Riddles’ Pick: Final Fantasy VII
Hey, look who won again! But yet again, there was no way I could give this award to any other game. Final Fantasy VII tells the most complex, character-driven story of the entire series. There are many different reasons why I think it’s the best, and I’ll do my best to explain a few of them here.
First and foremost, I’d like to point out that Final Fantasy VII features the greatest villain of the series. I know my partner Ethos in particular will disagree with me, but allow me to explain: In no other game is the emotional connection between the villain and protagonist established as strongly as it is in VII. Through various flashbacks, we see Sephiroth before his dark days begin. We see flashbacks of his relationship with Cloud, and the tragedy that befalls them both. Sure, Cloud mucks up the memories pretty badly – but the point is that Sephiroth is extremely important to the game as both a character, and as a concept – the goal that keeps Cloud moving, desperate to uncover the truth behind his past and himself. And, as we all know, he ends up being quite a bit “closer” to Sephiroth than he figured.
The relationships between the characters of Final Fantasy VII all have an air of tragedy to them; Sephiroth is only a singular example. Take Cloud and Tifa, for example: until the truth is finally revealed by Sephiroth at Gaea’s Cliff, she spends the game in utter confusion as her childhood friend Cloud talks about his past as one of Shinra’s SOLDIERS – a past she knows never happened. But, due to her own confusion over the tragic Nibelheim events, and out of a misguided desire to protect Cloud perhaps, she says nothing.
Perhaps the most tragic of all, though, is Cloud’s connection to Zack, the man who’s identity Cloud stole. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is the only product in the “Compilation of Final Fantasy VII” that offers a strong narrative supplement to the main game. Advent Children was more visual spectacle than anything else, and Dirge of Cerberus was a mess that should have never existed - but Crisis Core tells a prequel story that not only enhances the Final Fantasy VII experience in every way, but stands on its own as an emotionally gripping tale. In this, the story of Zack Fair is finally told in full – and we finally see firsthand the tragic events that culminate in the burning of Nibelheim, and finally, Zack’s death.
Characters aren’t the only reason this game’s narrative is so enjoyable, though. Final Fantasy VII just a hell of a ride. The opening bombing mission instantly draws the player into the struggle, and unlike Final Fantasy XIII, is a GOOD example of how to utilize In Media Res. The Shinra Building break-in is where things really take off, and the motorcycle escape sequence – while gimmicky – will always be pure awesome in my eyes. The flashback sequence in Kalm, when Cloud first recounts his “past” with Sephiroth, is absolutely chilling, and remains one of my favorite story sequences of any RPG. (If I recall correctly, back in the day I actually recorded the entire thing on a VHS tape so I could watch it again and again.)
I could continue this shameless nerdgasming for hours. But in all fanboyism aside, Final Fantasy VII is simply a strongly-told story. The characters are strong, their goals are compelling. Strong themes of identity struggle and self-loathing are prevalent throughout. There are enough bombastic, thrilling plot twists to satisfy, but the game never loses sight of the real struggle – which is between the characters, and in some cases, in the minds of the characters.
Runner Up: Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X is the only Final Fantasy that approaches the narrative depth of VII, in my opinion – and, to be sure, it’s a fantastic tale. Every character is a strong one, and their connections to eachother are beautifully developed over the course of the game. Yuna and Tidus were almost a fantastic love story – but as we’ve been over before, they didn’t quite make it there. The whole Evil Villain Father thing has been overdone, sure, but it works pretty well in Final Fantasy X. The same can be said about the Big Evil Religion, but again, Final Fantasy X manages to execute these fairly cliched concepts with grace. That’s a testament to how strong the characters are, and how effectively the game draws you into the world of Spira.
Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy X-2
Aaaand, a few short years later, along came Final Fantasy X-2 to take a massive shit on everything Final Fantasy X was, and everything it stood for. One of the strongest themes of Final Fantasy X was that, simply, of sacrifice – in fact, this theme was so prevalent that even during the game’s emotionally charged ending, not everyone was left entirely happy. But then, a few years later, Yuna embarks on (essentially) a quest to have her cake and eat it too. There are no strong themes in Final Fantasy X-2, unless you count “Girl Power.” There are no good characters, unless you count mildly degrading Japanese female stereotypes. Oh, and the plot makes no fucking sense at all. Let me get this straight: Shuyin and Lenne are two ancient people who just… look… like Tidus and Yuna? WHO GIVES A FUCK?!