FFVII: Navigating the third dimension

Well, Andrew, Don Corneo picked me, so I’ve made a good start.

I’m also officially now into uncharted territory: my first attempt at playing through FFVII ended when I couldn’t quite figure out how to pull together the cross-dressing mission in the Wall Market area. I’m a bit embarrassed that by my current game’s clock, this means that I was less than three hours into the game before I gave up on it, but, like I said, I had an infant and a crappy job. Now I have a preschooler, a first-grader, and a perfectly sane job, so onward!

I’m somewhat pleased to find that one of my primary complaints from my first playthrough is greatly diminished this time around: I’m finding it a lot less difficult to tell what’s a door and what’s not.


Cloud Strife, protagonist of FFVII, whose appearance is not entirely dissimilar to. . .

Having been spoiled by the graphical riches of the recent Final Fantasy titles, and being well-versed in the earlier two-dimensional games, it’s fascinating to me to play VII as being able to watch the game’s developers figure out how to make a three-dimensional title work. In a world as murky and monotone as the slums under Midgar, it’s a real challenge at times to simply read the game’s visual cues. It’s not always immediately apparent what’s a walkable pathway and what’s not, especially in areas where you have pathways at different levels on the same screen and you have to figure out (often, for me, through simple trial-and-error) which bit of debris is meant to allow Cloud to move from a lower level to a higher and vice-versa.

And it’s entirely possible that on my first playthrough I simply missed the way that lighting is used to clue you in to where you’re supposed to go next. The fact that light (often but not always green) spills out from buildings you can enter and corners that lead to new screens is an elegant solution, but apparently just a bit too subtle for my former sleep-deprived self.

Before you judge me too harshly, let me note that my point of comparison was the bright, gorgeous, and colorful FFX, which does a brilliant job of largely covering the fact that it’s impossible to get lost because 80% of the time there’s only one direction you can go.


. . . Tidus, the protagonist of FFX. Slightly less spiky. Slightly more colorful. Same big sword.

Which does lead me to my last observation for the week, which will finally (finally!) let me talk just a bit about FFVII’s story. While I don’t want to give the impression that I like FFX’s colorful design better than the muted, industrial tones that dominate FFVII so far—I love me some dark, machine-noir design, after all—I do have to say that in FFX the Final Fantasy team did a better job of using story to make sense of the player’s unavoidable initial unfamiliarity with the world they’re asked to navigate.

That is to say, it’s a bit frustrating to feel lost in FFVII. The player character, Cloud, is supposed to be something of an expert in his world. He’s been an elite SOLDIER—on a different level from his AVALANCHE compatriots—who should be familiar with upper-status areas of Midgar, but having spent his childhood in the slums (with Tifa), he should be reasonably familiar with those areas as well. In some sense, he (I) shouldn’t need to be led around between the Sector 5 and Sector 7 slums by Aeris. I need to be led around, sometimes even more than the game seems to already do, but Cloud should be a bit more, well, self-sufficient.

By contrast, in FFX the player character, Tidus, is thrown along with the player into an entirely unfamiliar world, which has an undeniable but entirely unclear connection to the world Tidus knew. Tidus starts out as a hanger-on to a group of much more worldly characters with their own clear purpose. It provides a structure for the game to offer a great deal of otherwise basic information to the player in a way that feels an organic extension of both the story and the gameplay.

In FFVII right now, I’m in the train graveyard. I think. Which would actually be good, because it would mean that I could do some grinding and tell myself that I’m catching up with Daniel.

Read Daniel J. Hogan’s week 2 post

Read Andrew Simone’s week 2 post

Archive of all Gamers’ Club posts

4 Responses to “FFVII: Navigating the third dimension”
  1. It’s interesting that you mentioned the problems with doors your first play through. I had no problem with this, but some of my friends did back in the day. Thankfully, the select button should bring up arrows to show you where both you are and the doorways.

    • Gavin Craig says:

      Yeah, I somehow missed the “select” thing on my first attempt as well, but found out about it this time through. Haven’t had to use it yet. :-)

  2. John says:

    Your last point about cloud growing up with tifa in the slums is an incorrect assumption. You’ll find out though, there is a lot to look forward to if you’re only at the train graveyards :)

    Enjoy it!!

    Wish I could play it for the first time again, my favourite ever game.

    • Gavin Craig says:


      Indeed! My copy of the strategy guide finally arrived last week (after I wrote my post), and I realized that Cloud and Tifa are from elsewhere. As you note, I’m likely to make some more fairly basic blunders as I go. I’m about to raid Shinra headquarters, so I’m still really early in the game.

      Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll stick with me and let me know when I’m way off-base. :-)

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