1997: A Fantasy Reborn
All this week, EGMNOW.com takes a look at our picks for the five most influential Japanese videogames ever released. These titles not only shaped us as players—and had dramatic, long-lasting impacts on the entire industry—but also transcended videogaming to become cultural icons.
The Game: Released in 1997 for Sony’s initial attempt at conquering the home-console market—the original PlayStation, for you younger readers out there—Final Fantasy VII was a major new step for Square’s Final Fantasy franchise. Boasting, by far, the largest budget for a videogame of its era—nearly $45 million—and requiring a staff of more than 100, Final Fantasy VII was Square’s first effort to transition the traditional Japanese RPG to the brave new world of high-powered, polygon-pushing hardware.
The Effect It Had: While many remember the “controversy” that Square Enix caused when announcing that Final Fantasy XIII would no longer be a PlayStation 3 exclusive, longtime fans of the franchise will recall a much similar reaction when the series made the jump from its longstanding tradition of calling Nintendo systems home. (Nintendo decided that they wanted to stick with the cartridge format for their upcoming system, the Nintendo 64; Square wanted the additional storage space offered by CDs for the benefit of creating grander graphics and full-motion-video cinemas.)
In the months leading up to its release, Final Fantasy VII received a level of promotion unheard of for Japanese RPGs in the West—one that, really, hasn’t been seen on that level since. At launch, the game’s success was immediate and shocking. Japanese retailers sold over 2 million copies of Final Fantasy VII in just three days, and an unprecedented level of customer demand caused many retailers in North America to break the game’s official street date days early. (The game went on to sell 1 million copies in North America in the span of three months, an amazing feat for a Japanese RPG at that time.) Final Fantasy VII was adored by fans, lauded by critics, and it still stands, to this day, as the best-selling and most beloved chapter of the Final Fantasy saga.
Its Lasting Influence: Even before anything else, Final Fantasy VII heavily affected Square as a company. The game forever changed the style and direction future Square titles would take, transforming the developer from that of a typical game-creation house into one that became known for highly produced, more “cinematic” gaming experiences. Even today, with the upcoming release of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, you can still see Final Fantasy VII’s influence in terms of character design, world creation (that particular mix of fantasy and technology), and cinematic feel.
For fans outside of Japan, Final Fantasy VII was especially important. Before the adventures of Cloud, Aerith, Barret, and Tifa, a variety of Japanese RPGs had been translated and released in the West, but it was Final Fantasy VII that finally gave those types of games true legitimacy. For fans of JRPGs at the time, the difference was night and day. Before Final Fantasy VII, English-speaking fans of the genre would feel lucky if a handful of RPGs from Japanese developers were offered every year; after the game’s massive success, releases became more common, translations were taken more seriously, and titles that once seemed too niche for Western audiences were more likely to be given a chance.
Role-playing games weren’t the only genre to feel Final Fantasy VII’s influence; any videogame that intertwines cinematic elements with gameplay—everything from Uncharted 3 to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3—will have no doubt taken some inspiration from Square’s pioneering efforts. Final Fantasy VII didn’t just influence the software scene, though. One has to wonder where the PlayStation brand might be today had Square’s RPG not been there to help give the console the “must-have” status it ended up achieving—or what additional level of success the Nintendo 64 might’ve seen had Square blessed it with Final Fantasy VII instead.
What do you think of Final Fantasy VII being one of our top choices? How do you feel it’s influenced the world of videogames—and do you have any special memories or experiences with the game? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
EGMNOW’s Five Most Influential Japanese Games
Day 1: Space Invaders
Day 2: Pac-Man
Day 3: Super Mario Bros.
Day 4: Street Fighter II
Day 5: Final Fantasy VII