Gaming greats – Final Fantasy VII (1997)
No games before, and few games since, so immersed gamers in their plot, their world and their gameplay as Final Fantasy VII on the Sony PlayStation.
Spikey-haired Cloud Strife and his band of fellow adventurers joined you on a voyage of exploration and combat that led through a plot with twists, turns and intrigue, not to mention the odd tug on your beautifully rendered heart strings.
After a fairly linear beginning in the city of Midgar, punctuated by cut scenes, the game became a free-roaming delight.
An entire world was opened for you to discover, and a variety of friends to meet and join you along the way – some necessary for the plotline, while others, like the mysterious but super-cool Vincent Valentine, you could complete the game without ever meeting. The likes of Red XIII and Cid Highwind will stay in your memory forever.
Sub-games, such as breeding chocobos – giant emu-like creatures you could ride around on – as well as snowboarding and gambling in the Gold Saucer casino merely added to the flavour immersion of the world. There was even an element of romance...
The turn-based combat could be both thrilling and irritating. Thrilling because some attacks were accompanied by cut scenes that were simply jaw-dropping, but random encounters meant you'd be desperately trying to get somewhere when one irritating little beastie after another would pop up to be dispatched. It did get wearing at times.
But since defeating foes was the only way of beefing up your characters till they were rock-hard enough to take on the big boys, sometimes you'd have to actively seek out fights before you could progress. Collecting newer, more powerful materia – artefacts that unleashed awesome magic – and finding enhanced weaponry was also essential.
Final Fantasy VII's ultimate protagonist was the evil (and kinda cool, let's face it) Sephiroth, who you pursue throughout the game but, of course, only face off with at the final showdown.
If at any point in the game you doubted Sephiroth's malicious intent, it was entirely dispelled by one legendary scene involving the beautiful Aeris. A moment that will forever live in gaming lore.
If you can entirely follow all the nuances of the storyline, you're better than I, but enough of it made its way through my thick young skull to pull me in more than any other game has.
The only thing that really bugged me was the lack of save points in certain places – if you were desperately in need of one, the last thing you needed were those bloody random enemy encounters.
A prequel, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was released for the PSP in 2008 (and was similarly awesome), while an animated film set after the game, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, came out in 2005. The film's nicely done, but strictly for hardcore fans of the game, and not to be confused with the rubbish Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within from 2001.
Final Fantasy VII is available on the PlayStation Network for both PS3 and PSP - download it and be prepared to lose some serious time to completing it. The latest in the series, Final Fantasy XIII, is due out this year for PS3 and Xbox 360.