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Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Stu Taylor

Another chance to catch the UK exclusive preview feature of the CG-animated movie...

Although each title in the Final Fantasy role-playing videogame series have become international best-sellers, one in particular can be singled out as the game held with the most affection by gamers worldwide. And that game is arguably Final Fantasy VII.

Players took control of ex-soldier Cloud Strife and his band of friends, as they took on the might of Sephiroth, a power mad villain bent on destroying the city of Midgar and the world itself out of misguided revenge. Apart from the sublime gameplay, Final Fantasy VII offered an experience that touched gamers like no other title before it, through its development of themes on the value of life, and the tragedy of death that came in the shape of the murder of Aerith, the woman Cloud loved.

The game ended with Cloud confronting and defeating Sephiroth, avenging the death of Aerith in the process. However, it took the intervention of the Lifestream – the collective life force of the planet itself – to save the city of Midgard and the world from Sephiroth’s destructive plans. But now, two years later, the world is faced by a new threat, in the shape of Geostigma, a plague virus that is infecting the populace at a rapid rate. It will take the reunion of old friends to defeat some familiar (and unfamiliar) villains this time around.

Advent Children is an unusual sequel to the Final Fantasy VII videogame; in as much as Square Enix has decided to make it a fully-realised computer animated movie rather than an interactive gaming experience. Using improved technology and expertise derived from its earlier The Spirits Within theatrical movie, Square Enix’s currently uncompleted project already looks like it will change the shape of animation worldwide forever. And that isn’t mere hyperbole.

NEO was one of the privileged few invited to an exclusive screening of a 24-minute ‘Special Edition’ cut of footage from Advent Children during December 2004. Following a brief welcome from our hosts, we were informed that this was the first time ever that this footage had been shown in the UK. After a polite request of ‘no pictures or filming’, the projector ran the preview. It was probably the fastest 24-minutes of our lives, and after the end credits had rolled and the lights went back up, there was silence. This was more to do with being genuinely stunned than the typical ‘English reserve’, but as soon as one hand started clapping, others heatedly joined in unison.

Putting into words what we saw is largely pointless, as on the strength of a third of the movie alone (the projected running time is 70 minutes), it is plainly obvious that Advent Children needs to be seen – to be experienced – for yourself. Technically, the quality of the animation is indeed the ‘next level’. Having watched The Incredibles the day before the Advent Children preview (and thoroughly enjoying the experience), it seems that the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks Animation best watch their back, as the progression of computer animation is not solely going to originate from their studios.

Whilst the project was always intended to be direct-to-DVD, it is a shame that there are currently no plans to secure a theatrical release. The mainstream’s last experience of Final Fantasy was The Spirits Within during 2000, which was perhaps too cerebral and naval-gazing for a Western cinema-going audience of the time. But now it can be argued that an audience recently spoon-fed the fantasy extravaganza of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the Shrek series and the aforementioned The Incredibles, would readily except FFVII: AC’s blend of sci-fi action.

But either way, NEO is counting the days until, in a few months time, we’ll be invited back by Square Enix to watch the completed movie. The company also promised that it would endeavour to bring over Advent Children’s director, Tetsuya Nomura, over to London for the UK premiere as well. And, of course, NEO will ensure that we bring you an exclusive interview with Mr Final Fantasy himself. Until then, turn the page and soak up the visual delights that await you.


“MY, HASN'T HE GROWN?”
Although his gravity-defying hairdo remains solidly in place, our boy Cloud has changed pretty much completely since his first appearance in Final Fantasy VII way back in 1997. The original character design of Cloud by Tetsuya Nomura features a very ‘cutesy’ anime style, whilst the Advent Children version is a refined, more mature, rendition of the sword-swinging hero. It’s amazing how someone can change in seven years. But don’t worry girls: in the stunningly-detailed close up shots we could tell that he’s still got his freckles.


