Tag Archives: final fantasy 7

FGC #180 Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core

SLASHLike the ouroboros, here is the tail of the Final Fantasy 7 Compilation, and the head of the Final Fantasy 7 story.

Let’s review the Final Fantasy 7 franchise. Final Fantasy 7 was a straight JRPG that redefined gaming and, incidentally, was pretty damn fun to play. Ehrgeiz wasn’t technically a FF7 game, but it featured almost the entire main cast, and eschewed all the trappings of a plot for a fighting game that amounted to “let’s have fun with these guys”. In a way, it was almost proto-Dissidia. Advent Children, meanwhile, was Ehrgeiz’s opposite, nonexistent gameplay in exchange for a reunion (ha!) special that focused primarily on Cloud’s various psychoses. Dirge of Cerberus was an action game with a plot, but both parts were severely lacking when stacked against Vincent’s debut game. And, starting before even Advent Children, there was Before Crisis, an episodic cell phone game featuring the Turks that never saw release in North America. Given I can only guess at its content, I’m forced to conclude that it was exactly as unnecessary as Final Fantasy 4: The After Years, though I’d love to be proven otherwise. Still, anything primarily staring Reno cannot, by definition, be any good.

It’s a personal bias, yes, but I always felt that the individual pieces of Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 did not combine to form a Voltron that could face the robeast that was the original Final Fantasy 7. I’m not even that big of a fan of Final Fantasy 7 (on my general Final Fantasy rankings chart, it’s above anything from the NES, but I’d put 4, 6, 8, 12, and even 13 higher than 7. This is, again, completely subjective, so don’t think too hard about it), so it’s not like I’m putting the game on that high of a pedestal. But Advent Children was a popcorn flick about as substantial as kernels, and Dirge was a game roughly as fun as licking a fire poker (I speak from experience!). As an added bonus, both games “expanded the mythology” in a manner that seemed to only weaken the original Final Fantasy 7. So Sephiroth can just come back to life whenever he wants despite Cloud’s final cathartic omnislash? And there are somehow entire countries that we missed exploring back when AVALANCHE was touring? Great, now I just want a bigger, badder Final Fantasy 7, and not this parade of spinoffs.

Final Fantasy 7 Voltron needed something else. It needed its Blazing Sword. It needed Crisis Core.

Crisis Core is Zack’s story. Zack, you may recall, was little more than Cloud’s palette swap in the original Final Fantasy 7. While I don’t believe ATTACK!Zack appeared onscreen for very much of Final Fantasy 7’s original release (hey, who’s that in the picture?), FF7 NA included a few scenes of Cloud and Zack escaping from Hojo, and Zack… dying. Zack, ultimately, is the Uncle Ben to Cloud’s Spider-Man, so, right from jump street, there was no way Crisis Core would wrap up with a happy ending. Additionally, this forces Crisis Core into being a prequel, and thus cursed with all the problems that great men like George Lucas have never been able to overcome. Enjoy all these amazing characters achieving grand goals? Great! Now you get to watch them before they got anything done, and, by plot rules, will be incapable of accomplishing anything!

And, make no mistake, Crisis Core is burdened with some particularly groan-worthy retcons. Zack named the bar that would become Tifa’s Seventh Heaven. Aeris wears her signature pink outfit exclusively for Zack’s return. The Turks, and Tseng in particular, have a great interest in Aeris not only for Shinra, but also as a personal favor to Zack. And, most aggravating of all, Sephiroth is revealed to not be the only science experiment stalking the halls of SOLDIER, no, Sephiroth’s contemporaries, Angeal and Genesis were also pumped full of midichlorians Jenova Cells, and at least one of those guys tried to destroy the world a good couple of years before Meteor was even a glimmer in the cosmos (the other one turned into a dog or something). On one hand, sure, it makes sense that there would be a few other “test cases” spawning from Hojo’s lab, but on the other hand, come on, way to weaken your scary, imposing, and, most of all, memorable big bad by just making him one of a batch.

MONSTERBut, despite all the prequel problems inherit to the story, Crisis Core seems to be the only worthy successor to the Final Fantasy 7 name within the compilation. And it’s not because it’s the first game to even try to simulate something like a “real” Final Fantasy 7 feel, it’s because it’s finally about something.

This, ultimately, is the secret to a good prequel. Far too many prequels (and, yes, Star Wars springs immediately to mind here) spend all their time carefully lining up the dominos for the actually good story. Here’s the Buster Sword, here’s exactly where it got its start, who owned it, and every enemy it bisected before it got to Cloud. Yes, that kind of thing is inevitably interesting to someone that already experienced the original story (and, incidentally, possibly spent a decade on Gamefaqs theorizing and debating unexplained gaps), but to someone that simply played Final Fantasy 7 and then called it a day and moved on to 1997’s other releases (or someone who didn’t play Final Fantasy 7 at all), it’s just rote plot filler. Woo, Warrior X is super attached to Sword Y, haven’t seen that before. No, what a prequel needs is a story of its own, and, more importantly, a theme of its own.

Except, my bad, Crisis Core doesn’t have a theme of its own.

Crisis Core is, much like its ancestor, completely obsessed with fate. We already know Sephiroth’s story, but, once again, here’s a man that discovers his origins, and then absolutely flips until Nibelheim is a smoking crater, and the planet is steered onto a similar path. Genesis, Sephiroth’s red-headed step brother, has a similarly destructive outlook on life, but believes his fate is being steered not by his genetic origins, but his literary origins. Yes, Genesis is, essentially, a malevolent English Major. Regardless of the source, both whackjobs endanger the entire planet because they’re convinced they’re meant to. Angeal is on the side of the angels (oh, I just got that), but he’s similarly shackled by duty and destiny. He’s the good guy because he (mostly) follows orders and looks out for his subordinates, but, still, he’s, in a manner of speaking, “just following orders”.

And then there’s Zack.

WoooZack is an actual SOLDIER 2nd Class at the start of the game (which, incidentally, means AVALANCHE likely would have slaughtered the guy had he never received a promotion), but eventually becomes an actual SOLDIER 1st Class to stand with the greats like legendary Black Trench Coat and easily forgotten Red Trench Coat. Zack spends most of his life following orders, not only during the plot, but also through a series of side missions that are assigned via Shrina and various other hangers-on. Zack, here’s a tip, when you’re taking orders from a pre-pubescent Yuffie, you’re maybe a little too obedient.

Eventually, Zack is betrayed by SOLDIER and Shinra, and he becomes a man on the run. But even when Zack is separated from the company and companions that have defined his life up to this point, he’s still following clearly defined, short-term “missions”. Protect a comatose Cloud. Stop Genesis from doing… whatever he’s doing. Empty every indistinct cave of every generic monster. You can take the boy out of SOLDIER, but you can’t take the SOLDIER out of the boy. Throughout it all, Zack seems to retain one overarching goal, and that’s to return to Aeris back in Midgar… a goal that is, yet again, in service to another person.

And, as we all know, Zack isn’t going to achieve everything on his bucket list. Despite eventually obtaining enough broken materia to take down a planetary goddess, Zack is still going to be gunned down by a trio of soldiers as Cloud looks on, because, without that event, there is no Final Fantasy 7. It’s a tragedy, you know what’s going to happen, and it becomes an echo of Aeris’s own fate in Final Fantasy 7 (unless you’re one of the twelve people on Earth that didn’t have that death spoiled by a FAQ, strategy guide, “well-meaning” friend, or me). Bye ByeKnowing Zack’s fate, every action, every life saved, every afternoon wasted punching ostriches has that much more meaning for a man with a death sentence. Maybe Zack completes every mission, maybe he just speeds through “his” story, but no matter the choices he makes, there’s no getting off the train Zack’s on, and his last stop isn’t Midgar Station, but a forgotten hill that will be seared into Cloud’s (repressed) memory.

So enjoy Crisis Core. Enjoy a game that, finally, at the end of the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7, remembers what Final Fantasy 7 was all about. It’s about fate. It’s about choices, both real and imaginary. It’s not about fights with hulking dragons or invincible WEAPONs, it’s not even about saving the planet. It’s about people, what they do, and what they try to do to make their lives better.

Crisis Core does what no other piece of Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 does: it makes Final Fantasy 7 better. And if you don’t want to play Final Fantasy 7 upon completing Crisis Core, well, then maybe you’re just a puppet without emotions.

