Square Enix unveiled more information and actual footage of its forthcoming CG project, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, at the Venice International Film Festival in Italy today. The upcoming CG movie is set two years after the events seen at the end of Final Fantasy VII, the first PlayStation entry in Square's long-running RPG franchise. Although the Final Fantasy franchise is now up to its twelfth entry and has expanded to include online and side-story offshoots, Final Fantasy VII and its cast of characters remain some of the most beloved in the series. This devotion by fans accounts for the insane amount of interest over this CG production based on a seven-year-old game.
Prior to the screening, Tetsuya Nomura--a veteran Square developer whose work includes character designs in Final Fantasy V, VI, VIII, X, and X-2 and a directorial role for the Kingdom Hearts series--was on hand to discuss Advent Children with the assembled press. Nomura, alongside co-director Takeshi Nozue, scenario writer Kazunori Nojima, producer Shinji Hashimoto, and Square Enix president Yoichi Wada, chatted about the upcoming evening's screening. While the group offered some interesting insight into the film's development--such as the contrast in team size between Advent Children (a main team of 40) and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (over 200 people)--and mentioned that they wouldn't disappoint fans when questioned about an appearance from the ill-fated Aeris, they remained mum on hard details of the version due to be screened. Much of what follows might be considered spoiler material, so if you're trying to keep away from the plot, then you might not want to continue reading.
While the lack of info was disappointing, it ensured the screening packed a serious punch that evening. The game's story is set two years after the events in Final Fantasy VII, which put main character Cloud up against Sephiroth, a troubled, powerful warrior whose quest for an identity and revenge nearly destroyed the world. The passage of time has found the city of Midgar slowly being rebuilt by survivors of the epic conflict. However, the slow rebirth of life is dealt a blow with the appearance of a disease called geostigma, a deadly, incurable disease that's the result of exposure to the lifestream energy that emanated from the planet at the end of FFVII. Unfortunately, while the world was saved, Cloud experienced a loss that deeply affected him--ultimately changing his view of life. In ensuing years since his win and loss, Cloud now runs a courier service, Stryfe Delivery Service, and lives a quiet and uneventful life with children who were orphaned in the final battle with Sephiroth. Cloud's modest life is disrupted when he is hired to protect a mysterious figure from Kadaj, a violent young man with his own equally troublesome gang. One of Kadaj's motivations for his life of evil is his search for a mysterious mother. As the two begin clashing, Kadaj and his gang prey on Cloud's orphans, causing even bigger trouble. Cloud's low spirits make the coming fight difficult, but, once he's cheered on by more than a few old friends, it's on. The epic fight ahead may well rival Cloud's last fight against you-know-who.
Before we run through the various segments that made up the 24 minutes of footage shown off in the title, we'll offer you some bullet points about some of the plot. Yes, Aeris is back, but not perhaps in the way you'd hope for. Yes, the FFVII gang is back--and in fine fighting form from the looks of it. Yes, Cloud is using Final Fantasy VIII-style gun blades and yes, it all looks pretty cool.
The footage shown was broken up into roughly two chunks, the first part was a piece of the film's initial opening along with segments focusing on the game's story, while the second was a series of action sequences that will surely please fans. The introductory montage of footage depicts events from FFVII, and fills you in on the epic tale that unfolded. The narrator is a young girl named Marlene, who you discover is one of several orphans living with Cloud and Tifa. She is at the bedside of Denzel, a young boy who appears to be terribly ill with geostigma. A ringing phone sends Tifa to answer it and then she calls Cloud with a message. A client named Reno has offered him some urgent work in the city of Healen. When we first see Cloud, the blonde warrior is seen to be kicking it in an arid canyon area that becomes decidedly more dusty as he tears off on his motorcycle, kicking up a dramatic cloud of dust as he does. His journey for his new job opportunity is complicated as two members of Kadaj's gang, Yazoo and Loz, show up and try to stop him. The segment contains one of the running questions in the footage--the trio call him "brother" several times. That will certainly fire up plenty of speculation. Cloud finally arrives at the designated meeting place and comes into contact with Reno, a hooded, wheelchair-bound stranger. It seems Reno's research into Sephiroth was incomplete and that he wants to try to rebuild the world. However, in order to do so he needs someone with Cloud's training.
