You’re probably getting sick of this by now, but since I still don’t have Pokémon X yet, I might as well do one more. Let’s talk about the characters of Final Fantasy VII. In no particular order…
One of the big themes running through this story is Cloud becoming less of a jerk. Personally, I have something of an enduring fondness for Depressed Bastard Cloud, since he’s what makes the story interesting. Cloud is great at killing things, sure; on paper he’s pretty much the strongest member of the team. In terms of anything that doesn’t need killing, though, like his enduring miasma of depression or his glaring lack of social skills, he’s as helpless as any old average Joe. Cloud’s problem, undoubtedly, is that for a good chunk of the story he doesn’t actually know who he is – he thinks he’s an unbelievably badass super warrior who doesn’t need anything or anybody to get by (and… to be honest it’s kind of hard to fault him on that), an attitude which leaves him with something of a gaping hole where his sense of meaning in life would normally go. He has entirely forgotten that he’s actually a fairly average kid who really does need friends around him like anyone else. It’s Aeris, I think, who manages to hammer that point through his skull – she does this, initially, by being totally unashamed to ask for his help and totally insistent on helping him in return (also by forcing him to wear a dress). After Aeris dies, he just heads straight back into his old comfortable spiral of self-destruction, but Tifa helps him get back on track, and I like to think he’s in a good place after seeing Aeris at peace in the lifestream.
I can see why people like Aeris; she’s pretty much the nicest person on the planet, which is quite an achievement considering that she’s the last living member of her race and grew up in a city made of garbage, but her inherent Cetra ability to invigorate life probably helps – she literally brings fertility and happiness with her wherever she goes. Aeris consistently denies that she’s anything special, and I don’t think she wants to be either, but on some level she clearly does feel that her powers come with a duty to serve life, especially once she gets to visit the Temple of the Ancients and commune with the spirits of the other Cetra. That sense of duty is ultimately her undoing, since it prompts her to try to stop Sephiroth on her own, something which is clearly beyond anyone. Still, even though Holy doesn’t work as advertised when push comes to shove, things turn out pretty well for her in the end – I remain convinced that the ‘Promised Land’ of Cetra myth really is just a metaphor for death at the end of a good life, and suspect that Aeris took ‘rejoining the lifestream’ to a whole new level. So I suppose ultimately she’s a pretty cool chick.
Oh, Tifa… even when Aeris is dead Cloud’s more interested in her. I really feel like Tifa got the short end of the stick in this story. To an extent she does bring it on herself by being so adamant in the early part of the story that her feelings for Cloud are completely platonic, and by the time she manages to admit to herself that there’s something else going on there, Cloud has well and truly fallen for Aeris. Meanwhile, Tifa’s own developing friendship with Aeris is too important to her to be sacrificed over their love triangle. It’s a shame, because Tifa’s own relationship with Cloud is really something quite profound, as we can see when she enters his subconscious in the lifestream. It’s unfair to Tifa to talk about her solely in terms of her relationship with Cloud, though, because she’s pretty neat in her own right as well. She’s good with people, and isn’t above using that to get what she needs. She’s pretty self-sufficient when she has to be, and steps into a leadership role in Cloud’s absence without any difficulty (contrast, for instance, Barrett’s unease at filling her shoes when she decides to stay with Cloud through his illness – something which, incidentally, I think would have taken significant emotional fortitude). She also, at the ripe old age of 15, basically declared war on the most powerful organisation in the world and tried to stab Sephiroth with his own sword. Girl’s got serious guts.
People don’t like Cait Sith, I think, which I can sort of understand – I mean, the whole ‘traitor’ angle doesn’t really do him any favours, obviously, and his whole introduction and character concept are pretty silly. His ‘death’ scene in the Temple of the Ancients also loses a lot of its impact from the fact that… y’know, he doesn’t actually die. He also has an astonishingly poor sense of tact. On the other hand, his real identity – the Shinra executive, Reeve – is easily the least evil person in the company’s leadership, consistently pushing for them to have a more positive impact on the community. As Cait Sith, he has to deal with genuine conflicting loyalties, and his betrayal of the party by stealing the Black Materia could very easily have been because he felt Shinra could handle Sephiroth and the Temple of the Ancients every bit as well as Cloud. And, of course, he’s perfectly willing to work against Shinra on the party’s behalf later. It’s also worth remembering that this guy initially would have seen Cloud, Tifa and Barrett as a group of extremely dangerous terrorists – and that this is an entirely accurate assessment. His diatribe to Barrett near the end of the game about how the world isn’t all black and white, calling Barrett out for the hundreds of civilian casualties he’d caused while attacking Shinra, is (to me, at least) nothing short of inspiring. So, in spite of myself, I actually think Cait Sith is a pretty neat character. So sue me.
Eh. I’m kind of neither here nor there on Vincent. I know he’s ‘cool’ (I mean, hey, vampire gunslinger with a tortured past; what’s not to like?) and I really enjoy using him as an active party member because his limit break abilities are so unique, but I think he suffers a bit from being an optional character (I’m pretty sure you can actually complete the game without ever even meeting Vincent, so his involvement in plot-relevant scenes is, by necessity, limited). He joins the party to get revenge against Hojo for what happened to his ex-girlfriend, Lucrecia (Sephiroth’s biological mother), and then just… kinda stands in the corner being dark and brooding all the time. We actually met his (now immortal) ex-girlfriend at one point, but that scene didn’t really resolve anything; it just kind of stopped, leaving the whole thing kind of underdeveloped. I didn’t actually have Vincent with me when I fought and killed Hojo, so maybe I inadvertently cheated him out of an important character moment there. Hmm. I’ll have to remedy that if I ever play through this game again. So… yeah. Vincent.
