I probably shouldn’t be starting another series for this game, but I gave X a series, and VII is a much more well-known story. Not only that, it’s much more loved, and between the two, I think it’s the better game. It certainly has less ginormous gaping plot holes, and it didn’t dedicate one-third of its story to something that has entirely nothing to do with the plot. I do, however, still think there are some problems with the way the story is told.
Other than X, I’ve already reviewed IX, XII, X-2, and XIII-2, but VII is my favorite Final Fantasy game. I’m going to warn all the hardcore fans right now that the downside of this being my favorite in the franchise means that I’m going to be a lot more critical of it. And like X, there’s a lot to talk about. But first, let’s begin with the plot.
Once again, there’s the standard storytelling formula that all these games seem to follow. We’ve got a world-ending catastrophe, a corrupt leading political power, and the characters being scapegoated. We also have someone named Cid, chocobos, an airship, (a brief appearance of) moogles, the main character fights with an unconventional sword, and many other recurring themes. Also, on some level, we’ve got the shitty romance too, only this one takes the form of a love triangle—but it thankfully does not define all of our characters’ actions.
Final Fantasy VII begins with the characters Cloud and Barret initiating a terrorist attack on a Mako reactor and blowing it up, because if there’s one thing to make me endeared to a character, it’s making him a terrorist. Well, Barret’s the terrorist, and Cloud’s just a mercenary for hire, but that doesn’t really change anything. Of course, since Cloud is our main character, we also just correctly presume that the Shinra Electric Company in charge of the Mako reactor is evil anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. Shinra is the leading power in this world. Despite being an electric company, Shinra has so much power that it’s practically in charge of every village on every continent and it can enforce its rule through use of its army. Not only that, its weapons research has put it much farther ahead in the world than anyone else.
There’s literally nothing Shinra isn’t in charge of in this world. Pretty much whoever runs Shinra is in charge of running the entire damn planet. However, Shinra is still an electric company, and it specializes in harvesting Mako energy for power. Mako energy is a power source found deep within the planet.
Barret and the fellow members of his terrorist organization, called AVALANCHE, believe that Shinra’s harvesting of Mako energy is actually stealing from the life of the planet, and that if Shinra isn’t stopped, the planet—literally called the Planet—will wither away and die, becoming incapable of sustaining life. Cloud meets Barret through Cloud’s childhood friend Tifa, who is also a member of AVALANCHE, and now Cloud helps them organize and enact planned attacks on the Mako reactors for money.
The first part of the game takes place in the city Midgar, where Shinra is based, and where most of its Mako reactors are located. Midgar is a cesspool of every kind of despicable person ever. Other than the times our characters go out to blow up reactors or infiltrate Shinra’s headquarters, the only areas to visit in Midgar are the slums. There’s really nothing else there. I have to compliment the game in that it does a really good job creating a setting. The graphics, which were some of the best when the game first came out, really help with that. Midgar is a terrible place. We spend a lot of time with the characters in the slums, seeing people fall ill and being so poor that they’re living in abandoned pipes. The game also does a fairly decent job of showing the effect Mako reactors can have on the world. Due to the Mako reactors, the land around Midgar is a barren wasteland. In fact, wherever Mako reactors are, because they’re literally sucking the life from the Planet, the land cannot sustain plant life.
I have to say that I’m really not a big fan of the “The World Is Dying” stories. I really don’t like playing games or watching movies with this kind of environmental message, because these stories have a habit of derailing from the plot to preach. We can run into the same problem with any kind of message, but I tend to notice it more in these types of stories. I do not like these stories, because a lot of them are centered less on “be friendly to the environment” and more on “the world is a living entity and we’re murdering it!” I don’t often find this applicable to real life, because the last time I thought about it, I came up with the stunning conclusion that the Earth is a gigantic inanimate rock. However, it’s an established fact that this is not the case in VII. The Planet is a sentient being, one that the character Aerith can actually talk to, and Mako energy is pretty much made by sucking its worldly blood-veins, the Lifestream, dry.
I should note, however, that any kind of preaching in VII is not overbearing. Barret is the character who always go on about the life of the planet, especially toward the beginning of the game. Cloud, thankfully, doesn’t seem to give a shit, because he just wants to be paid. Furthermore, as the plot progresses the Lifestream becomes more of a plot device than the foundation for political agenda.
Now, this next part might get a little confusing, so bear with me.
Sephiroth is the main antagonist of the game. He has a vendetta against Shinra and a plan that will result in the destruction of the Planet. He is also a very powerful man who became very powerful due to Shinra experimenting on him. A long time ago, there was a “calamity that fell from the sky” called Jenova, who then tried to kill the Planet. But a group of people called Cetra beat it back, meaning that the Planet didn’t have to kill Jenova itself, even though it created Godzilla-like weapons to kill it anyway. Years ago, Shinra found some of Jenova’s remains and started using its cells to enhance peoples’ abilities or some such thing like that, and Sephiroth was one of the people Shinra experimented on. So Sephiroth proceeded to go insane and he calls Jenova “mother”. His plan is to use the Black Materia to summon Meteor to create a hole in the Planet so he can merge with the Lifestream and become a god. Somewhere along the way, Jenova killed all the Cetra by infecting them with a virus, and now Shinra wants to use the last surviving Cetra, a woman named Aerith, to find the Promised Land, and—are you confused yet?
No, you’re not? Okay then. In that case, I feel the need to tell you that Cloud, our main protagonist, due to experiments by Shinra, also has Jenova’s DNA in him, but instead of calling Jenova his mother, he takes on the memories and personality of a SOLDIER named Zack, who died sometime before the game begins—SOLDIER is also apparently an acronym for “Hell if I know”. Zack just so happens to be Aerith’s first boyfriend. Cloud only meets Aerith by chance in the beginning part of the game, and they have no idea of the Zack connection that they share at the time. Because of the Jenova cells in his body, Sephiroth can control Cloud at will and attempts to use Cloud to murder Aerith when she plans to use the White Materia to summon Holy to stop Meteor, but when Cloud resists his control, Sephiroth just murders Aerith himself—and seriously! Are you people confused yet?!
VII’s plot can get pretty convoluted sometimes. In fact, that was one of the major criticisms of the game when it was first released. If you’re not paying attention to every line of dialogue, you might miss something crucial. And terms seem to have a habit of popping up without explanation. When I replayed the game, there were times the characters would say something, and I would be like, “Oh, wait, we already know what the Black Materia is? That’s neat, because I don’t remember it being mentioned before now. Awesome.”
While writing this review, I honestly didn’t know how to summarize this game either. When I started, every sentence I wrote about the plot seemed like it needed eight more sentences of explanation. It doesn’t help that the game just shoves the player through a psychological mindfuck with Cloud, due to his altered memories. Granted, the game is supposed to become confusing, because the main character becomes confused and doesn’t know who he is. But when we add that to an already confusing plot, it can get to be a little much. Final Fantasy VII can easily end up over fifty hours long, and fifty hours is more than enough time for the game to explain everything. The plot is a whole lot less confusing when presented over such a long period of time, but it is really in depth. On top of that, VII has a lot of characters.
There are nine playable characters alone, and when you add those characters up with everyone who appears in this game, there are plenty of people. In some ways, the large number of characters helps to make the world feel more real. The downside is that there are a lot more things to remember. Hopefully some of these plot elements I mentioned will make more sense in the following posts if they don’t now. Next time, I’m going to talk a bit more about the plot, specifically the death of Aerith, so until then.