I think if I had to change just one thing about the remake, I've settled on what it would be. Certainly, some people object to it not being a turn-based role playing game in the classic style, but I could live with that. What I can't live with is the mischaracterization of all the characters I love into people they most definitely are not. Now granted, the game is not released yet, even the trailer says it's subject to change. It might be... unfair to judge the game based on how they choose, right now, to be seen. In official trailers. Maybe. Or maybe they really ARE just really bad at characterization, the way the trailers depict them to be.
Let's start at the beginning (one last time). Note that this post contains some spoilers for Final Fantasy VII (original) and one has to assume, also Final Fantasy VII (the remake).
Fundamentally my argument in this post is not different than it was in my previous post on the role of women (specifically Aeris) in the trailer. Except, I've come to realize, Aeris' depiction is not different than Cloud's. And I suspect it will be the same for everyone else in the party. They are (and this is bad) "baby faces". I think that flies in the face on narrative canon in which she, like all of them, are punks.
Look at Aeris. Isn't she cute? Isn't she pretty? It literally makes me want to pinch her cheeks. If you did pinch her cheeks and call her a widdle baby I bet she would be embarrased and blush instead of beating you to death with a metal staff. After all she is just a widdle baby. A pwetty widdle baby unspoiled by the world and we are going to buy so much merchandise of that pwetty widdle baby face. Yes we are! Yes we ARE!
Let's go through her history, shall we?
- Aeris lives in a slum. Not everyone there is bad, but there is a reason why she carries a metal rod as big as she is and knows how to beat people to death with it. Tell me she hasn't been robbed, molested, or sexually assaulted. Tell me she hasn't had half-full bottles of booze thrown at her. Tell me she hasn't watched people die. Tell me she hasn't found out days or weeks later that a neighbor died under mysterious circumstances, or found a decomposing corpse being eaten by the monsters that apparently live literally everywhere in the world. T'ain't no suburb patrolled by beat cops, it's the place where the cops don't go and that's why she lives there. Why avoid the cops you say?
- Aeris is being stalked by professional hitmen who are responsible for the death of her mother--professional hitmen hired by the same company that controls literally every policeman in the city. They know where she lives. They know where she likes to go. They ambush her when she is alone. At least one of them is explicitly according to the game text "interested" in her. Again, a professional killer who is paid to stalk her wants to go down on her. Try and tell me he's so subtle that she hasn't noticed. I will even be polite and suggest he is too professional to actually do anything.
- Aeris hears the voices of the dead in a world full of injustice. Maybe, just maybe, she doesn't actually hear gruesome tales of betrayal, ambush, slaughter, rape, and pillage. Maybe. Because certainly that's not what the dead would be talking about, right? They are just happy to go back to the planet. Right, happy. Happy dead. In Midgar.
- Aeris had a boyfriend. He promised to help her with her dream and then vanished. Although Aeris can hear the voices of the dead, she still wonders if he's alive out there. She even wonders if he found another girl somewhere. I ...presume that means that Zach didn't actually go visit her after he died. His might-have-been girlfriend wasn't worth a visit, I guess. Canonically he died not far from Midgar so it wouldn't have been a long trip. He promised to help her but I guess he didn't really care that much, did he?
I cannot imagine an honest portrayal of Aeris where she has a beautiful baby face untouched by marks of stress and pain. In my head--maybe in my heart--I see her as a woman with resting bitch face. And you know what? I would love that woman to death if through all of that pain and all of that stress and all of that misery she still tried to make the world a little bit better, if she wanted to fill the world with flowers and color where it is really just death, pollution, and industrial steel. She doesn't have to be flirty. She doesn't have to be a little cutie with baby cheeks. If she is a bright spot in a dark world with her attitude alone, even if she looks like a bitch and carries a fifty pound steel rod to kill people with, she is still awesome.
If, on the other hand, she comes through all of that bullshit and is a timid little japanese girl with a pure baby face who wants big strong men to do everything for her? Not remotely interested. In fact the people who did that to her character can really, honestly, truly, just die. I don't care anymore.
Let's look at Cloud instead. Look at his face. Smooth, unlined, perfection. He is also a widdle baby. You could ruffle his spiky-ass hair and he would laugh nervously and shyly back away because you're invading his personal space, stop it! Gosh, nervous laughter, what are you even doing.
Cloud Strife's history:
- Had a crush on Tifa. Saved her life. Ostracized for it, explicitly forbidden from getting close to her.
- Went off to join the military, ended up a common footsoldier destined to be cannon fodder.
- Finally got to go home only to watch his superior officer go crazy and kill everyone he's ever known. Mortally wounded trying to stop him, maybe did something heroic in what should have been his last moments.
- Had his mind and body experimented on by a psychotic scientist. I'm going to go out on a limb and say if torture wasn't explicitly involved, it probably was a result.
- Is so mentally and emotionally broken that he manages to convince himself he is someone else. Represses any knowledge that this is inaccurate. On some level, must KNOW that Tifa knows he is lying. Probably going crazy about not being caught.
- Threw his lot in with terrorists, as a mercenary. Specifically, terrorists led by a crazy giant terrorist who replaced his hand with a gun. To his credit, doesn't really look jazzed about it.
