Final Fantasy VII[b] is a 1997 role-playing video game developed by Square for the PlayStation console. It is the seventh main installment in the Final Fantasy series. Published in Japan by Square, it was released in other regions by Sony Computer Entertainment and is the first in the main series with a PAL release. The game's story follows Cloud Strife, a mercenary who joins an eco-terrorist organization to stop a world-controlling megacorporation from using the planet's life essence as an energy source. Events send Cloud and his allies in pursuit of Sephiroth, a former member of the corporation who seeks to destroy the planet. During the journey, Cloud builds close friendships with his party members, including Aerith Gainsborough, who holds the secret to saving their world.
Development began in 1994, originally for the Super Famicom. After delays and technical difficulties from experimenting on several real-time rendering platforms, Square moved production to pre-rendered video, necessitating the huge capacity of the CD-ROM format and therefore departing Nintendo for the PlayStation. Veteran Final Fantasy staff returned, including series creator and producer Hironobu Sakaguchi, director Yoshinori Kitase, and composer Nobuo Uematsu. The game is the first in the series to use full motion video and 3D computer graphics, superimposing real-time 3D character models over pre-rendered CGI backgrounds. Final Fantasy VII introduced more widespread science fiction elements and a more realistic presentation, while the gameplay systems remained largely similar to previous entries, with the addition of new elements such as Materia, Limit Breaks, and new minigames. The staff of more than 100 had a combined development and marketing budget of around $80 million.
Assisted by a large promotional campaign, Final Fantasy VII was a commercial success and received universal acclaim, selling more than 14.1 million copies worldwide. It is regarded as a landmark game and as one of the greatest and most influential video games ever made. It won numerous Game of the Year awards, and was acknowledged for boosting sales of the PlayStation and popularizing console role-playing games worldwide. Critics praised its graphics, gameplay, music, and story, although its original English localization received criticism. Its success has led to enhanced ports on various platforms, a multimedia sub-series called the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, and the ongoing multipart high-definition Final Fantasy VII Remake, the first installment of which was released in 2020.
The team discussed continuing the 2D strategy, which would have been the safe and immediate path compared to the radically new development paradigm behind the industry's imminent shift toward 3D gaming. The team took the riskier option to make a 3D game on new generation hardware, with their main choices being the cartridge-based Nintendo 64 or the CD-ROM-based Sony PlayStation. The team also considered the Sega Saturn console and Microsoft Windows. Their decision was influenced by two factors: a widely successful technology demo based on Final Fantasy VI using the new Softimage 3D software, and the escalating price of cartridges which had already limited Square's audience. Tests were made for a Nintendo 64 version, which would use the planned 64DD floppy drive peripheral though Nintendo had not yet produced 64DD development kits due to the prototype's changing hardware specifications. This real-time version was discarded during early testing, as the Behemoth monster's 2000 polygons placed excessive strain on the Nintendo 64, causing a low frame rate. It would have required an estimated thirty 64DD disks at about 64 megabytes each to run Final Fantasy VII properly with the data compression methods of the day. Faced with the state of technology, and impressed by the increased storage capacity of CD-ROM when compared to the Nintendo 64 cartridge, Square shifted development of Final Fantasy VII and all other planned projects, onto the PlayStation with pre-rendered movies.
In contrast to the visuals and audio, the overall gameplay system remained mostly unchanged from Final Fantasy V and VI, but with a researched emphasis on player control. The initial decision was for battles to feature shifting camera angles. Battle arenas had a lower polygon count than field areas, which made creating distinctive features more difficult. The summon sequences benefited strongly from the switch to the cinematic style, as the team had struggled to portray their scale using 2D graphics. In his role as producer, Sakaguchi placed much of his effort into developing the battle system. He proposed the Materia system to provide more character customization than previous Final Fantasy games. Battles no longer revolved around characters with innate skills and roles in battle, because Materia could be reconfigured between battles. Artist Tetsuya Nomura contributed to the gameplay by designing the Limit Break system as an evolution of the Desperation Attacks from Final Fantasy VI. The Limit Breaks serve a purpose in gameplay while also evoking each character's personality in battle.
