Welcome to “New Dad Goggles,” a semi-reoccurring column here.
People always ask the hypothetical, “If you could forget and re-experience any piece of media, what would you choose?” You obviously can’t do that, but the next best thing? Becoming a parent.
It’ll give you a whole new perspective on life — and the media you consume.
For my younger self, 1997 was an objectively incredible year to be a gamer.
Between seminal titles like “GoldenEye 007” for the Nintendo 64, the literally perfect “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” for the PlayStation, some small franchise called “Grand Theft Auto” (hope those guys make it!) and the criminally underrated “Fallout,” 1997 was a landmark year for video games and video game players.
But it was a game from a relatively niche Japanese franchise that proved to be one of the most significant releases of that incredible year: “Final Fantasy VII.”
American audiences had only seen “Final Fantasy” and the incorrectly numbered “Final Fantasy II” and “Final Fantasy III” (in reality, those were the fourth and sixth games of the franchise, but the first two released stateside after the original, thus the bizarre naming convention) and there was no guarantee that FF7 would be the historic success it is today.
Thankfully, “Final Fantasy’s” publisher, then known as Squaresoft (now known as Square Enix), dove feet-first into those risky waters — and it paid off handsomely as FF7 became a genuine, bona fide smash hit that turned “Final Fantasy” into a cultural force.
The beloved game would see numerous re-releases and nominal updates (Square has since launched a completely remade and updated series of FF7 titles), so actual sales figures are hard to pin down, but that’s beside the point: This game had an indelible effect on a pre-teen me.
This was the first game I played where there was an emotional investment in the characters more meaningful than “kill that bad guy, please.” In fact, FF7 was my first taste of Japanese role-playing games, period, and has greatly influenced my gaming preferences 27 years later after its release.
I recently went back and played through FF7 again after the birth of my son, and wanted to break down three key emotional beats from the story that had a newfound impact on me as a father.
WARNING: There will be plenty of plot spoilers for the original FF7 from this point on.
How a man handles failure: One of “Final Fantasy VII’s” most interesting plot devices is that the player eventually learns that the main protagonist, mercenary Cloud Strife, is an unreliable narrator.
All of Cloud’s claims about him being an elite warrior and accomplished soldier turn out to be bunk. Worse yet, Cloud effectively stole those claims from a friend he watched die due to wounds suffered during combat.
Pre-teen me didn’t think much of this narrative thread back in the late ’90s.
But as a father in 2024? It absolutely hits differently.
One of the biggest problems with society today is its utter lack of accountability and truthfulness. Most men today, when faced with failure and shame like Cloud was in the game (Cloud topped out his military career as a glorified security guard, not a soldier), would probably similarly fall back on lies and half-truths to cover up any shame.
Tackling, acknowledging and learning from failure head-on is a life lesson that most fathers need to impart to their sons. It’s a wholly better alternative than subsuming oneself in lies and fabrications.
Children: One of the optional characters you can recruit in FF7 is the mysterious Vincent Valentine.
Despite being able to beat the game without ever acquiring him, skipping out on Vincent will mean you’ve missed a critical, dark and macabre storyline about his past.
Long story short: Vincent does a lot of terrible things and makes a lot of bad decisions that eventually lead to his true love birthing the child of a horrific mad scientist — a mad scientist who swiftly began experimenting on the new baby.
Stricken with guilt over everything, Vincent eventually sequesters himself in a coffin for 20 years (Vincent was experimented on as well, and thus he’s not quite human) to atone for his sins, before eventually being found by Cloud and offered a chance at revenge against said scientist.
There’s no grand lesson to impart here, but it’s inarguable that a storyline involving the horrific circumstances surrounding the birth of a child will tug at any father’s heartstrings just a little harder than most.
Death: Perhaps the plot twist that “Final Fantasy VII” is best known for is the death of one of its female protagonists, Aeris/Aerith (the game shipped with two different spellings of her name in 1997) Gainsborough.
Aerith — the commonly accepted spelling — is killed by the game’s primary antagonist, Sephiroth (Not-So-Fun Fact: he’s the baby that was experimented on by the aforementioned mad scientist) about a third of the way through the game.
And no, this isn’t some comic book death or pro-wrestling retirement: This was a permanent removal of a character that many had assumed was the primary love interest of Cloud.
Pre-teen me remembers this moment because of the pure shock value of it all.
The me of 2024 looks at this moment completely differently, now that I’ve actually been to real-life funerals.
But the real lesson I’d want to impart to my child, at least about this particular FF7 scene, is when Cloud mourns Aerith’s death.
“Aerith is gone. Aerith will no longer talk, no longer laugh, cry… or get angry… What about us… what are WE supposed to do?” a spiraling Cloud says as he holds her lifeless body.
The impermanence of life is a tough subject to broach with your children. But it’s an important one to discuss, because you truly don’t know God’s plans and loved ones can truly and abruptly “no longer talk, no longer laugh, cry… or get angry.” You have to appreciate your loved ones in the here and now because of that.
“Final Fantasy VII” is available on virtually every modern console, including your phone. If you get the chance, I cannot recommend this game enough.
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