FGC #180 Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core

  • System: PSP, and only PSP. I, however, will be shocked if we don’t see a Type 0-style HD remake of this game before at least one of the Final Fantasy 7 HD Episodes.
  • Number of Players: One Zack. Wait, let me make sure someone didn’t try to shoe-horn in a 2-Player Mission mode or something… okay, yeah, just one player.
  • Port Problems: Assuming Crisis Core does wind up on anything but a portable system, it will be a loss for the game. Crisis Core’s gameplay soars because it has about a thousand short, “meaningless” missions that are ideal for quick play sessions or while watching TV (or both). A Crisis Core that still basically requires all those Grumblebite-sized missions (for leveling, materia acquisition, etc), but must be played on the big screen during dedicated couch time would not be nearly as enjoyable.
  • To be the very best: Yes, I 100% completed every mission in this game. It’s a testament to how good the gameplay in Crisis Core actually is, but it’s also a result of the PSP seeing practically zero software after its initial launch. But, once a year, Square Enix released a PSP game actually worthwhile (see also: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Dissidia, and Final Fantasy 4 Complete [my “last” PSP game]), and I’d be damned before I let a system I purchased wallow in disuse. Work that battery, PSP!
  • Barrett? No Barrett. Fine time to look at the start of Avalanche, but nooooope.
  • Buster Blues: Much fuss throughout this plot is placed on the Buster Sword, what it means to its various owners, and how important it has been throughout the lead-up to Final Fantasy 7. The Buster Sword even originated with Angeal’s poor family saving up to purchase the iconic blade for their son… so it’s kind of a shame that it’s the absolute weakest sword Cloud can equip, and it’ll start soaking up inventory mildew five seconds out of Midgar.
  • Did you know? Genesis survives this game, and is dragged past the good Final Fantasy 7 games to appear in the secret ending of Dirge of Cerberus as the reawaked “G”. This was supposed to be important and spooky and oh boy what is Genesis going to do next… but, nope, Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 ended chronologically with Dirge, so we won’t know what Red gets up to after awakening unless, I suppose, Final Fantasy 7 HD is a monster success worthy of new, original content. Sorry, Genesis, you’re loveless.
  • Would I play again? Yes, despite complaints that a “TV Version” would suck all the fun out of the experience, it’s pretty inevitable that I’ll play whatever version of Crisis Core we see in the future. It’s a surprisingly good game (particularly compared to its contemporaries), and I wouldn’t mind seeing poor, doomed Zack ride again.

What’s next? Regular service resumes next week, and Random ROB has chosen… Splatoon for the WiiU! Time to get our squidly bits a-paintin’! Please look forward to it!

Let's call it a day

FGC #179 Dirge of Cerberus -Final Fantasy VII-

DIRGE!Dirge of Cerberus promised to be more Final Fantasy 7, and what could go wrong with that? Turns out the answer is “everything”. I mean, more Final Fantasy 7, right? Well what would you like more of, Goggle Bob of 1997?

1. More development for beloved characters!

As mentioned in the article itself, on my most recent replay of Final Fantasy 7, I tried to stick to what I consider the “main” party, which is primarily Cloud (well, duh), Tifa, Barret, and Aeris (where available). On previous runs of Final Fantasy 7, I had a tendency to lean on characters like Cait Sith and Vincent because I found their mechanics (and, frankly, graphics) interesting. Tifa is fun an’ all, but she’s nothing next to an eternally combusting puppy dog. When you leave the B-Team out of the party, though, their occasional character moments seem almost… surprising. But not the good kind of surprising. Cait Sith’s initial betrayal at the Golden Saucer would have a lot more impact if I had been reminded of his presence in the gang maybe even once before he started robbing me, and then the exact same thing happens with Yuffie right around the same time. This is a detriment to FF7’s party, as the rest of the party looks moderately brain damaged for immediately re-accepting thieves and traitors back into AVALANCHE. It makes sense if Yuffie was the only reason everyone survived Jenova’s latest assault, but it’s a lot harder to believe if she was benched from the moment she joined (after an attempted robbery), and hasn’t done a thing since.

This was an issue that was corrected in later Final Fantasy games (Zell and Kimahri are both characters that come to mind as pretty much never actually being part of my party, but at least maintain a presence throughout the game), but that left the “optional” cast of Final Fantasy 7 shivering out in the cold (uh, literally at Icicle Mountain, don’t wear shorts in a blizzard, Yuffie) after their adventure ended. Oh, Reeve, there was so much we could have learned from you!

This was the strongest case with Vincent Valentine, Final Fantasy 7’s second hidden character. While Final Fantasy 6 had a couple of hidden characters that were various degrees of “mute”, Final Fantasy 7 GO FOR ITwent ahead and made its hidden characters actual characters, with Yuffie the ninja genki girl, and Vincent Valentine, the silent, brooding type with a tragic past and the ability to transform into monsters. Really, coming off of Chrono Trigger, it seemed like Square was trying to ape the popularity of Magus with another anti-hero that spoke exclusively in ellipses, but, like CT, this was likely a narrative cheat to account for a character that may or may not be present. Since Vincent (or Magus) can’t say anything earthshaking after their possible joining, why not just make the character stoic and almost mute? The audience will fill in the blanks!

Bad news: Final Fantasy 7’s audience, like all fandoms, demanded details for everybody. Dirge of Cerberus’s plot seems designed to fill in those gaps, complete with a sort of inverted cast: Vincent is the prime main character, Yuffie is practically his sidekick, and Reeve/Cait Sith seems to fill the early mentor role previously occupied by Barret. Meanwhile, the old main cast (Cloud, Tifa, Barret) are little more than cameo characters, and I don’t think we even get a peek at Aeris chilling in the afterlife. So, finally, we get to see these characters and their full backstories and… oh, it’s terrible.

