Wednesday Column

1997-2: Final Fantasy VII (Flawed: A Long and Enduring Love of Gaming)

InfernalMage “The following is a contributor column by the Infernal Accountant Mage.”

There are a whole lot of things gamers (as a community of self-identifying individuals) aren’t very good at. I’ve spoken a little about those in previous columns and will be speaking at length about them in the future. Today, though, we’re not going to talk about any of that. Instead, we’re going to talk about something gamers are really good at.

Gamers are really, really good at talking about how terrible something is. They’re amazing at it, in fact. I can think of very few communities who are quite so astute at earnestly describing how much they dislike something and precisely elaborating on the reasons why. No matter the game, no matter the genre, you can guarantee there are gamers out there ready and (extremely) willing to let you know why it’s terrible. It’s what a significant portion of the community lives for.

There’s practically a mini-industry built up around it thanks to the advent of sites like Patreon. If a gamer’s not furiously typing about how something has outraged them – a preorder bonus, perhaps, or something a game journalist has written, or possibly their opinions on your race, gender or sexual orientation – they’re probably furiously typing about why something you enjoy is terrible. Idle chatter revolves less around the latest and hottest releases and more about proudly proclaiming how one isn’t going to buy the latest and hottest releases. Welcome to 2018.

It’s a little sad that this is where my mind journeyed when I decided it was important to write about Final Fantasy VII. I doubt I can build on the copious amount of work written about this game and its effects on the industry. I can certainly talk about what it means to me, of course: I’ve loved RPGs ever since I was very, very young, and as a kid who bet it all on the Nintendo 64 rather than the PlayStation, missing out on FFVII was agonizing. When I was finally able to pick up a PlayStation years after FFVII launched, it was an amazing and unforgettable experience. I savored every moment – though, of course, I’d read through plenty of guides in advance.

When young me got that PlayStation and jumped in, well, it was something special. FFVII isn’t the first PS1 game I played – that would be Resident Evil 2, since I didn’t have a memory card at first and knew better than to do much in an RPG without one. It was, however, one of the most memorable times I had with that console. It was a journey of epic proportions spread across a whopping three discs; it was one of the first games I played where my parents and friends would stop and say “woah” at the onscreen action. It was, in my eyes, one of the earliest steps toward a sort of legitimacy for the medium. Games were still toys to most people. To this day, they still are. You could get away with playing something like Final Fantasy VII a bit longer than you could with Mario, Sonic or Crash, though. Baby steps.

I could gush about FFVII for paragraphs on end – the joys of grinding up Materia for new spells, the wonders of collecting the various Enemy Skills, the experimentation involved in raising the best Chocobos, the hours I spent in the Gold Saucer on various goofy minigames. Instead, though, I want to talk about FFVII as it relates to the gaming community in the modern era. I want to talk about whether or not Final Fantasy VII is overrated; more specifically, I want to talk about its flaws and how important it is to some people to point them out.

I don’t think FFVII is an overrated game. I think it played a significant role in paving the way toward the golden age of video games that we enjoy in the modern era; at the very least, if you appreciate Japanese-style games, FFVII was integral in showing publishers the value of localization. This is a game that moved consoles. After all, the primary reason I begged my family for a PlayStation was because I desperately wanted to play it for myself, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It was one of the earliest examples of games-as-cinema, more so than the goofy FMV games that characterized the Sega CD era. The translation was hilariously poor by modern standards, but FFVII still packs moments that hit players with an emotional gut-punch. The possibility of a remake, as floated at E3 2015, was met with a standing ovation and cheers. You’ve heard all this and more, I’m sure.

You’ve also inevitably heard about how overrated Final Fantasy VII is. This is something that fascinates me, and I think that this point and points like it represent the current state of discourse surrounding video games more effectively than pretty much any other example one could present. Video game enthusiasts and the media that serve them are absolutely fantastic at pointing out how flawed something is. They are, however, less great at appreciating the high points of the hobby. Much less great, in fact.

