Part eight in our ongoing retrospective letter series. An index of all letters can be found here.
From: Leigh Alexander
To: Kirk Hamilton
Subject: This Day Will Never Come Again
Tifa really is the heroine of the story, isn’t she? She’s the one who was there since the beginning, the one who knew Cloud forever, and the one who saved him. While Aeris is constantly jogging off to ill effect, Tifa stays on the front lines. And she really has no loftier motivation than loving him. You ask a good question: With all that, why did fans seem to take her for granted in favor of the tragic priestess? Why was there ever any question about whom Cloud ought to be with? Why was this something fans even had to argue about?
(Did you know you can date Barrett if you’re mean to all the girls? With the way you keep laying on those Barrett quotes, I’m surprised you didn’t).
Anyway, I have to say, when I was young it’s not that I liked Aeris, but I preferred Aeris and Cloud as a couple. Maybe when I was young I preferred the romantic ideal of the angelic female to the much more grounded, earthy sort. Maybe when young, I still liked the idea that girls are princesses and boys are heroes and I found Aeris’ tragic loss romantic. At least to the latter point, probably many people did. Aeris was simply a bigger deal because she died. Maybe that let us take Tifa for granted.
On my second playthrough, though, the utter indispensible nature of Tifa was much more apparent. Tifa is a partner for a grown-up player, one who’s learned that pretty girls are a dime a dozen and “mysterious” girls usually haven’t got all that much going on. Wonder how many people who didn’t properly appreciate Ms. Lockheart on their first playthrough notice her more now. Team Tifa!
Man, you know, you’re right about the music. With all respect to our friends in the voice acting community, I’m not sure speaking aloud always serves a game’s characters. Perfectly willing to admit that this is because the games I played in the ‘90s that made the greatest impact on young-me were all voiceless and so that’s what I became comfortable with, but I’m also perfectly willing to theorize that they made the greatest impact on me because there was no talking to steal my attention from the environments and the music, which I think is loads better at creating tone and emotion in a scene than even the best voiced performance (provided the music is good, which FFVII’s, of course, is).
Do I even have a favorite on the FFVII OST? I mean, there’s Aeris’ theme, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t many songs that can summon the atmosphere of the game better than this one:
It’s called "Anxious Heart," and it sort of has a sad pall to it, but it also sounds like light sparkling through cracks in metal, or like soft aquamarine light coming up from the earth.
There’s also this one, ‘Holding My Thoughts In My Heart,’
which is such a pretty rendition of the main motif. You can almost hear starlight twinkling in it.
And of course, there’s "One-Winged Angel," but you’re not there yet. It’ll probably be the last thing that blows your mind, and having the proper context for it is necessary before you can watch Advent Children, otherwise it’ll spoil the film’s climax. You said on Twitter you wished you could have gone to the FFVII symphonic concert programme with our friends Ben and Brendan, but let’s pretend you did live in Australia with them and could have gone—I hope you would have surrendered your ticket to someone who has the background to have their face melted by that choral epic. You’ve probably even heard it before, but I want you to have that moment like all of us did before you.
Also, you’ll love Crisis Core because one of the things it does best is use the old musical motifs. Not heavy-handedly, just beautifully, in a way that feels primeval and reflective as a prequel—one you enter knowing it is mostly tragic—should. I suppose it won’t spoil much if you check this one out:
That I’ve gone on an entire tangent about various songs here proves your point: The music of the FFVII universe is crucial to its permanence and to its emotional impact. It’s become shorthand for the experience—most FFVII fans only have to hear a song or two and feel something tug at their hearts, and that something is a poignant desire to recall, to revisit. In fact, as many emails and tweets and as much feedback as we’ve gotten from the readers of these letters about how we’ve made them nostalgic enough to replay the game, I have a feeling that it’s this set of letters about our specific favorite songs that will push those on the fence over the edge.
Again, not to belabor the point I keep coming back to on abstraction, but that the game doesn’t focus too intensely on the liminal stuff and that it allows space to think, feel and listen rather than cram personalities, voices, info, instructions and lore down our throats is probably why the beautiful music is able to spill into our head and heartspace like this.
Notice, too, how I couldn’t talk about the music without talking about Advent Children and Crisis Core. People accuse Square Enix all the time of making cash-ins on FFVII, and it is true that there's countless merchandise and spinoffs, more for that title than for any other Final Fantasy game. But the company also knows its audience and that we still, ten years later, can’t get enough of it.
The result is that there’s a massive, interconnected set of properties revolving around the world of FFVII. It’s persisted, and the music plays no small role in that, identifying and summoning the world’s aesthetics, its places and people and moments, instantaneously.
I remember seeing this 2007 picture where, at a fan event Square Enix threw, fans were allowed to put notes and requests on a message board. This picture is an entire message board of notes most of which say “please remake Final Fantasy VII” or some variation thereof.
FFVII did play a major role in selling the PlayStation. If Sony is smart, it’ll have done whatever it takes to make sure that remake launches the NGP, don’t you think? I mean, I’d buy it. Even after all this writing I’ve done about how the simplicity and careful application of detail makes FFVII better, I’m as inexplicably guilty of wanting that next-gen remake as anyone else. Probably because it could never replace the original; it’d just be a tribute, a new angle. I’m all for it, but not everyone feels that way. How about you?
Anyway, how are your chocobos doing? Sidequest progress update? You sure are pokey.