The Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary is here. The long running fantasy series that has captured the hearts of gamers all around the world. For thirty years, developer Square Enix have continued to develop the franchise into what it is today, spanning fifteen mainline games, a number of spins offs, films, and more. It has become the identity of the company and the gem for many fans who embrace it all. As the thirty-year anniversary celebration event is now over, I thought I’d take a moment to look back over franchise and remember some of the stunning moments. More importantly though, is the date that the celebration is happening.
January 31st is an important date, though many might not know why. That is because on this date, back in 1997, is when arguably one of the best Final Fantasy games was released: Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation One. Taking into account that the celebration is happening on the date that marks the twentieth anniversary of Final Fantasy VII we can expect some news regarding the game. None the less, there have been plenty of rumours and guesses as to what announcements will be made during the celebration event.
First, artwork for the Final Fantasy VII Remake was unveiled, which is something, I guess. There was also an announcement of DLC for Final Fantasy XV. But that is not why we are here though, we are here to take a moment to look back at a game, and a series, that defined the lives of so many.
So, on the 30th anniversary of one of the most magical video game franchises, let us take a look back at Final Fantasy VII.
Final Fantasy VII took the story telling of the series in a new direction that, still to this day, is a fantastic and engaging story. Playing out on the planet of Gaia it is a tale of discovery, redemption, sacrifice and identity. All in the backdrop of environmental damage and a mission to save the planet and its very own life energy. It takes players through the run down, dystopian city of Midgar to the wild open planes of the open world were monster roam. You will even take a quick trip into space during the story of Final Fantasy VII and go to the depths of the ocean.
What starts as a simple tale of eco-terrorist fighting back against the Shinra corporation and its slow murdering of the planet, soon turns into an epic quest to save the planet from an old evil that has returned and aims to destroy it and all who live on it. At the same time, it follows the story of Cloud, the main character, and his journey to discover who he is and what he is really fighting for, only to end up in a series of events that bring everything and everyone together to see the fate of the planet unfold. What started many years before and has since laid in rest is finally going to be settled. With blood and steel, Final Fantasy VII is an epic that explores so many themes and emotions that it will also leave a mark.
The opening moments of the game where you follow the AVALANCHE team to stop the Shinra Corporation are a thrill and engage you quickly in the characters and world. As you become accustomed to this the game quickly throws you off your tracks and you are forced to experience great lose. When Shinra drop one of the plates of Midgar onto the slums, killing many close to you. The game starts to kick up its tone and push to a more dark and questionable story. With what is right and wrong so blurred the battle becomes about humanity and revenge. But just as it comes to a close you are treated to the first of many shocking moments within Final Fantasy VII. The open world.
When first playing through Final Fantasy VII, I, like many I’m sure, was stunned when the game opens out into the world map. At the time, I played Final Fantasy VII for the first time I was sure that leaving Midgar was the end of the first disc or maybe most of the game. I was so wrong that it still blows my mind to this day. The way in which Final Fantasy VII opens up more of the world to you as you progress is prefect. Each section you gain grants you a number of exciting and impressive moments to tackle at your own pace.
As the story shifts its focus to the pursuit of Sephiroth and the battle with him and Jenova (the extra-terrestrial life-form that is the source of all the Gaia’s troubles), Final Fantasy VII continues to become a stunning epic of storytelling. Along the way there are a number of smaller side stories and moments that stand out. These memorable and often iconic points are what really help to set the story of Final Fantasy VII apart from other games in the series. Take the village of Wutai for example. Once a crowded and important place it has since fallen silent after war with Shinra. The home of the optional party member Yuffie Kisaragi, there is a few hours of storytelling to explore just here. As a young ninja turned thief who is trying to regain her villages form status and power. Its small and optional but it breaths so much life and history into the world of Gaia that it shouldn’t be missed.
Vincent Valentine is another optional party member and story moment that again can completely change the way the overall story is experienced. You find Vincent in a coffin after completing a puzzle in Nibelheim. A village which itself is a iconic location and key story point in Final Fantasy VII. Vincent however has some of the most interesting backstory within the whole Final Fantasy VII franchise. A man turned demon due to horrible experiments performed on him. Vincent has the power to transform into a beast by the name of Chaos which becomes the core focus in the later game, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII. By unlocking him in Final Fantasy VII players are able to earn more about Lucrecia who was not only Vincent’s love interest but ultimately the mother of Sephiroth.
We could sit here hours’ discussing all of the different moments within Final Fantasy VII that makes the story so strong. From the script of the character interactions to the set pieces of emotional breakdown and heartfelt moments. It has all stood the test of time and can still be enjoyed today. One part of the story of Final Fantasy VII is of course the development of Zack Fair. The events are an essay in themselves but what matters is that it happens. Our hero Cloud, who has asked questions about his own life throughout the game comes to learn of the truth. His life, his memory’s and his whole identify are fake. He embraced the life of Zack following a number of events that left him broken and without cause. Zack, who gives his life for Cloud, tells him to live for the two of them. To be his living legacy. Cloud does just that and due to the stress of everything, lies to himself about everything and becomes Zack. In a manner of speaking.
