Last Christmas I spent a week playing through every Christmassy game I could find, and it turns out that they're generally ultra obscure and a bit crap (huge shock). So this year I've decided to do the opposite, and play some of the most well known and highly rated video games ever made, games that people may actually give a shit about. For the next seven days there'll be no obscure Amiga exclusives, no movie adaptations, no ZX Spectrum screenshots, and definitely no Christmas games.
I have actually played this already, but fortunately I'm blessed with a terrible memory so it should be as if I'm seeing it all for the first time.
youtube link), the game goes into a CGI video showing Aeris the flower girl staring into some kind of pipe or drain, then walking out into a city street. Actually to be precise the video starts with about 40 seconds of the camera panning across stars, as if it was daring me to find out if the intro's skippable.
In case you're wondering, no you can't skip it. -50 points!
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
Pre-rendered CGI intros were nothing new in 1997; they'd been popping up for a few years by this point, even in non-CD games. But CGI of this quality and scale was beyond anything you'd expect to see in a video game. Of course they later found a way to recreate the entire thing in real time with modern tech (youtube link), but it's still bloody impressive work.
Oh, and this music would shame most other game soundtracks even today.
After getting control of my spiky blonde player character, I was allowed to walk around just long enough to grab a potion and learn that the game doesn't support analogue sticks, before getting dragged away into a random battle by a swirly screen transition.
Well if you're still reading this I'm going to assume that there's at least a possibility you're not familiar with Final Fantasy VII's combat, so here's how it works. My characters each have a separate Time bar which fills up a little every second. When character's bar has filled up he gets to take a turn and this 'Attack, Magic, Item' box appears to let me choose a single action for the guy to perform. After he makes his move, the Time bar is reset and the enemies get their go, if they're fast enough. At this point in the game though strategy is optional, so I won this fight by just hitting 'Attack' each turn until the enemies exploded.
|Final Fantasy III/Final Fantasy VI (SNES)|
In fact in Europe it sold over a thousand billion billion times as many copies as every other FF game released here at the time combined, mostly because this was actually the first Final Fantasy game we ever got in my corner of the world.
Oh, and the enemies seem to drop potions occasionally, so I'm no immediate danger of running out of health.
Well they're not actually trying to terrorise people, they're here to save the world. You see, these Mako reactors are actually sapping the lifeforce of the Planet, and this is obviously bad news for anyone living on the Planet as it's going to eventually kill it dead. You know, I think this might be a metaphor for something...
13 MINUTES INTO THE GAME.
Hey, there's a save point down there! Annoyingly it pops up with a message saying "Access the Menu and select [SAVE] to save your game", instead of just asking me if I wanted to save and bringing up a save menu if I said yes. Makes absolutely no sense to me.
This battle requires a bit more strategy than just hammering the attack button, as the scorpion immediately counter-attacks if I hit it when its tail is up. At least the game was actually nice enough to tell me this, instead of expecting me to notice. Unfortunately I'd actually selected attack with both characters just before the message came up, so I'm about to get two counter-attacks in the face.
ONE DRAMATIC ESCAPE LATER.
I tell her nothing happened, buy a flower with the money I beat out of those guards earlier, then wander off down the street searching for the path back home.
MORE TEDIOUS/DRAMATIC ESCAPING LATER.
Turned out in the end that I hadn't talked to the woman on the far right yet. I'd tried walking over there earlier and got pushed back by someone standing off screen, but there is just enough of a gap between the guy in the red hat and the edge of the screen to squeeze in there without triggering the push back.
Plenty more reactors left to blow up though!
Holy shit, these are terrible people! Likeable, occasionally interesting, terrible people.
I mean I get it, if they don't blow up the reactors then they're all dead either way when the Planet dies, but c'mon guys, at least get someone to look after the kid when you're out.
Alright, before I head off to catch my train I should get rid of some of this cash that's weighing me down.
Personally I think this is one of the best magic/skill systems in any of the Final Fantasy games, and it definitely beats the dodgy Junction system it was replaced with in Final Fantasy VIII.
Okay enough preparation, time to go blow up a reactor and save the world.
