Final Fantasy 7 NES
Credit (This was taken from Cinammon Pirate, I could not do a better job, credit where it is due)
Unlike most NES ROMs, which consist of one or more PRG (program) and CHR (character) ROMs on a board, the sleepy Shenzhen company took a new approach: a monster PRG placecountry-regionROM. The PRG ROM weighs in at 2048KB - the largest I have ever seen on a NES board - and contains no CHR ROMs at all. Its battery-backed SaveRAM is a measly 8KB, enough for the game's single save slot.
The dumper has assigned it a mapper number of 163, and thus far, only an extremely hacked-up version of VirtuaNESex supports the game through an ugly bank-switching mapper driver.
Based on my brief one or two hours of inspecting the ROM, I am pleased to say this is an original work: not a hack.
When I say not a hack, I mean this game was not created by hacking and using the engine of another company. It is not simply a modification of Final Fantasy III, though it blatantly rips off music and graphics from that game and more. Cloud's sprite is clearly stolen from the game's fighter class, and Tifa's is taken from Maria's sprite in Final Fantasy II. The list goes on, and includes basically every enemy.
The game manages some really great technical achievements.
First off, Final Fantasy VII is the only NES ROM I have ever seen to have its own several-hundred character 16×16 font. Most Japanese games are written in 8×8 hiragana or katakana only, and Chinese games typically waste CHR banks dedicated to 64 characters each, and optimize the banks for literally every text window in the game.
Secondly, its graphics are strewn throughout the entire PRG ROM, as they would be in a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis placecountry-regionROM. This is very odd for a NES game, which usually uses CHR ROMs to access dedicated image banks.
Similarly, its script is mixed across several banks of data. I have no idea how the game handles leapfrogging between these banks, but it is probably some of the addressing black magic handled by its mapper driver. The script uses a creative system where each text window starts with @nnn, where n is a three-digit integer corresponding to which character's portrait to show.
Next-gen concepts on grandpa's hardware
Shockingly, the programmers implemented a Materia system similar to the original game. The available Materia, however, are extremely limited. Each character brings one Materia into the party as he or she joins. As players battle and cast spells, the Materia gains points and can eventually level up. The maximum level for each Materia is nine, with nine spells each.
On top of Materia leveling, each spell can also level up, increasing the damage it does over time. You level up spells by sending your characters to the Magic Shop. If the Materia has earned enough points, the mage there will somehow boost it.
Weapons also gain levels, and each character has at least 12 weapons to be found in the game. The Weapon Shop, similar to the Magic Shop, does not sell weapons; it performs equivalent level up services for your steel.
Materia can be swapped to any character. A non-equipped Materia can be used mid-battle as an item to swap the user's magic. This is particularly useful in later battles, when you may want to change out who is your healer in between fights - the boss fights toward the end come in such a stream that you have no chance to reorganize your party.
Lastly, the game's items are extremely trimmed down. There are six healing items, the best of which restores all party members to max life, and four magic. The game does not use MP, instead giving the character a limited number of CP, or Cast Points, for each spell. Magic restoration items can restore CP for a single spell. These CP are saved into the Materia in case you swap it mid-battle to another character.
Armor has been revamped and has a far greater impact on character stats. It can boost vitality, which in turn boosts characters' HP more than leveling ever will. The strongest equipment will render your characters rather imbalanced: they will take damage like a tank but fight like they equipped with toothpicks.
Inevitably, Final Fantasy VII on PlayStation is such a sprawling game that much of its fluff had to go. The chocobo racing game is gone, as are the sledding and other mini games. You can no longer raise or breed chocobos, and Chocobo Billy now gives you a Boko-Whistle in place of greens. The whistle allows you to draw out any chocobos wandering around in forests.
The land rover is present, but its use is much more limited. Its only purpose in the game is to get you across the placePlaceNameGongaga PlaceTypeRiver.
Summons have been completely dropped. I was quite disappointed when there was no Chocobo Dance at the farm. The islands and places hiding things like Knights of the Round have also been cut. The Weapons are all missing as well, but this is due more to where the game draws to a finale than cutting. More on this later.
Perhaps most aggravating for some players will be the omission of Yuffie and Vincent. I wandered that forest for hours, but she never shows up. My adventures through the MMU dump revealed the game only has room for six characters: Cloud, Barrett, Tifa, Aeris, Cait Sith and Cid. By the end of the game you will only have five.
Since Yuffie is gone and because of where the game ends, the islands of Wutai and Mideel have also been dropped from the world map. The Chocobo Sage was also dropped - if you cannot raise chocobos, then there is no reason for him to exist.
placePlaceTypeFort PlaceNameCondor has also been cut. I guess the programmers did not want to bother with adding an SRPG mini-game engine to the existing 2048KB or packed-in data.
There are no Limit Breaks. This sucks: a lot.
Lastly, you never get a vehicle which can fly. The Tiny Bronco is immediately shot down, and the game ends before you can claim the Highwind.
If this sounds like a big list, it is not. Anything not on here is something that went right.
