By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
h jeez...Final Fantasy VII.
Just saying the name conjures up images of my lost Christmas vacation. You see, I had a bit of a...problem with the game. Hey, I can admit it...I can move on with my life now.
Or...that is...I could, until Eidos went and released the damn thing on the PC. Now the whole problem's back again, and it doesn't look to be going away any time soon.
Rewind everything back to last Christmas. After ages of drooling over it, I finally got a PlayStation and Final Fantasy VII (big ol' thanks to my parents, who have no idea what they started). Now, I had been waiting for this game since those first screenshots were released all those years ago, and when it was released, it was sheer willpower that kept me from buying it. I lasted a long time, all things considered.
So I plugged it in, and started the game. From the moment that first sweeping shot of Aeris came across my television, I knew I was hooked. Once the movie's done playing (and it's a quick one, when all's said and done) you're thrown right into the action. The game starts so well, so brilliantly, that it's love at first sight. And I'm not just talking about the opening CGI here, mind you.
Here's how the intro works: you watch the CGI. In the last bit of the movie, the action is intercut (woo! Parallel editing!) with shots of a train in motion. Once the camera starts, you see a few characters jump off the train, last of which is Cloud, (or whatever you choose to name him...I prefer to stick with the designer's intended names...although I appreciate the fact that I have the choice) the one you control. Now all the other guys run off the screen, and here you are, dramatic music pumping, thrown into the middle of what looks to be some sort of raid, when the guards show up. The game's been on for about 30 seconds, and already you're in trouble with the law.
You're whisked away to the first of many thousands of battle sequences. This is great, because from the start the game integrates you with them. Despite the fact that it's a completely different perspective, after a while it doesn't change the immersion level at all. Other role playing games (RPGs) have used the "fight where you are" method (Chrono Trigger comes immediately to mind) and while that's certainly ideal (Final Fantasy VIII will use this method) this one grows on you rather quickly.
So, I won't go into too much detail on the plot of the game, as it's such a joy to play through and find out as you go along, (even the second time around in my case) but I will say this: Final Fantasy VII has one of the best stories I've ever seen in a game.
That's a bold statement coming from me...I've long been a supporter of in-depth storytelling in gaming, and some of my favorite games are the old Infocom text adventures that were truly well written. While Final Fantasy VII may not have as gripping a story as say...Suspended, what it does have is a true sense of scope. When playing Final Fantasy VII (especially after that all important 20 hour mark that usually signifies the halfway point) you really feel like you're acting out an epic.
And Final Fantasy VII has all the makings of a traditional epic: the reluctant hero who discovers the true meaning of honor...the two love interests, the seemingly indestructible enemy...the world at stake, I could go on for hours, here! Whether it's Homer, Beowulf (ugh...worst thing ever written...but it is an epic) or Star Wars, these things are all here. It's really an incredible thing to see unfold, because while reading an epic (or viewing, for that matter) is always a great experience, there's nothing like actually living one (well...in that videogame way, of course).
Now the game does have its flaws: the storyline is quite linear and some of the dialogue can be a bit stiff, but ultimately, these things are forgotten. No matter how awkward the dialogue can get, the larger experience of playing the game is so well done, so totally immersive, that details like that don't even matter.
So, that's the PlayStation version, and as I'm sure you've probably figured out, the PC version is virtually identical. Well content-wise, it's exactly the same, or at least as far as I can tell (there might have been some tweaking of some of the dialogue...there were one or two spelling errors in the PlayStation version). But the nature of the PC versus the PlayStation as a gaming platform brings up all kinds of issues (see this week's featured article for a look at this).
For one, since there isn't any definite hardware configuration, the programmers had to tweak the engine to take advantage of a multitude of setups. The PC version uses Microsoft's DirectX technology for just about everything, and the end result is that if you're planning on checking out Final Fantasy VII for the PC, you'll want to be sure you know your hardware.
The usual DirectX problems apply here...the game uses DirectShow, DirectSound and Direct3D (probably more, but those are the ones that are immediately noticeable) so make sure you don't have one of those setups that can do Direct3D by itself but not with DirectSound, or any other weird combination of hardware conflicts. On the nice side, the first Final Fantasy VII disc (there are four in this version) is nothing but the installer and driver files, so before you try running it, make sure all of your hardware drivers are up to date (I solved one really annoying crash problem that way).
Beyond the DirectX problems, there is one other caveat with the PC version...and that's a result of the difference in resolutions between the PlayStation and PC. You see, while Final Fantasy on the PlayStation runs at a really low resolution, when it's slapped on the PC, it's been beefed up to take advantage of the beefier hardware available. This results in really nice looking combat sequences (really nice looking...they put the PlayStation version to shame) but really...lousy full motion video (FMV).
The FMV sequences in Final Fantasy VII are really beautiful (one in particular comes to mind with Sephiroth walking into the flames...really nicely done) but unfortunately they were originally rendered for a lower resolution. If you've ever maximized an AVI movie, then you've seen what can happen when a low-res file is shown full screen. Now of course, it's not that bad, but the movies that looked so crisp and vibrant on my television came off pixelated and choppy on my PC. That was a bit of a letdown.
The solution to this problem, of course, would have to have been to re-render the movies in a higher resolution. Obviously this would have been much too time consuming for the porting team, or it might have also been completely impossible, depending on how they were made to begin with. It's not the end of the world, but it is a disappointment. Fortunately the rest of the game looks so much better that you don't dwell on it too long.
Other new touches to the PC edition include the ability to save in multiple "slots". You still get a limited number of save spaces, but now the save system acts like a bunchload of separate PlayStation memory cards. Each slot has their own separate save spaces, so you don't have to worry about other people saving over your game (a big concern, believe me...if I lost my game, someone would have lost their legs).
Unfortunately for most PC players, Final Fantasy VII on the PC still requires (like the PlayStation version) you to find a "save spot" or be on the world map before you can save your game. It's not unusual on the PlayStation, where hard drives don't exist, but it is tough to get used to on the PC. It's one of those little evil things that will make you keep playing the game for hours on end, even if it's only so you can find that next "save spot".
Then of course, there's the control issue. If you don't have a gamepad (I'd suggest getting one...it makes life much easier) you'll have to use the numeric pad to get around. The fine folks at Eidos were kind enough to include a little keyboard map that sits atop the number keys, so you don't have to worry about forgetting which one is "switch" and which one is "menu". But walking around with the number keys can be a bit annoying...get yourself a gamepad. ;)
These are all minor things...no matter what problems this port of the game has, it's still the same old Final Fantasy VII that kicked butt on the PlayStation. If you haven't played it, you really have no idea just how addicting it is. Do yourself a favor...check it out.
If you'll excuse me, I have to play for a few hours...just until I get to the next "save spot" of course. ;)
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames. He likes beer.
|Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Geek Toys is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is a majorly hostile gesture.|