Final Fantasy VII as Metafiction

I already wrote a post about Final Fantasy VII, but there is another part of that narrative that demands treatment; its metafictional aspects.

One of the more interesting portions of the narrative is the revelation that the protagonist, Cloud, is not a member of an elite commando unit as he had claimed. It turns out that he is suffering from a form of self-delusion. In fact, he left his hometown hoping to join SOLDIER, but ended up failing to gain admittance. Too ashamed to return home, he becomes a common footsoldier, the weakest of various enemies inhabiting the world. Unable to reconcile his self-image with this reality, he creates a series of false memories. None of this, however, is apparent to the consumer at the outset.

Like many interactive narratives, FFVII offers consumers a fantasy of competence. The consumer inhabits Cloud, allowing him or her to enjoy the fantasy of being an elite commando. However, it then betrays that fantasy by revealing that Cloud is, in fact, a failure, a coward and a weak, faceless masked soldier. The moment this is revealed to the consumer is the same moment it is revealed to Cloud himself, when he regains his memories. Therefore Cloud’s ignorance about himself corresponds with the player’s ignorance of him: both the consumer and the protagonist have their fantasies undermined at the same time. This parallelism means that the revelation of Cloud’s self-deception implicitly reveals to the consumer the self-deception they themselves are engaged in. Both Cloud and the consumer are enjoying the fantasy of “being” Cloud, ex-Soldier, First Class. This turns a mirror on the consumer. The narrative intimates that Cloud’s reasons for self-deception are the same reasons the consumer chooses to inhabit  him: a desire for competence and uniqueness, even as a fantasy.

In addition, there is one pivotal scene where Cloud hands Sephiroth, the antagonist, a destructive weapon called the Black Materia. Due to experiments that altered Cloud’s biological makeup, Sephiroth has the power to compel him against his will. The confrontation occurs at the bottom of a deep pit, where Cloud advances slowly, agonizingly towards Sephiroth, as if sleepwaking. While he advances in this way, the consumer is put in control of a part of his personality, a child version of Cloud that manifests as a portrayal of his inner mind. The consumer, inhabiting this mental apparition, can run around and talk to Cloud, but is ultimately powerless to stop his slow advance and, inevitably, Cloud surrenders the materia.

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Child Cloud seems to be wearing a T-shirt, which is somewhat out of place for the world of FFVII, but perfectly normal for the real world. In all likelihood, the consumer is wearing a T-shirt at that very moment. FFVII creates an avatar of the consumer inside the narrative world, but that avatar cannot do anything. This scene metafictionally reveals the impotence of the player to have any effect on the narrative outcome. Child Cloud (an avatar of the consumer) can run around the confined space at the bottom of the pit and talk to people, but in the end he is powerless to change the inevitable outcome. This is a perfect metafictional metaphor for how the consumer has perceived freedom to run around in the confined space of the narrative world and talk to people, but in the end is powerless to change the outcome of the narrative. (I have written before about how Bioshock does something similar, but FFVII was doing it a decade earlier.) FFVII slyly reveals the mechanisms it uses to convince the consumer that they are experiencing freedom and autonomy while simultaneously limiting that freedom.

Through these scenes, FFVII steps outside the narrative, making the consumer interrogate the very act of consuming. And this interrogation is directed not only at FFVII, but all interactive narratives. It is fascinating as a metafictional text!

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