Seventh time’s a charm
What was the first game you ever played that, when completed, made a case for itself to be interpreted as something more than a casual escape from reality? For me, that experience arrived at a young age. I was in the fifth grade, and I had been out shopping with a good friend of mine and his parents. We stopped into the K.B. Toys outlet at Aurora Farms, and I came across the triangular boxed PC version of Final Fantasy VII, a game I had only ever known from the Squaresoft demo that came with my PlayStation. With $20 in hand, I was able to purchase the game for a whopping $9.99. This purchase, unbeknownst at the time, would single handedly change my life.
Younger generations may not understand my enthrallment of Final Fantasy VII; why my generation has plead for a remake and gobbled up each re-release by Square-Enix. For the youth, games like Call of Duty occupy free time, with many having played and enjoyed excellent games like The Last of Us or Uncharted. And this is perfectly okay; I’m not here to bemoan what games may have become (I’ve already done that). What I’d like to do today is focus on why games like Final Fantasy VII plotted the course of my life, and why, perhaps, we should spend more time examining them instead of discarding the artistic potential they exhibit.
Final Fantasy VII truly showcases the potential the industry has in becoming the newest recognized form of art or literature. The game still stands up today, though its original translation and subsequent attempts struggle. It’s not necessarily the dialogue in this game, however, that should be weighed (though at numerous points throughout the game, it can be cringe worthy). No, the true reason Final Fantasy VII still rings within gamers is its story, its themes, and its messages, as well as its genre defining gameplay – at least, for its time. With its alleged 2017 re-release, Final Fantasy VII has the opportunity to capture a new generation of gamers.
So what about these themes make Final Fantasy VII worthwhile? How, combined with its narrative, does Final Fantasy VII stand out from its competition – both then and now? To offer up a brief synopsis: Final Fantasy VII is the story of Cloud Strife, an ex-SOLDIER previously employed by the Shin-Ra corporation, a company that runs more like a dictatorship. After defecting, Cloud joins up with childhood friends Barrett and Tifa, and, as a terrorist organization known as Avalanche, seek to bomb each of Shin-Ra’s Mako reactors (Mako being a finite energy source borne of the planet, with the goal of saving the planet). After two successful bombing missions, Cloud is separated from Avalanche, where he meets Aeris (or Aerith). What ensues is a tragic tale of love, a fight against pollution and the greed of consuming fossil fuels, and the existential crises wrought by massive amounts of drug dosing. Combined with numerous social issues, Final Fantasy VII is as much a piece of literature (art) as it is a cultural examination.
But let’s dive deeper into these issues and themes before blanketing a statement and resting my case. I’m a huge fan of critical and in depth thinking, and I’ll be the first to admit that I love seeking content that might not be present in a piece of literature. I look for the stuff even the authors didn’t know they wrote. But, as I’ve said previously, art and literature is all in the eyes of the beholder. Robert Frost said “Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening” wasn’t, in fact, about death; regardless, that’s how I interpret it. Likewise, our interpretations of Final Fantasy VII may and probably vary. Lastly, I’ve made note before that Final Fantasy VIII is my favorite all around Final Fantasy, particularly when it comes to its content; Final Fantasy VII happens to be my first experience with this train of thought.
When I first experienced Final Fantasy VII on that demo disc (1997) and then fully on PC (1998), I was nine and ten, respectively. I’ve heard most criticism of Final Fantasy VII, and I have to say that I don’t completely agree with it. Placing nostalgia aside – and even considering Final Fantasy games of prior to VII – it had a literary impact on me. There’s a great little piece of non-fiction called Final Fantasy and Philosophy written by a few college professors that dissect the different games of the series and the philosophy within, so I do understand that each game contains more than we may, at first, glean.
What does Shin-Ra stand for? Capitalism? Greed? Big companies and pollution? A government run economy with a strangle hold of its people? All of the above? In some ways, yes to all of these. It’s hard to slice it any other way: Shin-Ra is a vile corporation. Its late President Shinra’s goal was to find the Promised Land of lore to excavate its Mako energy. Mako energy is the source of Midgar’s (the huge, mechanical city) power, as well as magic. Condensed, it can supply millions of people with power; in its rawest forms, it can be used as a devastating weapon. Unfortunately, when consumed continuously, the planet loses life – and, eventually, dies.
Perhaps one of the more controversial ideas in Final Fantasy VII, Avalanche is the vigilante group (or terrorist group, depending on who’s eyes you’re looking through) hell bent on destroying Shin-Ra’s Mako reactors in order to ‘save the planet’. Forgetting the cliché, what Avalanche presents the players is an exercise in morality. Yes; you have no choice in deciding whether to blow up a reactor. You do, however, have the ability to feel about it. You may believe that you’re saving the planet, but you’re actually harming and killing thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians.
Do the ends justify the means? That’s up for the player to decide. For me, I’m not sure I can condone the actions Avalanche took in order to ‘save the planet’. For all we know – especially with the information given at the game’s inception – Barrett could have mislead Cloud and Tifa, abusing their extreme generosity. Either way, it’s a hard pill to swallow, right? And in considering that, you can begin to see how the video game genre can be interpreted as more than simple gaming.
And we’ve only just scratched the surface of Final Fantasy VII. I’ll continue this feature further, but for now, consider these few ideas:
- Regardless of your feelings on Final Fantasy VII, are you able to find any value in any piece of the game?
- Can Shin-Ra be classified as wholly good or wholly bad, or is it a mixture of each? Can one side be argued further than the next, and for what reasons? Finally, if declared a villain or protector, does that make the inverse false or its opposite reasoning negative?
- Is Avalanche a group of terrorists or heroes? Can their bombing missions be condoned (do the ends justify the means)?
- Continue to think on Cloud’s existential crisis, the social issues present throughout the game, and the different side stories that enhance the overall narrative.