It is time.
Time for me to finally construct my thoughts on Final Fantasy VII. This is the game that redefined what console RPGs were and also helped usher in a new age or video games in general. I should post up that these are my thoughts and theories and I don’t expect anyone else to share my views. I have a love/hate relationship with this game and any affection I once held for this game has turned to cynical analysis over the last decade and a half.
Lets get this started.
First…what worked. The battle engine was slightly redesigned from the previous entry Final Fantasy VI. Each character as a whole was nearly identical to the other with the exception of weapon choices and Limit Breaks. Final Fantasy VI had a similar system in place called Desperation Moves which would activate randomly when your party members were brought to critical health. Instead of performing a normal attack they would do a move that would have a much higher damage potential.
Nothing all that flashy but an advancement from what they had in previous Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy VII took this a step further by actually introducing a gauge that would show you how close you were to being able to unleash a Limit Break as well as a couple of status ailments that would effect your Limit Break gauge.
Beyond this inclusion of the Limit Break most characters were very stripped down from what had been archetypes seen in previous games. This isn’t to say that Final Fantasy has always had the job classes defined in all of the titles, only a hand few have strict job titles as such, but there was a distinct flavor and skill that each character brought to the table in previous games, not including Final Fantasy III or V. If you wanted to steal an item from someone, you needed to have Locke in the party. Want to absorb magic? You had to have Celes and she had to be equipped with a normal sword. The materia system, while quite engaging, made everyone stock.
It was then that the character motivations, the reasons why the characters were along for the ride, that caused a person to want to keep certain members in their parties. Sure you could min/max and look at the potential damage from each Limit Break and decide which characters had the most “hits” for breaking that key 9999 damage limit per attack but once you received the high level summon Knights of the Round it all became a moot point.
So lets take a look at these characters and see if I can break down why this game holds so much animosity from me.
Figure 1 : Barret Wallace
This man…is a terrorist. Plain and simple. Sure he has what he thinks are good intentions but he is a man driven by rage and vengeance and uses his adopted daughter as an excuse for the crimes he commits. At the beginning of the game we are introduced to him while assaulting a facility that supplies power to part of a huge city. When the power plant does explode it kills hundreds if not thousands of innocent people. Here we have Barret Wallace, leader of AVALANCHE and freedom fighter. My ass. This organization is slip shod at best and the only real work we see them do is blow up buildings. The hilarious irony of it all? Shinra, the company that Barret was fighting against, decides to drop a portion of the city on the home base of AVALANCHE. Eye for an eye, tactic vs tactic. Sure it’s excessive. Sure it’s terrible and inhumane and absolutely monstrous but Shinra can do this and blame the action on AVALANCHE without even batting an eye because it’s the same tactics of terror that AVALANCHE was using.
Figure 2 : Tifa Lockhart
Tifa isn’t that bad of a character. She also isn’t that good of a character. She really doesn’t have much character at all to speak of. Sure she is a martial artist, so was Sabin. We can tell that Sabin was more then his martial arts though. He had a really good character driven plot in Final Fantasy VI. Tifa? She exists in the story only as a tie to the past for Cloud. She has no character arc. She has no great revelation.
She has boobs.
She exists for the player as a sex symbol. All you have to do is google Tifa Lockhart and start looking through the images and it won’t take you too long to see that she is probably one of the most coveted sex fantasies for nerds. Right up there with Cammy from Street Fighter and Mai Shiranui. NBD. JS.
Figure 3 : Cloud Strife
Here we are. The “hero” of the story. There really isn’t much heroic in this character at all. He suffers from nihilism, he is a mercenary, and the only reason he can be bothered to continue the journey with his “friends” is a desire for revenge against the person who is responsible for the loss of everything he might have cared about. I say might because we can never be sure if Cloud actually cared about anything. Even at the end of the game, when you are about to confront Sephiroth in the Northern Crater, he gives one of the most depressing speeches ever. It is more of a eulogy and acceptance that they will fail more so then trying to inspire the rag tag band of thieves, assassins, spies, and terrorists into action.
A truly sad main cast. These three characters are our introduction into the game and how the world works. All the darkness in the world being fought by violence and change being bought from a disgraced “soldier” and hidden in the run down bar of a girl who doesn’t have the ability to stop the cataclysm that will befall their planet because she is giving the main character the benefit of the doubt. At any one point the people in this story could have sat down with the facts and stopped these horrific events from ever transpiring.
I have already talked about the main cast of the game, at least the main three characters you spend the first hour to two hours with. Now it is time to talk about the main villain in this story. The truly titanic manipulator of this epic tale of sadness and hopeful redemption.
