So, I've been playing Final Fantasy XIII lately. I got the game at launch, played to about 20 hours in, encountered a fight I couldn't win within two attempts, stop playing, then just never got back to it. Fast forward three years, and I have completely forgotten pretty much everything about the game: the characters, the story, and how the battle system even works.
So I started again, from the beginning. And it made me want to watch Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children again. There's a joke in there about FFXIII's story-to-gameplay ratio, but I'm not going to make it.
Just so we're clear, for the most part in this post I'm going to be talking about Advent Children Complete, the director's cut of the movie that was released on Blu-Ray in 2009, not the original release from 2005. It boasts about 30 minutes of brand new footage over the original, as well about 1,000 edited scenes overall, apparently. It's definitely the version of the movie to watch, as the new content helps to flesh out some of the issues with the somewhat hard-to-follow plot, which was a sticking-point for many people.
There is one problem with the new content though: it's almost too good. I'm not talking about the deep and nuanced intricacies of the plot they show, or the fantastically crafted, well-rounded characters. I mean the actual fidelity of the CG. It looks great. The new scenes are all super-sharp and amazing to watch. Unfortunately, it's a fairly stark contrast to some of the material from the original cut of the movie. Now, don't get me wrong, that CG was nothing short of genuinely amazing back in 2005, and it still holds up really well, but it just looks... grimy compared to the newly rendered scenes. There are a lot of moments in the movie where it'll transition from sharp, great looking visuals, to something that is clearly just upscaled SD. Considering the entire movie is like, 75% fight-scenes, you don't really notice it too much amidst all the fast-moving badassery that's going on for the majority of the film, but it's something that is disappointingly noticeable during the slower-paced, more character driven moments. It's a bummer.
Being a CG movie, even the original DVD release would have almost certainly have been originally rendered at resolutions possibly well exceeding 1080p, so quite why Square decided for its "complete" HD version of the film to include scenes upscaled from DVD resolutions is beyond me. It makes no sense. Unless Square are complete idiots (which, let's be fair, isn't completely out of the question), they would almost certainly have high-resolution versions of the original scenes sitting on workstations and hard-drives somewhere.
But enough about that, let's talk about the film itself. Advent Children is duuumb. It is a dumb movie. But it's dumb in a way that I can usually get behind. It's two hours of gooey fanservice. It's 10% characters talking about often the hard-to-follow, sometimes inconsequential plot stuff, and 99% characters you know and love doing wicked-awesome shit. I mean seriously, the animators themselves acknowledged that the rule of cool was the only rule they followed when making the fight scenes.
Angst Inc. CEO, Cloud Strife
The film takes place two years after the end of Final Fantasy VII, and although there is a small sort-of-recap at the start of the film, you're generally not going to have a fucking clue what is going on or who anybody is if you haven't played through the original game before. Thankfully, one of the special features on the DVD and Blu-Ray is just that: a full recap of the events of the game. Having not watched it though, I can't attest to it's usefulness. Myself being a huge fan of the 1997 PlayStation classic though, that was never an issue for me going in.
So anyway, two years after FFVII. Humanity is trying to get it's shit back together after Sephiroth almost destroyed the planet by summoning a giant meteor at the end of the original game. The primary setting is a town built on the edge of the now completely ruined Midgar, appropriately named, "Edge". Cloud, who now operates a delivery service with Tifa (as well as holding majority shares in Angst Incorporated) is spending his days being alone and not really talking to anyone and riding around on his sweet motorcycle.
Meanwhile, there's a strange sickness going around, dubbed "Geostigma". It manifests as a strange, black, rash-like appearance somewhere on the body. It's depicted as being occasionally pretty painful and kills you by... making you... sort of, melt? I dunno. That part's never really explained. Eventually it's revealed that OH NO, Cloud has the stigma as well! And he doesn't consider himself fit to help anyone else, let alone himself, which is why he spends the first half of the movie living out his days in angst-town. It should be noted that Cloud was never that angsty to begin with in the original game, and for as little as he was, he pretty much got over it by the end. So why is he so angsty now? Because the fandom had overblown that characteristic so much, that the designers felt people wouldn't recognise him any other way.
