Posts Tagged ‘final fantasy vii


Tifa Lockhart don’t get no respect

Tifa Lockhart

As far as overlooked or underrated characters go, Tifa Lockhart of Final Fantasy VII gets a pretty raw deal.  Much of the game focuses on Cloud moping about, and Sephiroth having “mom” problems, or the two of them squabbling with swords.  Tifa is also easily overlooked for not martyring herself as Aeris did (Aerith, whatever.)  When you do take control of her in the game, it’s mainly to act out a slap fight as the world starts coming to an end.  Of all the game’s colorful characters though, her conflict is probably one of the most compelling and believable, though very understated.

VII puts you in the shoes of Cloud Strife, a mercenary working for a resistance group named Avalanche.  Or, at least, that is your assumption for much of the game.  It’s Tifa who persuades Cloud to join their cause, even if just for money.  The two had been, more or less, childhood friends until Cloud (who was a misfit among his peers in his home town) decided to join the military (Soldier) to be like the war hero, Sephiroth.  It was Cloud’s way of trying to be accepted and promised Tifa he would be able to rescue her should she ever be in trouble.

The problem with all of those plans though was that Cloud never made it into Soldier.  He was just a Shinra grunt that ended up suffering from the trauma of “that day five years ago“,  his subsequent imprisonment with Zack Fair, and then Zack’s death (see Crisis Core).  He had utterly failed in achieving his goals and failed to protect Tifa.  Once he finally escaped, he returned to Midgar, where Tifa found him delirious and insisting he had been in Soldier and was now taking on mercenary work.  Tifa knew this wasn’t the case, but had taken Cloud in to be able to protect him.  She had no idea what had happened to him after he left to join Soldier, but she did know that the person he described himself as was actually the deceased Zack Fair.

Tifa’s relationship to Cloud has been seen as one part of a love triangle involving Aeris.  Cloud doesn’t really have a romantic relationship with either woman in the game though.  His relationship with Aeris extends more from the identity he inherited from Zack, and was characterized as an idealized situation which Sephiroth parades into and destroys as part of his false identity.  Cloud’s relationship with Tifa is more characteristic of reality – Cloud has flaws which Tifa accepts and looks past.  And that leads to what I felt was one of the most interesting parts of the game: Tifa is essentially trying to help a mentally ill friend who happens to have creepy and unexplained ties to a war hero turned mass murderer.  She chooses not to challenge Cloud’s assumptions and instead goes along with his delusion.

Tifa’s work in Avalanche ultimately overlaps unraveling what happened to Cloud.  Later in the story, however, Sephiroth confronts Cloud with the truth of what happened, and Tifa is no longer able to deny that Cloud has assumed a false identity.  It’s one of the more surprising and uncomfortable scenes in the game, and Cloud is returned to his unstable frame of mind following Zack’s death.  While Cloud is ostensibly the lead character for his relationship with Sephiroth, he doesn’t exactly play a role in the game that’s more important than any of the others.  Much of the later story concerns him coming to terms with that, but it’s also as much about Tifa bringing him to accept it and not succumb to the reunion.  And her cause for wanting to stop Sephiroth is equal to Cloud’s.

It may have been necessary to understate Tifa’s role in the game’s story initially to try and not let on to the player that Cloud has invented a new identity for himself, but it robs the game of the full impact of the scenario.  I enjoyed Final Fantasy VII very much the first time I played it, and I enjoyed dissecting it further upon replaying it.  But I think it could have benefited more on focusing on the human aspect of how the events of the game affected the characters and their relationships, rather than relying on increasingly absurd sci-fi plot devices.  It’s unfortunate that with as much attention given to the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, that Tifa remained such a secondary character to Cloud.  And while Vincent was kind of a neat secret character to unlock, he didn’t exactly deserve his own, albeit poorly conceived, game.

But hey, maybe if Square Enix ever does decide to go through with a re-make of Final Fantasy VII they’ll have the perfect opportunity to elevate Tifa’s character to something other than fan service.


