Square-Enix’s meteoric rise and subsequent eighteen year slump began in 1997, when Final Fantasy VII came into the hands of millions of gamers, many of them new to the RPG genre. Following this moment, Square-Enix’s desire to replicate a deluge of acclaim and applause fell short again and again. The progression that was supposed to come naturally to the creators was sputtered out in clumsy, sometimes awkward releases, causing all of us to wonder why they could not cast another story in gold.
Final Fantasy VII expands into film and animation
Finally, in the mid-2000s, Square conceded to fan demands and expanded the Final Fantasy VII narrative. This expansion resulted in two animated productions and three major games.
Square’s first expansion was unusual for the time: a mobile RPG titled Before Crisis. First released in 2004 (well before the smartphone came of age), Before Crisis is an episodic prequel that has the player in the role of a Shin-Ra enforcer trying to suppress rebellion throughout the world. The game is set six years before Final Fantasy VII and sees cameos from over a half-dozen major characters from the parent game, most notably Cloud, Aerith, and Sephiroth. The technical limitations of mobile gaming at the time resulted in Before Crisis having graphics and sound that was akin at best to a polished version of an NES game. Square was evidently not confident in the game, and never released it outside of Japan.
Square’s second expansion was its most ambitious: A direct-to-DVD feature titled Advent Children. Released in 2005, the movie is a sequel set two years after Final Fantasy VII. Cloud and his comrades contend with cult of Sephiroth clones in the dystopic ruins of Midgar, FF7’s primary metropolis. Advent Children is the most consequential expansion to the FF7 story, detailing the game’s aftermath and fate of the characters. Aesthetically, the realistic models for the cast reshaped the popular conception of the characters, especially in the mod community. As a film, however, Advent Children did not captivate a general audience, owed large to a plot that requires a lot of familiarity with the source material–hence the 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
One side-note: Square released a Blu-ray special edition, Advent Children Complete, in 2009. This special edition includes On the Way to a Smile, a compendium of seven short stories set in the aftermath of FF7. The stories center on:
- Denzel, an orphan from Midgar
- Tifa, Cloud’s childhood friend and love interest
- Barrett, the rebel leader and cohort of Tifa’s
- Yuffie, a spunky ninja and optional character from Final Fantasy VII
- Red XIII, a hyper-intelligent beast also known as Nanaki
- Rufus, the heir to the Shin-Ra empire
- Lifestream, the spiritual essence that make up the world’s energy
Square’s third expansion was Last Order, an animated prequel that depicts the destruction of Cloud and Tifa’s hometown by Sephiroth. Released in 2005, Last Order was packaged as a non-dubbed traditionally animated companion piece to Advent Children. At about a half-hour in length, Last Order is easily overlooked.
Square’s fourth expansion was Dirge of Cerberus, a 3D action game for the Sony PlayStation 2. Released in 2006, Dirge of Cerberus is set three years after Final Fantasy VII and centers on Vincent Valentine, an optional character from the parent game, who pursues a syndicate aimed at finishing what Sephiroth started. Square designed the game as a third-person shooter, a bold departure from the FF7 norm. This change in genre was not greeted by the gaming public: Dirge of Cerberus manages a 57 score on Metacritic.
Square’s fifth expansion was Crisis Core, an action-RPG exclusive to the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP). Released in 2008, the prequel focuses on Zack Fair, the doomed soldier Cloud modeled himself after. By preserving the RPG formula, Crisis Core found a warmer reception than Dirge of Cerberus. Although Zack may not have become a fan-favorite, his story fleshed out the world and people of Gaia in a way not possible back in 1997. This appreciation is seen in the game’s strong Metacritic score of 83.
Fans wanted to see and learn more about the world of Final Fantasy VII. Square did that, and while the quality of the movies and games Square produced is arguable, the story seemed complete. It now fell to the creativity of a knowledgeable gamer base to innovate Final Fantasy VII. The results would be intriguing.