Being of a blessedly nerdy nature, I play a crap load of video games. Yes, I do. In keeping with the general theme here I’ve chosen to rant about one of them specifically, engaging the philosophical points of it (and of course, the science fiction behind them) until they get a bit muddled; and perhaps you wonder why I decided to delve that deeply into it in the first place. It’s because I’m slightly mad, and I have no problem with that.
In particular, I am a great fan of the JRPG (for the lay readers out there, this is a fun and rather superfluous little acronym for ‘Japanese Role-Playing Game’). At some point I have played RPGs that are not Japanese, either by right of their character designers, writers, programmers or animators – but I couldn’t tell you at what point I went from Dark Tower to The Legend of Zelda. Sometime in the late 1980’s or early 90’s I’m certain… In the late 1990’s I finally discovered Final Fantasy, though it had been around for quite some time before that. The one my brother bought me while I was browsing the PlayStation all-star lineup at Toys-R-Us one Christmas? This one, by the gods:
Now, how could I not take that? I mean really, it’s got everything a girl could ever dream of on the cover. That’s right, a dude with a giant sword and ridiculously, outrageously spikey blond hair. He already looks like a tortured soul, and who doesn’t love that? Plus, I mean, at the time the fact that this game encompassed three CD-ROMs was completely unheard of. Balls to the wall action here, and I hadn’t even yet opened the game. In fact, at that point I was still staring at it longingly when my older, way cool brother walked up to me and asked if I’d like him to buy the game. Alright, on to the plot.
Final Fantasy VII is, without contest and in my humble opinion, the most epic and sweeping tale in the game franchise. Nerds everywhere argue the validity of this comment; some would agree unequivocally, while others take issue with the idea and press that Final Fantasy X-2 was clearly the winner of such an honor. Preposterous. Let’s discuss why. First, let me introduce you to the main character, Cloud Strife:
Look at this guy. If ever there was a brooding, self-absorbed bastard for chicks to fawn over, it was this hunk of general malaise. I mean when the game opens he barely utters a phrase to most of the characters other than, “whatever”, “where’s my money?”, and “I’m a SOLDIER, First Class”. More on that later, but my point is that he’s hardly likeable. Generally, for the first few hours of gameplay I found Cloud Strife a veritable storm of contradictions, irritability and bitchiness. But he’s the strongest character in the beginning, I mean whatcha gonna do?
What you need to know is this; in the universe of Final Fantasy VII, the city of Midgar is a thriving industrial city powered by natural energy called “mako”. Mako is harvested and sold in massive quantities by an old weapons manufacturing corporation called Shin-Ra (whose Japanese characters mean, respectively, ‘god’ and ‘silk’, no clue why but it could be that ‘ra’ can also mean ‘Rome’ in some contexts. Whatever.). Shin-Ra is a ruthless, unethical corporation that uses its resources to undermine and suppress those with less power, and they even employ their own personal ARMY to take care of this crap for them. That’s where SOLDIER comes in; they are the creme de la creme of Shin-Ra’s army and as you later discover, purposefully and methodically engineered to be so. The members of SOLDIER First Class are Shin-Ra’s highest ranking warriors.
