Ten ways to make Final Fantasy VII more challenging

by March 6, 2013 10 comments

If you’re anything like us, you’ve long since lost track of how many times you’ve completed Final Fantasy VII. You’ve probably even memorised the optimal path through the game and your favourite strategies for every boss fight. If so, you’ll probably agree that the game is very easy, even to the point where the battles are just formalities that have to be dealt with to progress the story.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why we’ve put together this list of ten self-imposed challenges for you to take on and rediscover some excitement. From the simple to the absurd, there’s something in here for everyone.

Category 1: time on your hands

No escaping

This challenge is fairly self-explanatory, as are a few others on this list. You may never escape from a battle – not even once. As well as not being able to escape with the L1 & R1 buttons (on the Playstation version), the Smoke Bomb item and Exit Materia are also off-limits. Depending on your interpretation of the challenge, you may also decide that you are not allowed to give up in the Gold Saucer’s Battle Square; it’s win or bust every time.

This challenge really isn’t too difficult, and as such is something you can easily try in an otherwise “normal” playthrough of the game. It will just keep you on your toes a little, especially in areas that contain monsters you know to be dangerous. It will also make the Enemy Skill Chocobuckle completely useless, but you can probably live with that.

Difficulty rating: 1/5

Perfect game

Many people would consider defeating the three optional bosses, Ultima, Ruby and Emerald Weapon, to be enough to constitute a perfect game, as there is nothing particularly challenging left to do in the game once they have been beaten. For a true completionist, however, that is only scratching the surface. Every character has multiple limit breaks that need to be unlocked, and there are various side-quests that need to be completed, but those are still fairly easy compared to the real challenge: putting together a complete inventory of Materia and items. And only the truly dedicated will try to max out every character’s natural HP and MP, a task that requires frequent resets every time a character levels up.

Although the individual components of this challenge might not be very difficult, combining them all takes a monumental amount of time and patience, which accounts for the rating given below. Of course, you could choose to apply the term “perfect” more loosely, as much of this challenge is spent doing things which have no practical use, but that would be missing the point.

Difficulty rating: 3/5

Category 2: in a hurry

Speed run

Speed running has become something of a sport since the internet allowed people to easily compare their best times. There are two “disciplines” within the sport: natural speed running, which involves resetting your console and over and over as you repeat every part of the game until it’s just right; and tool-assisted speed running, which utilises save states and luck manipulation to show how quickly games could be completed. The former is less technical and arguably more demanding of the player, so that’s what we’re looking at here.

A speed run of Final Fantasy VII starts when “NEW GAME” is pressed and ends when the third form of Sephiroth is defeated. Everything in between has to be done swiftly and skilfully in order to bring your time down as much as possible. It’s not just as simple as killing everything as fast as you can; there is an optimal strategy for each boss, and unless you’re following in the footsteps of someone who has done it before, it’s up to you to work them out. Sometimes it might be worth spending an extra thirty seconds stealing from an enemy in one part of the game to save two minutes further down the line, but sometimes it might not; it takes a real expert to know exactly which trade-offs to make. The execution of this challenge is guaranteed to have you pulling your hair out, but for many people, the fun is in the planning.

Difficulty rating: 4/5


These two challenges are related to speed running, but instead of racing against the in-game clock, you’ll be racing against a real clock. ODINS stands for “One Day In No Saves”, while HDINS stands for “Half Day In No Saves”. You read that right – you aren’t allowed to save the game, so a Game Over at any stage also means Challenge Over. Depending on how strict you wish to be with yourself, you could allow yourself to save the game just in case you suffer from a faulty disc, a power cut, or some other external force through no fault of your own, but those should then be the only circumstances in which you can reload your game.

These challenges require you have to constantly re-assess your plans, which creates much of their excitement. It’s not worth blazing through the game as if it were an actual speed run, as you’ll inevitably get killed and have to start all over again if you do. Instead, you have to balance the time constraints with keeping your characters fighting fit, ready to take on the game’s bosses and any surprises thrown your way. You also have to take into account the real time nature of this challenge – how much time will you allow for eating and resting? Comfort breaks shouldn’t be a problem in the 24 hours of ODINS, but you will really be up against it in the 12 hours of HDINS if you spend much time away from the game.

Difficulty rating (ODINS): 3/5
Difficulty rating (HDINS): 5/5

Category 3: battle restrictions

No Materia

Final Fantasy VII’s entire battle system is built around the use of Materia. It can be used for both offensive and defensive purposes, and there are thousands of possible set-ups for your characters. You might expect to be at a severe disadvantage if you couldn’t use it at all, but it isn’t actually particularly difficult, and is a great starting place for players getting into self-imposed challenges for the first time. Some definitions of this challenge allow the use of Chocobo Lure materia for crossing the Midgar Zolom marshes, but even that isn’t necessary.

There are more than enough items to see you through the game, including a limitless supply of X-Potions that can be won from enemies in Wutai. The Wutai “sidequest”, incidentally, becomes a walk in the park, as you’ll be more than used to dealing with enemies without the use of Materia. You’ll use a completely different set of equipment in this challenge to normal, and you may even begin to appreciate not having to spend so much time fiddling around in the menu screen.

Difficulty rating: 2/5

Initial equipment

This challenge requires you to stick with your characters’ starting weapons and armour for the duration of the game, leaving them far weaker than they would be in a normal playthrough. You may also decide to forego the use of accessories, depending on your interpretation of the rule, which creates an even bigger problem. How do you plan to survive Jenova LIFE’s Aqualung without the Water Ring?

Part of the interest of this challenge arises from your selection of characters. Cloud will be in your party for most of the game whether you like it or not, but that still leaves two free spaces to fill. Cid and Vincent have the best equipment, but Vincent’s limit breaks can be problematic in boss battles, and of course, you have to beat a tricky boss to actually get Vincent. Unfortunately, this is one challenge that doesn’t lend itself to intricate planning; level grinding is the order of the day.

Difficulty rating (with accessories): 2/5
Difficulty rating (no accessories): 3/5

Category 4: character restrictions

Single character

Final Fantasy VII was the first game in the series to allow only three characters in the player’s party at any one time – four had been the norm previously. This supposedly arbitrary headcount limit is lowered even further in this challenge, which allows only one character to be used throughout the whole game. As each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as restrictions on when they can be used, this could actually be considered nine separate challenges.

If you choose to play as Aerith, your challenge will be over by the end of the first disc, while if you pick Cloud, you’ll have to find a substitute for a large chunk of disc two. The nature of this challenge forces you to give up on certain things, like learning Beta from Midgar Zolom (try it and you’ll see why), but on the upside, your chosen character will have the pick of your Materia collection, and you only need to acquire one set of the best equipment. Speaking of equipment, some of it feels like it has been designed specifically for this challenge. The Yoshiyuki sword, for example, triples Cloud’s strength and makes his challenge a lot easier than it would otherwise be.

Difficulty rating: 2/5 (average – depends on the choice of character)

Low level

The way Final Fantasy VII distributes experience points (EXP) makes this challenge an exercise in strategic planning. Boss battles give EXP, unlike many other games in the series, meaning that your characters will be forced to level up – even when they’re not in the party. You have two choices of how to distribute those levels: you may either keep one party of three characters at the lowest possible levels by allowing others to level up more, or keep everyone’s level at or below a set maximum, usually level 28.

This is one challenge that can really change the way you play the game. You must run from every random battle and allow only one pre-selected character to survive boss fights, which can be tricky at such low levels. Your Materia will barely level up, and you will have to skip entire sidequests, like Wutai and getting Vincent.

Difficulty rating: 3/5

Category 5: still want more?


With the Final Fantasy VII race held on this website last year, we set out to show that it needn’t be only a single-player game. But if you don’t fancy playing it competitively, how about co-operatively? First, you need to find a willing friend. They won’t be playing the game, but you will need their help, as you try to play through the game blindfolded.

