Previously On Final Fantasy VII – This Week in Anime


Before you boot up Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, let’s remember Squaresoft‘s foray into feature films, including Spirits Within and the divisive Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is VOD only and available on multiple platforms. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is streaming on Hulu.


Steve

Lucas, I’m glad you could join me for today’s discussion. And I’m thrilled we’re doing it a few days early because, by the time this column goes live, I will be gone. I will be a dust in the Midgarian wind. I will be in my materia cave. I will be playing Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, and not even Meteor itself will be able to extract me from my couch.

In the meantime, let’s wind back the clock and look at some children of the advent variety.
Lucas

Aw man, those children are having a BAD time!
And I’m increasingly confident that we’ll be able to play that bad time in the third FF7R game! Tetsuya Nomura has made it pretty clear now that these sequels (pseudo-sequels? spiritual successors?) to the original Final Fantasy 7 are engaging with the original’s legacy and the compendium of related media surrounding it. So if Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is about to become required viewing, we gotta talk about it now!
It’s Nomura’s world. We’re just living in it. And thankfully, there’s no shortage of interesting angles to look at Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children from. First announced over 20(!) years ago, this 2005 film (and the 2009 complete cut) has garnered the entire gamut from fame to infamy. Is it a satisfying slice of service for longtime FFVII fans? Is it a blight on the series’ legacy? Is it a long cellphone commercial? The debates rage on.
I mean, this movie is the origin of kind-of vampire Vincent Valentine’s iconic catchphrase “Where can I buy a phone?”

Man, I bet we won’t be able to STOP this guy from saying that in FF7 Rebirth!
Some of You Young folk out there might not get it, but trust me, in the mid-aughts, this was the coolest a cellphone could be. We didn’t know any better.

Seeing as we are on an anime site right now, however, I think it’s appropriate to look at Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children as a piece of animation, and specifically one in the context of Square’s past dalliances with bringing the Final Fantasy name to the medium. Remember Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals? Remember Final Fantasy: Unlimited? Well, they’re old and not streaming anywhere, so most people probably don’t!
I don’t know; I think the coolness of a flip phone rendered in all the graphical fidelity of a high-budget PS3 game transcends generations!
And, now that you mention it, longtime Final Fantasy developer Square Enix keeps coming back to making long and short-form anime out of their IP to mixed success and then doesn’t make them widely accessible after the fact.
In truth, I don’t know if I’d be familiar with this anime (or even the game it’s based on) if my high school band teacher hadn’t. It was cool shit while I was an impressionable 16-year-old. He was right, but he loves Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children more than Square Enix does.
I won’t hand much to Square Enix, but I will give them some meager kudos for never attempting a straightforward Final Fantasy anime adaptation, a la the Persona ones. Someone on that team understood it would never work. Legend of the Crystals was a very distant sequel to FFV, and Unlimited did its own thing. Irrespective of their quality (which I can’t comment on anyway, having seen neither), I admire that approach. However, something changed to make them cash in on fan fervor with a direct sequel like Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. While I can only speculate, I have to imagine that a big factor was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
I strongly believe in the idea that you never have to give it to ’em…but I respect the commitment to giving both movies the visuals and boarding of FMV cutscenes.
Square Enix‘s CGI animation department has been renamed a lot. It is currently Square Enix Image Studio Division and was previously called Visual Works and Image Arts—so I’m not sure if they worked on both movies, but the jump between Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is significant.
Also, this studio did the true ending cutscene to my favorite Final Fantasy game, World of Final Fantasy. This animation is amazing, and all FF-branded animations look like this from now on.
Adorable. And actually, completely different studios made both movies! Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was produced primarily by the now long-defunct Square Pictures, founded in Hawaii as part of Square’s ambition to get its foot on the Hollywood scene. So Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within also technically isn’t anime by some definitions. What is indisputable, though, is that the movie went over budget, bombed spectacularly, shuttered the studio, and indirectly cemented Square’s eventual merger with Enix.

Put another way, there might not have been an Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children if not for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within‘s failure.

Aw, thanks Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within! I’m glad you contributed to an…okay(?) movie being made eventually.
Which brings me to a question for you, Steve! Do you like Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children? Do you think it’s a good movie? I’m super conflicted over what to think of this film in the year 2024!

Let me answer that question with an anecdote. I first played FFVII in middle school, which is the perfect time for a person to play it. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children then came out when I was in high school, which is also the perfect time for a teen to watch it. So I’m in the sweet spot for FFVII mania. I was the target audience. I was excited! And because I just had to see it, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is the thing that taught me how to torrent a movie. I must have first witnessed it as a low-res Realvideo file slowly downloaded over dial-up, surely just as Nomura intended.

