Final Fantasy VII is just one of those games I'll never be done with. You know the type: the kind that sit undisturbed in some forgotten corner of a shelf for years, but that you'd nonetheless never consider selling or giving away. For me, it's a simple comfort that it's there, because every couple years, some distant memory stirs, and there's nothing to be done but dust it off, pop it in and give 'er another go. This will be great, I always think. I am always wrong. If I had wanted to save myself some time, I could have just given myself a few swift punches to the face instead. Because getting into Final Fantasy VII means getting out of Midgar.
For all my happy memories of the game, there is nothing joyous or pleasant about its starting area. Midgar is awful - a grey disc of urban blight, where great factories belch pseudomagical soot into the air and everything is overcast by the sickly green glow of the Mako reactors. It's telling that the game begins by panning down to the city from an overhead shot of space; it is a place as alien and inhospitable as the dark side of the moon. It may have been beautiful once, a city of tomorrow. But in Midgar, "tomorrow" was a long time ago. As people bustle numbly through the streets, you catch a glimpse of a theater marquee announcing a new play: Loveless. The word stands out, as if an indictment. To live in Midgar is to loathe it.
Suddenly, there is a shower of sparks. A train comes screaming into the station, and the main character emerges, along with a party of resistance fighters. But we're not out to save the city. We're out to tear it down. The reactors that sustain Midgar do so by draining a deep and primordial reserve, the very lifeblood of the planet. Thus the very first act in Final Fantasy VII is to infiltrate an energy plant, fighting through guards and security checkpoints to plant a bomb at the heart of the reactor. The mission is a success - there is a terrific explosion, sending the entire building up in flames. It should feel triumphant ... but then, there is that news report, describing the dozens of bystanders killed in the blast. Hell of a way to save the world.
These injuries stretch far beyond the unlucky few caught in the crossfire. Everybody in Midgar bears the scars of this conflict, some more visibly than others. Slum dwellers move through their paces with a slow weariness, exhausted by the listless drudgery of city life. There is heaviness to Midgar, a slow ache - the kind that overcomes you after standing for hours in line. Most citizens are too bored or apathetic to care about the plight of their overtaxed planet - how could they, having seen nothing their whole lives but the rotted-out guts of the city? Everybody knows the war is over. Everybody knows the good guys lost.