A train pulls in. A spiky-haired kid jumps off the roof. Kicks a guard. Blows up the reactor. Goes on to save the world.
Off the bat, this might not seem like an environmental warning masterpiece. However, there is a strong and persistent eco-friendly message in Final Fantasy VII – one that’s even more important today than it was over 20 years ago.
Since the start of the new year, I have been obsessively listening to the opening theme of Final Fantasy VII. I don’t know whether this is due to the fact that I can’t wait for the remake or whether it’s because the tension-filled theme matches the current anxieties of my daily life. Either way, having it pulsing through my eardrums has had me thinking about Final Fantasy VII.
If you have ever listened to the game’s opening score, you’ll know how it brilliantly mirrors the feel of the adventure you are about to embark on. It starts with a faint opening of mechanical ambience that is cut through by some hopeful strings as the distinctive sound of a train meters the background. These hopeful strings then take a depressive turn; the horns alluding to the state of affairs in Midgar. Then, suddenly, Final Fantasy VII starts and the music becomes an excited gallop. You know you’re at the start of an epic tale of a world turned sour.
That action is an environmental terrorist attack of the Shinra company – a company that is bleeding the world for use of its natural resources and the power that comes with its. For a game produced in the 90s, this was a dramatic and radical opening – but Final Fantasy VII pays more than just lip service to this environmental message. Throughout the first segment of the story you are reminded of the horrors of this dying planet and how the poorest civilians of the city are the ones paying the biggest price. Sure, Barrett’s less than subtle monologues about the environmental dangers to the world may become frequent as the story progresses, but it’s a message that continues to haunt the backdrop of the story.
We are reminded that the power that Shinra was tapping into is called the “life force”; it’s the embodiment of every soul on the planet. It gives life to all creatures, and every one of them returns to the life force stream when they pass away. It’s a very poetic but poignant expression of how the world gives life to us and we in return must live in balance with it. But at the beginning of Final Fantasy VII, this lifestream has become infected by the machinery and deeds of the evil people in charge of the world – and thus, the planet is dying.
It isn’t hard to draw parallels between this world and our own. Final Fantasy VII is creating a clear message: we are killing our planet.
That’s where that spiky-haired kid comes in. Cloud, Barrett and the band of eco-terrorists known as AVALANCHE want to stop Shinra’s efforts by blowing up their reactors. It’s extreme – and their so-called terrorist action is even debated within the game. Should they go to such explosive measures in order to reach their aims? Arguably, such action is easily justified once you experience the comically evil characters that run Shinra. Hell, when there’s a visible black circle of death surrounding the city of Midgar, you could say any action, no matter how extreme, is justified to try and combat it.
With Final Fantasy VII Remake just around the corner, the game’s environmental themes feel more pertinent than ever. I don’t believe Square was ever actively pushing for us to explode oil rigs, and there aren’t giant weapons destroying the man-made structures here on Earth. However, there’s no denying that we are in the midst of a real climate crisis; we’re suffering rising temperatures, widespread fires in Australia, devastating flooding and a smorgasbord of climate induced emergencies all over the globe.
Maybe the world is fighting back, just as it does in Final Fantasy VII.
When we play the remake next month, we will be reminded of the ailing health of our planet and what actions we can do to save it. Of course, we won’t need to go to such extremes – Final Fantasy VII is set in a world of hyper reality. But Earth doesn’t have its own Cloud or Barrett to miraculously fix it either. It’s down to each and every one of us to make a small difference. Those small differences all add up to make a huge change. Final Fantasy VII can serve as a reminder to the dangers of working against our planet and the environmental problems facing us in 2020.