Alright, I’m being a little rough here, but, basically, instead of revealing new facets of these characters, everything just got turned up to eleven. Vincent is stoic and brooding to the point that he just comes off as a self-obsessed dick. Yuffie has become a ninja version of early Sailor Moon… which isn’t so great when you consider that Sailor Moon was, technically, an eighth grader. Silly CaitAnd Reeve… I don’t have a clue what’s going on there. I think he has a split personality? Like, Cait Sith is part of his brain… and… Scottish for some reason? I really have no idea what’s happening, just that, as ever, Reeve is a well-meaning administrator and Cait Sith is the remote muscle.

Lucrecia, Vincent’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of Sephiroth, probably gets it the worst. Lucrecia was little more than a few dialogue boxes in the original Final Fantasy 7, but now she becomes simultaneously a mad scientist researching ancient eldritch horrors and a (revisionist) Aeris-level saint. Aw, she spent so long trying to make a near-dead Vincent better with proto-materia (that phrase, in no way, makes any sense) and Chaos genes and oh yeah, this is all tangentially related to a Weapon that is capable of destroying the world. And I’m not usually one to comment on fashion, but her lab coat/heels combo is one of the most ridiculous outfits I’ve ever seen outside of “sexy scientist” fetish costumes that I’m not admitting to owning.

2. More new characters!

Oh, Lord, what is happening here?

SCIENCE!

I take it back, that is the most ridiculous outfit possible for “female scientist”. No, I don’t care that her backstory explains how many harsh realities she’s had to triumph over to get to whatever that outfit is supposed to convey, that is just… good God, how did anyone think that was okay?

The rest of the new characters aren’t quite as ridiculous, but still just a parade of lazy tropes. There’s angry strongman, goth revenger, angry sword girl, and bishy dual wielding original character do not steal. Come to think of it, the unimaginably named Weiss is Sephiroth, but with fluffier hair and, instead of one, big sword, he’s got two smaller swords.

This is not how you add to a vibrant world already filled with toyasauruses and inexplicably hovering old men. This is Organization 13 all over again (or maybe a prelude? How do the releases line up?), a bunch of dudes that look cool and interesting in preview materials, but have all the substance of an anorexic ghost. Nero looks cool and your imagination races with all the possibilities of why he’s like that and does he have some relationship with Vincent or Lucrecia or… oh, wait, he’s just really into his Livejournal and got into a freak shaving accident at Hot Topic.

Worst of all is Shelke the Transparent (no relation to the Netflix series). Shelke, right off the bat, is that horrid “I’m legal but I look like a nine year old” archetype that seems to have been making the rounds in Japan for the last decade. Shelke, at least, isn’t completely sexualized (besides wearing what amounts to a future catsuit for the entire game), Wooobut her plot is some kind of Star Trek: The Next Generation rejected plot nonsense. Aw, she’s a science experiment like Vincent, and lost her emotions, but an inexplicable cyber/psychic connection with Lucrecia causes her emotions to reawaken, and, oh, Chaos, what is this emotion humans call… wuv? It’s a storyline that’s pulpy and obvious from its introduction, but the game stretches the razor thin premise from start to finish, so by the time Shelke finally finds love and… wait… did Vincent just ride off into the sunset with a nine year old quasi-clone of his ex?

3. More action!

Final Fantasy 7 opened a lot of doors for Squaresoft, and before The Spirits Within slammed that door shut, it seemed like Squaresoft was capable of making any kind of game, from fighter to shooter to whatever Brave Fencer Musashi was supposed to be. Food eating sim? Anyway, as Ehregeiz already proved, the Final Fantasy 7 cast was more than capable of existing in a more dynamic, less simulating environment like a Fighting Game, so why not pop over into the action world? And while we’re at it, let’s throw Vincent into that action role, as his arsenal and ludicrously spiked shoes should adapt well to running and gunning. It didn’t have to be the next Metal Gear or Contra, but it’d be neat to see a beloved character running around and actually, you know, running.

Oh, how naïve we were.

