summers playing final fantasy 7
Poster "forks" is doing a blind final fantasy 7 (abbreviated: FF7) play-through on the forums right now and documenting their experience fresh, shortly after each playing session. So naturally, this inspired me to think about the countless hours I spent playing that game over the years and my original play-through 13-some years ago.
I guess the first thing I should get out of the way is that I don't enjoy RPGs. I've played a good handful of them: 4-5 final fantasy games in the series, NiNoKuni, almost all of Chrono Trigger, Kingdom Hearts, etc. And even though some of these games I completed, I can't say I have any fond memories of any except the Kingdom Hearts series and FF7, mostly because of my age at the time I played them and where my head was at mentally.
My best guess is that I played FF7 for the first time the summer going into either 9th or 10th grade, so I was roughly 13-14 years old and had been moving houses a few times due to personal issues. I was in a pretty crappy situation in real life, so I was more susceptible to being immersed in something like a video game, and especially one that told a story as a 50-hour epic. This is important context for the next section, where I'm just going to gush about the game.
FF7 is about a group of teenagers and a few extremist old men, who all have a unified motivation to take down Shinra, a global corporation that is destroying the planet, Gaia, by literally sucking up natural resources and manufacturing monsters and weapons to win total control of the world. On top of that, each character has a personal beef with Shinra: some because their families were torn apart by the company's actions, others because Shinra used them as a tool.
Like stated previously, this game is massive. It tells the stories of 9 party members, along with expounding on side characters, villains, and towns you visit during the game. Its world-building contains very little fluff, compared to other similarly-sized RPGs, in that non-playable characters (NPCs) usually have important context to add about another character or the town, and the optional locations give you more backstory about a party member. These are just some examples, but the point is, the game tries to make every interaction count. Shinra's impact is always intertwined with these people and places as well, so you never really lose sight of the story the game is trying to tell, and the main motivation of the party.
It's industrial. It's very real and relatable, and especially today you can draw easy parallels between our world and the game's. The plot covers loss, anger and revenge in ways that don't feel video-gamey - in a way that more closely aligns with emotions you might feel yourself. I'm very fatigued on the cartoony, anime-like interactions in RPG stories that are told today, but I think this game does an amazing job at keeping that to a minimum.
Its biggest strength, though, is the characters. The dialog between them is well-written, and they interact with each other in a very human way, something rare in the Final Fantasy series. FF7 characters have been bastardized in the spin-off games and movies, but at its whole, FF7 is funny game, with serious moments. These characters aren't dark and bruting the entire time: they make jokes, poke fun at each other, and allow themselves to converse about lighter topics. And when things get serious, it feels grander because of the time they spent creating camaraderie and becoming a closer group. The lighter moments are what make the heavier moments shine.
Staying up until 3AM was common for me when I was originally playing through this game. It was extremely difficult to put down because there are so many instances where I just wanted to keep going and see all the dramatic events and colorful locations, while listening to more of the soundtrack (which does not miss, by the way. The soundtrack is filled with these amazing multi-faceted orchestrations that I still listen to today). The game isn't difficult either, and you don't need to grind for levels, unless you absolutely want better skills and magic. In other words, it does a good job of keeping you moving towards the end without wasting your time (too much).
I recommend everyone play this game at least once in their life, especially if you enjoy this new wave of video games that have been released in the past 5-10 years that are trying to focus on world-building and well-written stories. There's really nothing like it, and I don't think there will ever be another Final Fantasy game as human as this one is. My take isn't a hot one, obviously - people go nuts for this game, but I think if you can avoid being over-hyped and reading too many posts like this one, you'd be pleasantly surprised at how well this game plays to its strengths.
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