Of course our boy above wants to BE one of them, right? Of course he IS one, I mean he’s a total jerk who thinks he’s better than everyone else until about the middle of the game story when suddenly his whole little world is shot to hell by two very seemingly harmless words: “wake up”. That’s right, just “wake up”. After a few hours of basic leveling up and story unraveling we do discover that, not only is Shin-Ra irredeemably evil and continues to harvest mako energy even though it is literally killing the planet and endangering every other viable natural resource (uh… helloooooo Japanese pseudo environmentalism), but also that Cloud is somehow inextricably linked to his former comrade in arms, idol and SOLDIER First Class Golden Boy Extraordinaire: Sephiroth. At this point in the game, without knowing anything else about this Sephiroth, you only know that the guy’s name strikes fear into the heart of most people. Why? This is why:
That’s the original artwork I saw on the back of the game manual. I knew this was going to take some serious emotional cajones to get through; the guy obviously burns crap to the ground on a regular basis and then walks through it like Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate. Copious amounts of detail and patience would be necessary to really describe who and what Sephiroth is, what he represents in the real world for plebs like us and exactly how insanely plausible his existence is even from a science fictional standpoint. Since I have the former of those and not a whit of the latter, let’s go with a more concise approach. Before the events of the game story take place, Sephiroth was conceived by a pair of mad-scientist type geniuses who implanted the DNA of a crusty old alien named JENOVA into his developing cells. Now, before we go any further you *should* know that Shin-Ra was of course involved in this somehow (the male of this pair works for them), and JENOVA, when initially discovered, was thought to be the remains of a virtually extinct race of peaceful and nomadic beings called the Cetra. Unfortunately for our pal Sephy, that was not the case. JENOVA was just a crazy ass alien seeking intergalactic domination and destruction. HAHAAAA, joke’s on you Sephy. Too bad for our friend Cloud, too, because when Sephiroth finds out that he was literally created by two scientists he goes a little crazy. By ‘a little crazy’ I mean he flips his proverbial lid, impales some unsuspecting Shin-Ra employees, and burns down the entire village surrounding the lab where he was ‘born’. The village also happens to be Cloud’s hometown. Poor guy can’t catch a break. Sephiroth swears revenge on the puny humans who “made” him, sets out to complete his real mother JENOVA’s quest for planetary and eventual intergalactic dominance, disappears and is assumed to be dead but off course, he’s not. Ten extra points if you can cite, and laugh out loud at, that majorly detail-oriented reference right there. In the meantime we’ve got some large and complicated sub-plots going on involving Cloud and his friends and the importance of being honest with oneself and one’s loved-ones, but one thing remains constant: when you eff with mother nature, mother nature effs with you. Sephiroth reappears, goes on a murderous rampage that leaves the president of Shin-Ra dead and his flouncy little son in charge, and insinuates himself into Cloud’s subconscious without us really knowing why. Oh, Cloud you poor little puppy. About five to seven hours into gameplay (depending on how often you left the menu up instead of pausing while you went and heated up some Easy Mac in the microwave), the player is about to undergo a drastic change in the way she/he approaches this RPG thinger. Seriously though, this stuff helped me survive college.
Ok, where was I? Oh, yes! Intergalactic dominance, crusty old aliens and psychotic lab specimens. Back on track! Alright well, at this point if the player hasn’t totally given up on life because of a newfound complete distrust of humankind then it’s about to get even better! Pop open that Easy Mac and curl up with a comfy blanket for this feel-good romp!
Now, I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story for anyone who hasn’t played through it because well, where would the fun be in that? Let me wrap up this nerd rant by openly admitting that Final Fantasy VII, its plot, characters and development are just some of many inspirational portraits I’ve looked at through the years and really, truly been awed. Producer Hironobu Sakaguchi, and director Yoshinori Kitase wowed me lo these fifteen years gone by and reminded me just what kind of creative chops it takes to really and truly touch someone’s real-world existence. Isn’t that what every artist strives for? Do we not strive to reach out and make the souls of our audience shiver with unbridled emotion?
The story of Cloud Strife branches off in many directions, revealing a deep-seated desire for belonging and acceptance that leads him to unknowingly assume the identity of someone else, and a genetic link to Sephiroth that nearly destroys him both physically and emotionally. But in the end, what do we have? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: premium sci-fi brilliance. Go play this game and be inspired, dammit.
And like I said before, don’t eff with Mother Nature. If you do, you’re left with this guy:
Nobody likes a psychotic, genetically engineered alien-human hybrid who ascends beyond all conceivable earthly power to become god-like and then subsequently summon a planet-shattering meteor to do his bidding and wipe out all inferior life forms. Well, I do. But that’s just because he’s such a BAMF. I like BAMFs.