Published in The National on May 18, 2001

Final Fantasy on PC!

By Daniel Lam
Although I have had experience playing on a Sony Playstation, I never did like the console, or the games available for it, enough to get one.

But every once in a while a game for the Playstation gives me enough reason to go "Wow!"

One such game was SquareSoft's Final Fantasy VII (FF7). And the good news was that FF7 was also available for the PC, so I did the obvious thing.

Here's a bit of background....

FF7 was released on the Sony PlayStation in 1997 with much hype and fanfare in Japan and the US, including television commercials and huge bus stop ads in metropolitan areas. For months, it seemed as if there was no other game available for the PlayStation. Indeed, for those who played FF7, that was practically the case. The game's epic storyline and impressive production values made for a game that kept one immersed for anywhere from 30 hours (if you are "rushing" through the game) to more than 100 hours (if you explore every available option).

And the PC version? The PC version of FF7 is fundamentally the same game as the PlayStation version, which is both good AND bad, depending on what you go for. The PC version, since advancements in PC graphical capabilities have far out-stripped those of the Playstation, boasts of superior graphics. Unfortunately, that seems to be all (I'll get to this later).

What you need
You need a computer with at least a Pentium 133 with 32MB RAM, 260MB hard disk space, a sound card and a decent 3D accelerator with 4MB of video memory. Seriously, I tried running the game on a Pentium II 350 with 64MB RAM and an 8MB 3D graphics adapter and the game was just about playable. Oh well....

The tale of one city
FF7 tells the story of a mercenary named Cloud Strife (trust the Japanese to have ORIGINAL sounding names. When I played the game I had the name changed to Dunael, as can be seen in the images on these pages. Yes, you get to change the names of the main characters, which I did). Anyway, Cloud hired himself out to guerilla/revolutionary group Avalanche, which is set on sabotaging a huge corporation's plans to harvest all of the energy, known as Mako, from the planet. Just so happens that Cloud is a former employee of Shinra Inc, the corporation in question.

In the first segment of the game, Cloud works with Avalanche in the elevated city of Midgar and the slums that exist below it. Later, because of the events that transpire there, he must venture with them beyond Midgar, across the whole of the planet, where the story becomes much more complex.

The whole world is a stage
This complexity is the heart of the game. FF7 is a huge game, taking up three CDs worth (excluding the installation CD). The differences between Japanese-designed games and US-designed games lie mainly in terms of story and character development, and indeed it shows. The story is complex, intriguing and involving. The characters themselves are not the usual two-dimensional heroes and villains you find in many games ... they come with interesting backgrounds and personalities. Much of the game is devoted to revealing the characters' lives, which are closely intertwined with the game's story.

Take Cloud, for example. He is not just a mercenary who used to be a member of Shinra Inc's super army SOLDIER (at least that's what HE thought!) ... he had personal dealings with the big bad guys and the main villain of the game. The time and effort the game developers spent to flesh out Cloud must have been tremendous, let alone so many characters.

The game itself
FF7 utilises many different styles, depending on the event and the location, and there's something the developers call "mini-games". When in cities or towns, the viewing angle changes depending on where the hero is. When not in a city, you see everything from a birds-eye overhead view. In both cases, your party (made up of three of the available characters) is represented by a single character, usually Cloud. And the characters in FF7 are the usual cartoon-like people (short, cute with huge eyes) the Japanese love.

On battle footing
Combat in FF7 is a hybrid of real-time and turn-based warfare. It takes place in real time, but it takes a certain amount of time for your characters to perform moves. Your heroes can perform actions only when their "action" bar is filled up (it recharges over time). Meanwhile, whoever has his, her or its "action" bar full up and perform actions like Attack, (Use) Item, (Cast) Magic, etc. It's sort of a best-of-both-worlds scenario, where you must act quickly, but it's not a purely response-time-based situation. 

It's a Materia world
The magic system is so complex that it takes several tries before you can get the hang of it. Your characters can be equipped with "Materia" - jewels with magical properties - and different types of Materia have different properties. Some will allow you to have special abilities, like stealing, while others allow you to summon "entities" to fight your opponents. Still others let you cast spells or add attributes to your characters. Materia can also be "coupled" with other Materia to change or pump up its properties, and Materia gains experience along with your characters, allowing for more powerful spells, extended effects, or multiple castings during a single encounter. Understanding the way Materia works is one of the keys to playing the game.

It took me several tries to get the hang of the Materia system, but once you do, there's no turning back. One more thing: Without Materia equipped, your heroes are limited to only two options in combat: Attack and (Use) Item. Believe me, your heroes won't survive very long that way.

