RED DOG RETRO RAMBLINGS

Posted by Red Dog 19/4/2016

Removing the Rose Tinted Glasses - Part 2

Whilst pondering what content to shoehorn into our upcoming retro ramblings, Red Dog decided that being popular and making friends is not always the way to go when creating an interesting blog (Ps. We love the word 'whilst'). As a result, we decided to look at two much 'drooled over' games that are not actually as good as we remember.

Part 2 - Final Fantasy 7

Final Fantasy 7 is one of the most popular games of all time, period. This epic RPG, brought to us from the once brilliant minds of Square, introduced a whole new audience to the strategic and story driven world of Role Playing video games. However, was our adventure with Cloud and friends as amazing as we seem to remember? Or does the seventh instalment of the classic series hold a nostalgic grip on our memories, forcing us the forget its many shortcomings?
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The 'drunk on nostalgia' viewpoint
Even if you disagree with the title of 'greatest RPG of all time', it's hard to argue with the fact that Final Fantasy 7 is the most important RPG to ever hit the shelves in North America, Europe and beyond. Making its departure from the ageing NES, Square bought their marquee series to the powerful Playstation console, packing an amazing adventure into three CD ROM's and pushing Sony's new system to its limit. Gone was the semi-overhead view of the previous FF games and a beautiful 3D world exploded onto our TV screens with excellent graphics and colourful, believable characters. While previous RPG's had gone unnoticed by many gamers, this epic adventure was impossible to ignore, introducing a massive new audience to this superb genre.

Admittedly, this was not the first RPG which contained a gripping plot and likeable characters (Final Fantasy 6 was a fantastic game in every respect), but never before had a story been enhanced by a multitude of amazing cut scenes and imaginative 3D environments. The plot contained twists and turns that were fit for a movie script and the ability to control and level up the characters made the player feel as though they were an intricate part of the developments, sucking them into a deep and exciting fantasy world.

In addition to the ground breaking graphics and compelling storyline, the gameplay boasted an addictive, strategic system that allowed you to fill weapon slots with 'materia'. This enhanced your character's attacks with impressive spells and even gave you the ability to summon giant creatures to aid you in battle! Each summon had its own unique cut scene that played out before their impressive attack was unleashed. Obviously, in this day and age we are accustomed to a plethora of jaw dropping cut scenes and cinematic embellishments ... But at the time of its release, there really was nothing that could compete with FF7's aesthetic prowess. If you add a simple (yet addictive) battle system into the mix, with an abundance of diverse tactical fights occurring in a wide range of impressive environments, you are left with a gem of a game!

Of course, it's absolutely impossible to talk about Final Fantasy 7 without the 'honourable' mention of super villain Sephiroth. Avoiding spoilers, there will be moments in the game where you will feel as though this bastard is just too dastardly to overcome and it's hard to see how good can triumph in the end. Powerful, clever, cunning, cold and remorseless ... Sephiroth is a superb antagonist who (again, avoiding spoilers) is ultimately responsible for arguably the saddest moment in video game history.

Taking all the above into consideration, it's hard to argue that this game is a masterpiece and to call it 'over rated' would be criminally insane ... Or would it?
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The 'Removing the rose tinted glasses' viewpoint
Final Fantasy 7 is in no way shape or form 'the greatest RPG of all time', in fact, it's not even the greatest Final Fantasy game. Firstly, the environmental graphics were good for their time, but the same can not be said for the character models. They simply consist of blocks, crudely lumped together and the faces suffer from a severe lack of detail to the point where it's laughable at times. It's hard to believe that some nerdy blokes actually fancied Tifa ... If a girl with square legs and no face (aside from two huge blocky eyes) came waddling up to me, I'd run a mile! I couldn't care less if she had giant square breasts either ... Weird shit.

Another overlooked flaw is how those annoying mini games crop up during your adventure. It's fine to include these in the Golden Saucer's arcade, so you can choose to play them if you wish, but forcing the player to engage in frustrating activities with clunky controls takes away a lot of the enjoyment and atmosphere. The chief offender is the downhill snowboarding mini game that certainly isn't terrible, but just feels so out of place in the context of the story. Fairly shortly after what is possibly the saddest moment you will witness in a video game, you are forced to partake in a arcade-style downhill snowboarding cheese-fest to the beat of a chirpy little tune ... This completely kills the deep and somber mood that was created from the recent dramatic scene. I'm not suggesting that lifting a depressing atmosphere is a bad thing, but good stories are all about timing (and the timing is definitely 'off' in this scenario). Special mention must also be given to the (unintentional) ZX Spectrum style submarine mini game that you are forced to play which is quite frankly awful!

Any Final Fantasy 7 fan will undoubtedly tell you about the groundbreaking and epic story that unfolds while you play. Now, let's take a closer look at this claim and see if it is a true statement, or just a nostalgia-induced exaggeration! Firstly, the characters are stereotypical to say the least ... You have a sulky, mysterious lead protagonist, an angry, potty mouthed black dude, an innocent young girl who is trying to accept her true self, a busty ass kicking chick etc. Also, the storyline itself feels a bit disjointed, as if sections of it have been written by several people and then pieced together at the end. In addition to this, there is a very important scene that you can completely miss if you don't visit a certain area before you complete the game! Sure, it's good to encourage exploration and it's fine to allow the player to miss out on some bonus scenes if they aren't adventurous enough ... But this occurrence is far to important to Cloud's past for it to be completely missable!
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Could someone also please tell me what's so enjoyable about having to fight numerous, mundane random battles as you try and move the story forward? Random battles can be enjoyable if you're kept on your toes and there is a certain level of diversity, but the FF7 enemies (especially in early parts of the game) are just plain boring! In addition to the multitude of snooze-worthy battles, square have also shoehorned in some incredibly pointless and frustrating puzzles ... Do you need an item to progress? No problem! But in order to obtain it, you will have to talk to dozens of NPC's, partake in a stupid, clunky mini-game and mutter lots of obscenities to yourself beforehand ... Awesome!

Regardless of weather the subject matter involves great movies, great novels or great video games - one thing everyone will agree on is that strong lead characters are a necessity. Nothing will capture an audiences' attention better than the strong protagonist finally facing off with the dangerous, seemingly unstoppable villain. Cloud and Sephiroth are two of the most famous video game characters of all time and they should certainly fulfil these rolls to perfection! However, is Cloud really a strong lead protagonist when you really think about it? Many people like Cloud because he is flawed and they can relate to him (I understand this, because nothing is duller than a perfect, heroic character who always does the right thing and who's shit smells of flowers) but Cloud is easy to relate to? Really? Pining over a girl, joining SOLDIER to impress her and prove he is tough, never making it to a high rank, being intimidated by his superiors and finally taking on someone else's personality and actually thinking he has lived their life! Even Cid gets irritated with him towards the end of the game for speaking like a forty year old nerd! And Sephiroth? Sure he's handy with a sword, but he looks incredibly feminine and his whole mission to end the world is based on the fact that he's having a childish tantrum over his identity and lack of self value! ... Scary shit.

Final Fantasy 7 may have introduced a whole new generation to RPG's, but how this game captured so many people's attention when you consider all its flaws is quite simply baffling!

The Verdict Thingy
If I'm being completely honest, the scathing criticisms that I have blurted out above didn't come anywhere near as naturally as the 'Drunk on Nostalgia' column. In other words, I still find this game much easier to praise than to complain about (but the idea of this blog is to present both sides of the story, so I still had to be a complete bastard and dig into the negative side of the game). To summarise, I would have to admit that Final Fantasy 7 is a touch over rated, but when all is said and done, it's still great!