Final Fantasy VII Remake is an amazing game. Yes, even with the changes it makes to the story. Yes, even with the new combat. And yes, even though it only covers the Midgar portion (about 20%) of the original game. I’ve seen the argument come up about the expanded portions of Midgar being fluff, filler, and fetch quests, but what Square Enix did to Midgar isn’t padding as an excuse to break the game into pieces. It’s context to make you give a damn about this city, its people, and the plight they face.
This is your only warning. We’re about to get pretty spoiler-heavy, both for this Remake and for the original 1997 release. After this image of Jessie Raspberry, all bets are off.
In the original Final Fantasy VII, Midgar, while an iconic and pivotal location, only took about five or six hours to get through. It was arguably a tiny and linear part of the game, and often seen as a big roadblock to reaching the overworld map. It was a series of notable locations and moments strung together beat after beat after beat that set up the rest of the story, but between the limited technology in 1997 and how quickly you were pressed through this part of the game, players really didn’t get the full context of what Midgar actually was.
Prerendered backgrounds fail to evoke the sense of scale that’s present in the Remake. Something as simple as the ability to look up and see the steel plates looming overhead communicates the realities of this world far better than the original ever did. While the plight of the people on the ground was also touched on, it was never really seen from this scale before. We never got the opportunity to interact with the simplicity and day-to-day lives of the citizens in the slums. Is finding cats for a little girl technically a fetch quest? Well sure, by definition. But what’s important is what it means.
Finding Betty’s three cats reminds us that there are children here in the slums. There are animals down here. There are people simply trying to live their lives the best they can. At the end of the game, as the party leaves Midgar, Aerith says “I miss the steel sky…” despite the conditions in the slums obviously being terrible. For many people, this is their lives. This is all they know. And any change is terrifying and upsetting.
You spend quite a bit of time in the Sector 7 slums doing odd jobs for people. Taking care of a fiend threat here and there, gathering stuff from various dangerous places, changing out their water filters so that it tastes moderately better than sulfur. All of this is meant to provide context to the place, to get you familiar with it the place where Avalanche is headquartered, so that when Shinra decides to launch its assault and drop the Sector 7 plate on them, you really get a sense of just how massive that disaster is.
More Jessie, Wedge, and Biggs
The added mission of heading to the surface to meet Jessie’s family provides a two-fold purpose. One, it gives us the opportunity to see how the other side lives. That was a piece missing from the original. Cloud passes through some of the sectors quickly, but we never really got a chance to see that there are people who live here on these upper plates as well, and despite being arguably better off, their lives aren’t all that fantastic either, often caught in the employ or control of Shinra. While Jessie’s family wasn’t on the Sector 7 plate (I believe they lived on Sector 4), going here also provides a frame of reference. Not only did dropping the Sector 7 plate devastate the slums, but all the people living on top also came crashing down.
Two, seeing Jessie’s family and getting a bigger picture of who she is brings a lot more meaning to her fate at the pillar. Of course, Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge have all had their fans over the years, but the original game simply didn’t do these characters justice. They were side characters you met for a couple hours with a few lines of text dialog. The Remake’s expanded content additions allow us to get to know the trio of Avalanche members a lot better, which makes their sacrifices at the pillar mean a lot more. In fact, getting to know these characters better becomes the crux of another major plot point and story change within the Remake, something I’ll talk more about in a different article.
There is a lot going on in Midgar, and Shinra is Midgar. So we get a much clearer (and perhaps more divisive) picture of who Shinra is. Yeah, yeah, evil corporation, but it’s also an evil corporation that a lot of people rely on? It clearly establishes that, yes, Shinra is bad (and they’ve royally flubbed their grand vision for Midgar), but also they’ve created an infrastructure that provides for countless people’s lives. Midgar is a broken and desolate city, but it’s still the place that people call home, which once again gets called back to when Aerith laments that she misses the steel sky.
Given Shinra’s dogged pursuit of Cloud and the gang (as well as their own interests) through the rest of the story, setting a better stage for what this company actually is gives Square Enix a lot more to play with and develop. We get a deeper look at the Shinra bosses. A better setup for the Turks. A more grand introduction of Rufus Shinra following his father’s demise. The utter scale of the enormous Shinra building is better communicated, along with the corporate drones who simply work for the company (but may not be directly complicit in their actions). They are just people trying to make their way in the world, and we never get to see that sense of scale in the original game.
More Giving a Damn
Every little added piece to Final Fantasy VII Remake is designed to give these characters and moments more punch. It’s meant to give scale and context where it was missing before. Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t padded. The original was just compact. Knowing not only the major events in this game, but where the story heads from here (including the eventual return to Midgar), spending more time in Midgar—whether it’s engaging in the story or rounding up lost cats—is imperative to actually making sure players give a damn.
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