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Like countless other twenty-something year olds, my initial introduction into the realm of gaming was through a quaint little PlayStation disc named Final Fantasy VII. This game was perhaps unknowingly, leagues ahead of its time, and quickly came to be regarded as a landmark title, with over 2 million copes sold within two days of its Japanese release, and 11 million sales currently recorded worldwide.
In the midst of our present myriad big-budget video game entries, it may prove difficult to perceive the longstanding appeal of Final Fantasy VII, especially with respect to its dated and polygonal user interface. Although the recent influx of remasters and reboots throughout the entertainment industry is largely due to the successful manipulation of nostalgia among millennials, I would argue that Final Fantasy VII does not solely rely upon this technique to encourage its previous audiences to return. Despite the fact that the game has become visually outdated, its setting and story lines remain intact, in that they continue to act as a critique of the effects of contemporary capitalism.
On a critical level, it is easy to interpret Final Fantasy VII as a reaction to society’s early understanding of global warming. Although the game was originally released in 1997, its remastered edition will certainly fit quite neatly into our current cultural fascination with themes of apocalypse and environmental disaster. Anyone who spent even several minutes of their time on the title should be familiar with the landscape of Gaia, a chiefly rural setting which is dominated by the leering presence of a heavily industrialised city at its heart.
The game quickly introduces players to its catch-all bad guy power company which threatens to drain the planet of its finite natural resources in a bid to continue producing energy. (Sounds familiar, right?) While I doubt many of us examined the deeper implications of this setup following the game’s initial release, it takes on a whole new level of depth with the added benefit of hindsight.
At the turn of the century, the seeds of fear had been planted by our newfound knowledge of climate change, and while Final Fantasy VII used this to its advantage in order to construct an eerie realm ravaged by late-capitalism, the world of Gaia has grown closer to our current reality in the twenty-two years since its first appearance. In crafting a story wherein the villain represents the perils of capitalism, it has perhaps unintentionally stood the test of time in terms of its cultural relevance. When we were young, we helped Cloud Strife and his friends challenge a greedy corporation in order to preserve their future, and now, with the upcoming remake of the game, his struggle mirrors our current battle to reclaim our own future from climate disaster.
The effects of the reckless harvesting of fossil fuels are illustrated through the divisive class system that has emerged within the game’s central city, Midgar. While the inner areas of the metropolis reap the economic benefits of advanced industrialisation, the outer edges suffer from rampant poverty due to a lower quality of life imposed by air pollution.
We are presented with a cast of characters who have been individually impacted by the effects of corporate greed, and the player is encouraged to support the cause for environmentalism, with the opening sequences of the game depicting an eco-terrorist group bombing a power plant reactor – with the direct assistance of the player. By fitting us into a role that is complicit with eco-terrorism, the game guides us down a path that illustrates the inevitable horrors of exploiting resources for capitalist gain. The strength and relevance of this message is such that one would expect to discover it within a recently established piece of media, yet it emerges from a video game published in 1997.
In the context of its setting and political commentary, the remake of Final Fantasy VII may prove to serve as a vessel for social critique, as well as a beloved nostalgia trip. I would hesitate to say that the game was consciously ahead of its time, but it has certainly stood the test of time in a critical manner that we could not have anticipated from our low-pixel world of the late 90s.
Of course, interpreting an anarchist-aligned morality from a near ancient role-playing game is easily dismissed as political absurdism, but this is where the Final Fantasy VII remake comes into play. If we transplant all of these pre-existing ideas into a 2020-ish setting, then it cannot simply be disregarded as an imaginative work of science fiction. Cloud is no longer a brooding protagonist, but a victim of the government’s systemic abuses of power. Barret and Tifa are not eco-terrorists, but radical environmentalists who are pushing for change before it becomes too late, and Yuffie is not an irritating teenager, but a young member of a minority group whose homeland was culturally suppressed by a big corporation.
In this respect, the characters and their inhabited setting grows into one resembling our own, while still remaining comfortably dystopian. This begs the question, how will we receive this remake when the game’s cultural context has not grown irrelevant over time, but rather evolved into a work of social critique? The collective plight of these characters will now resonate with us following its upcoming release more than we ever could have imagined from our naiveté of the 90s.
While the idea of capitalists depleting the planet of its finite resources for temporary gain was an unthinkably villainous scheme in just two decades past, it represents a harrowing vision of the future in the renewed societal context in which the remake of Final Fantasy VII will be released.
Further Reading: Final Fantasy VII’s Remake Could Unmake It’s Influence.
As the most popular and universally esteemed entry in the Final Fantasy series, it remains to be seen whether its devoted fans will choose to engage with the remake as a lovingly crafted work of nostalgia, or if they will also consider the longstanding relevance of its environmentalist and anti-capitalist themes. If the game receives critical attention in this sense, it may once again be hailed as a masterpiece, but this time for its novel criticism of the current political climate, rather than solely for its enhanced mechanics, as is so often the case with gaming.
Final Fantasy VII has spent the previous two decades ageing into a game that will serve to succinctly criticise contemporary society as players traverse through its lands and interact with its characters. Only further time will tell how readily the remake of this game will be accepted as such by its fan base, or merely overlooked as a product of nostalgia and fan-service.