The Square-Enix that made Dirge of Cerberus was not the Squaresoft that made Einhänder, though. The Squaresoft that could lovingly craft a game in an “unfamiliar” genre was long gone, and what we got was a hot mess. It wasn’t unplayable, but the lazy mixing of JRPG and Action game elements was a detriment to everyone involved. Items, money, and experience are all things to be properly maintained across the game, but their distribution is miserly at best, and, while it’s theoretically a good thing to reward an expert player with more prizes than a more haphazard player, in practice it means that an amateur player is forced to grind against the same stupid areas repeatedly in order to accumulate enough doodads to survive later stages. And it certainly doesn’t help that you can trade EXP for money. Want to know the advantages of forgoing a level up for enough cash to purchase a new weapon? So do I! Hm?The choice isn’t the bad thing here, it’s that the player has no indication what choice is even being made. What’s more valuable: a potion that restores health, or having more health in the first place? It’s a question for the ages, and Dirge offers no answers.

This wouldn’t be such a pain if the action segment of the game was just a tweak better. The double jumping, general run, and shooting segments aren’t bad, they just feel kind of floaty and… off. Vincent can rarely clear so much as a guardrail with his double jump, so that jump feels more vestigial than an actual viable maneuver. Opponents have a tendency to soak bullets until the final blow, so gunning an enemy down feels as weightless and divorced from the player as choosing a Fight command and watching Cloud swing a sword (I’d rank Chrono Trigger’s Crono’s critical hit sound effect as more weighty than Vincent’s titular pistols). And it’s fairly often that Vincent himself is beset by enemy bullets… but you wouldn’t know it if your health wasn’t draining, because Vincent reacts more like he’s simply standing in the way of a strong breeze (that will eventually cause him to bleed out). It adds up to a tremendously low adrenaline experience: you are in danger, you are mowing down opponents, but it doesn’t feel right, so it’s very easy to quit and seek a game that actually reacts to your input.

Dirge of Cerberus, in every conceivable way, feels like a JRPG that is just trying on Action game pants, but nothing fits right. Maybe if you try the next size up? No, now you look like a clown…

4. More Serious!

Final Fantasy 7 was great, but what if it was a serious piece of literary work, like Xenogears?

SOOOOO SAD

Aw, dammit.

5. More Weapons!

Alright, there’s a lot of cool stuff in Final Fantasy 7, but I can’t be alone in thinking the coolest thing in FF7 not wearing a trenchcoat is the concept of the Weapons. They’re Godzilla-sized creatures of all shapes and sizes (huge to gigantic), and their variety was rivaled only by their destructive payloads. It’s a rare game that gives you your choice of mammoth, world-obliterating monsters, and considering that Emerald and Ruby Weapon occupy the “first super boss” status for a lot of people, it seems only natural that a Final Fantasy 7 sequel would expand on that particular point.

All you winnersBut, once again, Dirge sticks the landing, and Omega Weapon, the true, final Weapon is unleashed. Rather than being a simple, force of nature monster created by the very planet you’re sworn to protect (basically the universe’s worst personnel screw up, ever), Omega Weapon has a complicated backstory involving a planet that is, at best, really confused. Omega Weapon was created to drag the Lifestream off planet, with Chaos (yes, what was simply Vincent’s final limit break in FF7) as a harbinger who… kills whatever is left? But there’s a proto-materia, and its purpose is to work as a remote control for both entities, because there’s no chance that could go horribly wrong. In the end, this whole train wreck is solved by Vincent transforming into a “controlled” Chaos, and slashing a reawakened Omega Weapon into oblivion (or at least some kind of extra celestial body).

But did you see what happened there? Vincent took down an entire planet threatening weapon by himself. Yes, he had the power-up of proto-materia and Chaos control, but any hedgehog could pull that off, and now Vincent… is more powerful than most of the planet? I know the Final Fantasy 7 world is one where whoever is holding the MASTER Knights of the Round materia can rule the universe, but it seems more than a little… reductive when Vincent can beat back a city-sized threat with his damn limit break.

This is, in a nut shell, Dirge of Cerberus’s greatest failure: in trying to expand the world of Final Fantasy 7, everything got smaller. Vincent is just a brooding sad sack. Yuffie is always going to be an immature wannabe. Reeve might have a psychological disorder. Final Fantasy villains are immortal. Weapons are exactly as strong as your party. It takes everything that everyone imagined about Final Fantasy 7 and makes it… less.

So, good job, Dirge of Cerberus, you gave 1997 Goggle Bob exactly what he wanted, and proved exactly why I should never have wanted such a thing.

