Friday, May 27, 2011

Final Fantasy VII

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Final Fantasy VII
Developer - Square
Publisher - Square Electronic Arts
Release date - January 31, 1997

Final Fantasy VII is a role-playing video game developed and published by Square (now Square Enix) for the PlayStation platform. Released in 1997, it is the seventh installment in the Final Fantasy series and the first in the series to use 3D computer graphics, featuring fully rendered characters on pre-rendered backgrounds. It was also the first game in the main series to be released in Europe. The story follows Cloud Strife, a mercenary who joins the eco-terrorist rebel organization AVALANCHE to stop the world-controlling megacorporation Shinra from draining the life of the planet to use as an energy source. Cloud and his allies become involved in a larger world-threatening conflict and face off against Sephiroth, the main antagonist.

The game's setting is similar to that of Final Fantasy VI insofar as it is a world with considerably more advanced technology than the first five games in the series. Overall, the game's technology and society approximates that of an industrial or post-industrial science fiction milieu. The world of Final Fantasy VII, referred to in the game as "The Planet", but retroactively named "Gaia", is composed of three main land masses. The eastern continent is home to the city of Midgar, an industrial metropolis that serves as the capital city and hosts the headquarters of the Shinra Electric Power Company, which operates as much of the world's de facto government. Other locations on the eastern continent are Junon (Shinra's major military base), Fort Condor (a fort with a huge condor covering up a Mako reactor on top of it), a Chocobo ranch, and Kalm (a small town inspired by medieval Europe).

The western continent features the Gold Saucer (an amusement park with Corel Prison below), Costa Del Sol (a seaside resort), Gongaga (a small town containing the remains of a destroyed Mako reactor), Nibelheim (a town residing at the base of Mt. Nibel), Rocket Town (the location of Shinra's failed space rocket launch), and Cosmo Canyon. The tribe inhabiting Cosmo Canyon emphasize living in harmony with nature and dedicating themselves to the planet's well-being. Their settlement features an observatory and serves as a research facility for those who wish to participate in a philosophy known as the "Study of Planet Life", a lifestyle that encourages deference for nature and teaches that the planet has a life and energy of its own.

Wutai, a village inspired by pre-modern Japan and China, is located on a large island off the western continent. The northernmost continent is a heavily glaciated landmass, and its few settlements include Bone Village (an excavation site), Icicle Inn (a ski resort town), the mythical "City of the Ancients", and the Northern Crater, where the game's climax takes place. There are also underwater locations accessible only by submarine; for example, a sunken Shinra plane transporter.

The nine main playable characters in Final Fantasy VII are Cloud Strife, an unsociable mercenary who claims to be a former 1st Class member of Shinra's SOLDIER unit; Barret Wallace, the leader of the anti-Shinra rebel group AVALANCHE; Tifa Lockhart, a martial artist and a member of AVALANCHE, also a childhood friend of Cloud's; Aerith Gainsborough, a flower merchant who has been pursued by Shinra's special operations unit, the Turks, since childhood; Red XIII, a wise lion-like creature who was experimented on by Shinra scientists; Cait Sith, a fortune-telling robotic cat who rides an animated moogle doll; Cid Highwind, a pilot whose dreams of being the first man in outer space were not realized; Yuffie Kisaragi, a young ninja and a skillful thief; and Vincent Valentine, a former member of Shinra's Turks unit, who was experimented on 30 years prior to the start of the game. The game's main antagonist is Sephiroth, a former member of SOLDIER who reappears several years after he was thought dead.

As with previous installments of the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy VII consists primarily of three major areas: an overworld map, field maps, and a battle screen. The overworld map is a 3D model, featuring a scaled-down version of the game's fictional world, across which the player travels between the game's locations. As with preceding games in the series, the world map can be traversed by foot, on chocobos and in an airship or sea vessel (in this case, a submarine and a plane used as a boat). It also includes an additional means of transportation—a buggy.

On field maps, characters are directed across realistically scaled environments, consisting of 2D pre-rendered backgrounds which represent locations such as towns or forests. Initially, the player is restricted to the city of Midgar, but as the game progresses the entire world becomes accessible. Progression through the game's storyline is largely developed by way of scripted sequences, although pre-rendered cinematic cutscenes are also used.

Battles, which either occur randomly on the field or are triggered by certain events, pit the player's party against one or more enemies. Winning the battle by means of defeating all the enemies earns experience, gil, and items. However, if all party members are simultaneously KO'd or are otherwise unable to battle (such as by petrification), the game ends and the player must resume from their last save file. The battle screen is a 3D representation of an area, such as a building's interior or an open grassland, in which the player commands the characters in battles against CPU-controlled enemies. While characters are super deformed on maps, the character models are more realistic and normal-scaled in combat. Final Fantasy VII is the first game in the series to have character models with fully rendered polygons, rather than 2D sprites. During battle sequences, the game uses the series' traditional Active Time Battle (ATB) system first featured in Final Fantasy IV. Unlike previous games in the series, which allow 4-5 playable characters to participate in battle, Final Fantasy VII only allows three characters per battle.

Final Fantasy VII's skill system is built around the use of Materia—magical orbs composed of condensed Mako (life energy from the Planet), that are placed in special slots on weapons and armor, allowing players to customize their party's ability to use magic, summons, and special abilities. Materia is divided into five categories; Green Magic Materia for performing offensive and defensive spells, Yellow Skill Materia which grants new abilities, Red Summon Materia, which lets the character summon powerful deities to aid in battle, Purple Support Materia which gives the equipped character stat boosts, and Blue Junction Materia, which enhances other Materia when placed in connecting slots (for example, linking Fire Materia with All Materia allows the player to attack all enemies with the Fire spell simultaneously). However, most magic-based Materia also lowers an equipped character's physical attributes.

