Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Modernizing a Cast of Classic Characters
The Final Fantasy 7 Remake is officially on the calendar, and Square Enix has a huge task ahead of it: build and improve upon what many people consider to be the greatest game ever made.
It’s a herculean task, and there may not be any real right answer to everything everyone wants. That said, I’d like to talk about three areas where the Remake can and should take Final Fantasy 7: character, world, and story.
And because there’s a lot of ground to cover, this article is all about the characters we’ve seen so far, including those we saw at Square's E3 conference.
Following articles will cover world and story separately.
Character: The Heart of Any RPG
So far, we’ve met some of the core members of the cast: Cloud, Barret, Aerith, and finally Tifa. The relationship between Cloud and the two other women is in many ways the heart and soul of the game, counterpointed somewhat by his growing friendship with the big guy with the gun arm.
The most important task for the writers of Final Fantasy 7 Remake is to not only build on these characters but still stay true to their roots. Let’s look at each in turn, starting with Cloud.
Cloud Strife: SOLDIER, Leader, Damaged
Cloud is one of the most complex characters in classic JRPG history. He is a walking mass of conflictions, discordant memories, and competing desires. He wants to love and he wants revenge. He seeks a future without regard to the past, while at the same time being defined by it. If I contradict myself it is only because Cloud contradicts himself constantly.
For those of you who never played Final Fantasy 7, I won’t spoil some of the most poignant and powerful moments from the original game, but I will explain some of the building blocks Square Enix will have to use as a foundation for this first foray into Midgar.
The Cloud we meet at the beginning of Final Fantasy 7 is sure of himself, somewhat distant, and generally apathetic of the plights of people around him. To those people who matter to him, he can be caring, understanding, and even warm. Still, there are pieces of himself he cannot properly categorize, and in attempting to save others from worry, hides these pieces deep in his heart.
To stave off any concern, he puts on a brave face, wrapping himself in the guise of a warrior willing to take almost any job for the right price.
As the story unfolds, we get to also see the more playful side of this young man as the women in his life work to open him up — either romantically or otherwise. When he’s free to be himself, Cloud can be silly and dopey, with a dry but ready wit and a kind heart. He’s good at many things but great at very few, and though aware of his shortcomings is loathe to let others see them.
The Remake needs to capture this Cloud, and there are two core tenants of his character they must maintain. They are:
1. He Finds his Own Purpose
Or at least thinks he does.
Cloud, in the Remake, must remain a driven individual who’s willing to chart his own path without hesitation. He must be willing to entertain other people’s points of view and experiment with new things, but ultimately, he must believe his will to be his own. More than that, we need to come to understand that, even before he leaves Midgar at the end of this first game, that he carries a much greater weight on his shoulders than he lets anyone else know about.
Whether it’s through interactions with Sephiroth like we see in the trailer or through various glitches in memory that seem out of place to us but normal for Cloud, the Remake has to give us the impression that even after 30 hours, we only know a little bit of his story.
2. He is Capable of Great Things
Though not chosen by destiny, per se, the Remake needs to make clear that there is some greater purpose to everything Cloud does. He isn’t in the mercenary business to save the world, but we need to see events swirl around him in such a way that his natural instincts push him in that direction.
Primarily, we need to see his caring and selfless nature, but also his stubbornness and uncertainty in the face of things he doesn’t quite understand. Ultimately, we need to see that the Cloud of the Remake is sure and unsure of himself in equal measure, but that the former wins out more often than not.
Tifa Lockhart — Old Friend, Powerful Ally, Heart
No less conflicted than her childhood friend, Tifa is nonetheless the emotional center of Final Fantasy 7.
Before anyone else comes along, she shows that Cloud’s tough-guy routine isn’t fooling anyone, and that she remembers the warm, hopeful boy of their shared past. She understands the sacrifices she’s had to make, and the blood on her hands. However, she also wants to rediscover the person she’s not seen in five years, a boy turned young man she’s wondered about as she built a life in the slums of an enormous city.
The Remake trailer shows us this exact young woman, who’s shy, uncertain of the path forward but willing to see it through. We also see someone with real power who’s willing to let her fists do the talking when the moment calls for it. We also see a little bit of how she and Cloud interact, how they share their worries and their cares, if only because they come from the same place but have taken different journeys to get there.
In the original game, we learn how Tifa’s road to her Seventh Heaven bar is fraught with many dangers, but that she faced them eagerly for the chance to make the kind of difference she couldn’t years before. We learn that somewhere in her is the kind of strength found in the greatest heroes, but that it’s so tightly bound in doubt and anxiety she finds it difficult to call upon in dire moments.
And while I was impressed with how true Tifa’s character seemed in what little we saw of her in the Remake trailer, I think there are a couple of incredibly important points that Square Enix needs to hit if Tifa is to have the emotional resonance she deserves. They are:
1. Strength of More than Just a Fist
Though she’s shy and has difficulty expressing her true feelings, Tifa is an incredibly strong person, with the intent and will to accomplish almost anything. She can channel this power through her fists, of course, but her real potential is in the comfort and strength she can provide to the people around her.
Even if she isn’t feeling particularly together herself, Tifa in the Remake needs to go out of her way to ensure that those around her are ready and able to get their own jobs done and come home happy at the end of the day.
