I like that title, ’cause somewhere along the way, I kind of realized I don’t have to be driving to any kind of a cohesive theme or anything —
I can just be talking a lot about a thing that means a lot to me
because it means a lot to me.
Anyway, I’m playing the Final Fantasy VII remake, and I’m just
I’m having a lot of feelings about it.
[cw: death, murder, classism, eco-anxiety, traumagenic memory loss]
Like, on some level, it feels, like, fucking ridiculous to say any individual piece of the original game goes underappreciated,
but at the same time,
I kind of feel like every individual piece of the original game goes underappreciated?
‘Cause the actual game itself,
the work of art,
the actual thing, the piece, the work that exists right now,
is something I feel like we, collectively, have almost completely forgotten.
Which, again, feels ridiculous to say, but, then,
at the same time,
We’re living in a point where the collective memory, the history, the legacy, the “pop” image, the fucking hollow fucking meme of the game
is all we know.
Like, I honestly feel like I fucking struggle when I talk about the game because the game itself is so fucking raw,
so completely “itself,”
and my connection to it feels so fucking vivid,
so fucking bound up in all my guts, running through every fucking inch of me, but actually getting that across to people
in a way the fucking means anything
is really fucking hard,
partly because it is so fucking deep-seated, such a weird series of complicated feelings,
and partly because it’s so fucking hard to cut through twenty fucking years of pop fucking myth-making marketing, twenty-plus years of “reputation.”
You try and talk about the game — you try cast a fucking line out there, hoping the other end is going to touch something real about the game itself,
but, instead, you just touch fucking shadows,
a caricature of a memory of a caricature of a memory, and it’s fucking turtles all the way down, just this never-ending
of vapid fucking click-bait bullshit.
Twenty-three fucking years of it. Twenty-three years of fucking over-discussion, saying fucking nothing, warping everything.
Just creating this fucking “fun-house mirror” thing, this collection perception of the game that has fucking nothing to do
with the actual game itself.
‘Cause I guess the basic point I’m getting at here is that being generally talked about
is not the same thing as being authentically remembered, or engaged with.
It never fucking will be,
and it’s such a fucking shame
because the game itself is just so fucking good, and I love it.
It hurts me, and I love it.
And I guess I’m going to use the remake as kind of a lens to talk about some of the things that make it so
For lack of a better word?
- Bombs away.
So, I guess the first really big, sort of thematic change in the game comes at the end of the opening mission.
We plant a bomb,
and it blows up, and it…
apparently only destroys the Shinra mako pump?
Like, the big thing about Final Fantasy VII is that it’s a game about broken, dying people living and lashing out in broken, dying world.
It’s a cartoon of our world, pulling from the same place cartoons like Fern Gully and Captain Planet pulled, from this early-’90s sense of ecological “awareness.”
It’s a cartoon our world, but, critically, it’s not our world.
It’s a dying world, a world maybe days or weeks away from literally fucking crumbling into lifeless fucking dust, a world literally having its fucking soul sucked out.
And, like, the real world is doing a lot of things right now, but in the grand scheme of things,
“dying” isn’t really one of them.
The world isn’t dying.
People are dying.
More to the point, people are actively being murdered.
People are being killed.
People die. Planet lives.
Planet kind of doesn’t really give a shit.
Planet’s, kind of fucking frankly, been through worse.
Planet’s already seen multiple mass-extinction events, and, truth be told, when everything is said and done, the planet just keeps fucking spinning.
With us or without us.
But we suffer.
But not equally.
Vulnerable people die, and the world just keeps fucking turning, and history just keeps tick, tick, ticking — everything just keeps going, and there is no big, romantic “finale.”
It all just keeps happening
and no one who cares has the power to stop it, and no one who could ever stop it fucking cares.
An endless fucking spiral of death
by a never-ending line of murderous, kleptocratic assholes.
A death cult.
(But now we’re veering in to a different Final Fantasy).
In Final Fantasy VII, we are,
all in this together.
There’s an actual, tangible, magical soul inside the Earth, and that soul is made of our souls, and our souls are made of that soul.
We are the Earth, and the Earth is us.
All of us.
The same soul, the same “life stream,” flowing through literally everything, feeding (and being) the Earth and everything on it.
So, now, the rich and the powerful are forcibly mining that soul,
harvesting and processing it,
so, by the time the game actually opens, we are God-knows-how-many-fucking-days away from literally everything falling apart.
