The Most Important RPG in Console History Celebrates its 20th Anniversary Today

While the SNES arguably had better releases in the Final Fantasy series, it was the seventh entry on the original PlayStation that truly brought the RPG genre into the eyes of the mainstream. Final Fantasy VII’s multi-disc spanning epic was a smashing success in 1997, selling nearly 10 million copies worldwide, and changed the gaming industry forever.

This was not only the first time a Final Fantasy title would appear on a non-Nintendo platform (although it initially began life as a SNES project in 1994 before Square decided the PlayStation’s CD Rom format was the smarter option), but also the first game in the series to release in Europe. And although we could talk all day about the game’s absurdly expensive developmental costs, how it helped PlayStation become the brand it is today, the translation issues, and the deeper themes expressed throughout the story, others have already done that far better than I ever could.

I was one of those 10 million people that purchased Final Fantasy VII, and although I’ve often referred to the legendary RPG as “overrated” over the years (and still prefer VIII in the PS1 trilogy), I’ve since come to terms that I was just being an edgy prick. These days I can fully admit that it’s one of my absolute favorite games of all time.

It’s an incredibly special game that arrived at a time when I was completely vulnerable, having just transferred schools in the middle of 10th grade due to relentless bullying. I never looked forward to facing those I couldn’t stomach to be around, but I always had Final Fantasy VII to come home to. Video games have always been my escape.

I had my original PlayStation for nearly two years, and up until that point, I hadn’t really found much to play beyond Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Twisted Metal, and Resident Evil. I was still relatively new to RPGs with only chunks of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III (VI), and Super Mario RPG under my belt, so it wasn’t like I was overly excited about Final Fantasy VII. I was just excited to finally have something, anything, new to play on a console that went mostly unused since Christmas of 1995.

I was 16, so I wasn’t driving at the time. I remember picking it up the day it released, though, which means my mom probably drove me to Video Game Exchange (our only local game store) after an exhausting 12-hour day at work. Bless her. I also remember opening the jewel case and wondering why there was more than one disc, which would eventually become commonplace.

So I began my adventure just like many of you, mouth wide open while Nobuo Uematsu’s “Opening Theme, Bombing Mission” played during the introduction of Aeris, the Mako reactor, and its surrounding city of Midgar. Cutscenes were still special at this point in gaming, and I always looked forward to the next major story event that would use them as a narrative tool — Sister Ray consuming every ounce of Mako energy from Midgar to blast Diamond Weapon remains my favorite.

Uematsu’s composition is equally enthralling. “Flowers Blooming in the Church” serves as a fantastic, emotional reintroduction to Aeris. “Cosmo Canyon” still gets me all misty-eyed and is easily my favorite piece of music in gaming history. Just recalling the moment Red XIII learns that his father, the man he believed all this time to be a coward that abandoned his people, was actually turned to stone while defending them… it’s so fucking tragic.

I’ve never been the type to change a character’s name, so when the blue and yellow LEGO-bricked hero emerged from the train I naturally stuck with Cloud. My stoner friend Harry, however, took the liberty of renaming him Cloud9 in his game (with Aeris becoming Lotahooter and Tifa having a similarly derogatory name, I’m sure). I became attached to the supporting cast, with Red XIII being my favorite in-game and Vincent the one I liked to draw most during class instead of doing actual work.

Final Fantasy VII sucked me in immediately, and within a week I found myself nearing the end of the first disc. However, my inexperience came into play and my overall lack of grinding lead to my severely underpowered band of heroes getting progression-locked on the Demons Gate boss. What a jerk. I tried numerous times to no avail, but eventually recalled how repeatedly battling monsters in Chrono Trigger made things far simpler just two years prior. So I started over.

This time, after finishing up the Corel storyline between Barret and Dyne, I spent two straight weeks grinding XP, powering up materia, and unlocking limit breaks. I was ready to dish out some sweet revenge on the Demons Gate, but wasn’t prepared for the event that followed. In retrospect it’s a goofy cutscene, with Sephiroth clearly missing his gloves as he impales Aeris, only to have them reappear in the next cut, but I hadn’t really been exposed to death in video games outside of Mario falling in a hole, or Link being struck down only to reappear in the overworld as if nothing happened.

A character I grew to love over the last 50 hours was gone forever (kind of) and there was no Phoenix Down big enough to bring her back. It was my first dose of video game tragedy, really.

We didn’t have the internet at the time, so I spent my allowance on the official strategy guide to help locate hidden materia, breed chocobos for Knights of the Round, and eventually completed the game to the fullest extent possible. I’m not sure if Cloud9 ever became a world-saving hero, or even witnessed the death of Lotahooter in Harry’s game, though.

