Although I’ve been made aware of the major story beats in Final Fantasy VII over the years through osmosis, Remake is the first time I’ve experienced them personally. I wasn’t prepared for the impact Shinra’s attack on Sector 7 would have on me as I played over the weekend, and now more than ever am I invested in the heroes’ mission to bring down the fascist megacorporation.
Cloud and Aerith’s adventure through Wall Market, the horny bazaar of the Sector 6 slums, comes to an end when they successfully infiltrate the headquarters of the area’s de facto leader, Don Corneo, and rescue Tifa. In one last act of defiance, Don Corneo tells the group that Shinra is already advancing on Sector 7 in the hopes of dropping its plate on the ghetto below and wiping out Avalanche. The group’s next goal is clear, even after being unceremoniously abandoned in the sewers: make it to Sector 7 and stop Shinra from committing its latest atrocity.
This act of class genocide is made possible thanks to the layout of Midgar, the city in which all of Final Fantasy VII Remake’s action has taken place so far. The sprawling metropolis is divided between the suspended “plate” on which the more well-off citizens live and the slums on the ground below. During a previous mission, Cloud infiltrated the area where Midgar stores its massive sun lamps. These lamps have been built on the undersides of the plates to provide a manufactured daytime to the slums, which are always in the shadow of the infrastructure above them. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor, but one that feels all too prescient for the times in which we live.
Tifa’s anxiety is palpable as she accompanies Cloud and Aerith through the sewers en route to Sector 7. The slums and the people who reside there represent her entire life, after all. Aerith, in her usual way, tries to keep everyone positive, even as the group is constantly waylaid by toxic monsters and the spirits of dead children. But it soon becomes clear that Don Corneo was telling the truth as they witness Shinra’s assault on Sector 7. The corporation’s helicopters dot the sky, swooping down on the pillar that supports the plate and killing any local resistance that stands in their way.
Much like Aerith’s fate, I already knew what would happen to Sector 7 as I played through Final Fantasy 7 Remake over the weekend, by virtue of the original’s popularity. I knew Shinra would succeed. I knew the plate was going to fall no matter how hard Cloud, Tifa, and the rest of Avalanche tried to stop it. I knew it would claim countless lives, both the lives of important, named characters and the regular citizens who were happy to go about doing their simple, digital routines as I ran from quest to quest. But that didn’t stop me from desperately wishing it could go any other way.
My fight against that inevitability made every fight that much more intense. Every Shinra goon that stood in Cloud’s way represented an obstacle to preventing mass murder. More than once, I died during what should have been an easy fight because I was thinking less about strategy than about finishing every encounter as quickly as possible. I held back tears as Cloud said goodbye to Biggs and Jessie after they heroically gave their lives to stop Shinra. They weren’t superpowered heroes protected by plot armor, just regular folks doing their best. I all but screamed at Aerith to hurry up while she searched for Barret’s daughter Marlene before they were both whisked away to safety by the enemy. Outside of horror games, I can’t remember being more stressed while playing a video game.
After the plate falls and the Sector 7 slums are reduced to a large pile of rebar and concrete, Cloud watches in silence as Tifa and Barret mourn the loss of their home. Echoing Jessie’s doubts from earlier in the game, Tifa blames Avalanche—and by extension, herself—for incurring Shinra’s wrath. If they hadn’t provoked them by destroying the reactors, she posits, none of this would have happened. The sad truth is that she’s right. Barret correctly adds, however, that this was always in their future if they opposed Shinra, a campaign that, in the world of Final Fantasy VII, is necessary to save the world. And not in a figurative sense, either. Shinra is literally siphoning energy from the planet beneath their feet and leaving behind the husk. How else were the members of Avalanche to stop them besides direct action?
I’m angry all the time. I feel like I’ve been caught in a net that gets tighter and tighter every day, and it’s informed my playthrough of Final Fantasy VII Remake. As Barret fought against the rubble, I was right there with him. As Tifa silently sat with her own rage, I choked down my own. Their fists were my fists. Shinra’s attack on Sector 7 was everything that makes me want to scream in the real world. It’s a terrible way to live, unimaginably infuriated and yet without a valve to reliably release steam. Barrett broke the silence and, almost as if he was speaking to me, said:
“Hold onto this. This anger. Okay?”
It’s hard not to feel powerless staring at a heap of ashes that used to be your life, especially when you’re left without the means to put it back together. Watching friends, family, and scores of your fellow human beings suffer in a world that you can’t possibly begin to change on your own is often demoralizing to the point of miring someone in indecision. But Final Fantasy VII Remake, as silly as it may sound, reminded me that the fire in your belly can be the perfect fuel, as long as you don’t let it burn you up from the inside first.