Saturday, July 05, 2008

Final Fantasy VII review (spoiler warning)

(These are my reflections on Final Fantasy VII for PS. RPGing is a personal hobby, and such exposition enhances the gaming experience for me. But it may not be of interest to many readers, so please disregard this post if that is the case).

Final Fantasy VII pushes in the opposite direction of the traditional RPG. Rather than taking place in a Tolkienesque world at a time approximating the European Middle Ages, it is set in the post-industrial future. Historically, the genre has looked sourly on the prospects for the future (think Chrono Trigger's 2300 AD or Earthbound's 20XX), but VII goes far beyond these in that in its entirety, it takes place in a dystopian world reminiscient of the One State from We, Rouge City in the movie AI, and especially Oceania's London in 1984.

The first several hours of play take place within the unending slums of Midgar, where the degeneracy of the population rivals the detritus of the filthy structures they dwell in. Aggressive homosexuals worshipping "Big Bro" give Cloud (and the gameplayer) an uncomfortable experience early on, while cross dressing is a necessary tactic to be used in freeing Tifa. The lawless slums are loosely controlled by crime bosses like Don Corneo (whose name is a play on the Godfather's Don Corleone), with access to the upper plate where Shinra's capital building sits strictly monitored.

While Midgar, Shinra's power center, is the most nauseating place in the game, the dystopian theme doesn't dissipate much throughout. There are a few sanctuary locations, most notably Cosmo Canyon*, the place where those interested in the "study of Planet Life" pilgrimage, and Wutai, a city that comes out of Japan's early Edo period, with a neat samurai residence where a Zen Garden is maintained.

It didn't take long to notice that these desirable places are free of technological progress and the Western Man. Shinra (which roughly translates to "Roman truth" or "Roman core") embodies the worst fears people have of 'corporatocracy'. It is both the world's largest MNC and the world's most powerful political force. As a producer of energy and manufacturer of weapons, Shinra gives artistic life to Ike's fears of a military-industrial complex in operation. The energy it produces, called "Mako" (which might be translated as "pure sin"), requires an environmentally-brutal extraction process that seems to mix the worst elements of coal mining with nuclear power generation. The land surrounding the Mako reactors becomes toxic (apparently all Mako reactors end up as Chernobyl-style disasters) at which point a rapacious Shinra pulls out entirely to leave the unemployed and sickly townsfolk who worked at the reactor to fend for themselves.

At the same time, the Shinra levies higher tax rates on the population while billing the increase as a way for Shinra to do the people greater good and increase production (this is only one of several points in which the Shinra and Orwell's "The Party" bear a striking resemblance).

Further, the Shinra is involved in Faustian biological experimentations. Dr. Hojo, head of scientific research, undertakes a Jenova project to create super humanoid lifeforms like Sephiroth and enhances people like Vincent with superhuman abilities. He has also created clones such as the protagonist Cloud (injecting with Jenova~ cells) and shows interest in breeding members of different species to create powerful chimeras. Hojo is devoid of any remorse for the outcomes of his creations. He is thus a loose Mengelian caricature.

The Shinra is evil not only in what it does, but in what it doesn't do. The space program that was to launch Cid, as rocket captain, into space is shelved so that more resources can be devoted to Mako harvesting and Materia discovery. Not enough money for NASA, too much money for the Pentagon!

Enter the forces battling the Shinra. AVALANCHE, led by Barret, is an eco-terrorist group working to destroy Mako reactors. It is revealed that Barret's hatred for the Shinra extends beyond the damage it is doing to the planet and is of a more personal nature. At the Great Glacier, he actually tackles the discomforting notion that his terrorist tactics may be doing more harm than good. But ostensibly he is working to "save the planet!"

Characters of African descent are a rarity in RPGs, which makes Barret quite a curiosity. While he displays some typical black attributes like imposing physical strength and a lack of self-restraint (his response in encountering potentially adversarial forces is to immediately rain machine gun fire on them), his position as head of an eco-terrorist organization is not one of them. The group's name is much more representative of the demographic profile of contemporary environmental movements.

