Why Final Fantasy VII is Still the Best RPG Ever Made

As the years go by, they keep trying to make a role-playing game that's better than Final Fantasy VII. Hasn't happened yet.

Before I begin, let me make one point abundantly clear:

I am aware that gaming has advanced quite a bit since 1997. I'm not saying Final Fantasy VII couldn't be better from a technical and artistic standpoint; of course, it could. I'm not saying nothing exists that's superior to FFVII from the graphics and general technical perspective. That's just silly.

I am, however, saying that one of the most iconic names in video games has every right to be included in the "best of all time" discussion, and after playing 75+ RPGs in my day, I have yet to find one that I'd say is better than Squaresoft's masterpiece.

Oh, don't worry, I have my reasons.

First of all, the turn-based mechanic isn't automatically inferior

The death of the turn-based gameplay system in AAA blockbuster RPGs is a bitter disappointment to me. It's just not fair. Those who are familiar with the JRPG genre know how various developers pushed the turn-based mechanic; we always got highly creative and even innovative iterations of that system. Look at the Arts in Legend of Legaia, the Judgment Ring in Shadow Hearts, and the various combat structures we've seen in Legend of DragoonSuikodenWild ARMsStar Ocean, etc.

Just because you're not always moving and pressing buttons doesn't make the game any less involved. Strategy is part of the turn-based entertainment. Taking one's time and planning out the next move is a critical part of the enjoyment, as far as I'm concerned. I got into RPGs because I didn't like playing the fast-action games that required a constant hammering of buttons. I wanted to rely on my mental capacity as opposed to my dexterity.

I will always maintain that to this day, some of the most imaginative and fulfilling gameplay mechanics have been found in turn-based RPGs.

FFVII's gameplay, story, and setting are almost unparalleled

Think about it: First, the Materia system is an excellent idea. What most players don't remember (and some didn't even know at the time), is that each character had a set of base stats, and those stats were altered based on the Materia you equipped. It allowed you to turn Barrett into a mage, if you so chose, and represented a form of freedom and customization that we see everywhere today.

Compared to a later mechanic like the Sphere Grid, the latter actually seemed simpler and more restricting. Materia was multi-dimensional; you could build up each and every piece and furthermore, once built, anyone could equip it. To some, this is a minor thing; to the experts out there, this is a huge plus.

The story still comes under fire to this day. You've got cynical haters everywhere desperately trying to prove that the story actually sucked, that it's full of holes, that the characters are stupid and dull, etc. This is just your standard knee-jerk reaction to the lofty status of the game. Any time something is revered, there are bound to be idiots who have to prove their own "genius" by proving that everyone else is wrong.

Yes, the writing could've been better. Back in those days, the dialogue wasn't great. But the depth of that story, the levels and dimensions on which it operates, the pacing that seems just about perfect; it all combines to create a highly enjoyable experience. It has philosophical and psychological angles that few really appreciate, and Sephiroth remains the greatest villain of all time for one big reason: He's simultaneously sympathetic and brutal. The hallmarks of any memorable villain.

The character list is filled with interesting personalities, even if they're not all brought into the open. I haven't seen a cast so appealing in so many ways, have you? The writers even implemented side-stories for most of the characters, which is something we didn't often see in those days, and really expanded the game's emotional attraction. 

Then the setting: I loved that world. A better world map, I have never encountered. Full of mystery and variety, from exploring the ocean depths in a submarine to zipping about the skies in your airship to traveling around on a chocobo, it was about as dynamic as any interactive world could've been. Each town had a style and persona all its own, each area had a specific appeal, and how each character reacted to each region was also important.

It's the moments we remember

There's a reason why one of the most memorable moments in history is when Sephiroth slays Aeris. Sorry if that was a spoiler but if you haven't played FFVII yet, you're no gamer, anyway. ;) Just kidding, of course.

The point is that those who remember FFVII don't merely remember the game as a whole. They remember specific moments. They remember the times when they reacted to what they say, and the bottom line is that we kept reacting throughout. It seemed like every new scene was worth storing in our memory banks, because it affected us in a completely new and even profound way. No matter what happens in gaming from here on out, you know you'll always recall these scenes. That's what makes for a special game.

When you factor in everything, and you take into consideration the era in which it was released, I don't think there's any doubt about it: Final Fantasy VII is still the best RPG ever made.

End note: Some people still like to use this argument: "If you say FFVII was the best ever, it was your first RPG." Yeah, no. Doesn't apply to me, trust me on that.

Featured Columnist

A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.

