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Final Fantasy VII

North American cover art, featuring the game's protagonist, Cloud Strife

Developer(s)Square
Publisher(s)
Director(s)Yoshinori Kitase
Producer(s)Hironobu Sakaguchi
Programmer(s)Ken Narita
Artist(s)
Writer(s)
Composer(s)Nobuo Uematsu
SeriesFinal Fantasy
Platform(s)PlayStation, Microsoft Windows, iOS, PlayStation 4, Android
Release

January 31, 1997

    • PlayStation
      • JP: January 31, 1997
      • NA: September 7, 1997
      • PAL: November 17, 1997
      InternationalMicrosoft Windows
      • NA/PAL: June 25, 1998
      • JP: May 16, 2013
      iOSPlayStation 4Android
Genre(s)Role-playing
Mode(s)Single-player

Final Fantasy VII[a] is a 1997 role-playing video game developed by Square for the PlayStation console. It is the seventh main installment in the Final Fantasy series. Published in Japan by Square, it was released in other regions by Sony Computer Entertainment, and became the first in the main series to see a PAL release. The game's story follows Cloud Strife, a mercenary who joins an eco-terrorist organization to stop a world-controlling megacorporation from using the planet's life essence as an energy source. Events send Cloud and his allies in pursuit of Sephiroth, a superhuman intent on destroying their planet. During the journey, Cloud builds close friendships with his party members, including Aerith Gainsborough, who holds the secret to saving their world.

Development began in 1994, originally for the Super NES. After delays and technical difficulties from experimenting on several platforms, Square moved production to the PlayStation, largely due to the advantages of the CD-ROM format. Veteran Final Fantasy staff returned, including series creator and producer Hironobu Sakaguchi, director Yoshinori Kitase, and composer Nobuo Uematsu. The title became the first in the series to use full motion video and 3D computer graphics, which featured 3D character models superimposed over 2D pre-rendered backgrounds. Although the gameplay systems remained mostly unchanged from previous entries, Final Fantasy VII introduced more widespread science fiction elements and a more realistic presentation. The game had a staff of over 100, with a combined development and marketing budget of around US$80 million.

Assisted by a large promotional campaign, Final Fantasy VII received widespread commercial and critical success, and remains widely regarded as a landmark title and one of the greatest games of all time. The title won numerous Game of the Year awards, and was acknowledged for boosting the sales of the PlayStation and popularizing Japanese role-playing games worldwide. Critics praised its graphics, gameplay, music, and story, although some criticism was directed towards its English localization. Its success has led to enhanced ports on various platforms, a multimedia subseries called the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, and an upcoming high-definition remake for the PlayStation 4.

Gameplay[edit]

See also: Recurring elements in the Final Fantasy series § Gameplay

The gameplay of Final Fantasy VII is mostly comparable to earlier Final Fantasy titles and Japanese role-playing games.[1] The game features three modes of play: the world map, the field, and the battle screen.[2][3]:15,20 At its grandest scale, players explore the entire world of Final Fantasy VII on a 3D world map.[4] The world map is littered with representations of areas for the player to enter, including towns, environments, and ruins.[5] Natural barriers—such as mountains, deserts, and bodies of water—block access by foot to some areas; as the game progresses, the player receives vehicles that help traverse these obstacles.[3]:44Chocobos can be found in certain spots on the map, and if caught, can be ridden to areas inaccessible by foot or vehicle.[3]:46 In field mode, the player navigates fully scaled versions of the areas represented on the world map.[4] For the first time in the series, this mode is represented in three-dimensional space. The player can explore the environment, talk with characters, advance the story, and initiate event games in this mode.[3]:15 Event games are short minigames that use special control functions and are often tied into the story.[3]:18 While in field mode, the player may also find shops and inns. Shops provide an opportunity to buy and sell items that can aid Cloud and his party, such as weapons, armor, and accessories. If the characters rest at an inn, their hit points and mana points will be restored, along with any abnormalities contracted during battles.[3]:17

At random intervals on the world map and in field mode, and at specific moments in the story, the game will enter the battle screen. This screen places the player characters on one side, the enemies on the other, and employs an "Active Time Battle" (ATB) system in which the characters exchange moves until one side is defeated.[2][1] The damage (or healing) dealt by either side is quantified on screen. Characters have many statistics that determine their effectiveness in battle; for example, hit points determine how much damage they can take, and magic determines how much damage they can inflict with spells. Each character on the screen has a time gauge; when a character's gauge is full, the player can input a command for that character. The commands change as the game progresses, and are dependent on the characters in the player's party and their equipment. Commands may include attacking with a weapon, casting magic, using items, summoning monsters, and other actions that either damage the enemy or aid the player characters. Final Fantasy VII also features powerful, character-specific commands called Limit Breaks, which can be used only after a special gauge is charged by enemy attacks. After being attacked, characters may be afflicted by one or more abnormal "statuses", such as poison or paralysis. These statuses and their adverse effects can be removed by special items or abilities. When all the enemies are defeated, the battle ends and the player may be rewarded with money, items, and experience points. If the player is defeated, it is game over and the game must be loaded to the last save point.[3]:20–27

When not in battle, the player can use the menu screen. On this screen, the player can review each character's status and statistics, use items and abilities, change equipment, save the game (when on the world map or at a save point), and manage orbs called Materia. The main method of customizing characters in Final Fantasy VII, Materia may be added to equipment to provide characters with new magic spells, monsters to summon, commands, statistical upgrades, and other benefits.[6] Materia level up with their own experience point system, and can be combined to create different effects.[3]:30–42

Synopsis[edit]

Setting and characters[edit]

