I hate Final Fantasy VII.
Well, I love Final Fantasy VII, but don't tell Final Fantasy VII I said that. FFVII doesn't deserve my love, but I often find myself thinking about all the good times we had together. We laughed, we cried, we bitched about Cait Sith. Those were the days. But it was such a toxic relationship. I can never go back.
It's going to take a few more therapy sessions before I'm comfortable digging deeper into that. Today, I simply want to discuss a small portion of the very rich meal that is Final Fantasy VII. There are a lot of layers to this RPG onion, and I want to focus solely on the dry, dusty, useless onion skin, slowly rotting beneath the produce section lights. I'll be dissecting Square's game changing game commercial which appeared on US television ahead of the games stateside release. That's not a joke.
How did we all think Final Fantasy VII was so great? Clearly opinions have splintered in the 20 years since the game's release. It's hard to stay unbiased after many years worth of extraneous FFVII games, movies, and more games, and anime shorts. It's now pretty hazy just exactly what convinced me to love this game so much in the first place. Then I saw the original commercial again. My very sudden and brand new hypothesis is that the marketing blitz put on by Sony and Square (now Square-Enix) made sure we thought this game was going to kick every ass. It did. The commercials that aired constantly on cable television also made sure that viewers had no idea what the 'game' part of this game was.
So it's time to dissect a thirty second long and twenty year old commercial. This advertisement was the first glimpse of Final Fantasy for much of the US, except for nerds like me that is. That glimpse made Final Fantasy VII look like one bad ass mother fucker of an action movie, er, action game. It's a game. You can play on the "Play Station." Somehow.
What do you even do in this game? It would appear to be some sort of motorcycle riding, helicopter chasing, explosion causing and/or preventing type action game. Maybe you get to play as an ass kicking, motorcycle riding protagonist that is also a soldier of fortune, as mentioned in the commercial! Mystery solved.
Actually, I think the Soldier of fortune is the only thing this commercial gets right about Final Fantasy VII. But only if I'm being generous and assume when the voice over said "soldier" he meant SOLDIER.
It's hard to think back to a time where we didn't know about sephiroth, JENOVA, and Cloud, the only three characters that very briefly appear in the commercial. Each with a haircut sillier than the last. None of these highly integral characters are established in any way. It's just some insane fever dream. Was that a monster? Did it explode? Does CG hair have to look this ridiculous?
I know I come hard at Final Fantasy VII like the old, jaded gamer I am, but back in '97 I was just as enamored by it as any other kid that got their kicks from playing Chrono Trigger and FFIII, I mean VI, I mean, ah fuck it. Square knew exactly what a young American gamer wanted to see. Explosions, revenge, motorcycles, soldiers of fortune, more revenge, another explosion, and another explosion and revenge, plus it's a video game!
This isn't a commercial for a hundred hour, story driven RPG from Japan (this is, and it gets me pretty damn hyped). This is a commercial for a high budget Hollywood action movie. It has more in common with trailers for Men in Black and The Fifth Element, the latest sci-fi blockbusters circa '97. This was long before Lord of the Rings made everyone very very familiar with the Fantasy genre. Back in 1997, no one in the US cared about grass or trees or magic or elves or none of that shit. Those were good times. Anyway, the folks behind advertising Final Fantasy VII knew what's up. They showed off nothing but the heavily industrial, very metallic side of Final Fantasy VII. Cannons, helicopters, motorcycles. This was some epic futuristic realism here. No magic airships, no swords, no riding on big dumb chickens! 'Wark' your ass on out of here you stupid chocobo, or is it 'kweh' now? Go 'kweh' yourself!
Give Square some credit where it's due though, twenty years later, every major game release is marketed this way. Only cut scenes, no game play footage, and only the vaguest half paragraph outline of the plot. Makes me nostalgic for the storyline to Bosconian. Make sure your way dope commercial includes anything that would be cool to own or pilot, as long as it's a machine and not an animal, such as a very large, very colorful, very inbred bird.
There isn't a single company fool enough to include actual gameplay in the commercial for said game. Some commercials these days don't include any images from the game at all. Even Nintendo themselves cut that shit out a few console generations ago. Well, Nintendo still tries to shove a little gameplay footage in at the end of their commercials. Unfortunately, Nintendo's stubborn respect for consumers makes for terrible marketing. Not to mention the incredible difficulty in conveying fun game play to a passive audience. Just make some jokes, or throw some babes at me, and/or a few explosions and I'm in! Buy me Bonestorm or go to hell!
Square-Enix has made a ton of missteps since the release of FFVII, which lead to the name Square-Enix itself, and my endless confusion on whether to call them Square, or Square-Enix when referring to the company when it was called Square, or was it Square LTD, I don't think it was Square EA yet, or was it EA Square in the US and Square EA in Japan… Ah fuck that too.
As I was saying, Square whatever has had some misfires in their long and expensive history, but damn were they on the cutting edge of logically baffling but ridiculously effective commercials.
If I'm generous, I could understand that there could be some difficulty in explaining a 70 hour epic within a 30 second teaser. Ungenerously, since this is a commercial after all. Please be skeptical of anyone selling you anything. Please? This is 30 seconds of random images and blatant lies created solely in an effort to take your money. Square got my money. Don't let them get to you too!
I'm not sure if this is the first RPG to be marketed to popcorn shoveling mongrels and not the elite console gamer class that knew what a JRPG was, or, as we called them at the time. RPGs. We didn't need more specific definitions because all console RPGs came from Japan. American companies made Bass Fishing and Bubsy, and a game starring the fucking president's cat. Who cares! Until FPS games gained some traction, US game developers would do their best to serve up nice bland plates of whatever Japan created first.
