Part 47: Part I: Introduction and Final Fantasy VII~Final Fantasy Extended Universes Part 1: Introduction and the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII~
I didn't want it to come to this, but we can't play through this game without talking about this shit. Well, I guess we technically could do that, but it would be a big disservice considering this game is full of Final Fantasy history, characters, locations, music, references, and plots pulled directly from the entire franchise.
Plus, I want to spread the poison that is this knowledge as much as possible. So welcome to the first part of this miniseries of updates about the various Extended Universes of Final Fantasy titles.
Final Fantasy had largely been a one and done franchise, at least when it came to the main series. A Final Fantasy game would come out, you started it, you got a complete story, and you finished it. After that, you waited for the next title to launch, knowing that you would get a new story and characters and world.
That is until Final Fantasy X rolled around.
When Final Fantasy X rolled out in 2001, Square was recovering from the financial disaster that was Spirits Within (more on that later). They were also no doubt noticing an issue with modern game development now that things had moved into the 3D realm.
3D games are fucking expensive to develop. Not only that, but 3D graphics evolved fast. As developers grew more accustomed to the newer hardware of the mid-to-late 90's, they found ways of squeezing more and more power out of consoles.
That's a bit of an issue, because it meant creating new graphics engines and spending more time modelling characters and environments which meant larger and larger staff. The development staff for Final Fantasy VI was about 40 people, the staff for VII was over 100, and the staff for IX took over 200 (I believe).
They could recycle some assets, but that wouldn't look too good for the next major instalment in their premiere franchise (they caught some flak for this with X-2). On the other hand, that next major instalment wouldn't be on shelves until 2006. Final Fantasy XI would release in 2002, but that was an MMORPG back in the days when internet access wasn't as readily available as it is today. Online Multiplayer was still mostly the territory of PC games. Console multiplayer was only barely starting to get off the ground. It would go on to be a big financial success for them and kept chugging along until well after 2010, but it still appealed to a particular crowd (MMO fans).
So with 5 more years to go before the next big single player Final Fantasy title, Square decided that it was time for Final Fantasy to start delving into the world of sequels.
Final Fantasy X-2 was the result. X will be getting its own part dedicated to it once the base cast comes together (which is actually very soon), so I won't get into detail about it right now. I only mention it here because X-2 would act as a harbinger of things to come.
Now, Final Fantasy had received follow up material before (Final Fantasy Legend of the Crystals was a 4-part OVA that took place 200 years after FFV), but the series had avoided any direct sequels to existing games using the original characters until the roll out of X-2.
After X-2 proved successful, other Final Fantasy titles would go on to get sequels of their own. IV, VII, and XII, would eventually get the treatment. Other titles would get additional games or story content, but it's somewhat arguable as to whether or not they count as extended universes. XIII had a definitive ending for example, but then got hit with two sequel games. I hesitate to include that as an extended universe though, because XIII was envisioned as being part of a big shared universe along with Versus XIII (which would later become XV). XI and XIV are also debatable. Their "sequels" came in the form of Expansion Packs, but they were also MMORPG's, so it was basically a given that their stories would continue to be added to over time.
So I won't be including XIII, XI, and XIV in the EU parts.
The point of all this is, X-2's success empowered Square to dig up other previous entries and start pumping out content for them. That way they could beat a little more money out of previous games while the next major instalment was spending a few years in the works.
Final Fantasy VII
All of this leads us to our first look at the extended universe of a Final Fantasy title.
With the success of X-2, Square started digging through their attic for other games that they could wring some cash out of on the side while development of the main series chugged along.
For some ungodly reason, they also took a second look at Spirits Within, the 3D animated "Final Fantasy" movie that drove Sakaguchi to step down as VP of Square because of the massive financial failure it was (it still stands within the top 40 biggest box office failures to this very day, having lost $50+ million when it first came out). Despite looking gorgeous for a 3D animated movie from 2001, the movie basically had nothing to do with the Final Fantasy video games. It was closer to a cross between Alien and Ghostbusters. The plot was also dry as hell and devoid of any emotional impacts. It had a budget of $137 million. It pulled in $85 million... worldwide. The movie decapitated Square Pictures and put a halt to their film ambitions. They would rise from the grave years later for a some smaller projects, but nowhere near on the level of big blockbusters that they were aiming for.
