The Storytelling Issues of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

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I’ve watched Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (and its director’s cut version, Advent Children Complete) more times than I can really remember, and probably more than I care to admit. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what the issues with that film in particular are. Everything in my previous post still applies, it’s clear that while the film has excellent visual flair it still has problems using that to tell a coherent story.

But I think it’s hard to really comprehend this on a simple viewing. You have to really break it down in order to figure out where the film stumbles in terms of storytelling. To that end, I’ve broken the film down into scene beats, bold indicates a scene added or altered in the Advent Children release.

  • Opening text that establishes the target audience: fans of Final Fantasy VII.
  • Red XIII and his children explore the ruins of Midgar, creating a thematic bridge between the end of the original game and this film.
  • 498 years before those events, Kadaj and Rufus take an elevator up a partially constructed building in an unknown location, though those who viewed the original cut will recognize it as Edge. They discuss Rufus’s motives, including Rufus’s desire to forget which is contrasted with human nature to gild the past. Rufus admits he chooses to forget, and alludes to solving a more immediate problem with salvaging Jenova, who Kadaj refers to as Jenova. Scene flashes back again to two weeks before that.
  • Tseng and Elena of the Turks (Shinra special ops known for black suits and dark dealings) talk about finding “pay dirt”. Reno is called in with the chopper, but they get waylaid but an unknown enemy.  The audience sees none of this, only looking at the Northern Cave and hearing gunshots. One of them says something garbled. Reno escapes, but Elena is shot.
  • A recap of the events of Final Fantasy VII and some of the concepts introduced. This is performed by Marlene, Barret’s daughter.
  • The city of Edge is established, more time is devoted to this in Advent Children Complete. It’s also established that people are suffering from a disease called Geostigma. Marlene is established along with Denzel, who is suffering from the disease.
  • 7th Heaven, Tifa’s bar in Edge, is established. Tifa gets a phone call, assuming it’s for Cloud. She remarks, “He’s not here anymore” and this is echoed by Denzel asking “Cloud, where are you?” In Advent Children Complete, a radio broadcast discusses the mako crisis, which at this point has finally died down in most areas except for certain locations. The reporter asks if Shinra should be held financially responsible for the crisis. Tifa gets a call from Reno.
  • A wolf sniffs around the Buster Sword left as a grave marker, (a representation that Cloud is still stuck dealing with Zack’s death, but it’s not something an average viewer is going to pick up) Somewhere in the wastes, Cloud gets a message from Tifa indicating that Reno is in Healen and he’s got work for him. She asks how Cloud is. Cloud’s Geostigma triggers.
  • Overlooking Cloud, three men on motorcycles pull up to the Buster Sword. Kadaj kicks it over, establishing him as the villain. They talk about Cloud as if he’s a “brother” and they’re searching for “Mother”. Loz and Yazoo attack him, sending Shadow Creepers after him as well. Kadaj talks to someone (Reno) and he asks to speak to the President (of Shinra).  Cloud’s Geostigma triggers again, which sends his sword flying thanks to one of of Loz’s attacks. Yazoo shoots Cloud’s glasses off, nicking him in the process. This is meant to demonstrate Cloud’s vulnerability.
  • Cloud meets Rufus, injured from the events of the game. He uses a wheelchair. This scene is largely expository in nature. Even the phone calls indicate exposition, as Barret mentions finding oil as a replacement for mako energy. There’s an extended dialog about Kadaj and his gang, plus the incident in the Northern Cave.
  • Tifa and Marlene explore the abandoned church, which Cloud has apparently taken up residence in. They discuss Cloud having Geostigma as evidenced from a linen bandage.
  • Reno and Rude discuss the aftermath of Shinra. Kadaj finds the lodge in Healen.
  • Denzel gets a call from someone (Tifa or Marlene) explaining that they’re in the church. There’s a flashback detailing Denzel’s backstory.
  • Kadaj confronts Rufus. Kadaj explains his plan to Rufus. He also uses Tseng and Elena as a bargaining chip.
  • A girl and her brother struggle on the street, in front of Denzel. Someone tries to help them but is repulsed when it’s revealed that they have Geostigma.
  • Cloud sets the Buster Sword back and reminisces about Zack Fair, including Zack’s death and passing his sword to Cloud. Sephrioth speaks to Cloud, saying that he’s an empty puppet.
  • Loz intrudes on the church, faces off against Tifa. Loz kidnaps Marlene and the materia stored at the church.
