“The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time” is a statistical meta-analysis of 44 “Best Video Games of All Time” lists that were published between 1995 and 2016. Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100 in the Introduction.
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Since the beginning, every new console cycle has existed as its own separate era that video game players speak of with as much reverence as comic fans who use “Golden Age” and “Silver Age” as a shorthand to represent the different decades of comic production. Ralph Baer’s Odyssey (1st Generation) directly lead to Nolan Bushnell’s Atari 2600 (2nd Generation). Atari’s machine gave way to the rise of Nintendo’s NES (3rd Generation), which in turn lead to the “16-Bit Wars” of the Super NES and the Genesis (4th Generation).
Up to this point, Square had only released three Final Fantasy games in America: 1990’s Final Fantasy, 1991’s Final Fantasy II (released in Japan as Final Fantasy IV), and 1994’s Final Fantasy III (released in Japan as Final Fantasy VI). Even though the remaining three games had yet to make their way across the Pacific, the publisher was determined to unify the franchise’s numbering across all regions with the next sequel. But they still had to find the right home for their game.
With Sega’s star waning, Sony turned the 5th Generation on its head with the introduction of their PlayStation console. The Nintendo 64 was still a year away and Sony was able to get a jump on the competition with their console thanks to the PlayStation’s original purpose as an add-on for the Super NES. In those early days, the PlayStation would gain a considerable amount of fame, and forge a bit of its own identity, by becoming the exclusive home for Square’s Final Fantasy VII (though the game would later also be released for Windows PCs).
Final Fantasy VII began life as a short demo for convention goers and journalists at SIGGRAPH 95, a computer graphics expo. Using characters and environments from Final Fantasy VI, the demo featured crudely animated polygons rendered using a Silicon Graphics computer, the same processor that Nintendo planned to pack into the console they were then-calling the Ultra 64. Naturally, many journalists, including those from Gamefan and Nintendo Power, made the not-unreasonable deduction that the next Final Fantasy game was in development for Nintendo’s upcoming console.
Even after working exclusively with Nintendo for almost a decade, Square was worried that Final Fantasy VII wouldn’t be a good fit for the cartridge-based Nintendo 64. Hironobu Sakaguchi, a Producer on the game and the creator of the entire Final Fantasy franchise, confirmed that it wasn’t long after SIGGRAPH that the development team realized that the PlayStation’s CD-ROM format was the only way to create the game as they envisioned it:
“When we discussed designing the field scenes as illustrations or CG based, we came up with the idea to eliminate the connection between movies and the fields. Without using blackout at all, and maintaining quality at the same time, we would make the movie stop at one cut and make the characters move around on it. We tried to make it controllable even during the movies. As a result of using a lot of motion data and CG effects and in still images, it turned out to be a mega capacity game, and therefore we had to choose CD-ROM as our media. It other words, we became too aggressive, and got ourselves into trouble.”
Years later, Sakaguchi would recall that executives from Nintendo weren’t particularly broken up about this turn of events, though other members of the development team remember it differently:
Hironobu Sakaguchi: “When we made our decision, the president of Square [Masafumi Miyamoto], our lead programmer [Ken Narita] and I went to a meeting with Yamauchi-san. There is an old cultural tradition where, in Kyoto, someone will welcome you with tea, but you’re not supposed to really drink that tea. It’s just polite to have it there. And Yamauchi-san welcomed us with a very expensive bento meal and beer, and gave us a very nice welcome and basically patted us on the back to say, ‘I wish you the best.’ No bitter feelings or anything.”
Hiroshi Kawai [Character Programmer at Square]: “I think [Sakaguchi] is just trying to be politically correct with that one.”
Yoshihiro Maruyama [Executive Vice President at Square US]: “I don’t think [anyone from Nintendo gave us a hard time]. They said, ‘Oh, we don’t need that.’ That’s what they said. [Laughs] Their philosophy has always been that Nintendo hardware is for their games, and if a publisher wants to publish, ‘OK you can do it.’ But if you don’t like it, ‘We don’t want you.’ ”
Hiroshi Kawai: “What I heard was Nintendo said, ‘If you’re leaving us, never come back.’ “
Though Final Fantasy VII was never officially in development for the Nintendo 64, many gamers sided with Kawai’s opinion and perceived that Sony had somehow stolen Square away from Nintendo. This defection would ultimately prove to be the first of many, as developers flocked to the PlayStation to produce disc-based games using the format’s increased storage capacity and cheaper price. The RPG was eventually released to great fanfare on September 7, 1997 and became one of the PlayStation’s earliest smash hits.
