In September of last year, Caleb Hart first streamed a completionist run of Final Fantasy VII. The PS1-era JRPG is notoriously involved, filled with hyper-difficult extra bosses and complicated sidequests. When it released in 1997 it shocked people by being too big to fit on one disc, instead requiring three. In recent weeks though, Hart has redoubled his efforts to marathon the game in all of its glory, in the process managing the herculean feat of doing everything in the game in a record-breaking sub-21 hour sitting.
Few games hold such a unique and special place in the history of games and players’ popular imaginations as Final Fantasy VII. Square Enix’s game revolutionized the series by hauling it into the 32-bit era, complete with cinematic, polygonal graphics, high end computer animated cutscenes, and a detailed open world bigger than any previous Final Fantasy game previous.
Just the idea of 100%-ing the game is exhausting, but doing so as part of a speedrun borders on masochistic. Hart appears to enjoy it though, having made the attempt twice in the past week. “I kind of just said fuck it, like I really wanted to do a 100% run,” he said during the September 10 playthrough that cut roughly an hour off of his previous PS1 record, securing a new time of 20 hours and 42 minutes, the equivalent of driving from Manhattan to Miami Beach without stopping.
“I just destroyed FF7 100%,” he tweeted afterwards. “Holy shit!” And then he slept.
There are 100% categories for speedrunning in a lot of games—like Mega Man X for instance, another one Hart holds records in. In that game, it only takes half an hour and change to be a completionist. Even Super Mario Odyssey, a fun but overwhelming game in which most people, myself included, have struggled to find all of its 999 moons, has been 100%-ed in about 10 hours. At just north of 20, Final Fantasy VII is in a special class of marathon speedruns.
In fact, the game has so many idiosyncrasies that there isn’t even wide agreement on what should constitute a completionist run. Should it include collecting and maxing out one of every materia? Killing at least one of every enemy? Maybe even triggering every possible conversation with an NPC in the game?
Like any trailblazer, Hart has decided on his own definition, adapted from another player’s definition who used to speedrun it on PC. It’s a convincing one. For him, a 100% includes all learning all Limit Breaks, getting all characters, having one of every item (including regular items, armor pieces, weapons, accessories and key items), completing every side quest, getting one of every materia, mastering all four enemy skill materias, and beating all the bosses.
While these criteria make for an exhausting playthrough, they also help define its contours. It might be overwhelming to map out from scratch the fastest way to generally do everything in the game. The non-scientific surveys over at How Long To Beat put a leisurely stroll through a 100% run at upwards of 300 hours, but requirements like getting every single item in the game provide helpful sign posts for someone in Hart’s shoes. Ghost Hands, a unique consumable item that sucks away enemies’ magic points, can be won or stolen only from the Ghosts in Midgard’s Train Graveyard. Returning to the game’s dystopian metropolis late in the game is also necessary in order to secure a Behemoth Horn, an attack item for Red XIII hidden near the bottom of a Shinra building stairwell that can only be accessed from the 63rd floor. But these two items only bookend the first half of the run. After that, there are hours of killing bugs to get every limit break, tracking down every last learnable enemy skill, and a long list of other grindy errands.
In this regard, the run has more the feel of a scavenger hunt than a race, one made all the more difficult because of the luck that’s often involved in whether or not certain objects ever pop up.
Anyone who’s played the game knows breeding chocobos can be one of its most rewarding but laborious activities. Getting a fated golden chocobo takes plenty of good fortune on its own, but even then it doesn’t guarantee you the rare items relegated to the game’s chocobo racing section. Whenever you race, the top prizes are decided randomly. Two of the possibilities, materia called Enemy Away and Sneak Attack, can only be earned this way. In his recent record-breaking run, Hart lucked out that both the golden chocobo and these materia turned up relatively quickly. That’s how he was able to shave so much time off his previous best.
These RNG-heavy segments come very late in the run as well. This past weekend, Hart began to marathon the game again, but he won’t know whether he has a shot at beating his old record until over halfway through the run. If the chocobo gods don’t smile down upon him, he won’t have the option of quitting before it’s too late.
After completing his run a week ago, Hart joked that “hundo,” the nickname for this category of speedrun, was dead for Final Fantasy VII. But he’s not turning his back on the game, even after mastering everything in it so many times. “There were points of bad execution in the run of course but hundo is not dead,” he told Kotaku on Discord. Watching Hart try to rally at the halfway point during one of these runs, tired, hungry, and getting sloppy in keeping track of all the boxes he needs to be checking along the way, it’s clear to see the ecstacy and torment of trying to perfectly play one of the most perfect games.