First and foremost, older games aren’t inherently better than newer games. Sure, we have our nostalgia and back in the way back, you most likely only had a handful of games to play over a year or two. When I was a kid I only really got new games for Christmas and occasionally my birthday. It meant I was typically playing one game for a lot longer than what I do these days. These days I have a stacks of games sitting on my shelf and half of which I haven’t even played yet. I, like most, I’m sure, have every intention of burning through all those games, but, for me anyways, Rainbow 6: Siege came out, and well, I kind of got hooked. It’s okay though; those games on my shelf aren’t going anywhere, so I can sink some time into Siege. I know that’s my rationale anyways.
However, just last week I started replaying Final Fantasy VII, and damn I’m hooked. I’m so hooked
that I spent a solid 20ish hours straight playing just a few days ago. And let me tell you…it was totally worth it. The game absolutely holds up. In fact, it’s so good that even though I was sleep deprived, the game was telling me to get some sleep.
True story. I was walking around the Forgotten City trying to go through the giant conch shell, but there was a fish in my way. I kept trying and trying, but I couldn’t get past the stupid glowing fish. I was in party chat with Billy and even he was stumped as to what was wrong. He finally suggested that I should just get some sleep and deal with it when I was rested. I promptly told him to fuck off and that I was getting this before I got any sleep. After twenty or so extra minutes past that point, I finally caved and consulted a walkthrough. And you know what the walkthrough said? That’s right! It told me I needed to nap…god dammit. I had declined to nap in one of the houses outside the giant conch and once I did that, the path was cleared. The game is so smart, so well designed that it told me that I needed sleep in order to realize what to do next. I mean, I didn’t go to sleep. I’m no slave to some robot master…not yet anyway.
But I digress.
Regardless of how the Remake does, the original will always be cherished. It’s an amazing game and replaying it has given me the chance to see why. My quick answer is that Final Fantasy VII truly embodies what an RPG is, a Role Playing Game. The game isn’t just discovering the mysterious back stories of beloved characters or going to save the world from an indomitable villain, in this case it makes for great story, but the game also has amazing game mechanics too.
Look at the magic system, for example. Magic is a staple in the Final Fantasy series, and it’s always handled slightly different in each installment. In FFVII, they implemented materia, which are stones of condensed life energy that grants people magical powers. In the materia system, there’s a sense of progression. Not only do the materia get stronger as you wear them into battle, but eventually they even asexually reproduce to grant a duplicate starting materia. Down the road, high level materia even become the highest priced items to sell in the game.
Somewhere in the middle of the game they also introduce Chocobo breeding. Chocobos, for those who aren’t in the know (Cole), are essentially bad ass horse-sized chickens. This mechanic doesn’t only introduce a new side quest but it uses several previously established mechanics in order to get the best Chocobo. You need to be able to use materia, your knowledge of the world map, and the new stats and items based on Chocobos. If you succeed in getting a Gold Chocobo, you will be able to get some of the best materia in the game.
Why do I bring these examples up? Well, it’s because it’s side knowledge to rest of the game. You don’t really need to know how to use materia or how to breed Chocobos in order to enjoy or beat the game. However, there are rewards to understanding more about this universe. Not everything said or done in the game is profitable to some end means, but most do lead the player to some fruitful gear or item. In order to gain this knowledge, the player must play many roles, not just the hero, but also a mage, a strategist, a breeder, and more.
Good RPGs aren’t just about collecting a ragtag group of adventures to save the world; they allow players to experience many different roles. The really great RPGs are designed so that when a player does choose to experience something apart from the main story, they will be rewarded, and FFVII not only gives you many hats to try, it also rewards handsomely.
For me, this is a huge difference between the old and the new, especially in the case of the RPG. A lot of RPGs these days will have many different side quests and objectives, but unfortunately the side quests become a lather, rinse, repeat cycle. You go to a new area, you meet NPCs, and an NPC has a problem he needs a hero to solve. So go get him 10 apples so he can make his pie. It’s all very linear and due to its repetitive nature, it becomes stale, boring, unnatural, and most importantly unrewarding. The benefit hardly outweighs the time needed to do half the menial tasks NPCs set out for you. Because of this, it also breaks a player’s suspension of disbelief. If you’re supposed to be some sort of destined hero, why are you getting this guy 10 apples? Why can’t he do it himself or get literally anyone else to do it for him?
FFVII and games like it didn’t rely on that sort of linear system. They didn’t punish you for not doing the side quests either. They used clearly designed reward based in-game mechanics. In FFVII case, the Square Soft team essentially gave one game, the main game, a large selection of mini-games to play in order to support the player. It was genius. Unfortunately, it’s not what we see in games these days; however, like I said at the beginning, this doesn’t make new games ‘bad’, just different, and for me, I wish more games followed FFVII’s lead.
Thanks for reading.
Sorry the ending felt a little rushed. It is. I’ll revisit this next week because there’s so much more to say on the topic.
Love, el Presidente