Not “just” a mass-extinction event,
but a cosmic calamity,
the world-soul itself fucking blinking out of existence, used up and dried out.
Characters on the absolute fucking brink,
and the sort of emotional space that comes from that is what drives every single tiny fucking thing in the entire fucking game.
It’s what makes our characters say, “You know what? Maybe it’s okay if we kill dozens or hundreds or thousands of people if it means we take out the Shinra.”
Harm reduction, right?
Kill hundreds, save millions.
Save the word.
Save our souls.
Of course, if you can make that choice, if you can make that bet,
if you can kill hundreds or thousands of people
and just walk away
and say it was good,
then did you ever really have a soul to begin with?
what’s your plan, exactly?
How’s it work?
Blow up this reactor, blow up that reactor, then what?
Shinra just fucking rebuilds, right?
As long as they have the money, as long as they have the power,
and the military.
Shinra’s literally the only major corporation in the world, and the only major government.
(They made damned sure of that, subjugating Wutai years before the game begins, reducing it to an exploitable tourist trap).
Hell, even if Shinra just magically blinked out of existence, so what?
Even that might not be enough.
Later in the game, the character Bugenhagen wonders how much it even matters, making the serious point that no matter what happens,
the Planet might already be too far gone.
This is how far Shinra’s pushed our characters, how far they’ve pushed the world — to the point where they have to think about these things,
to the point where they have to weigh these options,
make these calls.
The psychological violence of it, the sheer fucking bitter desperation.
Even if the Planet’s not already too far gone,
the characters probably are.
They are walking around with trauma that will never go away,
and the game literally fucking opens with the “good guys” committing an act of mass murder, which is a lot to give a kid to chew on,
much less first thing, upfront.
Final Fantasy VII is a big, goofy cartoon, but it’s a cartoon with a lot of texture.
It has a lot of Big Ideas based in Big Fucking Feelings, and it asks a lot of Really Big Questions.
Not to say it’s a “grim” game — it’s also really fucking silly, but what I mean to say is, even the silliness exists in a given context.
There’s a base mood of Big Morbidity, this constant undertone of huge, unspeakable sadness,
and that creates just the most wonderful goddamned texture and friction when you’re fucking around in the goofy moments,
like you’re just carving out these tiny, fucking sweet, sweet moments of joy and vulnerability in the long, deep ache, and it’s just the best fucking thing in the world.
And it just kind of
out the window in the remake.
This big-picture emotional space — the Big, Sappy, Melodrama Sadness — and all the ways the game kind of plays within it,
that all just… goes away.
The game gets flattened out.
In the game, the good guys don’t mean to be killing anybody.
And they don’t
The bomb is super small, and precise,
and it just takes out the Shinra mako pump,
not the entire reactor, and definitely not the surrounding city.
The good guys take out the pump.
Everything else is a false flag by Shinra — they take out their own reactor, their own workers, their own people, just to smear the good guys.
So, we don’t get big, weighty, crunchy moments that ask kids questions like, “What would you do? How do you feel about this?”
We just get straight-up good, and straight-up evil.
And it’s not even a secret or anything.
It’s not even, like, a twist.
In the moment when it’s happening, the game just fucking shows you why it’s happening. We literally see Shinra’s Heidegger press the fucking button.
You don’t get to feel big, fucking complicated feelings that maybe make you want to sit there and unpack them for a bit. You don’t get to have anything to think about,
or talk about,
or work through,
or grow on.
You just get
Like, what’s the fucking point?
Like, there actually is one very tiny, quiet story beat in the original, one line you might not even necessarily see,
where Jessie says she didn’t mean for the explosion to be as big as it was,
but that’s fucking something, you know?
That’s more texture.
It underlines the fact that Avalance doesn’t really know what it’s fucking doing.
It’s just, like, five completely random fucking people living in a situation that no one is prepared for.
They’re desperate and angry and terrified, and now they crossed a line — they did something they can never take back, and that blood is going to be on their hands forever,
and we just have to live with it.
We have to decide how we fucking feel about it,
wallowing in the big, sappy, sentimental melancholy of this world.
Was it worth it?
Was it good?
What does it mean that our main characters did this?
A lot to fucking chew on.
I mean, the Final Fantasy games are very sort of “adolescent”-type experiences,
big, hyper-dramatic, larger-than-life stories about beautiful, complicated people with big, beautiful complicated feelings figuring out what really matters,
who they are,
and who they’re going to be.
It’s a series that, overwhelmingly, is about processing your own identity.
and this is fucking part of that.