Main article: Characters of the Final Fantasy VII series

Final Fantasy VII takes place on a world referred to in-game as the "Planet", though it has been retroactively named "Gaia".[7][8] The planet's lifeforce, called the Lifestream, is a flow of spiritual energy that gives life to everything on the Planet. Its processed form is known as "Mako".[9] On a societal and technological level, the game has been defined as an industrial or post-industrialscience fiction milieu.[10] During Final Fantasy VII, the Planet's Lifestream is being drained for energy by the Shinra Electric Power Company, a world-dominating megacorporation headquartered in the city of Midgar. Shinra's actions are weakening the Planet, threatening its existence and all life.[11] Significant factions within the game include AVALANCHE, an eco-terrorist group seeking Shinra's downfall so the Planet can recover;[8] the Turks, a covert branch of Shinra's security forces;[12] SOLDIER, an elite Shinra fighting force created by enhancing humans with Mako;[13] and the Cetra, a near-extinct human tribe which maintains a strong connection to the Planet and the Lifestream.[14]

The central protagonist is Cloud Strife, an unsociable mercenary who claims to be a former 1st Class SOLDIER. Early on, he works with two members of AVALANCHE: Barret Wallace, its brazen but fatherly leader; and Tifa Lockhart, a shy yet nurturing martial artist and childhood friend of Cloud. On their journey, they meet Aerith Gainsborough, a carefree flower merchant and one of the last surviving Cetra;[14][15]Red XIII, an intelligent quadruped from a tribe that protects the planet;[16]Cait Sith, a fortune-telling robotic cat controlled by repentant Shinra staff member Reeve;[3][17] and Cid Highwind, a pilot whose dream of being the first human in outer space was not realized.[18] The group can also recruit Yuffie Kisaragi, a young ninja and skilled Materia thief; and Vincent Valentine, a former Turk and victim of Shinra experiments.[19] The game's main antagonists are Rufus Shinra, son of President Shinra and later leader of the Shinra Corporation;[20]Sephiroth, a former SOLDIER who reappears several years after he was thought dead;[3] Jenova, a hostile extraterrestrial life-form imprisoned by the Cetra 2000 years before.[21][22][23] A key character in Cloud's backstory is Zack Fair, a member of SOLDIER and Aerith's first love.[24]

Plot[edit]

AVALANCHE destroys a Shinra Mako reactor in Midgar; an attack on another reactor goes wrong, and Cloud falls into the city slums. There, he meets Aerith and protects her from Shinra.[25][26] Meanwhile, Shinra finds AVALANCHE and collapses part of the upper city, killing most of AVALANCHE along with the slum population below.[27] Aerith is also captured; as a Cetra, she can potentially reveal the "Promised Land", which Shinra believes is overflowing with exploitable Lifestream energy.[28][29] Cloud, Barret and Tifa rescue Aerith; during their escape from Midgar, they discover that President Shinra was murdered by Sephiroth, who was presumed dead seven years earlier.[30] The party pursue Sephiroth across the Planet, with now-President Rufus on their trail; they are soon joined by the rest of the playable characters.

At a Cetra temple, Sephiroth reveals his intentions to use the Black Materia to summon "Meteor", a spell that will impact the Planet with a meteorite. Sephiroth will absorb the Lifestream as it attempts to heal the wound, becoming a god-like being.[31] The party retrieves the Black Materia, but Sephiroth manipulates Cloud into surrendering it. Aerith departs alone to stop Sephiroth, following him to an abandoned Cetra city. During her prayer to the Planet for help, Sephiroth attempts to force Cloud to kill her; failing, he kills her himself before fleeing and leaving the Black Materia behind.[32] The party then learns of Jenova, a hostile alien lifeform whose remains were unearthed by Shinra scientists decades earlier; at Nibelheim, Jenova's cells were used to create Sephiroth.[21][32] Five years before the game, Sephiroth and Cloud visited Nibelheim, where Sephiroth learned of his origins. Driven insane by this, he murdered the townspeople, then vanished when confronted by Cloud.

At the Northern Crater, the party learns that the "Sephiroths" they have encountered are Jenova clones created by the insane Shinra scientist Hojo. Confronting the real Sephiroth as he is killing his clones to reunite Jenova's cells, Cloud is again manipulated into delivering the Black Materia. Sephiroth then taunts Cloud by showing another SOLDIER in Cloud's place in his memories of Nibelheim, suggesting that Cloud is a failed Sephiroth clone.[33] Sephiroth summons Meteor and seals the Crater; Cloud falls into the Lifestream and the party is captured by Rufus.

Escaping Shinra, the party discovers Cloud at an island hospital in a catatonic state from Mako poisoning; Tifa stays as his caretaker. When the island is attacked by a planetary defense force called Weapon, the two fall into the Lifestream,[34] where Tifa helps Cloud reconstruct his memories. Cloud was a mere infantryman who was never accepted into SOLDIER; the SOLDIER in his memories was his friend Zack. At Nibelheim, Cloud surprised and wounded Sephiroth after the latter's mental breakdown, but Jenova preserved Sephiroth's life. Hojo experimented on Cloud and Zack for four years, injecting them with Jenova's cells and Mako; they escaped, but Zack was eventually killed. The combined trauma of these events triggered an identity crisis in Cloud; he constructed a false persona around Zack's stories and his own fantasies.[32][35] Cloud accepts his past and reunites with the party, who learn that Aerith's prayer to the Planet had been successful: the Planet had attempted to summon Holy to prevent Meteor's impact, but Sephiroth blocked Holy.

