20 years ago, my world changed forever.
Sounds hyperbolic, eh? But two decades ago, Final Fantasy VII made its way to North America. Having only gotten the game by way of a hand-me-down — my cousin is not an RPG fan (loser) — it had a direct impact on my life.
Yes. A video game from 1997 left a mark on this then 14-year-old Handsome Internet Scribbler (patent pending).
I have to admit, there were low expectations when popping that first disc into my Playstation. Prior to VII, no true RPG ever graced my bedroom picture-box. Before that, it was a bunch of sports video games, with a few platformers and maybe an accidental simulation game.
“RPGs?” I probably thought (because the hell if I actually remember). “They’re for nerds.”
As soon as the game began, as the opening cutscene and accompanying music started to blast its way through my television, I knew nothing but greatness awaited. I was hooked.
First of a few asides, in what really is a column long aside: Aeris, girl in the opening scene, joined Winnie Cooper and Winona Ryder as women in my “first crush club.” There were others, many really, but let’s not talk about Handsome Internet Scribbler still relatively new to puberty.
That’s how quickly it happened. In only two other games — Metal Gear Solid and the original Mass Effect — have there been instances when I immediately knew I would love a video game.
Final Fantasy VII was my first. Like a lot of our other firsts, the game continues to tug at my heartstrings long after it was meant to.
I recently (like three weeks ago) replayed Final Fantasy VII. It hasn’t aged gracefully graphically or with the storytelling that I adored so much so at the time. This isn’t a complaint in hindsight, as graphics being outdated isn’t shocking considering it is two decades later, and as far as the story goes, it was designed for someone of my age — someone with willing and youthful ignorance.
And man, that youthful ignorance paid off in full during my original playthrough.
I was 14. Still a kid, but on the precipitous of becoming an incredibly young — and even more incredibly dumb — man. I had yet to gain my first kiss, though my first adult-cocktail was a few weeks behind me. That context is important, as I was yet to be jaded from dating woes, but had experienced (what I thought to be) the edgy lifestyle.
No video game that I played before Final Fantasy VII had what it had to offer. At least not as far as to (again, what I thought were) adult-themes. There was drinking, (kinda) cursing, romance, nuanced characters that were not completely evil or good, and an underlying theme of corporate greed.
Yes, you rascals … corporate greed! This might sound silly, but I thought that the use of Shinra Inc. as the large figurehead of evil, mostly through the greed it represented, was genius.
Also, yes, 14-year-old me was not so much a genius.
Back to the actual story itself, let’s get some of the flaws out of the way first, as a lot of the stuff Final Fantasy VII did as “jokey” side-arcs would not fly today.
Most notably is the time Cloud went to find Tifa. After some research, Cloud and friends found out Tifa was being being held at a mansion. No big deal, right? Mansions are in video games all the time. However, most characters don’t need to dress up in drag to get in the door.
There’s other iffy moments to the story, though they would all be told through the prism of hindsight and cynicism. While at the time I knew the “drag queen” bit was wrong, the holes in the plot and the nature of some of the characters’ relationships, were not something I realized were #bad.
The foundation of the story goes like this:
Cloud, an ex-SOLDIER (yes, in all caps), is us. We are the character Cloud. When we start our journey as him, we find ourselves as already willing participants in a vigilante organization called AVALANCHE (again, all caps).
The group we are with — SPOILER — are not all going to live long. In fact, most die relatively early in our game. One of our most main buddies, Barret, will live long. For those unaware, Barret has a gun for an arm because of course he has a gun for an arm.
Personal aside: If Final Fantasy VII ever got a live-action movie, I’ve always envisioned The Rock playing Barret. The character’s aloofness — which never really fit in well in the game, to be honest — would have to be toned down a bit, but yes. Very much yes.
From there, we meet former childhood bestie and potential love interest Tifa, her and Barret’s daughter, and start our journey to save the planet from an asteroid.
Ok. I lied. Let me back up a second. For the sake of clarity, Final Fantasy VII is a long, hugely convoluted (but in a good way) game that there’s just too much to break every storytelling aspect down. Let’s give the cliff notes.
We already met AVALANCHE (RIP almost everyone), Cloud, Barrett, Tifa and the latter two’s “kid.”
- AVALANCHE blew up a nuclear reactor thing to start the game. We get introduced to Shinra at this time as well.
- The Lifestream is the planet’s lifeforce. It is a flow of spiritual energy that gives life to everything on the Planet. Its processed form is known as Mako.
- The Planet’s Lifestream is being drained for energy by the Shinra Electric Power Company, a world-dominating megacorporation headquartered in the city of Midgar (spoiler — but RIP to a large section of Midgar).
- The company’s actions are weakening the Planet, threatening its existence and all life.
- Aeris is my bae (more on her later).
- There’s the Turks, a covert branch of Shinra’s security forces; SOLDIER, an elite Shinra fighting force created by enhancing humans with Mako; and the Cetra, a near-extinct human tribe which maintains a strong connection to the Planet and the Lifestream.
And bluh, bluh bluh. If you’re reading this, you already know large portions of the dilly.
The main theme of the story is about friendship, a main character finding himself, loss, and overcoming. That’s the dilly.
