The general tale of Final Fantasy VII is told is a somewhat non-linear fashion where the facts often turn out to be obscured lies until late in the game. I’m going to do my best to summarize this in a LINEAR fashion, so it actually makes sense.
Long long ago, the Planet (Yes, that’s its name. Hence the capital P.) was inhabited by a race called the Cetra who lived in harmony with the Planet. Then a giant meteor crashed into the planet’s northern pole 2000 years prior to the game’s beginning and brought a creature known as Jenova with it. Jenova pretty much wiped out the Cetra before they were able to contain the thing.
Skip to a few prior to the main game, protagonist and sword enthusiast Cloud Strife, a lowly Shinra soldier, accompanies SOLDIERs (the capitalization makes it different) Zack and Sephiroth on a mission to Cloud’s hometown of Nibelheim. There Sephiroth discovers the horrible “truth” of his existence: He was imbued with the cells of Jenova, discovered by the Shinra Corporation and mistaken for a Cetra, to create a Supersoldier. Believing that he is a Cetra, and thus the true ruler of the Planet, and also driven to madness by the Jenova cells in his body, he burns the village to the ground and goes to retrieve the body of Jenova hidden inside a Mako Reactor nearby (Mako being the life energy of the planet and the Reactor is a power plant that sucks up Mako to turn into electricity and such.) Zack tries to stop him but is defeated, and Cloud ultimately strikes down Sephiroth and throws him into the Planet’s Lifestream below the Mako Reactor. Shinra shows up and uses the villagers of the destroyed town as experiments to infuse Jenova cells into and create a new Sephiroth to replace them. Zack and Cloud are deemed failures of this experiment and to be locked away. They escaped but Zack died from injuries sustained and Cloud’s mental state from the experiments shattered his memories, blurring them with Zack’s.
The story starts proper a few years after the Nibelheim incident, with Cloud working as a mercenary for the Eco-Terrorist group AVALANCHE along with his childhood friend Tifa and the group’s revolutionary leader Barrett. They’re on a mission to destroy the Mako Reactors and stop the Shinra Corporation from harming the Planet. The first part of the game follows AVALANCHE’s missions including the destruction of two Mako Reactors, saving Tifa from a slumlord pimp, Cloud meeting the flower girl Aeris/Aerith who is relentlessly pursued by the Shinra special ops team called the Turks because she is an actual Cetra, trying and failing to stop Shinra from dropping one of the city’s upper levels onto the sector of the city that AVALANCHE’s base is in, and then assaulting Shinra directly to find the president murdered by Sephiroth who apparently survived the whole Lifestream ordeal. The first ‘act’ ends with President Shinra’s son Rufus taking the big chair and chasing down the remnants of AVALANCHE as they flee from the mega city.
Realizing that Sephiroth is back, Cloud declares his intentions to hunt down the man who destroyed Tifa and his’ hometown. This launches into a global chase as the party pursues clues about where to find Sephiroth while Shinra and their Turks chase down the party. They learn about the Planet and the Lifestream where all life is said to come from and return to when it dies, they find a restored Nibelheim full of crazy Sephitorh “Clones” (Other people injected with Jenova cells to test out the ‘Reunion Theory’ that all lifeforms infected with Jenova will strive to reunite with the original) and that Sephiroth is looking for something called the Black Materia that contains the ultimate destructive magic (Materia being a magical crystal formed from condensed Mako energy). This is followed by the party getting the Black Materia, then Cloud getting brainwashed to hand it over to Sephiroth. Then the party getting the Black Materia again, only to have Cloud get brainwashed and hand it over to Sephiroth. In between these two, you get the tragic moment of Aeris dying while praying to the Planet with Sephiroth (Actually Jenova disguised as Sephiroth) turning her into a shiskabob. Sepiroth-Jenova taunts and mind-%$&*s Cloud with the half-truth that his memories of what happened in Nibelheim were a lie and he was a false creation with false memories. Completely mind-screwed, Cloud gives the Black Materia to the real Sephiroth who has been chilling in a mako cocoon. This allows him to summon Meteor, awaken the WEAPONs (Godzilla sized bio-mechanical creatures born from The Planet as a defense mechanism), and collapsed the area forcing everyone to escape.
The last act of the game is pretty much dealing with the fallout. Shinra is trying to blow up the WEAPONs and send a rocket into space to blow up Meteor. Cloud & Tifa are trying to solve Cloud’s existential crisis (Leading to the truth of Cloud being a lowly infantryman and Zack being the elite SOLDIER finally being revealed.) And the entire team trying to discover what Aeris’ plan of running off to get killed was actually supposed to be about – summoning Holy, the ultimate White magic, to counter the ultimate Black magic of Meteor but Sephiroth, deep in the planet’s core via the Lifestream, is preventing Holy from emerging. The team plunges down toward the core of the planet to fight of Sepiroth, ending with a final confrontation between him and Cloud one-on-one. Sephiroth is defeated and Holy is released and… Cut to 500 years later. Midgar is a vine covered ruin. Red XIII or one of his descendants along with a couple of cubs look out over the ruins. The end.
It wasn’t until years later with the release of Advent Children did we find out the outcome of Holy v. Meteor. Everyone lived. Except Aeris, naturally.
Most people who read this blog know that I don’t have a high opinion of Final Fantasy VII. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, it really isn’t. In fact as a strict gameplay factor, I really enjoyed VII. Nor was the story really that bad either. It had a lot of interesting bits that were admittedly borrowed heavily from other things I like such as The Thing and Chrono Trigger, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, most of my complaints were how flat the characters ended up being and that’s mostly because of the complete failure of how the story was presented to the player: By people talking about it. Periodically through the game the story just stops at a random location so all the characters can talk about what is going on in the plot. They don’t talk about their feelings about it, or their reactions as people, they just would sit and exposit for a while before moving on. That’s how the story is mostly conveyed in the game – by expository dialogue – to make up for the non-linear what-is-truth-what-is-lie narrative that no one could follow otherwise. Was Jenova an Ancient? No, but I know plenty of fans who think it was. And because of this method of plot delivery, the characters are never developed or fleshed out. This lead to what I called the ‘Backstory City’ effect. Every non-central character (Cloud & Aeris) have ONE town you will visit that goes into their backstory, once that is done they are officially stand-in’s for the rest of the game to fill the roster sheet. So I found the characters to pretty fairly flat. Probably why Aeris’ death didn’t phase me much.
It almost might not have helped that I didn’t play VII tills years after the game was released. Completely missing the “hype” time that the game had early on. I was a Nintendo kid. I didn’t own a Playstation until FFVIII came out a couple years later, and even then I didn’t go back and play VII. For a long time I held it in resentment simply for existing on a different console than all the Final Fantasy’s before, because I’ll be honest. I was there for the Nintendo/Sega Console Wars. Those days got dark. Like not calling people Xbots on a forum dark, but like fist fights in the school yard for brand loyalty… Yea, we were kind of dumb like that. So when I finally played VII I was probably way less forgiving of its flaws, and less awed by the technical aspects than someone who experienced it fresh and I’ll admit that.
The seventh installment is also where Square started to go in a different direction with the franchise. Where they began to experiment with new technology and opportunities that the earlier 16-bit systems couldn’t offer. It also seems to be where Square decided they needed to formally part ways with the Western European Fantasy/D&D knock off style that they had been using up until this point. Granted VI was already a departure from that aesthetic in a number of ways, but it kind of felt like the Eberron campaign setting for D&D as in “Steampunk doesn’t make it any less D&D.” From this point forward it seems that Square wanted to push further and further from the “old school” games and establish a strong new identity for the Final Fantasy games, however for many a old-school Final Fantasy fan, it marked a long road of bitter pills to swallow. I’m in the middle. I think the strong identity that they had in the early days: Four elemental crystals, vehicles, the Archfiends, the ‘Warriors of Light’ and even the early iterations of the Job system were all fairly strong identifiers that you were playing a Final Fantasy game. As they series went on, we saw less crystals, less vehicles, no Archfiends or ties to the four elements, and each game trying to do something completely different in terms of mechanics, setting, characters, etc. While trying something different is surely worth applauding, it almost felt like that Square was ashamed of how the series started.
Next time I’ll be back with what was my first actual foray into 3D Final Fantasy’s and one of the stranger iterations that takes the term ‘experimenting’ with setting and tone to a whole new level – Final Fantasy VIII.