45 MINUTES OF ESCALATING DISASTER LATER.
Also by incredibly unlikely coincidence I've bumped into Aeris the flower girl again! First I blew up the street she sold flowers on, now I've smashed up her church and crushed her merchandise. She takes it pretty well though, and even offers to escort me back home.
I suppose we'd better go rescue her or whatever then.
Honestly, I'm a bit stuck.
I'm assuming this wreckage has nothing to do with me, though it's hard to be sure, I tend to blow a lot of shit up. Either way I hope I never meet the thing that hand came from.
I gotta award FFVII 100 points for putting more imagination and creativity into its enemy designs than a lot of RPGs have in their entire game. Sure they make absolutely no sense, but somehow it works.
EVEN LATER STILL.
Yeah I know that cross-dressing usually isn't the best solution to a crisis, but in Cloud's case it may just work. The guy's so androgynous looking that Square Enix were able to stick a wig on him and recast him as Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII.
Anyway all I have to do is beat this group of boxers in a squats minigame, and I've earned myself the first part of my outfit.
LOTS OF TEDIOUS WALKING AROUND TOWN LATER.
Looks like I'm going to have to fight my way out! So really I should have been able to skip all that bullshit in town and just walked right in from the start.
Anyway the Don reveals that the Shinra corporation, who run the city, are a little annoyed that people keep blowing up their Mako reactors, so they've decided to put an end to Barret's entire group. But it seems they don't know exactly where they operate from, so they're going to blow up a support pillar and drop an entire slice of the city onto his sector of the slums if we don't make it back in time to stop them.
40 MINUTES LATER.
And by the way, guess which large bearded eco-warrior with a gatling gun for an arm didn't think to get his daughter out of the way before the city plate flattened Tifa's bar. He's lucky Aeris had the sense to run off and save her, which is in fact how she got captured by Shinra.
So now I guess now we have to go break into the giant Shinra building to go rescue Aeris. Eventually.
AN HOUR OF TALKING TO PEOPLE TO GET THE PLOT MOVING AGAIN LATER.
No battles, just stairs.
118 flights of stairs.
At least I've got to be close to reaching the overworld now.
The penalty for getting caught is a battle, then I get kicked back to the starting door and have to do it all over again. And it's really annoying! Come on Cloud, have you learned nothing from all that cross-dressing business at Don's mansion and those endless stairs? Quit trying to be sneaky and just fight them all.
Incidentally these enemies are awesome. I'm fighting no-entry signs with machine guns! You couldn't pull this off in many games but FFVII has just the right tone to make things like this work.
SOON, IN THE LABS.
OVER ONE HOUR AND FOUR BOSS BATTLES LATER.
watch it on youtube). To be honest it looks like they animated it using stop motion with action figures. Especially Barret with his plastic muscles. Not that I've got anything against stop motion animation, I'm just saying they've got a way left to go before they manage the lifelike fludity they achieved two years later in cutscenes like Final Fantasy VIII's amazing ballroom dance (watch it on youtube). I'm guessing the secret ingredient was motion capture.
But this means I'm finally out of the Shinra building! I'm done with it.
And then I come up to another long cutscene and turn it off.
In my opinion Final Fantasy VII is a very likeable game, and still very playable. Graphically it may look a bit ass these days, but the art design and music is fantastic, and the interface is slick and intuitive. But damn the game annoyed me at times. Every now and again the game will come to a crashing halt while I have to go around talking to everyone in the area or collect items. It's like playing a Monkey Island style adventure game, except without the puzzles, or clever dialogue trees, or anything interesting. Just gotta go around and talk to everyone until I stumble across the trigger for the next part of the plot. Oh and then there's the endless bloody cutscenes as well.
Plus I thought the minigames sucked too, though I'm sure I'm in the minority there. Anyway, all the classic Final Fantasy style dungeon crawling and combat at its heart works just fine for what it is, so the game gets a shiny gold star for keeping my interest.
Do you have an opinion on Final Fantasy VII, or all those words I just typed about it? Comments are always welcome and are in fact encouraged.