2. A Willingness to Sacrifice
In the Remake, Tifa should be willing to lay down everything for what she believes in, especially as it involves the people she cares about most. She is a loving person by nature, but she needs to have the will and the strength to put her foot down — especially to Cloud — so their mission ends in success.
Tifa also needs to sometimes wear her burdens visibly on her shoulders but be unwilling or unable to fully voice them, primarily so other people can understand that they are not the only ones with baggage — and that she’s there for them even under that immense emotional weight.
Aerith Gainsborough — Slum Girl, Savior, Mischief Maker
The Remake trailer doesn't paint Aerith in the same light we see her in for most of the original game. In Final Fantasy 7, Aerith is strong-willed, stubborn, sometimes fearless, sometimes frail, and somewhat mischevious. What she believes is, for her at least, what is. She’s able to read someone in just a few moments.
She’s also caring, kind-hearted, and generally open-minded about most things.
Buried beneath all that, however, is a deep-seated reservation about who and what she is. Hounded by ShinRa for her bloodline and its abilities, and accosted on all sides by the voices of the Planet and of the dead, Aerith understands that fate probably has something great in store for her, and that she is to play a vital role in some calamitous event.
In some ways, her burden is greater than almost any other character, and the flirting, snarking, and general forwardness are as much a cover for her own insecurities as they are a natural part of her personality.
The Remake needs to not abandon any of these important aspects of Aerith’s character. She get in the way, be nosy, accept everyone for who they are, and still be competent enough to feel like she can finish the jobs put before her.
If I could boil down Square’s tasks for Aerith in the Remake, they would be as follows:
1. A Plucky Girl From Far Beyond the Slums
Growing up in the slums of Sector 6, Aerith is no stranger to conflict, poverty, or hardship. Though her mother’s home is something of a secluded paradise in a grimy group of huts, she nonetheless lived a life filled with difficulties. ShinRa and her abilities notwithstanding.
We need to see how her experiences have both hardened her to the difficulties Cloud and co. face, but also how those made her empathetic to their struggles. More than that, we need to see even more about how her knowledge of her true nature plays into her interactions with those she’s closest to.
Does she confide more in Cloud than in the original game, and what would that knowledge spark in him if he discovers it, burdened as he is by Sephiroth?
2. Making Some Mischief
Aerith is incredibly perceptive, and no doubt sees the attraction Tifa feels for Cloud, regardless of the circumstances of their first meeting. Trouble is, she doesn't really care and goes a little out of her way to flirt and tempt Cloud when the chances arise.
It’s something Tifa — shy and uncertain as she is — finds incredibly vexing, and in the Remake, there’s plenty of additional space to explore the love triangle.
Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the cross-dressing scene and the pivotal role Aerith plays there. I mean, it was her idea for Cloud to dress up, and she takes no small delight in making sure everything goes perfectly.
If we don’t see that side of Aerith, I think Square’s done her a great disservice.
Barret Wallace — Terrorist, Hero, Father
One of the first things we learn about Barret, both in the original Final Fantasy 7 and the trailer we recently watched, is that he believes in what he does, even as it costs thousands of people their lives.
As the leader of the AVALANCHE guerilla group — really a small band of ecoterrorists at this point — he will go to any lengths to see both ShinRa removed from power and the threat they pose to the planet eliminated.
He is also a caring father and someone who carries the weight of those deaths on his shoulders. Not proudly, per se, but as a burden, he’s more than willing to bear for future generations. We get a glimpse of his relationship with his daughter Marlene in the trailer, and it’s clear that she means the world to him. The feeling is mutual, as it was in the first game.
From what we saw of Barret in the Remake trailer, there are a few things Square must continue to push forward on if they want to recreate Barret as both true to himself and true to what modern gamers expect out of a character.
1. Tough Guy with a Gooey Center
Barret’s character arc in the original Final Fantasy 7, boiled down to its essentials, is his coming to terms with the fact that what he wants and what he can do are two separate things. He must realize that he is ultimately too small, too vulnerable — even beneath his tough-guy veneer — to make the kind of change he truly desires.
More than that, he has to discover that what really matters to him and what he thought mattered to him are also completely separate things. At the end of the day, we as players need to see Barret’s softer side come out, even as he puts on a brave face for everyone around him.
2. He’s Conflicted
Early in Final Fantasy 7, Barret and Cloud argue about the cause the former SOLDIER is being paid to fight for: saving the Planet. At some point in the conversation, Barret exclaims, “The Planet’s dyin’, Cloud!” The line, though only text, betrays something key about Barret’s character: he too sometimes doubts the inspirational speeches he tells his people about their mission.
In the Remake, we need to see Barret’s veneer crack, probably from some snappy wit or apathetic aside from Cloud. As the party grows in size and new people shine new perspectives on Barret’s worldview, it’s my hope that his Remake incarnation has moments of deeper reflection that we get to be a part of and that we can use to learn alongside him.
While I hope these beloved characters grow, and Square explores them deeper in the Remake, we still have time to analyze, ponder, and find out. The Final Fantasy 7 Remake is set to launch March 3, 2020.
Be sure to check out our other Remake articles as well: