The RetroBeat: The magic of the original Final Fantasy VII

We’re getting close to the April 10 launch of Final Fantasy VII Remake for PlayStation 4. So before we all get caught up with what’s new, I’d like to take a moment to talk about why the original is so danged special.

Final Fantasy VII came out for the PlayStation back in 1997. I was 11, but I understood even before launch that the game would be a big deal. There’s a lot of mystique behind Final Fantasy VII. First off, it was a big deal that it was going to be a PlayStation exclusive. Up until that point, Final Fantasy had lived on Nintendo consoles. Seeing such a big franchise switch sides seemed like a sign that times were changing. Sure enough, Sony would soon overcome Nintendo as the market leader.

Also, as silly as it may seem now, even the name was intriguing. Before this, I was used to an entirely different numbering system for the series. In the U.S., the game that was Final Fantasy VI in Japan, for example, was Final Fantasy III. So, all of a sudden, we were going from Final Fantasy III to Final Fantasy VII. It was fun using the then limited resources on the internet to learn about why we missed out on a bunch of entries in the series. It was an accidental piece of marketing brilliance, since it made me more interested in the franchise.

We were also still getting used to 3D games in 1997. It was interesting any time you saw a classic, 2D franchise make the leap from pixels to polygons. And aside from Final Fantasy making the jump to the 3D, this was a big deal for RPGs in general. If you look at the RPGs that came out for the PlayStation before Final Fantasy VII — like Suikoden or Beyond the Beyond — many of them still relied on pixel art and 2D sprites. Final Fantasy VII looked leagues beyond them.

Summoning greatness

But even with all that intrigue and hype, the actual game was a shocking display of spectacle. I remember watching a video of Final Fantasy VII before it came out, something I probably downloaded off of AOL or something. It was short, it just showed Cloud walking down some stairs and getting into a random battle. But Final Fantasy VII’s blend of 3D characters against prerendered backgrounds looked spectacular. Yes, those stubby, triangular characters may look primitive now, but they displayed so much more movement and action than the 2D characters I was used to.

The real highlight of this video, which probably was displayed at a resolution so low that I dare not speak its dimensions, was when a character used a summon. In Final Fantasy, these are powerful magic spells that literally summon creatures, monsters, or gods for a special attack. These were neat in past games, but they became enormous and epic in Final Fantasy VII. I still remember seeing the summon from this video, Leviathan, for the first time. He summons a tidal wave that rises and rushes over all enemies. It was by far the coolest thing I had even seen in a game.

Then I got to play the actual game, which has one of the most iconic openings of all time. I think we all remember the first time we saw the camera zoom out from the mysterious flower girl, up into the sky and looking down on a futuristic city, then come back down to focus on a train careening into a station. Prerendered cutscenes were still rare and exciting, and this was the greatest one most of us had ever seen.

And the whole game was littered with awesome cutscenes, vast landscapes, and epic summons. Now, I don’t mean to downplay Final Fantasy VII’s competence as an RPG. It continued using the brilliant ATB (Active Time Battle) system that had become a mainstay of the series at that point, which combines turn-based strategy with real-time tension. The Materia system, which allowed you to level up specific spells and then swap them between characters, was also a lot of fun.

You also have the great soundtrack, memorable characters, and all of that other stuff that made Final Fantasy VII great. But I think that it was that spectacle, that use of technology to present action and story at a scale we weren’t used to before in RPGs, that made Final Fantasy VII special.

As excited as I am for the remake, I don’t know if it can be the industry milestone that the original was back in 1997.

The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.

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We Are Nations: Adapting to the new normal

Note: This is a guest piece from Patrick Mahoney, CEO of We Are Nations

Today is the start of our third week of working from home. I’ve developed what I think is a pretty good routine – it’s important to do so – and I’m sticking to it.

Every morning starts at 8:00 am with a massive pot of coffee. 8:30 am to 1:00 pm are back-to-back phonecalls, which – to be honest – isn’t all the different from normal. But as I mentioned last week, I am making sure to speak to new contacts both outside my normal circle and also outside of We Are Nation’s normal business focus. These calls especially have been really enjoyable and I hope they ultimately turn in to opportunity we normally wouldn’t come across.

After the calls, I head outside (alone, of course) for a run or a bike ride. Keeping active is just as important as keeping up a routine. I’ve been an endurance athlete for years so putting in the hours isn’t new to me, but now more than ever I use this time to find clarity. One of the ironies I’ve discovered resulting from social distancing is that the reality of the new communication is even more dependent on multiple concurrent conversations by email, text, Zoom, WhatsApp, GroupMe, and every other app out there. I’ve also noticed that people are (gasp!) even using the phone more. So no matter what, you still have to find ways to “step away” for a break to keep fresh and stay centred.

