Everybody has “comfort games” — well-picked games they go back to when they just want to play something pleasant and familiar. I have my own selection of comfort games, including Final Fantasy IV, Secret of Mana, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. And I guess I may as well add Final Fantasy VII to that list, because it occurs to me I’m playing the game for the umpteenth time. Turns out the game’s iOS release inspired me to tell myself “Say, you know what I feel like playing–”
I know Final Fantasy VII is a flawed game. Heck, if you want to talk about its problems, I’ll jump to the front of the queue with a list. But it does certain things so well, I find myself drawn to Cloud’s head-spinning journey of self-discovery again and again.
For instance, I can’t get over how well done this game’s backgrounds are. Sure, the detailed pre-rendered scenery doesn’t mesh well with FF VII’s low-poly character “sprites,” which all look like they’re built out of kid-friendly Duplo blocks (do not swallow Tifa, child). But so, so much work was put into people’s cities and homes, especially in the Midgar slums. Every single building you enter tells a story through the objects scattered on the crude floors made of pressboard and flattened sheet metal.
Nothing is haphazard; someone thought very hard about the people occupying the slums, and resolved to give them all a life and a livelihood. People peddle their wares in buses with shattered windshields, and slanted shacks with tin roofs and segments of pipe in lieu of proper sales counters. Compare all that to Square-Enix’s SNES RPGs, which copied and pasted building interiors to save precious cartridge space.
Popular opinion states game development lost something when it made the switch from tight cartridges to seemingly boundless CDs. Whereas Square-Enix had to use its imagination to stuff the epic Final Fantasy VI into a Super Famicom cartridge (and translator / localizer Ted Woolsey had to perform even more magic tricks to make sure all the game’s translated text fit — while working inside [and around] Nintendo of America’s Big List of No-No Content), the PlayStation’s CD format offered Final Fantasy VII’s developers a creative space that could house the entirety of their imaginations.
And oh boy, did they ever fill that space. The developers were free to run across the digital equivalent of the Savannah after being penned up in a backyard for years, so it’s no wonder Final Fantasy VII seems a bit bloated and self-important.
So while I can’t argue that cartridge-based RPG development forced Square-Enix to be tight, collected, and efficient, I refuse to ignore the myriad instances wherein the company did make amazing use of their space. Like with the aforementioned personal spaces that subtly narrate important bits of every NPC’s lives.
On the other hand, Square-Enix obviously knew it was on the cusp of something important with Final Fantasy VII. The game’s name practically evokes mental images of swinging spotlights and dancing marquee lights. Maybe that’s why we still talk about how deeply Aeris’s death affected us, but we don’t spare many words for the character deaths that truly matter.
That includes me. I’ve witnessed one particular death scene about sept-squillion times, and only recently did I realise “Shit — that’s really sad.” The controversial circumstances surrounding the passing only deepens my sense of “Oh, dang.”
Aeris’s death is easy to mourn because she is literally a flower-scented Jesus. She dies cleanly, blamelessly, and accepts her fate. This specific death, however, is harder to talk about because you’re driven to say “Yeah, but–“. It’s kind of like attending the funeral of a real jerk.
But this is a requiem that deserves its own piece, so more on that soon.
[Images courtesy of Well Rendered]