The game that made Final Fantasy a household name, Final Fantasy VII is now available on the PlayStation 4. Originally released in 1997, this is a straight port of the enhanced PC version, which boasts slightly better visuals and some tweaked dialogue. What's more, the title's return to PlayStation allows for full Trophy support, and even comes with several cheat modes which don't disable the aforementioned virtual trinkets. These include the ability to speed the game up, turn off random encounters, and max out your party's statistics so that you can breeze past battles. Not everyone will appreciate their inclusion, but it's nice to have the option of blitzing through proceedings if you've already experienced the title before.
Getting straight to the point, Final Fantasy VII remains a masterpiece almost 20 years after its launch. The story of Cloud Strife and his ragtag band of allies hasn't been diminished by time – it's still an extremely well-paced tale that effortlessly chops and changes its tone to suit the situation. It's perhaps not the best written plot in Square Enix's beloved series, but it's certainly one of the most enjoyable overall.
And it's really the title's fantastic cast that hold things together. Cloud himself may have had his uncaring nature overemphasised in more recent works, but his true character is best portrayed during this initial 40 or so hour journey. Bouncing off his serious exterior is a party that's impressively varied, from the foul mouthed Cid to the calm and collected Red XIII, and a slew of secondary personalities do a great job of keeping the story ticking along, too. Of course, you also have Sephiroth as an iconic villain – his steady descent into insanity being one of the most poignant elements of the story.
In fact, the main reason as to why Final Fantasy VII continues to be such an inspiration is because much of it has become iconic. It's not just the art style or the character designs, though – it's also the result of a superbly paced plot that's tied to a whole host of memorable locations. It's a release which manages to throw out one interesting scenario after another, with each segment of the story successfully building upon the themes and mood of the last. In that sense, it becomes increasingly difficult to pull yourself away from the game as you sink more and more time into your save – and that's something that many role-playing titles still struggle to master today.
When it comes to gameplay, Final Fantasy VII's solid formula is hard to knock. Mixing typical exploration with random battles, it's safe to say that the franchise's first 3D instalment didn't try to revolutionise the way in which the series actually played. By today's standards, the exploration part can be a little cumbersome due to the use of pre-rendered environments, but work past this minor inconvenience and you'll find a well realised world that houses plenty of worthwhile secrets. Likewise, getting around the world map, whether you're riding atop chocobo or soaring through the skies aboard an airship, can feel a slightly clumsy, but again, it's not enough to detract from the grand feeling of adventure that the game sustains throughout its runtime.
Meanwhile, combat remains surprisingly slick, and a lot of the time, feels more punchy and to-the-point than the systems found in later Final Fantasy games. Based on the series' trademark Active Time Battle – or ATB – system, it's a mixture of simple menus and accessible mechanics that come together incredibly well. It's also bolstered by the materia system, which essentially allows you to customise your party's abilities to your liking by equipping spherical items known as materia.
The materia system is one of Final Fantasy VII's greatest achievements: it's easy to get to grips with but offers plenty of depth, and even today it outshines many similar ideas that more modern releases have come up with. The best part, though, is that it supplements the traditional levelling system perfectly: you're not just developing your characters by gaining experience points, you're also enhancing the power of their equipped materia with every victory. Because of this, it's easy to argue that Final Fantasy VII has one of the franchise's most compelling hooks when it comes to powering up your party.
In terms of presentation, it goes without saying that Final Fantasy VII hasn't aged brilliantly. Its dated 3D graphics almost look comedic in places, but it still manages to carry plenty of charm despite its obvious blockiness, and that's thanks to a cohesive art direction. However, it's the soundtrack that's truly stood the test of time, with Nobuo Uematsu's sublime score still able to send tingles up your spine. In one word, it's masterful.
Whether you believe that Final Fantasy VII is the greatest entry in the series or not, the truth is that it's still an excellent role-playing game. Even 18 years after its original release, its overall quality is clear to see, despite its often dated visuals. A superbly paced plot, a brilliant cast of characters, and a punchy battle system combine to create a fantasy that remains an absolute classic, and a game that's well worth playing all over again.