Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Reading: The Final Fantasy VII Letters

ff7Talking about old videogames can be problematic. The industry’s rapid technological advances often make maintaining retain proper perspective difficult. Since many of us played games in our childhood, our fond memories of certain titles are often wrapped up in nostalgia completely unrelated to the game itself.

Writing for Paste, Kirk Hamilton and Leigh Alexander grapple with nostalgia in The Final Fantasy VII Letters. Discussions of Square’s revered Playstation RPG regularly spiral into needless Aeris-mourning and debating the merits of full-motion video (FMV) cutscenes. Hamilton is only just now playing the game for the first time (it’s available for download on the Playstation Network), and Alexander considers it one of her favorite games of all time (she too recently replayed the game on PSP). Their letter exchange will attempt to address the game’s context as well as its lasting legacy.

Why is it so highly regarded? Is our praise rose-colored or does the game still hold up?

The feature is only two letters in and I’m already hooked. Alexander introduces the experiment and extols the design of Midgar before Hamilton even starts his playthrough. “It was very different for its time, agree?” asks Alexander. I agree. FFVII did away with kings and queens, princes and princesses. Its opening gambit pit you against a corporation. That was new for a genre whose two biggest franchises had the words “fantasy” and “dragon” in their titles.

Hamilton’s response comes about six hours into his playthrough. He’s digging Midgar for its gritty aesthetic and for the uniqueness of the design:

“What's more, all of the backdrops appear to be unique, which is refreshing after going through the constantly recycled 3D assets of today's games. I can't interact with the items in the restaurant in Wall Market, but they are unique and inform the world. I can pick up one of a billion identical loaves of bread in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, but who the hell cares?”

That’s the best defense of FFVII’s style I’ve read yet. Be sure to follow this feature. I know I will.