Game Review

Final Fantasy VII (1997)

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We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;
World losers and world forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities.
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

-Arthur O’Shaughnessy

 

 

Once in awhile, a title comes along which defines its respective genre for years to come.

Today, September 7, 2017, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the North American release of Final Fantasy VII. Twenty years ago, this game became an instant legend and it’s remained a source of fascination and adoration for those two decades, with only a few of those anti-culture contrarians claiming it’s crappy and overrated. For the rest of us with our heads on straight and our eyes full of Mako, we know that Final Fantasy VII may not be perfect (get back, you savages!) but it sure is an incredible experience representing a milestone in gaming history.

The immediate problem that confronts us is this: it’s really intimidating to review, analyze, and in some areas even criticize a legend. When a game is as beloved as Final Fantasy VII, when it’s surrounded by a sea of rumors, hoaxes, tributes, fanfics, fan art, fandoms and fandumbs, spin-offs galore, the tease of a remake, and favorite “ships”, it becomes this insurmountable mountain of a task to write on the game. How do you say something about Final Fantasy VII that hasn’t already been said? What could you write about it that could possibly appeal to (or satisfy, for that matter) the seething masses of religious-level fans that adore this game? How could you possibly criticize the nuances of its mechanics or its storytelling and survive unscathed after the inevitable internet backlash? Yet I believe that great artists and art deserve good criticism.

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This is a moment of transparency for us. For me at least. It’s really hard to write about famous games! It’s very intimidating. That’s why I personally fluctuate from reviewing newer games to older games, titles that everyone has heard of to hidden gems, classics and legends to obscure unknowns. Maybe, if you’re a reviewer, you suffer the same malady, and I wonder what you do to get around it?

In any case, we couldn’t exactly pass up the opportunity to review one of the most beloved games in history (next to what, chess and football?). We couldn’t miss the opportunity on its 20th anniversary, either. A massive bucket of gratitude must go to the Black Humor Mage (a founding member) for creating the germ of the content below and proposing to write a review for Final Fantasy VII on September 7th, 2017 at all.

Since we had to do this game justice, since we felt we couldn’t just do a regular review, here’s what’s about to happen. Let me present to you our first ever Dualcast Review!

Think the dual techs in Chrono Trigger. In a Dualcast, two mages combine their respective magicks to produce a piece that receives input from both writers in a kind of back and forth conversational format, emphasizing two different perspectives at once. I’ve wanted to do something like this for some time now and this anniversary of FFVII proved to be the perfect chance to create a Dualcast.

You see, in the arcane communique of our magely team, we claim in advance the games which we’d like to review. At this point in time, we’re not allowing anyone the chance to review a game we’ve already reviewed (excepting versions, editions, and remakes). Maybe someday, after we’ve built up a bigger selection of reviews we can do revisits.

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I themed this blog around Final Fantasy, one of my favorite franchises in gaming, and I’ve been chipping away at reviewing bits and pieces from that sprawling series since we began. So when the Black Humor Mage announced recently that he’d just completed Final Fantasy VII for the first time and he wanted to review it, I had a sudden paradox of emotions. On the one hand, hey that’s great that he’s reviewing the intimidating title and I won’t have too, but on the other hand, I wanted a chance to take a shot at the legend myself. We went back and forth on the issue until the proposition of a Dualcast Review appealed to both of us.

So, voila! The following review has been a monumental task, completed by two writers: myself who grew up with this game and has played through it multiple times, representing nostalgia, and the other who has played it for the first time from the vantage point of today, representing modernity. We’ll be able to provide two unique perspectives on this classic from two different angles, and I hope you enjoy our conversational review. Just follow the talking heads.

Without further ado… let’s celebrate Final Fantasy VII! SPOILERS… but really if you haven’t played this by now you’re doing yourself a disservice.

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rmage2 For many people, Final Fantasy VII represented their first time playing a Final Fantasy, with all of the engaging storytelling which that entails. Before 1987, the Final Fantasy franchise enjoyed a presence in gaming and in its first ten years it sold fairly well. Its greatest successes were safely in the Japanese market, however, and other territories like the US and Europe weren’t able to enjoy every title released in the series as they were launched. Cue the confusing hullaballoo of “misnamed” games: FFII vs FFIV, FFIII vs FFVIFinal Fantasy Adventure and Final Fantasy Legend. North America never even received the actual Final Fantasy II and III, not until they were remastered and repackaged for future systems years later!

Despite the disarray, Final Fantasy quickly built up a reputation for engaging role-play built on customizing job classes as well as interesting and occasionally even moving storytelling. The series became a marked influence for RPGs. Final Fantasy IV ushered in a new standard for emotional characters and drama, and Final Fantasy VI (my favorite) featured a world and cast that was bigger than ever. Then came Final Fantasy VII, the first main “sequel” game with a consistent numerical name across the globe. For many a gamer it was the first RPG they’d ever played. The game sold almost 2.5 million copies in just three days, the fastest selling Final Fantasy game worldwide in its time! Its platform, the PlayStation, the newcomer in the hardware scene, was eventually sold on the back of FFVII’s success.

FFVII was an RPG that appealed to so many people who thought of the genre as belonging to the dungeon-crawling D&D high fantasy scene with generic heroes in loincloths brandishing giant swords and dragons, not to complex sci-fi narratives with powerful themes and unique, three-dimensional characters. I think the game took a lot of people by surprise, especially those who hadn’t followed the series through the SNES. FFVII helped to popularize RPGs and JRPGs across the world in a way no previous game had. It single-handedly made its own genre more accessible to millions.

Final Fantasy VII was released first in Japan in January of 1997. FF3-NES-BlackMage
The Final Fantasy series had been around for some time, and this was its first venture into a three-dimensional space. Producer Hironobu Sakaguchi and Square planned and developed Final Fantasy VII in a span of two years beginning in 1994. Originally, Final Fantasy VII was going to be developed for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System right after Final Fantasy VI was released. However, the workforce was reallocated to complete Chrono Trigger.

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rmage2 Chrono Trigger turned into a massive development task fueled by Square’s “Dream Team”. The demanding project of passion ended up putting its own composer, Yasunori Mitsuda, into the hospital and the game used a lot of concepts originally intended for FFVII. Both Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger were highly successful projects put out by Square, but though they represented a slew of risks and experimentation taken on the part of the developers, Square knew it was time for something more. Final Fantasy VII represents a shift in the Final Fantasy franchise. It was a game of firsts and a step from two dimensions into three.

Once 1995 came around, Chrono Trigger was released and so Sakaguchi FF3-NES-BlackMage
and his team saw opportunity in using computer-generated 3D graphics, and tested the waters with a tech-demo of Final Fantasy VI characters in a 3D battle mode. This experiment’s success pushed them forward to develop Final Fantasy VII in 3D. They weren’t even concerned with whether or not it should be developed for the PlayStation or Nintendo 64 yet because they were too concerned with learning how to create a 3D video game.

rmage2 When the time came to actually put “plans to paper”, they found that sticking with Nintendo would be impossible. Nintendo was the company whose hardware brought Final Fantasy into the world but it was time for the series to leave that protective cradle and venture out into the unknown. Square announced on January 12, 1996 it would be developing Final Fantasy VII for Sony’s PlayStation console. No longer would Final Fantasy appear exclusively on the NES, the SNES, and the Game Boy (excepting the MSX).

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“As a result of using a lot of motion data + CG effects and in still images, it turned out to be a mega capacity game, and therefore we had to choose CD-ROM as our media. In other words, we became too aggressive, and got ourselves into trouble.”
-Hironobu Sakaguchi

This came as a shock to many people who had played the Final Fantasy games leading up to VII and expected that the sequel would appear on Nintendo’s new N64, but it happened out of necessity when it was discovered that the massive 3D Final Fantasy game being developed, with its complex environments and loads of new complex character models, full motion videos, and gigantic story clocked in at 1.32 gigs. This game saw the largest development team ever assembled for a video game up to that point in history (120 people including visual effects artists who worked on Jurassic Park and Terminator 2) and the game they created was equally huge, but it would occupy only a few discs on the PlayStation. In comparison, should FFVII have appeared on N64 cartridges, which could only hold 64 MBs of data each, the game would’ve spanned about 22 carts (without compression) and could’ve cost up to $1,760 dollars in retail! Nintendo stubbornly sticking with cartridges as the industry moved on to discs cost them one of the crown jewels of gaming history.

