Biggest Game of Our Lives #18: “Final Fantasy 7”

The line between cult and mainstream is the ultimate challenge for any RPG, but ‘Final Fantasy 7’ pulled the impossible: it managed to appeal to long-term fans of the series while also becoming a major hit in its own right.

The oldest game in our series of retrospectives, along with Super Mario 64, it is surprising to realize that a game with the depth and complexity of Final Fantasy 7 was released on PlayStation 1.

As we discussed in our article on “Deus Ex”, It is almost impossible for a game with a complex and deep story and gameplay like Final Fantasy 7 to achieve the same standards in the same era of HD graphics.

In 1997, the graphic quality took a back seat because the game was packed with unforgettable characters, hundreds of hours of content, and solid gameplay.

The popular ‘Final Fantasy 7’ appeared on 3 discs a day, but as the video game evolved into DVD, Blu-Ray, and subsequent digital distribution methods, no game in the ‘Final Fantasy’ series was anywhere close to matching the brilliance of the 1997 outing series.

In fact, when a remake of ‘Final Fantasy 7’ was released in 2020, it clearly ended after the end of the first disc, and that’s just how complicated the game is.

It’s a minor miracle that the original was able to fit on PlayStation 1.

When ‘Final Fantasy’ is called or a new one is announced, minds immediately turn to the series’ seventh entry – and those who have spent many afternoons racing Chocobos in the Gold Saucer District.

head in the cloud

It was also pointed out that Final Fantasy was a well-established franchise by the time the seventh entry began.

The first entry in the series was first shown to audiences in its native Japan in 1987, while Western audiences were first introduced to the franchise in 1990.

Created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the series helped establish the franchise as a major seller for SNES.

By the time production on 1995’s “Chrono Trigger” ended, Sakaguchi had decided to hand the reins of Final Fantasy to contemporary Yoshinori Kitase.

In the early stages of planning, discussions were underway over whether the game would continue the traditional 2D style or adopt the burgeoning 3D style that is fast becoming the industry standard.

One of the greatest things to happen in gaming history was Nintendo’s offer to collaborate with Sony to create an additional CD for SNES, but Sony eventually turned down the offer.

Industry legend says that Nintendo realized they didn’t have the technical know-how that Sony had, and after showing them a taste of gaming life, Sony decided to go it alone.

This thorn in the road moment changed the history of gaming as we know it, and by the time Square was designing an initial version of ‘Final Fantasy 7’ on the Nintendo 64, the console simply couldn’t handle the technical requirements.

Sony’s decision to choose a CD-based system over a Nintendo cartridge system went down as one of the most influential moments in gaming history, and Square realized that in order to realize their ambitions, they needed to turn to the Sony camp.

This historical context is important to understanding why Final Fantasy 7 caught fire in this way.

By the time the game was entering development, PlayStation had teased the Nintendo-Sega duopoly, and was the console of choice for self-aspiring developers.

As we later saw with Metal Gear Solid in 1999, The PlayStation 1 made the impossible possible, and even early in the console’s life cycle, Sony’s console broke into the leading sales position.

When the European audience got “Final Fantasy 7” in late 1997, the PlayStation was the must-have console, and this massive combined player base was the perfect audience for the most popular “Final Fantasy” to date.

death in the family

The main part of why Final Fantasy 7 struck a chord with mainstream audiences was its unforgettable cast of characters.

Our hero Cloud Strife is a classic hero in the sense of Joseph Campbell, i.e. a character that you can stand out for yourself.

For those without experience with storytelling, Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero With a Thousand Faces is seen as the bible for budding writers who want to create an epic story.

The most famous use of Campbell’s book is when George Lucas borrowed heavily from the writings to compose the “Star Wars” story and Luke Skywalker’s character.

Bear Campbell, our hero must believe in the lie that is his motive, and when the truth is revealed, it should serve as a moment for character growth.

The trick to Final Fantasy 7 is that it gives Cloud 3 lies that represent moments of character growth.

Cloud believes he is a soldier, a clone of the villain Sephiroth, then tricks himself into believing he is not someone of great importance.

The moment of learning comes when he realizes that he is indeed the hero the world needs, and what is important is that the player is with him when he achieves this breakthrough.

We wrote in this series About how video games are still not widely exploited as a way to tell stories in a way that neither film nor television can, and the main part of why Final Fantasy 7 caught fire the way it did is because it was one of the first times that games showed it wasn’t just a hobby for kids – She was able to tell deep and emotional stories.

If you’ve made it this far in the piece, you’re probably well aware of the massive mid-game twist that turns the story on its head, but anyway, we’re about to give it up.

Discussing this plot point is crucial to setting the context of why the game is so successful.

If you haven’t played the game somehow within 25 years of release, we’re about to spoil a major plot point.

Come back and play the game, it’s awesome!

With this piece of work out of the way, let’s break it down.

Cloud is one of the greatest video game heroes of all time

Sephiroth is just as iconic a video game villain as Darth Vader in the movie world, and is a ghost in the plot of ‘Final Fantasy 7’.

You are always aware of his presence, and he looms large in the story at all times.

You’ve been given a false sense of security by your core party members, but it all falls apart with Erith’s death.

Aerith’s death is a watershed moment in the games because it’s part shocking, part heartbreaking, and part outrageous.

This combination of emotions represents the moment when toys took off a child’s gloves and became an art form.

Prior to the release of Final Fantasy 7, Square developers had been playing around with the concept of mortality with the awesome Chrono Trigger, and there they gained confidence to tackle heavier topics like death, death, and revenge.

Speaking to Edge magazine in 2003, Tetsuya Nomura, character designer for both Sephiroth and Aerith, said he wanted the latter’s death to be meaningful.

“While we were designing the game, I was frustrated with the perpetual dramatic clichés where the protagonist loves someone so much and so has to sacrifice himself and die in a dramatic way in order to express that love. We found this to be the case in Eastern and Western games and films.”

“But I wanted to say something different, something realistic. I mean, is it right for me to set such an example for people?”

The interweaving of Japanese sentiment with Western excitement led to an experience that surprised gamers, and 25 years later, Final Fantasy 7 remains a defining moment in gaming history.

Final Fantasy 7 is such a great storytelling triumph that we hardly had time to mention the gameplay.

RPG has always been a favorite genre of gamers, and as the “Pokemon” craze of the late ’90s demonstrated, there was already a huge appetite for turn-based combat.

What Final Fantasy 7 does so great is the sense of escalation.

Since the game comes on 3 discs, playing through the game is like reading an epic novel.

From just getting out of the fights in the first part of the game to having the confidence to beat Sephiroth, the game runs excellent and makes every player feel like the hero.

What has kept people coming back to the game all these years is the sheer depth of activities involved.

You can spend some time trying to finish the story, or you can tinker with the bowl of gold or the Chocobos race.

The game rewards multiple plays, and it’s impossible to see everything the game has to offer in one sitting, with certain characters having different things to say.

These are all features we take for granted now, but it’s important to remember that a game like Final Fantasy 7 becoming a mainstream hit selling over 10 million copies is mind-boggling and something that now seems impossible.

The modern analog will be as if the next “Xenoblade Chronicles” game has become a seismic moment in video game history and has sold over 20 million copies.

There have been many similar games since then, but in the case of Final Fantasy 7 there were very few similar games before it.