Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
Welcome to another FF-themed article for my “unofficial” Final Fantasy Month. I’ve been bitten by the Nostalgia Bug, and will keep on pumping out FF-related articles until the end of the month….or until I get bored. Whichever comes first.
If this doesn’t catch your fancy, I’ve also got a new batch of reviews to share, so please allow me to indulge in my little passion for now.
Today I’m going to talk about:
The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII has been met with both praise and hostility; some fans quickly ate up the reunion of FFVII’s beloved cast, others scorned it as an unnecessary cash-in. Crisis Core caused a generation of gamers to weep bitterly a second time, while Dirge of Cerberus caused them to riot in anger over the inclusion of a Japanese pop-star as a potential replacement for Sephiroth.
Me? I think the Compilation is the best idea Square has had in a long time. Despite some minor issues, the movie was pure, exhilarating fanservice and Crisis Core was the biggest love letter the original game can get until the inevitable Remake; it also made Zack one of my favorite FF characters of all time, whereas originally I didn’t see what the appeal was for a character who only showed up five minutes in the original game.
But the story is not over yet: it’s been mentioned more than a few times that Final Fantasy VII’s story will continue, with Nomura allegedly drafting up the next script and concept. It’s also been said that they also have a “definitive ending” for the series, which may or may not be the focus of the next sequel.
It’s all speculation at this point, including which title we’re most likely to get first: the Remake or the Sequel. With Nomura’s team completely tied up with Versus XIII and the Kingdom Hearts series, and with Square’s rumored Western Reboot of the entire Final Fantasy franchise, there’s no telling when we’ll see the beginning or the end of Square’s most popular series within a series.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate about it either. Obviously, there are a lot of important fundamentals that Square will need to nail down in order to give FFVII the proper send-off it deserves, but for my list I’m just going to touch on five things I feel should be included, and five things that they should avoid at all costs.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: while Square has maintained RPG elements with most of the FFVII spin-offs (even Dirge of Cerberus, though none of it was remotely necessary or useful), the final sequel should stick to its classic roots. Even though Final Fantasy rarely sticks to the same battle system for every game, I still feel that the return of a traditional turn-based, menu-driven battle system would add the right touch of nostalgia for fans, and is a safer bet than deviating to an entirely different genre altogether.
So far, the bulk of the Compilation has focused on FFVII’s most popular characters, including Cloud, Tifa, Vincent, and Zack. While this has been acceptable so far based on context (the movie wasn’t nearly long enough to give everyone justice, Crisis Core was a prequel, and Dirge was entirely Vincent’s time to shine), there should be no excuses for anyone to fall behind in a full-length RPG sequel. Not only should the group band together again for their last adventure, they should also be given an equal amount of screen-time as well as sidequests, so that we can see them off without any regrets.
In fact, let’s take it further and include an interactive epilogue where players can visit and speak with each character one last time before the credits. It’s a neat concept that has been done in some classic RPGs like Lunar, but never in a Final Fantasy game. If any title is deserving of such a little-used but wholly effective feature, it’s FFVII.
The mere notion of suggesting anyone from Dirge of Cerberus making a reappearance is enough to get me publicly lynched in most forums, but one silver lining I’ll always defend from that game is the inclusion of Shelke into the FFVII canon. With Cloud’s group having an empty slot for a new female character, Shelke’s sharp tongue and condescending quips makes for a good 4th quarter addition to the team, especially when put at odds with Yuffie (who has officially graduated from “third girl” status). Plus, her ability to use thermal blades, computer hacking and the ability to turn invisible, along with a backstory that includes maintaining her necessary Mako dosage as well as finding a way to revive her comatose sister, should meet all the standard JRPG requirements of being a permanent party member. Let’s just keep her memory-induced feelings for Vincent on the back-burner…it’s kind of creepy.
Yet another statement that could result in much ire from hardcore fans; Sephiroth’s repeated resurrections across the FFVII timeline as well as separate continuities (including Kingdom Hearts and Dissidia) has become a big of a running gag at this point. But more importantly, it has also been consistently entertaining. Watching these two enemies duel to the death hasn’t grown boring at this point, and it’s not bound to happen in the sequel.
Plus, it’s been established that even in death, Sephiroth’s spirit is as indomitable as ever, plotting his eventual return. And ultimately, the deeply personal confrontation between Cloud and Sephiroth is one of the main focal points of Final Fantasy VII, so what would be a more appropriate Final Boss than the series’ most iconic villain in a final, world-shattering battle with everything on the line….again?
And just to make the final showdown even more epic, how about including the evolution of Sephiroth to Qliphoth? In the Kabbalah, Qliphoth represents the most evil and demonic force in the tree of Sephiroth. The idea of an Uberoth is simply too cool to pass up, and would probably look something like this:
At this point, there is more than enough evidence that establishes Cloud and Tifa as the default romance in the FFVII series, no matter how much Claerith lovers (I really hate that term) want to deny it. And while the fact is that the two have maintained a deep relationship that is built on actions rather in words, the finale should do away with the subtlety and finally bring their conflicted relationship to the forefront in a final, mush-driven embrace to the tune of a hit J-Pop single hastily translated to English (because that’s how we LIKE it, Square, forget Leona Lewis).
