Way back in 1997, I got my first Playstation. This was my first ‘serious’ games console; to be fair, it was THE first serious games console. It marked a departure from 2D pixellated gaming to 3D, high octane, pixelated gaming. Entire towns would lock up their daughters and shoot their sons when one of the neighborhood bad boys got his hands on a PS1.
The Playstation, though, it’s Graphics seemed, to my infantile eyes, to emulate life flawlessly. I got two games with my Playstation starter pack; Crash Bandicoot 2 and Final Fantasy VII. “It’s well hard, no chance you’ll finish that” my mates gloated at school, and they were right, I never did. I never tackled the long descent into the Northern Crater, never landed that killing blow on Sephiroth, never saw Red XIII grow old with his cubs. But I don’t care. To me, VII was about more than just completion; it laid the foundations for my taste in fiction, artwork and the groundwork for my socio-political outlook.
Final Fantasy VII’s setting is a world monopolised by an evil mega-corporation, ShinRa. Aside from being the primary market force in the energy sector, ShinRa also have stakes in automobiles, shipping, entertainment, munitions, private armed forces, genetic experimentation and general world domination.
At the outset of the game, the main character (Cloud), a mercenary in the employ of AVALANCHE, is part of a mission to destroy one of ShinRa’s Mako Reactors, in the mega-city of Midgar. It goes swimmingly, and the guys carry on their war of vengeance against ShinRa. However, this becomes somewhat insignificant once Sephiroth, former Soldier 1st Class (and Cloud’s old boss/genetic template?!?!) assassinates the head of ShinRa, and proceeds to threaten planetary destruction through use of a giant meteor unless Cloud and friends can stop him.
The plot really struck a chord in my tiny, 7 year old soul. For a game to instill a vague understanding of the wider sociological and ecological issues faced by humanity into someone, let alone a child, takes some doing. AVALANCHE’s assault on the reactor was akin to the actions of Greenpeace’s protests on oil rigs, or the anti-nuclear proliferation movement. ShinRa was The Establishment, Rufus (President Junior) was The Man.
I’m not saying VII was solely responsible for embedding the virtue of environmental conservationism into me (my parents somehow retain a constant state of humanity in this world of hollow – ah, wrong game), however it certainly made an impression. It proved games could be so much more than collecting coins and beating the crap out of fat old nuclear physicists and their various diabolical creations. It proved to me that videogames could be an artistic and political medium in their own right.
The game also marked my first insight into the fantasy genre; with it’s vivid landscapes and locations, characters and story, it drew me in for hours at a time. This is the biggest influence VII had on me, sparking an interest in fantasy and science fiction which has formed a massive part of my life, which continues to this day. Gigantic monsters like the WEAPON’s, the use of materia and magic, epic landscapes such as Fort Condor and Nibelheim, it lit a fire in my brain.
I ended up spending most of my youth engrossed in the written word or playing games, thanks to Final Fantasy. About a year after getting FF7 I got my first boardgame, Warhammer Quest, which I demanded my family and I play religiously each week. I got into David Gemmel and Terry Pratchett at around 9 years old, and Read the Silmarillion when I was 12. I didn’t want to exist in the real world; I wanted to live in world of pure imagination.
All told, Final Fantasy VII is and was a brilliant game, with a wonderful story, and more plot twists and shenanigans than Poiroit’s time in Harlem. It totally shaped my interests in fiction, helped further alienate me from my Football obsessed classmates, taught me that there is more to life than candy, and helped no end with avoiding cooties (I’m still really good at avoiding cooties).
Here’s looking forward to the remake.