Shinra fails to destroy Meteor but manages to defeat a Weapon and puncture the Northern Crater, costing the lives of Rufus and other personnel. After killing Hojo, who is revealed to be Sephiroth's biological father,[21] the party descends to the Planet's core through the opening in the Northern Crater and defeats both Jenova and Sephiroth. The party escapes and Holy is summoned, which destroys Meteor with the help of the Lifestream.[36] Five hundred years later, Red XIII is seen with two cubs looking out over the ruins of Midgar, which are now covered in greenery, showing the planet has healed.

Development[edit]

Initial concept talks for Final Fantasy VII began in 1994 at Final Fantasy developer Square, following the completion of Final Fantasy VI. As with the previous installment, series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi reduced his role to producer and granted others a more active role in development: these included Yoshinori Kitase, one of the directors of Final Fantasy VI. The next installment was planned as a 2D game for Nintendo's Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES). After creating an early 2D prototype of it, the team postponed development to help finish Chrono Trigger.[37] Once Chrono Trigger was completed, the team resumed discussions for Final Fantasy VII in 1995.[37][38]

The team discussed continuing the 2D strategy, which would have been the safe and immediate path just prior to the imminent industry shift toward 3D gaming; such a change would require radical new development models.[37] The team decided to take the riskier option and make a 3D game on new generation hardware, but had yet to choose between the cartridge-based Nintendo 64 or the CD-ROM-based PlayStation from Sony Computer Entertainment.[37] The team also considered the Sega Saturn console and Microsoft Windows.[39] Their decision was influenced by two factors: a highly successful tech demo based on Final Fantasy VI using the new Softimage 3D software, and the escalating price of cartridge-based games, which was limiting Square's audience.[37][40][41] Tests were made for a Nintendo 64 version, which would use the planned 64DD peripheral despite the lack of 64DD development kits and the prototype device's changing hardware specifications. This version was discarded during early testing, as the 2000 polygons needed to render the Behemoth monster placed excessive strain on the Nintendo 64 hardware, causing a low frame rate.[37] It would have required an estimated thirty 64DD discs to run Final Fantasy VII properly with the data compression methods of the day.[42] Faced with both technical and economic issues on Nintendo's current hardware, and impressed by the increased storage capacity of CD-ROM when compared to the Nintendo 64 cartridge, Square shifted development of Final Fantasy VII, and all other planned projects, onto the PlayStation.[37]

In contrast to the visuals and audio, the overall gameplay system remained mostly unchanged from Final Fantasy V and VI, but with an emphasis on player control.[43] The initial decision was for battles to feature shifting camera angles. Battle arenas had a lower polygon count than field areas, which made creating distinctive features more difficult.[40] The summon sequences benefited strongly from the switch to the cinematic style, as the team had struggled to portray their scale using 2D graphics.[44] In his role as producer, Sakaguchi placed much of his effort into developing the battle system.[24] He proposed the Materia system as a way to provide more character customization than previous Final Fantasy games: battles no longer revolved around characters with innate skills and roles in battle, as Materia could be reconfigured between battles.[40] Nomura also contributed to the gameplay; he designed the Limit Break system as an evolution of the Desperation Attacks used in Final Fantasy VI. The Limit Breaks served a purpose in gameplay while also evoking each character's personality in battle.[24][40]

Square retained the passion-based game development approach from their earlier projects, but now had the resources and ambition to create the game they wanted. This was because they had extensive capital from their earlier commercial successes, which meant they could focus on quality and scale rather than obsessing over and working around their budget.[37]Final Fantasy VII was at the time one of the most expensive video game projects ever, costing around US$80 million USD, half of which was used on marketing.[37][45][46] Development of the final version took a staff of between 100 and 150 people just over a year to complete. As video game development teams were usually only 20 people, the game had what was described as the largest development team of any game up to that point.[37][44] The development team was split between both Square's Japanese offices and its new American office in Los Angeles; the American team worked primarily on city backgrounds.[42]

Art design[edit]

The game's art director was Yusuke Naora, who had worked as a designer for Final Fantasy VI. With the switch into 3D, Naora realized that he needed to relearn drawing, as 3D visuals require a very different approach than 2D. With the massive scale and scope of the project, Naora was granted a team devoted entirely to the game's visual design. The department's duties included illustration, modeling of 3D characters, texturing, creation of environments, visual effects, and animation.[47] Naora later defined the art style of Final Fantasy VII as "dark" and "weird".[48] The Shinra logo, which incorporated a kanji symbol, was drawn by Naora personally.[49] Promotional artwork, in addition to the logo artwork, was created by Yoshitaka Amano, an artist whose association with the series went back to its inception.[50] While he had taken a prominent role in earlier entries, Amano was unable to do so for Final Fantasy VII, due to commitments at overseas exhibitions.[8][50] His logo artwork was based on Meteor: when he saw images of Meteor, he was not sure how to turn it into suitable artwork. In the end, he created multiple variations of the image, and asked staff to choose which they preferred.[51] The green coloring represents the predominant lighting in Midgar and the color of the Lifestream, while the blue reflected the ecological themes present in the story. Its coloring directly influenced the general coloring of the game's environments.[47]