Final Fantasy VII helped solidify my love of role-playing games, much in the way Resident Evil did for horror, which is an impact that still holds true today. My game shelf and digital backlog largely consist of RPGs, many of which would have been ignored completely had it not been for Cloud and company. Final Fantasy remains my favorite RPG series of all time, and since finishing the seventh entry 20 years ago I’ve gone back to play the “classics,” picked up spin-offs, and am currently dabbling in Final Fantasy XV’s post-game content.

As I mentioned earlier, I did go on to enjoy Final Fantasy VIII more than VII (and Final Fantasy Tactics more than all of them), but there’s no denying the importance of this day back in 1997. We can all look back at the blueprint of games that helped define who we are today, and I count Final Fantasy VII among them.

20 thoughts on “The Most Important RPG in Console History Celebrates its 20th Anniversary Today

  1. Great write up! FFVII was the 2nd Final Fantasy game I ever beat (FFX was my intro to the series). Unfortunately, I knew a big spoiler before I played it, but I still loved everything about this game. The music is so moving too! The Gold Saucer theme always cheers me up, haha. It’s not my personal favourite FF game, but it’s definitely a timeless masterpiece! :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice write-up! “Flowers Blooming in the Church” is the one that I always remember falling in love with first when I was a kid. I never beat it as a kid, or even made it past the first disc, as I always got stuck somewhere because I simply didn’t understand the leveling concept or how to play JRPGs. I think it was 2011 (according to Steam!) that I finally picked it up, said I was going to beat it with no excuses, and played it beginning to end in about 80 hours. Still my favorite gaming experience of all time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you had the chance to revisit it. With the game being so popular, I’m sure it was a lot of folks first foray into console rpgs, and despite its plethora of tutorials it never once mentioned killing things for xp if things got tough lol.

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  3. You’re so edgy, CBA! Hahaha I used to say the same thing too. Sounds like we’ve both wised up. I can safely say that FFVII isn’t perfect, but at the same time I can safely say that it’s phenomenal in every sense of the word. Its historical value cannot be overstated. Its personal impact has been wide.

    Also, frickin’ Prompto…

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    1. “If it’s so good, why did they need a movie and two spin-off games to fill plot holes?” was a common remark I’d throw around. But yeah… it’s a great game. Not many complaints anymore, and revisiting it on PS4 two years back certainly helped solidify that.

      You leave that beautiful photography boy alone!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well I’m still not a fan of the movie… and Dirge is the only spin-off I’ve played. A lot of them felt more like cash cows then necessary additions to the story, but c’est la business. VII itself I’m comfortable saying is uniquely special. As for Prompto, some hatred never dies! >:)

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  4. I can’t listen to the Opening~Bombing mission without getting chills. I could write an article about why that song is the perfect opening. FFIV is my favorite soundtrack in terms of how many songs I like on it, but FFVII has my favorite songs (if that makes any sense).

    Fun fact: I NEVER noticed Sephiroth’s lack of gloves in that scene o.O Now that you’ve mentioned it, and I’m picturing the scene, his hands are totally bare, but then in the next, non-cut scene he obviously has (blocky lol) gloves. I learn something new about FFVII all the time!

    I definitely think the game suffers/suffered from edge lords haha. It’s what happens with anything popular. You always have that counter culture I suppose who dislike it for the sake of disliking. I think we were all that way, but most of us grow out of it. I used to turn my nose up at boy bands, now I belt out Bye Bye Bye at the top of my lungs with no shame. Things are cool if you like them, and being unabashedly unashamed of what you like is hella cool. I think kids these days are figuring that out much quicker than they did, because the internet is more prevalent, so it’s easier to find people who like the same things you do.

    Here’s hoping the Remake comes out sooner rather than later!

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    1. Haha, even in the same cutscene, the moment it pans out and shows him holding the sword impaled through Aeris, his gloves are back. It’s great.

      I have no shame in my taste anymore, but I couldn’t say the same thing 6 or 7 years ago. Getting old is weird.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I never had a PS1 and never bought this game initially, but one of my friends did, and I was blown away, the intro sequence was insane. the music, the graphics, the writing. It was funny because we never had a memory card, so everytime I went over, we always played the opening sequence over and over and over again.

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    1. Haha, that seems to be a common trend to just about everyone during that console gen. Who even knew what memory cards were, coming from the SNES and Genesis? I remember not being able to save the game or two I got for Christmas and it sucked!

      Liked by 1 person

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