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SECOND LOOK: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

When people look back on the PlayStation, most will likely mention or reference Final Fantasy VII as one of the best games on the system. Earlier this year at the E3 expo, Square Enix surprised gamers with the announcement of a hi-def remake of the game. In honour of this exciting announcement, I decided to revisit the game’s movie sequel Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Beautifully animated with good voice-acting and fun action sequences, the film is enjoyable, but suffers from a confusing plot and a required understanding of the game’s story to properly appreciate it.

The film does try to establish the game’s plot to newcomers in its opening prologue, but it is vague and doesn’t really go into much depth beyond the basic plot points. The world is protected by something called the Lifestream, which is spiritual in nature. An alien entity called Jenova crashed to Earth, and its cells were used by the Shinra company to create super soldiers. Their best soldier, Sephiroth, learnt of his origins and turned evil, intending on destroying the world through Jenova’s power. Opposing Sephiroth was the ecoterrorist group AVALANCHE, led by angsty, spiky-haired mercenary Cloud Strife. Anyway, things happen, Sephiroth murders Cloud’s friend Aerith Gainsborough, the Lifestream stops the apocalypse, and Sephiroth seemingly dies. But that is not the end of it

Advent Children kicks off two-or-three years after the game depending on which version of the film you are watching. Humanity is now suffering from an illness called Geostigma which mostly harms kids, and amongst the victims is Cloud (Steve Burton), now twice as angsty as ever, isolating himself from his friends to wallow in his own self-hatred after Aerith’s death, another traumatic event in his life after his best friend Zack (Rick Gomez) died. Cloud’s friend Tifa Lockhart (Rachel Leigh Cook) takes care of two children Marlene and Denzel, the latter infected with Geostigma, and feels rather helpless and unwanted. So much so that he approaches the film’s villains led by Kadaj (Steve Staley) who offers a “cure” to his suffering.

Cloud learns from the Turks led by Rufus Shinra (Wally Wingert) that Kadaj’s gang are actually remnants of Jenova who plot to resurrect Sephiroth to please their “mother”. When Denzel, Marlene, and other children are taken by Kadaj’s gang, Cloud leaps into action to rescue them and possibly to deal with his own demons. There are some other subplots going on, like the antics involving the Turks, Rude (Crispin Freeman), and Reno (Quinton Flynn), and a running gag where the immortal Vincent Valentine (Steven Blum) searches for a place to buy a mobile phone.

I usually talk about the negatives first, but I really want to discuss the good parts. The animation is top notch. Beautifully animated, Advent Children was created by the same team that made the games, so it is like watching an extended cutscene at times, but the animation and level of detail is just so amazing that it takes your breath away. Never do the characters look awkward or stiff; they move fluidly, and are always expressive, even if the lips movements don’t match the English dialogue. Another good aspect is the voice acting, featuring many veteran professionals. I think my favourite performance is Rachel Leigh Cook as Tifa, capturing the character’s compassion but also the toughness that comes with it. Music was composed by Nobuo Uematsu, with many lovely pieces and some reprisals of themes from the game.

I love the action scenes in this film. The film’s co-directors Tetsuya Nomura and Takeshi Nozue clearly had fun with this movie. There is no realism here. The characters can defy physics, fly around, back flip off skyscrapers, endure all kinds of abuse, and they will still come back for more. It makes The Matrix’s fight scenes look like a Power Rangers episode. My favourite scene is when Tifa fights the bad guy Loz in Aerith’s church. They just beat the hell out of each other and throw each other around, and Tifa does a cool Spider-Man trick before laying a smackdown on Loz that would make Hulk Hogan proud.

However, there are some moments where the characters become immortal – as in they can survive what would be fatal injuries. Cloud takes a bullet to the head and comes away without a scratch, while another character has a billboard dropped on his head and suffers a brief concussion. The sense of disbelief can be spoiled a few times in the film. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; the film does have a lot of exciting moments but never forgets that the characters are driving the story, even if most of the third act consists of motorbike chases and sword fights.
The film’s story is sadly its weakest element. In order to properly enjoy this film, you have to have past knowledge of the game’s story to fully understand what’s going on. An average person like myself has never played Final Fantasy VII to my shame but might get the remake if and when I buy a PlayStation 4. This element also effects the characters. Beyond Cloud, Tifa, and the Turks, you don’t really get to know any of the other characters. Midway through the film, Kadaj summons a giant dragon called Bahamut, and suddenly all of the game’s supporting protagonists appear out of nowhere to fight it. And beyond the characters I had seen in Kingdom Hearts, I was wondering the first time I watched the film why Mr. T, an Arcanine, and a talking cat were fighting a monster.

Yeah, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a pretty fun rollercoaster ride with plenty of good qualities. Confusing plot points aside, the film is another example of making films for the converted and leaving average audiences scratching their heads. I have similar issues with other films I reviewed like Digimon: The Movie and Pokémon: The First Movie, which failed to properly introduce the universe they are playing with to the audience, isolating one half in the process.

What are your thoughts on Final Fantasy VII and this movie? Are you looking forward to the hi-def remake? Sound off in the comments or respond on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell