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– by Kyle Malone

Final Fantasy is a game series I love. I couldn’t begin to calculate the amount of time I have spent playing games in this series, but it would probably be easier to measure it in months instead of hours. I love these games so much I had a Cactuar, Chocobo, Tonberry, and a group of Bombs permanently etched into my skin. I could go on and on about the whole series, but it’d take me a year to write it… probably. However, I can write about the best one relatively quickly.

I’m sure the article title and pictures have given it away, but in my opinion Final Fantasy VII is the best game in the series. I am not saying this game is my favorite, although it is. I am saying that this game is the overall best out of all games carrying the Final Fantasy title! Bold words right? I know it is often called the best, but why is that? What makes this game better than Final Fantasy VI or IV? Are the characters really that great? Is it all nostalgia that raises this game so high on so many favorites lists? Let’s dig into it a bit…

Like many games in the FF series, this one has a world in crisis. The evil electric company, Shin-Ra, is draining the planet of its life force. On top of that, they’ve been experimenting with that life force, called Mako, and an ancient people called the Cetra. These experiments result in the big bad man himself, Sephiroth. He decides that the humans on the planet are in desperate need of extinction and seeks to summon a meteor to meet those ends.

This game does such a wonderful job taking the standard good versus evil story and it builds an amazing world with it. Unlike many of the earlier games, FF7 spends a lot of time building its world’s history. Most other games will mention its history in the intro or there may be some items, books, or people that describe some too. However, FF7 uses the Characters Aerith (Aeris in the US) and Sephiroth and their connection to the ancient Cetra to provide history and add depth to the world. The main story and struggle with Sephiroth don’t need this extra information, but it really helps strengthen the characters and the player’s relationship with them.

The characters are another thing that really separates this game from others. Cloud is fairly static throughout the game, but his backstory and connection to Sephiroth are incredibly interesting. This game doesn’t just flesh out its main character, it also spends time on side characters like Red XIII, Barret, and Cid. FF6 had a lot of characters, but other than Terra and Locke most of its playable characters don’t develop. Red XIII has an actual growth moment in FF7 when he learns the truth about his father, whom he had thought to be a coward. It’s actually a really emotional part of the game and a story element that could have easily been a main character story. There are of course some duds in FF7, like Vincent and Yuffie, but overall you really get to connect with your team.

As for the baddies, there is no more iconic a villain for this series than Sephiroth. Kefka gives him a run for his money, but between Sephiroth’s design, history, and connection with Cloud you get a villain that feels more integral to the games progression instead of just an opponent. There’s also the Turks, a sort of enforcer group for the Shin-Ra, and their leader Reno. These characters aren’t as developed as Sephiroth, but they add yet another layer to the game. Lastly, there’s the line of Weapons to fight. Weapons are giant creatures that are awakened when the world is in danger. There are four that can be fought but only two must be fought in the story. The additional two are optional bosses, and it should be noted that FF7 was the second game in the series to have optional bosses. The first was FF5, but optional bosses were added to many others in remakes and ports.

The mechanics of FF7 are nearly perfect. Yes, I know about the bugs and how some attributes cannot be affected by armor, accessories, and materia, but the materia system itself, the battle system, and the blend of open world, towns, and dungeons is masterfully done. Materia, where you get your magic and summons from, is very influential to combat. There are attributes that are affected by materia as well as status effects on armor and weapons. This plays into the tactics of the game and really has an effect on the battles.

FF is famous for its version of turn-based battles, and its Active Time Battle (ATB) system in FF7 is one of the best RPG battle systems ever. In combat you have an ATB bar that fills over time and once filled you can complete an action such as casting a spell, attacking, or using an item. As you level up and gain in the speed attribute, your ATB will fill faster. It’s also affected by the Slow, Stop, And Haste effects. If you can’t keep up and need time to think, there is a “wait” mode that stope all ATB gauges, including the enemies, while you’re in the action menus. This battle system is so loved that it lasted until FF12, not counting the online only FF11, and when it was changed many people were angry. This is also a point of contention with the upcoming remake of FF7 where we’ve been told we will get a more modern action RPG battle system akin to Kingdom Hearts.

The world of Gaia is vast and diverse. It includes all of the classic FF travel methods such as airship and chocobo, but you can also use a submarine and an eight-wheeled buggy. The environments and towns are diverse and the dungeons blend seamlessly into the world. There’s no real defined moment when you go from the world or town maps to a dungeon. As a matter of fact, the game uses the world and towns as dungeons at times. This creates a more immersive game than any in the past. Although there are more modern games that do this better, FF7 still gets points for remaining a standard point.

What would Final Fantasy be without its composer, Nobuo Uematsu. There are many great tracks from past games, but nothing compares to “One Winged Angel” or  “J-E-N-O-V-A” from FF7. Music is such an important part of video games, especially RPGs which are more cinematic and story-driven than strategy game or first-person shooters. Uematsu outdid himself with this soundtrack, and I can not wait to play the game with a full orchestra in the background versus the digitally created tracks from the original. How many of you can actually name songs from other games? I know some of you can, but are they as iconic as the ones from FF7? No… no they’re not. Except maybe Waltz for the Moon from FF8!

Great characters, deep and rich story, amazing mechanics, and memorable music… these are more prevalent in Final Fantasy 7 than any other game in the series. I will admit that other games may have an individual attribute that is better than FF7, many people would say the story in FF6 is an example, but none of them have so many great attributes in a single game. As I said before, I am aware that nostalgia plays a big part in people’s love for the game, but you can see how great the game is on its own merit as well.

Do you agree that Final Fantasy 7 is the best in the series? If not, which one is the best? Is your favorite game different than what you think is the best one? Let us know in the comments below!

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Kyle is the Weekend Editor for LRM Online and a business school graduate who loves movies, comics, and video games. He shares his passions with his wife and is raising a next-generation geek.