As our regular reader will know, I recently replayed Final Fantasy VI. During this time, I kept thinking back to the last time I replayed Final Fantasy VII. The two games were released only a few years apart, so they have a lot of design features in common, but at the same time the technical leap from the SNES to the PlayStation means there are some huge changes in the way they are presented. They make for an interesting comparison! But you'll have to take my word on that, because today I'm going to tell you about my favourite materia instead. Shut up.
YOUNGER READERS: Final Fantasy VII features a skill system based on magical gems called 'materia'. Each piece of materia is a physical crystallisation of the magical energies that flow through all living things, like a shard of amber formed from tree sap. When equipped, different types of materia can allow your characters to cast certain spells (eg. Fire magic), enable certain skills (eg. Steal), or provide stat boosts, and some types of materia can even be linked together to modify their functionality. Materia is equipped in slots on your weapons and armour, so the number of slots available is an important consideration to weigh against the unique properties of your equipment - it represents how much freedom you have to customise your character's abilities.
OLDER READERS: I'm not considering the Master Materia even though they are all obviously a more effective use of a single slot than any of the regular materia. And, after thinking it over, I'm not including any of the rare materia you can only get from the chocobo breeding subquest, because pretty much all of those can be abused to create wildly overpowered exploits (Mime, for example, can be used to create an endless chain of limit breaks that can kill even the final bosses within a few turns). But all of these materia are only available very late in the game, they all require a huge investment of time and energy to obtain, so I don't think they'd play a major role in most players' game experience. Also they would make for a pretty boring top five. Shut up.
With that out the way, let's share some opinions about a children's computer game.
I'm a hoarder in real life, and this tends to carry over into how I play games. I hate spending money and I hate using scarce items. Now that I think about it, in one of my FF7 games I made it all the way to the North Corel approach scene without using a single item. I love Revive because it provides a 'free' way to revive dead characters out in the field, without wasting any precious Phoenix Downs. You could make a similar argument in favour of Restore's healing magic, but I think the ubiquity of alternative healing options makes Revive feel a bit more special - there are still some alternatives, but they're far less practical.
No doubt Revive would chart higher if I wasn't so great at keeping all my party members alive.
Elemental looks at the element of whatever materia it is attached to and applies it to whatever weapon or armour it is socketed into. Put it in a weapon next to Poison materia and your attacks will poison enemies; put it in armour next to Fire materia and you can resist (or even absorb) fire damage. My feeling on the matter is this: In most areas of the game you have a pretty good idea what kind of enemies you'll be fighting, and hence, what kind of attacks to expect. If you don't have enough element-absorbing equipment to cover the situation, you can use Elemental on your armour to set up your defences. Not only does this nullify those particular attacks, but the additional healing effectively mitigates the damage done by all other attacks. Absorbing damage is a key feature in my 'never use items, never die' doctrine, and Elemental is one of your most flexible tools to this end.
Speaking of which, how nuts is it that they give you the Water Ring immediately before a fight against a boss who only uses water attacks?! I've never really understood why they did that.
All! One of the first support materia you find, and quite possibly the most commonly-equipped materia of all. When paired up with another materia, All allows you to apply its effects to all viable targets - for example, you could cast Fire spells against all enemies, or Cure spells on all party members. Simple to understand and cheap to buy, All will save you hundreds, perhaps thousands of turns worth of actions during the course of the game. Anyone who doesn't rate this is completely out of touch with how people play videogames, basically.
All is one half of the second most important materia combo in the game - the other half being anything you want it to be - and is trumped only by...
1) Enemy Skill and Manipulate
I'm charting these as joint winners because they go together like cheese and chips.
Enemy Skill is the most brilliant and essential materia in the game. It enables you to learn certain unique attacks from enemies, and some of them are brain-bafflingly brilliant compared to the standard toss you get give. Big Guard and Magic Hammer pretty much justify it on their own, and once you throw in Trine, Beta, Aqualung, White Wind, Angel Whisper, Shadow Flare and Bad Breath, you can effectively set your character up with a huge range of offensive and defensive capabilities for the cost of a single materia slot.
Here's the rub: Half of these abilities (often the most useful ones) can only be acquired by Manipulating an enemy into using them on your characters. I find it's usually worth equipping Manipulate somewhere in your party anyway, so you can poke around in your enemies' attack lists and see what they have - a partner to the Sense materia's scanning ability - but Enemy Skill really is good enough to drag this materia to the top of the chart anyway, even if you only use it three or four times during the whole game.
So, there you have it - that's how I would rank some fictional objects in a 15-year-old videogame. I suppose you could read this article differently in light of the imminent PC rerelease, but I assure you any relevance is unintentional. Shut up.