Final Fantasy VII And The Great Big Undeserved Credit
So today I got just a little bit angry when I posted on Facebook. Nothing wrong with that, exactly; it happens a lot. Specifically, I said that anyone who claims that Final Fantasy VII is the best thing Square has produced over the past fourteen years is either an asshole or a liar.
I meant it, too.
And the thing is, as soon as I said it, I knew that there was more to say. Because I didn’t say that FFVII is a bad game (it’s not), I didn’t say that it shouldn’t be your favorite game (I don’t care), I didn’t even say that it was the worst thing. But after reading yet another comment about how Square peaked in 1997, something in me finally snapped. I’ve been watching this happen around every subsequent Final Fantasy title after the polygonal lens-flare-festival that pioneered the concept of a multi-disc game on the PlayStation, and it’s gone from being mildly odd to being downright stupid.
Have you read “I Hate Xenogears” before? (If not, there you go; I love the Wayback Machine.) Because by that same token, I hate FFVII. Except there are some subtle differences, namely the fact that the Xenogears fandom has by and large moved on at this point. The FFVII fandom, for some inexplicable reason, hasn’t.
On some level, sure, I can get this. Fourteen years ago a lot of people were just hitting the age where sitting down and playing this whole game was actually possible without a pair of shackles and a large man with a threatening firearm. (Unless you had a supreme amount of patience as a small child.) So there’s a lot of reason for people to look back on the game fondly. I can get behind that, as someone who looks back fondly to a lot of things that are way better in my memory than they were in practice. Heck, I posted about just this process. I do try my best to recognize that I am propping something up as being better for when I saw it, but I’m not perfect.
FFVII, though… that’s a strange case. Because it’s this recurring line from an awful lot of people who claim to be the “old guard” and remember the game fondly, people who still remain convinced that Square has been in a steady downhill slump since the game was released. That somehow the entirety of Square and Square-Enix can be judged by this game.
Mind you, since that game, we’ve seen seven more installments in the main series, four sequels (including two sequels to FFVII), several spinoffs (Final Fantasy Tactics post-dates FFVII), and at least two entirely different franchises that didn’t exist when the game was released. (Parasite Eve and Kingdom Hearts both post-date the game as well). The pool of pre-FFVII games looks smaller compared to the post-FFVII landscape, and that just keeps increasing. And the central conceit is that the company’s games have been uniformly worse than that one game.
It gets more absurd. FFVII wasn’t a bad game, by any means, but it had several pretty big problems. The translation was an absolute mess, with several major plot points obfuscated specifically because they weren’t translated correctly. And that’s not even touching upon the fact that there were a lot of gameplay elements made harder to decipher as a result, assuming that said elements weren’t outright impossible to find without the aid of a guide. The actual plot, once you get past all the unnecessary veiling, was kind of standard – Cloud’s identity was pretty nifty, but the rest of it was just a retread of Final Fantasy VI, albeit with more guns and less steampunk. And the actual game was functionally nigh-identical to FFVI, so it doesn’t even have that going for it.
None of this is to say that it’s the worst installment in the series; far from it. But to claim that it is the apex of what Square has achieved during all of the intervening time borders on being criminally stupid.
So why has this okay game become the rallying cry for people who claim that Square’s older games were better? In part, I think it’s really just point of reference. Assuming you’re a gamer in my general age bracket (25-30, and that feels really weird to type), you were able to ask for this game for Christmas back in ’97. And it was just at the right bracket, and had just the right mix of elements, to ask a little more than the average gamer was normally capable of without asking so much more that they got intimidated. It’s enough to get it locked in your head that what was in this game was a potent alchemical stew, and taking out any elements of the gameplay (like, say, removing tedious town management nonsense and just sticking to what the game does best in Final Fantasy XIII) is somehow ripping out the very soul of what you enjoyed.
If you force yourself to choke down something you dislike often enough and with enough fervor, you can convince yourself you like it.
Really, I don’t hate FFVII. But it’s not a high point for the past decade and a half, as sales figures show. And unfortunately, when you can’t stop hearing about how this game was supposedly so awesome all the time, you start to get a real hatred going for it anyway. It wasn’t, it isn’t, and it’s time to move on.