Along with Resident Evil, its cinematic gaming partner-in-crime, Final Fantasy VII was also one of the last games to be released during the heyday of Japanese game development. After the Video Game Crash of 1983, the US-based Atari retreated from the industry and was replaced by Japanese publishers like Nintendo, Konami, Capcom, Sega, and Square. From 1985 to 1997, these five companies (and smaller outfits such as Namco, Tecmo, and Enix) produced the lion’s share of memorable games. But as American and European publishers jumped into plot-heavy epics of their own, the tide began to shift. Soon, Eidos Interactive would find continued success with Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise. Rockstar Games (then known as DMA Design) sowed the seeds for the gargantuan Grand Theft Auto III with two PlayStation-era entries in the franchise. By the time Microsoft joined the competition with Halo: Combat Evolved (and marginalized Sega in the process), the entire gaming landscape had changed.
In this way, Final Fantasy VII can be said to be the game that links gaming’s past with its present. Like the way that Major League Baseball’s entire 140-year history can be encompassed by the careers of just eight players (Cap Anson to John McGraw to Ty Cobb to Lou Gehrig to Ted Williams to Willie McCovey to Rickey Henderson to Miguel Cabrera is just one way to do it), Final Fantasy VII says a lot about gaming’s past by showing us the future.
The game almost single-handedly lead to the mainstreaming of role playing games, a genre that had managed to cultivate a healthy niche in the NES and Super NES/Genesis days, but which was still much less popular than shooters or fighting games. While Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI impressed gamers who were already fans of the genre, Final Fantasy VII’s groundbreaking polygonal characters and extensive movie scenes (more than an hour in all) cemented the game as one of the first epics in video game history and popularized RPGs for a large swath of players that had either ignored the genre in the past or were too young to experience the previous Final Fantasy games (or Dragon Warrior or Earthbound or Phantasy Star) when they were new.
Players reacted to this new generation of cinematic games with a ravenous dedication to the characters and their stories. Final Fantasy VII topped more than a few “Favorite Game” polls, partially on the back of the narrative shock that was the in-game death of Aerith Gainsborough.
Death doesn’t usually mean much in video games, and it means even less in role playing games. Nearly every title in the genre features some sort of resurrection spell or magical trinket that grants life, so placing a character’s death at the center of the story was a unique experience for many players. Some of those players even presented a massive petition to Square, asking them to release a revised version of the game where she lives. Others were so affected by the character’s death, that they took apart the game’s source code in an attempt to bring her back. This type of impact on players was exactly the reaction that Tetsuya Nomura, Final Fantasy VII’s Character Designer, was looking for when the team scripted Aerith’s death:
“I think that death should be something sudden and unexpected, and Aerith’s death seemed more natural and realistic. Now, when I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, the fact that fans were so offended by her sudden death probably means that we were successful with her character. If fans had simply accepted her death, that would have meant she wasn’t an effective character.”
Today, nearly every “AAA” game release includes a heavy focus on plot and characters. And it’s all thanks to Final Fantasy VII.
As one of the most popular games on the PlayStation, there are many used copies of Final Fantasy VII available to purchase. The game is also backwards compatible with the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, so you probably own at least one console able to play it.
To make it more available to modern players, Square Enix and Sony also recently re-released Final Fantasy VII as a digital download for the PC, PS4, and mobile devices.
The publisher is also hard at work on Final Fantasy VII Remake, a complete remake of the groundbreaking RPG. It will be released episodically and the first chapter is expected to be released for the PS4 sometime in 2017.
Publisher: Square, Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: September 7, 1997 (PlayStation), May 31, 1998 (PC)
Average Ranking: 39.19
Selection Percentage: 76.19% (32/42)
Scientifically Proven Score: 63.00
|Publication Rankings For Final Fantasy VII|
Next Gen (1996)
Next Gen (1999)
The Age (2005)
Yahoo! Games UK (2005)
|IGN HoF (2007)||NR||
Stuff UK (2008)
The Phoenix (2010)
Stuff UK (2011)
Gaming Bolt (2013)
PC & Tech Authority (2013)
|Popular Mechanics (2014)||8||
Slant Magazine (2014)
Stuff UK (2014)
Edge (May 2003) – The Making of Final Fantasy VII – 2003
Electronic Gaming Monthly (October 2005) – Interview with Yoshinori Kitase and Tetsuya Nomura – 2005
Leone, Matt – Polygon – Final Fantasy 7: An oral history – 2017
Sutherland, Kenny – Lost Levels – Elusions: Final Fantasy 64 – 2005