Still more fighting
The game begins the same as the PlayStation game, just without the spinning CG overview of Midgar. The train pulls up to the Sector 7 reactor and Barret and Cloud disembark. Soldiers run out and attack Cloud in groups of two, and you continue on through the Mako Reactor. Every event is in place, from Jesse tripping to the dialogue between each character as they crack passwords and open gates. After placing the bomb, a boss jumps out. You beat it, the reactor blows, and everyone scrambles.
Back on the street, Cloud bumps into Aeris, buys a flower, then gets chased by guards and cornered in three fights before being able to jump on the train. Jesse explains the new ID systems and shows Cloud the train maps before it pulls into Sector 7 and everyone heads for Tifa's Seventh Heaven.
This is where I expected the game to die.
From start to almost finish, the game follows the PlayStation port. Key dialogue sequences are completely identical, such as when the group finds what Sephiroth did to the Midgar Zolm to when Cloud freaks out and hands over the Black Materia. Aeris tells the drunk old dressmaker how Clous has always wished that just once he could dress up like a girl. Dyne and Barrett have the same conversations as in the PlayStation original. Nothing is missing or out of place.
That said, there are some condensed scenes.
The dialogue Cloud has with himself when he first enters Junon is missing. Buganhagen's part in placeCosta del Sol is cut quite short since he does not have an 8-bit planetarium, and you never come back since the Giant Materia quest never happens. The mansion in Nibelheim is only one room, and though Sephiroth says he is heading for the mountain and the map shows and entrance to the mountain, there is no way for you to actually get there.
Things start to get choppy after passing Icicle Inn. The team reaches the northern crater and the sequence leading up to the JENOVA Reunion is almost identical to the original game. However, following the scene when Cloud asks Hojo to give him a number, Sephiroth comes out and he goes bonkers. It appears that somehow, he and Tifa end up in the Lifestream at the Northern Crater, and she is able to draw out the real Cloud.
With Cloud finally himself again, the team heads into the crater to fight the One-Winged Angel, and later Sephiroth. With the battle over and Meteor still on its collision course with the planet, the screen goes black and the game's final FMV is narrated through a series of six dialogue windows.
The weapons are missing and you never see the towns get wrecked. Honestly speaking, Disc 3 of the game sucked, and this is as good of a wrap up as any without derailing the story in a series of meaningless side quests.
Oh, and Cloud's sword is so big it takes an entire second 16×24 character block to display it. Rock.
The bad and the ugly
If I have made this game sound like gold, then forgive me. Do not forget that at its core it is a pirate cart from a sleepy Shenzhen start-up. It is not without its flaws.
First off, the music is all lifted from Final Fantasy II and III. Lifted poorly. placeCityBattle themes were cut to 12 bars in length and have a repetitive grind not seen since that ASCII Entertainment classic Bokosuka Wars.
The grinding tunes are exacerbated by a battle engine which emphasizes power leveling. At the start of the game, you are so under leveled that the first two bosses may take 40 or more turns to beat. And with a lack of access to healing items in areas which have monsters, getting your levels up can be incredibly difficult.
The encounter rate is also incredibly varied. On some screens, you can walk quite far with no battles at all. However, on the sea - where screen scrolling is most monotonous - the enemy encounter rate is incredible: every eight or nine tiles.
Weapons and spells simply do not level fast enough, and will often be behind your character's attribute gains.
And that brings up another question: just what is the maximum level? I made it to 97, but there was still a zero ahead of that. Would the game cap at 255? Would it be 999? Who knows. Someone write in and let me know if level 777 unlocks the game's missing All-7-Fever.
The way battle screen characters slide out rather than step out is another unnecessary ugliness, though the new attack animations are quite cool, if simple.
Should you play it?
Having completed this game, I would say play it - but cheat. It is not worth spending the amount of time leveling that this game would force you to. Leveling up should not be such a painful, mandatory experience, and the game should not be so unbearably difficult if you do not dedicate hours and hours to building up your party.
For anyone who beat Final Fantasy VII, you will not find anything new in the game in terms of story. The script is almost identical - though a little more fun to read in Chinese - and the game systems are not nearly as refined.
However, it is a new 8-bit Final Fantasy. For anyone who wanted to see a later Final Fantasy re-done in classic style, this is your chance. Were the not-so-kickin' tunes less aurally offensive, I dare say this title can hold its own against the other NES Final Fantasy games. But jumping back into such an old style may prove too much for players who have grown accustomed to Game Boy Advance or DS remakes.
All in all, this is a great NES RPG and a surprisingly professional unlicensed cartridge. Expect it to have flaws and treat it like you would a beta of the never-finished NES Final Fantasy IV and it will provide hours of entertainment. Certainly more than many Final Fantasy-based ROM hacks would; perhaps to the exclusion of Dragoon X Omega II - a game that would have been so much cooler with a less sophomoric name.
That said, enjoy a whopping 138 screen shots from my play through this game. I captured almost every scene and every menu. I hope they will give you an idea of just how complete this NES port really is.