Much like that Sex Pistols gig that every man and his dog has claimed to be at during some point or other, it is likely that every man and his dog claims to have played Final Fantasy VII. The reality being though that they’ve just seen that bit involving Aeris/Aerith and Sephiroth in ‘X Most Shocking Videogame Moments’ and reckon that’s the whole plot right there.
Well, I am here to tell you it isn’t, and if you are basing your opinion or experience of this JRPG classic on that one moment then stop what you are doing right now and pick up this classic. The version on the Xbox One may not be the best but it is easily the most accessible, and probably the cheapest way to play too.
Final Fantasy VII for the Xbox One is the re-release of the 1997 JRPG classic that first released on the original PlayStation. It has a few new features – and the odd frustrating bug – but this is largely the same game, just now available on Xbox for the very first time.
Despite Final Fantasy VII being perhaps the seminal JRPG, its gameplay is rooted in tradition. Random battles occur frequently, and levelling up is fairly standard – done by gaining EXP. Even the battle system is the same run-of-the-mill Active Time Battle (ATB) that has been in the Final Fantasy series since its infancy. But it isn’t just the gameplay that has had players coming back to the game time and time again, even 20+ years since its release.
VII starts with you controlling Cloud – a former Shinra SOLDIER and now helping eco-terrorist organisation AVALANCHE – as he heads towards a Mako reactor to destroy it. Shinra are the overpowering conglomerate who are depleting the world of its very lifestream using these reactors. AVALANCHE see this as a problem, and task themselves with destroying them one by one.
During the destruction of the second reactor, Cloud falls from the top of Midgar and meets Aeris/Aerith – the name is dependant on which location you are playing – who Shinra believe holds the key to unlocking the ‘Promised Land’, where even more lifestream is available to be gathered.
Of course, being a Final Fantasy game there needs to be a story for the 25+ hours it will take to complete the game, and for VII this is no exception. The basic plot outlined above merely covers the first few hours, whereafter there are many twists and turns involving iconic characters such as Barrett, Vincent Valentine and – of course – the legendary antagonist, Sephiroth.
Sephiroth epitomises Final Fantasy baddies. In fact, most fans can’t say his name without thinking of his musical theme – One-Winged Angel – but playing through this again it has perhaps only occurred to me now why he is so well ingrained in Final Fantasy folklore.
Off the top of my head, only perhaps Sephiroth, Kefka from Final Fantasy VI and Sin (without giving away spoilers) from Final Fantasy X are mentioned throughout their respective games. Some Final Fantasy games have a habit of only revealing the game’s primary antagonist in the latter part of proceedings – Senator Dysley from Final Fantasy XIII for example. But with VII we are introduced to Sephiroth almost straight away: we do not know his intentions from the very beginning of the game, only that he too was a SOLDIER and Cloud even fought alongside him years prior to the game itself.
This foreshadowing helps make Sephiroth stand out as one of the greatest antagonists in all of gaming.
In terms of new features included in Final Fantasy VII and the character sprites have been touched up in HD, which really helps them stand out against the pre-rendered backgrounds. These have not had any graphical update to them, but they are a lot clearer than the ones available in the Final Fantasy IX port and as such still look pretty good.
There are also a few cheats accessible by pushing in the thumbsticks. Clicking in the left one speeds the game up three times as fast, whilst the right one enables ‘God mode’ where health and MP are constantly replenished and Limit Gauges – which triggers a character’s special attack – are full at all times. Clicking both in will completely disable random encounters, and it is this which will allow you to enjoy the story of Final Fantasy VII without any distractions. Of course, this is completely optional.
As with any Final Fantasy, the soundtrack is phenomenal. Composer Nobuo Uematsu has created a timeless soundtrack – some of which, including Aerith’s Theme and One-Winged Angel, rightly sit in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame – with some instantly recognisable pieces of music. Many would argue that Final Fantasy VII is the pinnacle of Uematsu-san’s work, and when playing through again it is difficult to argue otherwise.
However, the annoying bug featured in Final Fantasy IX – where the music restarts from the beginning after every encounter – makes an unwelcome return here. It is not so much an issue during the early hours of the game but is a major inconvenience when you first step on the world map: the Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII is a gorgeous 6-minute epic that as a result will only be heard if you don’t move around the map.
Final Fantasy VII comes with 31 achievements to unlock and compared with some of the other recent Final Fantasy releases, this list is a lot easier to obtain. Only four achievements on the list are missable, with the rest all able to be unlocked through playing the game. Some – such as the ones for defeating the Diamond, Emerald and Ruby weapons – will require a lot of grinding as you will need to have a party strong enough to defeat them. But if that isn’t your cup of tea, you will be pleased to know that the cheats do not disable the achievements.
Everyone with even a passing interest in gaming knows that Final Fantasy VII is simply one of the greatest games of all time. And for the most part, this port stands the test of time, perhaps better than that of Final Fantasy IX does, mainly due to the pre-rendered backgrounds looking better here than they did in IX. It still has the annoying musical bug that will frustrate returning players, but for those that have yet to try Final Fantasy VII, you no longer have an excuse.