It was the beginning of the end for Nintendo’s popularity and they’ve slowly shifted away from center interest since then, but Final Fantasy VII marked the rise of influence and reputation of the Sony PlayStation as a platform that could feature robust RPGs like the SNES could and also games which would appeal to a maturing audience of gamers. Since then, Final Fantasy has almost entirely appeared in the PlayStation lineup, with only a few exceptions on Nintendo and Xbox devices, and PC.

final-fantasy-7-is-a-sony-playstation-exclusive-photo-u1The three-dimensional style of Final Fantasy VII was not the only feature FF3-NES-BlackMage
that helped make PlayStation successful. The narrative plays a huge part in why this game has such a huge following. When Sakaguchi was developing this project, he originally wanted it to take place in New York City with the main character being a detective who was investigating an eco-terrorist organization. One of the characters that was part of that organization was Cloud Strife, who soon became the protagonist of Final Fantasy VII.

The story began to take form, and eventually it became the premise as follows: The AVALANCHE organization, led by Barret Wallace, hires an ex-SOLDIER mercenary named Cloud Strife to help them bomb reactors in order to combat the Shinra Corporation. This huge corporation is using up Mako energy and draining the life of the Planet to power their technology, weapons, and the industrial city of Midgar. Midgar is a huge city where the lower half is a slum, and the upper half is only for the wealthy elite.

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One of the bombings goes wrong and Cloud meets a woman in the slums of Midgar with a mysterious past by the name of Aeris. A plot unravels as the Shinra Corporation looks for a “Promised Land” to drain more resources from the Planet, attempting to hunt down Aeris, and another antagonist, Sephiroth, has his own plan for the “Promised Land” too. It’s up to Cloud, Barrett, Tifa (Cloud’s childhood friend), Aeris and other comrades they meet along way to stop both entities from reaching the “Promised Land” and destroying the Planet.

At the beginning of the game, Final Fantasy VII feels less like a fantasy, and more like a Philip K. Dick novel. However, this game retains the elements of fantasy like the ability to use magic powers such as lightning, fire, and ice. This gets into the mechanics of the game; the way the player is able to use these magic powers is by equipping Materia, which are weapon/attire accessories. There is also the use of summons: elemental beings that the player can summon to strike a huge blow to the enemies. So, Final Fantasy VII blends fantasy and sci-fi elements to create a unique universe for its complex story.

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rmage2 The level of science-fantasy elements in Final Fantasy VII is I think one of the things which immediately set it apart as something new upon release. Midgar, that dirty metropolis with its slums and reactors and Shinra over it all, really dominates the impression you get from the game the first time you play it. When I first played FFVII back in ‘97, I thought Midgar was the whole game and that thought alone was entrancing!

I mean, you don’t start playing in front of a castle or in a forested glade. You start as eco-terrorists in a post-industrial dystopia not unlike the depths of Lang’s Metropolis or Scott’s Blade Runner. Midgar is every sweltering, grimey urban disaster from 80’s crime and sci-fi movies. Instead of dragons to fight and princesses to rescue, there are technological nightmares, questions of scientific ethics, genetic experiments, a private corporation wielding incredible social and political power, civil unrest, and extreme poverty. These take us closer to the real world and that’s just in the game’s first few hours. People really gravitated towards that in its time.

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It’s these science fiction elements that caught my attention. FF3-NES-BlackMage
I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game, but I always wanted to get into them. Final Fantasy VII was the first for a lot of people, like the Well-Red Mage mentioned earlier, and it was the first for me. I lean more heavily toward science fiction than fantasy, so that’s why I decided on this one.

The world of Final Fantasy VII is one that seems as though they took the same medieval world of the past games and set them a few centuries later. Although Midgar is a bustling cyber-punk city, much of the overworld the player traverses is green grass and mountainous regions surrounded by ocean. The player visits different cities and territories where they meet a cast of characters that the player can have in their party, in the usual JRPG fashion. The characters are distinct, having their own weapons and abilities. The characters also have their own back stories, troubles, and reasons for saving the world.

rmage2 The characters, designed by Tetsuya Nomura, really stay with you after playing the game, significantly if you played it before they became as iconic as they are now. As my colleague mentioned, they each have their moments to shine and bring out the nuances of their personalities, their weaknesses. We get to see plenty of scenes of their past and come to really understand their motivations through their back stories.

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“There wasn’t really much controversy or criticism about having [Cloud] as the hero from within Square, but he is definitely a mysterious character. That’s one of the game’s main themes, the fact that the protagonist has all these secrets to unravel. He isn’t a straightforward hero like Superman; rather, he has lots of mysteries, self-doubts, and a real dark side.”
-Director Yoshinori Kitase

Cloud Strife was a new kind of hero for the Final Fantasy franchise, a reluctant and occasionally indifferent one with an attitude. Compared to Cecil, Bartz, and Terra, Cloud is more confused about his role in the world and even his own identity. He seems to suffer more from his darkness and delusion rather than resist it for most of the game. He’s very much a modern character in that sense of being much more broken. Sometimes he comes off as a real jerk, arrogant, cocky, cold, very much a sphincter of a human being, though we come to realize he has a tortured and distorted past. Doesn’t exactly excuse his constant “not interested” motto, though. Cloud has a distinct personality, so he’s not a “window” character like a stand-in for the player in the world, so an emphasis was placed on developing empathy in the player for him over time.

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Cloud is the classic Fighter class and he was one of three characters Nomura first created for this game, alongside Aeris and Barret. From the beginning, Cloud was to be the hero and main character, contrary to the ensemble cast approach in the previous Final Fantasy VI. The details came later: Cloud is first introduced as an ex-member of SOLDIER, Shinra’s private military force, though he’s turned to mercenary work for money, not for the ideals of AVALANCHE.

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Cloud seems to be someone who was actively denying who he really was, for a variety of reasons, but we eventually discover that the unsociable bravado is a facade. The truth is Cloud was once an angry child without any real friends except for Tifa, who grew up as his literal girl-next-door. Cloud eventually left his hometown to join SOLDIER, idolizing the legendary warrior, Sephiroth. What Cloud “forgot” about his past is that he never became a member of SOLDIER… and his relation to Sephiroth and Mako energy is sinister. Trauma that Cloud experiences when he returns to his hometown alongside Sephiroth leads to him becoming a failed science experiment, delirious and vegetative, until he creates a new false persona for himself based off of Tifa’s memories and Zack’s identity, the man who helped save his life before the events of the game.

Cloud’s background is very complicated and the way in which it’s revealed through the game makes it both confusing and intriguing, but as the game progresses and Cloud begins to realize who he really is he sheds the cold exterior for a man who eventually proclaims that he cares for others. Cloud’s name probably refers to his moodiness throughout the game as clouds darken the sky, a trope many future Final Fantasy protagonists picked up on. Interestingly though, the etymology for the word “cloud” stems from the Old English word clud which meant “mass of earth or rock”, like a hill, from which we get our English word “clot”.

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Tifa Lockhart, Cloud’s childhood friend and everybody’s waifu, is a member of AVALANCHE and the proprietor of the 7th Heaven bar in the Midgar slums. She’s equally frustrated by and protective of Cloud. It seems that she suspects something has changed about Cloud’s personality at the start of the game, so she convinces Cloud to join AVALANCHE in order to keep an eye on him. She’s a faithful friend for the entire game and even helps Cloud to recover his broken mind and identity.

Though there are moments in the game and in the community surrounding it when a kind of love-triangle is pointed out between Cloud and Tifa and Aeris, I think it’s pretty obvious who Cloud’s sweetheart is, this old flame with a penchant for Monk class martial arts and bare fisted fighting. How could she not be his choice? I mean, there are plenty of scenes in the game that suggest they have feelings for each other, but on top of that she’s powerful, independent, idealistic, and attractive (even with those terrible polygon models they used on the field maps!). More importantly her good-nature, warm-heartedness and hopeful optimism, and trouble expressing herself, make her one of the more endearing characters in the game. She doesn’t give up on Cloud or the Planet!

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The concept for Tifa came into development when it was decided that a character would be killed. When Aeris became that character, Tifa was invented as a rival for Aeris for Cloud’s heart, really something different for Final Fantasy games that were much more straightforward before this point. Though she was an invention of necessity for the sake of the story and other characters, FFVII just wouldn’t be the same game without Tifa. Her influences in Cloud’s life helped him through his loneliness and confusion. Her influence on games also can’t be denied as she became a prototype for later heroines just as determined and just as powerful. Tifa’s name is suggested to have come from a variety of origins. It may be short for Tiffany, which stems from the Greek theophania, meaning “revealing of God”.

