Dosage is a new experiment I’m embarking on. Rather than attempt to publish a full written review after finishing a game (of which I’ve started multiple yet only to release three in the last few years) I’m trying a journal approach. Once I’ve chosen a game, I’ll sit down and record my first one-hour sitting with the title, then report back my first impressions from it here. If I like it, I’ll log more entries.
This is my first foray into Final Fantasy 7. In fact, I’ve yet to really spend more than an hour in any Final Fantasy game. I’m certainly aware of the legend this title has left though, and I’m vaguely aware of the characters and plot elements. (Girl everyone likes dies, spiky haired boys show each other their disproportionally large swords, and a crazy scientist with a test tube baby tries to take over the world by throwing a meteor into it.)
All that being said, here are my thoughts from the first hour of Final Fantasy 7:
Minutes in and I’m already worried my first hour is going to be filled with cutscenes; I might need to extend my playtime a bit.
Pre-rendered backgrounds, the tell-tale set piece of any late 90s game. Actually, I might miss it a little. With everything in modern 3D games being fully rendered and detailed, it’s become necessary to add some flair to anything you need to let the player interact with. It’s still rather hilarious to me when I step into a masterfully created environment and immediately ignore it and head towards the overly-reflective gun with an edge glow and UI pointers. With pre-rendered backdrops you can keep your interactive stuff reasonably normal looking in comparison, though I guess the 3D model sitting on top of a 2D rendered image is still just as jarring. I guess you can’t fully escape gamifying the world.
I’m not entirely sure if the game just gave me two limit breaks because it’s scripted or if I’m just playing that horribly. At least it’s nice for the game to include a system that lets you do a little better when you’re getting wrecked, or it would be if I didn’t immediately die right after. First death.
One hour in and I was finally given my first tutorial window.
That sounds like a bad progression choice, and it certainly could have been, yet by the time I reached this part I had already grown to understand the basic systems of Final Fantasy 7 to skip past the Beginner’s Hall.
Actually, it’s a choice I wish more developers would take. Stepping (nay, DIVING) off the train in a major city while in the middle of a mission with a group of characters you’ve yet to know or care about is as cold of a start as you could get. There’s nothing overly complex about the systems though, and by thrusting the player into their first (and subsequent next twenty) random encounters they can learn the pattern fairly quickly.
There’s something else that surprises me about the Beginner’s Hall. You’re not a beginner, or at least Cloud isn’t. Rather than relying on an arbitrary inhibiter to the player, forcing you to “relearn” things that Cloud would already know, the training dialogue is swapped. The player can learn the game’s mechanics through Cloud teaching others around him.
This is fascinating on two levels, the first being Square’s choice to make the Character of Cloud be his own distinct self, rather than the embodiment of the player. While this is normally true of protagonist driven games, most designers of western style RPGs build the player character as an empty shell that is defined through gameplay. With Cloud though, he’s not a silent character and his personality isn’t what I choose for him to be. His lines are pre-written and acts based on his own experiences, not mine, and I (as the player) am just the audience of his story.
So far that hasn’t pulled me from the immersion of the game too harshly, but that’s likely because of the second reason: having your player character train others gives the player a subliminal sense of empowerment. Everything in the game so far has tried to convince me that Cloud is a badass. Being an ex-SOILDER member, downing enemies in one hit, blowing up giant reactors… the game REALLY tries to convince me that Cloud is an awesome kid. It wasn’t till the Beginner’s Hall that I believed it. For example: Cloud explains the “Limit Break” system (a core feature of combat in the game) while coaching two kids fighting each other, purely through on-screen animation and dialogue.
One hour down and I’ve ended my session after Cloud has joined AVALANCHE. Perhaps someone who’s played the game can give me a better idea of my pace, but knowing the legacy of FF7’s size I feel I’ve yet to even scratch the surface of the game. While I’m worried that an hour might be too little of game time to accurately speak on the game’s elements (especially for a genre that’s infamous for grinding), I’m sure I can find something interesting or unique to write on.
Feel free to let me know any thoughts you have on this, if you’ve played it before or are curious about something in the game I haven’t touched on. Keep your eyes on this space, I certainly have the time now to write.