No not that guy. Sephiroth was a physical powerhouse…or at least he is thought of as being one. He is the legendary SOLDIER of Shinra. Unfortunately he is a mere patsy in this whole scheme.
Jenova? Naw…she is dead most of the game with only her mutated zombie body parts providing some boss fights throughout.
Hojo? Now there is an idea. I liked this character a lot. He is actually very well fleshed out. He has clear objectives, identifiable resources, is very in control of his plans and operations. He is also not the main villain in this story. He should have been. He is the closest thing we have to a conventional villain while maintaining all the tropes of the greatest of the mad scientists to date. Alas…
Well who does that leave us with then?
“WHOA?!?! Really?”, you might think to yourself. Yes. This character is the one manipulating all the events from the beginning. I might need to clarify a little. So calm down, and prepare to have your minds blown.
This is how we start the game. It opens with the stars…or whatever but it is at moment 0:45 that is important. Aeris is the first character we see in the entire game. The significance of what she is doing is never revealed to us either but if you look at what she is staring into it is obvious that she is communicating with the planet through the lifestream. Aeris being an ancient is one of the few creatures left on the planet that can perform this act. After she gets done “talking” with the green light she stands, looks contemplative, then heads to the corner of a busy intersection…where she will meet Cloud later on, offering him a flower for a gil.
What is the significance of that? It is in order to familiarize herself with our main protagonist. To better allow her to establish a rapport as brief of an interaction as it is. You then play the game for about 2 hours before you meet her again. This time in her little church garden where Cloud just happens to fall, Aeris’ flowers pile breaking his fall and saving him from death.
Skip to 3:20 to see the start of the sequence.
Cloud at this point is having some sort of conversation with someone while he is unconscious. This is not the only time this will happen during the game. When he wakes up Aeris is right there tending to him after his fall. They don’t have to much time to talk however as the Turks show up. This scene is important because it helps establish who the Turks are in relation to Aeris. Cloud begins to remember that the Turks are a covert group of assassins and kidnappers that work for Shinra. When Cloud questions Aeris why they are there for her she lies and says that they have always wanted to recruit her into the organization. Cloud questions that but decides that he should protect this girl…for no other reason then for the potential promise of money.
So you get her home and away from the Turks and back to her house where she tells her mother that she is going to escort you to Sector 7. Her mother tells you to please leave without her that night and you try to sneak out only to run into Aeris a little while later. She scoffs at the danger of going through the slums to get Cloud back to Tifa and they are off.
After an adventure in Wall Street with Don Corneo and cross-dressing, Cloud, Tifa, and Aeris hear from the Don that Shinra is planning on dropping the city plate above the Sector 7 slums, killing everyone and destroying the terrorist organization AVALANCHE. The party is forced to take a detour through the sewers and after emerging in Sector 7, Cloud and Tifa tell Aeris to head to the 7th Heaven bar to rescue Marlene (Barrett’s adopted daughter).
Long story short : Aeris gets captured by the Turks, Reno rigs the pillar holding up Sector 7 to blow up, and thousands of people are crushed under the debris of the city plate. I fail to see why people like Reno so much…or the Turks for that matter. When you return back to Aeris’ house to find Marlene Aeris’ mother then gives you the heads up on why the Turks were interested in her. You should pay attention that they have known where she is for years. Why the sudden need to find her now? Possibly because she has involved herself with this AVALANCHE group…they can be such bad influences.
We are going to fast forward the story here to the next time we actually see Aeris.
Yes…Hojo plans on saving both the ancients and the race of cat/lion/wolf guardians by breeding Aeris and Red XIII (Nanaki to his tribesmen). Hojo says that both Red XIII and Aeris are the last of their respective races and that this is the only way to continue the existence of both into a new generation. Sick mind. I am talking about the game script writer here.
Anyrate…you smash Aeris out of her test tube, Red XIII turns on Hojo, you fight a boss, and then you get caught.
What follows is one of the creepiest moments in the game as you wander around blood drenched hallways only to discover an assassinated Shinra president with his son Rufus taking over the whole operation very quickly. There are thoughts that Sephiroth is to blame for the death of the president but I think that it was probably one of the Sephiroth “clones”, more then likely Cloud.
So then the real escape begins.
Complete with a motorcycle chase sequence.
Once the party is out of Midgar we get them all together in Kalm. From here we get the history of Cloud, Tifa, and Sephiroth. It’s at this point that Tifa could help Cloud remember that he wasn’t there…that he is completely forgetting that Zack was there…at any point.
