Yesterday (September 7th) marked the 25th anniversary of the release of Final Fantasy VII in North America.
Squaresoft's RPG about a group of mercenaries on a quest to save the planet from an evil corporation and a rogue science experiment named Sephiroth constantly appears on 'Best of' lists. It's also been subject to multiple spin-offs, remakes, parodies, and even a feature-length film, which makes it slightly difficult to remember a time before its name conjured up misty-eyed praise from those already invested in its world and characters.
For our anniversary tribute to the game, we thought it would be interesting to take a look back at what reviewers said about the game when it first came out in the West. Back before it had become a franchise unto itself. So we spent a couple of days searching through old magazines and articles to find out how Final Fantasy VII took the world by storm.
The first article we came across in our search was in a September issue of GameFan magazine. All three reviewers of the magazines gave it a mark of 100 out of a possible 100, with the reviewer E. Storm writing,
“An Epic Journey and possible life altering experience for all who take it. FFVII is the pinnacle of not just role playing but console gaming as we know it. All other systems and formats must bow down and kiss the 100s of small feet involved at Square.”
Also, in September, in a 1997 issue of Game Informer Magazine, a panel of reviewers gave it a collective mark of 9.75. The writer Andy McNamara, then known as Andy the Game Hombre, summed up his thoughts on the game with the following:
"The proof is in the pudding and Final Fantasy VII is the best RPG ever made. The graphics will blow you away...the story will eat at your mind...the sound will scare you....and the gameplay and secrets will glue your hands to the controller for weeks."
In the very first issue of PSM from September 1997, some mild criticism was directed at the game's lack of Redbook audio, but nevertheless, the writer awarded it a 5 out of 5, stating:
“Square has pulled it off again. Final Fantasy VII is easily the largest and most innovative RPG ever created.”
"Never before have technology, playability, and narrative combined as well as in Final Fantasy VII. The culmination of Square Soft's monumental effort is a game that will enrich just as it will entertain."
Still in September, the writer Jay Boor gave it a 9.5 in his IGN review, praising the "graphically impressive" summons and arguing:
"The game's plot is deep and typical of Square's prior efforts quite epic. Square takes great pride in its storytelling abilities and uses a number of flashback sequences, and loads of rendered sequences and prerendered FMV to add greatly to the mood and emotion of the story."
The following month, in October, a panel of three reviewers in EGM all gave it a 9.5. Shawn Smith praised the game, but mildly criticized its long cinematics during battle:
“I was never really into the old ones, so can’t talk about plot continuity, but as a stand-alone RPG, FFVII is one of the best I’ve ever played. Great graphics, sound, and overall gameplay. The one thing that stood out as a problem for me was the cinematic spell/special attack sequences…Other than that minor flaw, once again, Final Fantasy VII was incredible from start to finish”
Joe Rybicki for the October issue of Official PlayStation Magazine (US) gave the game a 5 out of 5 but was slightly disappointed by its translation and its linearity. He wrote:
“Don’t get me wrong, this is a great game —and I don’t mean great like ‘Hey, great!’ But great like Alexander the Great. I guess I was just expecting it to be a lot closer to perfect than it is. It’s still a must-buy for any PlayStation owner; just in mind that you’ll have to check a good deal of your freedom at the door.”
SloMo in GamePro Issue 109 from October 1997 gave the game a 5.0 for its graphics, sound, controls, and "fun factor". They praised the game's story, which they felt was above most games:
“Final Fantasy VII is a deep, lush game that consumes you with a compelling story line. Unlike most games, Final Fantasy’s story line is a major drawing card.”
The magazine Next Generation gave the game a 5 out of 5 in its October issue. Like Shawn Smith in EGM, Next Generation's writer criticized the long summon cinematics. It also wasn't a fan of Barrett's translation, with the writer calling its stereotyping "grating". Nevertheless, they felt the game lived up to the hype that was generated over the previous months:
"After all the hype that’s surrounded Final Fantasy VII, it would seem nearly impossible for any mere game to live up to the expectations — especially given the sheer thematic brilliance of FFVI (FFIII in the U.S), a true magnum opus that pushed the console RPG about as far as it could go…So did Square succeed? Well, yes.”
The editor of Computer & Video Games Paul Davies also gave the game 5 out of 5 in November. He argued it was "like nothing you have ever experienced before" and wrote:
“If you own a PlayStation you must own this game. Not least because Final Fantasy VII introduces an incredible new era of interactive entertainment. From the moment Aerith fixes her eyes on yours during the opening movie, you’re in for the ride — no way you’re going to let her mystery lay unsolved.”
Finally, in Edge's November 1997 issue, the game received a 9 out of 10, with the unnamed reviewer pontificating on the term 'Interactive Movie' before concluding:
"Anyone prepared to commit the admittedly lengthy time it takes to play Final Fantasy VII through to its conclusion will be well rewarded by what is most probably the most wholly entertaining title the PlayStation has to yet to offer."
We have to say when it comes to the negative points raised in some of these reviews, nothing really stands out as particularly unfair, with Square-Enix itself introducing a fast-forward feature in later versions of the game to allow players to speed up cinematics.
As for the quality of the translation, that's been a subject debated in the Final Fantasy community for years. It was even the topic of a lengthy video series from former Kotaku video producer Tim Rogers, which compared the English and Japanese text in extraordinary detail.
What's interesting to see, however, from looking back at these reviews is just how quickly Final Fantasy VII cemented its legendary status within gaming. Within the space of a few months, reviewers were already aware of the incredible hype behind the game and felt they needed to address it head-on in their reviews. And it's arguably a testament to the game that it managed to stand up under this additional level of scrutiny.
What do you think of these reviews? Did they get it spot on? Or is there anything you'd disagree with now? Let us know!