I spent about two minutes trying to think of what Cloud's face should look like if not a perfect unlined little baby face. You know what I came up with in that short time? A gangster. A guy with a nervous tick and a constant sneer on his face. Envision Cloud with a constant sneer and then have him do the famous "Cloud shrug". It comes naturally, doesn't it? It's an expression like "What the hell do I care? I'm not crazy, you're crazy. The whole WORLD's crazy. So fine, you want me to go fight this guy? I'll fight this guy." Which is basically what he is. A sneer and a nervous tick to prove that he's crazy. Because you know what? He is, canonically and factually, crazy. He thinks the world is one way, and it's another. He thinks his own history is one way, knowing full well on some level that it's all a lie. He's stark raving mad. Redeemable? Yeah. Worth having around? Sure. But he is still crazy, and a baby face doesn't suit him.
How about Tifa? Sweet Tifa, what could possibly be wrong with her? Yeah we don't even have to pretend that she's stable. She's not.
- Was waiting for a boy to come home when her whole family and whole town were killed. Thinks she saw him but was too wounded to know for sure.
- Next time she sees him, the last person left alive from her childhood, he has become a pathological liar.
- At the start of the game, she works in a bar in the slums. She has a huge rack and knows how to beat people to death with her bare fists, which also means she doesn't carry a big lethal weapon around to scare guys off with. Given the nature of bars and slums, she unquestionably has had to attack people for sexually assaulting her, and then let them back into the bar later to keep the place going financially. Slums can't afford to be picky. That means she lives in fear of people becoming callous to the danger of hitting on her, molesting her, or trying to rape her. If they survive it too many times, they might think that all they have to do is win the fight and they win her. This is my own personal bias but honestly? I would be shocked if she had never been raped. Even if she hasn't been, men who have had their hands on her walk back into her bar and watch her while they drink. You know damn well she remembers each of them, and she feels dirty any time they're around. But everyone has to have a job and the bar might not have enough patrons to turn people away.
- Threw her lot in with terrorists. Specifically, terrorists led by a crazy giant terrorist who replaced his hand with a gun. Yes, they're fighting a corrupt super-corporation of ultimate evil. She still decided to beats up cops who are literally there to defend their city. She's still part of a plot to blow up a power plant and kill, I don't know, somewhere between dozens and thousands? Did they give a number on that?
Tifa should not have a baby face. She should not have a face that says "I am here to appeal to you. Look at my boobs. They are great, right? Now look at my face. You want me." The kind of people who look at Tifa's face and boobs and decide they want her? Those people have done violent things to her. She doesn't want that look on her face. She wants a look on her face that says "If you start shit with me you will be eating your teeth." She wants a serious case of crazy face, one that ideally she can turn off at will if she wants to, I dunno, infiltrate a brothel. Weird thing to suggest she might do right? She would only take on such a mission if she knows exactly the dangers she faces there and has faced those exact dangers before. By dangers I mean rape. She's been raped. And probably violently abused afterwards. Probably more than once.
Her face should show it. It's who she is. She is defined by what she chooses to do, but she was built by a world that is willing and eager to tear up her body and her soul in order to satisfy selfish needs. Her actions make her a savior, yes. But just continuing on in spite of her past without going crazy? That's enough to qualify her as a hero.
And Barret proves it. Like everyone, Barret is borderline dysfunctional. If you know the story (and I trust you know the story) you know that Barret has a good friend Dyne who is subject to literally all the same stresses as Barret, except Barret survives and Dyne doesn't. Dyne is the example of what any of them could have been. Dyne is the hero candidate who fell short. If literally any of them had just been a little weaker in the heart, they would have become another Dyne. Barret, in particular, was never that different. He was never better. He was just lucky.
There is a saying, "There, but for the grace of god, go I." It means exactly that: it is an admission that the reason that you didn't end up in an awful state is not because of something special about you. It isn't your strength, your faith, your equipment, your skill, your training, your preparation. It is luck, or fate if you prefer. Some people don't understand that they are lucky, and think that they got where they are because they truly are superior. People like, oh I don't know, maybe Rufus Shinra. Nice guy. President's son. Wants to tyrannize and terrorize the world. Not actually nice now that I think about it.
The point is, Barret knows after seeing Dyne again that he could have been just as crazy. He could have been just as lost. He might be a terrorist and a punk but he could have been worse. There, but for the grace of god, go he. And he wakes up a little bit. Other things, as he goes on, wake him up a little bit. Make him a little less lost. And the same, I think, for the others.
That's really what a redemption story is about. It isn't that the people who need redeeming really were awful the whole time. It's about us, the audience. We don't know whether or not they are worth redeeming, capable of redemption, until someone tries. A story that shows you that you CAN try to redeem people, and maybe succeed? That is worth something. But for that story to be worth something, you yourself must doubt at the beginning of the story that they are worth redemption.
So give the hero a twitch and a crazy man sneer. Give the women resting bitch face and a penchant for beating the shit out of people who are bad to them. Give Barret every stress line and every twitch that you give Dyne, just so that when we see the two of them together, we see just how alike the two of them are. It's that darkness in all of them that makes them relatable.
And those people who can find the light inside that darkness, who can pull themselves, each other, and the world out of hell?
Those people are heroes.