The History of Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII Remake came out recently, one of the most anticipated remakes and video games of 2020. The game has a rich history and to celebrate the release of the remake I wanted to have a look back at the history of Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy VII originally came out in 1997 and was developed by Square for the original PlayStation console. It was developed by Square in Japan before they became Square Enix and it was released by Sony Computer Entertainment to western audiences and was the first in the Final Fantasy series to get a PAL release.

The game follows Cloud Strife, a mercenary who joins up with an eco-terrorist group called Avalanche who are trying to stop a mega-corporation from sucking the lifeblood from the planet via their Make reactors. Cloud and Avalanche get closer throughout the game and try to chase down Sephiroth, a superhuman who’s seeking to harm the planet.

The game was the first in the series to use a combination of video, 3D character models overlayed on 2D environments. More science fiction elements were introduced to the series, however, the gameplay mechanics remained fairly similar to previous entries. There were a few new additions including Materia, Limit Breaks and new mini-games. The game had approximately 100 staff and combined development and marketing budget of $80 million.

There was a huge promotional campaign behind the game and the game received widespread commercial and critical success. To this day it’s regarded as one of the best video games of all time. It won numerous Game of the Year awards and was acknowledged for boosting sales of the PlayStation and helping to make RPGs popular on consoles. The graphics, music, gameplay and story all received high praise, however, the English localisation received some criticism.

The initial concepts for Final Fantasy VII were created in 1994 at Square, long before they became Square Enix. This followed on from the highly successful Final Fantasy VI. It was initially going to be a release on the SNES, however, the development was postponed so the team could help out on completing Chrono Trigger. Once that was done, the team got back together to discuss the next steps in 1995.

The team discussed continuing with the 2D style, similar to that of Final Fantasy VI, however, the team decided to take the risk and make a new 3D style game. They were yet to decide on the cartridge-based SNES or the CD-ROM-based PlayStation. They were also considering the Sega Saturn and Microsoft’s Windows. The final decision was influenced by two things: there was a successful tech demo of Final Fantasy VI using new Softimage 3D software and the rapidly rising prices of cartridges. Tests were done with early Nintendo 64 software using 64 Disk Drive, however, this was discarded early due to the low frame rate and the estimated need for 30 64DD to run Final Fantasy VII as the creators had intended. Square chose the Sony PlayStation and shifted not only Final Fantasy VII but all future projects onto the new platform.

The gameplay itself remained largely unchanged from earlier Final Fantasy games such as V and VI, however, the graphics and audio were completely overhauled. Due to the 3D environments, the battle scenes benefitted greatly through the sheer scale of enemies – something that was hard to translate in 2D environments. Producer Sakaguchi placed a lot of emphasis on the battle system and proposed a new system called Materia to provide more player customisation with that previous Final Fantasy games. Battles would no longer rely on the skills and abilities of individual players, but these Materia modifications could be added into the battle. Artist Tetsuya Nomura developed the Limit Break system as an evolution of the Desperation Attacks found in Final Fantasy VI. Limit Breaks served a purpose, but also allow the character’s personality to shine through.

Square had the resources and the ambition to create the game they wanted. They had extensive capital from the earlier success of other Final Fantasy titles which meant they could focus on the quality and scale rather than working around a limited budget. At the time, Final Fantasy VII was one of the most expensive video games ever made costing $40 million. Development of the final version took a staff of approx 100-150 people just over a year to complete. To put this into context, a typical team working on a game at the time was about 20 people. The team was split across Square’s Japan and LA offices.

Final Fantasy VII was announced in February 1996 and Square released a playable demo at the 1996 Tokyo Game Show. The game’s initial release date was 1996, however, the date was pushed back a full year so the team could fully realise their vision of the game. Final Fantasy VII was released on 31st January 1997 in Japan.

Success in the Japanese market had almost been taken for granted, however, western audiences were another matter completely. JRPGs were still fairly niche outside Japan. Sony was struggling at the time against Nintendo and Sega’s consoles and lobbied for the publishing rights outside of Japan. Sony offered huge royalty deals with profits potentially equaling Square would get from self-publishing the game – it was pretty much an offer Square couldn’t refuse and they accepted. Square didn’t have western audience experience and wasn’t certain of the game’s success as previous titles like Final Fantasy VI weren’t bit international hits outside of Japan.