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Barret Wallace is the leader of the AVALANCHE eco-terrorist group over Cloud, Tifa, Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge. An abrasive powerhouse with the mouth of a sailor, Barret has a dark past, evident from the huge gun attached to his arm where his hand used to be. He believes in saving the Planet and stopping Shinra, and he does his best to raise his adopted daughter Marlene, but he begins the game by really butting heads with Cloud. Cloud’s a butthole so you can’t blame him, but Barret distrusts him and that distrust often leads to Barret lashing out. Eventually, however, Barret begins to demonstrate that he has a good heart.

Barret is retroactively classified as the Gunner class and he is the first black playable character in the Final Fantasy franchise. He’s also a character of paradoxes. He wants to make the world a better place but he eventually admits he’s not the best equipped leader for the job. He has that soft side toward Marlene and his honorable goal of saving the Planet but at the same time he can be remarkably angry and violent, short-tempered and full of rage. This is later explained when we discover that Shinra betrayed him and that betrayal cost him his village, his family, and his own arm, as well as his friend Dyne.

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Barret is the perfect character to represent the civil push back against Shinra, evident from his early inception in development. His backstory barely changed since the character was first invented. Vengeance and anger against Shinra, as well as leading revolution for the sake of the Planet, were tenements of the character from the beginning. Also, Barret in a lot of ways represents growing resentment against industrialization and the way in which technology can overcome humanity. Out of all the playable characters, Barret is part mechanical, and his life is defined by mercilessness balanced out by his buried but tender humanity. “Barrett” (with two T’s) has a Gaelic origin meaning “warlike people”.

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Aeris Gainsborough is first encountered by Cloud in Midgar and she appears to be just a plain, pretty flower girl. However, she is yet another mysterious person and there’s much more to Aeris than meets the eye. The humble girl represents the last survivor of an ancient race called the Cetra. The Cetra were a spiritual people attuned to the Planet and these ancients are of interest to Shinra, which comes to believe that Aeris is the key to finding the fabled Promised Land, flowing with Mako and honey.

Aeris is a character with very little darkness to her. She’s cheerful and upbeat, occasionally flirtatious with Cloud, though she has expressed feeling lonely growing up due to being the last of her kind. Compared with Tifa, Aeris doesn’t seem to have anything to hide or any difficulty in expressing what’s on her mind and heart. She dreams of one day flying on an airship.

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Most famously, though it’s not unprecedented in this franchise, Aeris departs from the party at a certain point in the game in order to stop Sephiroth alone and this leads to her tragic death at the hands of the villain. The permanency of her death and its unexpectedness was a massive element in this game’s storytelling and general impact. I remember feeling at the very least a lump in my throat at the emotional, gentle, regretful but hopeful moment.

It’s now the equivalent of a “No, I am your father!” Darth Vader moment in pop culture. Even people who haven’t played this game know that Aeris dies. However, her personhood lives on in the Lifestream and she continues to help Cloud and their friends. Her death plays a part in VII’s themes of life.

“We knew even in the early concept stage that one character would have to die. But we only had three to choose from. I mean, Cloud’s the main character, so you can’t really kill him. And Barret… well, that’s maybe too obvious. But we had to pick between Aerith and Barret. We debated this for a long time, but in the end decided to sacrifice Aerith… In the previous FF games, it became almost a signature theme for one character to sacrifice him or herself, and often it was a similar character type from game to game, kind of a brave, last-man-standing, Barret-type character. So everyone expected that. And I think that death should be something sudden and unexpected, and Aerith’s death seemed more natural and realistic. Now, when I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, the fact that fans were so offended by her sudden death probably means that we were successful with her character. If fans had simply accepted her death, that would have meant she wasn’t an effective character.”
-Tetsuya Nomura

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An obvious White Mage healer class character, though early plans for the game had her pegged as a Geomancer, Aeris’ name may derive from the Greek aerios, meaning “high in the air”, perhaps hinting at her death and spiritual consciousness, though the developers have noted the similarity between aerith and “Earth”, which evokes her connection to nature. In Hebrew, there’s a girls’ name Erit which means “flower”.

In case you’re wondering, the different names Aerith and Aeris stemmed from translation issues. The original English translation was Aeris but her name has been retconned since Kingdom Hearts as Aerith. I however prefer Aeris over Aerith so I don’t sound like Mike Tyson.

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Red XIII is first discovered by the party abused as a science experiment in the Shinra building, and they set him free so he can join in their fight. Red XIII resembles both a dog and a cat, the member of an unnamed species. He’s no animal, though, and there’s a marked intelligence and regality to Red XIII. He comes from Cosmo Canyon, a place with vague Native American connections, and is a disciple of someone who knows much about the state of the Planet. Red’s true name is Nanaki, while “RED XIII” was merely his specimen designation.

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As one of the game’s few non-human playable characters, Red XIII is unique. He was the fourth character created by Nomura and his name came from a desire to come up with something different. While “Red XIII” didn’t sound like a name, Nanaki was chosen by the developers because it sounded vaguely Native American. Implementing a four-legged character into the game was difficult but I felt it payed off to create a more diverse cast of characters. Also, his unique connection to the Planet and its past helps to flesh out the world even more, as well as provide an interesting, much more fantasy-esque foil for the industrialism throughout the game.

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Cid Highwind joins the party later in the game. He’s an airship pilot and one-time astronaut candidate. He dreamed of going to space and was part of a rocket program, but the countdown of his maiden voyage to the stars had to be cancelled at the very last moment when it was discovered that his assistant Shera was still in the bottom of the rocket, ensuring safety for the launch. Cid blamed Shera for what happened and takes every chance he can to verbally abuse her. It isn’t until much later that he’s able to forgive her when it’s discovered that her safety concerns were very much valid.

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Cid has a worse mouth than Barret and is constantly swearing, his fuse seeming to be pretty $@!%&? short. He spits out more grawlixes than anyone else in the game. I was actually pretty surprised by how much swearing there was in FFVII the first time I played it. I was used to reading character dialogue aloud with my own voices, so that presented an immediate problem for twelve-year-old me.

“Cid” is a recurring name in the Final Fantasy franchise for some reason. His last name “Highwind” is also the name of the airship he designed and a name which harkens back to Dragoon class characters like Ricard Highwind and Kain Highwind, which explains his Final Fantasy Dragoon class use of spears and emphasis on flight. The Cids in FF games are typically older, so he at least fits into that category.

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Yuffie Kisaragi is one of two optional characters in the game. She’s gained through a sidequest thread and isn’t necessary for completing the story. Combining the typical Final Fantasy Thief and Ninja classes, Yuffie is a rebellious tomboy who claims to be a great ninja and a Materia hunter, though that just means she steals other people’s Materia. Her actual aspirations are more noble, though she’s perhaps a little naive in accomplishing them: she wishes to restore the glory of her homeland, Wutai, through the powers of Materia. A sidequest will take you there to fill out her backstory.

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Yuffie is the youngest member of the party and it’s hard to ever take her seriously. She’s bubbly but often rash and impulsive, picking fights easily, and generally she takes stands against any and all forms of tradition. Her surname stems from the Japanese word for “February” and Yuffie apparently comes from an actual Japanese name: Yufi.

The great ninja ended up as an optional character due to being cut from the game for the sake of a lack of time. The other character who ended up with such a fate is Vincent…

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You thought Cloud was mysterious. Vincent Valentine is a former member of the Turks with a dark and convoluted background involved with Sephiroth’s origins. Brooding and considered cold by the other party members, Vincent is tortured by his past and speaks of his “sins” he cannot atone for. He’s the polar opposite of Yuffie: slow to speak, secretive, wise in weariness, and essentially a lot like Cloud if the spikey-haired hero had been consumed by his past years down the road without recovery. In that sense, Vincent’s personality is like a cautionary sign for Cloud.

In his past, Vincent was a Turk for Shinra and he fell in love with a researcher by the name of Lucrecia but she became involved with Professor Hojo instead, a warped scientist who impregnated Lucrecia and planned to use the unborn child for experimentation in the Jenova Project. This child became Sephiroth. When Vincent found out what Hojo had done, he confronted the scientist but was injured. Hojo then performed further experiments on Vincent’s body, trapping him in a vampiric state between life and death. Believing that he failed to protect Lucrecia, Vincent slept as an immortal in the Shinra Mansion basement, reliving his nightmares again and again.

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Vincent occupies the category of the silent warrior with a mysterious past, similar to characters like Auron. His name and surname means “victorious” and “hale”, though he’s coincidentally neither of those things. He also has an entire game in which he’s the main character: Dirge of Cerberus, a third person shooter. Vincent is a fan favorite for his cool exterior and dark history.

