Final Fantasy VII

"Aeris Would Come Right Out and Say It..."

Caution: This article will contain spoilers for Final Fantasy VII.

I used to think I was so smart in middle school — so clever. I would insist certain games were only for idiots and smart people only played another type of title. I started to grow out of this mentality in high school, but it would take a long time before I truly understood what it meant to think critically.

It's been over a decade since my last playthrough of Final Fantasy VII, and I have found myself almost experiencing the game anew. It's like returning to a location you haven't visited since your childhood. Your height literally gives you a new perspective, a new way of seeing things. Everything looks smaller than you remember. Stepping through the environment, you begin to remember the actions of your parents, and suddenly you can relate to them just a little better.

Replaying Final Fantasy VII has been a lesson in perspective, and just how wrong many of my assumptions and perceptions were when I was in middle school. An awfully fitting reaction, too, as this playthrough has revealed to me an underlying theme throughout the entire game.

Final Fantasy VII is about many things, yes, but one of the primary ideas is that nothing is quite what it seems.

This epiphany of mine was triggered, of all things, by the difference in personality between lead female characters Tifa and Aeris. When I first played the game, my twelve-year-old self automatically projected a strong, independent, and confident persona onto Tifa whilst giving Aeris the weaker, quiet, and polite sort of archetype. Tifa was a brawler, looking to be a bit of a tomboy with a much less fashionable ensemble. It made sense to me that she'd be the more assertive one over Aeris, who was dressed in her lovely pink polygons.

More than anything, Aeris' introduction portrays her as being a bit close to helpless. Villainous corporation Shinra closes in on her sanctuary (literally and figuratively), forcing her to try and escape. She turns to the protagonist Cloud, asking him to be her bodyguard, and later calls to him for assistance as soldiers come to take her away. She is portrayed as physically weak and needing help, and as Cloud deftly hops along the ruins of a junkyard behind the Church, Aeris takes her time measuring each leap carefully.

These actions suggest someone lacking in strength, and thus the next assumption is that they'd be lacking in confidence. Already forgotten is that Aeris tempted Cloud into being her bodyguard by offering him a date, an action that doesn't at all fit the interpretation of a more weak and timid character.

At the age of twenty-nine, I suddenly realized how wrong I've been about these two characters during the momentous Gold Saucer date. Depending on how you responded to certain inquiries and certain choices made throughout the game, one of many characters would approach Cloud in an effort to explore the theme park with him. Aeris will bluntly refer to it as a date, but Tifa will pussyfoot around the issue. She'll instead physically force him out the door, unable to call it a proper date. By the end of the sequence, Aeris asks many questions of Cloud, hinting that she realizes there's something wrong with him, and acknowledging how familiar he is compared to her previous boyfriend, a character named Zack. Tifa, though? Tifa trips over her own words, and at one point even mentions "Aeris would just come right out and say it ... ."

[Editor's note: I'm going to insist on proper punctuation even in quotations from an iconic game — genre conventions be damned!]

This playthrough, Tifa was the one to approach Cloud, and it was in reading that line that I realized how off base I was. Throughout the entire game Tifa had been the gentle soul, twice shy and frequently comforting the other party members. Aeris was the blunt agent of tough love, speaking her mind and impulsively leaping into danger.

But in reading that line, I realized that everything I thought about these two characters was wrong. Was it my youth? Was it a poor memory? Was it a little dash of systemic sexism?

It could have been any of those things, but I also believe it was a conscious choice by the developers. There are a lot of Japanese anime and role-playing games where the spell casting archetype is shy, calm, gentle, and perhaps even lacking in confidence, whereas the more tomboyish warrior woman is boisterous and brimming with bluster. On the surface, Aeris and Tifa fit these roles respectively. It is only over time that you discover their personalities are actually the inverse of their archetypes.

