There is a lot of hubbub regarding the remake of Final Fantasy 7. I acknowledge that you may be reading this article in the far future, when we’ve all already defeated HD Sephiroth by decree of our robot dog overlords, but as I write this, the internet is abuzz with conjecture and theorizing on what SE could have in mind for the “reimagining” of one of the most popular and beloved RPGs of all time. One popular theory/threat is that SE will drastically overhaul Final Fantasy 7’s generally goofy story/scenarios to create a much more dramatic, serious game. It’s a well-founded fear, as the recent Final Fantasy 13: Lightning Returns was a very grim, dramatic game wherein heroine Lightning dressed up as a neon raver and purchased illegal fireworks from a series of scantily clad birdwomen before joining a drama troupe to break into her brother in law’s cyclops-infested castle. She frowned almost the entire time!
I have concluded that it is impossible to divorce Final Fantasy 7 from its ridiculous roots. Yes, you could remove Cloud’s cross dressing adventures, and, yes, we will likely see a softening of the fact that AVALANCE is a gang of domestic terrorists led by an angry black man, but, well, have you even looked at the cast of Final Fantasy 7? It starts pretty straightforward: ex-military hero, his childhood friend, caring father forced into a violent life, teenage girl pursued by the government for being born different; it’s all pretty standard character archetypes. Then you are joined by a proud warrior trying to escape his heritage… who also happens to be a talking dog. A ninja girl sneaks her way into your party for the exclusive purpose of trying to rob you blind. In a gigantic casino, you are joined by a toyasaurus that is eventually revealed to be a double agent, but no one is at all concerned its biology or technology or the fact that the bottom half of the creature is maybe a slave to the top half? Just so many questions that Cloud and company don’t ask after their adventure infiltrating a Shinra base with the assistance of Flipper. And one of the final AVALANCE recruits is a vampire (shut-up, fanboys. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…) that can turn into the wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, Jason Voorhees, and Satan. At any given moment in Final Fantasy 7, a full 66% of your party may be Pokémon (“Cait sith, caith sith?” “Nanaki!”). Let me see you grim-dark away that.
Yet, there is a significant contingent out there that sees Final Fantasy 7 as very serious business. Cloud is a hero fighting for his friends and fallen family against a man he used to admire. The planet is in jeopardy, an evil conglomerate is bleeding it dry, and only a few brave men and women have the power to save it. Square-Enix itself seems to believe this is the “real” Final Fantasy 7, as every sequel and prequel has leaned heavily on the somber tones of Vincent Valentine’s quest for a backstory or Cloud Strife’s journey toward being the kind of guy that isn’t embarrassed to say “mosey” again. Hell, even Cloud’s own Buster Sword has acquired the kind of bloody, miserable past that makes me feel kinda bad about stowing it in my inventory and forgetting it forever about a half hour into its debut game. I understand the almost pathological “need” for Final Fantasy 7 to be serious; after all, if Final Fantasy 7 is just a silly game about a fat moogle training arcanine and charizard’s illegitimate offspring to trounce Turks, then what was the point? I can’t have devoted eighty hours to a controller and untold days discussing the labyrinthine plot with my friends if all we were discussing was… was… some kind of game!
And then something comes along to remind us that, yes, it’s all silly and absurd and just a game, and you know what? It’s all okay.
While its creators may never admit such, Shadow Hearts: From the New World seems to be almost a direct parody of a combination of Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 10. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a blond teenage boy is torn from his modern life and thrown beyond the veil into a world of magic and monsters. He joins a woman who has trained all her life to channel these mystical entities, and, with her life-long, generally quiet guardian, they venture toward a goal where the heroine sacrifices her life for the greater good, but there may be a change of plans once the “mundane” blonde in the tale finds he has more familial ties to the fiends than he thought. The remainder of the party seems to be compliments of FF7: a skilled ninja trying to support ailing Ninja Hometown, a talking cat (!?!) that is a big, white fluffball with ties to a malicious organization, and a shapeshifting vampire. The only wholly original character on the roster is Ricardo Gomez, who seems to be an answer to the question of “can a bard be cool?” Yes, yes he can, as long as he plays flamenco and has a rocket launcher in his guitar. He’s also dating Al Capone’s sister.