May the light of the Crystals guide your way!
Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!
Welcome to Final Fantasy Month! Leading up to the release of Final Fantasy XV after it’s somewhat long-ish development, I’ve decided that while I don’t have the time to replay 12+ games, I can recall all the good times I had with the ones I HAVE played. Of course that sadly means entries like 2, 3, 9, 12, and a bunch of the spin offs (Adventure, Legend, Mystic Quest *shiver*) won’t be here because I haven’t had a chance to ever finish them. Not that I’m not planning on it, so please don’t bombard me with “WHAT? YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED Y?” because trust me, given the time and energy I will eventually play every Final Fantasy game. Every. One. In fact, I actually OWN every numbered entry in the series and some of the spin offs. So it literally is just a matter of hours in the day and energy in this weak fleshy hyur – I mean human – body of mine.
Really I just plan to go over what each game was about and my own personal recollections of them. Just a fun little trip down memory road before the newest game comes out and I don’t stop playing it until I collapse. So let’s kick things off with Final Fantasy I!
Four “Warriors of Light” appear in the Castle town of Coneria (later Cornelia) with dimmed orbs representing the elemental crystals. The heroes are nameless and can be of any class (Fighter, Thief, Monk, Black Mage, White Mage, Red Mage) and begin a journey to help restore the light to the four crystals and save the world from the ‘Four Fiends’.
The game is broken into essentially 3 chapters: First the local area quests where you help save Princess Sarah from the Dark Knight Garland and help out the local kingdoms to get a ship and access the sea. The second chapter is when you delve into the ruins of the Shrines and fight the Fiends to restore the crystals. Once you’ve saved the crystals and brought balance to the world, you get sucked back 2000 years into the past to find the demon Chaos, the monster who sent the Fiends to the future to steal the Crystals’ power. In a surprise twist, Chaos is actually the Dark Knight Garland!
You see in order to live forever, Garland created a time paradox. The Fiends send him into the past, where he can send the fiends into the future, so the fiends can send him into the past… and oh no I’ve gone cross eyed. The only way to stop the time loop for good is to kill the four fiends again and stop Chaos before he can send anyone into the future. The end!
Ah the classic first iteration of the legendary game series. From the get go, it was clear that the game took a TON of inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons. From the Job Classes, to the monster names and appearances (some of which are direct copies from D&D) there’s a lot of love of old school table top gaming to be found here. Heck, I’d argue that you COULD run this game as a D&D campaign today and still have a lot of fun with it. But how does it stack up as a video game after all these years?
Well, it’s definitely from that old school NES era of RPGs that took a lot of inspiration from the hands off exploring that Legend of Zelda was doing, but for the first ‘chapter’ before you hire the dwarves to blow a hole in the mountains so your ‘borrowed’ pirate ship can get through to the sea, it actually does a really good job of indicating what task you should strive to complete next. Not this “Where’s the first dungeon? Also where do I get a sword?” that Zelda had. You are given directions and objectives: Save the princess, claim a ship, help the Elf prince, bring the dwarves some explosives.
After that however? Well, I got to the Earth Shrine and beat the Lich okay. But beyond that I could definitely see why this one of the first games to get the Nintendo Power Strategy Guide treatment. Find my way to the other three shrines and getting things like getting a Rat’s Tail to give to Bahamut to get your job upgrades (I’ll never get tired of the joke that you literally give a rat’s ass to get your new jobs) and digging up the airship in the middle of the desert using a gravity stone – yeah, I needed a FAQ to find my way through this game.
Still, in the end it’s a great classic RPG experience. If you’re lucky enough to have grabbed the Dawn of Souls version that’s way out of print now or the mobile version, there’s some extra dungeons and stuff to have fun with.
Sadly, my next entry in this series will be Final Fantasy IV. I never did get a chance to play through II or III yet, which is a shame because as I understand III was where a lot of the Final Fantasy staples came into place (Chocobos, Moogles, the Job system, etc). It’s one that’s definitely kind of high on my list to visit one day. However, as far as I understand it from talking to other fans of the series, II seems kind of skippable. So it’s definitely lower on my list.
See you next time! And may the light of the Crystals guide your way!
Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!