There will be some minor visual spoilers ahead!

The Final Fantasy franchise is synonymous with the JRPG genre and its place in gaming. For a decade the series, and it’s creator SquareSoft, stayed right at the heart of Nintendo. They even worked together to create Super Mario RPG on the SNES! With the move to the N64, Nintendo decided to stick it out with cartridges while the rest of the industry moved to CDs. This cost them a lot, but primarily the support of SquareSoft and Enix. Enix won’t be relevant to this story for the review, but Square created their next game for the PlayStation instead of the N64. A title so large, and expansive, that people flocked to the system just for it. A game that would go down as a milestone in gaming. They created Final Fantasy VII.

The world has been taken over by the greedy Shinra Company. Their goal is to harness the world’s “mako energy” to power technology and create small magical items known as “materia.” The Shinra are responsible for unleashing some of the gravest dangers the world has known. Chief among them, Sephiroth. After joining the resistance group AVALANCHE, advised by your childhood friend Tifa, you discover a conspiracy that puts the whole world at stake. Your adventure will see you at the odds with the Shinra, and many others, as you try to stop Sephiroth from unleashing a giant meteor onto the Earth. Your party must continue regardless of who joins you, or what Sephiroth will rip away.

Final Fantasy VII uses the base of turn-based combat with an interesting twist. You still have your regular HP and MP, but it’s a lot deeper. Described as the “real-time battle system” everyone in the fight has a meter that fills after a certain amount of time. After that meter is full you can act. At first, I found myself disliking it. I still would prefer the average Dragon Quest battle or a full-on action-RPG, but it is a unique system that offers itself tons of strategy.

The final bar in battle is the limit break meter. As you get hit or spend time, you’ll be building up your limit. When it is full, you’ll be able to perform a powerful limit break attack. There are four levels of limit break. The first three all have two moves, but level four only has the one. You’ll unlock limit breaks in the first three levels by using your limit breaks or killing a certain amount of enemies. To earn the fourth level limit breaks, you’ll have to find the specific item that unlocks it for that character. Before you can use it, you must have learned the other six limit breaks too. The fourth level isn’t always the most powerful, so be sure to do some testing!

As you progress, you’ll keep finding materia. Materia are small equipable items that allow you to perform more tasks. There are magic materia that allow the holder to use the spells it contains. Command materia give the holder more abilities. They vary as wide as item stealing and gaining full control of the target. Independent materia will give the holder a passive stat-boost. Summon materia will summon a creature to your aid to perform a devastating attack at a great cost to your MP bar. Support materia can be paired with others to give them added effects. Each materia can be upgraded. You can learn new spells, have attacks hit harder, or simply make actions more likely to succeed. You keep materia permanently, but each character only has a few materia slots depending on what weapon or armor they have equipped at the time. You’ll have to keep deciding on either sticking with your materia build or gain a lot of raw attack power.

A lot of your time will be spent exploring the world. There are dozens of items to find, activities to partake in, and NPCs to talk to. The world feels organic. Towns have history and explanation that truly gives off the impression that people live there! Specific groups will express their input based on the knowledge they have. Some will be saddened by the supposed death of the “great hero” Sephiroth, and others will be deeply angered by his turn to insanity!

If you’re in a town, or a dungeon, Final Fantasy VII is using a pre-rendered image as the “room”. The only 3D models will be NPCs, your party, and any items around. Because of this 2D nature, it can sometimes be hard to tell where you can or can’t walk. Modern ports of this game introduce a feature where it will show you every entrance to a new area and put an arrow above Cloud’s head. I appreciate it, it made finding things a lot easier.

The game also features a “world map.” You’ll be exploring around a, not quite to scale, full world where you’ll be traveling from town to town. The enemies you’ll encounter will be dependent on where you are in the world. Later in the game, you can even take on bosses from here. I felt the world was a little too big. A lot of it felt like pure padding. There is a minimap on the screen that you can use to track where you are. For the first few hours, it was a chore to go anywhere.

You’ll encounter many vehicles of exploration on your adventure! You can ride in a buggy, use a crashed plane as a boat, hop in a submarine, or fly over the world in the stolen Shinra Highwind! Each vehicle gives you access to a ton of new areas! The Highwind and Submarine specifically were my favorites. The Highwind became my main mode of transportation because it was fast and could fly over everything. The submarine was fun because I could finally explore underwater! When you gain access to it, you gain access to a whole new world.