I'm fucking serious.
Nope. Don't remind me of anyone. Not at all.
Meanwhile, there are a group of three men with silver hair running around generally causing mischief for Cloud and what remains of Shinra and the Turks. Two of those three silver-haired men are also pretty-boys, and the three of them are going around looking for their "Mother". Gee, does that remind you of anyone? Hmm, I wonder if Sephiroth is gonna show up at some poiOH WAIT he totally does because he's depicted on the fucking cover of both the original DVD and the Complete Blu-Ray release.
So anyway, a bunch of plot happens, and Kadaj (the leader of the silver-haired dudes) finally gets what he's been searching for the entire movie. He then transforms into Sephiroth, a new version of One-Winged Angel starts playing the background, Sephiroth soliloquises for a bit, then he and Cloud proceed to have a big fight scene which consists of Sephiroth taunting Cloud a lot and Cloud using his badass sword-that's made-up-of-a-bunch-of-other-swords to cut through entire skyscrapers. Rule of cool, so you know, petty things like the laws of gravity and physical momentum don't apply here. The fight-scene culminates with Sephiroth impaling Cloud on his huge, 12-foot long katana, then repeatedly stabbing him in the air, like fifty times, in a scene not present in the original film. That original cut of the movie was almost completely bloodless, but Cloud is a fucking bloody mess at the end of the fight in this version.
But Cloud eventually defeats Sephiroth, because that's how these stories work, right? Sephiroth disappears, Kadaj returns to the livestream, then the other two silver-haired dudes show up and Cloud is almost killed in a massive explosion, but managed to survive because of the POWER OF FRIENDSHIP. Or something.
Anyway, Cloud sold all his shares in Angst Incorporated and all the kids with Geostigma get cured in a weird baptism scene. Roll credits.
Now, among anime fans, there's a sub-group of people who prefer to watch their stuff with the original Japanese VO. Almost to the point of utter elitism. I always thought of that as the dumbest shit ever, but having watched Advent Children's English dub quite a few times now, I can almost see why people could get like that. Almost. Let's just say that Advent Children's English dub is... well, a little hokey in spots.
Now, I believe I've said somewhere before, either here or on Twitter, that I'm not much of an anime fan, so I can't say this definitively, but the bad English dub in this, as well as presumably other anime seems to be (to me, anyway) due to the static nature of the medium. With anime, movies, etc, when dubbing into other languages, you're pretty limited by the movements of the characters' mouths. So not only does the localised dialogue have to be written in such a way to accommodate this, it then has to be read in a way that accommodates it, which is where all the dialogue with flat reads and weird cadences seems to stem from. When localising a video game, you can just edit the movement of the characters' mouths to match the new dialogue. Better yet, if it's a 2D game, you theoretically don't have that problem at all.
Of course, you could just ignore that and record dialogue regardless, but for Advent Children's English dub, Square seem to have opted to try and get the voices matching the mouths as closely as possible, which results in some just really, really terrible reads on some of those lines. I'd almost want to watch the film with it's original Japanese VO, not because I think it's necessarily better, but because it means simply not having to listen to some of the cringe-worthy stuff that comes out of the characters' mouths in the English version.
Part of me wants to hate Advent Children. The story is kinda bad, the characters aren't really fleshed out too well (and in some cases flanderised to the point where they're completely one-dimensional), and the second half of the movie is one big fight-scene. But then there's the other part of me, the part that looks at Final Fantasy VII with rose-tinted glasses that have six-inch thick lenses. The part of me that of me that was only 15 when this movie originally came out, a movie I had excitedly followed the development for from pretty much the moment it was announced.
There are parts of the film that are bad. There are parts that are downright terrible. But then there are parts that super dumb, but in a way I almost can't help but like. It's no Final Fantasy VII, but then again, nothing else is.