Despite Square's best efforts, and explosions, the most insane thing about this commercial was the ending.
Appearing in the final moments of the commercial was the title "Final Fantasy VII." Wait a minute! I know what Final Fantasy is! I know exactly what Final Fantasy is! Hold on, where did four, five, and six go!?
I had already played Final Fantasy VI, although we called it Final Fantasy III back in my day. Whatever this commercial was that my eyeballs were subjected to was certainly unlike any previous Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy is about wizards and spell casting and swords and a bunch of numbers going up, sometimes down. You collect money, which you can use to buy new weapons, and you can find treasure, which is hopefully new weapons. There's just loads of text and menus. Honestly, it's all just text and menus. The point being, that there ain't none of that in this commercial, and we all know damn well there is plenty of that shit in the game. Conversely, I think every exploding building, crashing meteor, or giant energy weapon in the game is shown off in this commercial.
Before I watched this commercial several dozen times in order to form this deep and absolutely necessary analysis, I decided to make a list of a few words and phrases that come to mind when I think about Final Fantasy VII. Play along at home. Just close your eyes and think of some of your most cherished memories with this very ridiculous game.
- Giant Swords
- Bigger swords
- Corporate greed
- This guy are sick
- Leveling Up
- Great Music
- Unlikable characters
- Huge world
- Huge monsters
- Double crossing
- Ancient stuff
- Fancy wigs and dresses
- Cait Sith… Fuck you Cait Sith! I never wanted you on my team in the first place you traitorous, plot advancing piece of-
Okay, I should stop there, but I think that's a good synopsis of FFVII to be honest.
Now time to live blog this ephemeral seizure of a commercial.
- There's an evil empire.
- So evil it's a whole evil planet?
- Giant cannon!
- Modern day helicopters
- Modern day motorcycle, is this Terminator?
- The world is in danger! So it might be Terminator!
- More cannons! These cannons shoot lasers!
- Was that a monster?
- Everything is so shiny
- Great graphics!
- There's seven of these!?
- This is a video game!?!?
As you can see, a few major elements of Final Fantasy VII seem to be lacking in the commercial. In a game with nine different playable characters, each with plenty of backstory, we see Cloud's dumb hair for a second, and Sephiroth staring down a robot. I remember staring at the print ad of this scene and having not a single clue what I was even looking at. Did you notice any swords in this commercial? Catch someone using a spear or inaccurately enormous shuriken shaped boomerang? There wasn't even magic. No magic in a game called Final FANTASY. No feathers, and not a single blade of grass.
If this commercial is to be believed (and who am I to not believe the very people who are trying to take my money) then this is pretty much James Bond, Blade Runner, and Armageddon, but playable. I wouldn't be shocked if this blonde haired soldier of fortune was voiced by Bruce Willis himself. Yippee ki yay Sephiroth. It's time to save the world from lasers and cannons and meteors and all kinds of other crazy crap.
Oh, I almost forgot, this game commercial doesn't feature any game play. Maybe it was an oversight. It's certainly not necessary to include gameplay footage. Why, Square gave us all the information we need to understand the gameplay, right in this very commercial, if you just look closely enough!
I can easily imagine the control scheme for this wild ride.
X = Motorcycle
Triangle = Revenge
Square = Explosions
Circle = Explosion based Revenge
L1+R1 = Run Away
This lack of gameplay footage is what changed video game commercials forever (except Nintendo). Nintendo was trying their hardest to show off some quality games back in the mid 90's, but that integrity lost them valuable MTV commercial real estate. Square and Sony on the other hand, began to create commercials that were more like existential references to the games in the PlayStation library, rather than provide actual details or information about why you should purchase the product featured. Nintendo clearly wanted to emulate these highly effective commercials, all while still conveying the inherent fun of Nintendo games. This meant that Nintendo became stranded in some horrible middle ground. Wanting edgy commercials with a bunch of crazy crap happening, while still conveying the style and quality of the gameplay. Don't forget to wedge some game footage in there somehow.
As reference, here is a 1996 Nintendo commercial. Coincidentally, I chose the commercial for Super Mario RPG, the final Square produced game for a Nintendo system for nearly a decade.
Dammit Nintendo, it's like the head of your PR department is my mom. SO LAME. This commercial needs it's own analysis. I'm a life long Nintendo supporter through and through, but I have made no bones about their inability to create engaging commercials. Nintendo has been getting their asses kicked in the marketing department ever since Sega said 'Nintendon't.' Luckily Nintendo's games often speak for themselves in terms of quality game play. Of course, you would have to purchase the game to know that. Oh the irony! Every Nintendo commercial feels like the boxart to Phalanx. Baffling and unintuitive.
In fact, here's another one from 2005!
Even after many years in this brave new world of logic free commercials, Nintendo still slides in that gameplay footage. Will they never learn?
Hey Square, I love all the convoluted stories, convoluted hair, and pompous cut scenes, but I also like the part where I rummage through menus to equip insane materia combinations, or just simply stealing from as many different enemies as possible. This commercial, and the frenzy for Final Fantasy VII upon launch reinforced those former attributes, sending Square into an anti-gameplay spiral that we've only begun to unravel. In the immediate aftermath of FFVII, Square gave us both the amazing 'cinematic RPG' Parasite Eve, as well as the bankruptcy inducing Final Fantasy The Spirits Within.
Now they go by Square Enix, a little wiser, and a little less bold. They still waver between quality game play and an overzealous cut scenes, second only to the Metal Gear series (which also made Konami hemorrhage money, hmm).
Next FFVII anniversary, I'm going to review the Knight of the Round (AKA the longest fucking thing in video games ever) in the same amount of time that the animation of Knight of the Round takes to play out.