FGC #179 Dirge of Cerberus -Final Fantasy VII-

  • System: Playstation 2. I wouldn’t hold your breath expecting a HD rerelease of this one, though. Aw, who am I kidding? Square knows where their butter is churned, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to replay this one in the future.
  • Get 'emNumber of Players: Did you know there was a multiplayer mode in the original Japanese release, but it was dropped for the American release? It’s true! It had its own storyline and everything. Can you imagine just how bad it had to be to be completely dropped from the Western release?
  • Importable: In a weird way, the Japanese Dirge of Cerberus is a completely different, even worse game. Aside from the multiplayer change, there’s also the fact that the camera is even more inappropriately positioned behind Vincent, and Vincent moves even slower when “running” around bullet-riddled corridors. And his double jump is a mere single jump… which may explain why none of the environments react to the fact that Vincent should be able to vault a knee-high pile of rubble.
  • What color is your parachute: Alright, I know I mocked them during the article, but I am a complete sucker for clearly defined, color-based groups. I realize it’s basically character design mad libs (Man is angry, likes the color blue, uses ice elemental attacks, and his weapon is a railgun), but I fall for it every time. See also: Kingdom Hearts, Bleach, and the War of the Light from Green Lantern comics.
  • Barrett? Barely any Barrett. I guess his new super power is that he possesses a driver’s license.
  • Did you know? The original concept for Vincent Valentine was a (X-Files) Mulder-esque conspiracy nut that could take pictures of cryptids and then transform into their forms, possibly without knowledge of the transformation afterwards. This is kind of an amazing idea for a character, and I’m downright surprised it hasn’t been recycled in some fashion for another Square project (and if I’m forgetting some obvious parallel somewhere, let me know). GET IT!?As it is, aside from the whole “lotta effort to go into a hidden character thing”, Proto-Vincent was dropped because the original plan was to have him transformed for overworld/dungeon/town scenes, and not just battles. That would require a lot of modeling that’s just not happening.
  • Would I play again: Nah. I put a surprising amount of time into this at its release, and unless there are some major gameplay overhauls for a rerelease, I’m not doing that again. I swear I was playing it just to fulfill some sort of misplaced Final Fantasy 7 “obligation”, and I’ve since learned that video game franchises love me even if I don’t play their maligned younger siblings.

What’s next? I’m tired of all this moving forward jazz, let’s go back to the very beginning. Well, not the very beginning, but at least far enough back that Cloud still has his brain… for the moment. Please look forward to it!

FGC #178 Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children

Back in the far reaches of the past, Final Fantasy 7 Advent Children was an event. It was the first the whole cast of Final Fantasy 7 had returned (in a non, oddly bat-like form), and myself and others literally could not wait to experience the Final Fantasy 7 “sequel”. I secured a copy as soon as it was available… but, unfortunately, there weren’t English subtitles available yet. In the harrowing 28 minutes before someone translated the movie, I made up my own “subtitles” for the first half of the movie (based on a rough plot outline I found) for the amusement of my friends. A few weeks later (and now actually knowing what’s going on), I returned and finished riffing on the film for the sake of completion. That is exactly what follows below, mostly unedited (I had to remove a Snakes on the Plane reference for my own sanity… and, frankly, some inside jokes with my friends that come off as really racist/misogynistic. I was young and stupid.).

Our film picks up exactly where the game left off, in some crazy future where Red XIII has somehow had kids…

… and what was the center of civilization is an overgrown modern art project.

498 good men died during the making of FF:AC. Before the film begins, a moment is taken to acknowledge those no longer with us.

Well, duh.

Back in the present, Reno is exploring the omega crater from the finale of FF7 via helicopter.

Yep, exploring a hole that goes as deep as the center of the planet from the air. Gonna get a lot done today…

FGC #177 Ehrgeiz

King of the God Fist?Words aren’t enough for Ehrgeiz.

As you may have heard, Final Fantasy 7 put Squaresoft on the map. I will argue until the day I die that Chrono Trigger was a better game, and Final Fantasy 6 was subjectively better than FF7, but that is immaterial to the fact that Final Fantasy 7 not only made an airship full of money for Squaresoft, it also dramatically increased Square’s cultural footprint. The likes of Nintendo, Capcom, and Konami were synonymous with gaming for a couple of console generations, and Enix was a hulking cyclops in its native Japan, but now Square and the Sony Playstation brand were the guys to beat. Someone at the top of Square must have noticed, because, instead of simply relying on the genre that had earned Square its (ultimately fleeting) elevated position, they decided to try a few new things.

But, you know, they still hung on to that FF7 IP. They knew what primed their potions.

In retrospect , 1998 was an interesting year for gaming. The Playstation was starting its dominance of the console market that would last for another generation to come, and Nintendo, for the first time, was stuck with a dud that seemed downright archaic next to Playstation’s wondrous world of FMVs. But even amongst the rise of “arcade graphics” on the home consoles, the arcades were still if not exactly booming, at least healthy. The fighting game fad hadn’t completely subsided yet, and while Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were gradually making their way to a permanent home on the couch consoles, the likes of Tekken and X-Men vs. Street Fighter were offering amazing experiences for anyone still willing to donate enough quarters. In a way, it was a “healthy” time for gaming, or at least one where forty bucks would net you a forty hour game, and fifty cents would nab an experience a little bit more interesting than Mappy Land. And, yes, since the arcade was still reigning supreme, “arcade games” were considered above their console brethren: you can play Tekken at home, but the real experience is at the mall.