The good... 
Aesthetically, the PC version of FF7 far exceeds the PlayStation version in one area: graphics. Support for 3D accelerators makes the characters look much more crisp and detailed than the console version. Combat sequences benefit the most. Quite simply, combat scenes in the PC version look incredible. And then there are the "mini-games". In FF7 you get to try your luck at Chocobo Racing (Chocobos are a kind of giant ducklings ... the size of ostriches), snowboarding and even speed racing. These ultimately don't really affect the course of the game, but are definitely interesting....

The not-so-good...
Unfortunately, everything else is inferior. The music is in MIDI format, so the quality is completely dependent on the MIDI playback ability of your sound card. And the problem is that with the most common contemporary sound cards, MIDI playback is less than acceptable. That means the epic score of the game sounds "tinny", like the music you get when playing old DOS games. And not all of the graphics are better than the Playstation version.

The rendered cutscenes, which take place during play, and were breathtaking on the PlayStation, are low-resolution AVI (Audio Visual Interleaved) files in the PC version. That means the cutscenes look grainy, sort of like stretching a 320 by 240 picture across a 800 by 600 screen ... not a pretty sight. And the developers have been lazy ... the menu-driven interface, a necessity for the PlayStation controller, is presented here intact. No hotkeys, nothing. To play without a gamepad, you would have to resort to using the number pad on the keyboard, which is only good if you are a Quake addict. You can customise the keys, fortunately. Still, if you plan on playing FF7 on the PC, a gamepad is almost essential.

The ugly...
There are some problems that exist simply because of the nature of console games. Those who are used to playing PC games may find it odd that you can only save the game at certain "Save points". There are also countless "random" battles that are sprung on the heroes even though you are going from point A to B, without any distractions. Sure, the battles serve to train up your heroes, but the number of battles you go through makes me feel like I'm playing Might & Magic. In fact, more than once I found myself cursing when at practically every step there is an encounter.

All in all...
FF7 is fun, more or less. The story is good (this is its strongest point), the combat is fun (up to a point), and the visuals are mostly gorgeous. If you have a lot of time to spare (FF7 is a huge game) and don't feel like using a lot of brain juice while being treated to plenty of visual candy, FF7 may be for you.

Final Fantasy VII PC
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: SquareSoft

The FF7 Characters
Cloud Strife
The main character of Final Fantasy VII. Originally believed to be a member of SOLDIER, he is now a mercenary who will take any job. After being hired by AVALANCHE, he gradually gets caught up in a massive struggle for the life of the planet. His enormous sword can cut almost anything in two.

Barret Wallace
Head of the underground resistance movement, AVALANCHE. He's fighting the mega-conglomerate, Shinra, Inc, which has monopolised Mako energy, building special reactors to suck it out of the planet. Barret depends on brute strength and his "Gun-arm" to see him through. His wife died in an accident several years ago, and he now lives with his daughter Marlene.

Tifa Lockhart
Bright and optimistic, Tifa always cheers up the others when they're down. But don't let her face fool you, she can decimate almost any enemy with her fists. She is one of the main members of AVALANCHE. She and Cloud were childhood friends, and although she has strong feelings for him, she will never admit it.

Aeris Gainsborough
Young, beautiful, and somewhat mysterious, Aeris meets Cloud while selling flowers on the streets of Midgar. She decides to join him soon after. Her unusual abilities enable her to use magic, but she seems more interested in the deepening love triangle between herself, Cloud and Tifa.

Just like his name implies, he is an animal with fire-red fur. But under this fierce exterior is an intelligence surpassing that of any human's. His sharp claws and fangs make him good at close-range fighting, but other than that, not much else is known about him. It's not even certain "Red XIII" is his real name. A real enigma.

Cait Sith
Cait Sith rides around on the back of a huge stuffed Mog he magically brought to life. Megaphone in hand, he's always shouting orders and creating dopey attacks. When his slot machine attack works, the enemy camp looks like an overturned toy box. His hobby is fortune telling, but like his personality, it's pretty unreliable.

Cid Highwind
Cid is a tough talking, warm-hearted old pilot who hasn't forgotten his dreams. There's no better pilot who ever flew either on air or by sea. He believes someday he'll fly to the ends of the universe. With his hand-made spear and knowledge of machinery, he throws himself into any attack regardless of the danger.

Yuffie Kisaragi
Although you'd never know if you looked at her, Yuffie comes from a long line of ninja ancestors. She forced herself into the group just to get a certain something... She's sneaky, arrogant and "way" selfish. But with her super shuriken and her special skills, there isn't anyone else you'd rather have on your side in a fight.

Vincent Valentine
A mystical man, stern and upright while at the same time dark and mysterious. His past connection with Shinra is what made him join Cloud and the others. He may seem frail at first glance, but hidden inside his body lurks a fearsome power.