Thursday, August 28, 2008

Final Fantasy VII Review

So it's finally here. The most hyped-up, talked-about and eagerly-anticipated role-playing game in console history has finally arrived. I'm talking about Final Fantasy VII, of course, the game that was billed as "the greatest RPG of all time" before it was even released. And the big question: Does it live up to the hype?
Well, Final Fantasy VII is absolutely epic in scope. With a sweeping story line that spans three discs, the game makes the 40-hour completion time suggested by Square seem like an underestimation. A large map, with a wide selection of towns and cities, offers plenty of areas to explore for the intrepid adventurer. Cinematic sequences (including, but not limited to, fully rendered full-motion animation cinemas) advance the complex -- and sometimes surprising -- story. And several mini-games (like arcade fighting, motorcycle racing and snowboarding) offer light-hearted respite from the serious story line. But does it live up to the hype?
Well, as reported, the graphics are nothing short of stunning. The prerendered backgrounds provide some of the richest environments ever seen in a console title. The cinematic sequences segu´ almost seamlessly into actual gameplay, ridding the game of the unpleasant graphic dichotomy found in most cinema-laden CD-based games. And clever graphical tricks, like decreasing the size of the characters as they move from foreground to background, add to the game's visual depth. And the powerful summoning spells acquired as the game progresses are absolutely awe-inspiring, combining polygonal graphics with what appear to be beautifully hand-drawn special effects. But does it live up to the hype?
Well, the combat interface is cleverly done, with a "realtime" engine that is nevertheless turn-based. By turn-based, I mean that characters must wait for a Time meter to fill before choosing their attack, and attacks always occur in the order they are chosen, with no two characters (either friend or foe) attacking at the same time. This adds a level of urgency and excitement not found in most other RPGs.
But does it live up to the hype? Well, that really depends. I have to say that, now that I've been able to put some serious time into the game, I'm a bit disappointed. The most frustrating thing about the game is the surprisingly linear story line. Until gaining access to the game's vehicles (at least 15 hours into the game), players are basically forced to follow a strictly set path. Oh, you'll have the appearance of choices, in conversation and in travel, but explore the alternatives and you'll discover that there is really only one feasible path to take. This is doubtless the case because of the focus on the fully developed story, but it may bother gamers used to more wide-open gameplay. The inclusion of some truly challenging puzzles would have helped a bit, but these are scarce. To make things worse, at some points the translation from the Japanese appears a bit muddy, causing unnecessary confusion and clouding the fine story.
Don't get me wrong, this is a great game -- and I don't mean great like "Hey, great!" but great like Alexander the Great. I guess I was just expecting it to be a lot closer to perfect than it is. It's still a must-buy for any PlayStation owner; just keep in mind that you'll have to check a good deal of your freedom at the door.

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