Games That Changed Gaming #1 – Final Fantasy VII (1997)

Welcome to the first in our new series of articles: Games That Changed Gaming. We’re looking at a number of different games from throughout the years that have impacted the world of gaming.

Gimbl is a brand for gamers and gaming enthusiasts, and each one of us here at Gimbl are gamers ourselves. While we’re on track to helping enter the next era of social gaming, we want to take a look at the past; at all the games that paved the way for where we are today. We’re going to be looking at titles that have done things like kick-started genres of games, revolutionized gaming mechanics, upped the level of narratives in games, and more.

The first title we’ll be looking at is a divisive one. Many praise it as the ULTIMATE JRPG, while others think the hype has been exaggerated. One thing is for sure, though, gaming was never the same again after SquareSoft’s Final Fantasy VII came out in 1997.

Switching sides in the console war

The gaming industry in the 90s was nothing like it is today. Back then, Sony and Nintendo were direct competitors. Both companies battled to become kings of the 3D console space with the Playstation and Nintendo 64.

For a while, it looked like Nintendo had it in the bag, despite Sony having the more technically powerful machine. Nintendo had iconic mascots that people had already loved for years with characters like Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong. Sony was struggling along with new creations like Crash Bandicoot and Lara Croft, who didn’t quite have the same clout as Nintendo’s all-star cast.

SquareSoft made the jump from Nintendo to Sony, after publishing several of their games on the NES and SNES, due to the technical limitations of the Nintendo64 and its game cartridges, They had an ambitious idea for a 3D game, and Playstation’s beefier specs and disc-drive was a much better home for them. 

From nerdy niche to Sony superstar

At this point, JRPGs had made it to the Western World, though were considered nerdy, niche titles. No one foresaw SquareSoft being one of the major factors that would catapult Sony from the underdog to the undisputed top-dog of pre-millenium gaming.

Final Fantasy VII came out and was one of the first titles that made the world turn around and say “I MUST have a Playstation so I can play this game!”

The game sold 300,000 copies in its opening weekend and would go on to sell a total of just under 10 million units. Not only did Playstation sales skyrocket as a result, but Final Fantasy VII thrust the JRPG genre into the light, drawing in millions of new players. Many of us here at Gimbl experienced Final Fantasy VII as kids and young teens, and it was the gateway into a whole new world of digital adventures. All these years later, and we’re ready to revolutionize one aspect of gaming culture ourselves.

SquareSoft made narrative-based storytelling in games cool, and we likely wouldn’t have titles like The Witcher 3, Fallout, or Mass Effect today if not for the impact that Final Fantasy VII had. 

What made Final Fantasy VII so iconic?

Final Fantasy VII combined detailed, pre-rendered environments with 3D animated characters, which simulated depth and playing with size and perspective. Of course, other 3D games existed, but none which were this focused on telling a story, or that were so cinematic.

The story in Final Fantasy VII features celestial bodies, towering titans, terrifying creatures and characters, and jaw-dropping CGI cutscenes. The events in the story carry such weight, as do the characters, and the technical limitations of the time meant that rendering these scenes with in-game graphics would have diluted that. And so started Square’s tradition of cinema-quality CGI cut scenes.

The plot was engaging and many found it engrossing. A tale of personal horror, magic, struggle, and overcoming obstacles and odds that seem entirely insurmountable. The characters, both playable and NPC, were complex and felt very human. Final Fantasy VII was one of the first games that achieved mainstream success while dealing with dark, tragic themes; and they paved the way for future titles to do the same.

SPOILER WARNING (for a 22-year-old game)

The fact that one of the party characters, the protagonist’s love interest, was brutally murdered right before the end of the first disc was a huge narrative risk and one that paid off. The death of Aerith has gone down to be one of the most memorable and iconic scenes ever portrayed in a video game, and one that people still talk about 22 years later.

Final Fantasy VII might get the chance to change RPGs and gaming all over again

Fans have been clamoring for a Final Fantasy VII remake since as far back as the Playstation 2 era, and Square Enix (the company that SquareSoft became) is finally granting that wish. The remake was announced in 2015, and after four years of relative silence, a release date and trailer were the highlight of E3 2019, and people present even got to play the game.

Journalists who have played the remake call it a refresh that exceeds expectations; which is no small feat considering there’s over two decades of hype built around this game.

The visuals are, obviously, a massive upgrade over the original, but representatives of SquareEnix have said that improvements to the narrative have been made, and that fans can look forward to new content as opposed to just playing the exact same story over again. The game is going to be released episodically, as the first game was a 100+ hour experience told over three discs.

The combat system has also been modernized, though people who have played the demo describe it as a wonderful blend between the original turn-based ATB system and modern hack-and-slash combat. It’s been described as both fluid and complex, and it might change how combat is approached in RPGs from here onwards.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 1 will be available on March 3rd, 2020, and we can’t wait to see how Twitch, and the internet at large, reacts.

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