  • The girl from earlier tells Denzel that “they” are going to fix their Geostigma. They’re taken aboard a truck led by Yazoo.
  • Cloud enters the church, finding Tifa defeated. She tells Cloud that someone took Marlene but she doesn’t know who. Cloud’s Geostigma triggers.
  • Reno and Rude take Cloud back to his home above Seventh Heaven.
  • Flashback to Cloud taking Denzel home.
  • Denzel and the girl talk about “who’s fixing them” in the truck. Denzel says he doesn’t care who it is.
  • Kadaj takes Cloud’s materia and uses it. He discusses how he intends to lure Cloud to the Forgotten City.
  • Tifa confronts Cloud about his Geostigma. She also confronts him about his depressed state. He goes to the base in the Forgotten City.
  • Kadaj manipulates the children into consuming water that allows him to control them. This is elaborated upon in Complete, the initial release is unclear as to what this does.
  • After a brief daydream sequence with Aerith, Clloud confronts Kadaj at the Forgotten City. After losing the fight with Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo, Vincent saves Cloud.
  • Vincent explains Kadaj’s plan to Cloud, the whereabouts of Tseng and Elena are revealed. Marlene runs out of the forest, and Cloud asks Vincent to take Marlene to Tifa while he asks Rufus what’s going on. Marlene chews him out for his selfishness. Cloud flashes back to his confrontation with Tifa, this is elaborated upon further about Cloud’s cowardice. Cloud talks to Aerith once more in his head, and she asks “isn’t it time you did the forgiving?” He resolves to bring Marlene home and after asking Vincent if sins are ever forgiven, hetells Vincent that he’s going to try and he’ll “phone in the verdict”.
  • Cloud’s cell phone drops to the bottom of a lake, the audience hears all of his friends leaving messages indicating that they will be coming to visit him.
  • Loz and Yazoo line up children in front of a monument that they intend to destroy because they believe that Jenova is hidden inside. Tifa finds Denzel in the chaos, Reno and Rude confront Loz and Yazoo. They get into a fight.
  • Marlene gives Cloud a pep talk.
  • Kadaj and Rufus talk. Kadaj reveals his insecurity about being lesser than Sephiroth. After Rufus reveals that he won’t back down, Kadaj summons Bahamut Sin.
  • The Bahamut Sin fight takes up a good chunk of time, with lots of action and the introduction of all of the original game’s characters. At some point Denzel injures some Shadow Creepers by busting open a fire hydrant.
  • Rufus reveals that he is actually hiding Jenova’s head and he is able to walk despite his injuries. He tosses the head, as Kadaj attempts to grab it. Rufus manages to fire a shot into the canister that holds her head.
  • Cloud and the three Sephiroth Remnants engage each other on the highway. Cloud destroy’s Loz’s motorcycle and Yazoo’s gun. They are ostensibly finished off when Rude and Reno detonate a bomb at the end of a tunnel. This culminates in Cloud cutting through the container, damaging Jenova’s head. Cloud removes his sleeve, revealing his Geostigma.
  • Kadaj mourns the damage to Jenova. Cloud confronts him in the church, and while Kadaj appears to have the upper hand, Aerith uses the water of the church to drive Kadaj away.
  • Cloud confronts Kadaj at the center of Midgar. The other characters elect to let him fight alone. Kadaj pulls out Jenova’s head and shoves it into his body.
  • Kadaj becomes Sephiroth and challenges Cloud to a final battle. This also reveals that Sephiroth’s motive was to use this planet as a vessel while he travels to another one.
  • Cloud defeats Sephiroth after getting grievously wounded. Kadaj returns and dies, returning to the Lifestream. Cloud basks in the rain but is caught unaware and gets shot by Yazoo, who is hanging on for dear life along with Loz.
  • Denzel gets a call from someone, so do the other children. They go to the church in Midgar.
  • Zack and Aerith send Cloud back to the world after he floats into a world of pure light. The wolf disappears. He is in the flooded church and cures Denzel’s Geostigma. He remarks that he’s not alone.
  • Credits roll.

So, if you notice this beat by beat breakdown, you’ll find that there’s a lot packed into this movie. The problem that Advent Children suffers from is that these scenes are often sparse in terms of narrative communication, and in some cases even redundant. Kadaj’s plan to recreate Sephiroth is made explicit visually and through dialogue on multiple occasions.

So, what happens is that there’s a lot of scenes that are inefficient, communicating either one or maybe two ideas at most. The visual language doesn’t really match and most of the narrative information is communicated through dialogue.

But of course, this relies on previous knowledge of Final Fantasy VII. This is the biggest issue of the film, there’s not enough of an actual plot that could stand on its own. By its very conceit, there is less time devoted to telling a good story and more on “Hey look, it’s Cloud and Vincent!”

But could it have been salvaged? Perhaps, and that’s a post for another day. For now, I’m going to leave it here.