Another prominent artist was Tetsuya Nomura. Having impressed Sakaguchi with his proposed ideas, which were handwritten and illustrated rather than simply typed on a PC, Nomura was brought on as main character designer.[24] Nomura stated that when he was brought on, the main scenario had not been completed, but he "went along like, 'I guess first off you need a hero and a heroine', and from there drew the designs while thinking up details about the characters. After [he'd] done the hero and heroine, [he] carried on drawing by thinking what kind of characters would be interesting to have. When [he] handed over the designs [he'd] tell people the character details [he'd] thought up, or write them down on a separate sheet of paper".[52] Something that could not be carried over from earlier titles was the chibi sprite art, as that would not fit with the new graphical direction. Naora, in his role as an assistant character designer and art director, helped adjust each character's appearance so the actions they performed were believable. When designing Cloud and Sephiroth, Nomura was influenced by his view of their rivalry mirroring the legendary animosity between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojirō, with Cloud and Sephiroth being Musashi and Kojirō respectively. Sephiroth's look was defined as "kakkoii", a Japanese term combining good looks with coolness.[40] Several of Nomura's designs evolved substantially during development. Cloud's original design of slicked-back black hair with no spikes was intended to save polygons and contrast with Sephiroth's long, flowing silver hair. However, Nomura feared that such masculinity could prove unpopular with fans, so he redesigned Cloud to feature a shock of spiky, bright blond hair. Vincent's occupation changed from researcher to detective to chemist, and finally to a former Turk with a tragic past.[8][24]

Scenario[edit]

Sakaguchi was responsible for writing the initial plot, which was substantially different from the final version.[53] In this draft for the planned SNES version, the game's setting was envisioned as New York City in 1999. Similar to the final story, the main characters were part of an organization trying to destroy Mako reactors, but they were pursued by a hot-blooded detective named Joe. The main characters would eventually blow up the city. An early version of the Lifestream concept was present at this stage.[37][53][41] According to Sakaguchi, his mother had died while Final Fantasy VI was being developed, and choosing life as a theme helped him cope with her passing in a rational and analytical manner.[44] Square eventually used the New York setting in Parasite Eve (1998).[41] While the planned concept was dropped, Final Fantasy VII still marked a drastic shift in setting from previous entries, dropping the Medieval fantasy elements in favor of a world that was "ambiguously futuristic".[54]

When Kitase was put in charge of Final Fantasy VII, he and Nomura reworked the entire initial plot. Scenario writer Kazushige Nojima joined the team after finishing work on Bahamut Lagoon.[24] While Final Fantasy VI featured an ensemble cast of numerous playable characters that were equally important, the team soon decided to develop a central protagonist for Final Fantasy VII.[40] The pursuit of Sephiroth that comprised most of the main narrative was suggested by Nomura, as nothing similar had been done in the series before.[24] Kitase and Nojima conceived AVALANCHE and Shinra as opposing organizations, and created Cloud's backstory as well as his relationship to Sephiroth.[53] Among Nojima's biggest contributions to the plot were Cloud's memories and split personality; this included the eventual conclusion involving his newly created character of Zack.[24] The crew helped Kitase adjust the specifics of Sakaguchi's original Lifestream concept.[53]

Regarding the overall theme of the game, Sakaguchi said it was "not enough to make 'life' the theme, you need to depict living and dying. In any event, you need to portray death".[58] Consequently, Nomura proposed killing off the heroine.[24][58] Aerith had been the only heroine, but the death of a female protagonist would necessitate a second; this led to the creation of Tifa.[59] The developers decided to kill Aerith, as her death would be the most devastating and consequential.[24][58] Kitase wanted to depict it as very sudden and unexpected, leaving "not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness", "feelings of reality and not Hollywood".[38] The script for the scene was written by Nojima. Kitase and Nojima then planned that most of the main cast would die shortly before the final battle; Nomura vetoed the idea because he felt it would undermine the impact of Aerith's death.[37] Several character relations and statuses underwent changes during development. Aerith was to be Sephiroth's sister, which influenced the design of her hair. The team then made Sephiroth a previous love interest of hers to deepen her backstory, but later swapped him with Zack.[52][60] Vincent and Yuffie were to be part of the main narrative, but due to time constraints, they were nearly cut and eventually relegated to being optional characters.[52]

Nojima was charged with writing the scenario and unifying the team's ideas into a cohesive narrative, as Kitase was impressed with his earlier work on the mystery-likeHeracles no Eikō III: Kamigami no Chinmoku, an entry in the Glory of Heracles series.[24] To make the characters more realistic, Nojima wrote scenes in which they would occasionally argue and raise objections: while this inevitably slowed down the pace of the story, it added depth to the characters. The graphical improvements allowed even relatively bland lines of dialogue to be enhanced with reactions and poses from the 3D character models.[44] Voice acting would have led to significant load times, so it was omitted.[61]Masato Kato wrote several late-game scenes, including the Lifestream sequence and Cloud and Tifa's conversation before the final battle. Initially unaffiliated with the project, Kato was called on to help flesh out less important story scenes. He wrote his scenes to his own tastes without outside consultation, something he later regretted.[62]

Graphics[edit]

With the shift from the SNES to the next generation consoles, Final Fantasy VII became the first project in the series to use 3D computer graphics.[38] Developers initially considered overlaying 2D sprites on 3D backgrounds, but decided to forgo pixel art entirely in favor of polygonal models.[63] Aside from the story, Final Fantasy VI had many details undecided when development began; most design elements were hashed out along the way. In contrast, with Final Fantasy VII, the developers knew from the outset it was going to be "a real 3D game", so from the earliest planning stage detailed designs were in existence. The script was also finalized, and the image for the graphics had been fleshed out. This meant that when actual development work began, storyboards for the game were already in place.[40] The shift from cartridge ROM to CD-ROM posed some problems: according to lead programmer Ken Narita, the CD-ROM had a slower access speed, delaying some actions during the game, so the team needed to overcome this issue.[44] Certain tricks were used to conceal load times, such as offering animations to keep players from getting bored.[38] When it was decided to use 3D graphics, there was discussion among the staff whether to use sprite-based character models or 3D polygonal models. While sprites proved more popular with the staff, the polygon models were chosen as they could better express emotion. This decision was influenced by the team's exposure to the 3D character models used in Alone in the Dark. Sakaguchi decided to use deformed models for field navigation and real-time event scenes, for better expression of emotion, while realistically proportioned models would be used in battles.[60] The team purchased Silicon Graphics Onyx supercomputers and related workstations, and accompanying software including Softimage 3D, PowerAnimator, and N-World for an estimated total of $21 million. Many team members had never seen the technology before.[37]