Tifa and Aeris are not unique in this regard. All of the characters are, in some way, completely different from how they are first portrayed. Barret comes off as a leader with a clear plan, but as the game progresses it becomes obvious that he doesn't know how to lead nor does he have any clue what he's actually doing. Red XIII speaks eloquently and politely, giving the player a sense that he is a wise adult. In truth, he's still a teenager by his own species' reckoning, and his interactions with his "grandfather" and attitude towards his own father reveal his youthful immaturity. Cait Sith seems to be some goofy comic relief character, but in actuality is a doll controlled by a Shinra Salaryman. Yuffie may seem to be a mere thief, but she is in fact trying to restore her village back to its former glory after it had suffered a major defeat in war.

Likewise, Cloud is not the hero of Final Fantasy VII. True, he is the protagonist, and anyone that has played the game is familiar with his fabricated past. What keeps him from being the hero that I always remembered him as is that he is not actually the one to save the world.

Cloud himself confesses that descending down into the crater is the last resort of a desperate and tired group of adventurers. Stopping the meteor summoned by Sephiroth is out of their hands and capability. The only method in which they can emerge victorious is by defeating Sephiroth himself, who is blocking the spell of Holy from activating.

The player, the remaining characters, merely assisted Aeris by defeating Sephiroth. They themselves did not save the planet.

It was the intent of the writers of Final Fantasy VII to avoid the heroic sacrifice, for the character's death to be sudden and seem without meaning. However, Aeris' demise, intended or not, turned out to be the sacrifice that would save the world. In the ending cinematic of Final Fantasy VII, Midgar begins to crumble as Meteor descends, and the spell Holy is unable to hold the destructive spell at bay. It isn't until Aeris, having returned to the planet after being slain by Sephiroth, lashes out as part of the lifestream to boost the spell of Holy and shatter Meteor to bits. She bore the heroic sacrifice after all.

It's all the little touches that defy expectation that really set the game apart from its peers and caused it to resonate with so many. Not just the sudden and unexpected murder of a key character, but the sad, harrowing death cry of Ultimate Weapon, a beast created by the planet in order to defend it, slain by the player for no greater reason than obtaining a powerful blade. Investing money and time into defending Fort Condor, only for the majestic bird of prey to be slain with ease. To be offered one final fight against Shinra's Turks, only to refuse to fight and watch them walk away, retiring from their job. There are a variety of other such examples of Final Fantasy VII turning expectations on their head.

The plot frequently refuses to give the player clarity as to what is actually happening. Generally, constant plot twists and inexplicable cliffhangers will often ruin a story. Simply wanting to surprise the audience, with no greater intent than to keep their attention, swiftly results in a meaningless and meandering story without direction. Yet Final Fantasy VII uses these many subversions, inversions and surprises to inject new meaning into a series of tropes, to break player expectations just a little bit in order to create a resounding experience.

After over a decade of time spent away from it, I came back to find Final Fantasy VII may have been a bit clunky and flawed, but my new perspective rewarded me with a greater appreciation for all that it did well. All because "Aeris would come right out and say it ... ."

Comments

Bravo! I'll confess that I debated having you keep writing for another 1000 words on this one. It's a really interesting view!

Well said!

That's a really interesting perspective, and I'll carry it with me when I replay Final Fantasy VII next year.

And second, thank you to you, and thank you to wordy, for not calling her "Aerith".

wordsmythe wrote:

Bravo! I'll confess that I debated having you keep writing for another 1000 words on this one. It's a really interesting view!

He probably did! Check your cutting room floor.

I need to go back and play FFIV with a more critical eye. I fell in love with those characters, but damned if a lot of the game isn't reliant on stereotypes. Rosa, the White Mage, was made into a real person in the DS version! Who knew?!?!

ClockworkHouse wrote:

That's a really interesting perspective, and I'll carry it with me when I replay Final Fantasy VII next year.

And second, thank you to you, and thank you to wordy, for not calling her "Aerith".

Chris gets credit for that. I only care enough to make sure it's consistent.

Easily one of the best pieces on a game that marked my teenage years.

It mirrors some of my thoughts on the game. Hell, I've played through it countless times since it released back in '97 and I'm itching to play it again since I read your article... Sometimes I turn it on just for the music. I even just thought of purchasing it on PSN to have on my vita, since I still only own my original first printing physical copy.

In any case, great piece! Thanks!

garion333 wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Bravo! I'll confess that I debated having you keep writing for another 1000 words on this one. It's a really interesting view!