Square's developers retained the passion-based game development approach from their earlier projects, but now had the resources and ambition to create the game they wanted. This was because they had extensive capital from their earlier commercial successes, which meant they could focus on quality and scale rather than obsessing over and working around their budget. Final Fantasy VII was at the time the most expensive video game ever produced, with a development budget estimated between $40,000,000 (equivalent to $68,000,000 in 2021) and $45,000,000 (equivalent to $76,000,000 in 2021). Development of the final version took a staff of between 100 and 150 people just over a year to complete. As video game development teams were usually only 20 people, the game had what was described as the largest development team of any game up to that point. The development team was split between both Square's Japanese offices and its new American office in Los Angeles; the American team worked primarily on city backgrounds.
The game's art director was Yusuke Naora, who had previously worked as a designer for Final Fantasy VI. With the switch into 3D, Naora realized that he needed to relearn drawing, as 3D visuals require a very different approach than 2D. With the massive scale and scope of the project, Naora was granted a team devoted entirely to the game's visual design. The department's duties included illustration, modeling of 3D characters, texturing, the creation of environments, visual effects, and animation. Naora later defined the art style of Final Fantasy VII as "dark" and "weird". The Shinra logo, which incorporates a kanji symbol, was drawn by Naora personally. Promotional artwork and the logo artwork were created by Yoshitaka Amano, an artist whose association with the series went back to its inception. Though he had taken a prominent role in earlier entries, Amano was unable to do so for Final Fantasy VII, due to commitments at overseas exhibitions. His logo artwork was based on Meteor, though he was initially not sure how to turn it into suitable artwork. He finally created multiple variations of the image and solicited the staff members' preferences. The green coloring represents the predominant lighting in Midgar and the color of the Lifestream, while the blue reflected the ecological themes present in the story. Its coloring directly influenced the general coloring of the game's environments.
Another prominent artist was Nomura. Having impressed Sakaguchi with his proposed ideas, which were handwritten and illustrated rather than simply typed on a PC, Nomura was brought on as main character designer. Nomura stated that when he was brought on, the main scenario had not been completed, but he "went along like, 'I guess first off you need a hero and a heroine', and from there drew the designs while thinking up details about the characters. After [he'd] done the hero and heroine, [he] carried on drawing by thinking what kind of characters would be interesting to have. When [he] handed over the designs [he'd] tell people the character details [he'd] thought up, or write them down on a separate sheet of paper". The chibi sprite art could not be carried over from earlier games, as that would not fit with the new graphical direction. Naora, in his role as an assistant character designer and art director, helped adjust each character's appearance so the actions they performed were believable. When designing Cloud and Sephiroth, Nomura was influenced by his view of their rivalry mirroring the legendary animosity between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojirō, with Cloud and Sephiroth being Musashi and Kojirō respectively. Sephiroth's look was defined as "kakkoii", a Japanese term combining good looks with coolness. Several of Nomura's designs evolved substantially during development. Cloud's original design of slicked-back black hair with no spikes was intended to reduce polygon count and contrast with Sephiroth's long, flowing silver hair. However, Nomura feared that such masculinity could prove unpopular with fans, so he redesigned Cloud to feature a shock of spiky, bright blond hair. Vincent's occupation changed from researcher to detective to chemist, and finally to a former Turk with a tragic past.
Regarding the overall theme of the game, Sakaguchi said it was "not enough to make 'life' the theme, you need to depict living and dying. In any event, you need to portray death". Consequently, Nomura proposed killing off the heroine. Aerith had been the only heroine, but the death of a female protagonist would necessitate a second; this led to the creation of Tifa. The developers decided to kill Aerith, as her death would be the most devastating and consequential. Kitase wanted to depict it as very sudden and unexpected, leaving "not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness", "feelings of reality and not Hollywood". The script for the scene was written by Nojima. Kitase and Nojima then planned that most of the main cast would die shortly before the final battle, but Nomura vetoed the idea because he thought it would undermine the impact of Aerith's death. Several character relations and statuses underwent changes during development. Aerith was to be Sephiroth's sister, which influenced the design of her hair. The team then made Sephiroth a previous love interest of hers to deepen her backstory, but later swapped him with Zack. Vincent and Yuffie were to be part of the main narrative, but due to time constraints, they were nearly cut and eventually relegated to being optional characters. 2b1af7f3a8