Fantasy VII's role as an RPG. The brilliant ATB (Active Time Battle) system was also used, which had become a mainstay of the series at the time and combined turn-based strategy with real-time tension. The Materia system, which you used to improve certain spells and then exchange them between characters, was also a lot of fun.
They also have the great soundtrack, unforgettable characters and all the other stuff that Final Fantasy VII did great. But I think it was this spectacle, the use of technology to present action and story to an extent that we weren't used to in role-playing games that made Final Fantasy VII special.
As excited as I am for the remake, I don't know if it can be the industry milestone that the original was in 1997.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that deals with the past of games, immersing in classics, new retro titles, or how old favorites – and their design techniques – inspire today's market and experiences. If you have any retro style projects or balls you'd like to send me, please contact me.