As for why exactly this is the case, I’d point to two causes in particular. First, discussion and analysis of games is still a fairly new thing. It’s not something that’s really been explored before and it involves a lot of people who aren’t necessarily career critics. To the amateur critic, the height of sophistication is pointing out the flaws in a great work. It’s finding something that others believe to be beautiful and tearing it down. In many cases, I believe this sort of “criticism” to be something more akin to reaction-seeking and outrage-mongering – bashing a beloved franchise is edgy, it gets attention, and unlike teenage attention-mongering we’ve rapidly seen that outrage is a profitable endeavor in the modern era of media. Regardless, the value of this is debatable, to say the least; as Finnish composer Jean Sibelius once said: “a statue has never been set up in honor of a critic.”

Returning to the potential profit to be gained through the cultivation of outrage, my second point is that success in the modern era of gaming discussion has, perhaps, been done a disservice by early pioneers in the field. I would point first and foremost to the success of the “Angry Video Game Nerd” character portrayed by James Rolfe on YouTube. This is a humorous take on the stereotype of the ranting gaming geek; Rolfe would dig up a terrible game from the retro era, launch into a profanity-laden spiel about it, post the video and rake in the views and ad revenue. It became a framework for those who came after him – we’d see me-too clones like “The Irate Gamer” and “The Happy Video Game Nerd” spring up in Rolfe’s wake.

Here’s my thesis, all the way down here: I’d argue that Rolfe’s parody of the outraged gamer and the nascent state of video game criticism have combined to create a peculiar situation where the ideal when talking about video games is to lay into them as viciously as possible. This doesn’t apply to everyone in the hobby, of course, but I believe it applies to most and I believe it’s the most reliable path to financial success as a game critic.

What’s more, I believe it’s informed both new media like YouTube and Twitch criticism and “old” media like prose reviews. The kids who grew up watching the Angry Video Game Nerd and listening in reverence to their contemporaries’ criticism of industry-defining games like Final Fantasy VII are now the ones running video gaming websites and hosting an endless array of me-too YouTube channels. There’s very little that’s cool in talking about what you enjoy about video games, but by doing the opposite you can earn the love of those who agree, the hate of those who disagree and the clicks of both sides. You can play your role in fermenting an endlessly bubbling ocean of outrage, ensuring that the metrics never dip (but one day they will – ask print newspapers about that). You can win. For now, anyway.

As for FFVII? The translation’s shoddy, turn-based combat has some inherent issues, and unskippable cutscenes – even in battle – are a relic of a bygone age. On the other hand, the game’s impact, as mentioned above, is undeniable. Despite the issues with turn-based combat, FFVII’s character progression is addictive and endlessly rewarding. Its presentation remains compelling in the face of decades of technological advancement. The first time you step out of Midgar and realize there’s a whole world outside of the city is something that will remain with you for years, if you’re open to that concept. Young me loved it. Old me still loves it. It is an undeniably flawed game, but it undeniably shaped the industry we have today.

And, well, young me was never all that impressed by the people saying it was overrated in the first place.

 

The Infernal Accountant Mage believes the pen is mightier than the sword…well, depending on how sharp the pen and sword are. A child of the ’90s and a prolific writer, he strews his work about like Legos made of words, just waiting for your brain to step on them. He enjoys a devilish challenge, so when it comes to talking about some of the more difficult games out there, you might just run into the Infernal Accountant Mage. Some advice: hold on to your soul around this guy, and don’t sign anything. Read more at popzara.com

 

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3 replies »

  1. Its positives far outweigh its flaws, especially for someone who reviews and analyzes video games in the same way she does literature. Even after 20 years, I’m still finding revelations about that game. Can I admit that there are some definite flaws and it hasn’t aged well graphically? Of course! But that certainly doesn’t negate the sheer genius that went into every aspect and nuance of the story. Nostalgia might be rose colored, but age still imparts some clarity.

    Liked by 1 person

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