Final Fantasy VII and the Role of Victims in Heroic Stories

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6 years 10 months
Submitted by SuperSayu on Thu, 09/12/2019 - 13:22

So far all of my comments on the remake have been downers. Congratulations: this one isn't. Mostly, I think, because the concerns I raised in the last couple blog posts have been laid to rest by more recent trailers. To me, the tone of the game really is a make or break issue; it would be very easy, if Square wasn't taking it fully seriously, for the game to end up a celebration of their abilities as a game studio, a story about a game they once made... and not its own story.

If the game was a celebration of itself, then it would be tonally inconsistent with the story. You don't celebrate a world with Shinra, Inc in it. You don't celebrate a world with Don Corneo in it. You don't celebrate a world with torture and mutations and monsters. Yes, you can celebrate the good that's in that world, but it always must be tainted by the darkness. That is necessary in order to write a story about hope, because when people compare their own world to a fiction, it's very easy to write off stories where all the wrongs are glossed over, and that makes it difficult to find hope in those stories, those worlds.

As I mentioned, I have been serially publishing my NaNoWriMo from last year and in the comments I had this to say in the midst of a dark period of time:

I can't write this story in order to just vilify the villains and worship the heroes. The heroes may save the day, and the villains may fall, but the cost is always borne by the victims. It is only by writing about the victims that I can be honest about villainy and heroism. What is the value of a hero who is late? What makes a villain monstrous if not their willingness to destroy the things we, as a reader, most want to protect?

The difference between a good hero and a bad one is whether or not they can save people amidst all their battling and posturing against the forces of evil. But the difference between a good writer and a bad writer of heroic fiction, I believe, comes down to convincing the reader that there really are stakes. A hero must be able to win a battle and still fail. It isn't even about "genius villain still wins even as he dies"; the villain can not win, not even a little bit, and the hero can still lose. Because what the hero is fighting for and what they are fighting against are very different.

Bloodshed does not bring people back from the dead. This is an ugly truth that history shows again and again: no matter how often we march off for a war of vengeance, creating new victims, we never "win". Conquer, destroy, capture, rebuild, but that which was lost never returns. A hero whose attitude is at odds with this truth always ends up feeling like a fake hero, a glossy poster on a wall rather than a person. Losing someone or something hurts, and that immediate stab of pain when it happens is only the beginning. They will never come back, can never come back. A death is not a turning point for the better, it is a cliff edge, one that may someday lead to better places, but it never leads "up". You can only go down, and let the slopes at the bottom of the cliff carry you forward.

Stories about heroes are not supposed to be about bubblegum princesses and bouncing breasts. They are not supposed to be about glamour, perfect skin, and getting the girl. If you find yourself wondering how to make your story about heroes "perfect", you will never get it right. Neither the heroes nor the story can ever be perfect, and it is only the pride and arrogance of a writer that makes you think you can do better.

Stories about heroism are really about victims. A writer (and I am guilty of this) who thinks they know how to write about being awesome in a way that makes a character worthy of the title "hero" has missed the point. If the world were awesome, there would not have been victims, and there would be no need for heroes. Wherever there is a need for heroes, wherever there is a problem so great that only great works of violence can solve it, there is a need for sobriety, focus, and determination, not flash and perfection. Flash and perfection can be entertaining, but they aren't heroic.

And entertainment doesn't provide hope. Stories of heroism, of that transition between a world full of sacrifices and one where things will be okay, that provides hope. But it's hard to write that story if you don't understand the suffering in your world, because you can overlook some of the greatest problems, and just focus on the ones that you DID solve. Victims don't care how many maladies they aren't suffering from. They care about escaping the awful hand that they are being dealt right now.

That's why tone matters, why I'm glad that the characterization for Final Fantasy VII remake is deeper than the first few trailers suggested, and why the more recent trailers give me more hope. It's only by accepting and admitting the burdens of the world that you can provide a story that gives hope.