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The last playable character to talk about seems to be everyone’s least favorite: Cait Sith. No, he doesn’t fight the Jedi. He’s an animatronic cat riding on a giant toy shaped like a fat moogle which he magically brought to life. Oh and his weapon is a megaphone. Oh and he’s a fortune teller. Oh and for some reason he has this Scottish accent in future spin-offs. Oh and he’s being operated remotely by a member of Shinra’s management, a man named Reeves, whose original motivation was to sabotage Cloud’s quest, though he eventually decides to help the team to save the Planet and stop Sephiroth.

Cait Sith is actually my favorite character in the game! I was surprised (not really) by Black Humor when he mentioned he never used the character in his party. I guess he’s too dopey but at the time I really loved that he was a robot and a non-human character. I also found his personality and motivations interesting but he’s representative of the wackier side of FFVII. I always interpreted Cait Sith as a kind of split personality from Reeves, who is controlling him. Empathetic Reeves is reserved and proper but Cait Sith can be boisterous, cowardly, and assertive. Cait Sith begins following Cloud, forcing himself into the party at Gold Saucer under the pretense that he wanted to see what the fortune he told Cloud meant.

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Nobody seems to remember that Cait Sith dies in this game too… yeah, remember that? I cried so hard I didn’t stop for hours and I couldn’t leave my room for weeks afterwards. The feelz. Cait Sith broke me… that is until his replacement, another robot, arrives to take his place.

“Cait Sith” is actually a recurring name in the Final Fantasy series. There are other instances in other games where “Cait Sith” is an enemy monster that can be fought. His name means “faerie cat” in Celtic myth, a ghost that haunts Scotland. Bizarre but that explains the accent in Advent Children, if not the dice and slots.

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As you can tell, Final Fantasy VII is a huge game FF3-NES-BlackMage
with an impeccable cast of characters. There’s a lot of story and side quests to keep you busy. It’s an essential game with a legendary status, and I had the privilege of playing it twenty years later. I’m only two years older than this game, so I have no nostalgic connection to it. I’ve only had the words and praises from other players, and because of its legendary status, it’s a game I’ve always wanted to play. I wish I hadn’t waited so long, but I’m glad I was able to play it at all. I am especially glad I was able to play it on the PlayStation 3. This version and its soundtrack are identical to the one on the first PlayStation, and the controllers are essentially the same too.

This game is must-play for anyone who wants to play landmark games. Yet, it’s still an amazing game in general. If you like games with good stories, then consider Final Fantasy VII: one of the greatest video games stories ever told. I’ve played other JRPG’s before, but I’ve never been gripped by one as much this.

rmage2 Right, there’s just such a unique impact to this game. Language like “it’s still amazing” is revelatory I think of the assumption that video games as a form of art and consumable media have a shelf life which determines their quality, or worse, subtly undermines their historical value (though I don’t presume my Black colleague believes this). We don’t necessarily extend that to other art forms, paintings, poetry, plays, and cinema, do we? When video games “age well” it’s indicative not merely of their graphics holding up but of their importance as vehicles through which resonating stories can be told. That’s a huge explanation for why FFVII has so much lasting appeal. It’s also proof positive that the resonance in video games can stand the test of time, 20 years of time. They can remain powerful, moving, sorrowful, cheering, and frightening even after all those years.

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It seems as if gaming history is broken down into multiple eras defined by milestone games. It’s engaged gamers of all ages for two decades now. I remember when it hit the US shores, it exploded. It was the first game I became aware of that had developed an entire lore out of the rumormills. Glitches, secrets, hidden abilities and Materia and story threads abounded when this game was released.

The internet was just starting to spread into people’s homes and with it all sorts of bits of misinformation. On top of that, there was still all the schoolyard talk. I recall that people said you could breed a White Chocobo that could swim underwater and fight the Emerald Weapon. Others said there were stronger summons in the game than Knights of the Round but you had to play the game without using Materia to find them in the actual, geographical Promised Land. Another one said you could obtain the Holy Materia and use it to revive Aeris.

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Of course the biggest rumors involved reviving Aeris. As proof, people always pointed to the fact that she has a final Limit Break built into the game. Just check out this extremely outdated Angelfire website (I had one!) with its hilarious Aerith resurrection step-by-step processes hahahaha!

www.angelfire.com/ri2/burnittall/aerisres.html
(click at your own risk)

None of that amounted to actual fact but it was all indicative of the power that Final Fantasy VII had to capture the imagination. VII is a milestone which must be played. It influenced so many games to come in its wake. Gaming hasn’t been the same since.

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The 8-bit Review
visual Visuals: 9/10 7/10

I know that in context of the PlayStation 1 era, FF3-NES-BlackMage
there are parts of the game that looked spectacular. However, for me, it still doesn’t look all that great compared to other games on the system. Even Barbie on PSOne looks better than most of this game, and I don’t even know what Barbie on PSOne looks like!

The main issue I had with this game’s visuals is the chibi style that is used through most of the game. The overworld map, navigating through the cities, and the dialogue driven scenes use these models, and it was very distracting. I realize that these models are 3D interpretations of the 2D sprites from SNES JRPG’s, but that makes me feel like they couldn’t realize the full potential of the technology. Yet, I don’t want to criticize them too harshly for it, since this was their first go. I look at Final Fantasy VIII, which is one of the better looking games on the PSOne, and realize that each game was a learning process.

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The character models in Final Fantasy VII are blocky little polygons with circles for hands and trapezoids for arms. The pre-rendered backgrounds they are contrasted against are detailed and colorful, so the sprites don’t look believable in the world. The saving grace of the visuals are the models used in the battles, the cinematic cutscenes, and the unique design. The models used in the battles are amazing. They look on par with games like Metal Gear Solid. The models look more realistic, and have more life to them. The weapons change appearance according to the ones you equip too. It was a nice attention to detail that immersed me more. Some RPGs don’t do that all the time.

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Then there’s the full motion 3D cutscenes. These looked amazing for the time, and there wasn’t anything like them. The cinematic scenes felt like a Hollywood movie. There are scenes like the motorcycle chase, the escape on the Highwind, and the ending scene that showcase climactic action, thrill, and adventure. There are only a few of these scenes, but the data size to hold all of them must have been huge, considering the game is separated into three discs.

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rmage2 So I’ll definitely meet you there with the Full Motion Videos. These highly cinematic cutscenes were something that just wasn’t possible with the hardware of the previous generation of home consoles, and they were instantly impressive, especially in the way that they fully fleshed out the characters in their environments as anatomically correct characters. Well, except for the gratuitousness of Tifa… The FMVs were a real reward for completing the game as they were still pretty rare throughout the story. One of the best moments in the game, the motorcycle escape sequence, is fully rendered as an FMV and it’s wonderful.

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People who know my take on this know that I’ve long held that late 16-bit has aged far better than early 3D. There’s really no comparison between the fine detail that the Sega Genesis and especially the technically superior Super Nintendo accomplished during their generation and the muddy-textured, drab, polygonal, edgy worlds of early 3D games. With Final Fantasy VII, though, I feel that several facets of the visuals make it the exception to the downright ugliness of prototypical 3D games on home consoles.

First, there are the FMVs we’ve mentioned. On top of that, the character models in battle are amazing and a lot of the monsters and enemies are interesting and fearsome to behold (who can forget Jenova… or that house you fight in Midgar?)! The battle sequences show off really ambidextrous design in the characters and the way they attack, their interchangeable weapons and their Limit Breaks.

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Then there’s the pre-rendered backgrounds, essentially 2D digital paintings that the polygonal characters move over in three dimensions. The emphasis on making these as varied and as detailed as possible even threatened to slow down development of the game with how much effort went into them. That effort payed off, though. Each area looks different and dramatic. Some of them are truly nightmarish to try to navigate from peculiar, fixed camera angles but on the whole they were breathtaking in ‘97, especially if you came off the SNES like I did. Tiled pixelated backgrounds couldn’t hold a candle to the ornate structures built into the backgrounds of this game. The game’s emphasis on technology and industry more so than its predecessors allowed for richer and more interesting backdrops, as well.

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Finally, there are the field map character models. Yeah, these are pretty dang bad. I get that they were perhaps trying to segue neatly from the sprite styles in previous Final Fantasy games, and these were indeed fairly expressive for what they were, but there are times when the movements of stump-limbs and misshapen bodies becomes laughable. The block models have probably aged the worst out of any visual element in the game. There’s a kind of charm to them, subtly, and they’ll always be what I think of when I read about these characters but I can’t get behind any objective quality for them.