Aeris is an Ancient, an, uh, ancient race of people with the ability to communicate with the planet and feel it's lifestream, or something**. She is the last one alive, having been taken in by a woman in Midgar as a young child. Aeris was to use this special relationship with the planet to heal it, but the plan is sliced up when Sephiroth slices her up***:

Her death marks a blow to the planet, as a meteor heading toward it was to be averted using Holy Materia only she could access. Technology tries to step in to fill the void. But the Shinra rocket only succeeds in doing minor damage to the meteor, not obliterating it or knocking it off course as was hoped, much to the dismay of Cid, who had asserted the primacy of science over magic.

In another conspicuous reference to 1984, Sephiroth states that the Ancients putatively control the past (and thus they had to be destroyed). However, by leveraging his unique powers, he has broken away from the Shinra and intends to take control of the present from the organization. He then remarks that by controlling the present he will be able also to control the future. In Orwell's novel, O'Brien explains to Winston that he who controls the present controls the past, and that he who controls the past controls the future.

Red XIII is a native of Cosmo Canyon. Although a feline^, he's identifiably a Native American. The Canyon's music and Red's decorum make that clear. Even his name serves as a 'derogatory' reference to as much. The number indicates his unfortunate plight. He was born in Cosmo (as in "cosmopolitan") Canyon, and thus is a citizen of the planet, yet his tribe has been reduced to just one--him^^. He is disdainful of humans, and initially is only interested in joining Cloud and company to get back home. It is when he realizes that they are out to destroy Shinra that he becomes a permanent feature of the party.

Cloud throws in with AVALANCHE initially to make money, as he's no longer employed by Shinra. He wants to track down Sephiroth for personal reasons, namely the torching of his hometown and the death of his friend Zach. His memory has been tinkered with and he's been injecting with Jenova cells. Without family or friends (other than Tifa), he looks at the world with cold indifference, all of which fit nicely with his last name, Strife. He uses saving the planet, an idea that is associated with moral rectitude throughout the game, as a rationale for leading the party against Sephiroth more than a driving force for his own actions. His raison d'etre is made clear in one of the story's most satisfying moments:

Cait Sith, controlled by Reeves, is a Shinra insider who ends up becoming a double-agent. He sympathizes with the struggle against Shinra and has become disillusioned by the organization he holds high rank within. His allegiance shifts across the rubicon when he sacrifices himself at the Temple of the Ancients. Fortunately, the sacrifice isn't quite Christ-like--because he's an animated puppet (or two of them), he's back in no time, adopting a necronym from the first Cait Sith. It's like he never even leaves!

The other characters do not fight for eco-religious reasons. Vincent was made into a guinea pig by Hojo and wants revenge, Yuffie wants to collect Materia for less nefarious purposes than Shinra, Tifa just wants to be around Cloud, and Cid holds a grudge because of Shinra's axing of its own space program.

So, Shinra is the political-corporate behemoth harvesting vital Materia from the earth, in competition with Sephiroth who is after Materia to make himself invincible. Power, wealth, fame--that's what the evil Anglos are after, to the detriment of the planet. The protagonist party can't quite summon Captain Planet, but it does use summon Materia to protect Gaia from these rapacious forces.

A major theme running through the course of the game is one that mixes misanthropy, Ludditism, and extreme environmentalism. Some aspects of the game that starkly bring this theme into focus:

- Bugenhagen, who Red refers to as "grandfather", maintains a planetarium and has the power of levitation. He also has the unique ability to hear the cry of the planet. Later, he informs the party that Holy Materia will come to wipe out all evil from Gaia. It remains an open question as to whether or not that includes eradicating humans. The final sequence, 500 years after the defeat of Sephiroth, shows Red overlooking the overgrown ruins of Midgar. There is not a single human to be seen. Humanity has presumably been wiped out:

- The planet is revealed to have the ability to heal itself, as if some kind of super organism. However, the Shinra is extracting Mako and Materia faster than it is able to regenerate.

- Wutai, at war with the Shinra in the past, is forced to submit when the Shinra develops super weapons through the utilization of Mako energy and Materia. Technological progress thus allows for resource exploitation by the evil forces that would tap into it. Mount Wutai, from which its name derives, is considered the first among the four sacred mountains in Chinese Buddhism. It's home to the Boddhisatva of wisdom--wisdom, presumably, not to go after Mako and thus bring ruin to the world!