Oh yes, Shadow Hearts: FTNW does distinguish itself from its Fantasy contemporaries by placing itself in the “real world”, specifically in late 1920s Americas. And, by “real world”, I am referring to the fact that Native Americans have very real god-summoning powers, Area 51 is capturing vampires and Roger Bacon, and, oh yeah, there are bipedal cats in Hollywood with their own movie studio producing a film featuring Cat Morita and The Meowenator. The be clear, this is not a CW fantasy drama where there are eldritch horrors lurking deep below the surface if you know where to look, this is a world where Al Capone is super best friends with a bootlegging cat who commands a Brazilian, 40-something ninja.
This game does not take itself seriously. Not to say there are not staid moments, oh no, there certainly is enough angst to go around when everyone learns their own most terrible secret or daddy issues are revealed to be the source of Cthulhu’s awakening, but even in the grimmest dungeon (literally Purgatory, in this case, which, in a fun bit, takes the time to assign the seven deadly sins to your seven party members) you still have a vampire on the team that morphs not into a blood thirsty beast or infernal demon, but a cute lil’ pink bat or a chubby version of herself (or the chubby version of the vampire could be the base, and the skinny version is the morph… I just know I got more mileage out of the “curvy” version, as a white mage with actual attack power goes a long way). Shadow Hearts: FTNW takes the time to remind the player that, yes, it’s okay to laugh, enjoy yourself, this is a game, and it’s no more ridiculous that our ninja produces a super energy snowball and bowls it than it is that that other ninja has the ability to summon a dragon from the depths of space and shoot an energy beam across the solar system.
And we would all do well to remember the lessons of Shadow Hearts: FTNW. Yes, we live in a serious world where actions have consequences and it could turn out that someone who used to command your respect is now responsible for atrocities that must be avenged. Yes, sometimes it’s up to you to steel yourself and fight for what you believe in. But you know what? We also live in a world of wonders, and, by God, some of those wonders are absurd. The fact that these words I’m typing on my couch on a sunny afternoon will be beamed across the world to people I’ve never met could equally terrify and amaze me, but I choose simply to laugh at the possibility of it all. Even if a company chooses to drain the humor and whimsy from a story, we still have the shock and joy of what we once encountered, and nothing will ever take that from us.
And Mao the Cat and Red XIII should totally get their own team-up spin-off. It practically writes itself!
FGC #15 Shadow Hearts From the New World
- System: Playstation 2… hey, versions of all the games reviewed this week are playable on the PS2. Neat!
- Number of Players: One cherry-boy.
- Favorite Character: Hilda, the previously mentioned vampire with an eating disorder and metabolic issues. Plot/Traits/Personality aside, I am a big fan of the concept of a combatant that can be a white mage one minute and a black mage the next, without being the lame inbetweener red mage class. It creates a nice little mini strategy to determine “which” Hilda would be most useful for your circumstance. Also, I bumped into Hilda before “goth lolita vampire” became a neverending thing in Japan.
- Says the guy with a Rachel Alucard nendoroid: Hey, it came with the special edition! What was I going to do? Throw it out?
- Wanna tie this into your obvious obsession with Kingdom Hearts? Fine. Hilda’s best weapon is basically and almost literally stated to be a Keyblade. And I will note that I’d rather Hilda be the hero of the next Kingdom Hearts game than Sora. Hell, it would double the number of decent female characters in that franchise.
- So why haven’t we seen a sequel? Because this game was tragically released in the dark ages before the reign of cat memes. Had this game dropped after the internet came into full bloom, we’d be kickstarting Shadow Hearts 11 Gaiden: Frank’s Revenge right now.
- Did you know? Al Capone did have two sisters, Rose and Mafalda, but “Edna Capone” was created from whole cloth for this game. Why the writers chose to use an actual, real-life character and pair him up with a fictional sibling when the guy already had eight real siblings is anyone’s guess.
- Would I play again? I’ve been meaning to, and the brief time I spent with the game for this article reminded me that I really enjoy the nuts and bolts of actually playing this game. There is a New Game + feature just waiting for me… but… ugh… this is just never going to see a remake/rerelease, is it? Damn, PS2 games are just so ugly looking now…
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Lunar Silver Star Harmony. That’s the PSP version, for those of you that are curious. ROB is really on a JRPG kick these days, and it looks like we’re hitting the J pretty hard on this one… Please look forward to it!