As Cloud is meeting with Reno, the scene shifts to Tifa as she follows Marlene into Aeris' church. The young girl finds a bandage, similar to one seen on Denzel, implying that Cloud has geostigma, that she shows to Tifa. Marlene merely has a moment to ask about Cloud's wellbeing when one of Kadaj's boys shows up and fights with Tifa. She unloads a flurry of attacks on him. While Tifa's battle against Kadaj's boy (one which we've seen clips of before) is rolling, the scene shifts again to focus on Reno talking with a new figure, which he fills in on his plan and how they have the opportunity to remake the world. The footage of that pair of characters is intercut with Tifa's valiant but doomed fight against her foe. She cries out to a boy who walks in on the battle as the scene shifts to the boy being confronted by one of the gang members before fading out.
The next sequence sees Cloud arriving and finding her battered body and rushing her home. When she regains consciousness Tifa asks him why he didn't tell her about the geostigma, wondering if he wanted to die. Cloud's melancholic response doesn't bode well for his motivation and clearly frustrates Tifa. As he continues his talk with Tifa the footage began switching to quicker paced cuts of action and taking on a much more surreal quality due to its quick shifts of focus. Some of Reno's men appear in the room with him and Tifa, resulting in his becoming determined to save the children.
As Cloud races off on his bike to save the kids, a familiar voice is heard, beginning a surreal and surprisingly touching sequence featuring Aeris. While the scene is broken up over the course of several shots, it begins slowly and builds to a climax as the pair have a dialogue. The shot initially begins as a plain white tightly shot angle that focuses mainly on Cloud and teasing with a fleeting look at Aeris' shape as she stands with her back to him. As the pair discuss forgiveness and Cloud's sadness and search for forgiveness Aeris gently reminds him that she never blamed him for what happened. In the end, all that mattered was that he tried to come for her.
The above sequence is intercut with shots of Cloud racing on his bike to find the orphans and Kadaj talking to the children, including Denzel, about the disease many of them share. The white-coiffed fighter reminds them that their mother all gave them the power to fight a planet that was now killing them. He offers to heal them, summoning up a corona of energy around one of his hands. Another segment intercut in the dream sequence is Cloud taking on the other members of Kadaj's gang on his bike with a gunblade. As his conversation with Aeris ends, Cloud is caught off-guard by the sight of the orphans standing in the road. He tries to stop his bike and winds up falling from it and landing near Denzel whose eyes glow with power. As Kadaj nears Cloud, the old comrade Vincent, in a flurry of red cloth, saves Cloud from trouble. The pair speak a bit, the presence of Marlene causes Cloud to ask Vincent to safeguard her and take her home, which leads Vincent to turn him down. They talk of redemption and forgiveness as Cloud asks him if it's possible to achieve it leads Vincent to discover it on his own.
The next batch of scenes sees a mix of footage of Tifa speaking to Cloud, urging him to be strong, as we see him a series of action sequences where Cloud is performing all manner of daring feats such as fighting on his bike, using his gun blade, and leaping through the air to slice a motorcycle in half. Tifa's pep talk calls Cloud out, reminding him of the strength he possessed two years ago and that he should remember he was a fighter.
The next scene focuses on Reno and Kadaj overlooking the city and talking about the future. Kadaj then charges up and fires a burst of energy into the sky, summoning a massive creature that rains down to earth, forming into something resembling Bahamut as it drops. As that trouble brews, we see Tifa running through the town square to Denzel trying to get him out as chaos reigns in the open square. The boy just looks at her, possessed, as his eyes flare with power.
The already fast-paced footage then kicked into overdrive as it reached its impressive teaser-like conclusion. The scene is set in a square overrun by monsters of an indeterminate origin as Kadaj's summon causes all manner of problems. Young, possessed Denzel is saved by a team that includes Barret, Red XIII, Yuffie, and Vincent. Tifa remarks to Denzel that they are friends who have come to help. The shot of the returning characters doing their thing against a massive mech is painfully short and certainly left us wanting more.
The final sequence shown in the trailer is nothing short of insane, portraying Cloud as a dual- sword-wielding bad ass extraordinaire. The sequence finds him in the air as a mountain's worth of debris is headed toward him. The young hero falls backward for just a few moments and sticks his swords into a building to slow his fall then uses them to launch himself up into the heart of the debris field. The slickly edited shot has an outstanding sense of motion as Cloud cuts through all the debris like butter. The twist to the end of the footage is a shot of Sephiroth at the heart of the debris as his theme song, One-Winged Angel, plays.
It goes without saying that the CG film is well in line with Square Enix's extremely high standards for cinematics--in fact, it appears to raise that bar a few notches. The character models are highly detailed and animate smoothly while the environments are slick, detailed areas that draw heavily on light and shadow.
Certainly the upside for fans are the amazing visuals that are gorgeous and detailed, and the story appears to be an interesting one, as well. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is tentatively scheduled to ship this fall in Japan on DVD with a US version to follow. Look for more information on Advent Children soon.