It’s that, distilled.
And, now, it’s gone.
Like, the entire fucking point is having this big, cartoon melodrama where the End is coming, and not just for you, but for everyone who hurt you, too.
And every single one of them, every single fucking one,
is going to have to look at every single thing they did to you — every single petty, shitty, selfish thing, ’cause everything is crashing down.
You’re a member of the one tiny, secret, special club who might be able to do something about it — and maybe not. Maybe no one can.
But if anyone can, you can.
And either way, those older, richer, more powerful people, the ones who made your life a living Hell,
they’re going to have to face the fucking music.
It’s an appealing fantasy when you’re living in a world where the worst people never seem to suffer.
Righteous anger. Big morbidity.
A daydream echoing the phrase, “They can’t keep getting away with it.”
This. Cannot. Continue.
An emotional breaking point.
But, like a daydream spiraling out and out and out and out,
like, out of control,
the original game starts peeling back the layers,
iterating on its own internal logic,
asking big, hard, meaty questions about the emotional roots of its own core, internal fantasy,
which sets the stage for the later-game shift where the game becomes more and more overtly about Cloud’s internal sense of self,
and the end-of-the-world stuff becomes mostly just a mood piece that, again, gives that journey context, selling a sense of emotional stakes,
with the doom and gloom of Meteor, death itself, hanging in the sky, just above your head, and WEAPONs raging, openly, all over the world map.
All that, just gone,
so the bad guys can be a little bit more bad,
and the good guys never really have to think about anything.
- A tale of two scripts.
And it’s honestly really fucking weird,
’cause immediately after the bombing sequence,
we launch into a whole new, expanded set piece where Cloud wanders up and down the flaming city streets, choking on the ash and dust,
human people actively writhing in the gutters.
It’s not “graphic” — there’s no on-screen blood or gore —
but it feels gut-churning in a really heavy-handed way, and “heavy-handed” is not necessarily an insult, but what I mean to say is that it feels deliberate.
It feels like it’s been measured,
a story beat designed to stop and say, “Look at what you did.”
You made a choice, you did a thing, and maybe it was good, and maybe it was bad, but now you have to live with it — stew in it.
Clementine will remember this.
Except we already know the good guys didn’t fucking do anything, so it’s an “emotional moment” that feels like an editing mistake,
the end result of assets that were developed for one working draft being slapped into another, different working draft, ’cause, well,
we already fucking made the assets.
- Empty images.
In the same segment, there’s a bit where Cloud has a “PTSD flashback,” and the flaming heap of Midgar “turns into” the flaming heap of Nibelheim.
And I say “PTSD flashback” in sort of cynical scare-quotes like that
because I feel like really overly literal, neat-and-tidy, visually “poetic,” one-to-one sensory hallucinations like this are kind of a tired, overused trope,
and they really only barely start fucking
what a deep-seated trauma response actually fucking feels like.
Like, I get that they’re a clear and easy way to communicate what’s happening in a visual medium, but at this point, they feel like they’re the only way
so many fucking people even
to portray this stuff.
Like, the “PTSD match-cut” is, in really general terms, just not fucking interesting or useful at this point.
It’s, like, a storytelling mechanic,
that people just fucking vomit up without even really fucking thinking about it.
Like, it’s just “the way you do things,”
and I kind of get fucking
sick of it.
Anyway, this specific sequence kind of lands in a weird place for me.
’cause, on the one hand,
I would fucking love for the game to lean into Cloud’s feelings of unreality more.
I feel like that’s a really good fucking place to expand.
But, then, on the other hand,
Like, when this started happening, and the game frames this really great fucking shot of Cloud in the center of the screen,
surrounded by the burning corpse of Nibelheim,
I loved it,
but I hit “pause,”
and I looked at my sister,
and there was just this heavy, silent, giggly, grimacing moment of, “Oh, no…”
’cause we both just fucking knew.
We knew the fucking second I un=paused, it was going to cut to “that shot” of Sephiroth,
looking up and turning away.
The big, iconic shot, which, in the original game, is literally the culmination of fucking hours of honestly really intense, well-constructed storytelling.
Like, this is one of those things I feel like we’ve kind of collectively forgotten, but the original game is so well built, it fucking floors me.
Just, here it is.
Here’s your fucking meme.
Eat your fucking slop.
Here it is.
No context, no character, no build-up, no feelings, nothing real, no “interiority.”
here’s the fucking image, you piece of shit.
