(This article contains many spoilers about the game. If you haven’t played FFVII yet… It’s sad.)
Final Fantasy VII is one of the best games ever made. Still today, many people name it as their favorite game of all time. But why is that? What is so special in that game that makes it so timeless? Here I’ll try to figure out what can (still) be a source of inspiration when writing/designing a game, specifically J-RPG-like game.
In this first of two parts, I’d like to focus on the story of the game. Second part will be on gameplay.
There are many interesting things to observe in Final Fantasy VII story. I won’t talk about the “ecological-still relevant today theme” of the game, because it’s up to everyone to feel concerned or not about the planet,and it doesn’t make the game more or less interesting. What is really captivating in the story of Final Fantasy VII, is the characters.
In Final Fantasy VII, every character is interesting. Whether it is the team you are playing or the corporate villains, everyone has a story, a past, and secrets. Even the basic RPG enemies such a Hojo, the classic crazy scientist making experiments, or the Turks, classic military team you encounter several times during the game, escape from being cliché by having their own secrets and background. Hojo has a deep secret linked to Sephiroth. And the Turks... I’ve always like that scene with the Turks when you arrive at a place (I think it was Gongaga), and you surprise a conversation between two Turks, Rude and Reno, discussing about who is in love with who. Although it may appear has a little joke inside the game. From that on the Turks gain a lot in protagonists’ characterization.
The bad guy is interesting and charismatic, of course. I could write a hundred of line discussing how much Sephiroth is great, but the name speaks for itself. He is classed among the top video games villains of all time. Sometimes at the first place, depending on the website. He is cool, he is interesting, he doesn’t turn into a “huge strangely shaped beast that you don’t know why it’s here” after the final fight (actually it is the contrary, and yet you still recognize Sephirtoh during the confrontation). No matter how cruel he is, you like to have it on your screen.
Greatest Badguy ever!
Every character is interesting, but the main protagonist tops the others. I won’t start a debate to find out who’s the coolest between Sephiroth, Cloud and Vincent. On a story point of view, Cloud remains the most interesting character of the game. He has the deepest story background and with his past deeply linked to Sephiroth and his identity troubles. Never in a game before you’d have seen a schizophrenic character, moreover the main one. Although every character has their problems, cloud remains the most interesting to follow. I’d like to digress about gameplay for a while and add the fact that not only he is the most interesting character, he is also one of the most useful in combat. The gameplay accentuates the importance of the character. Unless you are in the last hours of the game with everyone level 60 or more, and your “perfect team”, during all the game, cloud remains the characters that will hurt the most enemies, the one you will like to have on your team. This is a thing most of J-RPG have failed to conciliate. Either because the main character was not the most interesting (perhaps because of a girl who would have to sacrifice her life to save the world), or wasn’t strong enough to be on your team (because of an old fighter hitting strongly). Those examples sound a bit cliché, but a cliché is one for a reason.
Last thing I’d like to point in Final Fantasy VII story writing, in the first part of this love declaration to the game, is the number one rule of every good story, that has been leading the analysis so far: the story avoids clichés. If you have ever taken a screenplay class for cinema so far, perhaps your teacher told you that every day: A good screenplay is a screenplay that breaks clichés. In final Fantasy VII, it is not only for the characters, but also during events of the game. I’d like to quote two examples: first when you first meet President Shinra. You think “Ok, here’s the bad corporate guy. He’s gonna bother me during all the game”. And one hour after, he is dead in a huge massacre. And you think it’s over for the Shhinra, but he has a son that shows up, etc… And the other example, of course, is this:
Seriously, who expected that after only one CD?
There is nothing to say about that scene. It sums up perfectly the idea of the story going to places we wouldn’t expect, surprising us. Final Fantasy VII managed to make interesting and surprising story as well as characters. Many games today fail to make interesting story and characters at the same time.
I hope you liked this first part. Next will be about the Materia system and how it creates something in the player that isn’t in other games. I apologize for my bad English as a French writer. I hope this is still good enough to read.