I have a confession: I haven't played/beaten a JRPG until I was sophomore in college only three years ago. It was Tales of Graces F--a pretty good game--and it was a whole new can of worms in my gaming palette. I remember playing Kingdom Hearts way back when it originally released in 2002, but I just couldn't do it as an impatient, stupid kid. Instead, I played my Mega Man Legends and Jak and Daxter and Donkey Kong 64--all great games, but I definitely missed the JRPG train when it rolled into town in 1997 and took the gaming world by storm.
Until now, of course, with the excellent and decidedly modern re-release on the PS4. How does this near-20-year-old game hold up to this 23 year old? Here are some thoughts, jotted down through the first 20 or so hours:
- Grinding is easier. Grinding is also fucking stupid and game-padding, which is understandable from a 1997 perspective, but it's still dumb. However, with the pseudo-invincibility and 3x speed "cheats", it's actually... fun? Therapeutic, at least. I really like it, and think all old JRPGs should get this treatment.
- Slower cutscenes/movement/travel is IMMENSELY better. Again, thank you 3x speed cheat. Sometimes I got shit to do, like sleep because I'm staying up too late playing this game, and some cutscenes can overstay their welcome a la Metal Gear.
- Figuring out puzzles is a breeze with stopped encounters. These perspectives can be janky, as they constantly change the direction of your D-pad movements, and halting the encounters is a godsend when I really just don't need them. This and Bravely Default should set the standard for all JRPG battle settings.
- The backdrops are gorgeous. It's very, very '90s--think old Warhammer and Dungeons & Dragons art. It's beautiful, full of character, and I love it.
- The story is surprisingly well done, despite the age and limited technology. In fact, I think that's why. Square did a great job with pacing and character development, two things absolutely necessary for a good JRPG.
- Even though you can be "invincible", it can still kick your ass. It's actually pretty nice--It's still very weird for me to play a game with "cheats," as I've always been a purist for the worse, but this is somewhat reassuring. I definitely can't take on the WEAPONS unprepared!
- The PS1 charm/graphics are surprisingly refreshing and awesome. No, seriously! I actually think these graphics are enjoyable, and straight up eye candy. I will sorely miss these when the remake comes out. Speaking of which...
- ... this game is really funny! So... will the remake just be somber and serious? It surely is that kind of game, but it can also be humorous, with plenty of "only on the PS1" kind of scenes. Scenes and situations like Cloud's wiggly freak outs, the shinra execs and their hilarious quirks, Elena's... snow rolling, not to mention the snowboarding, bike riding, and the entirety of the Golden Saucer. For that matter, will the various "mini game" sections even be in the new game? Are they going to split the game up by the PS1 discs (3 "episodes")? Are Yuffie and Vincent still going to be 'secret characters', and will there still be random encounters and/or a world map? I'm now very nervous about the outcome of this long-waited remake.
- Characters are unique, varied, and don't take shit. Cait Sith betrays you, Yuffie steals your materia, Cid is just an angry old man, Red XIII is just along the ride it seems. Hardly any of these characters are ready to save the world besides Tifa and Aeris, and it's nice. It's just a nice roster.
- The music is killer. It's seriously one of the best aspects of the game.
- Aeris' death scene is still touching, even after knowing the plot point for years. The music is what really does it. That shit almost got to me, because it just happened, and it just... passed. No great monologues, no brooding, nothing. Just a beautiful piano and a CGI drift into the water.
- There's still too much grinding. I understand this need to grind in the past, but would I have enjoyed this as a kid? Without the 3X speed, I would NOT be enjoying this as much as I am now, that's for damn sure. Then again, I'm rushing to play this before I leave international AND before the remake comes out, so I'm not trying to take my time. In fact, I've got the original Brady Games guide by my side, picking up all materia as I see them, and skipping all the extra shit. [Update: I beat the game in a little over 30 hours. That's pretty fast!]
- Materia is complex, yet very simple to understand. It's always stressful not knowing exactly what will work, but years of Internet data collecting and FFVII fandom makes that complaint obsolete. It's also told me a lot about myself, and how I play games. I pigeonhole myself into archetypes--casters cast and heal, swords deal damage, big bodies/armor absorb damage--and it's interesting to back off from this mindset. It actually makes the game more fun, creating combos that work instead of trying to make defunct combos try to work. Cheats, game guides, breaking archetypes... this is one groundbreaking game for me as a gamer.
- This touch-pad "see where you are and see what are actually doors" is a fucking life saver. These backdrops are gorgeous, but damn is it impossible to tell where I can and can't go sometimes.
So far that's it. I'm roughly 22 hours in PS4 time, Cloud just gave Sephiroth the black materia because he is also a Jenova project clone guy, and Tifa and Barrett are set to be executed. Honestly, this is just a great game. I did not think an older RPG with this amount of hype could really live up to it (Final Fantasy X certainly didn't), and I am just fucking pumped to start Final Fantasy IX at some point. Speaking of which, I'm gonna need one of those awesome Brady Games guides.
What do you guys have to say about Final Fantasy VII, right now in 2016? What about the impending remake?