Monday, June 16, 2014

Final Fantasy 7: Midgar, Noir, and Eco-Terrorism

Recently I started playing Final Fantasy 7 (PC version) to gather some reference images. After playing for a while, though, I remembered that I've never actually finished the game properly. I beat it many years ago... using a Gameshark, because I was in my cheating phase at the time.

I'd like to actually beat the game on my own, so I decided to keep going. Not only do I want to prove mastery over the mechanics and beat the WEAPONs, I also want to relive the story again to see how it holds up upon repeated viewings.

So, if the game is going to be taking up my time for a few weeks, I figure I should take notes as I go and blog my observations.
I'll be approaching this as someone fairly familiar with the story, by the way, so if you don't want this 17-18 year old game spoiled for you... you have been warned.

When I first played through the game I enjoyed the Midgar section, but afterward I sort of referred to it as just sort of a thing you have to play through to get to the more interesting part, like the Roxas section in Kingdom Hearts 2.

Playing through it again, I think it's funny how much trains factor into the Midgar section: the first thing you do is get off of a train. Then you hop onto another one to escape the soldiers, learn about the rail system, take a train to your next destination, travel through a train graveyard, and then, finally, the train system is destroyed, so you have to climb your way to the upper levels of Midgar. It's like the rails of Midgar are so visible they're making a joke out of it.

That said, I actually appreciate the Midgar part now in many ways. Aesthetically, it's a really interesting place--the eternal night of the city and the music gives the section a very noir feeling, which is appropriate since the game is pretty much layering mystery on you at this point.

From a game design standpoint, the whole experience, from the first assault on Reactor 1 to the moment you leave the city, feels carefully crafted to teach you what you need to know for most of the rest of the game. After introducing some very basic enemies in the first few battles (which would probably each take ~30 minutes to kill you), you're introduced to the first boss and are taught about enemy stances and counterattacks. The 5th Reactor boss teaches you about surrounding enemies and the importance of facing. The creature in the sewers after Don Corneo teaches about letting enemies kill themselves. Reno shows you how to attack your own party members to free them from certain attacks. Hojo's specimen introduces status effects (right after you get your first accessory, which makes the wearer immune to poison). The gunner in the elevator teaches you about distance and the value of ranged attacks. Rufus teaches you about barriers. And the street enemy teaches about back attacks and, potentially, the value of the Change command.

And that's just the things they teach you in battle. The game is constantly showing you something new, which will all become much more important and dangerous as the game goes on. All of this in a fascinating city.

Midgar also addresses some pretty fascinating concepts, such as class disparity and eco-terrorism.

First, there's a literal ceiling between the lower class and the upper class. Just walking around the slums is dangerous, and they're living in wreckage down there. Yet, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of resentment from the slum folks toward the people on the plate. Hm...

AVALANCHE is a terrorist group, plain and simple. They're certainly nice people individually, but they blow up buildings knowing that the explosions will kill innocent civilians. They admit it and, in the end, they pay for their actions. Still, in a post-9/11 world, it's interesting to look back on AVALANCHE and realize, perhaps with a little horror, that we were supporting and perhaps even relating to terrorists.

It makes me even more uncomfortable when I realized that, really, what other options did these terrorists have? Their cause is just and urgent, their enemy is powerful and immovable, and their own membership is pathetically small. What other choice do they have but violence?

I'll have more thoughts soon.

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