This, after experiencing two of the game's allegedly most moving moments. I'm sorry. Well, not really.

Also, best friends named "Dyne" are always a problem.

(Written 3/28/20.)

First, Dyne's death. I cannot fathom the game's utterly bizarre decision to pair the Las Vegas Gold Saucer playground (did we need another vacation spot right after Costa del Sol?) with Barret's horrific backstory, where his wife is killed, village is massacred, and his best friend loses his mind and commits mass murder, then suicide. They even have the audacity to have Aerith complain that Barret's being a drag when he arrives at the Gold Saucer all upset after being reminded of his wife's horrible death and village's downfall.

Dyne's death itself was all right but just kind of something that happened; the script, again, wasn't able to communicate Dyne's deteriorating mindset that effectively. He has enough mental cohesion to establish himself as the boss of this prison; then he snaps and just murders any Shinra who moves; then, when Barret confronts him, he says that he just "want[s] to destroy everything" but faces you in a cold and calculated manner, totally in control, as if he's issuing a test; then he's at the end of his rope, devoid of vitality, and just kind of gives up and throws his life away. The writers know how to communicate shifts in mindset and somewhat natural (if cliched) speech with Barret; why do they have such a problem with any other character? Why do they find it so impossible to express a train of thought or a logical progression of emotion with most of their cast?

Second, there's Red XIII/Nanaki discovering the truth of his father's death years ago. This moment is a staple of "video game moments that made you cry" threads, but I'm afraid to say that by the time the howl happened, I was hitting Circle so hard that the last dialogue boxes closed almost as fast as they opened. I found every part of the lead-up grating: the time-wasting setup of Cosmo Canyon, with everything set far apart up & above on ladders and stilts, and Bugenhagen's demands that you constantly climb up and down like a first-grader on a jungle gym to fetch party members or meet him at inconvenient places for unhelpful exposition dumps; Bugenhagen's nonsensical decision to hide Seto's heroic past from his son Nanaki, his bemusement at Nanaki's pain at his father's perceived cowardice, and his insistence on leading Nanaki and the party into a monster-packed den instead of being immediately upfront and correcting his mistake; the ridiculous encounter rate in said monster-packed den and the decision to put no save point before the atypically hard-hitting boss; and the instant discarding of Nanaki's heroic mother and her previously-cherished legacy once the father's deeds were brought to light. This is all atop the bedrock of the game's failure to develop its main plot or even to establish properly its main conflict; it shouldn't be trying to involve us in side-stories when it hasn't taken care of the primary stuff. Even the basic facts of this subplot are unclear: What is this tribe of which Nanaki is part? What was the motive behind the attack that almost wiped them out, and who were these people attacking them? Was it wise to treat Red XIII as more or less a big, semi-sentient cat since Midgar, a mascot more than a character, if you were planning on giving him what was meant to be a dramatic, tragic backstory? And are the Native American analogues here more or less questionable when they're represented as cartoon cats?

Then there's this weird subplot where you're accused of the machine-gun spree casino killings Dyne committed and sent to the casino owner's private prison (???), but you're exonerated because you win a chocobo race. Not "after"; because. It is proven that you didn't commit mass murder eventually, but the casino owner, who is not presented as a particularly unscrupulous person for this world, is perfectly fine with you walking around his establishment after, he presumes, slaughtering a good number of the other guests just because you sat on a fast chocobo.

Also: the chocobo race is another poorly-conceived minigame. Joy.

Is it that none of the people who were introduced to RPGs with FF7 and hailed it as a masterpiece of plotting had played a video game with a story before? Is that it? We HAD RPGs before 7 that were capable of MAKING BASIC SENSE.

I got Cait Sith, and he feels like an irrelevant intrusion. Frankly, even though I largely like Aerith (or did before the Gold Saucer) and am okay with Red XIII, I'd honestly prefer it if the party were just Cloud, Barret, and Tifa, as they have the strongest connection to the events at hand. I usually make it a rule to use all my party members, but I might let that slide here.

