In April of last year, I became obsessed with the characters and world of Final Fantasy VII. First released in 1997 for the PlayStation, FFVII is considered by many one of the best games of all time. It had been a huge gaming blind spot for me. Outside of the Pokémon series, I rarely play turn-based RPGs. But after watching Tamoor Hussain’s excellent and deeply personal review of 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake I decided to make good on this, my greatest gaming sin.
The dive I made was deep. I spent the early days of my new work-from-home situation watching an archive of GameTrailers’ full playthrough of the original game as well as their definitive, but now over a decade old, retrospective of the Final Fantasy series. I could tell that the love for FFVII and the entire franchise was real. Finally, I pulled the trigger, and bought a copy of Remake. With addicting combat, gorgeous visuals and music, and a story that subverts veteran players’ expectations, Final Fantasy VII Remake quickly became one of my favorite games of the last decade.
Now, just over a year later, I’m returning to Midgar to see what has become of FFVII’s heroes in the animated feature / sequel, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. Directed by Tetsuya Nomura and animated by Square Enix’s internal cinematics studio, Advent Children feels like watching a massive video game cutscene.
Out now on 4K Ultra HD, Advent Children looks and sounds the best it ever has but that doesn’t necessarily mean the 2005 visuals hold up. Square Enix, particularly with the Final Fantasy series, pushes the boundaries of their graphical fidelity and cinematics time and time again. So, I’m sure in 2005 Advent Children had the most cutting edge animations possible. In 2021 however, characters seem stiff and sometimes doll-like at times.
Advent Children shines when action scenes kick into high gear. Cloud’s opening motorcycle chase and Tifa’s fight in the church are particular standouts. Luckily, Nomura and co-director Tekeshi Nozue keep these scenes from becoming too frantic with quick cuts and camera angle changes that’d make the action hard to follow.
In fact, the opening scenes are the film’s strongest. We learn quickly that in the aftermath of FFVII, the world did not magically become fixed. Sure, the heroes saved the day, but life seems to have moved on in Midgar for some, and became significantly worse for others. Some unfortunate folks became infected with a mysterious, infectious disease called “Geostigma” that leaves inky marks on people’s bodies.
Cloud, our main protagonist, has distanced himself from the other members of Avalanche despite their calls and insistence. He still feels a deep shame for not being able to save some of his friends, even if he did help prevent an apocalyptic event from occuring.
One bit of dialogue in the opening stood out, happens almost in the background, in a news broadcast. There’s a debate going on whether or not the Shinra Company, the megacorporation that sets the events of FFVII into motion, should be financially responsible for everything they’ve caused. That may seem like a no-brainer to you or I, but the fact that it’s a debate gives Advent Children some truly fascinating, and grim, political commentary.
In any other game or film, the happy ending would be that Shinra does repay the people of Midgar what they are owed and maybe the company dissolves as a result. Not the case in Advent Children.
Beyond this point, the plot of the film revolves around a lot of new characters. Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo are the new villains, with mysterious connections to Cloud, Sephiroth and Jenova. Then there’s Denzel (decidedly NOT pronounced like Washington), a boy with Geostigma who Cloud is looking after who becomes enticed when Kadaj’s gang promises a cure for his illness. It’s not convoluted by any means but this story is purely for the most devout FFVII fans.
The film even takes the time to welcome and/or warn viewers. The opening titles state, “To those who loved this world and knew friendly company therein: This Reunion is for you.” It’s an earnestness that I sincerely appreciate.
The second half of the film is where it’s quality suffers a bit. Nearly the entire second hour is a massive fight scene. The scope is impressive and the appearance of the other members of Avalanche is meant to be a huge fan-service moment. Unfortunately, they aren’t given much to do outside of the fight. An hour-long fight scene sounds great on paper but I found it to be boring, not unlike the CGI laser fights that plagued the third acts of Marvel films for quite some time.
Luckily, the music throughout Advent Children is filled with remixed bangers from FFVII and some original tracks thrown in as well. The soundtrack spans from sparse piano pieces, to orchestral, to opera, to shredding guitars. I’m sure it’ll be worth a listen, even if you don’t plan on watching the film.
Overall, my feelings on Advent Children run the gamut. At times it’s visually impressive, other times it’s stiff and shows its age. Sometimes you get some fun moments with characters you already know and love, and then other times you’re asked to care about new characters you’ve spent next to no time with.
Without gameplay to break up the cinematics, Advent Children feels like a cutscene compilation on YouTube. The action is still fun to watch and I’m more than happy to take a trip back to Midgar, but some of the magic just isn’t there.
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