Do you remember that day you received your first video game console? How about that time you discovered a secret stage that none of your friends knew about? Those days of being so excited for the latest iteration in a long-running series, only to be disappointed or have your expectations exceeded beyond your wildest dreams. That is what the Video Gamer’s Experience is all about. Now lets take a trip down this electronic memory lane.
Fighting games and platformers, professional wrestling “simulators” and the occasional sports/racing game rented if I’ve already played everything currently in the store. The previous sentence perfectly describes what was the first seven to eight years of my time as a video game player. In 1997, I found myself starving for new games after the height of the 16-bit era (Sega’s “Genesis” and Nintendo’s “Super Nintendo Entertainment System” consoles specifically) had come and gone. With the rise of gaming’s fifth generation and Nintendo’s “N64” system keeping its cartridge style of console gaming, Sony entered the video game realm with a compact disc-formatted system called the “Playstation”.
The Playstation had been available to purchase in North America two years before I felt the child-like urge (I was a twelve year old kid, mind you) to own a Playstation. My campaign to my parents for this new gaming system began three or so months before Christmas in hopes of having the perfect electronic present. During that time of explaining why I “needed” a Playstation, I had a chance to pick up a copy of “Game Informer” magazine that featured a complete, spoiler-filled walkthrough of Squaresoft’s latest role playing game (RPG: a game where the player assumes the role of a specific character or characters where the story is the substantial focus; some times at the expense of gameplay) entitled “Final Fantasy VII”.
For those who grew up during the time when “Final Fantasy VII” was prepping to be released in North America, Squaresoft’s new offering wasn’t just a RPG; it was being promoted as an experience. The television commercial promoted “Final Fantasy VII” as a “multi-million dollar production” featuring, “…a cast of thousands.” If not for a Playstation logo closing the thirty-second ad, you would think this was an animated movie a la “Toy Story” but for an older generation.
In reading the magazine article for this game I didn’t own, I spoiled myself in regards to one of gaming’s biggest deaths ever (and no, that’s not an exaggeration), and exposed my fragile little mind to a genre of gaming I truly didn’t know existed because my local video stores either didn’t have role playing games available to rent or they were always rented out. Even though the marketing and magazines had made a significant initial impact on me, when I planned Playstation-centric Christmas list that year, my mind had completely forgotten about “Final Fantasy VII”. All that mattered was my go-to genres. “WCW vs. The World”! “The King of Fighters ‘95”! “Mortal Kombat Trilogy”! Even that abomination entitled “Mortal Kombat Mythologies” were the games I asked for if my parents bought me a Playstation.
It would take a year of playing the aforementioned games, a few others like the epic “Tekken 3” and “Twisted Metal 2”, and the opening of a video store not three minutes away from my house (in driving time) before “Final Fantasy VII” popped onto my radar again. Coming from school not long after the “Video 2000” store’s opening did I have a chance to rent “Final Fantasy VII”. And I wasn’t impressed … until I realized the game wasn’t frozen on the start screen trying to figure out if I had a previous save on my memory card. Since I had no save (obviously), I hit the “New Game” option and began my journey into a world of mech, magic, myths, and characters rocking spiky hair while wielding abnormally large weapons.
Did I Complete “Final Fantasy VII”?
My first twenty or so minutes with “Final Fantasy VII” were as awe-inspiring as they were frustrating. Having never knowledgably played a RPG in the past, understanding some of the mechanics that would become (or already was) common knowledge for a role-playing gamer resulted in several deaths during the first boss battle. This immediate gaming disappointment was only matched by my trying to avoid battles so I had enough health to survive the Guard Scorpion (the game’s first boss) and its laser cannon.
But before those moments where I struggled to get a grasp of the game’s mechanics, I sat slack-jawed and wide-eyed looking at the opening video of a giant factory blowing the world’s essences into the air as a lone flower girl entered this scummy city the factory encompassed. The scene, though simple, perfectly captured my thoughts on gaming at the time – a naïve gamer finally being exposed to a giant world that existed and was pumping out more games, both good and bad, than I ever imagined.
I eventually got over the giant red scorpion hurdle, slowly but surely becoming more and more engulfed in this mysterious world featuring more complicated themes than my thirteen-year-old mind could process. My eventual failures to accept the RPG mantras of “Explore everything”, “Fight everything”, “Take everything” caused my experience (both in-game and in real life) to come to a screeching halt. But deep down, “Final Fantasy VII” had won me over. I didn’t care about starting over and having to work my way back to that hour-long cut scene session where the main protagonist (Cloud) explained why things went from bad to worse for his friends and enemies alike.
It would take me a while, but I eventually pulled it all together and finished the story. Picking up a strategy guide not long before completing the final dungeon, I would soon find out how much more there was to the “Final Fantasy VII” world; convincing me to replay the game not once, but twice (with my most recent play through occurring on my slim Playstation 3 between late 2012 and early 2013.
Did “Final Fantasy VII Live Up to the Hype?
For many, “Final Fantasy VII” was the first RPG people played. I was one of those people. Though the story was incredibly convoluted for the thirteen-fourteen year old version of me (a lot less confusing during my second and third go-rounds with the game after talking with fellow gamers and reading almost anything and everything “Final Fantasy VII” available), I still enjoyed this created world begging for my full emotional immersion.
This was mostly thanks to the characters, shocking plot twists, and an incredibly varied battle system centering on the magical orbs called “materia” that could be linked together and create devastating attacks (in some cases as retaliation to enemy attacks without the touch of a button). But the requested immersion was not helped by the narrative’s translation from Japanese to English having more problems than people thinking “Duke Nukem Forever” would actually be good.
“Final Fantasy VII” was the first game I played that felt like a true epic experience, making me a fan of the series – both the previous iterations and future installments – and RPG games in general.
Should You Play “Final Fantasy VII”?
I don’t know why you haven’t if you’re able to read this. “Final Fantasy VII”, while not the best game in the “Final Fantasy” series (let alone of all time), is a video game that can’t be denied as one of the best gaming experiences you’ll have. This is especially true if you feel like you can become emotionally invested in a video game where themes of love, loss, friendship, abusing the planet for its resources, schizophrenia caused by chemically induced mental illness are common. “Final Fantasy VII” was a true boon for Playstation and its growth into the video game juggernaut that it is today. But most importantly, “Final Fantasy VII” helped usher in a new breed of RPG gamer (for better or worse) that still helps keep “Final Fantasy VII” relevant almost two decades after it was given to the world.