The RPG that defined a generation finally receives a port on the last console thought possible.
As we grow older and move on to new phases in our lives, our tastes change. Time becomes a more valuable commodity. Culture continuously evolves and what was once considered entertaining has become stale or out of touch. It’s for these reasons that going back to play an old classic can be a dangerous gambit. We don’t want to taint the memories of our formative years but quite often the expectation of joy eclipses reality. For many RPG fans now in their late 20s and 30s, Final Fantasy VII was a transformative experience during a time of multiple crossroads. Not only were kids who grew up with Nintendo becoming teenagers, but the industry itself was transitioning to a new future of console gaming. Unlike some of its peers, Final Fantasy VII has withstood the test of time. It’s still just as good as memory suggests and some modern improvements keep it thoroughly entertaining for old and new fans alike.
It’s true that with each passing year, games designed at the beginning of the 3D era continue to look dated. The low polygonal designs just haven’t aged as well when compared to the sprites that adorned the SNES classics. However, just about every other aspect of Final Fantasy VII feels timeless. The journey of an ex-SOLDIER who joins a rogue group of eco-terrorists to take on an evil corporation hell bent on profits at the cost of innocent lives is a story that feels even more relatable today. An incredibly strong opening full of battles against the Shinra Corporation in the streets of Midgar immediately sets the stakes.
As the scope broadens into a vast open world full of beautiful storytelling and delightful side-quests, a steady stream of unforgettable moments dot the narrative right through to the conclusion. The impact of the story is reinforced with a legendary soundtrack composed by Final Fantasy veteran, Nobuo Uematsu. The tone of the surroundings are flawlessly communicated by the music, such as the foreboding theme while traveling the streets of Midgar. Unfortunately, the music bug that has plagued so many of the recent Final Fantasy ports is present, causing a reset of the soundtrack upon each battle. It’s certainly a source of irritation, especially if you’ve played the original, but by no means does it make this port unplayable.
Now well into my adulthood, I no longer have the limitless hours I once had as a teenager and luckily Square Enix has addressed this with a number of modern improvements. The option to turn off random encounters, increase the in-game time threefold, and refill your meters in battle are all a button press away. Having the modifiers accessible through a button allows for game flow to proceed unimpeded, a vast improvement over the in-menu implementation seen in Final Fantasy IX. A modernization that did miss the mark was a graphical upgrade to character and enemy design that comes off as cold and lacking personality when compared to the original, not to mention looking out of place with the still original backgrounds.
Apart from a preference to the original character design and having to endure the dreaded music bug, I would still call Final Fantasy VII on Switch the definitive option to travel back to Midgar. The portability of the Switch and pick-up-and-play nature provides enough modern convenience to give old fans a reason to replay and new fans an excuse to try it. The battle between Cloud and Sephiroth brought mainstream appeal to JRPGs in the West back in the ‘90s, and it still has that universal appeal to be enjoyed by new generations of gamers to come.