As I play through Final Fantasy VII Remake I’m struck by how Extremely My Jam the game’s narrative is. Maybe I’m just a sucker for those JRPG tropes, but, man, I love the ragtag band teaming up to save the world from some cosmic evil while dealing with their own issues and becoming friends. It’s a very familiar backdrop to someone like me, especially as the game’s narrative goes on to tackle themes of trauma and terrorism.
Maybe one day I’ll delve into trauma within the world of Final Fantasy VII (the final boss of Advent Children is Cloud’s trauma!), but not today. Today, we’re looking at terrorism in Final Fantasy VII and specifically how you, the player, are in league with a terrorist group.
The city of Midgar, and much of the world, is ruled by Shinra, a power company turned massive conglomerate that uses planet’s lifestream to produce electricity via its Mako Reactors. In so doing, however, they are killing the planet since the supernatural lifestream, well, is the planet’s life.
In the game, you, as Cloud, throw in with Avalanche, an eco-terrorist group committed to bringing down Shinra and saving the planet. They do this by bombing the Mako Reactors around Midgar The ramifications of it are kinda glossed over in the original, but Remake came out in 2020, twenty-three years after the original and in a world where terrorism has become much more known within the cultural zeitgeist. As such, the acts of terrorism (that you, the hero) carry out are treated much more heavily. The bombing of Reactor One in the game’s first chapter is quickly followed by you making your way through the ruined district, surrounded by fires and destruction as a fallout from the bombing. Again, this is your bombing.
Over the next several hours of the game, and after carrying out a bombing on another Mako Reactor, you get the chance to overhear news broadcasts and people around town talking about the bombings. The news, operated by Shinra as it is, spins it as being a terrible disaster brought about by heartless terrorists. The members of Avalanche, your allies, see it as a victory against an evil government. The people around town have mixed opinions, some see it as Shinra getting what’s been coming, others see it as senseless violence.
And what about you? Cloud, mercenary he is, doesn’t have too much of an opinion of things outside of wanting to get paid. He doesn’t pass too much judgement on the members of Avalanche or even Shinra itself (which makes sense, since not only is he a bit of a cipher, he’s also a traumatic jumble of memories and personalities). We see the members of Avalanche as kind, good people who want what’s best for the world and its people. Jessie, the bomb builder, laments the destruction caused by their first attack and expresses guilt over the extra damage she caused. It’s made very clear that these terrorists want to save the planet by destroying the Reactors and bringing down Shinra, not cause wanton death and destruction.
How to interpret Avalanche’s actions thus fall on you, the player.
Is Avalanche justified? We, as players, know for a fact that within the world of Final Fantasy VII Shinra is indeed killing the planet for power, so stopping it is arguably the morally right thing to do. But bombing missions? Is that right? Well, what recourse do characters like Barret, Tifa, and the other members of Avalanche have? They make their home in the slums beneath Midgar’s Upper Plate and have little in the way of political or economic power. Violence, then, seems a logical solution. The people on the street decrying Avalanche don’t know the full story, do they?
I don’t think Remake is quite advocating for terrorism as a solution to political problems. The question of terrorism is explored in the game, but it’s not really the point, especially since this big corporation isn’t only killing the planet but also actively carrying out Evil Schemes (the game is far more interested in trauma). Shinra are the bad guys, so stopping them is paramount. Framing your ‘heroic’ actions as terrorism, though, and giving the player chances to overhear ‘normal’ people talking about it, certainly puts one in an unusual position and offers some food for thought in-between killing monsters with an oversized sword.