For gamers, by gamers
‘Be Here Now’ meant that it was an album of 1997, for 1997. To consider the album after the demise of Britpop, or even now, some sixteen years later, is to miss important details, to rip text from context. In effect, Gallagher is arguing that what he and his band-mates created was part of a zeitgeist, but something that instantly became an anachronism when that moment passed.
Listening to the album now, I still hear the echoes of a long summer, of a time when indie music ruled the charts, and when unfathomable optimism of a new Labour government swept the UK. Heady times indeed, and so radically different to 2013′s Britain.
Set alongside the mid-90s Britpop/Cool Britannia movement of supermodels, and Trainspotting, and Euro 96, and indie bands of little note piggy-backing their way to chart success was a clunky little games console from Japan called ‘Playstation’, a device that redefined what gaming culture would/could/should be, courting dance culture, and mainstream celebrities, and instantly making Sega and Nintendo seem quaint and even a little childish in their marketing and product line.
Launched in 1995 in the UK, early releases of Wipeout, Mortal Kombat 3, Ridge Racer, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil set the tone for high quality, ‘mature’ games, and cutting-edge arcade ports. The move from sprite-based consoles to polygonal avatars and environments, coupled with CD quality sound legitimised console gaming not only as ‘cool’, but also something that twenty and thirty-somethings could do without feeling patronised.
It was all marketing spin and canny licensing of Prince Naseem Hamed, of course, but at the time, like Be Here Now, it was incredibly exciting, and was part of the frontline of culture in a way that modern gaming, which is generally accepted as a thing people ‘just do’ no longer has.
Then, in late 1997, four months after the release of Be Here Now (and eight days after the Montreal Screwjob, fact fans), Final Fantasy VII finally arrived in the UK, the first proper entry in the series to do so. Boasting a compelling storyline, hours of CGI cutscenes, very few loading times compared to graphically similar titles like Resident Evil, and a kick-ass launch trailer designed to hide the reality that it was actually an RPG, the game launched to a frenzy in gaming fandom.
Looking back, it’s difficult to articulate the excitement that surrounded the title. Perfect scores were handed out in the press, TV adverts during prime time were produced, and seemingly everyone was playing this game. Never again would a JRPG command that level of mind-share. Not even Final Fantasy VIII, which is technically superior in almost every way, would gain the same level of notoriety.
The game itself, stripped bare of aesthetics, is a lightly modified version of the battle system from Final Fantasy VI, and is often criticised for being eminently exploitable. The player moves from town to town, gains levels, adds members to their party, buys improved equipment, and engages boss battles to trigger story beats. It’s a Japanese Role Play Game at heart, dressed up in what was, at the time, extremely impressive visuals. Yes, in its use of an amnesiac protagonist, the killing of a key character, and implementation of mini games, it defined many of the characteristics that are now used to beat modern, bloated JRPGs, but what wasn’t important was that it was an RPG.
It was a blockbuster title before such measures of success determined whether production companies got to survive into the next financial year. It was a huge spectacle in a way that the relatively narratively sparse Tomb Raider wasn’t, and in the way that the first Resident Evil never aspired to be.
In 2013, and for the past few years, the main problem Final Fantasy VII has had is that people rarely discuss it in critical terms. They lump it in with Final Fantasy cosplay, and associate it with spin-off movies, and rhythm action titles, and toy lines, and increasing levels of unknowing self-parody in the series’ use of avatars who can’t remember, and who wear a million belts that do nothing.
Those who defend the title are left with the difficult job of removing the subsequent failings of Squaresoft (and later Square-Enix) from the argument, and trying to place the game back in it’s original context.
By modern standards, the game is graphically crude, but more crucially, graphically inconsistent, with at least five different art-styles and character models used to signify Cloud alone. The Youtube overuse of One Winged Angel renders the remainder of the soundtrack absent from debate. The occasional lightness of touch in the script is lost under poor translation (which is more than typical of the era), and for most people the name ‘Sephiroth’ has the worst connotations when seen in a gamertag.
While much of Final Fantasy VII’s legacy has been unfortunately misguided by the game’s parent company, the game still remains a testament to the ‘Power of the Playstation’. The game is huge, sprawling, ‘epic’ in the literary sense of the word, and an important chapter in gaming history.
The first time the game segues seemlessly from CGI to gameplay, the point where, five hours into the game, you finally leave Midgar, the death of Aeris, visiting the Gold Saucer, breeding and racing chocobos, snowboarding… Yes, it’s somewhat crude in it’s visual and narrative execution (with the snowboarding sequence coming disconcertingly close to Aeris’ demise), but it shows an industry learning how to make genuine ‘cinematic’ blockbusters, and for that reason among others, that’s why it commands the level of love and devotion from converts that it still does.
For those who weren’t ‘there then’, this level of love may seem difficult to grasp, as it’s only a relatively simple RPG with some dated visuals and a hokey plot, but to those who were ‘there then’, they’ll always know what Noel Gallagher was talking about.