The transition from 2D graphics to 3D environments overlaid on pre-rendered backgrounds was accompanied by a focus on a more realistic presentation.[38] In previous entries, the sizes for characters and environments were fixed, and the player saw things from a scrolling perspective. This changed with Final Fantasy VII; environments shifted with camera angles, and character model sizes shifted depending on both their place in the environment and their distance from the camera, giving a sense of scale.[40][44] The choice of this highly cinematic style of storytelling, contrasting directly with Square's previous games, was attributed to Kitase, who was a fan of films and had an interest in the parallels between film and video game narrative.[37] Character movement during in-game events was done by the character designers in the planning group. While designers normally cooperate with a motion specialist for such animations, the designers taught themselves motion work, resulting in each character's movements differing depending on their creators—some designers liked exaggerated movements, while others went for subtlety. Much of the time was spent on each character's day-to-day, routine animations. Motion specialists were brought in for the game's battle animations. The first characters the team worked with were Cloud and Barret.[40] Some of the real-time effects, such as an explosion near the opening, were hand-drawn rather than computer animated.[47]

The main creative force behind the overall 3D presentation was Kazuyuki Hashimoto, the general supervisor for these sequences. Being experienced in the new technology the team had brought on board, he accepted the post at Square as the team aligned with his own creative spirit. One of the major events in development was when the real-time graphics were synchronized to computer-generated full motion video (FMV) cutscenes for some story sequences, notably an early sequence where a real-time model of Cloud jumps onto an FMV-rendered moving train.[37] The backgrounds were created by overlaying two 2D graphic layers and changing the motion speed of each to simulate depth perception. While this was not a new technique, the increased power of the PlayStation enabled a more elaborate version of this effect.[44] The biggest issue with the 3D graphics was the large memory storage gap between the development hardware and the console: while the early 3D tech demo had been developed on a machine with over 400 megabytes of total memory, the PlayStation only had two megabytes of system memory and 500 kilobytes for texture memory. The team needed to figure out how to shrink the amount of data while preserving the desired effects. This was aided with reluctant help from Sony, who had hoped to keep Square's direct involvement limited to a standard API package, but they eventually relented and allowed the team direct access to the hardware specifications.[37]

Final Fantasy VII features two types of cutscenes: real-time cutscenes featuring polygon models on pre-rendered backgrounds, and FMV cutscenes.[44] The game's computer-generated imagery (CGI) FMVs were produced by Visual Works, a then-new subsidiary of Square that specialized in computer graphics and FMVs creation. Visual Works had created the initial movie concept for a 3D game project.[8] The FMVs were created by an international team, covering both Japan and North America and involving talent from the gaming and film industry; Western contributors included artists and staff who had worked on the Star Wars film series, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and True Lies.[64] The team tried to create additional optional CGI content which would bring optional characters Vincent and Yuffie into the ending. As this would have further increased the number of discs the game needed, the idea was discarded.[65] Kazuyuki Ikumori, a future key figure at Visual Works, helped with the creation of the CGI cutscenes, in addition to general background design.[66] The CGI FMV sequences total around 40 minutes of footage, something only possible with the PlayStation's extra memory space and graphical power. This innovation brought with it the added difficulty of ensuring that the inferiority of the in-game graphics in comparison to the FMV sequences was not too obvious. Kitase has described the process of making the in-game environments as detailed as possible to be "a daunting task".[38]

Music[edit]

Main article: Music of the Final Fantasy VII series

"One-Winged Angel"

"One-Winged Angel", the theme used during a part of the final battle against Sephiroth, is recognized by many as one of Uematsu's best works. The track uses high-quality digitized voices, a first for the series.


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The musical score of Final Fantasy VII was composed, arranged, and produced by Nobuo Uematsu, who had served as the sole composer for the six previous Final Fantasy games. Originally, Uematsu had planned to use CD quality music with vocal performances to take advantage of the console's audio capabilities, but found that it resulted in the game having much longer loading times for each area. Uematsu then decided that the higher quality audio was not worth the trade-off with performance, and opted instead to use MIDI-like sounds produced by the console's internal sound sequencer, similar to how his soundtracks for the previous games in the series on the Super NES were implemented.[67][68] While the Super NES only had eight sound channels to work with, the PlayStation had twenty-four. Eight were reserved for sound effects, leaving sixteen available for the music.[43] Uematsu's approach to composing the game's music was to treat it like a film soundtrack and compose songs that reflected the mood of the scenes, rather than trying to make strong melodies to "define the game", as he felt that approach would come across too strong when placed alongside the game's new 3D visuals. As an example, he composed the track intended for the scene in the game where Aerith Gainsborough is killed to be "sad but beautiful", rather than more overtly emotional, creating what he felt was a more understated feeling.[37] Uematsu additionally said that the soundtrack had a feel of "realism", which also prevented him from using "exorbitant, crazy music".[69]

