Final Fantasy VII Remake: The Shocking Truth

The recently landed Final Fantasy VII Remake is bold in its lack of scope. Rather than reimagining the whole of the original Final Fantasy VII, the first Remake game expands the first few hours of it, spent entirely in the urban confines of Midgar. It presents an engrossingly detailed version of the city, bringing new dimension to both the characters and their world as the player spends an entire full-length RPG in one city. By setting its sights so low, the new Final Fantasy VII somehow feels grander than ever.

Much of this time in Midgar sets up the prime conflict of Final Fantasy VII Remake: the nefarious Shinra Corporation drains mako energy from the planet, depleting the world’s natural vivacity and creating a cruelly unequal society. The lower classes reside literally beneath the more fortunate elites, with Midgar’s structural plates dividing the city into lavish upper levels and the impoverished ground-dwellers. Protagonist Cloud Strife finds himself in the revolutionary outfit Avalanche, driven to terrorism in their efforts to unravel Shinra’s environmental and economic tyranny. It all seems a simple struggle, with the player guiding Cloud in his defense of the oppressed underclasses.

Yet are Midgar’s alleged slum-dwellers really poor? Thanks to Final Fantasy VII Remake’s painstaking visual recast, we at last can see the truth.



Upon arriving in the Sector 7 Slums, Cloud drifts to the Seventh Heaven bar to reconnect with his childhood friend Tifa. Here we spy the first of many clues about just how well-off Midgar’s lowest neighborhood actually is. The bar has a television, a presumably robust supply of alcohol, a jukebox, a dartboard, and not one but two pinball machines! Avalanche leader Barret goes on ceaselessly about the injustices of Shinra, and Tifa sides with him. Yet if they’re so oppressed, why haven’t they sold these pinball machines to better their situation? 




Other signs appear when Tifa shows Cloud to his apartment. While he’s just arrived and has no visible luggage, Cloud finds the room already furnished. Even a brief look around reveals some perfectly good tables, a few plastic containers, several books, a relatively unrusted toolbox, and two bottles of indeterminate toiletry product on the sink. The sink even has a mirror! And all this Cloud gets for free in what we're told is the worst district of Midgar!

And that's hardly the end of the revelations about this supposedly bleak and squalid place.


Confession: My First Video Game Crush

Who was your first video-game crush? It’s okay to admit that you had one. The self-loathing nerd mindset, popular online some fifteen years back, will make you pretend that you are above such things and, indeed, were above such things even when you were a hormonal adolescent or an innocently enamored child.

Well, that’s no longer a problem. Today’s Internet is stocked with adults openly confessing and exploring their current crushes on fictional characters, and most of them seem all the healthier for it. So don’t be afraid.

In fact, my first crush on a video game character is embarrassing only because it’s obscure. A lot of young geeks found their first infatuation with popular characters like Samus Aran, Chun Li, Ryu and/or Ken, Lara Croft, and Terry Bogard. Mine was well off that radar.

It was the spring of 1991, and I was at a neighbor kid’s birthday party. Said kid was the lucky sort whose parents liked video games a lot and bought a new one every week, so plenty of other children showed up. Several new games appeared at the party, and one of them was Super Spike V’Ball. We started a match, and the referee appeared in a little portrait.


“Oh,” said one of the other kids present. “She’s the ref…”

 “She’s BEAUTIFUL,” I’m afraid I blurted out.

A brief and humiliating silence followed. The other kid had just been uncertain about the referee’s role in this, which made my response all the stranger. Fortunately, everyone was either confused or polite enough to ignore what I’d just said, and we went back to figuring out Super Spike V’Ball’s serving mechanics.


Little Things: Casino Kid and Casino Games


I’ve recently come to appreciate casino video games. For a long time I considered them routine, disposable pieces of a game system’s library, and I paid them about as much attention as the NES version of Pictionary. As with all games, however, it’s a matter of just how much effort a developer applies, and some developers of casino titles went far beyond the basics.


Sofel’s Casino Kid is a good example. It’s a straightforward selection of gambling diversions, but it progresses with an RPG-like overhead view as the title hero roams a casino. In between blackjack and poker matches, the player can talk to the various dealers, waitresses, and assorted patrons. Instead of just scrolling up a text box, the game cuts to a separate screen of our protagonist grinning cockily at the conversation.

Most of the encounters in Casino Kid are terse and slightly odd. My favorite comes from this waitress.


Some of the women working at the casino say “I’m pretty!” for no apparent reason, but this green-haired waitress takes it a step further. She’s telling the Kid that she thinks she’s pretty, as though she’s spent the morning mulling over her self-worth and concluded that she doesn’t need others to validate her appearance. She may be wearing a Playboy bunny costume in a casino, but she’s not looking for anyone, not even a blond smirksome video-game hero, to bolster her confidence. She thinks she’s pretty, and that’s all that matters.

Other chats paint a less stable portrait of the staff. In fact, one waitress is openly upset.


Overlooked Licenses of the NES Era

Just about anything could become a game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. By the early 1990s the NES dominated the console market, and every remotely popular film or TV show was a ripe prospect, from Star Wars and Duck Tales to older, stranger choices like Fester’s Quest and The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island. Of course, such games made no secret of these licenses, their covers and box copy proclaiming their ties to Gremlins 2 or Wheel of Fortune or Hudson Hawk.

Yet you’ll also find my favorite vein of licensed NES games: the ones based on things so obscure that most of us weren’t aware of them. We assumed we were playing games just as original as Super Mario Bros. or Ninja Gaiden, and we didn’t learn the truth behind the licenses until years down the road.

BARKER BILL’S TRICK SHOOTING
(Nintendo, 1989)
Nintendo seldom bothered with games drawn from movies or TV shows. There was no point, not when Mario was bigger than Mickey Mouse by 1989. Granted, they could’ve licensed nearly anything; countless companies would’ve been eager to have the game industry’s most powerful force backing a tie-in for a movie or comic or TV series. And so, with the wide vista of the entertainment industry pretty much theirs for the taking, Nintendo chose…an obscure 1950s cartoon mascot called Barker Bill.


Barker Bill’s Cartoon Show was a collection of black-and-white shorts hosted by a mustachioed ringmaster, and it’s remembered mostly for pioneering afternoon cartoons for children from 1953 to 1955. Barker Bill had a TV show and a short-lived comic strip, but his star fell a good three decades before the NES even launched in North America.

Nintendo didn’t put their best squad on Barker Bill’s Trick Shooting, but it’s not a terrible game. Bill and his assistant Tricksie (who appears to be invented just for the NES) are pleasantly animated hosts of a gallery of targets, and the title screen even has them stage a trick shot and then run for their lives when the logo crashes down. There’s also a dog that pops up throughout the levels, snickering at missed shots and cementing the game as a spiritual follow-up to Duck Hunt.


Barker Bill’s Trick Shooting is obscure even among NES games designed to use the Zapper light-gun, and it leaves behind a mystery. Why did Nintendo license Barker Bill of all things? Was it a childhood favorite of someone high up in the company’s American branch? Was Barker Bill one of those TV shows with an unexpectedly huge following in Japan, like Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races? Barker Bill was never released in Japan, so I’d guess not.


For that matter, was Barker Bill’s Trick Shooting even a licensed game? Only Nintendo’s copyright appears on the game’s box and title screen, inviting speculation that Nintendo just invented this particular Barker Bill by convergent evolution and that no one cared enough to mount a lawsuit. Or perhaps Barker Bill was in the public domain by the 1980s and no one cared enough to fight Nintendo over him.