Final Fantasy 7 graced our lives 23 years ago, back in 1997. My introduction came a year later, in 1998 when my friend would invite me around to watch him play it. I was immediately captivated, but my own first hand experience of it wouldn't come until 1999 when that same friend leant me his Playstation for a weekend along with the first disc. During that weekend, I only managed to make it to Cosmo Canyon before having to hand it back.
When I had the chance to buy a Playstation, I opted for a Sega Dreamcast instead. The new wave of consoles was well on its way and I thought it would be stupid to buy a console on it's way out just to play one game. I don't regret that decision, I loved my Dreamcast, it had some amazing games of its own (Shenmue, Toy Commander, Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star Online, and yes, Sonic Adventure), but it wasn't until 2001, when I worked for a friends dad through the summer holidays, that I bought myself a PSOne, and with it, my very own copy of Final Fantasy 7.
I'd like to reminisce about that first play through, but unfortunately I don't remember it well, what I do remember, however, are all the subsequent play throughs I've had of it through the years. On the original Playstation, PS2, Steam, and the Nintendo Switch. I've lost count of how many times I've played it now, but never lost touch with why I play it.
When the remake was first announced I screamed at my computer in utter joy. The sound of that first note and I knew what it was, I'd heard it countless times before, and then when that first trailer ended and the remake was confirmed, I was utterly ecstatic. And then I was apprehensive.
FF7 has had a huge impact on my life, searching for fan-art of the characters was my first ever internet search (ironically on my Dreamcast's browser as it was the only access I had to the internet at the time), and I lived my late teenage years especially, anxious that I would forget about the game, that it's impact would lessen and I would be a lesser person for it.
There's so much to love about the game, but for me it was the characters and the setting. I loved how Cloud starts off as this stoic badass just blowing reactors up for money, and by the end of the game says to everyone "We did our best guys, let's go home proud of ourselves" as a meteor is crashing into the planet. I always really loved Tifa, the juxtaposition of this total badass martial artist that punches, kicks and grapples monsters while others need giant swords, gun-arms, lances and whatever, and this quite reserved almost shy, woman that still really cares about her friends and would do anything to help them. And she does.
So then fast forward 18 years and Final Fantasy 7 Remake was announced. From the minute I heard that first note of the opening music, I knew what we were in for. I think that feeling is probably shared by many of us, that piece of music so tightly ingrained into our minds that just the hint of it can spark a wealth of nostalgia.
I think it would be unfair to say that FF7Remake is purely a piece riding on the coattails of nostalgic millenials, as so many remakes often are just that, because this doesn't just bring new ideas to a previously told story, it improves upon them too. Particularly in the characters. In the '97 game, the characters were simple but loveable, in the remake they are complex humans with moral and personal dilemmas. But the biggest improvement of all is in the ecological message. Previously, saving the planet felt esoteric, just part of a larger than life adventure where a man with a hilariously large sword can take down capitalism with his band of merry companions. Now, however, the threat looms large. The entire area around Midgar is a wasteland and the Midgar slums an all too real look into how people can live in areas of complete garbage and desolation, people living either within or adjacent to areas of complete landfill. And as the story progresses, we see that it's no longer black and white, Avalanche destroying reactors has major consequences that effect the least privileged far more than the company they're trying to destroy. And it's no longer just Barrett, Biggs, Wedge and Jessie. Avalanche is a real rebel threat to Shinra now, an actual militia with more than just 4 people. Of course, the game still leans into one man, his hilariously large sword and a band of merry companions, because that is still the story of FF7. But saving the planet feels real now, climate change was still a real threat in 1997, but also at a time when mainstream media was optimistic, future technologies will save us, just recycle properly and we'll all be fine. Except future technologies haven't saved us, we're pumping more and more emissions into the atmosphere and destroying every defence we have against it with industrial agriculture. Slums like that of Midgar feel like they are a closer reality to many of us now, and have been real for many people in developing countries for generations. Instead of learning from them and taking strides to combat it, we seem to be moving further and further towards a dystopian future similar to the Fossil Fuel controlled giant of the world of Final Fantasy 7.
And that's the real threat of FF7R, President Shinra says it a few times, we all know what the source of Mako energy is, but we still use it every single day, we still consume. What the pres is missing though, is that the people don't have a choice but to consume. He has created a monopoly that literally controls the entire world and has forced every body's hand into using Mako energy just to function within society. What we don't know yet, is if everyone was aware of what Mako was when it was first discovered as an energy source, was there uproar? Did Avalanche exist as soon as Shinra became the global and sole provider of energy, did it exist before, or did it only exist after they found out what the source of the energy was?
The game also goes into far more detail about what it means for you to be a part of the lifestream in a side story about Jessie. I won't go into spoiler territory here, but it sets a potentially terrifying precedent for what is, essentially, an afterlife.
There has been some criticism of the game for only being the Midgar portion of the game, that it should be called Part One or something, and I understand that, I think it's a mostly fair criticism. However, personally, I'm glad that they devoted this game to just one part of the whole story. Rushing through Midgar in the 3 hours or so it takes once you know where everything is and everything you have to do always leaves me with the feeling that it's over too soon. Midgar is the largest area on the entire world map, and it's basically a training area that is then obsolete for 95% of the game. By turning it into what it should always have been, a bustling city with culture and characters, they have elevated the place from an oddity, to something tangible and real. We feel the joys and sadness of the people as the story takes its course, because we are a part of that world as we play through it. I think that's a really hard thing to capture in video games.
Which brings me onto the emotional impact of the game. I'll be going into some spoilers here, so you have been warned.
For me, the part of the game that really hit me was Tifa's crying scene after the Sector 7 plate falls. The scene is one of three that you can have depending on certain choices you make in the game, and having seen the other 2, I am glad that Tifa's is the one that I got, because nothing gave me a gut punch as much as Tifa saying "They took everything from us. Again."
And then of course there's the death of Biggs and Jessie on the plate. After having both characters fleshed out so much more through the game, so that they're more than just exposition dumps, seeing them succumb to their wounds as they fight to protect theirs, and thousands of others, homes, is pretty damn heart rending.
If I have any criticisms, they mostly centre around Sephiroth. I think most people that have liked and played FF7 for a number of years are aware that the creators original inspiration for Seph was the shark in Jaws, a presence felt but not seen, for much of the first part of the game, and it is incredibly effective. It also gave me one of my favourite uses of music within the entire game. As his descent into madness materialises, Cloud wakes up in the Shinra mansion in Nibelheim, to the echoing sound of a heartbeat and a ringing bell, right up until Sephiroth announces he's going to find his Mother. Then the weird, low bass synth and organ start up this menacing melody that creeps under your skin. We all know what happens next. Within the remake however, he is there from the start. There is no reveal, he is just there as an obviously villainous presence, trying to manipulate Cloud from the offset. There are changes here to overall story though, so I am still interested to see where it goes. But I do miss that foreboding atmosphere around him.
Of course, we are now in the age of the internet and have been for quite some time, and that means we're also seeing a wealth of fan-art from some amazing creators. And this brings me to one of my favourite things about this game, being able to connect with people about this game I love and have loved for years, for what feels like the first time. There has always been FF7 fan-art, but never to this degree with this frequency with so many people all chiming in together. Now I feel like I can be part of a community of likeminded people that want to talk about and create things, around a piece of media that we've had for 23 years, refreshed, revitalised, remade.