Oh god f#$%ing damn it.
Five minutes after joining your party, without so much as helping in a single fight in the intervening time, Yuffie steals all of your magic,ditches you in the middle of f&$@ing feudal Japan, leads you on a wild goose chase around her home town, traps and humiliates your other party members, then gets kidnapped by the f&!#ing pimp king so you have to save her ungrateful b%!*# ass! Then Cloud lets her back in the party without even a real apology!
In fairness, I am given to understand that Yuffie can join your party at any of a wide range of times, and she joined mine very late, relatively speaking, so perhaps that sequence of events wouldn’t have seemed so jarring if she’d been with me longer. Or perhaps it would have been even worse because she would have felt like a trusted member of the team by then. Not sure. It’s also heavily implied that she turned to stealing materia as a career in order to keep her hometown from falling into poverty.
However, I don’t give a $#!t.
F$@% you, Yuffie. F#!$ you.
Big scary black dude has a gun for an arm and blows up power plants for a living, but is also a devoted father. D’awwww. Marlene, I think, is Barrett’s primary motivation in everything. He blames himself for the fate of their hometown (which… is just objectively not his fault, but Barrett has something of an overactive sense of responsibility), and seems to see raising Marlene as a sort of penance. She’s also his reason for fighting Shinra – so she’ll grow up in a healthy world. Barrett recognises eventually that he’s not cut out for leadership – he’s just not a particularly inspiring figure, and doesn’t have a great deal of appreciation for moral nuance – but he’s the kind of person who never backs down from a fight. Basically, he’s a father who can only see one way of securing happiness for his daughter, and he is sure as hell going to do it. I think Barrett’s value as a character, ultimately, comes from being so grounded in the reality of what’s going on – most of the others in the group (particularly Cloud) are more wrapped up in their own personal problems than in dealing with the plot, but for Barrett the two are inextricably linked, so it’s through him that we get some sense of how the relatively vague and abstract forces of the overarching storyline impact the regular people on the ground. Perhaps not the most exciting role to play, but an important one nonetheless.
I like Red because he just refuses to be what you expect. He’s a hyena – but he’s also the most conventionally intelligent person in the party, the most intellectual in temperament, and one of the better spellcasters in the group. He’s thoughtful, focused and independent – and in terms of his own species’ lifespan, the equivalent of 15 or 16 years old. Once the others know his backstory, he opens up a little more and you can tell he’s not quite as confident as he seems at first and has his share of insecurities. To be honest, I don’t feel like he got all that many interesting character moments after the Cosmo Canyon storyline, but the scene where he finally learns that his father was a hero after all is pretty moving. Unlike Vincent, whose story feels distinctly unfinished, I feel like Red was wrapped up nicely – more certainly wouldn’t have hurt, but he’s a neat character the way he is.
So, throughout the game I’ve been assuming Cid was in, like, at least his late 50’s, because his character model has grey hair (although his portrait depicts him as blond) everyone else keeps referring to him as ‘old guy,’ and he’s just such an all-round cynical bastard. But no, it turns out that according to his bio on the FF VII website he’s thirty-two. Cid… if nothing else, is pretty entertaining. He just sort of stumbled drunkenly into the plot and refused to leave, at one point accidentally becoming leader of the entire party. To his credit, he certainly made the most of it – Cid’s tenure as leader is marked by a distinct rise in zany antics and snarkiness. Despite his somewhat callous exterior, Cid has a sentimental streak too – his dream of going to space seems at times to override his common sense, and he almost waxes poetic when he actually gets there. Cid is a quite bizarre combination of cynicism and wonder, apathy and dedication, selfishness and generosity – and I wouldn’t have him any other way.
And one last bonus one…
I have something of a preference for sympathetic villains, in general, and it’s sort of difficult to claim that Sephiroth is, in any normal sense of the word, ‘sympathetic,’ but he certainly has an interesting start, and the events that lead to him initially becoming the villain of the story aren’t entirely his fault, arguably (his subsequent actions are another matter, of course). Sephiroth’s problem, in my view, is that he was raised to have a profound belief in the fact that he was ‘special,’ doubtless encouraged by Hojo, his biological father, to the point of developing some sort of messiah complex (incidentally, note the angelic shapes and imagery which Sephiroth incorporates into his combat forms – even his name is a biblical reference). I’m not sure whether he knew, in his childhood, that he was supposed to lead Shinra to the ‘Promised Land,’ but if he did – well, what would you take from an upbringing like that? Discovering exactly what it was that made him ‘special’ was bound to be a shock, and made worse by the fact that he came to the conclusion that humanity was responsible for the extinction of his species. From there, he just continues to escalate. Cloud kills him in Nibelheim, and he hasn’t fulfilled any kind of glorious destiny yet, which is simply more than his ego can handle, so he inflates his goals even further to “destroy civilisation and become a god.” Jenova’s influence doubtless has some effect on him here, but I have no idea who’s manipulating who, and I suspect that by the end there’s no longer much point in attempting to distinguish between ‘mother’ and ‘son’ in their motivations and beliefs (assuming Jenova had motivations and beliefs to begin with). As villains go, Sephiroth isn’t really the most compelling I’ve encountered, but the circumstances that went into his making and eventual ascension are interesting, the angel motif was a bold choice on the designers’ part (and especially curious given that Aeris has similar imagery associated with her), and I can understand his enduring appeal.
So, I guess that’s the end of this show. Thank you for putting up with me, and to all, a good night. Hopefully I’ll return soon and get to the new Pokémon games!