Someone at Square looked at that and said "Well, people thought the animation looked great... so what if we made another movie like it, except this time we base it on an actual Final Fantasy game?"
And thus, this gorgeous abomination was conceived. Well, technically it had already been conceived in the form of a short 20 minute script. It started as just a short movie about a young child being asked to deliver a message to Cloud. After some positive fan reaction to sneak peeks (as well as the success of X-2 and the Square-Enix merger) Square decided to take that short and sweet script, crumple it up, toss it in a barrel with an ass-load of character derailment and shitty universe building material, then light that sumbitch and roast some marshmallows.
Just to get the one redeeming thing about AC out of the way: It does look fucking good. Even to this day, 11+ years after it was released, the animation and action set pieces are amazing to see in motion. If you completely ignored the plot and just watched the film itself, it looks spectacular (well, other than an over reliance on grey).
Unfortunately, in order to deliver those spectacular set pieces, they had to create excuses for them to exist. That first meant introducing a ton of garbage. The movie ballooned from a 20 minute short into a 100 minute bloated carcass.
It also meant completely reversing character growth. Director Tetsuya Nomura openly admitted that they reset Cloud's entire character for marketability reasons. Here is his quote on the matter from the Reunion Books:
"At the end of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud was more of a positive, upbeat character than he had been at the beginning, but I didn't think that "upbeat" image of him is what stuck in the minds of fans. We decided to go with a more familiar image that was consistent with the fans' view of him. The script was written to explain why he's returned to that sort of solemn mentality."
This isn't limited to Final Fantasy by the way. You see this crap in a lot of extended universe material. The belief is that a character is only interesting if they are brooding, or emotional, or falling apart, or fucked up in some way. So what often happens is that you'll see your favourite characters regress rather than continue to grow.
So Cloud became what Nomura and the Advent Children team believed the fans saw him as: Vincent Valentine. You can just imagine what's going through Vincent's mind during the conversation he has with Cloud: "Why is he acting like that? That's MY thing, dammit! He spent a few years locked up in the basement, I spent 20+ years sleeping in a coffin to atone for my sins! He doesn't turn into horrible monsters. His girlfriend isn't even dead or in stasis for god's sake. What is this shit?! What am I supposed to do now?"
On top of that garbage, they also needed to create a plot that would call for big action fight scenes and tension. To accomplish that, they created three Sephiroth knock-offs (who were failed clones that somehow survived Northern Crater exploding with Lifestream at the end of VII), gave people magic fantasy cancer due to Lifestream exposure (even though Cloud was showered in it during experimentation and later him and Tifa swam in the fucking thing without any ill effects), somehow brought JENOVA back (even though the pieces of her body were used by Sephiroth to astral project and were killed by the party), and then also somehow brought Sephiroth back.
Not to mention they also dragged Rufus Shinra out of the pits of hell to play decoy antagonist. For those that don't know, this handsome and not horribly mutilated boy right here was last seen eating a face full of missiles from Diamond Weapon.
Rufus is not a super soldier, he's the President's son. That man is dead. The fact that he dies is what fucks up Shinra's chain of command and throws Shinra into disarray, giving Hojo the chance to start prepping Sister Ray for another shot (as well as for the party to parachute into Midgar). Yet there he is in Advent Children, totally fine without so much as a single scratch despite being blown the fuck up by Godzilla Captain Planet.
The movie was a shitshow, is what I'm trying to say. I could do an entire update dedicated solely to ripping it apart. Unfortunately, we have other material to move on to.
Such as Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII.
Square apparently heard Vincent's complaining about Cloud replacing his character and said "Hey, that's right! Vincent also exists! I bet we could make a thing with him in it and exploit his tragic past!"
So in 2006, DoC was released on PS2. A 3rd-person shooter/action/RPG monstrosity. The game starred Vincent Valentine and took place one year after Advent Children (or 3 years after the original VII). It suffered from the DragonBall Z trope of the big bad having been defeated, only for it to turn out that there was an even BIGGER big bad hiding out in a shrub nearby.