He probably did! Check your cutting room floor. :P

We called that the first draft.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

And second, thank you to you, and thank you to wordy, for not calling her "Aerith".

I used to be that guy, but then one day I realized that, in English at least, "Aeris" sounds better.

It always felt like Tifa was only ever truly confident in her fighting skills.

Nice work, C.

For me, it is and always will be:

Aeris, not Aerith
Bartz, not Butz
Sabin, not Mash
Terra, not Tina...
who has GREEN hair, not BLONDE
Milon, not Scarmiglione
Valvalis, not Barbaricia
Rubicant, not Rubicante
Kainazzo, not Cagnazzo
Terrato, not Midgardsormr
Palidor, not Quetzalli
Tritoch, not Varigamuranda
Shadow throws Skeans, not Scrolls

...and so on, and so on, and so on.

But on the hypocritical side, I do prefer fira and firaga to fire 2 and fire 3.

Chris, thanks for calling attention some of the nuance of the characters. FF7 isn't actually one of my favorites of the series -- I'm partial to the more old-school, swords & sorcery FF1 and FF4 -- but now I'm wondering if a lot of the plot simply went over the head of my then-high-school self.

I might just have to give FF7 another try.

Never played it and perhaps I'm emotional for some reason, but I got a wee misty-eyed.

It was always my favourite FF, thanks so much for clearly putting into words many of the half-formed thoughts I had bouncing around in my head.

Well done!

Holy crap you guys, I wasn't expecting this piece to go over nearly so well. I should write about old favorites more often!

But seriously, thanks.

Well, FFVII made me a hardcore gamer. I beat it 5 times.

Grenn wrote:

Well, FFVII made me a hardcore gamer. I beat it 5 times.

It was the first game I ever got 100% completion on. Of course, you'll have to take my word for it, since there was no tracking system, but I read every faq I could find after beating it twice and made myself a checklist of all the stuff that could be gotten and made sure on my third playthrough I got all the lost forevers, then the regular stuff. Mastered every Materia in the game.. I loved that game so much.

ccesarano wrote:

Holy crap you guys, I wasn't expecting this piece to go over nearly so well. I should write about old favorites more often!

But seriously, thanks.

You should re-release it in HD!

garion333 wrote:
ccesarano wrote:

Holy crap you guys, I wasn't expecting this piece to go over nearly so well. I should write about old favorites more often!

But seriously, thanks.

You should re-release it in HD!

Day 1 purchase.

walterqchocobo wrote:
garion333 wrote:
ccesarano wrote:

Holy crap you guys, I wasn't expecting this piece to go over nearly so well. I should write about old favorites more often!

But seriously, thanks.

You should re-release it in HD!

Day 1 purchase.

Soon he'll show off an updated version of the pre-jump part and get us all excited, but later tell us it was only a tech demo to show off his new word processor's capabilities and that due to hardware limitations, the entire article can't possibly be recreated in its entirety.

I was going to import it into Illustrator, convert it to vectors, and then publish it in a barely-usable format.

garion333 wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Bravo! I'll confess that I debated having you keep writing for another 1000 words on this one. It's a really interesting view!

He probably did! Check your cutting room floor.

I need to go back and play FFIV with a more critical eye. I fell in love with those characters, but damned if a lot of the game isn't reliant on stereotypes. Rosa, the White Mage, was made into a real person in the DS version! Who knew?!?!

Maybe that's why in my current playthrough of FFV I intentionally went against type for jobs. Main protagonist dude: he's the primary healer. Pink haired princess: she's a badass black mage. The old man: the party heavy.

Dakuna wrote:
Grenn wrote:

Well, FFVII made me a hardcore gamer. I beat it 5 times.

It was the first game I ever got 100% completion on. Of course, you'll have to take my word for it, since there was no tracking system, but I read every faq I could find after beating it twice and made myself a checklist of all the stuff that could be gotten and made sure on my third playthrough I got all the lost forevers, then the regular stuff. Mastered every Materia in the game.. I loved that game so much.

There are achievements in the Steam version. You should do all of it again and prove it.