The first piece that Uematsu composed for the game was the opening theme; game director Yoshinori Kitase showed him the opening cinematic and asked him to begin the project there. The track was well received in the company, which gave Uematsu "a sense that it was going to be a really good project". Final Fantasy VII was the first game in the series to include a track with high-quality digitized vocals, "One-Winged Angel", which accompanies a section of the final battle of the game. The track has been called Uematsu's "most recognizable contribution" to the music of the Final Fantasy series, which Uematsu agrees with.[37][70] Inspired by The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky to make a more "classical" track, and by rock and roll music from the late 1960s and early 1970s to make an orchestral track with a "destructive impact", he spent two weeks composing short unconnected musical phrases, and then arranged them together into "One-Winged Angel", an approach he had never used before.[37]

Music from the game has been released in several albums. Square released the main soundtrack album, Final Fantasy VII Original Soundtrack, on four Compact Discs through its DigiCube subsidiary in 1997. A limited edition release was also produced, containing illustrated liner notes.[68] The regular edition of the album reached third on the Japan Oricon charts, while the limited edition reached #19.[71][72] Overall, the album had sold nearly 150,000 copies by January 2010.[73] A single-disc album of selected tracks from the original soundtrack, along with three arranged pieces, titled Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks, was also released by DigiCube in 1997,[74] reaching #20 on the Japan Oricon charts.[75] A third album, Piano Collections Final Fantasy VII, was released by DigiCube in 2003, and contains one disc of piano arrangements of tracks from the game. It was arranged by Shirō Hamaguchi and performed by Seiji Honda, and reached #228 on the Oricon charts.[76][77]

Release[edit]

Final Fantasy VII was announced in February 1996.[78] Square president and chief executive officer Tomoyuki Takechi was fairly confident about Japanese players making the game a commercial success despite it being on a new platform.[37] A playable demo was included on a disc giveaway at the 1996 Tokyo Game Show, dubbed Square's Preview Extra: Final Fantasy VII & Siggraph '95 Works. The disc also included the early test footage Square created using characters from Final Fantasy VI.[37][79] The initial release date was at some point in 1996, but to properly realize their vision, Square postponed the release date almost a full year.[54]Final Fantasy VII was released on January 31, 1997.[80] It was published in Japan by Square.[81] A re-release of the game based on its Western version, titled Final Fantasy VII International, was released on October 2, 1997.[82] This improved International version would kickstart the trend for Square to create an updated version for Japanese release, based on the enhanced Western versions.[83] The International version was re-released as a physical disc as part of the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary Ultimate Box Japanese package on December 18, 2012.[84]

While its success in Japan had been taken for granted by Square executives, North America and Europe were another matter, as up to that time the Japanese role-playing genre was still a niche market in Western territories. Sony, due to the PlayStation's struggles against Nintendo and Sega's home consoles, lobbied for the publishing rights in North America and Europe following Final Fantasy VII's transfer to PlayStation—to further persuade Square, Sony offered a lucrative royalties deal with profits potentially equaling those Square would get by self-publishing the game. Square accepted Sony's offer as Square itself lacked Western publishing experience. Square was uncertain about the game's success, as other JRPGs including Final Fantasy VI had met with poor sales outside Japan. To help with promoting the title overseas, Square dissolved their original Washington offices and hired new staff for fresh offices in Costa Mesa.[37] It was first exhibited to the Western public at Electronic Entertainment Expo 1996 (E3).[85]

To promote the game overseas, Square and Sony launched a widespread three-month advertising campaign in August 1997. Beginning with a television commercial that ran alongside popular shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, the campaign included numerous articles in both gaming and general interest magazines, advertisements in comics from publishers such as DC Comics and Marvel, a special collaboration with Pepsi, media events, sample discs, and merchandise.[86] According to estimations by Takechi, the total worldwide marketing budget came to USD$40 million; $10 million had been spent in Japan, $10 million in Europe, and $20 million in North America.[37] Unlike its predecessors, Final Fantasy VII did not have its numeral adjusted to account for the lack of a Western release for Final Fantasy II, III and V—while only the fourth Final Fantasy released outside Japan, its Japanese title was retained.[87] It released in North America on September 7, 1997.[88] The game released in Europe on November 17, becoming the first Final Fantasy game to be released in Europe.[89][90] The Western version included additional elements and alterations, such as streamlining of the menu and Materia system, reducing the health of enemies, new visual cues to help with navigation across the worldmap, and additional cutscenes relating to Cloud's past.[83][91]

PC version[edit]

A version for PC was developed by Square's Costa Mesa offices. Square invested in a PC version to reach as wide a player base as possible; many Western consumers did not own a PlayStation, and Square's deal with Sony did not prohibit such a port. Having never released a title for PC, Square decided to treat the port as a sales experiment. The port was handled by a team of 15 to 20 people, mostly from Costa Mesa but with help from Tokyo.[37] Square did not begin the port until the console version was finished.[92] The team needed to rewrite an estimated 80% of the game's code, due to the need to unify what had been a custom build for a console written by multiple staff members. Consequently, programmers faced problems such as having to unify the original PlayStation version's five different game engines, leading to delays.[37] The PC version came with a license for Yamaha Corporation's software synthesizer S-YXG70, allowing high-quality sequenced music despite varying sound hardware setups on different user computers. The conversion of the nearly 100 original musical pieces to XG format files was done by Yamaha.[93]

To maximize their chances of success, Square searched for a Western company to assist with releasing the PC version. Eidos Interactive, whose release of Tomb Raider had turned them into a publishing giant, agreed to market and publish the port.[37] The port was announced in December 1997, along with Eidos' exclusivity deal for North America and Europe at the time.[94] To help the product stand out in stores, Eidos chose a triangular shape for the cover and box. They agreed on a contract price of $1.8 million, making initial sales forecasts of 100,000 units based on that outlay.[37] The PC version was released in North America and Europe on June 25, 1998; the port was not released in Japan.[93] Within one month, sales of the port exceeded the initial forecasts.[37] The PC version would end up providing the source code for subsequent ports.[37]

