How good was that game?

Reading this revisiting of Final Fantasy VII to question its greatness, has got me considering how we can judge the relative merits of games over the past 3 decades or so. Can we compare FEAR II and its high quality graphics, embeded narrative, and adaptive enemies with Wolfenstein 3D without considering the temporal context and culture? Wolf 3D certainly had more impact on me and perhaps may have been more fun than many more recent games because I wasn’t as saturated with 3D shooter gameplay as I am now. The modern 3D shooter is certainly more complex but this doesn’t mean that it has better gameplay mechanics. In many cases the added complexity just means that the aesthetic layer of a game has been enhanced and this does not guarantee a more pleasurable gameplay experience.

Is Final Fantasy VII the best role play game ever? Is it even the best of the Final Fantasy series? Is this one of those questions like “was the Joshua Tree, U2s best album?” – at some point it becomes fashionable to be critical and forget the context in which a product was  released. Judgment can be very subjective, however there is no doubt though that the Joshua Tree was a very popular album as was FF VII when it was released. Popularity does not imply greatness or hold these products up as examples of their artform. I think FF VII was popular because it demonstrated art within a games medium. At the time, and perhaps still, it demonstrated that games could move us, that we could become embedded in the journey through an interactive narrative. But this alone is not not enough to hold it up above all others, the product needed to be constructed to the highest standard – and FF VII was.

Is FF VII my favourite all time RPG. No that would be Baldurs Gate I and II. Would I play FF VII again if it was made available for the DS or PSP? with enhanced graphics? Maybe – probably, but I’d prefer the essence of the story to be transferred in to a modern telling of the game for the PS3. To play it now in its original form would still be fun, but mostly educational or nostalgic! Maybe FF XIII can recapture some of the magic of FF VII without the painful random battle encounters but that does not take away from the great experience that we had playing FF VII all those years ago.