In this case, the bigger bad hiding in the shrub was a group called Deepground (which I briefly mentioned when Shelke was introduced). Supposedly this was an elite group of SOLDIER (which was already Shinra's elite group), that had better equipment, weapons, and were more powerful than SOLDIER so why the fuck did Shinra even bother with SOLDIER in the first place? Because this game came much later than VII, this of course means that the super powerful army Shinra was hiding shows up out of nowhere and has never been previously mentioned by anyone until they are revealed. This causes the plot problem of why Shinra never employed them for any reason despite them being far superior to their main army and special forces. It also means that this insane fighting force was completely unknown to the entire executive board because none of them even hint at their existence in VII.
Deepground's plan was to sacrifice a bunch of non-Geostigma infected people in order to create a pure surge of Lifestream that would trigger the planet's final defence system, the WEAPON Omega. This is stupid for multiple reasons because Geostigma is an infection of JENOVA cells from the Lifestream that Aerith heals WITH the Lifestream at the end of AC and you know what, fuck it all.
They were trying to trick the planet into thinking it was under threat by killing a bunch of people off in order to summon Omega which would gather the Lifestream up and take off into space to find another planet to inhabit. Apparently sacrificing a thousand or so people would have been enough to trick the planet, while the various wars that Shinra waged across the world as well as fucking Meteor nearly slamming into the planet wasn't enough to do the job.
We won't dwell on this, because the Compilation of FFVII is one of the biggest Final Fantasy EUs and we still have more to suffer through. If you truly want to subject yourself to it, go read the LP on the archive. Fair warning: The plot involves Hojo having uploaded his brain to the internet and taking over some dudes body. Yeah. That happens.
This game was actually pretty cool and it's generally considered to be the "diamond in the rough" of the Compilation, no doubt helped by the fact that it has one of the most heartbreaking/tear-inducing endings in gaming (I fucking cried, and I'm the heartless monster that was advocating for the "kill all children" option in one of the Danganronpa threads).
That praise aside, it also contributed its fair share of poison to the veins of the VII universe. First of all, it gave everyone those goddamn angel wings that Sephiroth has become associated with despite them not having any meaning or appearing in the original game. Second, they based one of the main antagonist characters on Gackt, a Japanese singer/musician that contributed the butt-rock to Dirge of Cerberus. Said character was named Genesis, was as strong as Sephiroth, and constantly quoted a poem from VII called LOVELESS (also he thought he and the other main characters were characters from the poem and was trying to re-enact the poem to cure his fantasy disease). It also gave the Buster Sword a backstory like it was goddamn Excalibur.
Outside of that stuff, the Compilation also involved a bunch of side material that was mostly just filler. This included anime OVA's like Last Order (retelling the Nibelheim incident), On the Way to a Smile (short stories following up with the cast between VII and AC), and Before Crisis (a prequel cellphone game following the Turks, who are a Shinra covert ops group from VII. This game wasn't released outside Japan).
All of that stuff was mostly fine. It was just light material that expanded on some side characters or followed up with the main cast. It didn't introduce a bunch of horseshit or drag any characters through the mud, it was just little bits of material for fans to enjoy.
And that's the end of the mostly sad excuse for an extended universe about VII. The best way I can personally describe it is as a burning fireworks factory. It all looks pretty, but underneath the pretty lights the source of it all is turning to ash and will inevitably be left as a hollow shell of its former self.
The worst part is what's to come. As of early 2019, Square is still intending to release a Final Fantasy VII remake. There is a 99% probability that all of that added garbage I just talked about will be enshrined in the remake in order to complete the Compilation. Yaaaaayyy...
Now if you thought that Part 1 of this series of updates was bad, then prepare yourself. The Compilation was bad, but it doesn't contain quite the level of batshit insanity that some of the other extended universes do. I'm pretty sure the next part of this series will be Final Fantasy X and oh boy, that's gonna be some fun. X-2 is not where that train ends. X-2 is where that train starts picking up speed.