Stele wrote:
Dakuna wrote:
Grenn wrote:

Well, FFVII made me a hardcore gamer. I beat it 5 times.

It was the first game I ever got 100% completion on. Of course, you'll have to take my word for it, since there was no tracking system, but I read every faq I could find after beating it twice and made myself a checklist of all the stuff that could be gotten and made sure on my third playthrough I got all the lost forevers, then the regular stuff. Mastered every Materia in the game.. I loved that game so much.

There are achievements in the Steam version. You should do all of it again and prove it. ;)

Personally, I still have my original memory card files, with multiple master materia sets (one for every party member) what with my super Gold Chocobo bred threw generations to get high stats everywhere (yeah, I actually did that :/, don't judge!).

But the idea of there being cheevos for it... hmmm... makes me think of buying it on Steam.

Steam eh.. well I might just do that.

This was basically the last traditional JRPG that I enjoyed, although I think at least half of that had to do with the games finding me to be a less receptive audience as I got older.

But also, FF8 blew it.

Wonderful article but it just sort of stops. I expected more conclusions, specifically how you felt about the plot and themes then versus now. Were there literary conventions you thought were used then, because you were so young, but now discover you were wrong about? Great job about the characters...now give us more!

bought this on steam.. loving it all over again!

Huh, I can definitely say that I didn't connect any of those dots when I was a teenager playing this for the first time. Interesting perspective. I'll definitely keep it in mind if I decide to listen to my stated intentions for once and fire this back up on the Vita.

I bought a PS One and Final Fantasy VII a few weeks back.
I first played FF VII when I was in my early twenties, just after it released. It was my first JRPG and I wasn't impressed at the time.
"I may as well be watching a movie", I think was my quote after turning the game off after the first sitting, having reached the slum, never to return.
Years have gone by. Being a XBOX man previously, I had never played or been bothered to play another FF game. However, I read enough, and listen to enough podcasts to know that this is a genre that I have missed out on, and really wanted to jump in and see what's what.
Fast forward to last night, 7-8 hrs in I'm having an absolute blast !

Spoiler:

We have just rescued Aeris, been captured and escaped again

I have my first Zelda (Gamecube Collection) to play after this, then going to try FF X after that.
Are the earlier FF 1-6 worth playing at all ?

pinkdino99 wrote:

Are the earlier FF 1-6 worth playing at all ?

Yes and no. A year ago I might have said yes in the space of a heartbeat, but conversations with Clockwork this year over the previous games has me pondering if they're really as "friendly", so to speak, to newcomers or nostalgia.

Part of what makes FF7 work is that it moves at a rather brisk pace. As long as you're using abilities liberally (such as Matra Magic early on (after Midgar at least)), you'll get through combat with ease and the story moves at a snappy pace. This helps keep the player engaged by the story and the combat from becoming too much of a barrier of progress (though whether you enjoy the combat is another story. I feel like customizing your team to wipe enemies in a single round is part of the enjoyment).

With that in mind, FF6 features a lot of ways to do the same thing with combat, but it's not as fast-paced a game in regards to its story and plot. Your mileage may vary greatly when it comes to how much you're enjoying the actual playing of the game, but the story is still very good.

Final Fantasy IV manages to touch on the "fun" factor with combat, particularly since it preserves the differences in character classes, but the story, while short, is also pretty amateur drivel in this day and age. Littered with tropes and melodramatic bullsh*t, it was great for a kid in grade school that was never aware that video games could have serious stories, too.

FFV's use of the job system is excellent, but I don't remember being impressed with the story, it's more challenging than IV or VI, and honestly, I always felt like it had a lower budget compared to its SNES brethren. Ultimately that doesn't matter, however, because it's still enjoyable. This might actually age best gameplay-wise, that or FFIV.

Never played FFII, wasn't too big a fan of FFIII on DS.

Final Fantasy I is like those old dungeon crawler games or something. It's archaic, but they haven't really made anything like it since. I find it fun to go back to, but it is without a doubt the most difficult Final Fantasy there is (of the ones I've played at least).

ccesarano ... I'm speechless ! Thank you so much !