Like the characters, Materia can level up with experience, opening up stronger abilities and functionality, with new Materia created once they reach the maximum level. Summon spells feature in the game, equippable as Materia, with elaborately animated attacks. A modified form of Final Fantasy VI's "Desperation Attacks" appears in Final Fantasy VII as the "Limit Break." Every playable character has a bar that gradually fills up as they suffer damage in battle. When the bar is completely filled, the character is able to unleash his or her Limit Break, a special attack which generally inflicts significantly more damage on enemies than normal attacks, or otherwise aids the party in battle. Unlike Materia, each character has their own unique set of Limit Breaks, which are divided into four levels of strength, although one character, Cait Sith, has only two levels.


Planning sessions for Final Fantasy VII began in 1994 after the release of Final Fantasy VI. At the time, the game was intended to be another 2D project for the Super NES. Series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi originally planned for the story to take place in New York in the year 1999, and as such, the original script of Final Fantasy VII, which was written by Sakaguchi, was completely different from the finished product. Tetsuya Nomura recalled how Sakaguchi "wanted to do something like a detective story." The first part of the story involved a "hot blooded" character named "Detective Joe" who was in pursuit of the main characters, after they had blown up the city of Midgar, which had already been developed for the story. The final scenario was written by Kazushige Nojima and Yoshinori Kitase, based on the story by Sakaguchi and Nomura. Masato Kato was brought into the project later and wrote three scenes for the game.

However, several of the staff members were working in parallel on Chrono Trigger, and development for Final Fantasy VII was interrupted when the other project became significant enough to require the help of Kitase and other designers. Some of the ideas originally considered for Final Fantasy VII ultimately ended up in Chrono Trigger instead. Other ideas, such as the New York setting and the sorceress character Edea, were kept unused until the later projects Parasite Eve and Final Fantasy VIII respectively.

Development resumed in late 1995, and required the efforts of approximately 120 artists and programmers, using PowerAnimator and Softimage 3D software. The group worked out of both Japan and Square's new American office in Los Angeles, with the American team primarily responsible for city backgrounds. It was the most expensive video game of its time, with a development budget of around US$45 million, equivalent to $67 million in 2015. Kitase was concerned the franchise might be left behind if it did not catch up to the 3D graphics being used in other games, and production began after the completion of a short, experimental tech demo called Final Fantasy SGI for Silicon Graphics Onyx workstations. The demo featured polygon-based 3D renderings of characters from Final Fantasy VI in a real time battle.

The experimental SGI demo led the development team to integrate some of the design mechanics into Final Fantasy VII. However, due to the high quantity of motion data, only the CD-ROM format had the capacity for the project's needs. Nintendo, for whom Square had developed previous titles in the Final Fantasy series, had decided to continue to use cartridges for its upcoming Nintendo 64 console. This eventually led to a dispute that resulted in Square ending its relationship with Nintendo. Instead, they announced on January 12, 1996 that they would be developing Final Fantasy VII exclusively for Sony's PlayStation console. Square officials explained that even the 64DD lacked sufficient storage for Final Fantasy VII, as more than thirty 64DD discs would be needed to hold all the game's data.

For the first time since having worked on Final Fantasy on the Famicom, Sakaguchi made the gameplay systems a priority over the story, as the team's main concern during the development of the game was how to implement the 3D. The transition from 2D graphics to 3D environments overlaid on pre-rendered backgrounds was accompanied by a focus on a more realistic presentation. While the extra storage capacity and computer graphics gave the team the means to implement more than 40 minutes of full motion video (FMV) movies, this innovation brought with it the added difficulty of ensuring that the inferiority of the in-game graphics in comparison to the FMV sequences was not too obvious. Kitase has described the process of making the in-game environments as detailed as possible to be "a daunting task. The series' long-time character designer, Yoshitaka Amano, was opening art workshops and exhibitions in France and New York, which limited his involvement in the game. As a result, Tetsuya Nomura was appointed as the project's character designer, while Amano aided in the design of the game's world map.

Several of Nomura's designs changed during development from their initial conceptions. For example, Cloud's original design of slicked-back black hair with no spikes was intended to serve as a contrast to Sephiroth's long, flowing silver hair. Nomura feared, however, that such masculinity could prove unpopular with fans, and therefore he changed Cloud's design to feature a shock of spiky, bright blond hair. Vincent changed from researcher to detective to chemist, and finally to the figure of a former Turk with a tragic past. Nomura has indicated that Cid Highwind's fighting style resembles that of a Dragoon Knight, a character class which was chosen because his last name is the same as that of two previous Dragoon Knights featured in the Final Fantasy series, Ricard Highwind of Final Fantasy II and Kain Highwind of Final Fantasy IV.


The music for Final Fantasy VII was composed, arranged, and produced by Nobuo Uematsu. Instead of using recorded music and sound effects for the game, Uematsu opted for sequenced audio (similar to MIDI), using the PlayStation's internal sound chip. Final Fantasy VII was the second game in the series (after Final Fantasy VI) to include a track with sampled vocals; with "One-Winged Angel", which has been described as Uematsu's "most recognizable contribution" to the music of the Final Fantasy series. Uematsu said the soundtrack has a feel of "realism", which prevented him from using "exorbitant, crazy music.

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