It’s possible to see Final Fantasy VII as a Japanese cultural study. From outside, the city of Midgar, isolated on all sides, mirrors Japan’s post-war, industrial boom. The dominate color is green, the only change from winding pipe systems and smokestacks that once defined the country’s polluted skylines.
At the core though is something entirely western, an outright interrogation of American capitalism: its history, the cost, and its ruthlessness. At face value, the thematic underpinnings feel routine, with a symbolic mega-structure for the wealthy blocking light from the slums underneath, and the heroes seeking ever higher upward mobility during their adventure. It’s embarrassingly literal. And in this era of capitalist backlash, routine.
Final Fantasy VII works substance into its layers though. That’s where it matters, even if too often shuffling barely-there characters throughout the story despite some 30 hours to work with.
There’s Aerith, obnoxiously pure, but descended from a race of indigenous people wiped out as oil barons – or, Mako barons – seized control. There’s Cloud, the once obedient soldier who realizes military force is there for profit and fear, not honest authority. Final Fantasy VII’s drapery is that of surreal Asian anime (down to Barrett’s racially questionable style), freeing up room for misplaced camp value, if wholeheartedly focused on demeaning, dampening, and damaging ruthless profiteering.
The outsider perspective embellishes society, of course. Those running the Mako-sapping business giant Shinra are nothing less than outlandish CEO stereotypes. Final Fantasy VII isn’t without introspective touches too, insofar as depicting eastern religious ideologies (an unspoken God, the planet a living entity), a nation stuck between past and future, tradition and progress. But in retelling this story, Final Fantasy VII empowers youth to withstand – and fight – the systems keeping them trapped below and poisoning air. A girl (not even a journalist) standing on a soapbox, repeating corporate propaganda as news to frame the heroes and oppress others is only a small moment, yet essential.
“Boundless, terrifying freedom,” says Aerith, capping Final Fantasy VII before the finale. It’s unwavering in its colorful, sometimes bizarre, and engaging criticism.