Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anime review: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Though I have not played the PS1 classic, I am relatively familiar with all the characters and major events therein. (Yes, I realize as someone who considers themselves a hardcore gamer, missing Final Fantasy VII presents a significant hole in my experience. It's on my to-do list, as I've only recently started on the Final Fantasy series.) The CGI anime film will appeal primarily to two audiences: fans of action movies, and fans of Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children picks up two years after the conclusion of the original Playstation game. Cloud and Tifa have adopted two orphans, but the hero is still unsettled and has taken off to be with his thoughts. Out in the wastes, he encounters three silver-haired individuals who are intent on finding "mother". They prove themselves more-than-capable fighters, each specializing in a certain field, and Cloud has grown rusty since his days of fighting Sephiroth. Despite their action-packed premiere, the trio allows Cloud to leave unscathed. He then seeks out Rufus Shinra, former head of Shinra Company, who explains that Kadaj, leader of the three, wants to recreate Sephiroth. Shinra, however, insists that he wants Cloud's aid in stopping the trio's plot.

From there, the film provides a quick play-by-play of two backstories. The first is a brief synopsis of the major events in Final Fantasy VII relevant to the film. Jenova, the meteorite, and Sephiroth are all explained. Then the story shifts to the Geostigma disease that has emerged in the wake of the fallout, and how it has affected certain individuals, most of them being children.

All the major party member from Final Fantasy VII make a return in the film, but for most it seems like glorified cameos. Everybody gets to take a crack at the giant Bahamut in one team-centered fight sequence, but aside from that they do little more than observe from Cid's airship as Cloud does all the work. The three exceptions to this are Tifa, Aerith, and Vincent. For being an adoptive parent alongside Cloud, Tifa doesn't come across as particularly fleshed out. When she isn't doing kick-flips and punches, she's spending her time nagging at Cloud that he needs to return to being the guy she knew two years ago. Aerith acts as a voice of reason from beyond the grave, interacting with Cloud at key moments. Vincent fills a similar role, though his being alive allows him to aid Cloud in physical combat. He is also the source of a few clever jokes, despite his generally quiet nature.

Visually, the film is stunning, especially taking into consideration it was a 2005 release. Anyone who has ever had the privilege to witness Square Enix's cutscenes in their games should expect all that quality and more for an hour-and-a-half straight. The voice acting is quite solid, even with an occasional cheesy one-liner that comes as a result of translation and localization. The orchestrated soundtrack presents a nice accompaniment to all of this, with its variety of sounds and styles, and feels like a genuine successor to the game's soundtrack.

For the hour-and-a-half run time, the story feels a fairly creative and sufficient follow-up to the game. The last twenty minutes show a real shift, with the "physics be damned" action almost completely overshadowing the story. While there will be plenty who will find the refresher course of Final Fantasy VII welcome, the film hardly tries to connect the dots, leaving a sense of confusion for anyone who has never played FFVII or who hasn't revisited the game in a long time. Though it is sold as a major plot point early on, the impact that the Geostigma has on this emerging peacetime society is only briefly touched upon, and even a little more exploration could have added another layer of believability to this fantasy realm. While Cloud's internal struggle presents a genuinely engaging narrative, most of the supporting cast falls rather flat, and the story's delivery suffers because of this. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is an interesting chapter of Final Fantasy lore, just not one that will rank among the greatest.

My rating: 7.75 (out of 10)

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