Final Fantasy at 25: FFVII’s unsung heroes

The moment I first popped the disc for Final Fantasy VII into my PlayStation, I fell deeply in love. The combination of the sweeping, melodramatic storyline, the state-of-the-art graphics, and the memorable characters hit all the right notes for me. This game was what my dreams were made of. After first blush, just as in all my real relationships, I found a few things I wasn’t so crazy about, but I also found little things that made me love Final Fantasy VII even more. Of course I loved Sephiroth, Aeris, the motorcycle chase; everyone does. But for me, what really made this game special were the small touches and asides that only served to deepen a world that already had quite a bit of depth.

The first little thing that I fell for was the cross-dressing sequence. It was a much needed injection of comedy into an extremely serious game, and it was handled beautifully. For some strange reason, it became a big deal for me to get the perfect combination of items to make Cloud the most successful transvestite possible. In my opinion, the fact that the game made a 12-year-old boy, with no predilection for dressing up as a woman, obsessively hunt down the right bottle of perfume needed to make Don Corneo choose Cloud as his “party girl” shows its ability to make a compelling story. I can honestly say that in my 26 years on this planet, I have spent no more than 20 minutes hunting down the perfect wig, and that was for Halloween; however, if I were to add time spent in Final Fantasy VII doing the same thing, that figure would rise drastically. The game was able to get me to do something I had no desire to actually do, and it made me enjoy it profusely.

As the game progressed, I was treated to numerous wonderful boss battles, cities, dungeons, and characters. But, it wasn’t until I reached that mushroom stalk in the desert known as the Gold Saucer that I fell in love again. It had the exact same effect on me as I imagine that Disneyworld would have had. It felt like I had a complete game within a game. The plethora of minigames was incredible, from the Speed Square to the Battle Square, and all were amazingly well-designed. I wasted untold hours playing all the games in Wonder Square, with my favorite being the snowboarding minigame. Mog’s House was also an extremely interesting little game with a wonderful atmosphere about it. Of course, the minigames weren’t the only good thing about the Gold Saucer. During the course of the story, you also have a date with one of your party members: Aeris, Tifa, Yuffie, or Barrett. Unless you actively shoot for someone else, Aeris tends to be one you end up with. The date is actually extremely endearing, and if you do go with Aeris, it makes for a greater emotional investment in a character that pays off later in the game. But whoever comes along with you, it’s a great aside from the game, and helps put a human face on your party members. The Gold Saucer will always stand out in my mind as one of the greatest locales in any Final Fantasy game.

Another seemingly small, but extremely deep, portion of Final Fantasy VII is Chocobo breeding. This probably doubled the length of my first playthrough, and I couldn’t have been more appreciative. The benefits are amazing, from the prizes offered at Chocobo Square in the aforementioned Gold Saucer, to the rarest and most powerful summon material, Knights of the Round. Starting with yellow, you have to work from blue, to green, to black, to gold, each with their own particular benefits. The gold became my holy grail; I spent so much time attempting to find the right combination to lead me to the elusive bird. I finally had to break down and buy a strategy guide, something that I am still ashamed of to this day. However, it didn’t bother me as I was watching the ridiculously long Knights of the Round animation, watching my enemies destroyed in one fell swoop.

One of the more outlandish bits to be found in Final Fantasy VII is the backstory of Yuffie Kisaragi. It’s possible to go through the game without even having Yuffie as a playable character, so this portion could be completely missed. It begins when Yuffie steals all of your party’s materia upon entering Wutai, her hometown, which is fairly soul-shattering at this point of the game. Of course, the party chases her, eventually having to save her from the “ladies man” Don Corneo. Yuffie then decides to take on the bosses of the five story pagoda in Wutai, with her father being the final boss. This entire scenario is an homage to my favorite Bruce Lee movie, Game of Death, with Yuffie’s father taking the place of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bruce Lee also had to battle his way up five levels of a pagoda, fighting a master martial-artist on each story. This could very well be my favorite portion of the entire game, if only for the humorous way that it was handled. It could easily have come off as heavy-handed and preachy if not presented correctly.

There are many things that make Final Fantasy VII phenomenal: the legendary villain; the death of Aeris; the steampunk atmosphere. But if you ask me, it’s the smaller touches that make this game truly beautiful. Without these, the game would have just been good; these are what make it great. Though the big set pieces of the game are what we remember the most, don’t forget the unsung heroes: those little things that make you fall in love with the game again and again.

Join us next week for a stroll down memory lane with Final Fantasy X, which is soon to get the HD treatment. Thanks for reading, and Happy Anniversary, Final Fantasy.