More thoughts on game stories


[The following is once more a brain dump into my “public notebook.”  Consider yourself warned.]

Perhaps it’s because I recently played The Stanley Parable, or participated in the August #BoRT topic “What’s the story?” but I’ve been mulling over the value of game narratives.  In December, I’ll have been attempting to write about games for five years, and during that time I will have evaluated many games based in part on that criteria: how does a game perform where the narrative is held to a standard similar to that of other storytelling mediums?

I wanted to a consistent standard (as much as possible) when reviewing these games, but it created a sense of dissonance that was difficult for me to reconcile.  I was putting games into different buckets: games that should be judged first by their narrative quality, versus those which should be first judged by gameplay, versus games that might have a flawed narrative but do something interesting with it to compensate for it.  All the while I was trying to judge all of these games as if they were all in the same category.  Even trying to come up with a well defined set of “buckets” was a vague and arbitrary process.  I always wanted to write about what the player saw and did at a very high level, but this underlying conflict wasn’t something that I could reconcile.

The last game I tried to review using this criteria was Final Fantasy VII, which received the highest score I could award.  And it was at that point I felt like it didn’t work anymore.  Final Fantasy VII is an excellent game, but my criteria for judging games was disconnected from any consistent standard.  I’ve tweaked the scoring formula several times over now.  So now I write about what I play here, under no illusion that I’m providing criticism based on anything aside from my own opinions.

With all that in mind, I’ve also begun to see game stories as over-valued, or identified incorrectly as a key aspect to what has made some of the most notable games great.  The story of Final Fantasy VII is a tangled mess which is lousy when it stands on its own.  But from the story, you can connect all of its elements together into one idea.  It serves as a utility to the game’s success rather than the facilitator of success.  And the titles included in The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII makes that pretty clear.

Games don’t tell stories particularly well, and my feeling at this point is that trying to solve that problem will be detrimental to the medium as a whole.  There’s room for a storytelling genre for games, but I don’t think it will be representative of games are best suited to achieve.  In other storytelling mediums, the amount of stimuli being presented roughly negatively correlates with the amount of time required to complete the story.  A book only presents words and the audience can comfortably spend many hours consuming that story.  A film engages the audience through its narrative, sound, and imagery, but can only reasonably expect to maintain engagement for two or three hours at most.  I think that ideally a story-driven game would be even shorter than that in order to effectively engage the audience, or perhaps it would be broken up into discrete pieces which contain their own arc as The Walking Dead had.

Where games are best suited to succeed is in communicating messages.  This can be done through storytelling, but there are other valid methods that can accomplish the same goal in ways that are more conducive to game design.  If you were to press gamers to describe what makes their favorite games great, they may start by describing the game’s story or world, but it slowly come to focus that what’s communicated to them in particular moments by the game that makes it great.  And the rest of the game serves to frame those moments accordingly.

Take Canabalt for instance.  There is no story, there is no character, but it became popular for what it communicated so succinctly: a sense of desperation and dread of what’s to come which can be seen far off in the distance.  It’s something that we see so often in blockbuster movies, but the urgency and concentration the game demands from the audience makes it feel more real.  To try and bolt a story and character onto the game would dilute the message it communicates and rob the game of its effectiveness.  It is a moment, not a narrative.  And its those moments that make larger games great.

There are a number of games that I’d want to revisit with this revised sentiment on game narratives.  I’m not sure if I’d want to write scored reviews again though as it’s exhausting trying to keep the rules straight.  We’ll see what exactly the next five years will bring.


New Review: Final Fantasy VII

Before I played the game, I used to think that Cloud was going to fight the Shinra building.

