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FFVII Week: The When

Written By mista sense on Thursday, April 3, 2008 | 12:34 PM

[Crisis Core is, perhaps surprisingly, a massive success. To celebrate its launch, Sexy Videogameland will be analyzing one aspect of the FFVII mythos each day this week, as it appears both in the new PSP title and in the original PSone predecessor. Today, we'll look at the 'What' behind the series -- the themes and elements that helped earn the franchise an enduring fanbase. Previously on SVGL's FFVII week: The 'Who' of FFVII's key characters, the 'What' of its key themes, and the 'Where' of its meaningful environments.]

We've actually touched on the 'When' of FFVII while we were aiming to explain some possible reasons why it resonated so strongly with us. Main theory: most of us were teens and adolescents at the time when we were introduced to the game. Even for older players, the early twenties are yet another time of parsing out where we belong in the greater world and what our roles should be. As we've said, FFVII as an individual identity story overlaid on a global crisis had relevance to a generation that was largely at a stage of considering these issues in our lives.

It also helps explain the extent of the fandom. That era's most vocal core of the gaming market is simply more mature now. We still love new games, and love plenty of them even more than FFVII. Maybe we're just grown up enough now that we don't throw a public fit in their favor.

As an offhand example, the online archive of fanfic site Fanfiction.net contains no fewer than 21,200 pieces of fan-submitted creative works on FFVII, multitudes more than any other game on the site has garnered. In second place is the franchise's follow up, FFVIII, with a little more than half that many. Since FFVIII, many FF games have been more positively reviewed by the fanbase, but the fan-crafted fictional love letters have not come pouring in.

Why? Probably because of the timing. The portion of the audience most likely to spend time and effort on passionate fanfiction is just too old for it now. They're busy at work on more practical life affairs, necessarily, and don't get the same love buzz from imaginary scenarios as they used to. And now, that archive of 21,200 FFVII stories stands as a testament to high, high levels of fan fever -- and maybe, to our adult selves, makes us feel a little bit silly nowadays.

Side note: The third most popular game to write fanfiction about, according to Fanfiction.net, is Sonic the Hedgehog. Also, I've never personally written a fanfiction about a video game, but if they'd had DeviantArt in 1997, I probably would have been uploading cheezy anime sketches.

Anyway, I'm of the opinion that today's game fans like to ridicule FFVII because of its inadvertent and perhaps unfortunate role as a lightning rod for teen angst. Former fans are embarrassed at it, and those who didn't get on the FFVII boat see it as the poster child for the kind of kid they like to punch.

Diehards -- and more moderate fans who don't care what other people think -- know better. But for everyone else, Crisis Core has an unusually steep hill to climb as far as being embraced in an audience that tends to be hostile towards the subject matter. On one hand, it's a game for the fans, a piece of the story we've always wanted. But on the other hand, it deserves more recognition than pure fanservice -- from a pure design standpoint, it can stand on its own as that rare RPG tooled perfectly for PSP.

Controlling the menus in the heat of battle takes some adjustment, but is simple enough to orient to before long. It turns out to be so quick and accessible I'd even like it in a console RPG, like if you could switch characters with the triggers and navigate the menu with the shoulder buttons.

Back on topic, if FFVII is a time capsule of fans' young and angsty times, then what can Crisis Core be to us now? After all, if we're suggesting that FFVII suffers for the memory of those days, why would we want to revisit them ten years later?

The easy answer: Because technology has come so far in ten years. We've said that the 'Who' and 'Where' of FFVII helped it leave such a lasting impression -- with that in mind, it's arresting and inspiring to see the characters and people rendered with today's technology. I recently had the same sense of awe just playing Super Mario Galaxy, overlapping Bowser's princess-stealing in that title with my primitive early-era mental image -- and Mario's not exactly an emotional drama.

Recall in the more primitive days of RPGs, when we had nothing but character sprites and maybe a profile portrait. The reason we couldn't get enough FMV when it became possible -- and why we might have too much of it nowadays -- was because of the wonderment in finally being able to visualize those characters in depth and detail. FFVII's rendered movies were unforgettable not just because they portrayed key story moments, but because it was one of the first glimpses of the potential of the technology. Nobody complained about "unskippable cutscenes" back then.

Because it's been ten years (almost eleven, really), since FFVII, Crisis Core is of a sophistication that resurrects that same feeling of wonder as we see new life breathed into familiar places and people through technology. The vagueries around Zack Fair were part of VII's mystique -- we had only a brief look at him. Now, we can stare him in the face. And watching an evolved Sephiroth cross the metal floor of a Mako reactor, his hair trailing behind him, is practically a disassociative moment.

It's more difficult to conceive of Crisis Core as actually being able to provide some of us with a sense of closure, even in some small way, on our own restless years. But if we can conceive of FFVII as an avatar for tougher days, though, then it's easier to let Crisis Core be something of a bookend, a proper conclusion for a chapter of our own life stories, even when the game itself is a prequel.

This is because it answers so many questions, fills in so many of the spaces that piqued our imaginations from FFVII, beginning with one of the biggest in Zack. Personally, for some reason I was always really attached to Tseng, as a teenage FFVII fan, even though he appeared so rarely. I love that he gets so much airtime in Crisis Core. But every fan will have something.

The passing of time -- the turning of the years forward in our own lives and backward in the life of the gameworld -- gives Crisis Core added meaning for fans; in revisiting that world, we're revisiting ourselves.

And speaking of "whens," do you think a PS3 remake of FFVII would be a good thing, or not? Vote in the sidebar poll!

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