By late afternoon, I’m back at home to finish up the day. However, my days are not as intense at the moment. For the first week, I felt guilty about this. But then I decided that feeling guilty didn’t make any sense because the fact of the matter is that when this crisis ends, our normal lives will come roaring back. Some of us will eat out every day for a month. Some of us will go see every band or every movie that is playing. And at the same time, the “live side” business of esports will come back – the tournaments, the consumer shows and the conferences. Our businesses will be back up and firing on all cylinders and our travel schedules will be just as crazy as they were a month or two ago.

But for now, we just have to keep going with the flow and take each day as they come. Use the time wisely. Rediscover yourself. Remember CDs? I’m listening to some albums I’ve not listened to in 10 years, all while watching a recap of the 1998 Tour de France, which I found on DVD in the same box as the lava lamp.

The COVID-19 crisis is far from over and, by now, many of us have been personally impacted by the illness in some way or another. Unfortunately, we are not even close to a place where we can begin to measure what the human tragedy and toll of this ordeal will be. Add to this that the media and social networks can be equal parts helpful and unhelpful when trying to keep up with what’s happening around the world, and it’s very easy for these days to become confusing and scary. But I am starting to see some news reports and other data cutting through the white noise that maybe, just maybe, are pointing the way to the end of the tunnel.

So let’s keep going, everyone. And I hope you, your families, friends, and coworkers are safe. No matter what, we still have each other.

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GTA Online Slashes Price Of The Bizarre Mammoth Avenger Vehicle

Players of GTA Online looking to get one of the game’s weirdest vehicles at a discount price are in luck this week.

Almost seven years after its initial release, GTA V remains one of the most popular games of all time. Rockstar’s constant updates and additions have a lot to do with that. The developers have basically offered up endless opportunities to all of its players.

Some of those opportunities come in weird and wonderful forms. Take one of the offerings brought about by the latest update, for instance. Players can currently get the Mammoth Avenger at the heavily discounted price of 60% off. For players unfamiliar with the plane, it is one of the weirder vehicles available in the game.

On top of that, players can also enjoy up to 60% off everything that comes with the Avenger. Fix it up with thrusters and gun turrets and by the time your enemies have figured out what on Earth that is coming at them over the horizon, it will be too late for them. The discounts are live now and will be until April 1, 2020, at which point another update will roll in and new deals will become available, so best not to hang around.

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How Baby Archie is Handling the Coronavirus Crisis

Currently, the whole world is affected by the Coronavirus crisis. Luckily, the only son of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, Archie, is totally unaware of the situation, and he is enjoying all the things that toddlers should.

“Archie has now learned how to pull himself up while in the crib, which Meghan said is cute, but can be a bit nerve-wracking. She also said Archie’s new thing is blowing kisses, which is just absolutely adorable.” – announced Meghan’s friend for the Daily Express.

The Duke and the Duchess of Sussex are in self-isolation in their luxury home on Vancouver Island.

Meanwhile, an insider revealed what gift will Queen Elizabeth buy for her great-grandson’s first birthday.

“The Queen has set her sights on a beautiful rocking horse” – revealed the source to US Weekly.

He also added that the young Archie already has tons of fluffy toys and animal books.

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Horizon Zero Dawn out on PC this summer confirms Sony

The rumours were true: Sony is starting to release its PlayStation exclusive titles on PC. Although they insist the consoles come first.

In what’s already a highly controversial move, Sony has confirmed rumours that 2017 PlayStation 4 exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn will be released on PC this year. The Steam page is already up, although all the screenshots are from the PlayStation 4.

The move had initially been rumoured back in January but while the leaks appeared to be legit it seemed a very peculiar move for Sony, who generally have very little to do with the PC – as opposed to Microsoft, who obviously have a vested interest given they make the Windows operating system.

It sounds like it was all probably the idea of new PlayStation Worldwide Studios boss Hermen Hulst, who was previously the MD of Horizon Zero Dawn developer Guerrilla Games, and announced the PC version via the PlayStation Blog.

‘I think it’s important that we stay open to new ideas of how to introduce more people to PlayStation, and show people maybe what they’ve been missing out on’, said Hulst.

‘And to maybe put a few minds at ease, releasing one first-party AAA title to PC doesn’t necessarily mean that every game now will come to PC. In my mind, Horizon Zero Dawn was just a great fit in this particular instance. We don’t have plans for day and date [PC releases], and we remain 100% committed to dedicated hardware.’

Hulst doesn’t explain why Horizon Zero Dawn was a ‘great fit’ and there’s nothing about the game that seems to suit the PC more than any other PlayStation exclusive. Especially as the very next game he talks about in the interview is creation tool Dreams.

It’s already been rumoured that The Last Of Us Part 2 will also be released on PC, after job ads were spotted implying as much, and while Hulst currently says it’s not the case, it seems more than possible that PC versions of PlayStation exclusives could become routine in the next generation.

The obvious question though is why, since the idea of needing to ‘introduce more people to PlayStation’ seems rather vague and unnecessary. Especially since many could well decide there’s no need to buy a PlayStation console if all the games are already on PC.

Microsoft doesn’t care about that because they’re increasingly pushing Game Pass and Project xCloud streaming, so Sony taking the same approach may suggest that’s where they see the future too.

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