TL; DR(eview) - While Final Fantasy VII doesn't hold up particularly well visually in its original polygonal form, the characters and gameplay standout from Squaresoft's golden age and new additions like the ability to play at 3x speed prevent revisiting the game from being a time-consuming chore. It serves as a great reminder of why so many people are excited for the potential of the Final Fantasy VII Remake.
I have finally conquered all that Final Fantasy VII has to offer and even got a Platinum Trophy to boot.
As I wrote about in the first entry of my PlayStation Favorite Games series, Final Fantasy VII is a game near and dear to my heart. It was the first game I ever played on the original PlayStation, even before I owned the system myself. As a fan of the Final Fantasy Super Nintendo games, getting to see what Squaresoft could do when they moved into the 3D space was an incredible treat for teenage Trevor.
I often joked for years that any Final Fantasy VII would never actually be remade if for no other reason than because we live in a post-9/11 world where the idea of starting a game playing as a group of terrorists bombing a major city takes on a whole new context. Final Fantasy VII has you play as Cloud, a mercenary-for-hire who starts the game contracted to Eco-Freedom Fighters/Terrorist group AVALANCHE. AVALANCHE is fighting the dubious Shinra Electric Company for their practice of draining the world's lifeforce in order to convert it into electricity, regardless of the cost to the environment. In pursuit of this goal, Cloud meets an assortment of other party members and gets mixed up in a hunt to stop Sephiroth, a super-soldier who believes himself to be a god, from destroying the world.
There's also a casino where you can race Chocobos.
Coming off the massive cast of Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII narrows the focus down to 7 main party members (as well as two hidden ones) and replaces the magical Espers of FFVI with the Materia system. You can attach pieces of Materia to your characters' weapons and armor and they act as magic spells, summons, skills, and support buffs, leveling up and becoming stronger with experience. Compared to previous entries, this could be considered a double-edged sword. It is great for customizability in that you can mix and match Materia to suit the needs of a situation. FIghting a boss weak against fire? Great, you can load up all three characters with some Fire materia so they can all exploit that weakness for the battle at hand. The downside is that it makes all of the characters feel a bit identical in battle, with the Limit Breaks - special attacks that can be used once you character takes a certain amount of damage - now being the only distinguishing features between them.
The battle system itself pulls from the classic Active Time Battle systems of old Final Fantasy games. You manage a three-character party in battle, each with their own timed attack gauge. Once the gauge is full, you select whether to attack, use an item, or utilize one of the skills or spells provided by your attached Materia. Meanwhile, the enemies of course have the same timer on when they attack and typically a few special attacks of their own. Often, simply spamming the Attack option will suit your needs for the common foe, but strategy plays more of a role as the game progresses, especially with regard to the game's boss fights.
The biggest changes to the game from it's original PlayStation version or the PC port are that clicking the thumbsticks can add adjustments to the game. The most beneficial of these, in my opinion, is clicking L3 which allows you play the game at 3x the normal speed. As someone who knows the game backwards and forwards, this was hugely beneficial replaying it and grinding levels, Limit Breaks, Materia, etc. The other two "cheats" are probably more maligned by purists but make the game more welcoming to new players who might not want to deal with the JRPG standard grinding. R3 regularly refills all characters' HP, MP, and Limit bars constantly, such that only insta-kills (Death, Break/Petrify) or powerful one-hit death attacks can kill you. And L3 + R3 together turns off random encounters all together. Having all three on can certainly makes for a quick and easy run through of the game but I mostly stuck to only uses the 3x speed because as someone who grew up with the game, I wanted to finally complete challenges like Mastering the Knights of the Round summon and beating Emerald and Ruby Weapons on my own.
An important moment in gaming history, Final Fantasy VII popularized the RPG-genre in the United States when it came out in 1997. Graphically, it certainly looks a product of the time and like most games of the era that focused on the new polygonal style, it doesn't exactly look pretty compared to the games of today. But adding features like the ability to play through the game at 3x speed makes it incredibly inviting for fans of the game to revisit it after all these years, as well as reduces the intimidation factor of diving into an overlong JRPG that new players who have long heard praises of the game might face.
Final Fantasy VII is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3/Vita (as a PSOne Classic), Steam, and iOS.