That being said, I remember my feelings being mixed at the time. I needed to trawl a lot of fan websites to understand why Sephiroth split into three weird bishies named Kazoo or whathaveyou. But that was okay because that’s what I did on the internet back then. It was a simpler age.
I can’t wait for Nomura to complete this trilogy by dropping a not-sketchy-at-all, totally legit MegaDrive link in a forum that makes a YouTube comments section look civil.
Maybe that’s where my complicated feelings around Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children arise. This movie is so clearly for the fans, as its mere existence undercuts the original FF7‘s famously ambiguous ending. It assures people that their favorite heroes (except for that one) survived and are still going on adventures. It’s a similar setup as a fan fiction storyline but targets fans and a fandom that no longer exists.
Like, I imagine at the time of release, a lot of people were pumped to get more Final Fantasy 7, and today it feels like SE is chasing the FF7 dragon maybe a bit too much. Does that make any sense, or am I off-base?

Well, it’s worth remembering that Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was announced as part of the larger Compilation of Final Fantasy VII project. So, as far back as 2003, there was no doubt Square Enix had every intention of milking that cash cow as much as they could. And I think the initial fan excitement cooled when none of those follow-ups recaptured the magic of the original game.

What, you’re telling me that people weren’t all-in on Bahamut SIN!? The edgiest of all the Bahamuts?!

I’d wager that Crisis Core has probably enjoyed the best retrospective reputation out of all of them. But honestly, I’d put Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children second. Rewatching it in 2024, I see a strange and imperfect sequel with many baffling choices, but I also appreciate it a lot more. It’s full of contradictions in a pretty interesting way.

Ugh, don’t get me going on Crisis Core. No shade to his fans, but I’m an admitted Zack Fair hater, and I think the amount we see of him in the original game, the Last Order anime, and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is exactly the right amount of Zack. Getting his own game and presumably a good deal of screentime in FF7: Rebirth is too much and undercuts how he fits into the themes and story of the original game.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a movie of highs and lows. I still can’t believe that Rufus and Rude are more involved in the plot than most of the playable characters in the original game, the Sephiroth munchkins, or the driving antagonists for most of the movie, but the film is also a solid rumination on grief and loss. Also, this movie’s take on the Omnislash is sick as hell!

Not to keep harping on the past, but you really gotta put yourself back in your 2005 shoes (mine were Converse All-Stars) to appreciate everything it was bringing to the table. While it’s easy to take for granted in this post-Remake era, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children showed us these beloved characters in glossy HD, with feathery hair, cracked leather, and all manner of faithfully recreated Limit Breaks. It was an unfathomably wide jump from the game’s cutscenes, which were not even a decade old. You could easily perceive the advances in CG technology and fidelity back then, and that was a huge deal.


And where would we be as a society if they had not used all that advanced computing power to make Reno hot?
I’m never gonna deny that Reno has a lil somethin’ somethin’ goin’ on in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children!
And I can see why people were pumped to see these characters depicted in a visual style that didn’t feel so dated.
Though, I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for PS1-style visuals, and FF7 used the limited rendering power available to incredible effect. The headless Jenova jump scare is one of my favorite scenes in the game, and the Sapphire Weapon cutscene is also super well done.

Oh for sure. If the last decade of game development has proven anything, “more” graphics don’t automatically equal “better” graphics. And Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a far more muted affair than the game, lacking the vibrant colors of those examples above. It fits, though, because Cloud spends the first hour of the movie moping like a misbehaving puppy who got bopped on the nose.



Cloud, c’mon man. If Tifa said “Dilly Dally Shilly Shally” to me, that would fix all my problems!
I know people have complained about Cloud being a sad sack in this game, but the decision to have him process Aerith’s death in this movie was correct. There are countless “dead partner revenge” stories in the media, but with no world to save or calamity to prevent for much of the movie, we get to sit with his grief and regret. It’s affecting.
Now, the decision to literalize that guilt with the Geostigma disease and have it infect scores of children is a little weird…but it’s by no means the most contrived plot point in the entire Final Fantasy multi-media franchise, so I won’t nitpick too much.

Yeah, the main issue I have with Cloud’s emotional arc is that it doesn’t jive with what the rest of the film is concerned with. Like, if the whole film were moodier, or if the whole film had more dumb Final Fantasy spectacle, it’d probably work out to be better either way. As it exists, Cloud’s development is undercooked, and the action in the first half feels like it’s intruding on the story. But I also think that tension makes Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children a more interesting specimen! And when it comes to Final Fantasy, I’m looking for interesting stuff. Good things are overrated.

