Final Fantasy 7 famously kicks off by thrusting us right into our hero Cloud’s first mission with the ecological resistance group known as Avalanche.
Their goal: to destroy something called a mako reactor. The team’s leader, Barret, goes on an angry rant about how the evil Shinra corporation is draining the world of the natural resource calling it “the lifeblood of the planet.”
This rant is expanded in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, but the overall gist is very much the same. While people go about their ordinary lives, Barret says, Shinra is sucking the planet dry of mako.
“The hell you think is gonna happen when it’s all gone, huh?!” he asks Cloud.
Well, I don’t exactly know, since you haven’t told me, Barret, but I gather from your tone that it’s gonna be bad.
But this rant does more than just provide necessary narrative information. It also foregrounds the game’s political concerns right from the get-go. “I’m not here for a lecture,” a disinterested Cloud says in response to Barret’s impassioned plea. Cloud’s interest in the group is mostly economical; he’s a soldier for hire, and they need hired guns. Er, hired swords. Really big swords.
Cloud is similarly dismissive of Barret’s concerns in Remake, telling him to “get help” when Barret describes the way he hears the planet “crying out in pain.”
I remember feeling the same way in 1997, when I first played Final Fantasy 7. I was right there with Cloud, rolling my eyes at Barret trying to save a planet under siege.
It’s not that I didn’t believe that the destruction of forests and our reliance on fossil fuels were having a negative impact on the world, but like so many people, I didn’t fully grasp the urgency of finding solutions. I’d heard the term “global warming,” of course, and believed it was real, but I also didn’t really want to think about it. I brushed off activists on my college campus when they tried to explain things to me during the same time period. I had other things to focus on; the planet itself was a problem for another day.
Things have changed dramatically in the past 23 years, and the game’s story now seems prescient. More of us are like Barret now, sharing his understanding that there is no other day. I’m frustrated at Cloud’s dismissiveness when I play the game today. I want Cloud to understand the same urgency that Barret clearly feels, and tries to express. The best moment to start responding to our own climate crisis was 30 years ago. The second best moment, the only moment actually available to us, is right now.
I often think of Final Fantasy 7 when certain people talk about how to keep politics out of games. What might have been meant to have been a wake-up call instead now feels current, and all too real. The storms are here. The damage is being done. The oceans are rising and we’re all locked inside due to a pandemic. What once felt like alarmism now just seems like a very rational reaction to the world as it exists today, and that’s a scary thought. It suggests that art tried to wake us up, but reality is instead moving in the wrong direction.
I was concerned that Remake might downplay the original game’s warnings, but I was pleased to see that, if anything, it leans into them. We get thoughtful, nuanced conversations between Avalanche members about the ethics of their actions, and why they’re justified in doing what they do throughout the game. You don’t have to agree with the character’s arguments for their own actions, but their motivations make sense. The game’s writers clearly wanted us to engage with this discussion, and it’s never been more important to do so in real life as well as in the games we play.
Remake doesn’t try to simplify the issues it grapples with, but it also doesn’t maintain a neutral stance with regard to them. We always know which side of the fight to save the planet we’re on, even if the characters grapple with the best ways to go about things.
It’s hard not to feel, revisiting this story today, that it was there all those years ago, a work of popular art sounding the alarm, if only we were willing to listen. Many of us who might have been a little too wrapped up in our own problems ignored the original warning, but doing so is becoming increasingly difficult, and increasingly costly. Final Fantasy 7 Remake lays out those stakes in even starker terms now, and it’s a message that sadly needed to be repeated.
I just hope it’s not too late.