With a new, stunning 5-game reboot bubbling under the surface of RPG gaming news, I decided that it was finally time to try out Final Fantasy 7 (FFVII). Having made it 25 years (so far) and never playing a Final Fantasy game, VII gets to be my first and, because it has the heavy mantle of deciding whether or not I’ll play further through other FF titles (and because I can’t turn the media analysis part of my brain off….like….ever), I’ve been pretty critical of my first 15 hours into the mega-franchise’s 1997 game changer (PUN).
The Story so Far
For the uninitiated, FFVII follows a group of environmental radicals who decide to stop the big, bad government from destroying the planet by blowing up their energy-sucker-upper-thingies. Among the fistful of would-be revolutionaries is Barrett(a Mr.T rip off with a gun for an arm), ass-kicking Tifa, and former-military Cloud. While trying to set a bomb, Cloud has flashbacks where a voice he doesn’t recognize starts saying cryptic things to him while he watches scenes from the past unfold. He shakes it off, the bomb goes off, and our hero makes it out just in time. Back at headquarters, in the slums built below Midgar, Barrett preps his team for another attack and Cloud agrees to continue helping in exchange for twice his regular fee. It’s during this negotiation we learn that Cloud and Tifa were besties back in their hometown and Cloud promised to come back and help her after he made it big with SOLDIER. Cue romantic tension.
Unfortunately, the next bombing attempt goes bad and Cloud ends up falling all the way down from Midgar into a girl’s flowerbed in the slums. This is how he meets Aeris, who, through a rip-roaring series of events, we learn is an Ancient, one of the last remaining supernatural beings who is tied so deeply to the planet, she may be the only one that can truly save it. Cue MOAR romantic tension.
After leaving Midgar, the motley crew navigates a seriously extended cut scene into Cloud’s memories, where we learn about the nefarious dealings of President Shinra and SOLDIER–they’re testing genetic mutations on humans, btws–and how this discovery by Sephiroth and Cloud drives the former to go all evil-crazy. The crew divvies up (choose your party, nerd) and sets off to find Sephiroth and save the world.
The Characterization is Incredible
Here’s the deal: My only knowledge of the characters in FFVII came from Kingdom Hearts and fan fiction self-inserts. This isn’t a bad way to get introduced to the crew, but it certainly made me think everyone was gonna be pretty one-dimensional. So I was pretty surprised when I found myself grappling with all the feels when Aeris ended up being a tough, down to earth, no-nonsense bad ass. Like, I was under the impression she was a wispy goody two shoes and here she is chasing Cloud down and demanding he work with her on this adventure and using her feminine wiles to sneak into a whorehouse to rescue Tifa. Like, WHAT? And Tifa, despite her pixelated Tomb Raider chest, is equally as down to earth and focused as Aeris, as well as being the only character so far who fights with just her fists and feet. Jenn Bartell did an illustration of Aeris and Tifa that encapsulates my feelings about them. Give them their own game Square Enix, just do it.
And Cloud, despite being portrayed in other iterations as moody and withdrawn, is actually sometimes funny or sarcastic. He’s got more layers than just Primo Moody Emo Boy Number 1, which is refreshing considering the video game industry’s tendency to Grim-Dark the hell out of their male leads.
The Sexualization is Rough
I understand that FVII is both a product of the late nineties and an old video game so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the casual violence aimed specifically at the female characters, but here I am, being surprised. In the first opening hours of the game you have to play through rescue sequences where either Tifa or Aeris are embroiled in the threat of rape–first by a horny slumlord and then later by a mutant cat. Upon completing the rescue in the second scenario, Red XIII says that it was an act for the mad scientist who put him in the chamber with Aeris to “breed,” and then literally nothing is ever said about it again as he joins your party. I named him Caliban in my game–bonus points if you can tell me why. Arcs like this are what make a player like me feel alienated, especially since I bonded so quickly to the characters in peril. But video game developers are still making arguments for naked ladies breathing through their skin so…
Past that, the nudity and mid-drift baring of the female characters is standard fair for video game character design, especially in the Final Fantasy franchise. The outfits don’t make sense–have you ever tried to do a high-kick in a crop top and pleather hot-shorts?– but at least Tifa’s shorts have a way of staying up…I guess.
Environmentalism For the Win
While you absolutely should not blow things up in the name of Mother Earth, the fact that FFVII works to call attention to environmental issues is both super exciting for me and, I would argue, one of the reasons the story holds up so well into the modern day. The argument over HOW FAR CAN SCIENCE GO BEFORE IT GOES TOO FAR or whether or not passionate recyclers are justified in blowing up SUVs didn’t stay in the late 90’s. It’s a conversation we’re still having globally today, regardless of those who would deny the existence of human impact on Earth. FFVII takes the idea that humans can suck the actual life out of their planet and then have to deal with the consequences and makes it sparkly and interactive for easier consumption. I could write a whole separate piece on just this idea–and I might, so watch yourself.
Overall, I’ve been really excited about and happy with my first-ever Final Fantasy play through. I haven’t always been an avid turn-based RPG fan or even had much patience for video games that require so many damn hours. So far I’ve managed to avoid the allure of the golden Chocobo though so pray for me–this may all change over night.
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