There is some charm to them, I have to admit. FF3-NES-BlackMage
However, nothing about them screams “graphical fidelity”. Tifa, Barret and Cloud look adorable when they are panicking though.

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 Audio: 10/10 10/10

rmage2 Nobuo Uematsu’s work put the Final Fantasy series on the map for people taking video game music seriously. That’s one of the legendary composer’s passions. It comes across in a game as diverse, as simultaneously serious and wacky as Final Fantasy VII. This soundtrack is monolithic. You can hear Uematsu’s fondness for Celtic influences but VII’s isn’t a soundtrack that’s limited to specific styles of music. It has rock riffs, carnival tunes, industrial sounds, militarism, mystery, melodrama, gentleness, grandness, and goosebumps. It stretches leitmotifs across so many different flavors of music, incredibly. I still get tingles up my spine when I hear certain tracks. Even with all Uematsu has accomplished, VII may be his finest work (besides for “Dancing Mad”).

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Its impact on my life is undeniable. It is the first video game OST I ever bought. It inspired me to take up the piano. I remember blasting the CD at max volume off a big old stereo I had on my desk while I did my homework, headphones in, and I hummed so loud to the themes that my family was laughing in the next room. So many of these songs held me in awe. I remember (before buying the CD) just turning the game on and letting that prelude play over and over again. Beautiful and quite possibly the most iconic RPG soundtrack in history.

My personal favorite video game soundtrack of all time is from Chrono Trigger. FF3-NES-BlackMage
The soundtrack of Final Fantasy VII was similar to it in its diversity and grand scale, but it was much more industrial, and included more bass and high-pitched synths. I love this unforgettable soundtrack; every track fit the setting and occasion perfectly.

rmage2 I have to agree with Chrono Trigger, but these are five of my favorite tracks from this game, in no particular order. No way I could include all of my favorites! It’d be easier just to name the songs I didn’t like!

“Main theme”. I love this song. So much emotional versatility.

“The Shinra Corporation” is the equivalent of “The Imperial March” from Star Wars. It’s dreadful, mechanical sound with the choral crying is something that made my skin crawl. Captivating.

“Everybody’s Waifu theme” for Tifa was a nurturing, gentle, loving track amid so much darkness.

“Crazy Motorcycle Chase” is unbelievably pumping. When I was a kid my mom was a physical therapist and fitness instructor. I once convinced her to use this song in a class she did. Coolest mom ever.

“Valley of the Fallen Star” plays in Cosmo Canyon and its melody is both haunting and triumphant, and also unforgettable.

Alas, time fails for naming “Aeris’ theme” (barely squeezed out of my list), “Anxious Heart”, “Costa Del Sol”, “Those Chosen by the Planet”, “Cid’s theme”, “Turks theme”, “Cait Sith’s theme”, “Don of the Slums”, “J-E-N-O-V-A”, “One Winged Angel”, and many more! Oh and “It’s Difficult to Stand on Both Feet” hehehe!

I am in the same school of thought, my top five are in no particular order too, FF3-NES-BlackMage
and it was so hard to narrow it down. Yet, the ones I chose are the ones I felt impacted me the most, and took my breath away.

“J-E-N-O-V-A” is one of the faster-paced songs. I love the start where the high-pitched synths sound like the sky is falling and the drum kicks are pounding. It mixes a sense adrenaline while feeling ethereal at the same time.

“Prelude” is reminiscent of the “Great Fairy Fountain” from Ocarina of Time. It’s tame and delicate mood gives me the feeling that I’m in a sacred place. The bright synth seems like it could go on endlessly. This song is the bookends of Final Fantasy VII; it plays when you start up the game and shows the credits, and after you watch the final cutscene. Once the game is over this song loops endlessly as the screen displays stars that fall like raindrops. I did not know that you had to turn off the game though, so I waited a few minutes for it to return to the main menu. Then I realized “Oh, this a PlayStation 1 game, it probably doesn’t go back.” It was a nice moment, though.

“Birth of a God” plays in one section of the last boss fight. It’s an intense song with deep piano keys and industrial sounds. It gripped me to the fight in every moment.

This song really stood out to me. It plays in some really key moments. It it the eeriest song in the entire game, and it makes me anxious just listening to it.

I’m not sure why I enjoy this song so much. It’s my favorite one out of all the dungeon-crawling songs because of the bass and harpsichord-like keys that sprinkle the song.

Some honorable mentions: “Anxious Heart,” “Fighting,” “Crazy Motorcycle Chase,” “Infiltrating Shinra Tower,” “Aerith’s Theme,” “Parochial Town,” and “World Crisis.”

 Gameplay: 9/10 8/10

rmage2 Poor directional control was a symptom of early 3D games with polygonal models here moving in three-dimensions on flat digital paintings. In some occasions it was actually mindboggling to figure out how to maneuver Cloud a certain way on the field map. You either wanted to zoom in or zoom out, or find a different angle.

Poor directional control? Tell me about it. FF3-NES-BlackMage
When I booted up the game and set the analog controls, nothing was moving. At that point I thought to myself “Oh no, I’m going to have to use the d-pad, aren’t I?” I had to really trudge through the game. There’s a lot of walking in this game too, and my left thumb felt like it was about to form a blister. Angled turns can feel like a chore at times, especially when dungeon crawling.

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Another frustrating aspect was the battling. Usually, battles are simple if you have one enemy, but if you have multiple, then it becomes a challenge to target the right enemy when the camera is moving. The camera during the battles are dynamic and cover different angles. So, when you are attacking and you can’t target the right enemy in time before an enemy attacks, it can be frustrating. It’s true when you’re trying to heal or revive a party member too. At one point, I couldn’t revive one of my members because the camera angle wouldn’t allow me to target them. The enemy then proceeded to kill my entire party.

rmage2 Should’ve used Wait instead of Active for the ATB system, eh?

… It was more exciting that way. FF3-NES-BlackMage

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There are times when moving around feels primitive. It feels like they overlooked the movement because they were new to the 3D space. I’m not even sure if the analog PSOne controllers were released it, but if they were, then Square should have utilized them.

Those are my main gripes with the gameplay. However, what Square excelled at was creating RPG’s where the attacks, powers and abilities were so diverse and cool that it creates a paradox of choice! What your party members can do are customizable to your desires. The game is different every time depending how you choose to play it. It’s this freedom that made the battles exciting and experimental.

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Seeing which Materia went well together, which attacks enemies were weak to or which attacks were essential for almost every battle created a living ecosystem for the gameplay. The best part of the gameplay is that there was hardly any grinding either, so progressing and battling stayed fresh and didn’t feel like a chore.

rmage2 Yes, progression is well-balanced in FFVII and sets it apart from the drudgery of early proto-RPGs. I’ve been trying to get into the first Final Fantasy and it just seems like nothing but endless grinding! Things have come a long way since the Light Warriors.

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In later FF’s we’ve seen games which feel too linear and constricted, X and XIII, and other which are too open-ended, like XII and XV, but VII opens like a flower, starting in Midgar, then opening up to a portion of the world, then achieving greater modes of transport before everything is opened up. Along the way there are always NPCs to talk to, offshoots to explore, sidequests, and extra world building if you want it. I’ve played some modern RPGs where you can’t even interact with NPCs and I think that’s a mistake!

VII’s world feels alive. This structure of progression allows the player both the luxury of a focused narrative launching pad and the capability to sate curiosity through exploration. Balance is a great reason why VII is often touted as one of the best Final Fantasy games.

Another gameplay aspect to consider is the mini games. FF3-NES-BlackMage
There’s a motorcycle chase, train-hopping, snowboarding, marching in line, etc. On their own, these games would not be very good, but in the context of a long game like Final Fantasy VII, it’s welcomed variety. It does stop the game in its tracks every time, though. Before these mini games can start, the controls have to be explained and then the player has to memorize them.

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rmage2 I think of the parade mini-game in Junon as the perfect example of what you’re talking about. It seemed weird to have to learn all these controls for a short mini-game but in retrospect I think it made an event out of visiting Junon then. Instead of just running through the city, maybe with a few conversations or a battle, you would remember the moment you were forced into a parade for Rufus. The mini-games are generally pretty amusing so they also break up the bleakness of the story nicely, when needed, though he’s right: they do stop the narrative from immediately progressing in the sense of us learning something new about the plot. They flesh out the world itself and frame what’s going on, instead.

Final Fantasy is a series that has been built on character customization from the beginning, so it’s a keen observation that Black Humor pointed out the benefits of including this design philosophy. In an RPG, there aren’t too many reasons to come back and play the game again after beating it, but with a Final Fantasy you have the option of playing through the game with a different set up of character classes, abilities, spells and so on. In Final Fantasy VII, that means Materia.

