Adventurism v. Class Engagement: Lessons from the Final Fantasy VII Remake

SF, Gaillimh

The Final Fantasy VII Remake
(FFVII Remake) is, in the words of critic Tim Rogers, “more Final Fantasy VII than Final Fantasy VII”. A bold claim. And the piece itself is a bold undertaking, attempting to remake from the ground-up a game considered by many to be one of the most important in the development of the role-playing genre. However, this is not a review of the game as whole, but rather an examination of the role of the eco-activist group Avalanche (of which 3 of the 4 playable characters are members) within the broader working-class of the game’s setting, the corporate city of Midgar. In their conflict with the omnipresent Shinra corporation, Avalanche fails to connect and engage with the broad mass of the proletariat living in the various Midgar slums, fails to educate the masses on the necessity of opposing Shinra, and is punished for this failure by the destruction of both their homes, and an entire district of the city.

 The city of Midgar is a giant disc, held aloft by skyscraper-size pillars. Divided into eight sectors (“a rotten pizza” according to Barrett Wallace, Avalanche’s leader) each corresponding to a mako reactor. Built underneath each sector of disc is a slum district, named for the sector which serves as its sky. Avalanche is made up of inhabitants of the Sector 7 slums, and operates out of the district’s most popular bar, 7th Heaven, owned by one of the members, Tifa Lockheart. However, while the majority of the groups members are from the Sector 7 slums, they rely most heavily on Cloud Strife, a hired mercenary and former SOLDIER of Shinra’s special forces. The player spends the majority of their time among this group playing as an outsider, totally disconnected from the broader mass of slum residents. In their day-to-day operations, the group work “covertly” from 7th Heaven, discuss their plans to destroy essential infrastructure loudly and openly, all the while being led by a 7-foot man with a gatling gun grafted on to his right arm. Throughout all this however, the members of Avalanche remain anonymous and unknown to the class of people they are ostensibly trying to protect.

Avalanche is engaged in a guerrilla war against the Shinra Electric Power Company, who built the city of Midgar and control its power source: mako. Mako is energy drawn up from the planet below and processed into power by Shinra’s eight mako reactors (one for each sector). However, mako also forms the literal life-force of the planet, and Shinra’s actions are killing it. This is why Avalanche opposes Shinra, and why the first act of the game sees the player participating in a mission to destroy the Sector 8 mako reactor. However, Avalanche’s campaign is totally disconnected from the wider community that they live in, and to discuss this, we must discuss the Sector 7 slums.

The Sector 7 slums are where the majority of the in-game proletariat call home as they struggle to survive.

The residents of the Sector 7 slums form the majority of the reserve army of labour necessary for the continued functioning of the city above, supplying the service staff, factory workers and other unskilled labour. As one walks around the area in character, snippets of conversation can be heard lamenting the inconsistency of factory work, or the necessity of every single hour of labour to simply put food on the table. The situation only worsens after the destruction by Avalanche of the Sector 8 reactor. With a sector in ruins from the blast, the majority of the areas trains have stopped running. This leaves those who relied on Sector 8 for work unemployed, and those who needed to travel to other sectors stranded. 

A similar issue arises after Avalanche’s destruction of the Sector 5 reactor. Following a bungled public execution on the part of Shinra from which our heroes escape, Cloud is separated and falls into the slums below. There he meets Aerith Gainsborough, the most important girl on the planet (literally), who agrees to help him return to Sector 8. Together they travel to her home, through the Sector 5 slums, where the same scenes from before play out. Residents are angry at this group styling themselves as their saviour, and many throw their support in behind Shinra, if only for the miniscule payouts for doing so. Confusion, distress, and impending destitution grip a people who are caught between a heartless capitalist corporation and a group of adventurists who refuse to include them in their struggle.

A result of their failure to engage with the masses can be seen in the community of Wall Market, which makes up the lumpenproletariat (those outside of the classic proletariat category: criminals, prostitutes, etc.) of the Midgar slums. Built during the construction of Sector 6 as a place of respite for construction workers, following the district’s completion the various bars and brothels were walled up and allowed to operate autonomously; “Out of sight, out of mind” according to Aerith upon first encountering the area in the distance. Wall Market has since come under the control of Don Corneo, a powerful crime lord, who spends his days abducting women from the surrounding districts to serve as temporary wives, before discarding them, never to be heard from again. Wall Market’s relevance in this case can be seen in historical discussions of the revolutionary potential of the lumpenproletariat, most notably among the Black Panther Party (BPP). There, the question was raised as to how valuable were those engaged in organised crime as a revolutionary group, as they were, at least on the surface, opposed to the authorities, and the danger they potentially posed should attempts not be made to politically educate them. As was pointed out by Robert L. Allen in Black Awakening in Capitalist America:

“it [organised crime] has no serious motive to revamp the present social structure because it is that structure, with all its inherent flaws and contradictions, which provides a climate in which organised crime can flourish. Hence, it comes as no surprise that in at least one major riot (in Baltimore) police recruited local criminals to help quell the rebellion. The criminals gladly collaborated with the cops because heavy looting during the riot had seriously depressed prices for stolen goods and otherwise disrupted the illegal business operations upon which the criminals depended on for their livelihood” [1]

This issue comes home to roost in the case of Corneo. Faced with increased Shinra security and scrutiny, the Don cuts a deal with the corporation to help them carry out the dropping of the Sector 7 plate. A lack of ability to engage with and educate the proletariat, led to the development of those very same dangerous and reactionary criminal elements the Panthers warned of, and results in the destruction of an entire district.

The most tragic element of Avalanche’s failure is that they are, in their objectives, correct. Shinra’s extraction of mako is literally killing the planet, and this can only be avoided if their ability to do so is totally curtailed. For, as evidenced in ‘Chapter 12 – Fight for Survival’, Shinra would rather destroy an entire sector of their city, than cease their planet-killing practices. Avalanche is incapable however, of getting this point across to the broader slum population, despite their continued existence depending on Avalanche‘s success.


And so finally, why Avalanche? Why discuss a fictional group from a Japanese video game? Very simply because as the extraction of mako threatens the world of our characters, so too does the extraction and burning of fossil fuels threaten the death of our own. We see a similar trend among ecological movements here too. Groups such as Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion and Earth First!, though correct in their analysis that climate change is a matter that will have catastrophic effects on us all, have disconnected the ecological movement from the broader class struggle, missing the forest for the trees, if you’ll indulge me. These groups have through their history, refused to countenance that the broader issue of capitalist exploitation must be tackled to help save our planet, and instead have gone out of their way to defend it, exposing their liberalism, and alienating themselves from their potentially staunchest allies as a result (Greenpeace’s record among indigenous groups in North America for example is, at best sketchy, and at worst downright colonial). The lesson we should draw from Avalanche as communists therefore, is to never abandon our engagement with the working class in exchange for a quick solution, and to always agitate, educate and organise.

 

Further Reading/Watching/Playing:

The Final Fantasy VII Remake, Square Enix (Playstation 4)

ACTION BUTTON REVIEWS The Final Fantasy VII Remake, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hu4H5ykBP0I&pbjreload=101

James Yaki Sayles, Meditations on Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth

 

Endnotes

[1] Allen, Robert L., Black Awakening in Capitalist America in Sayles, James Yaki., Meditations on Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, pp. 75-76.

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