Here’s your chance to buy Final Fantasy VII again!

So the rumors are true: Final Fantasy VII is coming to the PC, again. Not to Steam, however; Final Fantasy VII will instead be exclusive to Square Enix’s store. Final Fantasy VII, of course, was released for the computer before; that version can’t easily run on modern machines and came with a host of flaws, including poorly translated music and not really fitting in amongst a market of more open games like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment. This is not a remake, but a re-release, optimized to run on modern systems but seemingly not changed beyond a few inconsequential new features.

There’s the requisite achievements, and cloud saves (insert joke here). There’s also the character booster, which is strange. Use the character booster and you instantly max out all of your stats and Gil. This item will remove grinding for those only interested in the story, but it sounds like you still have to play through the battles. I’ll have to wait until release to see if this is an effective replacement for an easy difficulty, or something like Mass Effect 3’s narrative mode. Of course, either of those options would require more development time than just slapping in what’s essentially a cheat code in item form.

Will I buy this version? Maybe, maybe not. I already own Final Fantasy VII for the Playstaton – despite not having a Playstation currently – and if I need to, I can always play it on my computer already via emulation. Though considering I own Final Fantasy VI on three systems, I very well might fall for this re-release too.

I’m sure some doubt Final Fantasy VII can hold up today, but I hold it’s a better game than anyone gives it credit for. It’s not the best in the series, nor did it deserve the rapturous praise that greeted it upon release, but it’s not bad. The contrast between the high-quality rendered backgrounds and the lego-like characters is still jarring, as is the difference between the higher quality battle models and field models, or how cutscenes often switch between different types of graphics at random. But people forget how clever the story is at playing around with RPG clichés and expectations; how it undermines the hero’s supposed tragic backstory, how the resistance who would be presented as strictly heroic in many other RPGs are seen (and are) dangerous terrorists, the death of a central character, who isn’t replaced or revived but stays dead (of course, Phantasy Star II did that one first). The game’s numerous copies featured pretty boy villains and generically tormented heroes, but never captured what made Final Fantasy VII interesting.

It’s hard to remember how innovative Square could be in the 90s, since the company is now content to copy itself, releasing small variations on the same games, all whilst spinning incoherent, self-indulgent stories (no matter how fun it is, I neither understand or care about what’s happening in Kingdom Hearts 2) and minimizing gameplay. But in the days of the Super Nintendo and Playstation, Square kept trying new things (and released a disconcerting number of Chocobo games). Whether it was transposing the gameplay of a RPG to modern-day horror (Parasite Eve) or fighting games where one well-timed hit could kill (Bushido Blade), each Square game could bring a new twist on the RPG, and usually a decent or sometimes great story. Some of these games were terrible – SaGa Frontier had multiple characters, but were any worth playing? – but many others were classics: the time-bending Chrono Trigger, the fantasy-based Final Fantasy IX (the best of the Final Fantasies), the apocalyptic twist of Final Fantasy VI, Vagrant Story. Others were flawed classics, with good ideas and poor execution: the money troubles of Xenogears diminished its final hours, Final Fantasy VIII had a bland cast and tried many new mechanics that just didn’t work, Chrono Cross has way too many party members and a battle system with underwhelming rewards.

Of course, the Playstation 2 wasn’t a point of no return and past it Square (or Square Enix) never made a quality game again. Final Fantasy XII is one of the best in the series, and had a neat “single player MMO” feel; and of course The World Ends With You. Final Fantasy X too has its moments. But the days of innovation are generally long past, and Square is content to give you another bland Final Fantasy VII spin-off, another Final Fantasy crossover, another absurdly linear experience than something new. Whatever its faults, Final Fantasy VII belongs to a time where Square’s games could make sense, be shocking, and give you something new.

(My favorite under-appreciated Square game from their best era is Brave Fencer Musashi, by the way. Also, my comments on Square Enix only apply to their Japanese games, and not Eidos.)

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