Final Fantasy VII. The best Dieselpunk RPG ever made. Almost
Released in 1997, Final Fantasy VII has long been heralded as one of the most entertaining games of the series, as well as representing a fundamental change in the way the American audience perceived Japanese role playing games – games which previously found only niche acceptance in the US.
I firmly believe that FFVII is the greatest Dieselpunk role-playing game ever made. Almost.
The groundbreaking effects which FFVII had on the American market were due in part to the revolutionary use of 3D models to represent the world and battle scenes. Although crude by today’s standards, the blocky, deformed characters of the over-world map, (and their comparatively realistic representations during battle) provided an enormous jump in the immersive quality of the story. With the added details that advances in 3D technology provided, players could interact with FFVII through a distinct avatar, but this was only one step in creating a compelling universe.
In order to truly bridge the player experience to the character’s Squaresoft (now SquareEnix) set about developing an in game universe quite unlike any other.
The city of Midgar stood like a titan around, above, and below Cloud Strife and his companions. Suspended upon enormous pillars and literally teeming with dilapidated piping, twisting corridors, and rising smoke, Midgar seems at once alive and alien – one of the first play experiences a gamer encounters, setting the tone for the entirety of the adventure. The importance of technology, here bordering on pervasiveness, is a theme Dieselpunk would become well known for. This is accentuated by the often run-down, impoverished nature of Midgar itself, a place where even the sky remains a primarily dark space (a technique used quite effectively in the film Dark City, which was discussed beautifully by Seraphimish here).
The Shinra corporation, de-facto ruler of the world from all evidence, helps to add a distinctive ‘wartime’ feel to the game, including waves of faceless soldiers in ominous armor, an agenda which includes leveraging the planet’s vast resources in order to attain its goals (as seen by the existence of numerous ‘Mako’ reactors – power-plants constructed to draw the energy from the planet) so that Shinra may continue to power its cities and weapons. Here again, the thematic similarities to eventual Dieselpunk notions of a great war (i.e. WWII) and the war effort are strong.
In fact, the martial power of the Shinra corporation is all the more chilling when one considers that aside from subversive groups, like the one Cloud Strife and his companions are members of, there seems to be no true enemy which the corporate government must face – at least, until well into the story. In this way, FFVII presents a sort of totalitarianism which some Dieselpunk interpretations are informed heavily by.
Of course, my personal favorite FFVII design choice-cum-Dieselpunk image is Fenrir, the sleek-lined, yet dangerous-looking motorcycle which has become one of Cloud Strife’s trademarks. As I noted in a previous post, the sharp lines and almost predatory profile of Fenrir track the style of a Dieselpunk universe wonderfully.
Of course, the tone of FFVII shifts often, and players find themselves traversing not only ramshackle towns where technology makes only the barest appearance, but Japanese inspired towns, and a garish, neon-lit locale that screams cyberpunk as loudly as Midgar screams Dieselpunk.
SquareEnix has since moved on to other Final Fantasy worlds, and other thematic settings. However time and again they have returned to FFVII, fleshing out the universe in multiple games and films, including Advent Children, Crisis Core, and Dirge of Cerberus, among others. With each return, the setting of FFVII generally retains those core elements of technology, oppression, and martial power.
For these reasons, I have loved FFVII for years. First as a marvel of its time, and now as one of the best Dieselpunk role playing games ever created. Almost.
Are there any other elements of FFVII that you think have become core elements of Dieselpunk, or any other games which you think truly embody a Dieselpunk design aesthetic?