That sense of identity that is lost and gained for Cloud during these moments within Final Fantasy VII cut deep. It is a moment that defines the characters and the real themes of the game. It is a moment that defines who we are and touches the hearts of many players as being one of the most shocking moments in any Final Fantasy game. As a player, you embrace and embody the character you are playing and to have that ripped from you leaves you feeling helpless. Just as Cloud is left feeling. There are many moments like this but none beat that shocking reveal. It will always be the most impacting scene within Final Fantasy VII.
Midgar however is an iconic location not just for the game but for the Final Fantasy series as a whole. It is a symbol of so many themes that run through the game and yet is a location that people have come to love. The upper plates of Midgar stand for a sense of progress and power but at what cost? The Shinra Electric Power Company might be bringing new life to the people of Gaia but at the cost of the planet itself. Midgar is built upon the old world, now the slums, where many still live and hope for a better life. The capitalism and authoritarian power that Shina puts on its people in Midgar alone is shocking. A strong statement that is a contrast to the player’s party and their goals throughout the game.
Now only that but Midgar is a living part of the story. Not just as a location but a developing character in its own right. As you play through Final Fantasy VII a number of events unfold that ultimately draw the player back to Midgar on a number of times. Be it to blow up a Mako Reactor at the start of the game or to stop the firing of a massive and powerful cannon which is later added to the city. In the end though it is also Midgar that pays the price and in a way, atones for its sins by being the sole victim of the meteor fall.
Final Fantasy VII also made big changes to the way the combat worked within a Final Fantasy game. For starters, you know only had three active party members at any given time. Then there was also the materia system which is one of the most robust systems in the franchise. The materia system worked with the story of Final Fantasy VII and the mako energy which was a key plot point. The materia you would use during the game were made from mako energy, given them a sense of grounding within the context of the world. Regardless, each one allowed you to give your character’s different abilities, magic and eve summons in an easy swap in, swap out mechanic.
Every weapon and accessories would have a number of slots available to place materia in. Balancing the number of materia you took into a battle against the stats of the weapons was key. The materia system was so refined that it allowed for players to create some interesting combos thanks to being able to link materia together. For example, if you had a Fire material and an All materia. You could link them together to allow the user to cast Fire on all enemies at once. Likewise, you could then have another party member use Mine to copy the last action preformed in battle by your party.
Materia was such a key part of the game that it was also how you used your summon. The most memorable of course being Knights of the Round. This powerful materia was only reachable by using a golden Chocobo to access a small island in the middle of the sea. Once used in battle though it’s destruction was next to cosmic in power. It became a keystone of the game in terms of power and pride. Had you earned the Knights of the Round summon? Had you spent all that time grinding in Chocobo races and breeding to get the golden Chocobo? If so then you were among those who put hard work into one of Final Fantasy VII’s biggest rewards. It was also a key part of doing battle with the weapons that appear in the later stages of the game. Some of the strongest enemies you can face.
It wasn’t just in battles that Final Fantasy VII made big changes to the series. Across the whole game there was improvements and tweaks to ensure that, at the time, Final Fantasy VII was the most polished and refined game to date. Not only that but it was one packed with extras and secrets that expanded the game beyond its core story and offering. Of course, it continued to grow in the other games and media that came after it but as a standalone it is massive in size and scope. And then you have the motorbike mini game, the chocobo racing, Gold Saucer and so much more. Final Fantasy VII is a game that complied a defined and polished story with characters and content to fall in love with.
Though many who play a Final Fantasy game for the first time, regardless of which one, will claim that to be the best in the series. Many will agree that Final Fantasy VII is one of the strongest and most impacting games in the series. Not only was it so strong that it got its own franchise of games and tie-in films but it has one of the strongest followings. The hype surrounding the Final Fantasy VII Remake is enough of an indication of this. It left an impact on so many that even to this day the legacy of Final Fantasy VII is one that so many will remember for many more years to follow.
It’s expanded media showed that a Final Fantasy game can be more than just a one-time journey. Its characters became a staple of what the series could do with a number of crossovers and promotions. It is almost fair to say that Final Fantasy VII has become the flagship title of the series for Square Enix and the one that each other game they release is weighed against. Even the most recent game in the series, Final Fantasy XV has close links to Final Fantasy VII. Square Enix named a subsidiary company Shinra Technologies after the Shinra Electric Power Company from the game. Though this has since been dissolved the reference to the legacy of Final Fantasy VII is still valid.
The point is, each Final Fantasy game in the series has a reason as to why it stands out from the rest. Why it leaves a mark on the memories and hearts of those who played them. For some, it is the awkward laughing scene in Final Fantasy X. Others, the Galbadia Garden flying in Final Fantasy VIII. It doesn’t matter the reason or how many each one of these games has a reason to stand tall. Final Fantasy VII just has many more reasons to stand tall due to its impact even now, twenty years after release.
Final Fantasy VII and the Final Fantasy series as a whole have proven themselves time and time again to be worthy products. As fans, all around the world have come to expect from these magical games. A Final Fantasy game is not just about journeying through the story and the world. It is about embracing the emotion and the humanity that the games portray. From the fantasy based on a reality that is Final Fantasy XV or the battle for your memories in Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy embodies a lot of human emotions, questions and themes that as humans are relatable to some degree. The future of Final Fantasy is open and it is unclear where it will go next. With DLC planned for Final Fantasy XV and the Final Fantasy VII Remake on its way. We have something to play but from there, who knows what Square Enix have in mind.
Final Fantasy. Forever our reality.