Replaying Final Fantasy VII is in many ways like returning to an old flame. Upon reflection it was my first gaming love, the experience which didn’t just set me on the gaming path, but set the tone of all other games I would come to enjoy.
I was no longer a child who enjoyed playing games, but a young adult who identified as a gamer. It was for me (and many others) my gaming coming of age story.
I can sum up why Final Fantasy VII remains dear to me in one scene – this view just before leaving Midgar. This scene so perfectly summarises the experience of playing FF7 back near its launch (and perhaps even now). It was an almost overwhelming feeling of being of the cusp of a great wave, one which in turn captivated and motivated hundreds of other gamers.
In this scene the characters stand at the end of an enormous highway, about to venture out into the world. It’s a perfect moment where the ambitions and direction of the narrative turns on its heel. Each individual character’s personal focus is superseded by one larger and more necessary journey.
That one scene summed up how the entire experience felt to play. Total pleasure mixed with pure discovery; with the whole discorse of the game ahead of you on a vast horizon. It also helps explain part of Final Fantasy VIIs legacy. This scene is one of the moments where I had my epiphany about video games in general. I could sense the complete potential of the medium in one moment, knowing I had similarly profound moments ahead of me to look forward to. This almost insignificant scene was just one of many to come. My heart was fit to burst.
Final Fantasy VII collected hundreds of moments like these – all utterly captivating. Playing it for the first time was the first occasion that I was distinctly proud of my hobby. It became less of something I did to pass the time and more something of my identity. The game that makes you realise this is different for everyone, but I suspect I share Final Fantasy VII with many, many thousands of others. All of us appreciating not just the the games content but the promise of those future blissful moments.
As children stories were always so black and white. The heros are concerned only with good, the evil of the world is obvious and in many cases without genuine malice.
Final Fantasy VII is a story about shades of grey, it was one of the first gaming stories that I had access to that was brave enough to aim at young gamers and completely muddy the waters.
The lead characters are members of a terrorist group that kills hundreds of people in order to strike the smallest of blows to a greater evil. The main antagonist is a relatively normal individual that is instantly unhinged by his disturbing origin. The true villain of the piece is an alien creature which falls to Earth, taking the forms of trusted elders and the faces of dead loved ones, rendering all it touches insane, or riddled with fatal disease.
So ultimately I think Final Fantasy VII was partly about captivation. It’s a running theme throughout it’s narrative. The allure of Mako, and how it changed Shinra’s fortunes (from electricity company to all-consuming dictators of the world). The legend of the ancients and how their legacy went on to both redeem the world through Aeris’ effort, but also undermine it through the misguided ambition of Sephiroth and the bleak survival instinct of Jenova.
A little context
These characterisation points aside, Final Fantasy VII was always about it’s core audience. And here in Europe it was our very first Final Fantasy, and that fact had a profound and unique effect on its importance for many young people here.
This was because of an equally captivating reason: the arrival of the internet. The late 1990s was when the internet was really first widely available for gamers in the UK. As a result an entire generation of gamers flocked online to discuss gaming experiences for the first time. Final Fantasy VII was one of the first things I searched for, I am certain it was one of the first games I was able to research and discuss online.
Replaying Final Fantasy VII again takes me back to that view. It reminds me of the best aspects of our community. It takes me back to a time when everything was still new and inspirational; back to those youthful first days on the internet, when having discussions online were still magical. Many of the conversations I had online back then are some of my happiest memories. The friendships I made from discussing those moments still last today.
The experience of playing Final Fantasy VII was one of my happiest to date, but the best part is although those sorts of experiences don’t happen often, but they almost always happen again.