Retro Mas­ter

Ev­ery Cloud has a sil­ver lin­ing/white jewel case

Games Master - - Contents -

Re­mem­ber the cat with the mega­phone? More mem­o­ries like this in our Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII ret­ro­spec­tive.

Leg­end has it the name Fi­nal Fan­tasy was first coined as an oblique ref­er­ence to Square’s loom­ing bank­ruptcy. The ti­tle sug­gested this NES RPG rep­re­sented one fi­nal roll of the dice for an em­bat­tled de­vel­oper, one last at­tempt to re­verse its for­tunes. As it turns out, the name was ac­tu­ally cho­sen to re­flect Hironobu Sak­aguchi’s per­sonal sit­u­a­tion – the se­ries cre­ator was on the verge of quit­ting games al­to­gether. If that first Fi­nal Fan­tasy hadn’t sold well, Sak­aguchi would have re­trained in an­other in­dus­try.

The ori­gins

For­tu­nately, Fi­nal Fan­tasy launched to re­spectable crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess in Ja­pan, and devel­op­ment of a se­quel be­came an im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity. But while Square’s game­play tem­plate would re­main largely un­changed from se­quel to se­quel, the de­vel­oper didn’t want to be hemmed in by nar­ra­tive con­ti­nu­ity, so es­tab­lished Fi­nal Fan­tasy as an an­thol­ogy se­ries that ex­plored a new world in each new in­stal­ment.

Over the course of the early nineties, Square de­vel­oped a close re­la­tion­ship with Nin­tendo, ris­ing to promi­nence as one of the com­pany’s most re­spected third-party devel­op­ers thanks to the likes of Chrono Trig­ger, Se­cret Of Mana, and the Fi­nal Fan­tasy se­ries. Sak­aguchi’s pro­file grew con­sid­er­ably dur­ing this time as well, and in the sum­mer of 1994 the cel­e­brated de­signer sat down to be­gin plan­ning Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII, sketch­ing his idea for a fu­tur­is­tic de­tec­tive story set in the ru­ins of a city called Midgar. At this point, it was a given that this noir fan­tasy would launch ex­clu­sively on Nin­tendo hard­ware.

But, when Nin­tendo an­nounced its de­ci­sion to per­se­vere with the car­tridge for­mat for the N64, the am­bi­tious Sak­aguchi was con­fronted with a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion. He could stick with Nin­tendo and its smaller-ca­pac­ity carts, or he could move his fran­chise to PlayS­ta­tion, and take ad­van­tage of the CD for­mat to cre­ate a game of un­prece­dented scale. Con­tro­ver­sially, Sak­aguchi de­cided to side with Sony, re­work­ing the game’s nar­ra­tive and ex­pand­ing the size of its devel­op­ment team. By the time of its re­lease, Square had gam­bled an De­vel­oper Square Pub­lisher Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment Re­leased 1997 For­mat PS1 Get it PSN, Steam, iOS App Store un­prece­dented $45 mil­lion bring­ing Sak­aguchi’s vi­sion to Sony’s con­sole.

The leg­end

When Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII’s chunky jewel case reached our side of the pond in 1997, it be­came the first main­line en­try in the se­ries to reach Europe’s shores. So, it wasn’t name recog­ni­tion that pro­pelled it to such phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess – it was crit­i­cal ado­ra­tion, ex­cited word of mouth, and some hefty mar­ket­ing on the part of Sony that even­tu­ally added up to more than ten mil­lion sales world­wide.

And while there were no revo­lu­tion­ary changes to the game­play for­mula, crit­ics and play­ers were blown away by the cin­e­matic qual­ity of the pre-ren­dered cutscenes, the scale of its game­world, and the epic na­ture of its nar­ra­tive. The fact Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII’s sto­ry­line was such a di­rect ex­pres­sion of Sak­aguchi’s eco­log­i­cal con­cerns was an­other gam­ble, but the con­flict be­tween Avalanche eco-war­riors and the en­vi­ron­men­tally reck­less Shinra Cor­po­ra­tion cap­tured the at­ten­tion of tree-hug­gers and the eco­log­i­cally ap­a­thetic alike.

The fi­nal game shipped with more than 40 min­utes of FMV cutscenes, which might seem small by today’s stan­dards but was un­prece­dented at the time. Th­ese CGI scenes awed au­di­ences, serv­ing as a show­case for the PlayS­ta­tion and its CD-ROM for­mat. But that was far from Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII’s only last­ing mark on the wider world of gam­ing.

The legacy

There can be lit­tle doubt that Sak­aguchi’s de­ci­sion to move Square’s flag­ship


fran­chise to the PlayS­ta­tion was a tremen­dous loss for Nin­tendo at a time when many of the com­pany’s third-party pub­lish­ers were al­ready jump­ing ship. Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII’s enor­mous suc­cess wasn’t just a sin­gle loss for Nin­tendo, then – it en­sured fu­ture in­stal­ments in the se­ries would re­main disc-based CGI epics, and even­tu­ally es­tab­lished Sony’s PlayS­ta­tion as the home of Fi­nal Fan­tasy in the minds of many play­ers world­wide.

As well as chang­ing the for­tunes of plat­form hold­ers, Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII ei­ther tapped into or cre­ated a de­mand for JRPGs out­side of Ja­pan, awak­en­ing mil­lions of gamers across the globe to the de­lights of turn-based bat­tling. It’s hard to imag­ine now, but with­out Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII it’s pos­si­ble that the JRPG may never have grown be­yond a niche genre out­side of its home­land.

But per­haps the most ob­vi­ous con­se­quence of Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII’s far-reach­ing suc­cess was the mas­sive growth of Square’s flag­ship fran­chise, which stands today as one of the best­selling of all time. If the first Fi­nal Fan­tasy saved Square and re­vi­talised Hironobu Sak­aguchi’s ca­reer, the sev­enth re­shaped the in­dus­try.

Square’s vet­eran char­ac­ter de­signer Yoshi­taka Amano was un­avail­able to work on the project, so rel­a­tive rookie Tet­suya No­mura cre­ated Cloud and com­pany.

The PS1 sound chip let com­poser Nobuo Ue­matsu cre­ate an iconic score.

FFVII in­tro­duced Limit Breaks to the tried-and-tested se­ries game­play.

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