Every now and again a game impacts the industry with truly seismic effect: a game which doesn’t so much draw but blast a line in the sand. These games are true benchmarks, the means by which we measure the history of this little cottage industry we’ve all taken to our hearts. Usually, it’s merely enough to ask that the games themselves be good; while they inspired a an of insipid, hateful clones it’s hard to hold anything against Mario, Sonic, Doom or Tetris. Games like this are wonderful, and it is desirable that we have them. Sometimes a game will come along and set good things in motion: Resident Evil 4 was acknowledged as an influence on Gears of War, and in turn it seems like everyone in the dev community and their mother can’t stop talking about how great Gears of War is. Well done, Resident Evil 4. You are a great game.
Sometimes we get little flakes of mana that inspire dreck and sometimes we’re even blessed with trends of positive evolution. Sometimes. Then again sometimes a game will scream into the earth like a great meteor of fossilised stuff, wiping out everything in its’ path and ejecting putrid effluence high into jet stream. An extinction level event of gamedom, a thing of pure corrupt hate, an instrument of cultural demolition and pole-flipping destruction. Welcome to Final Fantasy VII.
Japanese RPGs, a magazine feature once informed me, are like the Madden licence of the rising sun: year in, year out the same people – who may or may not be inclined to dwell in subterranean storage areas of their parental home – will line up to buy the same kinds of game – bishies with massive swords and inevitable memory loss crusading against random encounters, evil empires, and probably some kind of evil god. These games can take upwards of 40 hours to complete.
Why do they play them? Is it for the immature, sickly narratives? Is it for the dismembered “strategy” gameplay of the random encounter? Is it because they’re working up some immensely pornographic fan comic based around the female leads and the most tentacle-endowed sub-boss? Is it because the joyless grinding of larger and larger numbers to make bigger and bigger damage numbers appear above their enemies provides an utterly false sense of achievement, massaging the same part of the brain that drives a rat to press on a feeder bar for a snack treat? Ding ding ding!
Final Fantasy VII represents the day this noxious genre was fired into the heart of Europe, like a rotting lump of cattle fired into a besieged medieval stronghold.
Final Fantasy VI was good, as far as these things go. It’s a nice capsule of how best to make the SNES do nice graphic effects, it had a daringly large cast of likable characters and a storybook plot that was agreeable enough to push you to the very end of the game. The same poisonous labor-sim lay at its core, but it had care and charm enough to make you feel like 50+ hours were a permissible sacrifice for the rewards it offered. I’m not sure what went wrong.
Final Fantasy VII is a textbook on how to make PSOne games look like unwashed arse ring, with a wilted cast of anime stereotype hecks gibbering senselessly through a deranged plot cobbled together from Evangelion, Captain Planet and the fan fiction sections of Usenet. Music is rendered via a MIDI track that sounds like a three year old jamming out with the preset fills on a Casio keyboard. The characters – the concept art for same having been downgraded from the breathtaking fantasies Yostuffaka Amano of to the Dragon Ball Z -colouring-book thrash of Tetsuya Nomura. All stabs at artistic direction, whimsy and innovation in design have been stripped away and replaced with an insipid mash of saturday morning cartoon filth. Characters are rendered as jerky, inconsistent gonks with the expression and appeal of drying stuff.
Here’s the plot of Final Fantasy VII: In the part of the world they stole from Bladerunner all love and goodness is being kept in darkness and filth by the evil corporation they stole from absolutely everything, ever. Worse, they’re stealing the life force of the planet using the power of insultingly stupid pseudoscience. Now only a black man who says heck because that’s how the designers conceptualise black men and his band of elephantiasis ravaged eco-warriors can restore justice and honor. The main character is a loathsome emoling with a stupid sword and stupider hair. He is torn between his childhood friend Tits and his newfound love, Aeris Dies. Later there are aliens and stuff and one of the bad guys actively tries to force a bestial coupling between Aeris Dies and a dog-thing. Aeris Dies, but Emo Swordhair finds love and support in the arms of Tits. Black man says “damn heck stuff” a lot because apparently the scenario staff had forgotten the terrible lessons of Tom Sawyer already. This is the plot, and if you want to experience it in all of it’s horrifically ray-traced glory you will be required to spunk away scores of hours the Reaper will never return. There are glorious books, amazing films, empty pads to be filled with imagination and excitement. There are videogames that will give you satisfaction and meaningful choices in return for a relatively slender portion of your ever-shrinking life force. Why would anyone want to endure this insane, hateful snare?
I don’t know. I’ve thought about it and I still can’t work it out. But people embraced the snare. Millions of them. It changed the face of gaming, giving the Saturn the crippling body blow that would slowly kill Sega over four painful years, knocked the N64 into semi-irrelevance and infected all around it with a desire for cutscenes, incoherence and made obsessive compulsive disorder a market niche. People love Final Fantasy VII. They loved it so much the Square brood queen queefed out a suite of spinoffs a decade later, expanding the festering expanded universe to utterly needless degrees. People bond over this game. They form bands to recreate the midi blip blop bloop with gusto, aplomb and acne. When it is attacked, they fall back to protect the queen and her sweet, sweet honey. A buzzing hive, distorting our culture and debasing our standards. Drones vote this game into “best ever lists”, or make throw away comments about how it is “clearly the best Final Fantasy ever!”. The epic Wikipedia article is longer than that of World War II, Bauhaus and Ghandi. The hive make it so.
The man who made this game criticised Wii Sports for having characters “like dolls”. Someday I will piss into him for that, provided the doppler effect created by hypocrisy traveling at near-relativistic speeds does not travel back in time and negate his own birth.
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only man alive on Earth, and the Final Fantasy VII body snatchers are everyone else. A different species, with totally sweet Materia slots where heart and soul should be. Please, if anyone is left out there, get in touch before it’s too late. We can get away, go and live on an island somewhere. Raise our kids good and strong, with reasonable sized swords and normal hair. Tell the world. Tell the world I am aliv-