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Materia is formed as crystallizations of the Lifestream, so it has a story-explanation which I thought was unique, rather than everyone just being able to inexplicably use magic. When you acquire pieces of Materia, like items, you can attach them to your weapons or gear in order to use specific magical attacks or supporting abilities. Materia can be used in combinations to make for more powerful effects and there are many different kinds of Materia to find (one of the best parts of exploring this game’s world).

Because you can equip Materia on any character, essentially you can grow the character into the kind of class that you want so the “job system” equivalent in VII is very fluid. Further, you gain not only EXP but also AP from victories in battle. AP levels up Materia currently equipped to your party members, improving abilities gained through the Materia. On top of that, Materia affects the stats of the characters it’s equipped to. So for example one piece of Materia may lower HP but boost MP in its place, though this isn’t a big enough factor to mitigate experimenting with any character in any “role” in combat with whatever Materia you’d like to use: Magic, Summon, Command, Independent, or Support Materia. It’s really a very cool system and it’s fascinating to see how Square played around with the traditional skill trees and magic trees in their RPGs over the years.

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story Narrative: 10/10 10/10
SPOILERS! Ctrl+f Challenge if you want to skip ’em.

The beginning of the narrative is Hollywood-esque in scope. FF3-NES-BlackMage
The way it is presented at the beginning feels like an 80’s action movie. The thrilling action of a group of terrorists sneaking through reactors and taking out soldiers isn’t stopped. It felt like I was playing an action game with the surprisingly quick pace it was moving at.

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See, the creators even wanted to give you the feeling that the game was cinematic in the game over screen!

The characters you first meet are Barret Wallace, Cloud Strife, Biggs, Wedge and Jessie. Besides Cloud, these characters are part of the eco-terrorist organization AVALANCHE. AVALANCHE’s goal is to save the planet from greedy corporations that are draining its Mako resources. Already, this theme of industrial and technological expansion destroying nature feels familiar. If you watch or read a lot of Japanese material, this seems to be a common theme. This especially true if you watch Studio Ghibli movies. There is a lot of truth behind this theme, and the more the years go by, the earth only suffers by careless and greedy corporations.

rmage2 I agree and think the subject of ecology is a very important one. I also think the ending of the game (not to jump too far ahead) is intentionally vague in this respect, since one possible answer to the problem of the human effect on nature is eliminating the human problem. Does that actually happen at the end of the game? Will it take the annihilation of the human species or of human civilization in order to restore “the balance”? Do we have to go back to hunter-gatherers and is it too late to make a difference now? I think that the heroes of VII, while labeled terrorists, are individuals striving to make a difference. I think that’s the important thing. Not the terrorism part, though.

The only way AVALANCHE sees a way out of it is FF3-NES-BlackMage
by hitting the Shinra corporation hard. They hire Cloud to help them blow up Mako reactors belonging to Shinra. Cloud is a mercenary, and ex-SOLDIER. SOLDIER is the private army of Shinra, so Cloud has a history with the corporation he is helping attack. Yet, Cloud seems very apathetic to everything going on around him. This concerns Tifa Lockhart, his friend who tries to bring the best out of Cloud. She also is assisting AVALANCHE from her bar. It is a haven for the organization where Cloud and Barret return after the first successful reactor bombing.

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The second reactor bombing goes wrong and Cloud falls from a high place and into a church where a small garden of flowers grows from the stone ground. This is where Cloud meets Aeris Gainsborough, a woman who sells flowers. She is soft-spoken and angelic, contrasting the slums of Midgar where she resides. The imagery is strong here, as she is like the flowers that grew from the stone. Cloud and Aeris gravitate to each other, and it’s like they’ve known each other for a long time (maybe they have?) However, Cloud and Aeris are interrupted by one of the Turks and SOLDIER, both part of Shinra’s armed forces.

The Turks are a secret agency that work for Shinra. The group is comprised of Tseng, Elena, Rude, and Reno. When Cloud and Aeris meet, Reno is the Turk leading the SOLDIER squad. He’s a sly, cocky guy and I don’t see much motivation in him other than to prove himself. Fanfic writers like him a lot too for some reason…

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Cloud and Aeris escape, and Cloud gets to see where she lives with her adoptive mother. You learn a little more about Aeris, and she and Cloud get to have a few moments together. They are sitting atop a dome in the middle of a playground when they spot Tifa. They follow her to Don Corneo’s mansion. Corneo is a sleaze-bag that only allows women into his mansion where he picks one to be his wife of the week and he can do whatever he wants to them. Gross. Anyways, Cloud’s only option to get inside? Disguise himself as woman. You go into a shop to get a dress made to fit Cloud, and the option to go into the Honeybee Inn for a more convincing get-up. Unfortunately, I totally forgot to go back to that area, so I never got to see the Inn.

This part of the game is iconic. It represents the first time the player witnesses the quirk that is so contrasted against the dreary tone. It’s humorous, and the Final Fantasy VII Remake team promised to include it. So, I can’t wait to see Cloud dressed as a woman in HD. Along with those houses they fight around the same area!

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As it turns out, Tifa was trying to get information from Don Corneo about Shinra. They don’t get much, and suddenly Cloud, Aeris, and Tifa are dropped into a sewer via a trap door. They make their way out where Barret and the AVALANCHE crew are fighting Shinra forces atop a pillar in Sector 7 of Midgar. Wedge falls and gets seriously injured. Jessie is breathing her last breaths on the stairs of the pillar Cloud has to climb, and you get a final moment with her. Cloud and Tifa reach the top where you assist Barrett in fighting the Turks.

Barrett, Cloud, and Tifa defeat Reno in a boss battle, but he escapes on a helicopter with his leader, Tseng. Tseng reveals that they have kidnapped Aeris and have rigged the tower they are standing on to explode and drop the plate above the slums of Sector 7. Cloud, Barret, and Tifa escape, but Sector 7 is crushed and kills millions of people with it. It is one of the darkest moments of the game, and I truly felt awful about what happened.

The scene during this event that struck me the most was when the camera angle was inside a house of Sector 7 and focused on a television with a news anchor. You can see the city being destroyed in the background through a window and the news anchor flinching as static engulfs the television screen. It was a visceral way to present the scene and it absolutely shocked me. It was utterly vile, and went to prove how evil Shinra was.

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I remember denying that the AVALANCHE members Biggs, Jessie, and Wedge truly died, and that they would come back once the main characters got away, but they never did. And this was the first time I realized what kind of weight this game could throw on you. This is where you see Barret at one of his lowest moments, too. Shinra only collapsed that plate to try and get rid of AVALANCHE, so Barrett obviously blamed himself for millions of deaths. That kind of guilt is unfathomable.

Cloud and Tifa are able to bring Barret back from the brink. All three of them, more determined than ever, sneak through the Shinra headquarters to save Aeris. This is when they meet, Hojo, a mad scientist and his experiment: Red XIII. Red XIII is some sort of wolf-lion with fire on the tip of his tail. He is a long-living creature that has an ancient connection to the Planet. He attacks Hojo, and joins Cloud and the gang

Unfortunately, they are all caught and imprisoned. Biding their time in the cells, something sinister suddenly releases them. The group walks out into the hallway to the sight of dead SOLDIER guards all bloodied and gored. This is where the game starts to shift its dreary tone to something that feels more evil and menacing. This is where the player meets Sephiroth.

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rmage2 Sephiroth is the game’s main antagonist, a former SOLDIER extraordinaire who became a legend in combat, raised by Shinra. He unfortunately went insane (for lack of better terminology) and became obsessed with Jenova, an alien that came to the Planet in ancient times and was directly opposed to the Planet, believing the remains of the creature to be his mother. When he found out that he had been experimented on as an unborn child, infused with Jenova’s cells, he went off the rails and burned down Nibelheim, Cloud’s childhood home, where Sephiroth had discovered his true origins. The game is spent trying to hunt him down, but it’s like hunting ghosts.

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He can extend his will into people injected with Jenova cells, which unfortunately includes Cloud. His goal in the game is to use the Black Materia to summon catastrophic Meteor to take vengeance against them for the Cetra (who he believes he’s descended from) and merge with the Lifestream that will heal the Planet’s wound from Meteor to become a god.

His name is appropriate: in Hebrew Sephirot is a medieval word that refers to the “manifestations of God”. His single wing is a reference to the non-canonical pseudepigrapha Testament of Solomon in which a demon bears a single wing, the mutilation a visual symbol of his fall from heaven, similar to Sephiroth’s fall from fame into god-complex level madness (you need a whole encyclopedia for this stuff). What a terrifying villain and no wonder he’s one of gaming’s most enduring.