- The strongest attack is Cloud's Omnislash. It doesn't come from Barret or Vincent, who use artillery and small arms fire. Cloud uses a sword to pull it off.

- Every town that has been involved with Mako energy production has become a destitute wasteland. Junon and Barret's hometown of Mount Corel are among the most devastated.

- Dyne, Barret's friend and father of Marlene, the girl he has taken in, opposed opening up Mount Corel to Mako production, preferring to stick to old coal extraction. Barret saw the opportunity for economic growth and prominence in Mako, and was able to persuade the community to his side. The results were tragic--technological progress always is, right?

- Fort Condor is home to enormous, endangered birds of the same name (although they look like eagles, not condors). They are nesting on the top of a Mako reactor that the Shinra want back. Here you fight with planetary mercenaries in a futile effort to protect the birds' eyries. To the Sierra Club's dismay, however, the Condor pictured nearby is eventually blasted away by a Shinra lazer beam.

The green extremism isn't portrayed in a uniformly positive light (though the thrust is overwhelmingly in that direction). When the party reaches Cosmo Canyon for the first time, Barret remarks that for a long time he's wanted to come to the place to study, but hasn't been able to due to overcrowding. If all these greens were really the greenest of the green, that wouldn't be a problem. They would've already committed the greatest green act of all--suicide. Few are pure enough to take their beliefs that far, though!

Conservatives often compare environmentalists to watermelons--green on the outside, red on the inside. When Barret is trying to reconcile the human toll his actions made in the name of the planet have taken, he states that for the greater good, one has "gotta expect a few casualties". Can't make an omelette without cracking a few eggs, right?

Another theme shared with many others in the genre is the resistance organization fighting against the evil empire. As has been discussed, VII goes far with this theme. In another allusion to 1984, Scarlet lets Tifa and Barret know that their executions will be public: "We will be broadcasting your miserable deaths live on national television." This to redirect any public frustration from the government to the scapegoats being axed.

More cynically, fighting the evil empire is a surefire winner in the eyes of teenage males. At this hormonal stage of life, glory and freedom are appealing; responsible corporate governance, well, not so much.

Finally, to those who assert gaming is not an educational experience, I offer my frustrations in riding around on the floating Bronco plane. It took several minutes to navigate around the huge continent in the center of the world map when my destination, blocked by land, was just a few seconds as the crow flies. In that frustratingly long slog through the ocean, the utility of the Panama and Suez canals came to light!

Final Fantasy X is next on the chopping block.

~ "Jenova" is a couple of letters away from "Jehovah". Indeed, these cells bestow superhuman abilities on those who are injected with them, but a consequence of this greater power is invariably a diminution of the ethical compass. To be touched by Jenova is to eat from the forbidden tree--it moves one closer to omnipotence, but further away from omnibenevolence. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

* The soundtrack matches the story's desolation. Consequently, it's not among my favorites. An exception is the score for Cosmo Canyon, which brings to mind some of the best Quena music I've heard (and Amerindian tribal music in general), strikes my ear euphoniously. It is my favorite track from the game.

** The lifestream concept is similar to the Hindu conception of the soul, which will eventually reunite with the Ultimate or God (or in this case, Gaia), except it doesn't appear that normal humans contain it or are able to communicate with it like the Ancients are. They're outsiders, parasites that live on the planet, not in harmony with it.

*** I found this turn of events to be particularly annoying. Because Materia can be shifted around freely from character to character, it doesn't really matter who is in your party--everyone is pretty fungible. The loss of Aeris from a playability perspective didn't matter at all--I'd decided early on to use Barret and Red XIII from start to finish (and did so except for places where the story prohibited it as well as at the end when I used Yuffie to get lots of ability sources). But why was Aeris so reckless? Why go through the Ancient Forest alone, ahead of Cloud and company? She was asking for death, so I guess it's fitting enough that she got just that.

^ Or is he a canine? He roars like a lion and shares the big cat's tail. But his battle stance, shown in the picture above, resembles that of a snarling dog.

^^ This is revealed when Hojo attempts to mate Aeris and Red XIII, both of whom are the last living members of their respective races. Curiously, however, the game's ending sequence shows an aged Red running with two youngsters in tail. How they came to be is not apparent.

++Addition++Don't miss Squarepusher's insights found in the comments section. He tweaks my 1984 comparisons and references other allusions. I'd thought about the Heidegger connection, but FFVII's is pretty vacuous. Besides laughing, he's pretty taciturn, too. But maybe that's a shot at the putative intellectual vacuity of philosophical nazism. It fits the mold of criticism directed at Mein Kampf, for which many contemporary critics criticize Hitler of being an--do I dare say?--epigone, a hot-air blowing, gesticulating pseduo-philosophizing demagogue.


Sleep said...

Wow. Okay. I didnt read all the way through that post because I never played all the way through the game. Looking back, I can see so many things that totally flew over my head when I played the game the first time. My first reaction to playing FF7 as a teenager was something along the lines of "Wow, an RPG that uses real guns instead of cutesy Smiley Face Cherub Choppers or whatever". The next thing I noticed was "hey, these characters actually have real Earth names!" Though it didnt occur to me that they were supposed to have Earth-based racial identities too, especially not native Americans. I've always just considered RPG/anime people to be non-racial. The references to 1984 and all that flew over my head. Weren't the aggressive homosexuals supposed to think Cloud was a woman, or is my memory bad?

Thanks, this was fun reading.

Audacious Epigone said...

Really, SquareEnix rpgs are a lot more sophisticated than they get credit for. The allusions in Dragon Quest VIII are even more prolific (they're less political and more religious/mythical, something that series has always played with).

Re the non-racial: Mukokuseki--literally, without a nation or stateless--characterizes the Japanese rpg world up until FFVII (FFVI dabbled a bit with an antagonist/bandit leader named Vargas, who was dark enough to be black but looked more like a southern Indian. Oops!) Red XIII's character was a neat approach. Plenty of hints--he's the last member of his tribe, he wears the indian feather, his name is "Red", and he opposes Shinra encroachment/land development. Probably more like the Chief Seattle myth than an actual embodiment of Native American sentiment, but it works.

The creeps repeating "Big Bro, Big Bro" come after Cloud when he wins his way into a brothel. He dresses up as a woman to get in to Corneo's (pictures in my post) mansion. There was so much degeneracy in the game though, it's hard to keep it all straight!

Anonymous said...

Very impressive take on FF7. The earth/gaia theme seems to be very prominent in most JRPGs such as Chrono Trigger and Treasure of the Rudras but I have to agree that the green propaganda reached ridiculous levels in FF7. I think the theme was handled much better in Chrono Trigger with The Entity/Gaia/Fate actively helping humanity instead of trying to punish it for its environmental sins.

I agree with you that Barrett was a watershed for JRPGs. To say that blacks are rare in JRPGs is an understatement; they are non-existent. Barret's character design was also out of the ordinary. The Japanese have a tendency to draw blacks with the "Simple Sambo" big lips and beady eyes. Barrett's character design clearly took American-Euro feelings into account with the more realistic portrayal of a black who wears modern clothing instead of some weird futuristic/Japanese outfit. Also, Barret's portrayal in the FF7 CGI movie is even more realistic, he bears a resemblance to R. Kelly.

I also enjoyed your review of DQ8 (one of my personal favourites). The "sacreligious" aspect of the DQ games needs to be put into context. There are usually two types of gods or kamis in this series: the transcendent and the personal. The transcendent (such as the Goddess in DQ8) is usually never seen or heard from and the personal is more like a god-man instead of a God. The god-man usually can be fought and helps the heroes in a quest. In DQ3, you fight the dragon god after you beat Zoma and he grants you wishes and in DQ7 you beat a goofy looking old man god who is probably more similar to Zeus than the Christian God. You don't actually "defeat" these characters, they just test your strength. You cannot kill them and they both give you rewards. The DQ7 god is probably the most personal of all since he must be revived and later you can recruit him to live in your village and challenge him any time. Also, Ramia is not a god at all but more of a powerful alien that travels between worlds. Her strength is off the charts and that's probably why people consider to be a demigod or godbird.