We’re not just making this up; it has been attempted before. It’s definitely the silliest challenge on this list, but with the right friend, you’ll both be laughing your heads off as Cloud bashes into a wall for the millionth time and Tifa accidentally casts Life-2 on Sephiroth. We can’t give this a difficulty rating, because it really depends on how well you know the game, and how good your friend is at giving instructions. If you’re unlucky, it could be the hardest challenge you take on!

Combination of the above

If you’re after an even more serious challenge, try combining two or more of the above ideas into something that will really make your life difficult. A low level game and a no Materia game might not be all that tough on their own, for example, but a combination of the two would merit a 5-orb difficulty rating on this list. Completing a single character challenge with initial equipment would be no mean feat, either.

Take a look at the Final Fantasy VII page on GameFAQs for many more combination ideas. The acronyms can get quite ridiculous, though: fancy taking on the IENANENPANLBCMO challenge? You’ll have to work out what it means first!

Share your achievements

If you’ve taken on any self-imposed challenges, from this list or otherwise, let us know about them on our forum or in the comments below. Don’t be shy about what you’ve achieved!


  1. robot
    #1 robot 9 March, 2013, 03:55

    check out the perfection challenges listed by Absolute Steve at shillatime . org

    i’m currently making up my version of a perfectionist game based on his ideas.

    Reply to this comment
    • bad robot
      bad robot 25 April, 2013, 00:09

      me too. they’ll probably end up similar

  2. Bennie
    #2 Bennie 24 February, 2014, 23:57

    What’s up all, here every one is sharing such experience, therefore it’s fastgidious tto read this weblog, and I used to visit this web
    site daily.

    Reply to this comment
  3. ben
    #3 ben 8 March, 2014, 13:47

    the 1st save point 99 challenge max out your characters to lvl 99 at the first save point you reach after you obtain the character
    currently got barret and cloud 99 in like 3 weeks of pure playing

    Reply to this comment
  4. junendeli
    #4 junendeli 5 December, 2014, 05:49

    So wtf is IENANENPANLBCMO??? I haven’t played any fancy challenges besides playing the stinking game when I was 13. Now I’m playing a perfect game, but what on earth combinations is IENANENPANLBCMO??? …initial equipment…that’s all I got.

    Reply to this comment
    • JIbax
      JIbax 4 January, 2015, 15:19

      I would also like to know what it means. Im about to start trying the single character with initial equip. if anyoen could let us know i would like to try it 🙂

    • Flintlock
      Flintlock Author 4 January, 2015, 22:03

      IE = Initial Equipment
      NA = No Accessories
      NE = No Escaping
      NPA = No Physical Attacks
      NLB = No Limit Breaks
      CMO = Command Materia Only

      Not for the faint-hearted! You can read more about it here.

    • JIbax
      JIbax 5 January, 2015, 00:52

      Cheers dude

  5. JIbax
    #5 JIbax 5 January, 2015, 01:04

    MY challenge is going to be this.
    initial equip, no accessory, no escaping(including battle square), no magic, one character, right from the start.
    Wish me luck 🙂

    Reply to this comment
  6. StiltzkinKupo84
    #6 StiltzkinKupo84 23 March, 2019, 01:18

    Im doing a 2mc game. It means 2 materia colors. Each character can only equip two colors of materia, and no two characters can share the same combo of colors. Im planning my team to look like this:

    Cloud: Yellow/Purple
    Barret: Blue/Green
    Tifa: Yellow/Green
    Aeris: Red/Green
    Red13: Yellow/Red
    Yuffie: Blue/Yellow
    Cait: Red/Purple
    Vincent: Blue/Red
    Cid: Green/Purple

    I find it perfect, because every color combo is used once, and none get ignored. (except blue/purple which makes no sense) Feel free to take on a 1mc or 3mc challenge, if you want a harder or easier time, respectively!

    Reply to this comment

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