This important emotional moment, where we hear the rest of the party chime in with support for Cloud, happens as a cellphone—the sponsored tie-in cellphone nonetheless—sinks to the spot where he laid Aerith to rest—well, that’s a weird way to frame it! Gauche, even! I like it!

Haha, I’m with you on the interesting > good evaluation for Final Fantasy (and most media fwiw). And that’s why I hope that my tin-foil hat theory that Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is made playable in the third FF7R title is true! Right now, AC is just weird to me, but with a couple of script punch-ups and more time, I think it can be elevated to good-weird!
Seeing how the rest of the original playable characters are processing Aerith’s death, giving Cloud more emotional closure instead of just killing Sephiroth for the third time, and getting a bit more worldbuilding on how communities are carrying on with the loss of Shinra and mass-produced materia would go a long way in making this story a bit more complete.

Man, though, it is hilarious that the crux of the movie is “somehow, Sephiroth has returned.” That factor alone is responsible for all of the dumbest storytelling decisions in this, but they had to do it. There was simply no other way.

When the film’s second half kicks into gear, though, I can’t bring myself to complain about much. It morphs into a 45-minute action scene that is almost straight gas start-to-finish. It goes all-in on the fanservice, throwing treat after treat at the audience’s gaping mouths, and I’m right there with them, gulping everything down.
Ugh, FF7 fans are FEASTING once this movie decides to be an action, kinda-kaiju flick! The reprises of so many of the most iconic songs from the game are a great touch, too!
And whoever decided that Cloud should have six giant swords in this movie that merge into one giant sword deserves a raise and much more recognition than they’ve gotten thus far!
And let’s not forget they pop spring-loaded out of his motorcycle. Genius shit.

Thank you for mentioning the soundtrack, too. This was back when Nobuo Uematsu had his The Black Mages band, whose arrangements made the hard/prog-rock influence on his compositions even more blatant. The piano arrangements are nice, too. I downloaded the sheet music for them and practiced those all the time back in high school.
For me, the best setpiece in the film is the whole party, one-by-one, heaving Cloud into the stratosphere so he can bisect Bahamut. It’s incredible. A ridiculous triumph. A succinct but affecting way to depict the strength of their teamwork, creating a bonkers yet unforgettable moment. I see so many commenters who complain about or poke fun at the film’s lack of proper physics, and I know they possess no joy in their hearts.

When this movie wants to be, it becomes a tremendous over-the-top popcorn flick, and it’s a treat to see what fights against giant monsters look like in real-time, instead of the turn-based combat.
And for my money, my favorite scene is when Cloud’s talking to maybe-dream-maybe-ghost Zack, and his former mentor reminds Cloud that he already beat Sephiroth once, so this time should be easy. I don’t know if that moment was intended to be funny, but it got a fast and hard “HA” out of me.
Can’t lie, I got a little verklempt when Tifa looked into a drop of rain and thanked Aerith. When the film’s on-point, it does manage to find the nuances in how we commune with the people who have left us.


Then, the credits song is somehow written by Gerard Way. Peak 2000s energy. No notes.

And, when it’s not on-point, it’s giving the Pinkerton-coded Turks an unearned redemption arc and that Daddy’s Money POS Rufus glamor shots. Not to mention Barret inexplicably dumping his daughter Marlene on Cloud and Tifa, and Red XIII only getting a single line in the film. I appreciate the story Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, but the flattening of characters and peculiar developments needed for that story to unfold is more than a little frustrating. Truly a film of contrasts.
But yes, Gerard Way owned the aughts and everyone who was a teenager at any point during them.

So would I say that Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children in 2024 is peak cinema? No. But it holds up better than expected. Through adult eyes, the film’s flaws are way more glaring to me than in 2005, but I’m also way chiller about that stuff than I was in 2005. So it all evens out, but more in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children‘s favor. I love the highs and laugh at the lows. It’s a fun two hours, and it was a nice, familiar appetizer before I brace myself for whatever metatextual horrors Rebirth has in store for us.
I couldn’t agree more. However, now that we’ve had this conversation, I hope that Rebirth doesn’t choose to lean into the Dirge of Cerberus part of the FF7 compendium. Not because it wouldn’t be hilarious, but because I don’t have it in me to explain what’s going on in that game.
When it comes to Dirge of Cerberus, I think Cloud put it best:



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