Final Fantasy VII features a bunch of minigames and side events. Most of them will be one-offs or small repeatable distractions. There are a lot of story moments that take heavy input from minigames. Those minigames aren’t hard, but they aren’t fun either. The ones of note are the Golden Saucer Battle Square and Chocobo racing. You’ll come across the Chocobo farm early in your adventure, and later you’ll be allowed to breed and race them for sport! The Battle Square will give you access to a couple of exclusive materia, and Cloud’s level four limit break.

This game is far from pretty. It features a few FMV cutscenes with graphics that have held up remarkably well compared to other titles from the era. Sometimes the transition between the image background and FMV is almost seamless. In battle, everyone looks pretty good! Incredibly low-poly, but they have their charm. Everywhere else, I think the game looks pretty horrendous. I can’t say I hate it. Something is charming about the blocky hands and faces that only have eyes.

Final Fantasy VII is a beautifully composed game. Nobuo Uematsu outdid all of his previous works with this title in 1997. Many would still consider it his best work today! This game has produced some of gaming’s most iconic music. It’s incredibly hard to find someone who can’t hum along to Those Who Fight or One Winged Angel, even if they’ve never played the game. Final Fantasy has always been revered for its music, but this game is touted as above the rest.

Modern ports of the game introduce “cheats.” Earlier, I mentioned the viewing of all entrances at the push of a button. This is mostly used to find doors or the way out of a room you’re lost in. The game also introduces a feature that pushes most things at 3x the speed they normally go at. It makes grinding and long summoning animations a lot easier to swallow. There’s even a cheat to turn off random enemy encounters. It could be the basis of a pretty great challenge run! The most infamous will be the cheat I like to call “the infinity gauntlet.” Because that’s exactly what the icon looks like, and it permanently keeps the party fully maxed out. Full HP, full MP, and a full limit. Nothing will stand in your way. The only time I used it was on the superboss Emerald Weapon. I love that these are here for those who would like to use them!

I didn’t know what I would think going in. I was expecting an extremely long dredge of outdated game design that would leave me wishing for it to end. Instead, I found a masterfully crafted, and a bit overly ambitious, title that set the gold standard for games of the era. Final Fantasy VII may not hold right up with the best of the best today, but it certainly hasn’t fallen too far below. It took me approximately 26 hours to complete Final Fantasy VII casually. I could’ve spent a lot less time with it too. I went after a lot of side-quests. If you have a lot of free time, I highly recommend you check out this historic title. It held up a lot better than I thought it would. It’s easily the biggest surprise from this venture so far! Here’s hoping some others can surprise me just as much later!

(The following was written, and published, long before Sephiroth joined the roster, but remains to keep my original thoughts and intentions intact.)

Cloud Strife first joined Smash in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS. He was one of the last DLC fighters revealed. His reveal sent shockwaves through gaming communities. To Nintendo fans, Final Fantasy VII was notorious for being “the big one [they] never got!” People were told off for ages because “Cloud could never be in Smash Bros!” “Square-Enix would never let it happen!” “They’d add Geno first!” Cloud came in to break every stigma, and he came in swinging. Cloud incorporated his limit meter brilliantly into Smash. He feels about as good as he possibly can! I wouldn’t make a single change to him.

Note my wording. “I wouldn’t make a single change to him.” I mean him singular. For as great as Cloud is, his big downfall is the extra content. He comes with a stage based on Midgar, one of the most influential areas in the game, but he comes with literally nothing else. You get two music tracks for it. No extra spirits, no assist trophies, not even an appearance by the other party members or Sephiroth. Cloud is alone, and I hate it. I spent a lot of time on Sonic and Pac-Man because I thought they were poorly represented. Cloud magnified all of my thoughts by ten! Even before playing, I wondered how they could do this to such a significant inclusion! It feels like pure blasphemy, but unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change.

Sometimes even your wildest dreams get to form in reality. Shocking literally everyone, Sephiroth was unveiled as Ultimate’s ninth DLC newcomer. When Cloud enters, Sephiroth is always close behind. Sephiroth has made his name as the video game villain, and has earned his spot, but he also serves as a trojan horse to give Final Fantasy VII the true love it deserves. Sephiroth’s stage is a perfect recreation of the ending sequence of Final Fantasy VII. His spirit board brings us almost every major player in Cloud’s story. Before his official release, he was given his own boss mode to unlock him early. Sephiroth is quick, powerful, and ruthless. He has been incorporated into Smash without compromising his power or his sword. Sephiroth feels like the best addition to Ultimate so far. He was truly the only way to “complete” the presence of Final Fantasy.