Fifteen years ago, nearly to the day, a game was released that changed my life. That game was Final Fantasy VII.
I was a fresh faced seven year old yet to truly experience what the gaming world had to offer me, besides jumping on turtles and eating mushrooms which I could do at the local petting zoo, boy was I in for a shock. On the suggestion of my best friend at the time I managed to nag my parents into shelling out for, what I would later describe as my favourite game of all time, Final Fantasy VII which by the way I recently completed again for the umpteenth time.
The story compelled me, the graphics amazed me, the music spoke to me and the gameplay enraptured me… I was hooked and from that fateful day that my brand new PSX span that disc I was an RPG nut and I’ve never looked back.
So… what happened?
You know when you were young you’d go to a family party or dinner and there’d be that one relative, be it an uncle or a cousin or whoever, that would have you is hysterics and would make what you thought was dull bearable but then many years later you’d see them again and you realise that they’re actually a massive tool well that’s what Final Fantasy has become to me. How could something that was so great fall so far.
I recently saw the Final Fantasy XII-2 trailer and no word of a lie I actually felt sick. “What the fuck is this?!” I cried. This wasn’t the series I remembered, not even close! The story looked generic, the gameplay was shallow, the graphics… well they looked quite good to be honest but worst of all, WORST OF ALL was the music. I’m sorry but when did Square decide that instead of using a beautiful, wondrous, fairy tale-esk, Nobuo Uematsu penned main theme that had been a staple of the series since the original it was going to go with pop garbage.
Then it hit me you know that joke about the abused house wife who keeps going back because “no really he’s changed this time”… that’s me! I’d given XI a go, sat through XII, drudged through XIII hell I’ve even played through the entire of X-2 all the while telling myself this was just a blip and any second now I’d turn a corner and it would be the same game I’d fallen in love with so many years ago… wrong, WRONG!
You see although people say that games aren’t art they’re wrong because if, like me, you consider art an expression of emotion through a sensory medium then that’s exactly what Final Fantasy VII was. VII dealt with issues that had rarely been explored in video games at that point in time most likely due to the death of Nobuo Sakaguchi’s mother near to the release of VI. It openly questioned what you as the gamer were doing, for example Cait Sith near the end of the second disc destroys the very first thing you achieved in the game, the destruction of the Mako reactor, by openly telling you that you’d killed innocent people and destroyed families to complete your goal and was that so different from what Sephiroth was trying to achieve, the game had what we call subtext. In fact here’s a fun game without describing what they look like or what their job is tell me about the characters from each game.
Final Fantasy VII:
· Cloud was a lost soul empty of emotion and feeling who through the course of the game not only regaines his memory but discovers who he truly is and wants to be.
· Barret whose anger burned reactors to the ground was actually angry at himself for letting his friend die.
· Tifa is a mothering and caring character but is also shy and repressed keeping her pain locked in her heart, see what I did there.
· Aeirth is a girl who has been treated terribly by people her whole life but yet is still full of unconditional love and peace despite the past, even to the point where she makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the world.
· Red XIII is the last of his kind who mistakenly resents his father for being a coward and so faces adversity head on.
· Cait Sith is actually Reeve a man ashamed of what he and the company he works for is doing and who personifies redemption.
· Yuffie is cocky and brash but this is because of her strained relationship with her father who she has never been able to impress.
· Cid is a bitter man whose dream was crushed when he is forced to choose between everything he’d ever wanted and the life of his friend.
· Vincent is a cold man who saw his one true love fall into the hands of a mad man and was unable to save her for which he blames himself and seals himself off from the world.
· Sephiroth never fitted in. Raised by the Shinra electric company he has never truly known love or what it’s like to belong and has always known that he was different from everyone else. So when he thinks he’s discovered the truth about his origin he finally knows his place is by his mother’s side. What’s even more tragic is that even this is a lie and the truth is that there never was any love for him from his only living family… only curiosity.
Final Fantasy XIII:
· Erm… uuuummmm… the black guy’s got a chocobo in his hair and that kid’s mom dies at the beginning… I don’t know.
(The worst thing is that, that isn’t even a joke I can barely name half the characters in that game despite only completing it last year.)
You see over the years the series has changed, it’s become less about pushing boundaries of what subject matter could be put in a game or how video games can reflect personal struggles in real life and has instead become pulp, more about the glamour of saving the world and less about why you’re doing it.
To take it back this whole issue is personified for me by doing one simple thing listening to two pieces of music, the Final Fantasy main theme and the god awful XII-2 theme New World, and understanding what each tells you and which means more even though one doesn’t have any words. To me the main theme is majestic, full of highs and lows and has a sweeping epicness despite its simplicity whereas the XIII theme is simply like every other song on the radio generic and shallow and if that isn’t an allegory for the difference between these two games then I don’t know what is. thank you for reading and enjoy.
Final Fantasy VII Main Theme:
Final Fantasy XIII Theme 'New World':