Localization[edit]

See also: Localization of Square Enix video games

Localization of Final Fantasy VII was handled internally by Square. The English localization, led by Seth Luisi, was completed by a team of about fifty people and faced a variety of problems. According to Luisi, the biggest hurdle was making "the direct Japanese-to-English text translation read correctly in English. The sentence structure and grammar rules for the Japanese language is very different from English", making it difficult for the translation to read like native English without distorting the meaning.[95] Michael Basket was the sole translator for the project, though he received the help of native Japanese speakers from the Tokyo office. The localization was taxing for the team due to their inexperience, lack of professional editors, and poor communication between the North American and Japanese offices. A result of this disconnect was the original localization of Aerith's name—which was intended as a conflation of "air" and "earth"—as "Aeris" due to a lack of communication between localization staff and the Q&A team.[96]

The team also faced several technical issues, such as dealing with a fixed font size, and having to add symbols using language input keys so the code would function. Consequently, the text was still read as Japanese by the word processor; the computer's spellcheck could not be used, and mistakes had to be caught manually. To complicate matters, the Japanese text used obscure kanji symbols carried over from Chinese writing. Swear words were used frequently in the localization to help convey the original Japanese meaning, though most profanities were censored in a manner described by Square employee Richard Honeywood as the "old comic book '@#$%!'-type replacement".[83][96] The European release was described as being in a worse condition, as the translations into multiple European languages were outsourced by Sony to another company, further hindering communication. For the PC port, Square attempted to fix translation and grammar mistakes for the North American and European versions, but did not have the time and budget to retranslate all the text.[96] According to Honeywood, the success of Final Fantasy VII in the West encouraged Square to focus more on localization quality; on future games, Square hired additional translators and editors, while also streamlining communication between the development and localization teams.[83]

Later releases[edit]

The International version of Final Fantasy VII was released on PlayStation Network (PSN) as a PSOne Classic in Japan on April 10, 2009. This version was compatible with both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable with support for PlayStation Vita and PlayStation TV coming later.[91]Final Fantasy VII was later released as a PSOne Classic in North America, Europe and Australia on June 2.[97] The PC version was updated by DotEmu for use on modern operating systems and released via Square Enix's North American and European online stores on August 14, 2012.[98][99] It included high resolution support, cloud saves, achievements and a character booster. It would later be released via Steam on July 4, 2013,[100][101] replacing the version available on Square Enix's North American and European online stores.[102][103] The PC version would be released in Japan for the first time on May 16, 2013, exclusively via Square Enix's Japanese online store with the International version title. It has features unavailable in the western version including high speed mode, no random encounters mode and a max stats command.[104] A release for iOS, based on the PC version and adjusted for mobile devices by D4 Enterprise, was released on August 19, 2015, with an auto-save feature.[105] After being announced at PlayStation Experience 2014, the PC version was released for PlayStation 4 on December 5, 2015. DotEmu developed the PS4 version.[106][107][108][109] A version for Android was released on July 7, 2016.[110]

Reception[edit]

A battle scene with Cloud, Barret, and Tifa facing a dragon. In this given moment, the player must choose a command for Cloud to perform.
Promotional artwork of the main cast. All main characters were designed by Tetsuya Nomura; Final Fantasy VII was his first role as character designer.[37][24]
The pre-rendered backgrounds, such as this scene in Midgar, provided the developers with a choice of camera angle, giving a more cinematic experience.
Nobuo Uematsu composed, arranged, and produced the entire soundtrack for Final Fantasy VII

Time has been cruel to Final Fantasy 7 - but perhaps not in the ways you expect. Sure, its 330 locations, pre-rendered in the finest CGI that yen could buy in 1997, now appear jagged and antiquated: a steam-punk world viewed through the mist of an 8-bit kettle. Its characters, once seemingly the most expressive actors ever pushed onto a video game stage, are now as strange as balloon animals, all bulges and protractions, their weird deformation all the more grotesque in high resolution.

But it's not these surface aspects of the game that have been most wounded by time's arrow. Rather, Final Fantasy 7 has suffered from 15 years of myth, anecdote and opinion. Primary-coloured headlines, fawning editorials and bar-stool critiques have overlooked much of the nuance of what is a broad, generous game - far more interesting and complex than the love/hate apologising accounts for.

This version is based on the original PC release, which was based on the international version of the game, adding visual hints amongst various other concessions.

The second best-selling game on Sony's PlayStation, it's also known as the most returned video game of all time - players reportedly lured in by the visuals then repelled by the foreign foibles of the Japanese role-playing genre. Detractors accuse this flamboyant production, which cost $45 million and required 100 staff - unprecedented numbers at the time - of having spoiled the purity of the medium in its Hollywood-facing ambition. After all, here is an experience as much film as it is game, with its 40 minutes of video cut-scenes. Meanwhile, breathless thirtysomethings recount breaking down in tears at the unexpected turns of its story - these fans endlessly demanding a remake so that they just might feel that keenness of adolescent catharsis again.

Time has been cruel to Final Fantasy 7 because it has polarised us, turning discussion of a game into a much broader argument about what video games should be or what they should aspire to - interactive stories hoping to sweep players up in their predetermined drama, or something more organic and open-ended. And in the heat and bluster of that quarrel, we forgot about Final Fantasy 7, the game. We forgot about why this, of all games, started the debate. We forgot why it mattered.

Time has been cruel to Final Fantasy 7 because it has polarised us, turning discussion of a game into a much broader argument about what video games should be or what they should aspire to.

