Depending on who you ask, Final Fantasy VII was either the most amazing video game of all time and oh my god if they could just please make a remake only they should let you revive Aeris this time OR it was mediocre at best and totally inferior to an untold number of RPGs on the market. The truth is, of course, somewhere in the middle. Was Final Fantasy VII the best RPG of all time? No, it wasn’t even the best Final Fantasy game released that year. Final Fantasy VII is proof that something can be really good (and it was, really) and still be overrated. But this article isn’t talking about how good or bad the game is, instead I want to talk about how significant I think the game is to the history of videogames as a whole.
Why do I say it’s significant? Did it do anything bold and innovative in terms of storytelling? Well, sort of, if you count the use of cutscenes. That’s not what I’m talking about. The gameplay was also structurally very similar to Final Fantasy VI (or Final Fantasy III to us Americans), so nothing groundbreaking there either. So if I’m not impressed by the storytelling or the gameplay, and I’m also not talking about the graphics (because I’m not), then what am I saying is such a big deal about this game?
It brought RPGs to the mainstream.
Before the Playstation era, RPGs were an extremely niche market. Sure, there were those of us with old PCs who had gotten into the Wizardry series or The Bard’s Tale. Some of us discovered the Final Fantasy series early and an even smaller percentage of us discovered Earthbound, but the closest the mainstream really got to RPGs was the Zelda series. Then along comes Final Fantasy VII and suddenly RPGs are popular enough to pop up everywhere. And it’s not like they were a new thing, the SNES had tons of them. Those games just rarely came to America because no one thought we would buy them.
There were a lot of really horrible assumptions about what would appeal to American gamers. I mean, look at the box art for the original Mega Man.
When FF7 (I can’t keep tying the name out in numerals) came out, they didn’t even focus on the gameplay at all. They went out of their way to focus only on the action that happened in cinematics. Admittedly, showing footage of players waiting around for their turn is a damn fine way to make sure no one buys your game, but there were bound to be players who picked up FF7 and expected something drastically different from what they got.
Still, suddenly RPGs were a successful product in America. People started talking about them, and with this (relatively) new toy called the internet, we were able to go back and look at the history of an entire genre of games that we missed. Since they were popular, companies decided that they were less of a risk and started bringing them over to America more, which meant I didn’t have to find fan translated versions for download on the internet.
Like I said earlier, Final Fantasy VII isn’t the best game of all time, or even the best RPG of all time or EVEN the best Final Fantasy game that was released that year. It’s a B+ game from an A+ company (minus some of their recent history, anyway), but it was a B+ game that made a huge impact on the industry. If you’re a JRPG fan then I feel like even if you don’t like Final Fantasy VII for whatever reason, and there are some legitimate reasons to not like it, I feel like you should still respect the effect it had on gaming history.