“SMILE, PLEASE!”
NEO INTERVIEWS FINAL FANTASY COMPOSER, NOBUO UEMATSU

Nobuo Uematsu, the composer and producer behind the stunning musical scores on the Final Fantasy series, was born on 21st March 1959 in Kochi, Japan. After graduating from Kanagawa University, he composed music for commercials before joining Square Enix in 1986. He went on to compose music for over 30 game titles, including the Final Fantasy series. The soundtracks from the games have grown to such popularity that Uematsu was named as one of the ‘Innovators’ in Time Magazine's ‘Time 100: The Next Wave – Music’ feature.

Uematsu composed and produced the Final Fantasy VIII theme song, ‘Eyes On Me’, which featured Hong Kong pop diva Faye Wong, which went on to win the ‘Song Of The Year (Western Music)’ at the 14th Annual Japan Gold Disc Awards in 1999 – it was the first time music from a video game won that honour.

In February 2003, Uematsu produced ‘The Black Mages’, an album comprised of Final Fantasy battle music arranged in a rock style. He formed a group called the Black Mages and performed as the keyboardist himself. Uematsu's talents are not limited to video game music. He composed the theme song of the animated film Ah! My Goddess and has written music for vocalists including Emiko Shiratori and Rikki.

During the UK press event for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, NEO was fortunate enough to grab a few words with the musical man himself…

Can you tell us what stage during Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children’s production you were brought in?
At Square Enix, we always have several different projects going on at the same time so it is hard to say for sure. But I think it was at the beginning of 2004.

What was it like working with the FFVII: AC production team?
It is basically the same guys from the Final Fantasy videogame series, so there was no real difference in the way we worked together.

What themes and influences did you draw on for inspiration in the creation of the soundtrack?
[Laughs] Rock music!

Were there any ideas that did not make it into soundtrack?
Well, it’s not finished yet. But there is a one particular song that I really want to use because it’s really cool. If it doesn’t fit the soundtrack it won’t go in, so it might not be the right timing. But someday!

What piece of work from your career are you most proud of?
[Without hesitation, Uematsu responded]: “Nine! Final Fantasy IX.”

And finally, if you could only be remembered for one thing, what would you like that to be?
By my nickname at Square Enix: “Smile, Please!”


ADVENT ARCHITECTURE
The production design work in Advent Children is never more awe-inspiring than in the jaw-dropping architectural designs. Following the events of the original Final Fantasy VII, the city of Midgar is in a bit of state – the ‘Special Edition’ footage shows a flock of birds rise up between the wreckage. In spite of the Geostigma plague that is ravaging the planet, people still go about their business in the slum areas, ignoring the infected children in the streets. The camera pans down into a church where Tifa faces off against Loz in an action-packed sequence.


HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO
Fans of the original game will be pleased to see that a familiar band of adventurers are called upon to confront the evil Kadaj and his horde in Advent Children. From Cloud Strife, who is still haunted by the death of Aeris; the gattling-gun armed Barret Wallace; the Justin Timberlake-alike Cid Highwind, Tifa Lockheart, who is still pining for Cloud; the ninja-schooled Yuffie Kisaragi; the spectral Vincent Valentine; and the feral Nanaki.


BRING ON THE BAD GUYS
They say a hero is truly measured by the foes they must face. Considering that they’re going up against Grade A nut jobs like this little lot, Cloud and company must be 110% pure hero juice in a bottle! They are led by Kadaj, a mysterious figure who offers to cure the Geostigma-infected orphans… but at what cost? Kadaj is aided by Yazoo and Loz – the latter, in particular, has an astounding set-piece martial arts confrontation with Tifa within the derelict church.

In the footage NEO was shown, Kadaj uses his magical abilities to open up a portal and summon a mighty Bahamut dragon. Watching this giant beastie form from wisps of spectral smoke into a multi-ton monstrosity that swoops down into the town square is just one of the many “Woah!” moments you have to look forward to. But best of all, Cloud’s arch foe Sephiroth makes an appearance at the very end of the ‘Special Edition’. With a sword in each hand, Cloud launches himself from a rapidly collapsing tower, maniacally slashing at the falling debris until he sees, at the centre of this insane chaos, Sephiroth himself. Stunning stuff, indeed.

This article originally appeared in NEO 002]


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