So its re-release on PC - available as a download direct from Square Enix - may not be the remake fans have clamoured for, but it is a gift of sorts: the opportunity to revisit a game which has been obscured by time, or memory, or bias. In that context, it is something of a revelation.

For one thing, Final Fantasy 7 is a funny game. We don't think of this series as a comedy - especially in its more recent, po-faced incarnations - but when the small band of terrorists you've fallen in with break into the sky-scraping Shinra headquarters, Final Fantasy 7's designers force you to climb no fewer than 57 flights of stairs as if this were a multi-billion-yen farce.

Secrets were better held in 1997. Finding the bonus characters is a tall challenge without a FAQ.

The first few flights are comfortably scaled as you sweep the analogue sticks from left to right, left to right. But by the fourth, fifth and six set your characters begin to put voice to your own complaints. Barrett, the team's leader - a hulking amputee whose defining features are his undying love for his daughter and the machine gun that's replaced his right forearm - moans the loudest, repeatedly asking Tifa, the matriarch of the group, if they're 'nearly there yet'.

The raid is the climax to the game's first act, the storming of the proverbial castle, with the twin aims of turning the evil multinational corporation to rubble and plucking the princess from deep within its belly. And yet the designers skewer this moment of dramatic tension with a joke about realism; a warning, perhaps, that with the quest for the lifelike in games comes the mundane.

Or there's the time you race around the seediest part of capital city Midgar's slums, trying to piece together a frock and accessories with which to dress protagonist Cloud as a convincing woman. You must break into the local pimp's mansion, you see, and, on a Saturday night, his security will only allow attractive women into the premises.

So you must convince the drunken local dressmaker to come out of retirement for one last job, find the most sparkly tiara you can and challenge a wrestler in the local gym to a squats competition in a wager for his voluptuous wig. The better you perform, the better the quality of your outfit, the more likely it is the pimp will want to sleep with you and you'll be able to confront him when his pants are, quite literally, down.

This note of irreverence underpins the game like a sub-bass note, and routinely reaches for more than mere laughs. Final Fantasy 7 is a game that starts with an act of terrorism; daring enough - but it also demands you be the one to pull the trigger.

AVALANCHE is an amateurish, scrappy band of terrorists, desperate to injure the corporation that's damaging the planet with its pollution and greed. But it's only after you make it back to your hideout in the slums after blowing up one of the reactors that fuel the capital city that you hear the news reports of the lives lost in the aftermath. Is such collateral damage excusable when fighting for a greater good in the world? It's a question the game returns to time and again, as the sacrifices pile up closer and closer to home.

Soon, you begin to lose those around you; non-player characters at first and then, finally and infamously, one of your own team members. The emotional effect is stronger not only because it is so surprising - even today, few game makers have the belief in their story to kill off a main character a third of the way into a game - but also because of the gentle, well-observed manner in which the relationships in your team have been developed.

Vita owners without a PC to run the game on will be able to download the original PlayStation version from the end of August.

In particular, the relationship between Tifa, Cloud's childhood sweetheart, and Aeris, the mysterious yet approachable angelic figure into whose lap he falls early in the game, has a believability that defies the cartoonish science-fiction that surrounds them. Aeris, as the game's opening cinematic alludes to, is a rare flower in the dirt and grime of a fallen world. She's generous and beautiful in spirit, a life-giver in every sense. Her fate makes sense, then, even as it stings. In this world, as in ours, one's character is one's destiny.

Indeed, Final Fantasy 7 enjoys one of the strongest first acts of any press-X-to-unravel-story game. The script is equally tragic, absurdist and humorous, wrapped in a melancholy that never tips into sentimentality. The dialogue is straightforward, lacking flair and much in the way of voice - but it remains effective because the characters have clear motivations, desires and flaws, while the plot itself is elegantly structured.

The technological ambition of the game is always clear to see - a sort of rude, ostentatious belief on Squaresoft's part that anything was possible, anything was affordable.

And while the technological ambition of the game is always clear to see - a sort of rude, ostentatious belief on Squaresoft's part that anything was possible, anything was affordable - the graphical showboating serves and never masters the storytelling. Here is a development team in fine creative health, drunk with excitement about what the seismic graphical shift to three dimensions means for their medium, and yet somehow tempered into coherence.

As a piece of machinery, Final Fantasy 7 is simple. Its characters have predetermined special moves, while the magic system - which allows ability-granting gems to be equipped in weaponry and armour - affords just enough flexibility to stave off boredom over the long haul. The press-X-on-everything exploration can grow tiresome, but the infamous and capricious random battles that interrupt play as you run about the world don't grate nearly as much as you might expect.

It remains Nobuo Uematsu's most accomplished soundtrack.

There's also a naivety at play here, with endless special-case mini-games and interactions that never repeat. From skiing to gambling to Chocobo breeding, the generosity of ideas adds up to contribute greatly to the sense of journey.

So time has actually been kind to Final Fantasy 7, the game - even if it has brought with it precious few embellishments. This PC re-release is bare bones, adding achievements and (fittingly) cloud saving, but nothing else.

It's enough. The original hyperbole of the experience still dazzles. As the gaming world marvelled at a new 3D dawn, Final Fantasy 7's stentorian soundtrack, epic summoning spells and soaring storyline seemed to draw itself up to the huge potential of disc-based games and 3D worlds. Today, those achievements stand, as does the memorable geography of the place. From the undulating peaks that can be circumvented in an airship to underwater caverns, explorable only via submarine, Final Fantasy 7's universe is as deep as it is broad - and as unforgettable as it is divisive.

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