Whats even creepier is that once you take a break and go to sleep there are voice having a conversation with you again. When you wake up…Aeris is standing over you, feeding you suggestive thoughts.
Lets flash forward in the story a little further…all the way to the temple where the Black Materia is held. Aeris demands to be a part of your party for this leg of the journey. At the end of the temple we see Cloud attack Aeris (serves the villain right) as Sephiroth does his own bit of subterfuge trying to get Cloud to realize that Aeris is going to betray them all! (OK…that might be a bit of embellishment there)
Cloud is restrained by Cait Sith…Cat Seph…KAT SAPH…Reeve. The Black Materia is retrieved but Aeris decides she is going to book it, probably afraid that some in the party are onto her at this point. She tells Cloud, in a dream, that she has to leave the party and that they shouldn’t follow her. That she is headed to the place of her people and she has to figure out what she can do to help the situation on her own.
Cloud of coarse ignores her warnings and decides that he must head out after her in order to protect her.
She hasn’t paid him yet.
Then this happens.
I am not going to lie…when I saw this for the first time, I was a little broken up on the whole thing. Now that I know that this was a part of her devious plan, I have no sympathies. Not that I should…she is faking her death. There have been a few different theories thrown around that Aeris isn’t dead, that they could just sprinkle a phoenix down on her and she should be OK. This is a death of plot convenience. Squaresoft has done this before.
This time though they make it seem a little more personal. You have the slowed down sequence as Sephiroth strikes the killing blow, the sad moment as Cloud drops her body like a lead weight to the bottom of the lake. Keep these things in mind folks. There will be a test later.
So we are going to flash forward past the first encounter with the real Sephiroth at the Northern Crater, Cloud rediscovering who he is, and go straight to the part where the party realizes what they need in order to counter Meteor which now hovers menacingly over the planet. You head to the City of the Ancients with Bugenhagen, Red XIII’s adopted grandfather. Once there he helps activate a device that helps you locate the one thing that will stop Meteor, Holy. Holy apparently is another piece of materia that is white and counters the effects of Meteor. All you have to do is collect it. Wait…its at the bottom of that lake that Aeris was dropped into. Wait…it was that piece of materia that was holding up Aeris’ hair. Wait…she said it was useless and didn’t do anything. Why would she hide that information? Especially if she realized that the party was after the Black Materia. Sephiroth seemed to figure it out pretty quickly even though the party had no clue.
What makes this scene even stranger is the fact that the materia is glowing, as if it is being used. No one is around that is using it though. Unless there was someone in the lake that…oh…
So we are just going to skip to the end of the game. A lot has happened but we are about to get to the crowing moment. During the fight with Sephiroth in the Northern Crater he seems to be containing the magic of Holy. The party fights him and defeats him. Then the ending happens.
A few things to take note of here. First, Meteor is not crashing at the Northern Crater. It is going to fall on Midgar. Second, when Holy finally does make an appearance it makes things worse. Third, when the lifestream shows up to “help” there is a flash of light then we see Aeris’ face…appearing exactly as it did at the beginning of the game.
And then the game is over. We get credits, a bit of the Final Fantasy fanfare, classic themes revisited, I love the music in this series probably more then the actual game series itself. Then after all that, we get a cut scene of 500 years later. Who do we see? Red XIII or some descendant of his running up a hill onto a vista overlooking Midgar. Midgar doesn’t look like it is inhabited by any humans as it looks like a natural preserve. It looks like a lush garden…one that Aeris said she wanted at the beginning of the game while you were in her church garden. Perhaps this is her promised land? What about all those people though? Well…there is a bit of cryptic dialogue talking about people in general and the idea that humans might also be enemies of the planet. This is why the Weapons attack human settlements or areas where humans are housing Jenova based technology.
What makes the ending even stranger is that Red XIII seems to have had children. We don’t know how long ancients can live…nor do we know how long the species that Red XIII can live. All we know is that Hojo was convinced that only by breeding Red XIII and Aeris would the species continue.
Welp there you have it boys and girls. Don’t try and clog the rest of this up by saying that Advent Children or Dirge of Cerberus overwrites what I have put here. I would like to point out that several times in interviews regarding the elements of death throughout the game as a whole. Hironobu Sakaguchi, the main producer for the game, said that he was still grieving the loss of his mother and that the thoughts of death found a creative outlet in Final Fantasy VII. Pretty much, by the end of the game, everyone is dead. Humanity has been wiped from the planet and it was all Aeris’ plan. Think about it kiddos.