Some stories are meant to be retold.
It’s part of good storytelling: having something that takes on more significance with each subsequent revisiting, be it parts that are not noticeable the first time round, or details that resonate all the more when the viewer/reader/listener knows that they’re coming. It’s the case with Mark’s gospel, which ends with the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb and the announcement that he is waiting for us where the Gospel began. As part of the Christian calendar, we experience the Gospel story again over the year in a ritualistic way.
Certain videogames’ stories operate in this same way, resonating more when we know what’s next. Games companies have joined film makers and comicbook companies in weaponising nostalgia by delivering their old stories again, as we anticipate the story beats and remember where we were the first time we picked the game up.
Such is the case with Final Fantasy VII, which recently released on the Nintendo Switch and XBox One. The story is being told again.
Players take control of Cloud Strife, as he is recruited to the environmentalist group AVALANCHE. Labelled terrorists by commercial media outlets and the government, this ragtag pack of rebels lead missions destroying power stations that feed off the world’s finite life-force. The lines between business and government in this world are blurred. In some ways, the game was ahead of its time in its exploration of these themes.
Playing Final Fantasy VII on the Nintendo Switch is something of a full circle experience. In the mid-90s, the title was originally intended to appear on the Super Nintendo. Later it was considered as a launch title on Nintendo’s upcoming Nintendo 64. However, Nintendo’s insistence on keeping with the cartridge format saw developers Squaresoft balk at delivering the title to the nascent console and end their decade-spanning relationship that had seen all six prior titles of the anthology RPG series made exclusive to the House of Mario.
The relationship between Nintendo and Square-Enix has become much stronger since, and the Switch’s veritable license to print money has seen many titles ported to it, to the extent that it has become something of a meme. Nintendo knows that players want to experience their favourite stories again.
The good news is that Final Fantasy VII feels right at home on Nintendo’s newest console, delivering the classic game with a sharp new coat of paint. The same in-depth story of greed versus the environment remains. After two decades’ worth of climate change policy debate and its effects being more acutely felt, its themes are all the more resonant.
Something about playing Final Fantasy VII in handheld mode feels right. The game’s story and turn based combat hold up well, while the new graphics maintain the original’s charm and aesthetic.
That said, players need to take into account that this is a twenty year old game, one based on the series’ older gameplay style and mechanics. As such, some of its ideas may seem dated. One area where this is noticeable is level design. Nowadays, players have no doubt become accustomed to levels where exploration is constant, and that going anywhere in a game’s virtual world yields meaningful interactions. In Final Fantasy VII this isn’t the case, with the game’s pre-rendered backgrounds often sitting as an indifferent space for the player to simply move through. This, and the game’s linear storytelling, stand out as products of their time that may prove to be jarring to first-time users.
Thankfully, the re-release has included the ability to turn off ‘random encounter’ combat, whereby the player runs into randomly placed enemies that are initially invisible. Their inclusion was one of the original title’s main gripes and the ability to remove them shaves unwanted hours off the total playtime.
For any aspect of it that appears to be dated, Final Fantasy VII remains a classic RPG that is worth revisiting or playing for the first time.
Final Fantasy VII is now available on the Nintendo Switch. It is also available on the Xbox One, and Playstation 4.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor