It feels weird to say it’s been 22 years since Final Fantasy VII released initially. The video game landscape was so vastly different back then it’s almost hard to understand if you weren’t there for it. Heck, the world itself was very different back in 1997. But how does this classic game hold up in the modern landscape? Interestingly enough it holds up well and poorly in different areas. It is still worth playing even if you have never played it before. However, you do need to be aware things like voice-overs, real 3D environments, and being able to move the camera around freely are features you won’t find in this game.
In the opening couple of hours of gameplay you learn the Shinra Electric company have been engaging in practices which are leading to the death of the Planet. It is because of this the AVALANCHE group is participating in terrorist activities to stop Shinra. Cloud finds himself involved with them because he’s trying to help his friend Tifa who is one of the group’s leaders… oh also because they pay him to help out. However, as is the standard case with most Final Fantasy games things are not always what they appear at first and the truth is far more complex. It is in this unwinding of the layered story that Final Fantasy VII has it’s strongest staying power. Although some of the dialogue feels stiff and there are limited amounts of emotion which can be conveyed with the lower quality graphics, the inherent relatability of the story and characters is solid.
One thing which did surprise me was going back to the Active Battle System (ATB) after spending so much time in FFXV felt odd. Luckily I had years of muscle memory to fall back on, for anyone who hasn’t played the older games this system might feel weird. Even FFX, which still had a turn-based system, functioned very differently than it does in FFVII. Each character has an action timer, and when it fills up, they can take an action. The things which might throw some people off though is while you are deciding what to do during the fight all of your enemies are still gaining on their timers and will continue to attack even if you don’t do anything. As a result, the battles can feel a bit quick and overwhelming for people who aren’t used to it.
There are a few settings which can help mitigate these issues. The first one is battle speed, slowing this down can significantly help a new player feel more comfortable whereas speeding it up will also help speed things along for the veterans. The other big option for players who aren’t used to the ATB system is choosing wait or recommended instead of active. In active mode time never stops during a fight meaning your characters and the enemies are gaining in their timers regardless of what is happening. In recommended mode time stops only during animations. Wait mode allows time to stop during animations and while navigating the menu which enables the player to have more time to make choices. However, you still should not go afk during a battle without hitting pause first.
One setting I would highly recommend for both new and old players is cursor memory. All enemies have certain attacks and magic they are weaker or stronger against, and once you figure those out, you’ll be spending a lot of fights doing the same action over and over. Having cursor memory on helps speed this process along a bit. I additionally I’d highly recommend selecting spells and targets using the directional pads rather than the left stick for menu navigation. The directional buttons are a bit easier to control in the menus and will prevent you from doing something silly, like healing the monster trying to kill you and your friends.
There is some wonkiness when it comes to moving about in the world due to the maps being a mix of 2D and 3D spaces. For example, there’s one area early on where there are multiple layers, and it looks like you need to walk across a pipe that’s spanning the top section. However, it actually goes from the bottom to the top, and you get on it by walking up to the middle of it (rather than walking up to one end). There isn’t even a jump animation for getting on the pipe. It might seem like a small thing, but it comes up repeatedly throughout the game and can be quiet frustrating as it is difficult to tell where things are. While the general gameplay graphics do look incredibly dated (did I mention this is a 22-year-old game?) the cutscenes still look surprisingly good. Almost shockingly good really. Yes, they do look a bit dated, but not nearly as much as I expected. Of course one of the big old complaints about games in this era was the considerable difference between gameplay graphics and cutscene graphics which is on full display here.
That said FFVII feels like it was made for the Switch. First of all, moving around with the left stick allows you to run without having to hold down the B button, which frankly was just annoying. Also, one of the big things in most Final Fantasy games is until you get out in the open world you can only save in specific locations, which sometimes led me to frantically look for a save point because I was going to be late for super important things (this was big area of contention in my young life). This is still the case for the Switch however the functionality of the Switch where you just hit the power button and it goes to sleep is a lifesaver. Stuck in a long section where you keep getting jumped by monsters? No problem, just put your Switch to sleep and everything will be as you left it. Of course, you should still save often because if the Switch runs out of power, you will lose progress doing this. Also, the images don’t fill the switch screen or a widescreen tv, which isn’t at all surprising.
Final Fantasy VII is a game which has stood the test of time well. Some of the story bits won’t hit like they did back when this game was new because so much of what happens here has become the standard in video games. Also, there are some things which have become a standard, and we have started to move away from as sensibilities have changed, which is good. This game is worth the time of anyone who wants to revisit how it felt to play it the first time, wants to see how their perspective on things has changed over the years, or anyone who missed this game the first time around. It is an exciting game and worth your time regardless if you are Final Fantasy fan or not. If you like JRPGs this is a great one.
This review was played on Switch with a code received from PR.