So you can imagine my amazement when, wandering around a local arcade, I saw my old friends Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII staring back at me.

WINNERThis is, as ever, a weird thing about video games. Yes, any entertainment medium with a story worth its salt does its best to endear its characters to you, and thus make them part of your fictional, mental “family”. Arguably, this is the entire concept that currently drives Hollywood and marketing in general: you already like Harry Potter and his wizarding friends, so here’s another seven movies with those kids, and maybe a spin-off about animals or something. Like that Lord of the Rings? How about we bleed a trilogy out of that old guy with the hairy feet? You’ll watch that, right? But video games are even worse in that regard, as I’ve argued before, you so totally inhabit a character in a long-form, video game narrative that you inevitably grow more attached to your digital avatar than you would a hero you simply watch. I journeyed from Cloud’s awkward SOLDIER days in a tube in the basement to the center of the Earth itself right there with him, so you better believe I care what happens next and where he goes.

When you get right down to it, this is the (obvious) thinking behind the whole “Compilation of Final Fantasy 7” or whatever Squeenix was calling it, but back in 1998, that was still years away. I reiterate this from during my Kingdom Hearts coverage, but well before the likes of Dissidia, Theatrhythm, and other Square-Enix games that make my spellcheck spaz out, when a Final Fantasy game ended, it ended. Kefka bragged about creating a monument to nothingness, but about a half hour after he was defeated, his world was… nothing. Get it?The mere fact that Cloud had escaped a similar fate was an event all on its own, and then there was the little fact that he was, ya know, playable.

Let’s revisit Final Fantasy 6 again (hopefully for the final time in this article, but no guarantees). Sabin was likely the most “physical” party member in that game, and his most enduring animation was either flipping a train 180 degrees or quickly spinning around an enemy with sporadic epileptic flashes. The ultimate spell, Ultima, created some kind of blue dome… was that supposed to be ground erupting, or just an expanding sphere of pure magic? Who knows? And the ultimate summons was a trio of static drawings that shrunk and flashed as needed. Even when Final Fantasy 6 was at its dramatic height for graphics, you had to use a healthy amount of imagination to fill in the gaps.

In that regard, Final Fantasy 7 was an amazing upgrade. I can’t have been the only person that was shocked when Titan flipped the very ground below an enemy, or when Sephiroth summoned a meteor that incidentally destroyed half the galaxy. But even though graphical splendor was radiating Final Fantasy 7, the average playable character was still fairly limited. Everyone remembers Cloud’s Omnislash, but his earlier limit breaks were simple affairs, like a generic “sword beam” or three slashes that managed to produce kanji. And Cloud’s basic slash involved a weird, “instant” dash the didn’t even bother animating Cloud, ya know, walking/running. Yes, there’s untold grandeur in Bahamut’s multiple appearances, but the main party of FF7 (complete with randomly shifting models between FMVs, battle scenes, and maps) never really felt like they were built to actually “move” in a real environment. For all the polygons and modeling that went into Sephiroth, I never really believed he had that many more movement options than accomplished hunk of lumber Ex-Death.

WeeeeNow, here was Ehrgeiz. Not only could Cloud walk, run, and jump at will, but he could battle on a 3-D plane. He could use multiple attacks (some based on Final Fantasy moves, others… not so much). He could block, fall down, and get right back up again. In short, Cloud Strife was now a “real” person… or at least as real as the cast of Tekken 3. Tekken 3, incidentally, is my ruler by which “realistic” graphics are measured exclusively because the girl I had a crush on through junior high (and high school) (and college) (and not insignificant portions of the last decade) who had absolutely no interest in video games took one look at T3’s Eddy Gordo and responded, “Wow, he’s pretty hot.” Aside from sparking a lifelong rivalry with practitioners of Caopeira, this event taught me there’s a significant difference between the “abstract” models of most JRPGs, and the more realistic (and evidently hotter) models of more kinetic games like those in the fighting genre. Cloud had belonged to the former grouping, but now was firmly entrenched in the “real” world of Ehrgeiz.