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Back to you, Black Humor.

Back in the story, Cloud and the gang find Shinra’s president FF3-NES-BlackMage
murdered by a sword through his torso. It is presumably Sephiroth’s sword. Cloud then meets the president’s son, Rufus. Rufus is a secondary antagonist, with companions like the hot-headed fat man, Heidegger, and the sadistic woman, Scarlet. They are classically evil antagonists that seek the “Promised Land” that is filled with Lifestream.

Lifestream is kind of unexplained, but I’ve read that it is powerful energy made of souls. From this place, Shinra wants to drain more resources from the Planet for their own gain. Sephiroth wants the Lifestream too, but he wants to use it to wound the Planet and become a god when the Lifestream attempts to heal itself, like Red Mage explained earlier.

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Once Cloud and the gang defeat Rufus and escape from Midgar, the world opens up. You find your way all over continents of the Planet of Gaia. Gaia, is the Planet Final Fantasy VII takes place on, if we haven’t mentioned it before. Gaia is dynamic, and every city or territory is different from each other. Places like Cosmo Canyon, Bone Village, Costa Del Sol, Gold Saucer, Junon, Mount Nibel, and Wutai continue to add depth and color to the world.

Cloud and the gang meet people at these places. Some stick around: Cait Sith, Cid Highwind, Vincent Valentine, and Yuffie Kisaragi, who were expanded upon by Well Red Mage in the first half of this review. The characters are fantastic (except Cait Sith), and I wish I could have kept all of them in my party equally (except Cait Sith.)

rmage2 Cait Sith is Shakespearean! If you want only whitebread human characters, play VIII.

The other NPC’s you meet reveal the state Gaia is in. You meet weary people, FF3-NES-BlackMage
tired workers, dirty crooks and murderers, simple village folk with some hope, and sometimes people without a care in the world like on the beach of Costa Del Sol. This game does a fantastic job of letting the player meet the world they are trying to save. There’s more motivation this way when you see the hope in people. Then there’s the hope of Aeris.

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At one point, after Sephiroth’s plot to crash a meteor into the Planet is revealed, Aeris is revealed to be a descendant of ancient Cetra who are a tribe of humans connected to the Planet. She prays to the Planet for help, but Sephiroth attempts to stop her by having Cloud murder her. He can control Cloud, but Cloud resists, leaving Sephiroth to infamously kill Aeris. This is one of those “I am your father” moments in gaming. I had already known for years that Sephiroth murders Aeris because gamers can’t keep their mouth shut. Yet, I was surprised at how early it happens in the game. It happens right at the end of the first disc, and there are three discs. This was another moment that struck me, and made me understand why Aeris was so vital to saving the world. Her prayers connected her to the Lifestream, and you see it happen later on.

There’s also motivation in Cloud’s story. He starts off very apathetic, but grows more and more to compassionate. He realizes his duty of stopping Sephiroth since they worked together. Or did they? Part of the game starts to focus on Cloud’s past. He remembers being a part of first class SOLDIER five years ago and returning to his hometown with Sephiroth. He reunites with Tifa after a few years gone. However, this is where Sephiroth finds his mother, the ancient alien Jenova, and it drives him so mad that he proceeds to murder everyone in the town and burns it down. That image of Sephiroth in the flames is a hellish nightmare that haunts Cloud.

Cloud rembers stabbing Sephiroth with his buster sword and throwing him down a pit, then saving Tifa. However in the present day, Sephiroth reveals that none of these memories are true, and that there was a first class SOLDIER by the name of Zack who Cloud began to subconsciously impersonate. Zack and Aeris were a couple too, so this explained why Cloud and Aeris had gravitated toward each other. Sephiroth even reveals that Cloud might be his clone, created by the mad scientist Hojo.

It becomes a mystery as to what Cloud’s true past is, and Tifa and Cloud become so distraught at the idea that they weren’t childhood friends and that Cloud didn’t return to their hometown to save her from Sephiroth. I even became anxious at this idea too, and thought that every moment Cloud and Tifa shared during the game was meaningless if it wasn’t preceded by a past friendship. This was the moment I realized I actually cared about the characters deeply.

Final Fantasy VII Screenshot 33 diamond weapon boss fmv.jpg

After some time, Cloud and the gang find Sephiroth after searching for him for so long. He is resting in the promised land, and summons the meteor. Cloud throw himself into the Lifestream to attempt to stop it. Weapons, the Godzilla-like earth creatures, are summoned by the Planet to protect it. One of the creatures attacks Junon, attacking Shrina headquarters and killing Rufus Shinra.

rmage2 Presumably!!

After throwing himself into the Lifestream, FF3-NES-BlackMage
Cloud becomes heavily irradiated and goes into a catatonic state. Tifa decides to care for him, not caring whether or not their past was real. It was a tender moment revealing Tifa’s nurturing nature. It made me realize why people live Tifa Lockhart so much. She is just a genuinely good person.

With Cloud indisposed, it leads to moments like having Cid lead the party after he is elected. It funny to see him so proudly take on this role. He and Barret take care of more business. Eventually though, Cloud true memories come flooding back after one of the Weapons destroys the island and he and Tifa fall into the Lifestream. It is true that he and Tifa were childhood friends. In fact, he promised to become SOLDIER and come back. He did come back on the fateful day Sephiroth murdered his town. Zack was there too, as the first class SOLDIER, but that’s where met his end. Cloud was there as a lower level infantry, but actually stopped Sephiroth and saved Tifa.

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The prayers of Aeris had been answered, and the Planet was using holy energy to stop the meteor from impacting. Sephiroth and Jenova stop this, and the meteor continues to fall to an unprotected Gaia. All hope is lost, and the rest of the gang go back home to spend their last moments with friends and family. Tifa and Cloud spend their last moments together underneath Cid’s ship the Highwind. The next morning Cid, Barret and everyone else return to stop Sephiroth and Jenova, with just a sliver of hope left. They have nothing to lose.

Cloud, Tifa, and the rest travel to core of the Planet, and after a long dungeon crawl, they defeat Jenova and a god-like Sephiroth. Sephiroth’s ultimate form is a demonic sight to behold. Both entities are now unable to block the Holy. The meteor begins to impact the Planet, the Holy begins to break under pressure, but the Lifestream comes to the rescue and blocks the meteor as well. The meteor impacts, and the story ends so vaguely. Cloud and the gang are standing in the Highwind, watching the meteor impact, and it cuts to 500 years later. We see Red XIII with his Cubs, overlooking Midgar, abandoned and reclaimed by nature.

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This vague ending leaves a lot of questions. Shoot, this entire game leaves the player with a lot of questions. Ultimately, the theme seems to be one of ecology. The ending implies that perhaps the Planet is better off without humans. It left me with a sort of guilty feeling, but at the same time I realized that maybe the message was for us as humans to protect the earth, and to try balance our technology to not pollute it. The earth can do without us, but we can’t do without it.

The story and lore of Final Fantasy VII is so vast, and I wish I could talk about everything, but that would take a whole separate article. The story is impressive, and so gripping with many of the characters being integral that it all of it felt important. Sakaguchi and his team created something wonderful and special with its story. It’s a story to celebrate life and to celebrate each other. The message to protect the things that matter most resonates throughout.

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rmage2 Final Fantasy VII told its story based on a wealth of world-building and background information that you only come to piece together throughout the game. So many lies are told you as the player that it becomes hard to believe what is real and what isn’t, just like Cloud. Add to that definite continuity issues and plot holes which aren’t so much glaring as they are mysterious and there’s a lot of mystique in this game. Even things like translation issues and typos couldn’t bring this game down!

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diff Challenge: 8/10 8/10

rmage2 The Challenge category has always been one with a slightly different perspective for our grading purposes. Challenge is undoubtedly an important aspect of any video game but there’s no question that “better challenge” isn’t the same thing as “better graphics” or “better music”. “Better challenge” doesn’t necessarily mean more challenge, as several games that are too challenging can end up being frustrating. Ever wise, one of our contributors by the name of the Sincere Scholar Mage shared this image with me that I think helps sum up the distinctiveness of this category, very much in a nutshell:

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Essentially, Final Fantasy VII is getting such a high score in terms of Challenge not because it’s one of the hardest RPGs to ever exist but because it’s a game you can sink your teeth into, because it can’t be too easily broken with over-levelling (saw a mainstream article earlier advocating cheating for this game). It features a smorgasbord of extra content representing more time-consuming and difficult tasks: breeding a Gold Chocobo and fighting the Emerald Weapon. Both of those come to mind as examples of extra content in the game that helps provide difficulty beyond beating Sephiroth, which in itself is quite the layered boss fight. This is a game which remains enjoyable but which also sets some demands on the player to master it. VII is about balance, even in this respect.

