Still the Greatest?
Final Fantasy VII is considered by many to be one of the greatest RPGs of all time, and the crowning jewel of the Final Fantasy series. Making this statement in any public forum however will inevitably invite a chorus of voices to loudly and proudly proclaim otherwise. Final Fantasy VI is the greatest, you new kids don't know anything about a good story. Final Fantasy X is the greatest, it has a better narrative and better gameplay. I could continue on with some kind of comments about what make every game in the series better than FFVII, but the reality is that no other game, not in the Final Fantasy series, not even from Squaresoft (or Square Enix) as a whole, is more embedded in the public consciousness. Cloud and Sephiroth are iconic characters nearly on the level of Mario or Sonic as far as popularity and recognizability, while half the people reading this will have to ask Google who Terra and Locke are.

The debate over whether or not Final Fantasy VII is really the best of the series got kicked up a bit recently with the release of said game on Steam last week. This is pretty much a straight port of the PC version released fifteen years ago, so there aren't any visual or audio upgrades, but the news was still big enough to make "Final Fantasy 7" a trending topic on Twitter, and few seemed to really care about the twelve-dollar price of admission. Unsurprisingly, the game has not aged well since it was originally released way back in 1997. The 3D character models are primitive, and the rendered 2D backgrounds are painful to look at on high-definition monitors. The turn-based combat, which uses Square's old Active Time Battle system, is definitely dated by the standards of today's more action-oriented RPGs. Random encounters, another relic of the past, are abundant in this game as well. When you're not fighting, there are more mini-games here than you'll find in some versions of Mario Party. You'll have to do everything from snowboarding to tower defense to progress through some parts of the story. Speaking of the story, the main plot line is easy enough to follow (Cloud needs to kill Sephiroth to save the world), but a lot of the more interesting details presented so poorly that they're about as hard to understand as a Metal Gear Solid cutscene. After fifteen years of gaming evolution, it's difficult to laud the high praises on this title that people say it deserves.

To really find out why Final Fantasy VII is so beloved, you actually have to mentally time travel a bit, and take away those fifteen years of progress. While gaming had begun to "grow up" in 1997 with the debuts of titles like Tomb Raider, Gran Turismo, and Resident Evil, the RPG was still mired in traditional fantasy conventions, not to mention being considered a nerdy genre, even by gamers. So with that in mind, imagine seeing something like this on TV:



This was quite the mind-blowing presentation back in the day, and is still kind of impressive even now. Although it consisted mostly on cutscenes, this may have been the first time a video game advertisement was comprised completely of in-game footage. Add in that epic-feel announcer and you have a title that was set to rock worlds. Even people who had no idea what a role-playing game was were saving up their quarters to buy this meaty three-disc title.

The game itself lived up to the hype. The look, the feel, the presentation... it was like nothing most gamers had ever seen before. In a genre that's largely driven by story telling, when you redefine the way a story is told, you're gonna get some attention. Final Fantasy VII set new standards for everything an RPG is supposed to be, and in doing so forever etched Cloud, Tifa, Aeris, and Barrett into the memories of millions. No game from Square has since captured that level of WOW, and so every Japanese RPG, whether fairly or not, continues to live in its shadow.

So, does that make Final Fantasy VII truly the gold standard of the series? Naturally, that's subjective. In my opinion though, a game that's as highly regarded as FFVII should be just as playable and enjoyable now as it was upon its release. After trying it out recently, I can't say that the experience is anywhere near as good as I remembered. Games have advanced in so many ways that the presentation which made FFVII so special and memorable doesn't have anywhere near the WOW-factor that it did back in '97. Still, none of the Final Fantasy games since have managed to be nearly as WOW-worthy in comparison. To be honest, I don't know if it's possible to impress a gaming audience that's seen it all by this point, but that's what Square will have to do if they hope to topple FFVII from its eternal pedestal.

Amaze us again, Square.
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