I’ve seen Final Fantasy 7 be called several things over the years.
“The greatest JRPG of all time.”
“The most influential role-playing experience ever made.”
“The Citizen Kane of gaming.” [Who said that? Give us their names! They need a stern talking to – Ed.]
Yet, for all this acclaim, I, Callum Williams, have never played Final Fantasy 7. In truth, I’ve never even played a Final Fantasy game before. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the dated art style, the strange battle system; maybe it was the fact that every character looked like assorted shapes of playdough held together by toothpicks. I just never found myself drawn to Final Fantasy 7’s world.
Luckily, however, Square Enix is aware of the lazy souls out there unwilling to look past a 22-year-old game’s geriatric shortcomings, and they gifted us a full, from-the-ground-up remake. So, I put my thorough criticism cap on and decided it was time I experienced Final Fantasy 7 how it was intended: by playing a 35-hour reimagining of the first 6 hours of the original game, except in glorious 4K.
Cloud ‘Where’s My Money’ Strife
Now, for those who are new like me, the first thing worth noting is that Final Fantasy 7’s world is a bizarre melting pot of RPG genres. You’ve got your glowing sci-fi powerplants with mechanical death robots, your fantasy sword and spell combinations, your spiky-haired anime protagonists and, perhaps more jarringly, your eerie horror laboratories full of terrifying monsters.
It in all culminates in what can only be described as an RPG all-you-can-eat buffet, with characters jumping between discussing the ethics of environmental pollution and how dragons are trying to eat their children like it’s the weather and the football.
The story itself takes place in the city of Midgar, which, all things considered, doesn’t seem too bad. Sure, it’s ruled by a corrupt corporation who are slowly but surely destroying the planet by leeching its energy force dry while thousands live in deplorable slums and are drip-fed heavily censored information, but it doesn’t sound too far off current world events, does it? At least they can still go down the pub with a few mates without fear of catching a debilitating illness, so that’s something.
The aforementioned evil empire – or Shinra Corporation, to use its Sunday name – has the genius idea to siphon magical blue glowing liquid out of the ground to power their badass futuristic lighting aesthetic. Shinra also has a strange fetish for murdering thousands of innocent people for no reason. Why? Because they’re evil and that’s what evil people do.
We play as Cloud ‘Where’s My Money’ Strife: a hard-hitting, few-word-speaking, woman-ignoring mercenary who only deals in cold hard cash, rude retorts and poorly placed grunts. Luckily, he’s not afraid of reminding people that he’s a sword for hire, as he hounds every friend that merely wants to spend some quality time with him for the spare change from their pockets. It’s also worth noting he has beautiful eyes, because damn, will you be hearing about them a lot when talking to anyone in this game.
When we catch up with Cloud he’s aiding a renegade plan to blow up Shinra’s “Mako” reactors. (Because surely exploding a powerplant in the middle of a densely-populated city won’t have any negative repercussions.) He’s joined by a ragtag bunch of outlaws – all of which look like members of a 90s cartoon about fun-loving pirates – as well as Barret, who has a literal Gatling gun for an arm but no one seems to think it’s all that weird.
It’s here that we establish a strong precedent going forward for Final Fantasy 7, which is that no matter how friendly and likeable the characters Cloud meets are, he will proceed to crush their love into tiny balls and throw it back in their faces.
Protecting the environment is preferable, but money is even better
Regardless, every character for some reason wants to either date Cloud or have a beer with him, no matter how much he sighs, grunts or literally tells them to shut up. Case in point, Cloud’s bizarre love life, which sees countless kind-natured girls hint that they’re actually into his cold, emotionless heart before he rejects each and every one of their advances.
But, I digress. For the most part, Cloud’s early adventures are a straightforward ride. Shinra’s bad, Avalanche is good, protecting the environment is preferable, but money is even better. Gotcha, sorted. That’s what I thought at least, but then Cloud starts having intense migraines and before we know it, he starts seeing plot-heavy flashbacks that, 36 hours later, still make no sense.
Better yet, big bad Sephiroth – who many friends who’ve played the original game told me was barely even in the Midgar section of Final Fantasy 7 – decides he’s going to use this time to pop in for a good chinwag. This man is like your mum’s neighbourhood friend, who turns up three times a week to “borrow” some butter then winds up slowly drinking three coffees and recounting their hatred of Karen from number 16.
