Though I grew up with a Playstation in the mid-’90s, I was one of the few underage Playstation owners that failed to be granted a copy of Final Fantasy VII. I was well-acquainted with the classic Sony mascots like Crash and Spyro, and I was even aware of more mature games for the system like Gran Turismo, Madden and Resident Evil, but the truth is, I never even heard of Final Fantasy until I graduated to the Playstation 2 and became acquainted with several of the series’ main characters through the original Kingdom Hearts. And even then, I could hardly fathom the masterful odyssey that the spikey-headed blonde dude named Cloud (that I whipped on Kingdom Hearts‘ Hercules-themed world) had embarked upon just a few years prior. And I never began my relationship with Cloud’s journey of self-discovery until many years later when my brother got interested in the title and we downloaded it on the PSN store. It was a life-altering moment.
I don’t feel embarrassed to admit that I didn’t finish Final Fantasy VII on my first save file. Who did, really? It’s a pretty hard game to get into, particularly with its intention of masking the main centerpieces of the narrative from the player until much deeper in the game. Not to mention, it isn’t exactly a cakewalk to go from the gorgeous vistas of Skyrim to the blocky, 32-bit city of Midgar. But deep down I always knew that a time would come when I finally finished Final Fantasy VII. And that time has finally come.
It’s difficult to extrapolate on what makes Final Fantasy VII such a grounbreaking classic for all time to those who have never experienced it. On the outset, it would probably seem seem absolutely ridiculous to many modern western audiences. The otherworldly concepts of materia, the lifestream, the planetary weapons, and the Cetra can be hard sells to those who prefer their videogames to be more grounded in realism, or at the very least, believability. But when I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, these fantastical elements aren’t really what keep me hopelessly locked into its spell. Instead, I find myself drawn to the game’s ability to create bonds not only between the characters, but between the game’s player and those characters. Certainly Sephiroth’s transformations, Mako eyes, and ability to completely destroy the solar system with just one attack are badass and legendary, but they aren’t as important as the Sephiroth character himself, a damaged man with a God-complex that never understood his place in the world. Cloud’s journey with Tifa through his subconscious is a bit unrealistic, but the game’s development of their relationship is as real as it gets. Barrett may seem like the stereotypical angry black dude until new wrinkles in the story explain his cold exterior, and Red XIII and Vincent Valentine seem like they’re just along for the ride until their own plot twists are revealed. The point is, even if your first instinct is to scoff at Final Fantasy VII‘s JRPG cliches, there is simply no other game I’ve played that has been able to establish such a strong connection between its characters, their relationships, the overarching narrative, and the player him or herself. Even 20 years later, it’s on a completely other level than even modern gaming’s greatest triumphs like Grand Theft Auto or Fallout 3. Throughout the history of entertainment, there have been titles that were classics in their day, but fail to translate to new audiences years later. But as a newcomer to Final Fantasy VII two decades removed from its original release, I can verify that this legend only continues to grow.