Final Fantasy VII is 20 years old today! Yay! Happy birthday, Final Fantasy VII! One of the biggest PlayStation games and one of the most influential, iconic JRPG’s around is here to remind you as to what made it so popular in the first place and with a full HD remake on the horizon, Final Fantasy VII will be making more precious memories to come.
Where else to start from other than the beginning? Look, reader, don’t give me none of that ‘but Crisis Core is the beginning!’ nonsense because whilst it’s true and Crisis Core is one of the greatest games I’ve played, we’re not talking about that today. Today, it’s all about Final Fantasy VII.
1. The Opening Mission
Also known as the bombing mission where Team AVALANCHE consisting of Cloud, Barret and Tifa, along with Jessie, Biggs and Wedge, set off bombs at a Shinra Mako reactor — yes, it starts off with the heroes of the story doing a pretty bad thing, which isn’t very common in video games, especially as at this point you have very little context as to why. This is all explained in due course but basically Shinra are harming the planet and the lifeforms on it, and Cloud and company want to protect life. The music for this scene is among the most memorable tracks on the game’s incredible soundtrack, and the shock and awe factor from this scene isn’t lost today. It’s also memorable in the way that it kills off Jessie, Biggs and Wedge and although they only appear in the story for a brief time, Squaresoft packed them with a lot of personality.
2. Meeting Aerith
Or Aeris, if you prefer. You first meet Aerith, the cheerful flower girl, when a second bombing mission goes wrong and Cloud falls all the way down into the slums of Midgar. He’s found by Aerith who wastes no time in becoming a fan-favourite and gives him a place to rest, and who also joins the party on their adventure as she is the only remaining Cetra in the world, and being a Cetra allows her to summon Holy to combat the Meteor that Sephiroth has summoned.
3. Leaving Midgar
You spend a lot of time in the early game in Midgar, and leaving the city is something that surprised people at the time. Walking away and seeing the massive city loom over you really pushes home that you’re a small party who’ve just been forced away from their homes, and are now going to be travelling parts of the world that they’ve never visited. The open-world is littered with secrets and is ripe to explore, and along with its 3D visuals Final Fantasy VII was one of the biggest 3D games of its time, and really helped to shape JRPG’s in general.
4. Cloud Cross-dressing
Cloud cross-dressing to get closer to crime lord Don Corneo in order to get information as he’s affiliated with Shinra. Don Corneo is a lonely, yet despicable, man who is trying to find love by having girls compete for his affection. Despite Tifa and Aerith also entering, it’s possible for Cloud to win the Don’s affections and right at the point that you’re about to kiss him (Cloud is committed to his role), then Aerith and Tifa break in and one of them will threaten to remove the Don’s penis or balls — yeah, this was a bit of a mood-killer for the Don. The squatting mini-game with the flamboyant gym owners is hilarious, too.
5. The Gold Saucer
The Gold Saucer is so popular that they’ve even implemented it into Final Fantasy XIV. The Gold Saucer has several mini-games including a battle arena, Chocobo racing, an on-rails shooter rollercoaster game, arm-wrestling, a basketball machine, a crane game, a motorbike racing game, fortune telling, a rock-paper-scissors inspired fighting game, snowboarding and a submarine combat game. Phew! There’s plenty to keep you busy here and you can even go on a date with Aerith, Tifa or your main man Barret! It’s easy to spend hours coming back here as there’s so much to do.
6. Corel Prison and Dyne
Corel was one a peaceful mining city until Shinra built a Mako Reactor which eventually exploded and destroyed the city. Eventually rebuilt into a prison in the shadow of the Gold Saucer, Barret’s old friend Dyne now runs the prison and is distraught with the loss of his family. Barret’s adopted daughter Marlene is Dyne’s own daughter, but Barret believed that he died in the reactor’s explosion and when they come face to face once again, Dyne reveals that he has a machine gun arm similar to Barret’s. After a fierce battle, Dyne dies and entrusts his daughters’s life to his best friend. With Dyne’s emblem of authority, the party enter a Chocobo race so that they canescape from the prison once and for all.
7. Red XIII
Red XIII is a feline-like animal who hails from a tribe of warriors. He joins the party to help protect the planet and is a very prideful character, so it was with great anguish that Professor Hojo and Shinra captured him and forced their experiments on him — this is where he got his name from, and his real name is unknown. Cloud and his party rescue Red XIII and he proves to be a valuable and well-liked ally. Polite, intelligent and greatly skilled, Red XIII’s backstory is heart-breaking and his character development is well-deserved. Red XIII believed that his father abandoned his tribe and considered him a coward, but he finds out that his father sacrificed himself to save their village where he remains petrified at the top of a cliff, riddled with arrows.
8. Nibelheim Incident
You know this one. This is that scene where Sephiroth is standing in the middle of a blazing fire as he burns Nibelheim, Cloud and Zack’s home town, down to the ground. This is when Sephiroth reveals his villainous ways and Cloud talks to his friends about how he joined SOLDIER and how he met Zack Fair, who at one point liked Aerith and vice-versa. Zack was the main character in Final Fantasy VII prequel Crisis Core, and it’s a phenomenal game no VII fan should miss.
9. Parade March
The parade march is both memorable and a right pain, being both a fun mini-game and a frustrating experience in trying to get a perfect score. You have to match the movements of other soldiers whilst in disguise, and doing so is harder than it sounds! You’re told which buttons control each limb and there was many an attempt to get a perfect 100% rather than leave the segment at anything less.
10. Shinra Elevator Boss
This was one of the more challenging battles players came across not too long into the game, and it’s an utter pain as you can only use ranged attacks and Cloud and Tifa aren’t in your party. Taking place between two elevators both racing to the top of the Shinra building, you’ll be tested as you quickly go through your restoratives with Barret leading the charge. If that wasn’t enough, this battle has another enemy that appears once the first one has been destroyed!
11. Cloud VS Rufus
Following on straight from the elevator fight is a 1v1 between Cloud and Shinra President Rufus. Rufus, young and ruthless with a needto show that he can run a company better than his father did, fights Cloud on the top of the Shinra building before escaping via helicopter, leaving Cloud crushed that he couldn’t defeat Rufus. It’s an intense battle and one of the few which Cloud fights entirely alone, and also when he realises some of the limits to what he can achieve on his own. Rufus taunts Cloud throughout the fight, and it’s a loss that that stings for the player too — at least I wasn’t too happy with myself for not winning!
12. Motorcycle Escape
After infiltrating the Shinra building and fighting the President of the company, you have to make a quick getaway and what better way than motorcycle? Well, for Cloud anyway, the rest of the group take the Mystery Machine. You can control the motorcycle and protect your friends by slashing away at enemies who are trying to thwart your escape but they’re not match for Cloud and his rad motorcycle skills! It’s a cinematic moment and an intense escape following a crushing defeat, and you can go to the Gold Saucer for more motorcycle mini-games because it’s pretty fun!
13. Secret Characters
It’s hard to imagine a Final Fantasy VII without Vincent and Yuffie but as they’re entirely optional characters to meet and team up with, some people played through the game without ever knowing that they existed. The amount of content in Final Fantasy VII is staggering and along with the all-powerful optional bosses, the mini-games and secret characters made for some of the best side content. Fortunately everybody knows who they are now because I can’t imagine a playthrough without them, and they’re brilliant additions to the cast. Vincent was popular enough to get his own spin-off and sequel to Final Fantasy VII known as Dirge of Cerberus, which was a third-person shooter.
14. Aerith’s Death
Not only is Aerith’s death one of the most shocking scenes in the game, it’s also undeniably one of the most iconic scenes in gaming. You might be hard done trying to find someone who isn’t aware of Aerith’s death, even if they haven’t played the game, and it’s something that still shocks people 20 years later. People are still trying to find a way to bring her back but to no avail. It was unexpected and quick with Sephiroth impaling her with his sword and she dies towards the end of disc 1 — not very far into the game and as she was a playable character, you lose any progress that you made with her. I adore Aerith and whilst it’s a shame that you only get to spend a brief time with her before her untimely death, she makes a huge impact that gaming still feels today.
Chobobos are a staple to Final Fantasy and VII is no exception. You can catch, breed and race Chocobos to use at the races at the Gold Saucer, or you can breed different Chocobos to access previously unreachable areas — these areas tend to have materia that can’t be found or earned elsewhere. When you have an elusive golden Chocobo, you can locate the Knights of the Round summon which is the most powerful summon materia in the game — it also has the longest animation of all the summons too. Summons have been pretty standard fare in the series but this is the first time that fans got to see them in 3D, and their grand scale and power is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
16. Reeve and the Turks
Reeve is seemingly one of the only Shinra higher-ups who cares for the planet and is sympathetic Cloud and AVALANCHE’s plight. Reeve helps them behind the scenes without Shinra knowing as he’s controlling Cait Sith for the bulk of the game. The Turks are in a similar boat and you’ll come across Reno and Rude several times, sometimes joined by Elena, as they have orders to execute AVALANCHE. It’s clear that they don’t believe in their orders and they actively ignore them, letting your party continue their journey.
17. Diamond Weapon Attacks Midgar
The Diamond Weapon is one of the planet’s self-defence systems in that when the planet thinks that the world is ending, it’ll summon immense creatures to destroy manking so that they can all return to the Lifestream for safety. The scene where the Diamond Weapon is approaching Midgar is slow and precise, and you know you can’t do anything about it. Your party trys but to no avail, and it isn’t long until the Diamond Weapon attacks Midgar and kills a lot of people, seemingly including Rufus — Advent Children shows that he survived and is atoning for his sins.
18. Cloud’s Coma
One of the game’s biggest shock moments is when Cloud is put into a coma due to Mako poisoning and that he learns that he isn’t exactly who he thinks he is. It’s fully explained in Crisis Core but Tifa helps to piece Cloud’s memories together as Cloud was never in SOLDIER — instead he was a infantryman who worked with them. Cloud, along with his friend and SOLDIER member Zack Fair, are both experimented on by Hojo with Cloud left in a catatonic state. Zack eventually dies in battle protecting Cloud and the mix of trauma, his own experience, and that he spends a lot of time not being fully conscious leads Cloud to convincing himself that he experienced what Zack did. This is an unexpected twist which surprised me, as well as other people, who believed that Cloud was who he claimed to be, and it’s so well-written although it easily could’ve gone a bit awry. Cloud is able to accept himself for who he is and, with his friends, goes to fight Sephiroth.
19. The Final Battle
The final battle against Sephiroth in his Safer-Sephiroth form where his right arm is replaced by a wing — maybe you’ve heard of the song One-Winged Angel? It’s a difficult battle and although it’s been a while since I’ve played it, I remember this being the hardest mandatory battle in the game — if that wasn’t enough, it’s preceded by Jenova-SYNTHESIS which is no push-over, too! Safer-Sephiroth is followed up by a brilliant 1v1 battle between Cloud and Sephiroth and whilst it may be impossible to lose, it’s great to see the two square off in a plot-driven battle where two sets of wills and desires fight it out to come out on top — thankfully, Cloud wins and the planet is safe from Sephiroth’s wrath.
20. The End
With the final boss defeated, the planet is able to summon Holy (as Aerith’s earlier prayer before her untimely death was realised to be successful) and begins to combat the Meteor that Sephiroth summoned. However, Meteor is too powerful and is winning its own battle when the planet’s Lifestream rises and helps Holy to prevail — it’s a nice nod to Aerith helping the party one last time too, as in Final Fantasy VII’s world it’s believed that when somebody passes away, their souls return to the Lifestream along with their memories and emotions. Fast forward to 500 years later where Red XIII and his cubs are seen happily at home with the world flush with nature again, showing that the world healed. Whilst it might have been ambiguous when it released, Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus has proven that life continued after the events of Final Fantasy VII.
I feel like I’ve covered most of the biggest, more influential moments of the game here and it has me itching to return to my save on PS4 already. Final Fantasy VII continues to be an important piece of gaming history and it’s no wonder that it’s so popular as it’s an outstanding game. It not only helped shape how JRPG’s are today but it was one of the original PlayStation’s most sought-after titles, as well as one of Squaresoft’s finest works. Final Fantasy VII has had a great 20 years with us and we thank the team behind it for it, for without it we’d be missing one of the greatest games ever created from our gaming libraries.
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