Monday, December 12, 2005

Cashing my chips

Originally posted at (now defunct)

I first played Final Fantasy VII in 1997 on my friend’s Playstation. I admired its atmosphere: the typically fine (if sometimes overburdened) Nobuo Uematsu score; the gorgeous prerendered backgrounds; the attractive adaptation of the Final Fantasy battle system to 3d. When the game was released for Windows PC the following year, I bought it. I played on and off over the summer of 1998, and then shelved the game during the school year. This became a typical pattern: brief flurries of progress, spaced out over months or even years.

I didn’t even finish the first disc (of three) until the summer of 2001, 4 years after starting the game. During my tenure with the game, I’ve played it on five computers: four of my own and, during one winter break, one of my parents’. And in that time, I earned a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree, completed a five-level course in improvisation, am now a year and a half into a career in engineering, and have met a lovely girl (Note 3/18/10: We're married now. -F).
One thing I haven’t done in the past 8 years is finish the damn game. At the beginning of 2005, I made a New Year’s resolution: to finish Final Fantasy VII before the year was out. Last night, I decided to call it off. I will not finish the game, or play any more of it.
The thing is, it’s a deeply flawed game. The gameplay is just fine. I like fighting monsters, gathering equipment, managing a party of warriors. But the gameplay is increasingly spread out between ponderous stretches of PLOT. The story also has potential interest. But the delivery is abysmal. Scenes of plot or character development are presented in a combination of nicely-rendered, 30-second full motion videos (of the kind that was used to foist the game on the public in TV ads) and tone-deaf, emotionless, in-game scenes, such as the “moving” death of Aeris, pictured above. The former are pretty but feel out of place, seeing as they account for about 1% of game time. The latter are like watching Lego people try to emote, which gets especially tricky when it’s not always clear which one of them is supposed to be talking, and their lines are poorly translated from the original Japanese.
The in-game scenes are further hampered by a total lack of change in the music. The same midi tune that accompanied your 20-minute wanderings in a given cave will also accompany the 20-minute scene — and all its dramatic turns — at the end of the cave. These bits that are supposed to keep you going through the hundreds of random battles, minigames, and Chocobo breeding stints spread over a hundred hours? No, thank you.
As previously mentioned, I don’t dislike console RPG mechanics, or the Final Fantasy series. I don’t even have a problem with long scenes between gameplay. I just prefer it to be in a game capable of making me care. My buddy Nels hates the Metal Gear Solid series for this reason, but I enjoy it, because at least I can perceive dramatic highs and lows in those scenes. I also give a pass to Final Fantasy IV, because when I first played it, I was 14, and by the time I went back to play it, they had fixed the translation.
So, it’s been a long time coming, but I have finally decided to stop my quixotic and poorly-paced quest to complete Final Fantasy VII. I feel as though a load has been lifted, which will allow me to refocus my energy on more important goals.
Like Final Fantasy Tactics.