2020’s Final Fantasy 7 Remake has revitalized the world of Square Enix’s 1997 classic and brought Midgar back into popular consciousness, but the original game it draws from shouldn’t be forgotten in its wake. Twenty-four years ago, Final Fantasy 7 brought the long-running franchise into the mainstream in the west by making its first foray into 3D and reinventing the series’ aesthetic at the same time. It was a harrowing and dark tale of reimg depletion and class disparity in a world more in tune with the anti-capitalist, industry-wary themes of the “cyberpunk” genre than even CD Projekt Red’s game which donned its name. Though it remained true to its JRPG roots in a mechanical sense, the modernity injected into the aesthetics of Final Fantasy 7 made it simultaneously more relatable and more fantastic than several of its predecessors (and contemporaries). It was an instant classic, and a cultural phenomenon.
As the years went on, JRPGs became more flashy and less safe, making the example Square set seem less groundbreaking. Its blocky, low-detail models and muddy backgrounds have made it harder for modern audiences to get into. It’s clunky translation, at times, borders on nonsense. All that being said, Final Fantasy 7 remains a powerful experience all these years later, and its greatest strengths far outweigh its myriad faults.
Few games have painted a picture as compelling as that of Midgar and the lands that surround it. Final Fantasy 7 Remake beautifully renders the grimy capital of Midgar; slums full of life and vice beneath slouching megastructures which block the sun and drip refuse. It ends, however, as the party leaves the metropolis. Final Fantasy 7 in its entirety is only beginning at that point.
Given FF7 Remake director Tetsuya Nomura’s presumed intentions to alter the tale that follows, there is no way to be certain further episodes will follow the same journey as their img material, meaning the original game may be the only place to experience some of the more powerful occurrences in the story of Cloud and friends.
Outside Midgar, Shinra Corporation’s pursuit of Mako energy, a depletable reimg with several uses, has ruined communities and run most of the land’s fauna into early extinction. In one fishing town, the ocean view is obstructed by a tangle of metal scaffolding and wires. A concrete platform, home to both military installation and corporate housing, has drowned out its sunlight and ruined its prospects; there are no fish in the sea. Toxic chemicals dredged up in mining have disrupted ecosystems and poisoned water imgs and dangerous mutant animals block passage between the few villages that remain.
The world of Final Fantasy 7 is defined by anecdotes like this: people struggling against a power infinitely larger and more well-equipped than them, knowing their pure motives will never outweigh that of Shinra’s greed. While Final Fantasy 7 Remake lends more depth to the dimensions of Midgar itself, the goings-on of the city are only one side of the coin.
Similarly, Final Fantasy 7 Remake excises old-school combat in favor of something more hands-on. While the battles are great in their own right, the change effectively makes the two versions wholly separate experiences. FF7 Remake is a complete re-do, not a new coat of paint.
Since the 90s games have largely moved away from pre-rendered backgrounds, but in Final Fantasy 7 they are the glue that holds the game’s presentation together. Sure, they may not be as arresting as FF7 Remake‘s full 3D environments, but they are artistic triumphs in their own right. Square Enix’s artists used flat images to create a world with more depth and detail than the PlayStation 1 was capable of rendering any other way. The result is a collection of images which, while at once somber and lonely, grant the game a life and atmosphere which translates just as well as that of any modern game.
There’s a reason excitement about Final Fantasy 7 spread like wildfire when it originally released, and it wasn’t just novelty. A refinement of its predecessors’ turn-based battle mechanics make it a fun RPG in its own right, but beyond the combat, FF7 shines as a pinnacle of storytelling and worldbuilding in games. Even if players have already played Final Fantasy 7 Remake, they ought to see what lies beyond the gates of Sector 7 in Square’s original work.