Published Jul. 1st 2014
  • ross_7699
    author clearly never played baldurs gate... its the superior rpg in every single way. incredible music, story, artwork, depth of characters, complexity, immersion and more. There seems to be a high correlation between ff7 fans and being a weeb who never really played other rpgs anyway
  • Derek_1177
    There have been so many great games since FF7 came out. But none have even close to had the same impact on me. It had such an utterly engrossing storyline. I'm nervous with the remake coming out. If it even comes close to what the original was, then a whole new generation of gamers are going to experience a magical game that will change the way they look at video games. I just hope it does the original justice.
  • Andrew_3820
    I'm an adventure gamer first, then an RPGer and there are a lot of RPGs that I lack the patience required for so I'm likely to have a different opinion to folks who have been RPGing since the '80s. I didn't care for RPGs until I played Shining Force and Phantasy Star IV for the Sega Mega Drive(Genesis) in 1997. Phantasy Star IV made me totally open up to RPGing. When I saw the TV ads for FF VII in the same year and it seemed that game's plot resembled PStar IV's what with the death of a close female companion of the hero and a darkly handsome villain (Sephiroth from FF VII reminds me of Zio from PStar IV). I didn't have a Play Station, but our family got a new PC in 2000 and by that time I was able to get a fairly cheap PC version of the game.

    I think FF games have always been a bit "cinematic", even the very first game in 1987 for the NES. Obviously FF VII took it to a whole new level though with the 3D graphics, cut-scenes and all. I finally finished the game in January 2002. While it's hard not to be impressed by it, I think I came to the realization that I just assumed that the game would be better than any RPG prior to it that I'd played, because of the game's length and depth. For all of that, I think the game still has a lot of faults the same faults that many RPGs have had since. The cinema element of the game just seems a bit amateurish and inferior compared to the actual cinema of the time, particularly the game's characters and their dialogue. And I really think the game's story just isn't that great. I've played games that I think are better for having stories that are simpler and shorter. Length and depth are definitely not a sign of greatness necessarily in my book. I was definitely drawn into the game at some points. I did like the idea of Cloud trying to discover his true past and it was surprised by what it turned out to be. I think possibly the romance element of the game is what hurts it the most. I can appreciate GOOD romance, but I think a lot of FF VII's romance is really pretentious. The game does become a bit like a life simulation at times, with Cloud going on a date with Tifa. There's no denying the game's immense success, but I think maybe the game makers were a bit immature, trying to make an RPG that played like a film. Personally I can't overlook how inferior to actual film the game seems.
  • Zak Dwyer
    Final Fantasy VII hit me in all the right places when I was younger; I remember finally finishing it when I about 15-16. No other game, maybe besides Portal 2, The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, and Fallout 3 have had such a huge impact on me.

    I'll admit though, I was able to identify more with the moody/dark and brooding Cloud more back then than I am today. But the story and characters overall still hold up well. But what I remember most was the music - which I still believe has yet to be topped in any other game with regards to being memorable. Nearly every single tune was so good that I would download the MIDIs and burn them to a CD just to listen to them. Still have yet to find a song that gets me as pumped as the "Fighting" theme, with maybe FFX's standard battle theme a close second.

    This was a great article - I've always had a hard time defending this game because a lot of it is rooted in nostalgia, but it does seem that there's so many people online that take some sort of "pride" in hating this game, as if they want to come off as "different" and "discerning". I think in the end people just like the games that they do because they like them, not because of some "logical, defensible" reasons that make them more intellectually superior than the "plebeians" who like popular video games.
  • Dommo_6187
    True... There haven't been any other games with such an awesome storyline and characters... What about the movie though? That was dismal!
  • You suck_1025
    Wow this has to be the most biased nostalgia goggled kissass review I've ever seen.
    Fathoms_4209 you should be ashamed.
  • Zak Dwyer
    Wow this has to be the most unintelligent, biased, uninformative, knee-jerk reactionary comment I've ever seen.

    You suck_1025 you should be ashamed.
  • Niki_9985
    this is probably the only review I've ever found/seen that have truly gone much more *deeper* and can SEE & also appreciate so many of what I would call the "subtle-depth" of the game (Final Fantasy VII). and for all of this, I sincerely have to give big kudos & respect for you!

    Sadly/unfortunately, people like us I've observed are quite only just a few minority left, especially ironically in today's all about "fast-ACTIONS" only 'adolescent-adrenaline', shallow, & even superficial taste,...really!
    of course I'm not judging ALL gamers here, but honestly, I am very tired & irked & bothered, whenever someone said FFVII sucks but they haven't taken time to really 'dive deeper' into those of the more SUBTLE aspects, like you wrote above (I really love it when you DID mention about the "philosophical & psychological angles" ... EXACTLY !! not too many people perhaps can even *notice* 'em, let alone understand and thus able to *appreciate 'em .. ! ).

