Written by: Leaf Spiritweaver
Images by: Sav Lanzet
There are certain things that are so culturally poignant, that to attempt to recreate them is to welcome failure. This does not, however, stop the brave and the foolhardy from undertaking movie-to-game translations, movie adaptations of best-selling novels, or Freddie Mercury karaoke.
Quite honestly, to the purist RPG gamer, Final Fantasy 7 is probably as close to that level of sublimity as any game in the last twenty years can boast. For that reason, I allowed myself more than a shred of skepticism when I heard someone had created a Second Life version of the Jenova Crisis.
Before I go any further, let me state clearly – the sim is perfect.
It wasn’t the “big stuff” that convinced me of this. Don’t mistake my meaning. The “big stuff” is present – in abundance. In fact, the flawless recreations of landmark locations from the game are almost too plentiful to mentally process. My first tours quickly devolved into unabashed awe as I found myself standing in scene after scene that felt plucked directly from the game, rendered into impeccable 3D, and unlocked for full immersive exploration. However, it was in the detail work that the team really shines.
The welcome room was the first area in which this attention to detail first asserted itself. From teleports labled “New Game” and “Continue”, to carefully recreated save points (a personal favorite) and cell shaded white-glove player indicators, the little nuances that left an indelible mark on my heart in 1997 were all in attendance. As I explored, I noticed that even the teleports between areas were reminiscent of the markers used to highlight passage between certain locations during original gameplay. Not only have the creators seamlessly translated a landmark game in-world – they have made it seem effortless.
It is not just the addition of details that makes this sim unique, but also their judicious deletion. In our discussions with IceWolf Karlfeldt, sim owner and head developer, we were told that automation is a large part of the team’s mission statement. Rather than include hours of the joyless “random encounter” grinding experienced players recall from the Playstation and PC versions of Final Fantasy 7, the team has opted to integrate Auto GM as their combat and character growth system. The benefit of this system is in that it allows characters to focus on role-play. In turn, this leaves players to become part of the world of Final Fantasy – a dream that nearly every player has shared.
I am not a fan of combat huds as a whole. Even the best of them have generally proven moderately problematic. I can probably name every one of them I have enjoyed the utilization of while enumerating them on my fingers – and still have a hand left over to type with. This system, however, makes the cut. There is so much right to mention here that it is easier to just state that the best parts are the aforementioned automation, and the fact that the combat system uses – wait for it. . .Materia.
Did you see what I did there? I separated the real fans from the casual player. If you just cheered out loud, I’m with you. If your next thought after “Oh my god! MATERIA!” was, “I wonder if it uses a weapon slot system. . .” The answer, friends, is a resounding yes. Personally, I’m still overcome with nerdy joy, and it’s been at least two weeks.
To make matters better, (to the point of barely contained enthusiasm) there is word of a new and improved system hitting the sim sometime in August. Specifics were not revealed to us, but sources say the new system will be something phenomenal to experience – and that our readers can expect a 5% discount (off an already very affordable price) by mentioning the magazine during character generation.
Of course, lovely backgrounds and an intuitive interface are all splendid additions, but if content is lacking, the entire experience goes down the proverbial drain with breathtaking speed. Thankfully, Jenova Crisis has what is arguably the most impressive attention to role-play production value on the grid. On top of the fact that the sim is constantly updating its build to include fan-favorite locations from the game, the staff of Jenova Crisis produces regular high-impact story events from the (not entirely canon) plot-line. These events move the universe of FF7 forward in the arc, which due to a few subtle “alternate reality” modifications allow the spirit of the game to remain intact without imposing closed-ended expiration dates on the fun. The next major event is sometime in July, so potential new players may have something groundbreaking to enjoy right away! We were not given too many spoilers, but we did hear that the organic-looking village of Gongaga will be making an appearance to provide some counterbalance to the battered industrialism of Midgar. We can only imagine the heroic Zack will be appearing to sent the ladies (and a few men) into a well-deserved swoon.
Really, there is so much good to say about this experience that there is a danger in prattling on incessantly. That is not to say there are no areas which may leave new players frustrated. One of the major pitfalls a new player may face is that the welcome package assumes players already have at least a fairly solid comprehension of the original story. For this reason, it is helpful to have a plot synopsis (a very accessible version is available at Wikipedia) while reading the introductory note card. I found this to be of assistance despite having played through the game multiple times due to the nonlinear way in which the original version of the game revealed story aspects.
I would like to be clear that this is a natural side effect to undertaking such a mammoth storyline – not due to a failing on behalf of the creation team. In many ways the creators have streamlined a plot-line bearing such complicated elements as resurrection, hybridization, and false memories into something nearly immediately accessible.
All of these pieces come together brilliantly. Final fantasy has always been about the feeling of being swept up from the ordinary (which is always just a little extraordinary in the FFverse) to stand as the last barrier between the world and total calamity. Walking among the sets, meeting the players that stand on both sides of the conflict, and plotting the arrangement of shiny, beautiful materia does everything you could hope to lend an air of epic enormity – exactly as it should.