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Conclusion: 10 Lessons from FF7

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One of the reasons why I started writing entire books on the classics of videogame design is that I strongly believe there is no shortcut to great game design. That belief makes any end-of-book summary a little bit hypocritical. Nevertheless, I have tried to make a list of the lessons that this book aims to confer, below.

(1) Because of the rapid expansion of D&D, itís nearly impossible for one game to encompass everything that an RPG can do. Videogame designers, aware of this, have often tried three strategies for dealing with this. Either they simplify their tabletop source material, or they combine it with another genre, or they focus all their efforts on just a few parts of the RPG whole. This last strategy is what the FF7 team pursued in making their game.

(2) Choose your focus and make everything in the game revolve around that focus. Everything in FF7 serves the storytelling. Whether itís the battle system, the removal of character classes, the design of towns, or the structure of the level-up system-all parts of the game are made to suit the storytelling. If you aim to make an RPG, you will probably have to make a similar artistic decision (assuming you donít have a gigantic team and nearly unlimited funds).

(3) Use game design methods to design your characters along a central theme or idea. The characters of FF7 are designed with the same kind of technique that is used in a SNES-era platformer. Every major protagonist and antagonist has the survivorís trio. All the characters have lost the world that defined them, had a near death experience, have something that connects them to their past and motivates them in their quest. The important thing is that these things vary in an iterative way.

(4) Understand your medium and genre. Because of the differing structures they have, novels and videogame scripts differ in the way they use dialogue. Expository dialogue is not as essential to Gatsby as it is to FF7, because of the narration. Most of the conflict in FF7 is actual simulated violence, whereas in Gatsby conflict takes the form of short, combative dialogue. Even though these two stories have a lot of thematic overlap, their structural and generic concerns differentiate the way they deliver their narratives.

(5) Use NPC dialogue to embellish your theme and world. The designers of FF7 put a massive amount of effort into their NPCs, writing more than 1,000 unique pieces of NPC chatter, totalling more than 25,000 words. The two great strengths of NPC dialogue in FF7 are to expand upon the setting, and to react to the events of the game. But in both cases, they reinforce the theme of outliving the world that defines them.

(6) Donít just increase your gameís challenge through stat inflation; make changes in the kind of difficulty too. Final Fantasy 7 has four phases, each of which offers a qualitatively different kind of difficulty. Stat inflation is a part of the game, but observant players will see how each phase calls for a slightly different strategy because of these qualitative changes.

(7) Use a wide level-up system and encourage exploration. Final Fantasy 7 had to get rid of tactical complexity in order to allow for more story-oriented decisions. They didnít just dumb their game down, though. Instead, they widened their level-up system and rewarded players who explored the many different paths to power in their game.

(8) Anything that gives a permanent, periodic increase in power is a level-up. In FF7 this includes, equipment, materia and even limit breaks. These things arenít always equal, either. The items which require the most exploration also tend to be the most powerful.

(9) Design your maps with a plan in mind. The designers of FF7 made maps for two reasons: to reinforce the persuasiveness of their world, and to serve the playerís convenience. These two reasons donít always dovetail nicely. Several towns are very persuasive as settings, but really inconvenient. Sometimes, though, they do manage to accomodate convenience and persuasiveness. The gameís signature ďhugeĒ maps almost always have reduced encounter rates and lots of treasure. The designers want the player to feel the worldĖnot just have to trudge through it.

(10) You canít be Nobuo Uematsu, but you can understand some of his techniques. Even among the larger Uematsu ouevre, the FF7 stands out for its length, focus on setting, experimental lyricism, and extensive use of leitmotif. These are techniques you can ask for from your composer! He or she will appreciate your specificity.


As always, Iíd like to thank the Forumís Kickstarter backers for supporting this project. It would not have been done, otherwise. I would also like to thank this bookís editors, Amanda Lange and Nicole Kline, who did an amazing job. Finally, I would like to give a thanks to TFergusson, without whose FAQs this book would have been impossible. I would also like to thank Jon Peterson, whose book on the historical lineage of D&D was a huge help in providing context to this text. (You can find all three books in the bibliography!)


In some cases, page numbers are not applicable, in cases where I have taken details from nearly every page of the entirebook as part of a graph or table (as in my graphs about Gatsby). I have noted these instances with an asterisk. For some documents (such as my eBook version of Petersonís invaluable Playing at the World) there are no page numbers, and so I use section numbers instead. Websites are listed only by author; web addresses can be found in the works cited.

