Final Fantasy VII marked the first foray into 3D RPG gaming for Japanese giant Squaresoft. It was also the first of three hugely successful titles released on the PlayStation console. For many of us growing up in the digital age, it is fondly remembered as a first RPG game and the immense success of the sequels is almost entirely attributable to the solid fan base that this particular game garnered. There are very few RPG series' that can claim to hold such a monopoly over the genre as the Final Fantasy legacy, which is a title that enjoys moderate recognition amongst casual game players, rather than just RPG aficionados.
The game itself throws you straight into the action. The first time I ever played it I was amazed at how the graphics of the opening FMV were seemingly interwoven with the start of the game. You take on the role of a cocky mercenary in the midst of a mission to detonate a huge energy reactor in a dystopian hell-hole of a city. Your character is flippant and disassociated with the task at hand, making it clear that he does not share any of the environmental motivations that fuel his allies on this mission. The three characters you meet early on form the core of the party for the rest of the game. From this point forward the story escalates in scope, beginning with missions in one major city, to eventually embarking on a global campaign to defend the world from celestial obliteration.
The story is epic in scope, building an intense rivalry between the game's protagonist - Cloud Strife, and his former colleague and elite SOLDIER - Sephiroth. As the story unravels, your enemy is increasingly portrayed as a demi-god whose quest for total domination will casually result in the destruction of the civilised world. The rivalry that escalates is intense and believable, made all the more poignant by the personal and mental toll it takes on the emotions and mindset of the protagonist.
At the time of its release, the graphics were lauded as revolutionary and extremely detailed. Nowadays, with the game over ten years old, no player would honestly use those words to describe the visuals. That is why I think it's remarkable that people still pick up and get into the game, even today. The FMV's still hold their own and are vital in conveying highly detailed parts of the storyline, as well as giving you a welcome higher definition example of what monster you are fighting, or how your characters look when they are not pixelated blocks of colour. Each character brings a unique personality to the table, all adding quite substantially to the storyline. Even the two 'hidden' characters have their own moments in the spotlight, with one of the two actually divulging a huge plot twist.
The battle schematics are as good as it gets for a turn-based Active Time Battle system. The magic and weapon systems allow a massive capacity for different tactics and playing styles. Characters are not restricted to a certain type of play as they have been in other Final Fantasy games (e.g a white mage, a black mage, etc), which dispels the established roles of men and women in your party. In my opinion, the Materia system has not been surpassed in any Final Fantasy sequel to date. The complement of limit breaks enhance the unique characteristics of each party member and when dishing them out to an enemy, the feel well-earned and actually have real compassion about them. There are multiple methods, tactics and strategies that can be employed to beat the toughest of enemies and despite playing through the game at least five times to completion, I've never felt as if I've completely mastered and made full use of the system.
Ultimately, the reason I fell in love with the game was its story and its characters. Although some personalities are certainly clichéd, they are, on the whole, a very flawed bunch who struggle with their new expected roles as saviours of the planet. With an increasingly psychotic and almost mythical antagonist taunting them along the journey, you are taken to new weird and wonderful locations, constantly battling against a quite brilliant supporting cast of non-playable characters. The game itself spawned an entire universe of follow-ons and sequels, but my advice would be to ignore them all and take the game as face value. It's much more interesting and debate sparking that way.