By Al Giovetti
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Final Fantasy VII
Finally, this game series has made it to the PC. Sales of all versions of the Final Fantasy series number more than 13 million since the series was introduced in Japan in 1987. Ninety percent of all PlayStation owners in Japan own Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy now numbers seven games, only four of which have made it to the United States. Not only that, but the powers that be at Square the Japanese company that created the game have gotton the numbers all screwed up, except for numbers one and seven. (Editor: IV and VI in Japan are called II and III in the US, respectively.)
Final Fantasy is immensely popular. The game is just as well known in Japan as Myst is in the US. In Japan, if you ask the average man or woman in the street, most will know just what you are talking about.
Sales figures in the US have been impressive. Over the 1997 Labor Day Weekend G.I. Jane topped the Labor Day weekend sales charts becoming the best selling film for that holiday for all time, at 11.6 million dollars. Final Fantasy VII sold 16.5 million dollars of product in their debut weekend in the US, topping the film numbers for the same period of time. In Japan, over 2.5 million copies were sold during its weekend release there.
Conversion of Final Fantasy VII to the PC is causing a wave of excitement tying up Eidos' email with thousands of messages thanking the company for the conversion. Many fans of the game have had to play the game on console game systems like the Ninetendo Entertainment System (NES) and the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), while their game platform of choice is the PC. The game is not designed for keyboard play, and many would be wise to obtain a game pad to play this product.
Combat is possibly the most interesting element of the game. With over 256 monsters to fight, with each one having many different types of attacks. Each monster has a special attack which can be avoided by taking some sort of action, and special vulnerabilities. Early in the game a robot with a tail laser, is easier to defeat if you do not attack when the tail laser is raised, which would initiate a special tail laser attack that hits with 5 times the force and affects every member of your team. The robot is very susceptable to lightning, making your "bolt" or lightning bolt attack spell more effective.
The combat is a combination of turn-based and real-time that I found a most satisfactory blend. As time runs, determined by the quickness of the character and your quickness with the controller, the characters take turns attacking or being attacked by up to six enemies. When the time runs, your character may take a turn, if you take an action with the controller. You can also choose to wait to an opportune time to fight, for example, you can wait until the robot lowers its tail laser.
Attacks can be based upon wind (air), earth, water, ice, fire, and electricity (lightning), just to name a few basic types. You can also summon characters to attack for you, including the chocobo from earlier Final Fantasy games, an scantily clad ice maiden, a wizard who weilds lighting bolts, and a demon from hell with fire breath. Some attacks are funny like the large chocobo who appears above your enemies and drops from the sky to crush them under his ample rear end.
Another attack feature is the limit break, which is a special attack that is unique for each of the nine main characters. A most interesting attack is the enemy skill attack. Once an enemy skill is learned, the attack can be invoked in battle. One such attack is the deathblow, which will kill an enemy after a time clock-like count-down is concluded. Many effects have a countdown until they take effect, if the battle ends before the coundown, the character returns to normal health as if the spell had never been invoked.
Similar to the relics in Final Fantasy III, Materia are magic orbs that have a number of positive effects when inserted into slots on weapons or armor. To view the five main groups, click on the orb graphic. Materias are what control the various magic effects, such as fire, earth, water, electricity, ice, air or wind and others. For example, there is an all materia that when linked on the weapon or shield will allow you to cast spells of the linked type on all the enemies in a battle. Another materia adds more magic or hit points as do the various items of weaponry, armor, and accessories all have effects on these matters.
Materia can be divided into five groups based on their varous abilities. As the orbs are used, they gain experience and power. At its highest level of strength, an orb will make a duplication of itself (which will start over at level one) and then can be given to another character. Materia are scattered all over the game, both out in the open and hidden. Don't be afread to simply ask for them -- sometimes it's all that's necessary.
The plot has a firm environmental basis with the revolutionaries against the power and money hungry corporations bent on sucking the life out of the planet, killing off endangered species, such as the condor, and poluting the oceans. The largest corporation also runs the government and has its own private army called Soldier. As a member of the revolutionary group avalance, it is your job to protect the environment by destroying reactors that are designed to convert the life force of the planet, called Mako, into energy. A side product to these Mako Reactors is the transformation of animals and humans into unnaturally powerful monsters that constantly confront Avalance and are the source of many of the fights.
Pure mako flows into the world through the reactors and also naturally occuring mako fountains. Both the reactors and fountains can form materia gems which have the power to perform magic trapped in their crystalline matrix. Another large part of the game is to search out and find various materia that have been scattered around the planet and develop its powers to assist the group in fighting Shinra, Soldier, and the monsters.
A roving camera moves around the combat scene showing combat from almost any camera angle. Part of the camera positioning logic causes the camera to rotate around the action, as if on a boom to give a moving perspective of the action. The same spell, summoning, limit break, or critical hit, looks new and different when viewed from a moving camera that constantly changes the perspective.
Movement around the very large game map is shown in overhead oblique perspective and full three dimensional graphics including water, hills, mountains, quick sand, and forests to name some of the terrain types. Entering caves and cities switches the perspective to a side view of a two dimensional landscape with exit and entry points, and permitted areas that the characters can walk upon, similar to a train track in some cases. While in this view the character can climb up and down as well as moving north, south, east, and west depending upon the paths in the graphics open to movement.
AnimationThe plot is advanced through extensive full motion video animation sequences that would rival a Disney animated feature film. In fact many of us in the industry wonder when these game developers will wise up and leverage their investment by simultaneously producing a feature film with a game title. Many companies have done just this in the past, but none, save George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have the foresight to plan both together from the beginning.
The animated sequences are treated seriously, almost too seriously, with a deep melodrama that borders on soap opera. Much of the humor and or romantic interest is sophmoric Japanese humor that gives the title a flair and innocence of its own. Amazingly, the plot is G-rated in a country known for Pornographic Anime (Ed: Anime is Japanese animation art that extends to Comic Books and Animated Feature films.)
Voice ActorsThere are no voice actors in the cut scenes, just script to read. And while subtitles are great for the hearing impared, and we think all games should have them for just that reason, those who have good hearing should be also served with good dialogue and voice actors. This is a serious deficiency in an otherwise excellent product.
Music ScoreThe music score is quite dynamic, but within time I found it intruding on my experience. One thing that makes the music more tolerable is the use of different theme music for different locations, such as towns, sectors, and Mako reactors in the game. The sound played on a 64-bit sound card is miles better than on the PSX.
Sound EffectsThe multitrack audio allows for the music to play in the background for the battle and the theme music for a spell or summoning play over top of it blending and leading up to the hamonic conclusion. Sound effects also emerge as separate sounds and voices on the sound track. This part of the game is really done well.
Compare toThis is an unusual role playing game that can be compared to SirTech's Wizardry, Origin's Ultima, Westwood's Lands of Lore and other famous role playing series that have appeared over the years. The series started in 1987, while Wizardry started in 1978, and Ultima in 1979. Some of the later day role playing games like Lands of Lore have been around for this short a time period.
Multi-player FeaturesUnfortunately, the Final Fantasy series of games are single player. Although, while playing the game on the bigscreen television, we seem to draw quite a crowd. It seems that many people simply like to watch the game and see the plot unfold with the many cutscenes and the cinematic animated fight scenes.
Cheats, Hints, WalkthroughFinal Fantasy VII (7) Hints.htm
LettersThe Squaresoft Coollist information consortium
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