Friday, June 12, 2020

Writing Lessons from Video Games: Final Fantasy VII Remake

I've been anticipating this game since last year when I started getting interested in the original Final Fantasy VII after playing Kingdom Hearts since the franchise features some of the beloved characters. I decided to wait for the remake and after hearing good things about the game I snagged it on release day! This is a long game (and Animal Crossing is distracting), but I'm so glad I played it and I can't wait until the next part releases! 

Final Fantasy VII Remake is about an ex-SOLDIER named Cloud Strife. He takes up a mercenary gig with a group of eco-terrorists who have the goal to destroy the mako reactors powering the city to save the planet. When their mission fails horribly, things escalate and Cloud becomes more involved than he'd anticipated when he stumbles upon a mysterious florist and hooded ghosts. 

Warning: Spoilers in points four and five--especially five.

1.) A Socially Awkward Character - Cloud is a socially awkward muffin. He constantly stumbles to find the right thing to say or he finds himself saying the blunt thing and/or the wrong thing. I laughed out loud several times at his stern but adorkable personality. It was so unique and endearing.

Wedge: Hold on, bro!

Cloud: Don’t call me, bro.
Wedge: Can you give me a minute?
Cloud: No. *pushes them both off the platform to parachute down to the city *

How this can be applied to writing: Don't underestimate the adorableness of adorkable characters. But it also can be a struggle. Cloud has difficulty connecting with people, but over time he warms up to his friends and though he keeps his personality, he adapts to them as well.

2.) A Government Narrative - Throughout the game, the Shinra Electric Power Company is trying to frame Avalanche which is composed of Barret, Tifa, Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie as ruthless terrorists. You hear this over news broadcasts or in rumors among citizen conversations or even straight from their mouths in cutscenes or hologram messages to our protagonists. Avalanche wants to stop the greedy power consumption of the company without hurting anyone, but Shinra goes as far as to hurt other people to make them look terrible. This poses as a massive obstacle for Avalance as they have little to no public support for their goals. 

How this can be applied to writing: Sometimes the most effective way to subdue a force against the government is to spread lies and if everyone thinks they're true it's hard for the truth to push through. An enemy government can send assassins or whatever but sometimes it's most effective to turn the true good guys into the supposed enemies such as what Snow wanted to do to Katniss in Catching Fire when he tried to manipulate her into killing Finnick.

3.) Character Specialties - Each member of the main team has a specialty whether in combat or virtue or knowledge. Cloud is an expert with his massive sword and can make powerful close-range attacks. He also knows a lot about Shinra tech and he's loyal to a fault once he makes good friends. Barret with his mechanical gun attached to his arm is great with long-range attacks. He also is great at boosting morale. He has a Baptist preacher-vibe to him.

Tifa is excellent with hand-to-hand combat. She knows how to pinpoint pressure points. She's also the glue of the team. She keeps everyone together even if they disagree. Aerith specializes in magic especially healing magic. Her optimism and kindness keep the team hopeful even in the darkest situations.

How this can be applied to writing: What do each of your main characters contribute to the team? What makes them irreplaceable? How do they stand out among the other characters?

4.) A Neutral Force - The whispers are mysterious arbiters of fate. These ghostly apparitions intercede at poignant areas in the story to either ensure events happen or prevent events from happening. These intercessions work for the good or ill of the main characters. The whispers have their own goal and you don't know if this will bode a happy or a tragic end.

How this can be applied to writing: Some characters or creatures don't pick a side. They have their own goals and ambitions that sometimes help or harm the respective sides. This could be as simple as protecting their home or as big as feeling like the world should go how neither of the "good or bad" sides want. 

5.) Drive in the Emotional Punches - Even the original name with Popeye the Sailor Man graphics was famous for not holding back when it comes to emotional punches. This remake emphasizes those to the umpteenth degree with more fleshed-out characters, great graphics, and a high-quality score. 

Two pretty major characters die near the midpoint of the game. These deaths had an extra impact because you knew that Jessie had a family who loves her and Biggs had a heart for orphans. They died trying to stop a horrible event from occurring and they die in Cloud's arms. On top of that, a section of a city where hundreds of people lived is destroyed in mere minutes. You hear conversations about loved-ones trying to find their family members and crying over their losses. You can't help feeling at least a fraction of this horrible grief.

How this can be applied to writing: It's a sad fact but many of us have become jaded over deaths we see in movies. We don't feel for the masses of people who die because there's nothing personal about it. But if include loved ones grieving for those lost or you know that some of those lives had the potential to create great good in the world you mourn for their losses. Show your reader why these people should be missed.

Conclusion - The Final Fantasy series strikes again with an amazing story and characters. They're definitely a wonderful teacher in writing!

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