Every Cloud has a silver lining/white jewel case
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.
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.
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.
There can be little doubt that Sakaguchi’s decision to move Square’s flagship
“FINAL FANTASY VII EITHER TAPPED INTO OR CREATED A DEMAND FOR JRPGS OUTSIDE OF JAPAN”
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.