Regardless of its shortcomings, Advent Children will satisfy FFVII fans with its mix of nostalgia and action.
No other Final Fantasy title has become what Final Fantasy VII is. It's reputation precedes it; to many (if not most), it is an undeniable classic in RPG gaming, which sold more than any other title in Square's landmark series. And so, it has spawned an entire compilation of titles, including manga, novels, games, and so on. Some of these are truly spin-offs of the story (Dirge of Cerberus for the PS2), and some are canonical (Crisis Core for the PSP). Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children falls into the latter category, as it is the official sequel to the original PSone game. Advent Children is a full-length CGI movie, not a game, but either way, it's extremely important to the Final Fantasy VII story, so I'll review it all the same.
The movie begins two years after the events of the original game. Without revealing too much, the plot is this: As a consequence of the Meteor impact (which occurred at the conclusion of the game), a mysterious disease known as geostigma has spread throughout the human population of the Planet. Wrapped up in this disease is the legacy of Sephiroth/Jenova, and Cloud must, though against his will, once again rise to fight and vanquish the threat once and for all. That's admittedly quite a vague description, and I'm assuming that you know the story of Final Fantasy VII if you made any sense of that, and therein lies the central impression you'll get from Advent Children; you really do have to be significantly knowledgeable on the original games story to really get what's happening in the movie. If you don't, well then I can only see it being enjoyed simply for it's visuals and action. And it's definitely a treat for the senses.
Being Square, this movie is essentially like one big cut scene from a Final Fantasy game. If you've played a FF game, you'll know how beautiful those cut scenes can be. Advent Children definitely does not disappoint in that department. The scenes give an incredible sense of scale, as is the norm for Square, whether it be the ruins of Midgar, the gigantic summoned monsters, or the environments. All of these backdrops are rendered gorgeously, with realistic detail and simply dripping with texture. When it comes to characters themselves, they come across very clean and smooth, the same as in the games.
Advent Children is all about action, as there are many battles. The different character's movements and attacks are choreographed beautifully, with the same amount of precision and impact as a Hollywood action film. Animations are all very fluid as well. That helps, because the different characters pull off tons of crazy attacks, flying every which way and seemingly defying gravity. It certainly is exhilarating, and any gamer will easily become entranced by the battles. It really wouldn't be Final Fantasy if it didn't accomplish this.
You may think this all sounds great, and since it's Final Fantasy VII, it's got to be perfect, right? Sadly, this isn't completely the case. As I mentioned before, the story's plot isn't the most approachable for non-fans. That's not the only problem with the story, however. The thing is, the plot itself is rather convoluted. Even fans might have some trouble following the events. To me, the writing just wasn't as clear as it should have been. By no means is it bad, but seeing as how Square is clearly capable of better, I was expecting it to be more refined. In addition to the plot's murkiness, fans may be able to find some plot holes. The one that comes to mind immediately (SPOILER ALERT) is the fact that somehow, despite being caught in the middle of a huge explosion that would've killed any living creature, Rufus Shinra is alive in the movie. Um...yeah, no. This movie is canonical, and is billed as the official sequel to the beloved game, so it's only right that those events should have been clearly explained. One thing that the story in Advent Children does accomplish successfully is that it brings Cloud's story to a satisfying conclusion, as it should. That, I think, is the most important thing that the plot was attempting to do, and so the movie as a whole does have a purpose and isn't a complete failure as it would be if it didn't provide a clear conclusion. All in all though, it felt as if the overall plot was really just a placeholder for the eventual return of Sephiroth, and in so doing lost a lot of the potential that was there. It's nostalgic fan service, really.
So, the plot isn't perfect, so what? Well, unfortunately, the execution of the plot by the movies English voice actors is similarly muddled. Some are standout excellent, such as Steve Burton's role as Cloud Strife. Too often, however, the emphasis is on the wrong words, and consequently detracts from the overall emotional impact. Some lines actually come across as kind of silly, most likely due to translation, though it could be bad or over-dramatic acting. One last criticism I have is that the lip-syncing is done relatively poor. Now, this might just be because of having just got done playing FFVII: Crisis Core, which had near-perfect lip-syncing with its English dub. So much so, in fact, that you might come away from that game with the impression that they remade specifically for English speakers. Anyway, the lip-syncing in Advent Children is sub-par; words will be spoken too often when a characters mouth is moving way too slow to be physically saying that word, etc. As a result of this, I highly recommend the original Japanese audio over the English dub, as it's much more satisfactory, though not incredible.
Final Fantasy games are known for having (usually) great soundtracks. You'd expect, then, that Advent Children would have a similarly great score. Thankfully, this is largely the case. During battles, the music is appropriately stirring, and during slower more contemplative segments, the music is appropriately ambient. However, you will most likely come away with the impression that the music was for the most part meant to simply be there to provide an arena for the action, nothing memorable. One exception is the heavier, rock-ish remix of the iconic FFVII final boss battle music, "One Winged Angel" (Sephiroth's theme). It's awesome. Other than that, it's just a good score, plain and simple.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a great movie. Admittedly, you can only really appreciate it if you're well-versed in Final Fantasy VII lore. However, it can easily be enjoyed for its incredibly beautiful graphics and fast-paced, laws-of-physics-defying action. It's not without its flaws, but Advent Children is important enough to the Final Fantasy VII storyline by providing a satisfying conclusion to the tale that it really shouldn't be missed by fans.