For a maniacal, all-powerful soldier Sephiroth seemingly has nothing to do except hang around and talk about cryptic nonsense which, by the end, even Cloud seems to be bored by. Alongside the strange diversion that is Sephiroth, Final Fantasy 7 also introduces a legion of creepy ghosts who love to pop up without any warning and leave without anyone ever stopping to say, “well, that was weird.”
— Tom Baines (@TomThumbsticks) April 18, 2020
Both these antagonists rear their heads several times throughout the campaign, yet, Final Fantasy 7 just seems to nonchalantly instruct you to forget they were there. It’s not important. just some ghostly spectres and a rambling, omnipresent stalker with a massive samurai sword and the most beautiful hair you’ve ever seen.
Fighting a house and tandem skydiving with Badger from Breaking Bad
From here, a lot happens. We meet Tifa and Aerith: Cloud’s two biggest admirers and the pair he savagely insults most frequently. We are introduced to several evil people who we can tell are evil because they wear suits (or a red cocktail dress), have thick facial hair (or gravity-defying cleavage), and laugh heartily whenever someone mentions murder. We even take a few brief stints to transform the game into a freelance simulator, with Cloud and a pal teaming up to take the independent contractor scene by storm.
My personal favourite example is when Cloud is “hired” by a little girl to find three stray cats, for which he’s paid nothing, but Tifa gives him the classic “it’s all about building connections” speech. She’s right. Having a lonely eight-year-old who can speak to cats as part of your network is essential after all. Let me add her on LinkedIn right now.
Before long, I’d seen Cloud rack up quite the list of accomplishments for a dude who communicates solely in grunts and vocal invoices. He’d defeated a morbidly obese chicken, become a drag queen that Ru Paul would be proud of, fought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their home turf of the sewers, battled the Hell House – which is, as the name suggests, an evil house from Hell – and even gone tandem skydiving with Badger from Breaking Bad. The world was well and truly his oyster and, despite the fact I am a complete Final Fantasy rookie, I was actually keeping up.
That was until the game’s later chapters. Now, I understand that Final Fantasy 7 is an eccentric story with a lot going on, but the remake has some of the strangest editorial choices I think I’ve ever witnessed. For example, let me set a scene for you.
Fire and destructions rage in the city below, as Tifa, Cloud and Barret stare in horror at a devastating event unfolding at the hands of the evil Shinra Corporation. Emotionally devastated, the group make a desperate escape, flying towards the ground as fire surrounds them. The screams of the innocent reach their ears and tragic music swells. Looking on from his ivory tower, the maniacal president of Shinra smiles, watching thousands die…
Then, we cut to a child-sized anime cat – with a tiny cape and a crown on his head – running into the shot, falling to his knees and hitting the ground solemnly. Oh, you have questions? Don’t worry – that will never be explained again. We just thought Felix could use a quick cameo.
The world’s most significant crisp packet
Don’t even get me started on the final few chapters. We went from comprehensive, understandable plot to people having sword fights with the gods of fate and discussing the laws of parallel universes very fast and, as Tom can attest, I had a lot of questions. Was that really Sephiroth? Were those flashbacks or premonitions? Who is the palette-swapped Cloud with dark hair? Why are we in space now? Hell, I even had to ask what the significance of a crisp packet is.
But – and trust me, I know what I’m about to say is far from ground-breaking – Final Fantasy 7 is actually arresting and investing and, despite the fact this makes me sound like a cringey Dad, so damn cool. Sure, it’s a tonal nightmare, shifting between a fun summer blockbuster, hammy romcom and on the nose societal critique on a whim, but when you’re facing down a giant robot with an electric-powered sword, it’s hard not get a few goosebumps running down your spine.
So, would I recommend jumping into the remake? Sure. It may be like reading the first 50 pages of a book and then re-reading each sentence six times to make sure you fully got it, but the characters don’t look like they’re melted waxworks anymore, so that’s a start.
As for what’s next from the franchise? I guess lazy fans like me will get to know what the full story is actually about when part 8 releases in 2047. Until then, I’m just going to assume that the anime cat is finally the character Cloud pursues a romantic future with.