I didn’t play Final Fantasy VII as a kid. I didn’t have a PlayStation at the time. My first home console was an N64 my dad got a pawn shop on his route, complete with a box full of cartridges that ranged widely in quality (BattleTanx on the one hand, Majora’s Mask on the other). When I did get a PlayStation, it was the PS2. Even then, I was a bit of a snob, so I went out of my way to get a copy of FFVII, though by that point FFX was already out, with its equally well-quaffed protagonist and sad-holy-tragic-sad girl. But to hell with that—I knew that FFVII was important. I would start there. Alas, my teenaged sense of The Importance of Gaming History was short-lived: I played through a portion of the first disc before deciding I wanted to play something more graphically impressive. And as much as I’d like to say I’ve grown more sophisticated since then, I did very much purchase the slightly shinier PS5 version of Final Fantasy VII Remake (with that perplexingly mushy “Intergrade” tacked onto the end of an already crowded title), despite already having the objectively good-looking PS4 version free from PlayStation Plus. What can I say? I’m a sucker for sparklier sparkles.
FFVIIR, Intergrade or no, is so 90s it hurts. While I don’t have any memory of the plot beats beyond what I’ve passively absorbed from years of living amongst the nerds and what I observed through the nonsensical prism that is the Kingdom Hearts series, playing FFVIIR did feel nostalgic for me. Not for the game itself, but for an era of video games that weren’t all that concerned with things like tonal consistency, inexplicable cowboys, or not having goofily anthropomorphic characters with very serious emotional dilemmas. You fight enemies named things like “Failed Experiment” and “Hell House,” both of which are unironically the thing they say they are. There is an extended and beautifully animated dance scene that follows a colosseum segment where you beat the shit out of some dogs and bandits. There is a little cat in a little crown who tearfully mourns the destruction of an entire community. Oh, and did I mention the planet is being killed by a monolithic corporation? And also there are what I have come to think of as Plot Ghosts?
It’s all, to put it lightly, a lot. I struggle to keep up at times, given that I don’t really know where it’s going. I know a few things about the original, of course. I know Aerith dies. If, somehow, you did not know that Aerith dies, I am sorry to be the one to tell you. But much like the verbal dispelling of Santa Claus on the playground or school bus, someone had to break it to you. I feel like I know that Cloud and Sephiroth are kind of the same person, but not really? Or is that Kingdom Hearts? Either way, what I do feel reasonably confident in saying is that there were no Plot Ghosts—phantomish creatures that appear regularly in this game, seemingly to shepherd inessential NPCs to their deaths—in the original. Could I be wrong about this? Maybe. Will I be looking it up until I finish the game? No. So in the interim (intergrade?), I am left with my theory that the developers of this game have embodied the market demands of nostalgic remakes as Plot Ghosts who show up when someone really needs to exit stage left to make things match up with what children of the 90s knew and so very much loved. The Plot Ghosts are here to tell us folks in our early thirties that death is final and no one can escape its clutches. No one tell me if I am wrong about this. I don’t want to be.
Anyway. I don’t know what to make of FFVIIR, and I kind of love it for that. The combat is stylish and enjoyable, the animation superb. It is confidently campy. The side quests are boring runarounds to justify the lovingly crafted environments, but they’re smartly placed after more linear story missions, right when you’re most willing to run after loose chocobos or round up some children who wandered off to the graveyard to play (???) and ended up being consumed by mourning ghosts (?????), prompting you to kill said ghosts, thus returning the children to the mortal plane (?????????). I seem to be reaching the ending, because the game explicitly warned me not to enter a building without finishing up everything I want to do beforehand. Despite playing it for nearly 24 hours at this point, I can’t point to a particular feeling the game imparts for me, besides perhaps that its plot concerning purported “ecoterrorists” taking down a corporation so hellbent on profit that they’re literally destroying the planet hits a little close to home right now. But I like it! I just can’t help but wonder what it would be like for someone that played the original. As I complete the various chapters, I have a group chat with two friends who played the game as kids, who confirm for me whether such and such section was true to the original, modified in some way, or wholly invented for the remake. But despite their kind efforts (sorry, friends), I’ve found it doesn’t matter for me either way. My response to each possibility is a marked Huh, interesting. Again, this isn’t a problem for me. I’m not surprised that an object explicitly created and marketed as being in conversation with a previous version of itself does not function on all levels for someone not conversant in the original. I’m just trying to find my own footing with it, one deliriously 90s chapter at a time.
And also, I’m totally right about the Plot Ghosts, aren’t I?