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We Need to Talk About 'Final Fantasy VII' And Spoilers

A whole generation of players didn't experience [blank]. Are we allowed to talk about [blank]?

by Patrick Klepek
May 15 2019, 2:00pm

Image courtesy of Square Enix

It seems like Square Enix is finally ready to start talking about its long-awaited Final Fantasy VII remake, a game fans have been, in essence, asking for ever since the original game was released in 1997. The question, then, is what we are allowed to start talking about. Are we allowed to spoil Final Fantasy VII, or has the clock reset?

Are we really going to spend the next few years—lord knows how long it’ll take Square Enix to actually finish this now-episodic saga—dancing around this game’s story? Is the [blank] of [blank] off limits? How are we going to talk about a game whose entire identity is formed by a foundation laid 20 years prior, given so much of the anticipation behind it is what it will (or won’t) do with it?

The spoiler cycle goes like this: Creators hold back as much as they can, especially the big surprises, before their work is released. Critics tend to be respectful of their early access to the work, and largely dance around spoilers, or engage with them in a very limited fashion. All hell breaks loose once the work enters the world, as the discourse takes its natural path.

With Final Fantasy VII, however, everyone already knows the cards Square Enix is holding. We know what’s going to happen with [blank]. We know [blank] gets [blanked] by [blank]. And when it’s all over, we know that [blank] will be hanging out on [blank]—and roll credits. (I spent so much time on the stars screen after.)

We’re in unprecedented territory. Plenty of video games have been remade over the years, but arguably none with the same cultural weight as Final Fantasy VII, precisely because the impact its story had. Final Fantasy is popular today, and the release of a new mainline entry is certainly a big deal, but Final Fantasy VII was a moment when gaming culture stood still.

We had a long discussion about Final Fantasy VII on the podcast this week, and much to the frustration of Rob Zacny, I forced us to avoid spoiling Final Fantasy VII. We talked around the game’s still-controversial (and still brilliant, imo) ending, and we talked around the big moment towards the end, a moment that launched a thousand conspiracy theories online, and for a lot of young people, helped define a huge part of what video games meant to them.

It was an exercise with a point, though. Final Fantasy VII came out in 1997, more than 20 years ago! That’s long enough for a generation of people to become interested in games and never, ever have played Final Fantasy VII. It’s a crude-looking game by today’s standards, largely due to the once-beautiful but now rapidly aging pre-rendered backgrounds, which is exactly why it’s such a terrific candidate to be updated with fancy new polygons. The story of an eco-terrorist organization trying to stop a megacorp from sapping the planet dry is a story that has even more relevance, given how we’ve come to better understand climate change.

We’re weeks from Disney’s anti-spoiler marketing campaign (#Don’tSpoiltheEndgame), a ploy that was as clever as it was cynical. (The company lifted the ban on spoilers once it was ready to drop a trailer for the next movie in the saga.) The crux of the criticism against spoiler culture is simple: Is a story good if enjoying it is predicated on not knowing what happens?

As someone who went out of their way to avoid learning much of anything about Endgame, and who generally goes out of their way to avoid spoilers writ large, let me try to mount a defense. It’s usually the case that stories reliant on twists to be impactful are weak stories, but a good storyteller is also capable of using the element of surprise as a tool, not a trick. The two are often conflated, but in the right hands, it’s a huge part of what draws me in.

I enjoy the art of surprise, which is one of the many reasons I’m a horror fan, but I also want to experience art on my own terms. Cado made this specific point in the podcast: our culture is saturated by takes and reactions. It’s very difficult to have a pure, honest response to a piece of art without having outside knowledge made an active participate. It’s very easy to take spoiler aversions too far, and it’s absolutely the case that spoilers can make you more interested in checking out a work. (This was true of Detective Pikachu; the moment Cado told me it was actually about [blank], I wanted to see it way more!)

All that said, I don’t know that I can talk about Final Fantasy VII in the future without spoilers. It seems ridiculous for me to talk about a remake of Final Fantasy VII except through the lens of someone who experienced it already, whose anticipation revisiting is undeniable curiosity about what parts Square Enix ultimately considers precious—and what gets cut.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to turn around and publish a headline with spoilers; that’s just a dick move. But dancing around what I already know? That doesn’t feel particularly honest, either. It’s probably more like what Mike Fahey did at Kotaku this week, in a piece titled “I Can’t Go Through This Again, Final Fantasy VII. I know what you mean, Mike. Me either. But I'm anxious to try.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have any stories about growing up and being sad about Final Fantasy VII, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com. He's also available privately on Signal.