Hello fellow forum friends! As we come together to celebrate and recognize what we collectively consider what games are Greats™, I’ve decided to bring all the games from list of my favorites of all time, meaning I’m starting our first ceremony by nominating my favorite game ever:
Final Fantasy VII
While it’s been stated to the point of cliché how Final Fantasy, and VII in particular, popularized JRPGs to a Western audience, my presentation will center on how it impacted me with various aspects of what makes VII special.
First up: The story. Stories and narratives are difficult things to properly pull off in games, whether it may be a failure of bad writing, unappealing characters, terrible storytelling, convoluted devices, tropes, and the like, but VII is exceptional in all these categories and more. From the opening moments of seeing a mysterious girl praying over a dim light in the darkness to seeing smash cuts of a train where the characters jump out to carry out a bombing, the opening grabs you in a way that compels you to move forward and see what will happen next, and this feeling never leaves. Initially, the story of a small band of rebels taking on the world’s largest corporation in its quest of eco-terrorism is unique enough, but how it transforms into something greater, fighting for the planet against what is arguably one of the most well-known villains, not just from Final Fantasy but gaming as whole in Sephiroth, is captivating.
And this story wouldn’t be great if not for the cast of characters along the way. Your main party of nine is an eclectic ragtag group, but each stand on their own for their indelible personalities. Obviously, there’s Cloud, which you play as for the majority of the game and his growth of being a standoff-ish jerk looking for his paycheck in the beginning to eventually becoming someone who cares deeply for his friends is a progression that never gets old. Barret, with his gun-arm and loud persona immediately establishes a presence of a man who fights for what he believes in. Aerith, with innocence and an occasional teasing quip showcases her to be one of the most beloved characters out there. Tifa, who, through her need to keep her friendship with Cloud strong out of the fear of losing the last of everything Shinra (and ultimately Sephrioth) took from her makes you root for her to succeed and be happy. I could go on, but just know I feel as strongly about Red XIII, Yuffie, Cait Sith, Vincent, and Cid, plus all of the supporting cast as well.
But games live and die by their gameplay, and VII’s is a system that’s easy to learn and provides you different ways to outfit your team. Sure, the battle system can just be, “Select Attack, pick enemy, execute, and repeat,” but the depth materia gives you opens up a world of possibilities. From magic to abilities, having each skill be a single orb to equip on your weapon and/or armor allows for anyone to use anything (though it would be in your best benefit giving Aerith and Red magic materia, for example, in light of their inherit magic stats being stronger than other party members). Having these skills gain experience alongside your team with each battle ensures you’re always working towards getting stronger in one way or another. And for putting in the effort of maxing out a materia, a new copy is created for you, rewarding you with a replacement if you need to sell your maxed out version for a pretty payday. Plus, with the limited number of spaces each character will have dependent on what weapons and armor are equipped, you have to be strategic in creating a loadout that balances your playstyle and making sure whomever you’re fighting with is prepared with the materia on hand.
Limit Breaks, earned by both defeating a set number of enemies AND using particular Limits a certain number of times, are spectacles that will help you out in a pinch. Summons are just as incredible, with some of the most satisfying attacks in the game coming from the rarest and most powerful of them all (Hello Knights of the Round and the trio of Bahamuts). Yet, gameplay is more than battles though. Sidequests and mini-games are fun distractions whether you’re on a motorcycle or snowboard, the battle arena’s various modifiers, catching, raising, and racing Chocobos, all of these and more provide excellent rewards for your effort.
Probably my favorite part about my favorite game has to be the soundtrack. There are very, VERY few songs that I don’t think are exceptional, but even then, those that aren’t are still really good. If I had to pick my absolute favorites, it would have to be Still More Fighting, Valley of the Fallen Star, and Cid's Theme. Of course, there’s so many more, like the themes for Aerith, Shinra, and the Overworld, The Highwind Takes to the Skies, and obviously, One Winged Angel just to name a FEW. For a game with no VO (understandable for its time), it’s crucial to have excellent music and sound effects, and VII delivers on every front.
The last thing I want to touch on is how it looks. Up front: Yes, I understand the polygonal character models when you’re running around and talking to others can be a bit much. But beyond that, VII still looks fantastic, with the many, Many, MANY beautifully illustrated and painted 2D backgrounds, and I would argue the battle models in actual fights are really good as they’re more detailed and correctly proportioned. While I personally have never minded or thought the character models look bad, I DO get where people may view that as a turnoff, but in the grand scheme, I think everything else more than makes up for it.
There’s a reason Final Fantasy VII is getting remade and has multiple spin-offs, old and coming soon. It’s that phenomenal.