Sony and Square launched a huge three-month advertising campaign in August 1997 with TV commercials that ran alongside Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and sports. The campaign included numerous articles in gaming and general interest magazines and ads in comics like DC and Marvel. The total worldwide marketing budget came to about $40 million – $10 in Japan, $10 in Europe and $20 in North America.

Unlike other games in the Final Fantasy series, it didn’t have it’s number adjusted like the others (For example Final Fantasy VI is Final Fantasy III in North America and Europe). It was released in North America on September 7, 1997. The game was released in Europe on November 17, becoming the first Final Fantasy game to be released in Europe. The Western version included additional elements and alterations, such as streamlining of the menu and Materia system, reducing the health of enemies, new visual cues to help with navigation across the world map, and additional cutscenes relating to Cloud’s past.

Final Fantasy VII received huge acclaim for audiences and reviewers. GameFan described it as “quite possibly the greatest game ever made”, a quote that was later selected to be printed on the back of a re-release box. Gamespot said, “never before have technology, playability, and narrative combined as well as in Final Fantasy VII”. GamePro gave it a perfect 5.0 out of 5 in all four categories (graphics, sound, control and fun) going onto say about the narrative “dramatic, sentimental, and touching in a way that draws you into the characters”, who “come alive thanks to sweetly subtle body movements.”

Within 3 days of the release in Japan, Final Fantasy VII sold over two million copies. Computing Japan noted it was largely responsible for PlayStations global install base increasing from 10 million in November 1996 to 16 million in May 1997 (60% increase). According to Weekly Famitsu, Final Fantasy VII sold 3.27 million units in Japan by the end of 1997.

In North America, it’s popularity led to many retailers breaking street dates in September to meet demand. In the opening week, the game sold 330,000 copies and made $16.5 million. This was higher than any video game to date, beating the previous record of Star Fox at 300,000 sales. It went onto sell 500,000 copies in less than three weeks. This continued for the opening months with Sony reporting 1 million sales by December 1997. This led to business analyst Edward Williams to comment, “Sony redefined the role-playing game (RPG) category and expanded the conventional audience with the launch of Final Fantasy VII.”

Worldwide, the PlayStation version had sold 9.34 million units by March 2003, including 3.9 million units in Japan and 5.44 million units abroad, making it the highest-selling Final Fantasy game and the best-selling Square Enix title.

Final Fantasy VII was given numerous Game of the Year awards in 1997. During the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences’ first annual Interactive Achievement Awards (now known as the D.I.C.E. Awards), Final Fantasy VII won in the categories of “Console Adventure Game of the Year” and “Console Role-Playing Game of the Year” (it was also nominated for “Interactive Title of the Year”, “Outstanding Achievement in Art/Graphics” and “Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Design”).

Final Fantasy VII is credited as having the largest impact of the Final Fantasy series. GameSpot ranked it as the second most influential game ever made in 2002. In 2007, GamePro ranked it 14th on their list of the most important games of all time, and in 2009 it was ranked the same place on their list of the most influential and innovative games of all time.

The game is credited with allowing console role-playing games to gain mass-market appeal outside of Japan. Role-playing video games were a niche genre in North America up until Final Fantasy VII introduced the genre to a mainstream audience there, and it was the first Final Fantasy title released in Europe. According to Gene Park of The Washington Post, it “single-handedly put role-playing video games on the global map.” According to Sony Computer Entertainment founder and PlayStation architect Ken Kutaragi, Final Fantasy VII was “a driving force that propelled gaming forward” along with the PlayStation, and the game contributed to growing global awareness of Japanese popular culture along with anime.

With the announcement and development of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, speculation spread that an enhanced remake of the original Final Fantasy VII would be released for the PlayStation 3. This conjecture was sparked at the 2005 E3 convention by the release of a video featuring the opening sequence of Final Fantasy VII recreated using the PlayStation 3’s graphical capabilities.

Throughout the lifespan of the PS3, SquareEnix stated that such a game was not in development. A high definition episodic remake was eventually announced at E3 2015 for the PlayStation 4. The game will be more than a high definition remaster, with director Nomura stating that the game will have changes made to its story and combat system. The first episode was released on April 10, 2020, for the PlayStation 4.

Thanks to Wikipedia for the source material.

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