The Crafty Nerd Revisits Final Fantasy VII

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With all the hype surrounding the remake of Final Fantasy VII floating around the internet lately, and with the lack of classes for the next couple of weeks, I figured now was the best time to get re-acquainted with one of the most applauded and well-loved RPGs around.  (It also didn’t hurt that FFVII was on sale for $3.60 on Amazon/Steam on Black Friday, either…)  For those of you who haven’t ever played the game before, there are some spoilers in here, so be forewarned.

Some backstory…

Now, I’ve got a long history with this game.  A long and ridiculous history.  It goes way back to 1998, after the game first came out – I wanted to play it, really badly, but my mother didn’t think we needed a PlayStation in addition to our slew of Nintendo consoles.  So, I borrowed a friend’s player’s guide and read through it.  I read through the freaking instruction manual for the game a billion times.  I’d listen to the neighbor kid tell me his progress in the game as he worked his way through it, living vicariously through him.  And when I finally made it to college, and got a job, I bought the PC version of Final Fantasy VII.  And man, was it buggy, and playing it on a keyboard was rough, but I loved it.  I soaked up all the fan fiction and fan art I could.  Somewhere in my ancient stash of MP3 backup CDs, there’s a disc full of FFVII music I downloaded from Napster way back in the day.  That game was my life.

After classes ramped up, I ended up putting the game aside – and if I remember right, I ended up loaning it to a friend, never to be seen again.  Fast forward to when I managed to acquire a PS1 of my very own – I bought a used copy, and played it religiously until midway through Disc 2, I think, where my copy had a scratch and simply refused to go any further than a cutscene somewhere in Cosmo Canyon of Red XIII howling at the moon.  Some years later, my friend Patty gave me her copy of FFVII and the player’s guide, and made me very happy.  And I played the heck out of that, from the beginning, because I lost the memory card that my original save game was on.

And then I somehow lost the copy Patty gave me.  I have no idea HOW.  I still have the player’s guide that went with it.  I even have the memory card my save file is on, just in case I actually find the game again.  I’m still miffed about its disappearance. Why couldn’t I lose Final Fantasy VIII?  That game was far more infuriating to play, with its weird junction system.  Anyhow.  Fast forward again, to when Bryan buys a PS3.  I find out I can get FFVII from the PlayStation store, and of course I buy it, and play through the beginning of the game a FOURTH time.  Then I bought a PS Vita, Bryan and I split, and I had to start FFVII again.  A fifth time.  (At least the version I bought from the PS Store worked on both the PS3 and the Vita!)

Then, of course, I sold my PS Vita because I never actually used it for much aside from the occasional “oh maybe I should play Final Fantasy something-or-other”.  So, Black Friday this year rolls around, and I figure, why not?  I’m gonna buy a fifth copy of FFVII on Amazon/Steam.  Because I can, and because I am DETERMINED to beat the game.  Even though I know how it ends, because my friend Tyler spoiled it all for me back in 1998.  So I did, and I even found the dongle that allows you to hook up a PlayStation 1/2 controller to a computer through USB.  Success!

Glad I hung onto that Player's Guide...
Glad I hung onto that Player’s Guide…

Playing the Game

Now that I’ve got the game again, and I’ve made it through roughly 8 hours of the game, I’ve noticed quite a few things about this PC release.  First off, there’s been some tweaking to the character models – the polygons look nice and smooth now.  Which makes for a HUGE contrast when compared to the backgrounds and static objects in the game, which look incredibly pixelated.  My first couple hours in this replay were spent playing in front of a 28 inch monitor hooked up to my Surface, and my first thoughts were “wow, this game has not aged well, graphically.”

Super smooth characters, super pixelly background...
Super smooth characters, super pixelly background at high resolutions…

Another observation I had: I don’t know if the characters always looked like this, or if this is just due to playing an old game on an HD computer monitor, but whoa, do the characters eyes look WEIRD.

The pixelated eyes on the smooth polygon characters is... kinda unsettling.
The pixelated eyes on the smooth polygon characters is… kinda unsettling on an HD monitor.

They’re incredibly pixelated, compared to the typical gameplay character models.  And it’s weird.  Did they always look like that, or is it just emphasized because they smoothed the heck out of the character models?  I have no idea.  I’ll say this for sure – the game looks far better on smaller screens, like the Surface Pro – you don’t notice the super-pixelation or the weirdness with the eyes on the character models all that much.

Awkward shot of everyone's favorite super-villain, Sephiroth!
Awkward shot of everyone’s favorite super-villain, Sephiroth!

The battle character models look a bit better than they used to, which is nice!  The polygon smoothing and extra sprucing up worked out well in this department.  They’re good looking, better than 1997 standards.  I actually kinda like going into battles, especially with newly acquired characters, to see how spiffy their models are looking.

Aww, it's a family portrait... *snerk*
Aww, it’s a family portrait… *snerk*

One thing that hasn’t changed at all are the quality of the cutscenes.  Which were absolutely fantastic for 1997, and are a little grainy now but still hold the storytelling impact they previously did.  I spent last night holding my controller tightly as Cloud talked about his past with Sephiroth, and even after playing through Kalm Town for the third time, I still find the story as immersive and gripping as I did the first time I played it.

One thing I’m not quite too sure about is Square Enix’s implementation of the Character Booster – it’s helpful, yeah, but it’s not quite what I was expecting.  When I read about it, it seemed like it was meant to max out all your character’s stats – and their level, too – to 9999, therefore making it easy to push through the game for the story if that’s all you care about.  What it does in reality is boost the HP/MP of the characters currently in your party to their max levels (around 9999 HP/999 MP, but it’s different for each character), and maxes your gil out to 4999999999 or some other absurdly high amount.  And don’t get me wrong, that’s helpful, but it’s not what I was anticipating – and it means I’m still stuck level grinding so I can actually do damage to enemies.  Plus, I have to remember to go back and tweak the Character Boost stuff every time I get a new party member – I just picked up Red XIII, and he’s only got 450 HP, compared to Barret’s 9900, so back to the Square Enix website I must go to boost my stats…

I’m looking forward to finally beating the game, though.  Sure, I’m only 8 hours in, but I’ll get there eventually.  Especially considering the motivation I’ve got for finishing – having the whole story under my belt before the FFVII Remake comes out.  And who knows, maybe this’ll rekindle my inner gamer.  After all, Final Fantasy VI is being released on Steam this afternoon…

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