It’s almost time again for another re-release of Final Fantasy VII.  This time on PC.  It’s been quite a while now since I last picked up the game and I’ve wondered more than once since then if it is as good as I remember it being.  Well, after having played it again (as well as Final Fantasies VI, VIII, IX now) I can say that as far as I’m concerned, it is still one of the greatest games out there.  There were many flaws in the genre at the time of its release, but VII’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.  The coherence of it’s design makes it more than just the sum of its parts, which earns it a final score of [3/3]+.

Continue to the full review.


Impressions: Final Fantasy VII

Sometimes, in my mind, I like to pretend that Final Fantasy VII was released in North America, everyone really enjoyed it and then that was that.  The compilation of Final Fantasy VII never happens and I don’t have to be reminded of this any time I think about the game.  It wasn’t all bad.  Advent Children was fun, and Crisis Core was one of the better Final Fantasy games to come out in a while.  But none of it captured what made VII special and only served to diffuse its impact and inflate the value of inconsequential elements of the game in the name of fan service.  Even in spite of this, playing VII is like jumping into a time machine and going back to 1997 where I can remain blissfully unaware of the nonsense that followed its release.  In any case, VII has served as my petri dish of sorts to rattle around ideas about the composition of games.  It’s still easily one of my favorite games (as well as one of the best games out there) and when I get around to debating the merits of the medium in my own mind, VII is inevitably used to help me try to figure out whether or not an argument holds water.

VII sits up there in my mind with Chrono Trigger: jRPGs set to engaging science fiction plots – my favorite film genre.  I hadn’t really appreciated the initial hours of VII until recently with how it manages to simultaneously introduce you to the world of Avalanche, Shinra, and the ancients while breaking you into the materia system, one of the series most satisfying game systems.  The way it all manages to build up to the escape from Midgar, a dark, closed, and dirty city, to a wide open and green world to pursue an enemy that makes Shinra, the world’s controlling super-power, look helpless was entertaining even today.  Perhaps the monotony and inaccessibility of Final Fantasy XIII put it into perspective in my own mind.  XIII wasn’t something more complicated or intrinsically bad, but it was not a coherent experience in the same way games like VII were.  It also doesn’t hurt that I don’t have to sit down in front of a TV and play from save point to save point when I can just suspend my PSP whenever I need to and play where ever I like.  It might be a bit difficult to justify sitting down and playing a 15-year-old game, but if you want to sink your teeth into a game that helped define an era in gaming history then it’s hard to do better than Final Fantasy VII.


Weekly Links for June 26th

You don't like hats? Well we don't like you.


What I’ve Been Playing

Bonus Video


Weekly Links for May 21st


  • Hideo Kojima Tells Square-Enix to Remake FF7
    After the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, I’m afraid to see what a re-made FFVII would look like.
  • Lionhead: Pre-owned worse than PC piracy
    It’s just a depressing situation we’re in that people don’t think it’s worth spending money on computer games
    Dear Mike West: Please take a step back and think about what you just said. You’ve spent too much time in the developer dungeon.  God forbid I try to pay less for video games so I can afford to pay for gasoline.  Unfortunately, video games won’t drive me to work.
    Do you know what used people who buy used games are?  They aren’t people trying to put you out of work.  They are people who are on the verge of being your customer if you would just figure out how to either add value to your game or lower its cost.   How unspeakably terrible it is that you have to deal with such people!
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Finally Hits iOS in June/July
    Hey Mike, you should figure out what Square-Enix is doing.  They’ve somehow convinced people not only to buy their games brand new, but to continue buying them new over, and over, and over again.
  • A Planet Without Square-Enix
    But then, they have their own problems.
  • Notch Working On Minecraft Sky Dimension
    Look at all those people who don’t think Minecraft is worth spending money on!
  • Dyack: Mobile apps are hurting game industry
    If fart apps are a problem for your industry, you’ve got bigger problems.

What I’ve Been Playing

Bonus Video

Now here’s a game that’s worth spending my money on.


Weekly Links for May 7th


What I’ve Been Playing

Bonus Video

One year of Ruminatron5000 complete!

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