Fucking lap it up.
And, I mean, it’s not even necessarily about the picture itself.
Like, I had the “Greatest Hits” version of the PS1 game, which literally has that picture as part of the interior box art.
Like, literally, you open the fucking box, and that’s what you see.
It’s not a fucking secret.
But my point isn’t, “Oh, no, spoilers,”
or even, “Oh, no, the fucking abstract sanctity of this one specific shot.”
the fucking storytelling.
Like, if you’re playing this game after 1997, you definitely already know who Sephiroth is. At least, the fucking meme version of him.
But the build-up, though.
Like, the fucking journey. It’s so fucking good.
It’s worth seeing, it deserves to be felt, even if you technically already know where it’s going.
And then, here’s this.
Not telling the same story, but also not really telling a new story.
throwing shit at the wall.
Vomiting up “nostalgic iconography” with no fucking sense of meaning or purpose,
and the meme fucking crowds out everything else.
The walk around Midgar actually fucking suffers ’cause Sephiroth won’t stop fucking happening.
You can’t just be in the moment
’cause fucking Jumpscare Sephiroth won’t stop popping out behind every single fucking corner.
Let a fucking moment breathe.
Let a character
I mean, I say the original story deserves to be felt, but you know what — maybe it doesn’t need to be felt here, specifically.
Maybe the original game is always going to be the original game, and maybe it’s always going to be available somewhere,
even if the ~culture~ at large,
whatever that word even fucking means,
doesn’t always necessarily remember it the way I wish it would.
I never played the game when it was new.
My first-ever playthrough was in (I think) 2004, and I remember literally none of it.
how the fuck I felt about it back when I was a kid.
I don’t know.
And, like, the fact is, I never will.
The person I used to be is not a person I remember.
I don’t know how I felt about it.
I just know, as a matter of historical fact, that it must have happened.
I don’t remember playing it,
but I’m aware of the fact that played it.
At that point, the game was already “old,” and I bought it used (I think) at a Blockbuster, and I had
whatever time I had with it.
In the end,
it doesn’t really matter.
my connection to the game is not “nostalgic.”
maybe it’s not not nostalgic,
’cause the fact is, it is a twenty-three-year-old game, and the world it was made in is bound up inside it.
It is, intrinsically, a product of its time,
and that time does mean whatever it means to me.
a lot of things.
probably a lot of them are very complicated,
and probably none of them are things I can fully unravel, examine, or deal with in a fully conscious way.
It’s complicated, and there probably isn’t a good, neat, binary way to sum up what it means to me or why,
but what I mean to be getting at here
is that my big, formative experience with the game itself, the experience that led to all this rambling, sentimental goop right now,
is not a matter of ancient history.
It’s a matter of, like,
I started HRT, and, on kind of a whim, I played Final Fantasy VII.
VIII, XV, X, X-2, and, now, the remake.
When I say that Final Fantasy is, overwhelmingly, a series about the process of forging and reckoning with your own identity,
I mean it.
And, like, no, it’s not a coincidence that the game series I’m using to kind of “score” my “second” puberty is a game series I first played in my first one,
at the same time,
it’s also not just a trip down memory lane.
You remade the game?
I’m remaking me.
Like, if you want to completely change the meaning of the game and everything inside,
if you want to burn down what was there before,
Let’s do it.
Let’s go hog-fucking-wild.
Let the past die.
Kill it if you have to.
It’s not fucking revolution — it’s regurgitation.
It’s this weird fucking fetishistic worship of loaded, old, “nostalgic” images, completely divorced from their actual time and context,
and that’s not even a new thing with the VII sub-series.
Once upon a time, One-Winged Angel was a song that played once in the entire game, and only at the very end.
They knew they had a fucking masterpiece,
and they held off,
and they played it once, when it mattered most.
Now it fucking blares every time Sephiroth cameos in anything,
which is a lot.
You’re not killing the past, but you’re also not authentically assessing or appreciating it.
You’re just fucking ritualistically jacking off
over a tiny, tiny, tiny handful of completely disembodied pieces of it.
“Here it is. Lap it up.”
That’s a super weird, fucking dismal ending, but the truth is, I’m really only about halfway through.
I’m just having a super fucking hard time with my words right now, and this is already running kind of long, so I’m kind of feeling like I’ll let this be part one,
and then come back with part two in (hopefully) a few days.
In the meantime, if you do like what you’ve read so far, I do have a Paypal tip jar.