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Final Fantasy VII Deals With Trauma in a Way Many RPGs Don’t

In 1997, few games were tackling the kind of themes that Final Fantasy VII does. Even by today’s standards, not a lot of RPGs address and bring mental health to the forefront like Final Fantasy VII did. Final Fantasy VII stands out as a pioneer in addressing trauma in video games, particularly through the character of Cloud Strife. It also weaves a narrative surrounding grief and the nature of life directly into it’s gameplay, forcing you to think about and react to death. The game’s portrayal of trauma and healing is significant and set the standard for not just RPGs, but the whole industry moving forward.

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Before delving into the topic, I want to make it clear that I’m not a mental health professional, nor do I intend for this to be a comprehensive analysis of mental health. However, I will discuss how Final Fantasy VII addresses weighty themes like grief and post-traumatic stress. With that in mind, let’s explore how Final Fantasy VII navigates the complexities of trauma.

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Cloud is arguably one of the earliest video game characters to showcase symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His backstory, including his tenure as a SOLDIER, the traumatic Nibelheim Incident, and his time in captivity, all contribute to his enduring mental health struggles.

During the Nibelheim Incident, Cloud’s world is shattered. He witnesses the destruction of his hometown, the loss of his friends, and the apparent death of Sephiroth. After this, he is held captive and experimented on by Hojo for four years. This extended period of captivity and experimentation with Jenova cells further exacerbates Cloud’s trauma, leaving him with deep psychological scars that continue to haunt him throughout the game.

These traumatic events lead to Cloud subconsciously developing a false persona, merging pieces of his identity with that of Zack Fair. This complex psychological phenomenon is a testament to the depth of Cloud’s trauma and the profound impact it has had on his psyche.

Throughout the game, Cloud grapples with his identity and memories, often experiencing flashbacks and hallucinations. It’s as if he’s haunted by his own past. These symptoms align with those of PTSD, including intrusive memories, avoidance of triggers, and negative changes in mood and cognition.

Cloud’s journey to recovery is a central theme of Final Fantasy VII. With the support of his friends and through confronting his past, he gradually comes to terms with his true identity and the events that shaped him. His story highlights the importance of seeking help and support for mental health issues, even in a fictional setting.

The game’s portrayal of Cloud’s struggles with PTSD is groundbreaking for its time. It shines a light on the psychological toll of trauma and the journey to healing. The game’s themes of life, death, and the interconnectedness of all beings are underscored by its treatment of trauma and healing.

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Hironobu Sakaguchi, father of Final Fantasy and producer of Final Fantasy VII, lost his mother during production of Final Fantasy III. This personal loss influenced the development of Final Fantasy VII, leading to the concept of the Lifestream. This thematic foundation laid the groundwork for the game’s exploration of life and the connection to the planet.

The game deeply intertwines its narrative with the idea of the Lifestream, which metaphorically represents life itself. This concept is further explored in the game’s treatment of death and grief. Final Fantasy VII features several emotional deaths, but none are as shocking and impactful as Aerith’s.

Aerith was no side character; she was a mainstay in your party. You invested in her gear, making it seem like she was here to stay. Until she wasn’t. Her sudden death was a gut-punch in 1997. The absence of a boss theme in the subsequent fight, replaced instead by Aerith’s theme, underscores the emotional weight of her passing. It’s as if we, the players, are in shock, unable to fully register the boss fight.

The party mourns, and players felt it too. Over the years, countless players have sought ways to keep Aerith alive through various in-game actions, of course unsuccessfully. It’s fascinating to see how people respond to it; it’s almost as if this digital death has affected players in a real-life way, leaving a lasting impact.

In the end, Aerith’s death strengthens the game’s overarching theme of life. Although she has physically departed, her memory and spirit live on, serving as a reminder of both the fragility and resilience of life itself.

In conclusion, Final Fantasy VII‘s exploration of trauma is a testament to its narrative depth and emotional impact. The game’s themes of life, death, and the interconnectedness of all beings are underscored by its treatment of trauma and healing. As a groundbreaking work in the realm of video game storytelling, Final Fantasy VII continues to resonate with players and critics alike, setting a high standard for addressing complex themes in the medium.

Final Fantasy VII is available on the PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. Final Fantasy VII Remake is available on the PS4, PS5, and PC. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth will launch on the PS5 on February 29, 2024.

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Cory Dinkel
Cory Dinkel is a freelance writer for Siliconera since 2023. An award-winning digital journalist, he has worked for local and national news outlets for nearly a decade. His favorite genre is the JRPG and he will not be taking questions during his "There is Not a Love Triangle in Final Fantasy VII" speech.