I would be really interested to hear your take on both of the Earthbound games (you even had Ness as your avatar for a while). That was a truly unique take on the JRPG plot formula.

Audacious Epigone said...


I'd like to take a critical look at many of my old favorites, but it'd require playing through them again. I remember Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, FF IV, DW/Q IV, etc reasonably well, but it's been nearly a decade since I've played them, so I'd have to do so again before hoping to offer any real insight. It'll be a tough assignment, but I plan on getting around to it in the future :)

Good point regarding the 'supernatural' portrayals in DQ games. For one, there is no clear line distinguishing the natural from the supernatural. And the god characters are probably more accurately thought of as superhuman than supernatural. They're strong, knowledgeable, and (often) good, but they're not omnipotent, omniscient, or omni-benevolent. At the end of DQ8, Ramia explains, at Trode's prodding, that humans refer to her as a god, but that she is not one.

Re: blacks, right. To my knowledge, SquareEnix has stepped back again in the last decade. Euro-ish looking mukokuseki (with the exception of hair, which tends, especially in the heroes, to be East Asian in inspiration) remains the standard.

I'm playing FF X now, and I'm under the impression that Kihmari is plausibly a 'black' character, member of a tribalistic race of competing Big Men (his voice actor reminds me of James Earl Jones). But it's less conspicuous than Red as a Native American, so it doesn't attract a lot of attention.

Anonymous said...

re: supernatural/superhuman characters in DQ

I think the best approach to this would be to view the characters through a more Eastern perspective (Shinto/Buddhism) instead of a Western one (Jewish/Christian). The reason why I say this is that in most games there are new gods and devils always appearing trying to subvert the natural order of the world which implies that eventhough they may be powerful, they might not all be immortal. If you can fight against them, they cannot be omnipotent because there is no plausible way you could beat them in battle so describing them as kami would probably be more accurate than calling them gods. Also, whatever Jewish or Chrisitan themes that are to be found in most JRPGs are there for mostly aesthetic reasons. The Japanese tend not to know much about Christian theology nor would they incorporate it into their games. They are more interested in the major figures and symbolism of that religion and they create a story or myth around that.

Viewing the game through eastern eyes also make the gaia themes more tolerable. Not every game that has a gaia theme can be dismissed as environmentalist agitprop because nature itself is very, very important to Shinto.

Also, speaking of Western aesthetics, if you take a look at Earthbound, the game clearly has a Western aesthetic but it is deeply Japanese. Two examples that jump out at me are: the workaholic father that only speaks to his son through the telephone and the blue cult which is probably a social commentary on all of the strange "new religions" that have popped up in Japan.

re: Kihmari

I think he is most certainly black. If his attire was not obvious enough, I think his Swahili sounding name would be a dead giveaway. I just don't think the Japanese find black characters all that interesting and they prefer to give black qualities (usually tribal) to anthromorphic animals. Again, it's all about symbolism. The Japanese don't really care how tribal Africans really act, they prefer to build on popular stereotypes, both positive and negative.

SFG said...

I think the best approach to this would be to view the characters through a more Eastern perspective

Yup. Remember, the writers for these games are Japanese.

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon and sfg,

I'd be interested in seeing the same. I don't have a deep enough knowledge base to add much from that angle, though. Also, translations and localizations are done in the West (usually in Great Britain).

Most of the characters, both human and monster, however, are Western-inspired, and the gods just as easily fit into Greek, Nordic, or Arabic mythology. Titan, Odin, Bahamut, Ifrit, and Leviathan are all Final Fantasy staples--are there any Chinese or Japanese supernatural beings that make regular appearances? Shiva is the only non-ME Asian staple I can think of, and it's Hindu. In DQ8, you're able to watch as Yangus prepares to administer a Yggdrasil [Norse] leaf to Jessica before an undead samurai [Japanese] with as many arms as Vishnu dispatches her, while she returns the favor by using the Caduceus [Greek] to heal his wounds. Erstwhile, the Hero has launched a mercurial [Roman] thrust with his partisan [generic middle ages], falling a belial [Hebraic] before it can interrupt Angelo from firing a Cherub's [Judeo-Christian] arrow at an approaching dullahan [Irish].

Anonymous said...

For Final Fantasy there are a few reoccurring Chinese/Japanese gods:

Asura from FF4 = Ashur, god of war and empire
Garuda (regular enemy) = mythical bird (also found in Buddhism)
Ramuh = Indra and I think that was the translation used in the American version of FF2

Kirin from FF6 = mythical horse-dragon
Raiden from FF6 = god of thunder

There is also an Orochi serpent in Dragon Quest 3, which is from Shinto mythology.

SFG said...

Most of the characters, both human and monster, however, are Western-inspired, and the gods just as easily fit into Greek, Nordic, or Arabic mythology.

Sure. The thing you have to remember, though, is that those things have different resonances to the writers than they do to us. For example, in some anime crosses and stars of David are used for exotic flavor! Similarly, as Anon says, given the animism of Shinto, environmental destruction might mean more to a Japanese audience than it might to us.

n DQ8, you're able to watch as Yangus prepares to administer a Yggdrasil [Norse] leaf to Jessica before an undead samurai [Japanese] with as many arms as Vishnu dispatches her, while she returns the favor by using the Caduceus [Greek] to heal his wounds. Erstwhile, the Hero has launched a mercurial [Roman] thrust with his partisan [generic middle ages], falling a belial [Hebraic] before it can interrupt Angelo from firing a Cherub's [Judeo-Christian] arrow at an approaching dullahan [Irish].
Exactly. They just love to fool around the way D&D drew monsters from all over the world. I think it's fun, personally.

Audacious Epigone said...


I'd forgotten about Raiden. I was a little disappointed that in FFX the unicorn summon isn't named Kirin. Didn't know it was Chinese in origin, either--I figured it was Japanese, from having read a HBR case study on the Japanese beer company with the same name.


Well put. What I'm after are ways the games can be perceived through the eyes of a Western audience, and the social commentary relevant to it. Undoubtedly there are references and allusions that are intended to be taken in a different way in the East, but I recognize a lot of that is going to go over my head, or just come off as bemusing. I especially get this feeling with the DQ series, which has some sequences that are kind of humorous to me in that they're so awkward, but for which I realize I'm missing the real humor by way of cultural barriers.

Anonymous said...

Great theory, but there is definitely some points that you flat lined upon, the same with FF9 analysis. Your portrayal of the female characters is weak. Especially of Tifa, who is a central character to the story. When Cloud is hospitalized Tifa is in charge and one of the most important parts of the entire game is when Cloud realizes his past, which is done alongside Tifa. The Tifa, Aeris, and Cloud triangle is one of the most audacious ones of our generation that asks many questions. Also, you have left out the Turks which is another essential part of FF7. I think you focused too much on the story presented with the primary characters you used to play the game. Also, a great deal happens during the reunion, such as the weapons being released. There's also the Shinra boss Rufus. I think this actually one of the best interpretations of Final Fantasy I have ever seen. I think you can dig deeper. There's a lot you are not looking into after Cloud is taken away for awhile. Also, what is the motivation Shinra has in the first place to become such a power? It's a thick game that could be discussed endlessly.

Anonymous said...

Final fantasy vii is the most complicated story of final fantasy title ever.
Crisis Core (the prequel), Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus (the sequelss have made me 'go crazy'..i love them so much and hopefully this Original Final Fantasy VII will be made 'remake' version for Ps3!
Ohh,nice to know that you love this game!!

See ya next time

Audacious Epigone said...



Re: the triangle, I may have missed something, but this is my take: Cloud went through the portrayed Hemingway experience In Love and War--he was attracted to her early, felt he got burned, and ended up rejecting her later in life when she became interested in him. Re: Aires, he rescued the damsel, rejecting her advances (or went with them begrudginly) and then she died, before anything of substance transpired.

Keep in mind, I haven't played the prequel or either of the sequels--if you're drawing from them, I'm going to be ignorant.

I thought about doing something regarding the Turks, even the superficial "German perception" of the word the Japanese tend to give to "Turks" (going all the way back to the 8-bit, Turks were mafia-style thugs).

Re: focusing more on the mainline story and the major characters involved, a problem I had getting into the game is that I really didn't find a single character admirable. I wouldn't go as far as to say that the game is bete noir, but as a player I didn't feel all that antagonistic toward the Shinra.

Have to pick and choose in the end, I guess.

Dark Bahamut,

I'm looking forward to them at some point in the future. Right now I'm playing FFX. The timing is impeccable: Seymour offers a lot for a cynical view of the Obama candidacy/sensation.

eh said...

That was an enjoyable read, thanks.

Bassisto said...

I've always noticed a ver socially relevant storyline from this game (well, it would've been a year or two after having it). A lot of things come together wonderfully, while in this game I think the mastermind's(plural or non)thoughts all together was a slop job. That's what made it so wonderful and deep though!
I don't remember much of what I got out of the story, but I know it was quite a bit different than this, if I ever philosophise it again, I'll come to you (provided your game). Otherwise, this is really good.
Not reading your one on "X" yet, I'll have to compare with your's. I've got that fully done (as soon as I see the damn ending that is!).

Audacious Epigone said...


FF games tend to have a sloppy metaphysical undercurrent in them that is never satisfactorily flushed out. I think that's probably for the better, because I tend to find it kind of annoying and silly.

You're almost done with X? Me too, I think. I don't ever use walkthroughs, so I can never really be sure, but I (finally) have an airship now and have logged 50 hours. I'm really enjoying the gameplay, although I'm having trouble coming up with a whole lot to blather about. I think the battle system is one of the best ever devised. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

OVER 9000!!!

squarepusher said...

Other themes in Final Fantasy VII:

- The whole race issue/breeding of technological soldiers/Sephiroth's wish to become a god in his own right (or claiming to carry the genetic makeup of a divine race) seems to call to mind the Thule Society and the whole Aryan superrace concept of 1930s/1940s Nazi Germany, and to a lesser extent, the Theosophic Society where the Thule Society derived its ideas from.

Also, the name Sephiroth is a clear allusion to the Kabbalah. ('tree of life')

- The underclass and the upper-class population in Midgar is taken from HG Wells' The Time Machine. They're not so much non-conformists or thought criminals from Orwell's 1984 - they're just animals/feeble minds from Shinra's perspective. There also seem to be a conspicious lack of surveillance in the slums - it seems Shinra puts in guttersnipe mob bosses like Don Corneo to keep the unwashed masses in check (feudalism?), and doesn't bother to keep them under the same rigid control as the upper class - economic considerations perhaps or simply plain indifference.

I think the story has gotten a bad rap because of the horrible translation - because on closer inspection it's quite well thought-out and full of literary references.

Audacious Epigone said...

Re: translation:

Would you like to fight on?

- Yes, off course!
- No, way!

squarepusher said...

Ah, yes, but that is not the worst offender. Don't forget 'This guy are sick'.

Translation errors

The only line Jenova utters in the game is, ironically, a typo:

'Beacause, you are... a puppet'

It's almost as if they were trying to take the piss - to see if the QA department was sleeping on the job.

squarepusher said...

More interesting allusions/references:

Cultural references

An excerpt from Joseph Haydn's Creation is heard in the cut scene video where the Sector 7 is destroyed and President Shin-Ra admires his handwork.

The lyrics of the music (One-Winged Angel) heard in the game's gigantic big end fight were taken from Carmina Burana - a collection of medieval secular (to say the least) songs, and a Carl Orff's famous composition involving the lyrics from 1937.

Heidegger: A reference to German philosopher and Nazi Party member Martin Heidegger.

Audacious Epigone said...


Good points, all, I had no idea about the first or second. I thought about the third, but didn't find much similarity besides the names (not in what is said, physical resemblance, etc) as I point out in an addition to the body of the post.

squarepusher said...

More interesting tidbits:

FF7 name origins:

Tifa: Kaballah again, Tiferet is one of the 'sefira' in the 'Tree of Life/Sephiroth' concept of the Kaballah.