Final Fantasy VII Screenshot 3 Chocobo farm.jpg

I didn’t feel like Final Fantasy VII was extremely difficult, FF3-NES-BlackMage
but it wasn’t too easy either. There were times where a boss kept killing me, and I had to rethink my strategy and equip different weapons, Materia, or attire. It’s a game that keeps you thinking and balancing your options. However, there are some end-game activities that would take a lot of work, and are a new challenge unto themselves.

replay Replayability: 10/10 9/10

rmage2 Why do people keep coming back to play Final Fantasy VII? I’ve played through it nearly a dozen times but I know others have done much more. I even watched the GDQ speedrun on this game and I was blown away by how well they knew the ins and outs. But why? Why is it so replayable?

There are probably many reasons, subjective and otherwise, but definitely the vagueness of the story and the emphasis on mystery warrants coming back to iron things out in your head. Also, and more importantly, I think the sidequests are just so appealing. Event mini-games, Gold Saucer (my favorite place in the game), chocobo husbandry, hidden materia, post-game bosses… these are means of keeping the storyline from being too bleak, infusing humor and joy into the game but they also lengthen its general play time. Raising and breeding chocobos, then racing them, is one of my favorite parts in this game. I still think it’s the best chocobo sidequest we’ve ever seen in the Final Fantasy franchise.

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The last save point before you beat the main story is right before FF3-NES-BlackMage
you go into the last boss area. Once you beat the last boss, you return to the last save point. Now you have the freedom to go back and complete everything you couldn’t like defeating the Weapons, earning the best weapons, or maxing out the levels and limit breaks of all the characters. There is a lot to keep you busy, and you can keep fighting the last boss over and over again.

As Red mentioned, there’s side stuff like chocobo breeding or Gold Saucer mini-games. You have to travel at length to these places that Final Fantasy VII almost becomes open-world. Open-world games can have a lot of fluff, but the end-game activities in Final Fantasy VII do so much to change the gameplay that it is rewarding to go back.

I personally have not done a lot of the extra activities, but it is nice to know it’s there. I have a huge backlog of games to get through, so I moved on from Final Fantasy VII. However, I can envision a time in the 90’s where there were less games to get through, and the internet was not as robust as it is now, and I think to myself that everything to do in Final Fantasy VII would’ve had an extreme amount of value and replayability.

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unique Uniqueness: 10/10 10/10

rmage2 Even though it’s the seventh in a series of numerical entries, Final Fantasy VII was innovative and different. This game is so unique in its level of quirkiness and seriousness. It tells a dramatic story with some emotional scenes while at the same time it has some truly bizarre and silly moments: Honeybee Inn, Tifa slapfight, Heidegger punching everyone, arcade games at the Gold Saucer, threatening Don Corneo… It’s a balance that’s unlike any other game I can think of.

FFVII_Tifa_threat

Likely it’ll remain unique even in comparison to its eventual remake, should that ever actually be released. I personally believe that the remake is going to be much more in the vein of “hypercool anime” Advent Children than in the flavor of the original game, which has far fewer anime vibes. But the perception of this world and its characters has evolved over time thanks to the fandom and spin offs. For the better? Well…

I also doubt that we’ll be seeing in HD realistic graphics the likes of Red XIII dressed as a human sailor hilariously attempting to walk on two legs. While moments like these in the original VII are memorable and weird with the deformed character models, it’s not possible to suspend one’s disbelief so far in realistic graphics to think that anyone wouldn’t recognize a giant cat-dog in human clothes… Heck, what is Cait Sith going to be like?! These are the benefits of suggestive graphics versus realistic graphics, and that difference deepens the capabilities of video games across their history. It’s why old graphics are valuable “still”. What we’ll likely get in the remake is a watered down FFVII focused more on the violence and the darkness, the coolness factor, but that’s just my guess.

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Hey, thanks for spending most of the uniqueness section FF3-NES-BlackMage
complaining like an old man about how great everything use to be! Then again, I complained heavily like a young punk about how old stuff looks bad. Anyways, Final Fantasy VII is game unlike any other I’ve played. It blends sci-fi and high fantasy in such a dark and charming combination. The characters are some of the most memorable in gaming history, and the story is so galactic. Yes, it’s a standard JRPG in a lot of ways, but it is still a landmark JRPG.

pgrade Our Personal Grade: 10/10 10/10

rmage2 What you have represented in the scores of this Dualcast Review are two schools of thought affected by our place in time. There’s an age gap between the Black Humor Mage and myself so I grew up with Final Fantasy VII, meaning the game had a huge impact on my perspective on games from an early age, whereas Black Humor had the opportunity to play the game with fully-formed adult intellect and the vantage point of modernity. Our scores represent a nostalgia-influenced review and a current gen-influenced review. Nobody is without bias, remember. That’s a myth in journalism. The surprising thing is that our final scores are really not so far off from each other. Maybe that’s not a surprise at all. The tiny gap between 9.5 and 9.0, just half a full point, represents just how enduring Final Fantasy VII is as a quality piece of interactive storytelling. If you’re wondering why it’s not higher, stop picking nits.

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This was very much an experiment and I’m grateful to the Black Humor Mage for agreeing to do this first ever Dualcast Review with me on a game which is so important to so many people. I believe we’ve emphasized this game’s strongest points while still touching on its shortcomings. I’d score certain parts higher if we could but there are no elevens out of ten. So then the final score really reflects the whole game, but its individual strengths cannot be overstated.

Yeah that’s how every game works. FF3-NES-BlackMage
I think our personal scores do more to say how we actually feel about our experience, but the aggregate is the sum of its parts and how they all work together on a technical level.

rmage2 EXACTLY and that’s why there ought to be so few games rated a perfect technical 10. But the nature of that 10 is debatable with some folks. Bear in mind these are our opinions, people.

Yeah, that’s nearly impossible when you have to consider everything. FF3-NES-BlackMage
Usually I rate a movie and I don’t consider its parts and just give it one score on IMDb. I feel like the personal grade is like that. And I believe there are movies that can be tens considering what it’s accomplished, and there’s no glaring issues or things I absolutely hated about it. Final Fantasy VII is a game that accomplished so much, and it really impressed that I could look past many of its shortcomings.

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rmage2 Yep, so there’s a balance here and it facilitates getting down into the nitty gritty while at the same time making general claims.

For Sakaguchi, this game tackles the theme of life, a theme which he wanted to get into for a while. His mother’s death made this theme especially significant in his own personal life and he’s reflected upon the value of life in the face of death. He’s also mentioned how in this game he wanted to approach that theme from a mathematical and logical angle, to help him overcome, but of course we’re emotional beings and this game is undoubtedly emotional.

If you’re reading this, you’re experiencing life, but you’re also going to experience death. Impermanence is a big theme in Japanese storytelling, poetry, and philosophy. It’s one that I think brings even more value to living, if we realize how short life is, and Final Fantasy VII is a game that showed me the value in being alive. I think that Sakaguchi’s feelings trickled down through the development, through the staff, and into the final product so that this game means so much to so many different people.

This game did mean a lot to me. I was captivated by the story and its characters, FF3-NES-BlackMage
and whenever I played it, I felt like I was experiencing something important. I shared an experience that many other gamers went through, and I would give this game an eleven if I could.

rmage2 So here’s to the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy VII, one of the most captivating, most enchanting, and most enduring works in gaming. It is a music maker. It is a dreamer of dreams. Share your experiences with the game! Why do you think it is so special? What does Final Fantasy VII mean to you?

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WRM Aggregated Score: 9.5
BHM Aggregated Score: 9.0

 

 

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118 replies »

  1. mm i agree with pretty much everything here and at the time of ff7 being the “shitzz at the time you have look at what it brings like it when from ff 6 pix models to these 3ds models which were big at time the ost I can listen to this alll day but a few are my personal fav https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZ_8HhDvgbQ.also the humor having change barret name to mr. t come on guy was similar to him and while i do love tifa and her suplex the weapons she carry you legacy sabin, i just love Aeris,FF7 is kinda like re4 at this point and i think they great games yet it the game everyone going try at one point even if they never try it. me ff7 is one game I grew up with so I’m going keep playing to try and get the KNOTR MATERIAL

    Liked by 1 person

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