In fact, it’s my belief that Square has purposely withheld on such openly romantic interactions for the sake of the finale; in many ways, the relationship between Cloud and Tifa is the last, lingering plot point to be addressed in the FFVII series, a final obstacle for Cloud to overcome. His distance from Tifa and his surrogate family is the result of his lack of confidence, as he fears that he will be unable to protect them when the time comes. To embrace the childhood friend that he has long been in love with is to break away from his tormented past and finally embrace life, a theme that has been present in nearly every iteration of the Compilation; In that sense, their romance may be the most important element in the whole series.
A common trope in sequels (particularly Anime) is to move the timeline several years later, usually to age out the original characters as older, wiser, and more powerful adults, and/or having them take a backseat to a brand new generation of younger heroes who try to emulate the deeds done by the original cast.
Ever since the addition of Denzel as his adopted son, it’s often been speculated that the orphaned boy may one day rise up to take Cloud’s place as the main hero of Final Fantasy VII, possessing the same skill (and possibly angst) of his blond-haired benefactor.
Square Enix has dabbled on this idea before with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, so it’s certainly a possibility in this case. It would also be a move that would make the backlash against Metal Gear Solid 2’s Raiden seem like a meager blog rant. While I have nothing personal against Denzel, I do have great qualms about him stealing the spotlight from Cloud, and I’m sure the majority of the fanbase would be quite as upset (and not nearly as polite about it).
As history has proven, there have been few occasions where the “next generation” of cast members have become as warmly received as the original heroes. Considering the widespread popularity of FFVII’s cast, this is a gamble that simply isn’t worth banking on. Fortunately, Square seems aware of this, as they have stated in interviews that they consider Cloud, without question, the driving force of FFVII’s story, so odds are good that when the series come to an end, it’ll end with Cloud maintaining his seat as the conductor of this franchise’s train.
While Square isn’t typically known for systematically murdering their heroes (the last attempt was FFIV, in which the majority of noble deaths became undone before the final act), there is always the possibility that they could wrap up FFVII’s story by making sure most of the party members won’t live to see the ending. After all, it had been speculated for years that the whole of humanity had been killed off in the original game (a theory that, for many reasons, I never bought), so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
But even if these sacrifices were well done, having our heroes suddenly kick the bucket after so many life-or-death situations would cheapen many aspects of FFVII, particularly the classic death of a certain character several games prior. While this doesn’t mean that the entire cast should be considered untouchable, as any sacrifice done well can have a memorable impact, a clean sweep of the entire crew would be seen more as a giant middle finger than a bittersweet conclusion. And last I checked, Hideaki Anno was not in charge of this series.
The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII has added a host of new characters to the already-expanded cast of the original game, including heroes, villains, and none of the above. For the finale, however, they should stick to the current roster without cluttering up the population any further. Any new character added this late in the game won’t likely be as well-received as the legacy heroes, and could potentially impact their screen-time. Plus, there are already more than enough remaining characters to fill out potential party slots (such as the Turks) or surprise plot-based reappearances (Tifa’s master Zangan) that there is ultimately no need to shoehorn any more people at this point.
Toward the end of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud had seemingly battled his inner demons (one in the form of a post-final boss battle) successfully, embracing his new life with Tifa and his friends. Two years later in Advent Children, he had regressed to such a despondent point that he had resigned to his death sentence at the hands of Geostigma as a just punishment for his failures. While Cloud’s depression was justified in context (though much of it requires reading the supplementary novels), the image of Cloud as a moping, self-conscious slump has carried over to his subsequent appearances in spin-offs such as Dissidia and Kingdom Hearts.
While his screen-time was minimal in Dirge of Cerberus, it stands to reason that at this point Cloud should be nowhere near as sullen as he was in Advent Children. The ultimate message of that film was to have Cloud forgive himself, with his cure from Geostigma serving as a metaphor for coming to terms with his inner pain (along with Aerith and Zack’s parting farewell). Having Cloud remain a depressed hump in the next sequel would only be redundant at this point, and would only prove damaging to the character, almost stating that he’s incapable of development. Love issues aside, there should be nothing holding Cloud back, and I’m sure the majority of fans want to see him start the sequel off with full confidence and a stalwart spirit, just as how he started in the beginning of the original game.
As iconic as Aerith’s death was in the original game, fans have spent years hoping that she would one day return to life (in fact, there are still people insisting that such a method exists in the original coding). After all, it’s hypocritical for me to wish for Sephiroth’s umpteenth return, but still demand that everyone’s favorite flower girl stay dead, right?
Actually, it’s in Aerith’s best interests that she doesn’t come back to life. Her shocking demise, along with her unyielding spirit during the characters’ most dire moments is again one of the most iconic aspects in the Final Fantasy series. Having her whisked back to life, even plausibly, would ultimately be seen as a cheap convenience, and I’m sure even her most die-hard fans would agree to this. While I admit at one point at wanting to see her come back as an evil mind-controlled character (my initial theory for AC’s “hooded wheelchair figure”), I decided that too would be a disservice to the role she has served in the series, as a savior of both the planet and to Cloud.
I am , however, totally in favor of her returning as Cloud and Tifa’s child. Such a concept adheres to the Lifestream’s rules of reincarnation, and as clichéd as it might be, it would also be a poignant send-off to the FFVII series.