-The sefirot Tiferet represents beauty, balance and love - a description that applies fairly well to the role of the character, Tifa. Also, Tifa is the one who saves Cloud through her love and Christian Kabbalists believe that Tiferet symbolizes self-sacrifice and "the will to carry one’s neighbor’s cross". On Tarot cards, Tiferet is pictured as a heart (as in Lockheart!), and sometimes as an angel (Tifa’s bar is called the "Seventh Heaven" and her last Limit Break is the "Final Heaven").

Lucrecia was a woman who was raped by Tarquinius, the last Roman king. "The Rape of Lucrece" is a poem by Shakespeare based on this.
-This is a strong allusion to the way Lucrecia conceives her child, Sephiroth. Either Hojo raped her (which the story does not necessarily suggest) or the name is just intended to show that Hojo’s experiment are "a rape of nature", an unnatural act.

Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558) was one of the "founding fathers" of the early Protestant church in Europe and a close friend of Martin Luther. He helped organizing the Reformation in Northern Germany and Scandinavia and became a famous theologian and scholar as well as an expert in matters of public education and social questions.
-Bugenhagen’s name illustrates his wisdom and his reputation as a man who is master of both religious lore and science/technology.

The Hebrew name of God is Jehovah. The last two syllables of Jenova, ‘–nova’, translate into ‘new’.
Jenova is a ‘new god’, or wants to become one. She’s an usurper trying to rob the powers of the planet.

Goes back to a family of hereditary regents to the shogunate of Japan who exercised actual rule from 1199 to 1333. During that period, nine successive members of the family held the regency. The Hojo took their name from their small estate in the Kanogawa Valley in Izu Province.
-Hojo = power. There may be a more subtle meaning to this, but I fail to see it. Any Japanese out there willing to help me?

squarepusher said...

Even the game's endboss names seems to have a Kabbalistic meaning:

Safer Sephiroth - Sepher Sephiroth

The final enemy, Safer Sephiroth, might be meant to be Sepher Sephiroth, which means 'the book of countings' in Hebrew.

See 'Sepher Sephiroth' (revised) - by Allan Bennet and Aleister Crowley.

(Incidentally, Crowley was an infamous occultist that practised in sex magick and occult rituals. He was also big into 'Kaballah' and secret occult fraternities. He often played up his infamous reputation by referring to himself as 'The Beast'.)

Audacious Epigone said...


More great work, wow! It is past time for vgame scholarship to become a serious academic discipline.

Anonymous said...

Audacious Epigone: this is Squarepusher. I recently registered a blog on Wordpress. Check it out. The Final Fantasy VII article is not entirely finished yet (I still need to write about the Norse mythology/root race themes prevalent in the game), but I'm sure you'll like it.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I thought your comment about "typical black behavior" was way off-based and inappropriate. Black people are not typically physically imposing and unable to control their anger. That's just a stupid stereotype that less-educated 'white' people seem to carry. We need to show them more respect if incorrect notions like that are ever going to disappear, and your comment really shows that you buy into the nonesense. Maybe you should get some black friends and embrace reality.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

The writer of has written a superior article. I got your point and there is nothing to argue about. It is like the following universal truth that you can not disagree with: The more famous the guest, the duller the interview I will be back.

Anonymous said...

Overall a good review of the game. Keep in mind that Tifa actually does fight for the planet though, she helps bomb a reactor (although she eventually feels remorse), is in favor of Cloud protecting the condors/the birds in Mt Corel, proclaims herself a member of AVALANCHE when the party meets Rufus Shinra, etc. I always thought Cait Sith/Reeve didn't care about the environment, just about Shinra's human oppression.

Anonymous said...

Interesting overanalysis from seven.

There is James Lovelock's theory about Gaia, and I think this one concept how to see this living planet, lifestreams and enviromental activism about this game. This also lighten some other final fantasy games too.

Sephiroth name comes simply from a angelic hierarcy, where it is highest rank and has six wings. Those could be fallen angels or not.

Wutai war is symbolical second world war in Japan. This sister ray cannon pointed at Wutai is kind of a nuclear weapon threath against Japan to end war.
Its kind of a pistol pointed at someone's head and they have no other choice than surrender.