Oh, it is also about one of the best villains ever created …
This guy, this guy right here, he’s Scott Hall before Scott Hall. He’s the bad guy you’re not supposed to like, but do anyway. He’s the first nuanced, complicated “bad guy” character I can remember encountering.
Hot-take: He was, honestly, not all that wrong in what he was trying to do. Maybe the way he was doing it, or even his endgame were, but this man was done wrong.
Jenova, Sephiroth’s (kinda, DNA-based) mom, was being held hostage in a sense by Shinra. Sephiroth, who was at one point the main mother loving solider in, um, SOLIDER, eventually found out Jenova was him mom.
It is complicated, but Jenova is to Sephiroth as playing up to uneducated white-bros is to Clay Travis — you can’t separate the pairing, or they’d be lost without each other.
Boom and bang. We have ourselves someone who is angered. I believe Republicans call them snowflakes — although, if Sephiroth is a snowflake, he is the kind that would end Christmas with a great fury (or something).
Eh, forget the bad joke. Semantics are for losers.
Learning that Jenova, who he just calls Mom, attempted to take control of the Planet 2000 years previously, Sephiroth decides to follow in her footsteps and become a god who would rule over the Planet.
Hey, me too. If my mom was god, I’d want that in the will after she died as well.
His turn in the game as the bad guy is when he burns down an entire village and kills many, but is assumed dead after a confrontation with Cloud inside a nearby Mako reactor.
Obviously, he isn’t dead. He’s our main bad guy! Sephiroth’s main goal, after we find out he’s our arch-nemesis, is to become like his mom; a god.
To be Camp Crystal Lake clear: There’s WAY more him to just that, but we’re already 1,200-plus words deep. Kyle — our The Open Man main man — is probably already regretting green lighting this as he attempts to edit this shit show.
Huge spoiler — 20 years later — coming.
Do not scroll if you want to avoid the game’s biggest twist.
No, for real. STOP.
You were warned.
OK. Here we go …
They f*c9#!ng killed Aerith (Aeris) Gainsborough
Murder. Death. Kill. Like it was god damn Demolition Man. A video game in mother loving 1997 killed one of its mother bleeping main characters roughly — but LESS THAN — halfway through the klajsfdklas game!
No “real” characters died in video games in 1997. Sure, we were always killing things by jumping on them ala Super Maria (who is no longer a plumber, btw) or shooting them via weirdly futuristic bullets in stuff like Contra, but those people didn’t have names and/or deserved it.
But Aerith Gainsborough? No real or fictitious character deserved to die less than her. She was The Flower Girl. The apple of Cloud’s prickly eye. The inherently good person in a world full of evil. Aeris “I am so damn cool I have two first names” Gainsborough?!
And. Square. FREAKING. HAD. HEr. MURDERED.
Oh, remember that “cool bad guy” I talked about earlier? That cagey bastard did the murdering.
Warning: Avert your eyes if you don’t want to relive this horrible moment again.
I won’t spoil a single part of this, but not only did I think of this during my recent replaying of it, I thought this at the time; the ending to this game was garbage.
It didn’t take away from the overall experience. That is how good this game was. An awful ending didn’t sway me from playing it multiple times after already knowing the “goal” was worse than the twist in The Village (lowkey: I’m actually a fan of 99 percent of M.’s work).
The REmake That’s Coming (Glee and fear)
A remake is coming. That’s the good. The bad is that nearly all remakes of everything are trash.
Another personal aside: I really want to see It. This goes against my “most remakes are trash” take, but I don’t care. I love the novel. I loved the mini-series. I feel like I am destined to love this. Thing is, I don’t really have real life friends. I mean, I do sometimes, but not often enough. I also do poorly in movie theaters (freaking anxiety). Someone help me, somehow, if they can?
Also not ideal: Since VII was such a long game, the developers are going to release this remake episodically. That’s major concern one, as that immediately makes this feel like a money-grab.
There’s more concerns. Some leaks have claimed that this game might not be a true remake. That instead, it might be re-imagining and/or/both a revisiting (meaning, magically, a continuation of a story that can’t have any real continuation).
My hope is that this gets adult’ed up even more than I thought the original was adult-themed. After all, the fans willing to buy this remake are almost all now well into their 30s. There’s no reason to treat this with even the slightest touch of kids-appeal.
The Open Man — starring yours truly — already has a weekly series called “How I Would Script It.” I am not going to tell you how I would do this remake in full here. All I would recommend is sticking to the main story-arc, patching up some of the plot holes, removing the iffy tones, get rid of the fluff, fix the ending, update the graphics (obviously), tweak some characters (mainly Barrett) to fit the niche they originally should have been, and a few other small details.
More or less, I’d just put some shine on the original. There would be very little in adding “new” into the game, but more taking away the pointless/awful/wrong. The only key part to the game that needs a major overhaul is that awful ending.
Final Fantasy VII was my first (video game) love. Metal Gear Solid shortly followed — then it wouldn’t be until over a decade later that my third love, Mass Effect would come along — but your first is forever special.
Sure she had flaws. Naturally, she knew as little as to what she was doing as I was our first time together. But man, was the experience amazing.
Also of note? Unlike our real first, my first time with Final Fantasy VII didn’t last well under the five-minute mark. I faked sick for an entire week, in order to be home from school, so I could play it.
Lying to spend time with something? That’s true love.