(CW for profanity, mentions of cigarettes, fatalism, mortality and alcohol)
(Disclaimer: This article is presented in its original form, without editing or oversight from the Re:bind team. Enjoy.)
Most of us wont ever know the best nights of our life when they’re happening. That’s what makes getting older hard for so many people out there. History is a short change, it’s easy to feel like no more good nights are coming. Living in the ones that are half remembered. Running through the streets with friends. Living right means having just a few of these to get through life.
Getting old, getting older, dying. That’s life, and nobody needs to hear it from me. I hope I go into a grave either early or late; I hope I have enough shared nights that other people think back on the way I do. Maybe it’s just finding a way to live in the hazy spot between the brightly remembered times.
THE FIRST TIME I saw a city: a real metropolis, wasn’t in real life. For my generation, the story is probably the same. Kids off in small towns or rural pastures. Just south of me was a sprawling desert with some tall buildings, but all I knew about cities was they’re where you go to make it. Finding love, romance, a calling – you can’t do it for real unless you’re under neath those shimmering lights.
It’s a city that’s on a lot of our minds right now. It’s called Midgar, and I mostly remember it as a place of eternal night. Midgar isn’t about what people do up on the streets – it’s about dingy slums and cozy bars and the places people don’t go: the places they end up.
Yeah, the first time I saw a real city was in Final Fantasy VII. As real as it could be. Of course nothing could have prepared me for how much of my life would be spent in slums and cozy bars. The original Final Fantasy VII was made by people who were still young. Although it may be true that I’m still young, every day that gets less and less true. Now that I’m the age they were, I recognize the typical anxieties of my age group.
Talking about maybe the only RPG I can think of where more than a handful of characters talk about struggling from one bill to the next. Even though it’s a city that borders cyberpunk where it’s never daytime – Midgar never really comes off like a full caricature. Spend time somewhere and traces of real neighborhoods bubbling up through the fiction.
CLOUD STRIFE is young: and he’ll never suffer the burden of getting older. He’s gonna be frozen in time whenever we want to experience the story again, but we wont always feel the same way about him. It’s kind of a trap: knowing something that affected you is always out there, but one day might start offering diminishing returns.
The first time I played Final Fantasy VII I was caught up in how cool cloud is. One liners, bravado – a little unapproachable. The right mixture of confidence and anxiety. Shame the developers for making a character so breakout critics can’t help but compare every character after back to him.
Final Fantasy VII Remake (let’s just call it Remake) has a different Cloud, and a different Midgar. A shock came to my system early on, wandering down a familiar station to a Sector 7 Slums. This time I was blinded by a bright sky, filling in the details somewhere I only imagined. It was strange, not at all the city I expected.
The strength of the mood here is in not being entirely beholden to the original’s presentation. A short walk through the streets after you blew a reactor sky high in the original is an exercise in music hurrying us along. Here, we walk through the decimated streets and listen to people worry over missing partners and destroyed apartments. You can’t have good nights without the days they’re attached to.
Eventually the plot beats get a little more familiar: it’s back to sneaking out of Aerith’s house. Funny how the difficulties of moving an awkward 3D body perfectly capture how difficult the original was.
It really hadn’t clicked for me until I got outside.
Seeing the city of Midgar over my head really was something. Better than all of the high res post processing could show off, here’s a place defined by what our memory fills in. A canvas should be empty when we go to paint, and there’s no emptiness like the darkness outside the safety of streetlamps.
Earlier in the game you see a different side of Midgar at night, and it’s surreal in a way that the fondness of memory rarely allows for. That’s a story for a different article.
I can’t name the precise feeling: my stupid adolescent memories of a fake city mixed with all of the real places I’d been. All the dingy street corners, cigarette-smoke covered patios and hazy walks home filled with laughter sprinkled in. Cloud is young and I finally am, too.
All the good nights in Final Fantasy VII are about a certain recklessness that life is about. Why not get liquored up and pile into a friends car to drive two hours? We’re in too deep to think about what’s gonna happen tomorrow. “You’d be better off worrying about the next five seconds” says Cloud himself. Of course that’s real life, and here those nights are about motorcycle chases, domestic terrorism – somehow all stamped with the right amount of laughter.
It was never clear in Final Fantasy VII how much of the story really focuses on all the good nights in Cloud’s life. He’s a sheltered kid who left home and didn’t measure up to his idea of the outside world. A familiar story now (maybe too familiar). Later RPG’s have a fondness for heartfelt declarations underneath a night sky, but the best part of real late nights is how quick and often dumb they happen.
In Remake this was suddenly more clear to me. With time to hang loose, god, Cloud is a sheltered nerd.
Nothing may be trashier than the way videogames handle romance, except for how they handle sexuality. Remake is a little refreshing because for fucks sake, I could’ve dealt with a protagonist who’s awkward with people because of inexperience and not because he’s too cool to fuck.
Here’s to measuring up to fake childhood heroes two decades later. Fiction makes it so easy for people with no experience to steal from places they think they can. I’m not the only one who’s guilty (thankfully long outgrown) of thinking that kind of stoic, aloofness could stand in for either a personality or life experience.
Remake has me wondering, if I were still so sheltered and afraid of the world: would this have reached me the same way? It works because it’s different: the parts of myself I recognize now are out of empathy and understanding, not longing or projection. I can’t answer for the past, because trying would mean being stuck in it.
The trap of fiction is the same as the trap of all those nights out. We fall into patterns that aren’t ours, we mistake memory and illusion for life. No matter what they look like, try to live in them – but be willing to outgrow both yourself and the fiction you depend on.