Wednesday, September 9, 2009

This Week in History

On September 7th, 12 years ago, video game history was made.

Okay, so I know that's probably one of the nerdiest statements you'll ever read, but I had to say it. On Friday, something caused me to reflect on what is probably my favorite video game of all time. I actually thought to myself, "Some time, I should blog a small tribute to Final Fantasy VII. Maybe on the anniversary of its North American release." So I looked it up and discovered the anniversary was in three days. Unreal.

Anyway, when I look back across my years of enjoying various video games, two very different games stand out from the rest for very different reasons: Doom and Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy VII was groundbreaking for a number of reasons. Primarily, this video game delivered an immersive cinematic experience like no other before it. When playing, it was as if you were sucked out of your chair and placed into your favorite adventure movie series. However, the word "adventure" doesn't do it justice. "Epic Tale" is more fitting. This special achievement is not something that was easily repeated. I've played several other role-playing video games over the years, including later Final Fantasy titles, and have yet to find a comparable experience.

In January 2005, it was selected by Electronic Gaming Monthly as sixth on their list of "the 10 most important games … that helped redefine the industry since … 1989". Citing its "beautiful cut-scenes and a deep, introspective narrative", they claimed that "Square’s game was … the first RPG to surpass, instead of copy, movie-like storytelling."

Other than that, Final Fantasy VII seems to have found itself a permanent place in video game history for two very clear reasons which I will discuss below. I'll try not to spoil too much just in case there's someone out there who may be convinced to experience this for himself.

The Best (Worst?) Villain in Video Game History

Who are some of the most memorable, fictional villains you can think of? Hannibal Lecter, Gollum, and the Joker all come to my mind. But for me, this list is incomplete without Sephiroth.

The hero of Final Fantasy VII is Cloud Strife. The game does a fantastic job of placing you in Cloud's shoes instead of just showing you how cool he is. Cloud's nemesis is Sephiroth. As the story unfolds, there is a point at which Cloud asks Sephiroth, "What about my pain?" When I first played the game, it was at this point that I had to put down the game controller, get up, and remind myself that I was only watching a story. On very rare occasions, a good book will give me a similar feeling. No movies so far.

The feeling is hard to describe, but this game made me want to actually hate a person that doesn't even exist. Maybe that's impossible, but Final Fantasy VII pushes many limits. ( a "this is amazingly unique" way, not a "Grand Theft Auto" way.)

The Most Memorable Moment in Video Game History

Final Fantasy VII did something that is basically unheard-of in video games, even today. I'll let others do the explaining:

[Something Happens] in a scene referred to as "the most shocking moment in video games".

Director and scenario writer Yoshinori Kitase concludes: "... It leaves, not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness. ... you feel this big empty space and think, 'If I had known this was coming I would have done things differently.' ... Feelings of reality and not Hollywood."

While reflecting on the game, Tetsuya Nomura [said] "... When I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, the fact that fans were so offended ... probably means that we were successful ... The world was expecting us to [undo this event], as this is the classic convention." A lengthy petition asking for [undoing] by Japanese players was sent to scenario writer Yoshinori Kitase. However, Kitase states that "there are many meanings in [this event] and that could never happen".

[The event] in Final Fantasy VII has received a great deal of attention. Players commented on message boards and blogs about the emotional impact the scene held. Fans submitted a petition to Yoshinori Kitase requesting [its undoing]. GameSpy numbers [the event] as the 10th greatest cinematic moment in video game history. Its readers voted it the second most cinematic moment in video games. GamePro considers [the event] sequence to be the greatest of all gaming moments. Tom's Games called the scene "one of the most powerful and memorable scenes of the Final Fantasy series - or any other game, for that matter." Edge called [the event] the "dramatic highpoint" of Final Fantasy VII... . In 2005, Electronic Gaming Monthly listed Final Fantasy VII number six in their list of "10 Most Important Games", stating without it, "[The event wouldn't have happened], and gamers wouldn’t have learned how to cry." GamesTM commented [the event] helped establish the popularity of Final Fantasy VII. ScrewAttack has added [the event] in their "Top 10 OMGWTF Moments" referring to it as one of the "touchiest moments in video game history."

There's not much I can add except this: if you only ever play one video game in your entire life, it should be Final Fantasy VII.

Note for this post: Words in italics or the image captions are not my own, but probably found on Wikipedia.

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