(I had an opportunity to get Yuffie, but I fell for her fake save point trap and lost 200 gil to her, so I frankly don't care if she comes back or not.)

I also entered Gongaga, which, unknown to me, was the home of the famed Zack. I had my Tifa & Barret party with me at the time, and when I entered one of the local houses, a couple within, upon seeing Cloud's SOLDIER uniform, identified themselves as Zack's parents and asked if we knew him, which set off a cutscene where Tifa started acting strangely and Cloud guessed, outside the house, that Tifa did indeed know Zack, which Tifa unconvincingly denied. Being up on the major Zack story beats, I wished I had had Aerith with me; checking the script revealed that indeed would have triggered a major conversation where Aerith mentioned Zack was "her first love." (She's actually rather blase and accepting about his disappearance, noting without resentment that she thought he'd just "found someone else," which is in line with the embrace of material transience the game encourages and Aerith embodies.)

In other writing failures, the game seems to be developing Cloud by presumption. Previously, Cloud has been a cipher or a disaffected mercenary with a backstory that kind of-sort of-tangentally intersects with Avalanche's objectives (and inexplicably overtakes them). Now, they are trying to develop him by...having everyone refer to what a caring, considerate guy Cloud is, even though he exhibits no such behavior on screen. "Hey, that's Cloud's line! '...It's too dangerous, I can't let you get involved...'" He's never said anything remotely like that! They give Cloud ONE LINE about how "if you die on me, I'm gonna have nightmares" - NO, YOU WON'T. YOU'VE NEVER CARED ABOUT ANY OF THESE PEOPLE. It's Sephiroth with the Jenova tanks again: the writers don't show development through a gradual transformation illustrated by a character reacting to and evolving from the events of the story; they just suddenly change how the character acts (or not even the character himself, in this case!) from literally one moment to the next.

Perhaps all this would grate on me less if the gameplay were better. Even though I'm not sure it's actually higher than the SNES games, the encounter rate seems ridiculous because it takes so long to get into and out of combat with the swooping camera intro and the loading screens and the delay in running, if you decide to run. Add all the lousy forced minigame sections, and it's like that sign you see in garages about how "We do quick work. We do cheap work. We do good work. Pick any two." You can't have both a bad story and bad combat, FF7. You have to give a concession somewhere. (The third leg would be presentation, but outside some pretty sights near Barret's home, there hasn't been anything really spectacular in a while.)

I gotta say the thing of which Final Fantasy VII most reminds me, particularly after the Cosmo Canyon sequence, is The E.Y.E.S. of Mars, this rightfully-forgotten anime the Sci-Fi Channel used to run in the '90s about an environmental crisis on Mars that ended with all the characters dying wretchedly but considered that a happy ending, since they got to be sparkly spirits who were one with the planet in death - the sort of apocalpytic environmentalist pop media that was coming out of Japan during this time period. (I'm for environmentalism, but this strain of it is bad.) The thread in the game about mega-corporations bringing doom upon the ecosystem and foisting an unworkable standard of living upon the populace in the name of profit is going to resonate in spades today, but there's a lack of regard for human life that I don't like about the school of environmentalism FF7's working, a Jack Chick-ish delight in suffering in the name of what it deems good. There's a marked difference between Phantasy Star II's "if we have to give our lives to save this world, that's unfortunate, but it has to be done" and Final Fantasy VII's "it's good, actually, if everyone dies, because this world doesn't matter." This mindset is treated as complex when it's actually the enemy of complexity; witness the complete abandonment of the ramifications of the opening bombing. Those lost lives mean nothing, because the protagonists are fighting for the planet, and all they do is therefore by definition good - and the dead will just "join the planet" in the end, so what does it matter?

Of course, it could also be that writers completely forgot about the bombing, like they do about every other element that would obstruct their goal of complete moment-to-moment inconsistency. But that's another failing with, ironically, a long and storied history in this game.

Add comment

Security code