  1. Peterson, 3.1
  2. Mosher
  3. Mosher
  4. Mosher
  5. Peterson, 3.1
  6. Mosher
  7. Peterson, 3.1.3
  8. Mosher
  9. Peterson, 1.1
  10. Witwer, 73-74
  11. Witwer, 63, 74
  12. Appelcline, 9-11
  13. Chainmail, 1.6
  14. Peterson, 1.7
  15. The General, January 1966
  16. Havardís Blackmoor Blog
  17. Gygax, Perren, 30
  18. Gygax, Perren, 22-27
  19. Gygax, Perren, 22-27
  20. Peterson, 1.7
  21. Peterson, 1.7
  22. Peterson, 1.7
  23. Peterson, 1.10
  24. Peterson, 1.10
  25. Peterson, 1.10
  26. Gygax (Playerís Handbook)*
  27. Gygax (Monster Manual)*
  28. Gygax (DMís Guide)*
  29. Witwer, 126
  30. Gygax (Playerís Handbook)*
  31. Gygax (Monster Manual)*
  32. Gygax (DMís Guide)*
  33. Bhodges
  34. World of Longplays
  35. World of Longplays
  36. Holleman
  37. Smith
  38. Yinza
  39. Fitzgerald*
  40. Yinza
  41. Fitzgerald*
  42. Yinza
  43. Fitzgerald*
  44. Yinza
  45. Fitzgerald*
  46. Yinza
  47. Fitzgerald*
  48. Yinza
  49. Yinza
  50. Yinza
  51. Holleman
  52. TFergusson (Battle)
  53. TFergusson (Enemy)
  54. Xenomic
  55. Absolute Steve
  56. TFergusson (Enemy)
  57. Xenomic
  58. TFergusson (Enemy)
  59. TFergusson (Enemy)
  60. TFergusson (Enemy)
  61. TFergusson (Enemy)
  62. TFergusson (Enemy)
  63. TFergusson (Enemy)
  64. TFergusson (Enemy)
  65. TFergusson (Enemy)
  66. TFergusson (Enemy)
  67. TFergusson (Battle)
  68. TFergusson (Battle)
  69. TFergusson (Battle)
  70. TFergusson (Enemy)
  71. TFergusson (Enemy)
  72. TFergusson (Enemy)
  73. TFergusson (Enemy)
  74. TFergusson (Battle)
  75. Absolute Steve
  76. TFergusson (Enemy)
  77. TFergusson (Enemy)
  78. TFergusson (Enemy)
  79. TFergusson (Enemy)
  80. TFergusson (Enemy)
  81. TFergusson (Enemy)
  82. Aoibhell
  83. Skultera
  84. TFergusson (Battle)
  85. Absolute Steve
  86. TFergusson (Battle)
  87. TFergusson (Battle)
  88. Absolute Steve
  89. TFergusson (Battle)
  90. TFergusson (Enemy)
  91. TFergusson (Enemy)
  92. Skultera
  93. Absolute Steve
  94. TFergusson (Enemy)
  95. TFergusson (Enemy)
  96. TFergusson (Enemy)
  97. TFergusson (Enemy)
  98. TFergusson (Battle)
  99. TFergusson (Enemy)
  100. Adamson,Bisesi, Caparo, Cassidy, Cox, Owen*
  101. ibid.*
  102. ibid.*

Works Cited

(1) Absolute Steve. Final Fantasy VII FAQ/Walkthrough. faqs/45703

(2) Adamson, Bisesi, Caparo, Cassidy, Cox, Owen. Official Final Fantasy VII Strategy Guide. Brady Publishing, 1997

(3) Aoibhell, Lassarina. Chocobo Racing Prizes.

(4) Appelcline, Shannon. Designers & Dragons: Volume 1. Mongoose Publishing, October 24, 2011

(5) Bhodges. Ultima I: The Original.

(6) Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby.

(7) The General: January, 1966. Avalon Hill

(8) Gygax, Gary. The Playerís Handbook. TSR Games, 1977

(9) Gygax, Gary. The Dungeon Masterís Guide. TSR Games, 1979

(10) Gygax, Gary. Monster Manual. TSR Games, 1977

(11) Gygax, Gary; Perren, Jeff. Chainmail: Rules for Medieval Miniatures. TSR Rules, 1979

(12) Havardís Blackmoor Blog. GenCon II: When Dave Met Gary (1969). http://blackmoormystara.blogspot. com/2016/01/gencon-ii-when-dave-met-gary-1969.html

(13) Holleman, Patrick. An Intro to Game Design History.

(14) Holleman, Patrick. Reverse Design: Final Fantasy 6. ff6_2.html

(15) Mosher, Robert. Nineteenth Century Military War Games: Lieutenant von Reisswitzís Kriegsspiel. http://grog

(16) Peterson, Jon. Playing at the World. Unreason Press, 2012

(17) Smith, Harvey. The Dungeon Master: An Interview with Gary Gygax. ture/2934/the_dungeon_master_an_interview_.php?print=1

(18) Tfergusson. Final Fantasy VII Battle Mechanics. faqs/22395

(19) Tfergusson. Final Fantasy VII Enemy Mechanics. faqs/31903

(20) Witwer, Michael. Empire of Imagination. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015

(21) World of Longplays. Apple II Longplay [005] Ultima IV Quest of the Avatar. watch?v=5tINnOhf6ic

(22) Xenomic. Final Fantasy VII Item/Materia Locations. faqs/42714

(23) Yinza. Final Fantasy VII Complete Script.

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