    And plus, this might seems like another 'minor' things perhaps for other/many people, but other reasons why FFVII still stands out as one of the best games for me personally (after 15+ years!) is because of:

    1) the Summons ! try to see again the Summons, and if you examine more deeply, you will see that the concepts/ideas are quite straight-forward, yet somehow they're really COOL ! and plus, what to most people/gamers (unfortunately/sadly) are viewed as 'annoying', but to me personally it's the LONG LENGTH/duration of the Summons that make 'em to be quite EPIC! (still remember Knights of the Round, and also Sephiroth's Supernova? seriously, how can anyone not remember and TREMBLE/SHIVER/AWED when seeing 'em, AT THAT TIME back then??... people seriously need to be more *honest* with themselves, instead of living in denial, rationalizations, and just trying-to-sound-cool/smart by only finding the "bad/negative" things about this game..!)

    2) the MUSIC ! from Aerith's music, Tifa's theme, the battle's theme, Shinra's theme, Gold Saucer's theme, until the infamous and legendary EPIC SHOCKER Sephiroth's "One Winged Angel" choir,...people need to honestly admit that BACK THEN AT THAT TIME, it was really a SHOCKER to fight final boss with that kind of EPIC choir music in the background! it was really the FIRST TIME probably/perhaps that starting to inspire many other use of 'choir' soundtracks in games & movies (Star Wars I, II, etc) !

    3) the NIGHTMARE ! again, this might perhaps seems like a very 'minor, insignificant' thing to most of those "quick, fast-paced" gamers (which are perhaps the majority!), but for me, when I played the game, I swear that I used to not be able to sleep, and even quite had some nightmares, as some of the scenes in the game, no, the GAME itself actually is perhaps the only RPG game still that somehow have this 'eerie, spooky, weird, & mystery/mysterious' feel/atmosphere/nuances that can seriously haunt you (added especially with the eerie music/OST in some scenes too), eg: the 'psycho' Cloud's scenes, the Pyrammid scene, the Tifa being cut by Sephiroth scene... those were ALSO very memorable scenes for me, although in an 'eerie, mystery' ways

    4) last but perhaps most importantly, YES! it's exactly like you said: it's the PHILOSOPHICAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL angles that make this particular FF stands out from all other Final Fantasy series, because I still couldn't find ANYWHERE ELSE that have the same DEEPER meanings, contemplations, themes/subjects, & concepts!
    in fact, actually, after I learned so much more deeper, now I can see that the story/theme of Final Fantasy VII does have a 'HIDDEN MESSAGE/KNOWLEDGE' for us to decipher (hint: google the Gnosis or Gnostic) !

    so... really,.. those above are just some of the 'subtle, deeper' reasons of why Final Fantasy VII is still the best, most memorable, and STILL leave such an everlasting, deep impacts to me personally (well...of course, people are different.. I'm sure after all my lengthy explanations above, someone would still find many 'reasons/responses' to disagree with me... oh well, to each his own :)

    - from Indonesia -
    Nik
  • Dicklord Von Van
    BEST Game Ever
    - All true gamers!

    Not best ever
    - Trolls
  • Aaron_3760
    I agree, as having played many many RPG's, when someone asks me what my favorite was, I immediately say Final Fantasy 7.
  • Chi81
    There are certainly valid points made and many i agree with, but for me personally FFVII is not one of my favorite RPG's (i prefer, at a minimum, IV, VI and X in the FF series alone). I will admit i am one of the people who feel that the story, despite its epic moments, does not live up to standards set in many other RPGs, and it almost tries to be too grandiose for its own good. I feel similarly about the majority of the characters as well, particularly Cloud who, despite a massive fan base, was quite frankly not that interesting of a protagonist (he was almost like a silent protagonist that, well, wasn't silent). What FFVII deserves a ton of credit for, however, is ushering RPGs into the next generation of gaming. Despite it's flaws, the game was a technical marvel when it was released and it created an entirely new fan base for Final Fantasy and RPGs in general that no other game can come close to matching. That, in my opinion (which is worth what you're paying me - nothing), is FFVII's true legacy and is certainly worthy of praise.
  • Ray_8910
    Still my favourite game of all time. I understand it's not for everyone, and many other games in the franchise will be other's favourite. But nothing can touch this one for me, and it almost breaks my heart that nothing has had the type of impact that this one had on me.
  • Death Metal Hero
    Contributor
    I hate to be that guy. But god dammit I loathe FF7 so much. All my friends were like "ZOMG DUH BEST GAEM EVORZ!" and when I tried to play it, it was so hyped up that I was really disappointed in it. Then as time went on, more and more people were screaming in my face that it's "The best game ever" and that made me hate the game even more.
  • georgeantium
    I had no idea what the game was when I got it. I was probably about 9 years old and someone gave it to me because they didn't have time to play it. It was the best thing I'd ever played at the time. It got me hooked on the whole genre for a long time! So.... that's the difference I guess.
  • Death Metal Hero
    Contributor
    The game that got me hooked on the genre was Legend of Dragoon. I do enjoy the other final fantasy games but I swear I have a curse with that franchise. I can't beat any of the games no matter how hard I try. lol

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