The first time I played Final Fantasy VII, it was on my parents’ floor-bound CRT television – an ’80s behemoth wreathed in wood paneling. It was an ancient animal by ’97, and its eye was rapidly dimming. It made playing certain “dark” games nigh impossible. Of course, Final Fantasy VII’s apocalyptic city of Midgar isn’t a sunny place. When I exited the joint and found myself on a wide green plain, it was like stepping into a sunny day.
The next time I played Final Fantasy VII, it was on the PSP. My PSP doesn’t have the same issues as my parents’ old wheezing TV (which is long dead), so in a way playing Final Fantasy VII on the handheld was like a new experience. I could see every grimy corner of Midgar – and I could experience the game’s soundtrack through headphones, in stereo, for the first time
(My parents’ TV had mono sound.)
Final Fantasy VII has problems, but its soundtrack is still pretty great, especially when it’s pumped directly into your ears. One of my favourite pieces is Holding Thoughts in My Heart, which most notably plays when the party is standing outside Midgar’s gates and wondering “Now what?” Shinra is behind them, Sephiroth is somewhere before them, and other than deciding they ought to go after Sephiroth, their fates (and the direction of the game) is one big question mark.
It’s a liberating moment because you get a sense the adventure is only beginning – but it’s also bittersweet because in a way, Midgar offers security for the characters in your party and the players. For most of the characters, Midgar sucks, but it’s home. And for the player, it’s an extended training ground that leaves you in little doubt of what to do next, and where to go.
Holding Thoughts in My Heart perfectly captures the conflict between unsafe familiarity and marginally safe unfamiliarity. The characters are at a gate metaphorically as well as literally.
It’s a heart-twisting moment, and I can’t wait to see how Square-Enix will frame it in the eventual Final Fantasy VII remake.