And it wasn’t just Cloud! Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII were all palling around the arcade, and by the time Ehrgeiz hit the home consoles, Yuffie, Vincent, Sephiroth, and Zack had joined the melee. This was huge! Yuffie and Vincent were hidden characters in FF7, so their inclusion here legitimized a pair of fan favorites that previously weren’t even allowed to participate in their own ending (and the fact that you could play as a Turks version of Vinnie was just icing on the cake). Zack was practically unseen throughout FF7 (which, yes, deliberate move), but now here he was, running around and doing squats like a champ. And Sephiroth? Holy cow, Sephiroth. A… not insignificant portion of Final Fantasy 7 is dedicated to telling the player exactly how incredibly badass Legendary SOLDIER 1st Class Sephiroth happened to be, and, back in the late 90’s, we hadn’t quite come around to the nuanced reading that that’s all there to contrast with the vaguely weak and ineffective “real” Sephiroth. So this, the opportunity to play as the one and only Sephiroth, God, it’s still hard to put into words.

Right in the chaosNever mind the fact that the majority of the FF7 cast was now simply little more than costume swaps for the real Ehrgeiz characters (Red XIII literally was a costume swap, Vincent, Yuffie, and Zack are all reused movesets), and never mind that this is a “dream match” situation, where the plot doesn’t have to make a lick of sense, and the majority of Final Fantasy imports don’t receive proper endings. This was, plain and simple, an attempt to elevate Ehrgeiz above the fighting/arcade competition, and, while I’d like to claim my peers and myself were above such naked pandering… it worked. It worked like gangbusters. I guarantee you there are more than a few copies out Ehrgeiz out there where the entire original cast was completely untouched, but the Sephiroth portion of the disc is worn into oblivion.

So, you know what? Ehrgeiz might not be part of the official Compilation of Final Fantasy 7. No, it doesn’t reveal what Cait Sith was up to in his spare time, or fill in the backstory on Tifa’s orthopedic underwear, but it might be the most important video game featuring Cloud and company, even if they never speak a word. This was the game that said, “You know what? It doesn’t make any sense, some of these characters are dead, and others are tossing around landmines for some reason, but here is a portion of the cast of Final Fantasy 7 in another video game? You want to play?”

I suppose there are words for Ehrgeiz, and those words are, “Yes, please. May I have another?”

FGC #177 Ehrgeiz

  • He's unchainedSystem: Playstation (1), and arcade. I understand this game has seen some random rereleases in Japan, and I’d be surprised if we don’t see similar either before, after, or during the Final Fantasy 7 remake release window.
  • Number of players: Two. You can have Cloud and Sephiroth fight, or Cloud and Zack fight, or Cloud and Tifa fight, or, I don’t know, one of those nobodies from the proper cast.
  • Favorite Nobody: Most of the original Ehrgeiz cast are forgettable “Ryus”, that is to say, a bunch of random muscle dudes who want to win the tournament to be better martial artists or whatever. However, this is likely just because “Yoyo” Yoko Kishibojin hoarded all the other available tropes. She’s a high school girl/police officer/archeologist that attacks with jujutsu and a mechanical, spiked yo-yo. The only other remotely unique character is Jo, who basically holds a more “mature” version of Blanka’s backstory. Figure that one out.
  • Favorite Final Fantasy 7 Character (Ehrgeiz edition): Vincent Valentine was my boy in Final Fantasy 7 and out, so, even today, he’s the first character my cursor gravitates toward. And he gets his own suit! That said, for actually playing the game, I choose Tifa, who practically already was a fighting game character anyway, so her gameplay adapts really well to the ring. You know what, if the next Dissidia doesn’t allow Tifa and FF6’s Sabin to team up, I’m getting out of the biz.
  • Barrett? No Barrett.
  • Dungeon Times: There’s also a rogue-like 3-D beat ‘em up in there, as would be expected of the people that brought you Tobal No. 1. It’s very rogue-like, as you’ve even got a hunger meter to worry about, but I never played this mode for more than ten minutes because you can’t play as Cloud. What’s the point? At least magic in that area is said to come from “materia”, so that’s a step in the right direction.
  • YummyDid you know? Technically, Nomura designed all the characters in this game (FF7 cast included), but the game was also directed/designed by Seiichi Ishii of Virtua Fighter/Tekken fame. Not that the early VF or Tekken characters were all that original or distinct to begin with, but it seems Ishii may have had a great influence over Nomura here, as practically every character in Ehrgeiz has a Tekken lookalike. Also, I don’t see that many zippers…
  • Would I play again: This game was a Trojan horse to begin with, and the only reason I ever played it in the first place was to satisfy my desperate biological need to play as Cloud Strife just one more time. Ehrgeiz is important because it proved exactly how popular Final Fantasy 7 was/is (very), but it’s not all that great of a game, particularly compared to its Playstation fighter buddies (and their descendants). It’s not terrible, but, aside from a strangely adult Yuffie, there isn’t much to see here.

What’s next? Anybody else remember how the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 kicked off? I do! So grab some popcorn and get ready to re-experience the most expensive cell phone advertisement ever!