This review assumes you have played the original Final Fantasy VII game. If you haven't, I would heartily discourage you from watching this movie, because your enjoyment of it will most likely be far below what it should be. Ultimately, the way to judge it is not by asking ‘Does it do a good job in itself?' but ‘Does it pick up our beloved characters where we left off without running roughshod over our memories?' Let's face it, the game needs no further qualification, so if you're gonna create a superfluous sequel just to keep the fans slavering, it's wise to avoid destroying the original idea in the process. For that reason alone (the fact that it can't remould any of the original material) the story is undoubtedly going to be mediocre.
What drives the plot are not the motivations of the characters but the stunning set pieces. Fights are like massive feasts set out on the longest table you have ever seen; your eyes can't possibly take it all in although you'll desperately try, and just when you think you're satisfied, they roll out this end battle like a five-tiered fruit cake with a cherry on top. We are propelled like hapless scrap in a whirlwind from one explosive fight to another, rarely getting time to catch our breath; rarely getting time to understand what the heck they're fighting about... but who cares, it looks so cool! Part of the story's fun is also catching all those little references and adaptations like true geeks, such as Cloud's Blade Beam or one of the kids' moogle toys.
Elements of the plot feel a bit disjointed, with things not being explained too well. For example, where the heck did that holy water come from? Why didn't it appear earlier? What Summon magic are those dogs at the beginning exactly (I don't remember them from the game) and how were they summoned if materia is no longer widely available? And are those Geostigma kids actually important to the plot or not? Nobody knows, but luckily, Advent Children doesn't take itself too seriously, so it avoids showing itself up too badly in light of these flaws.
Ultimately, the movie realises it cannot stand on its own two legs and thus falls back on a bedrock element from the original game for its climax. The twist is exciting not because it's the most elegant twist in the world (which it isn't), but because the fact that it happens is just cool in itself. With hindsight, Advent Children actually seems like an excuse for the end fight, which is one reason I'd argue it's so important to have played FFVII.
With a reputation for providing splendid cut scenes (who could forget Squall and Rinoa's first dance or Tidus' opening blitzball game) there was no choice for Square Enix but to wow the crowd again. Chances are you won't find CG animation like this anywhere for a couple more years. There is one updated scene from the game, namely Red XIII running towards a ruined Midgar with his cubs, as well as beautiful character designs again truthful to the game. Let's face it, Cloud and Tifa have never looked this good. As mentioned above, the fight scenes are second to none; quick cuts, slow-mo effects, and mid-air manoeuvres combine to make these fights extravagant and lightning fast. In fact, I can only give one piece of advice when watching this movie, advice kindly offered to me when my friend handed me a copy - don't blink.
What could possibly be better than the game's original soundtrack? A revamped version of course! Of notable beauty is the theme Fighting which has turned piano. I'm a proud downloader of the soundtrack and can't get enough of the metal version of One Winged Angel, which in my opinion supersedes the original. Not to mention the more drum'n'bass-like Jenova and the brand new Cloud vs. Bahamut theme, Divinity II. Nobuo Uematsu simply outdid himself, capturing that sense of nostalgia whilst reinterpreting the texture and feel of FFVII's world with updated material. The Japanese voice acting is competent throughout, although not the most dynamic I have heard, mainly because much of the dialogue is held in low tones that come across as emotionless. Actually, there are two notable exceptions, Reno whose juvenile speech is refreshing, and one other character whose voice was wholly electrifying...
Tifa, Vincent, Yuffie and all the surviving FFVII cast remain exactly what they were, with only Cloud still coming to terms with the Super Shocking Event of the game. Because the groundwork for their personalities has already been laid down by the game, their interaction outside of the fights can make for static viewing. This is a ‘what are they doing now' kind of story, not a fresh adventure that unearths new traits and concerns. Why? Because any production team that took the characters in a new direction would be bound to leave half the fans behind baying for their blood.
It is possible to briefly discuss Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo, three antagonistic brothers who enter this world as new characters and must therefore be explained. Their motivations on the whole are believable in the limited context of the movie but not truly remarkable or exciting. In fact, Kadaj comes across a little petty with his constant demands for his mother. His two brothers don't even get to voice why they fight; they presumably do it because their leader tells them to. There is an attempt to produce a sense of pathos with the brothers since all they want is a world in which they belong, but let's face it, it would take another FFVII game (God forbid) to make us care that much.
In essence, these individuals are vehicles for animation wizardry, being just fleshy enough to convince us but remaining flat enough not to disturb any original concepts.
If you haven't played the game, your overall enjoyment of this anime might be as low as 4 or 5, because the creators rely heavily on the emotions you experienced with the original carrying over into the movie. It'd be like launching into Return of the King without having bothered with Fellowship of the Ring. For fans it is enjoyable in light of the game; it makes no attempt to fix what isn't broken. My only real gripe is, all those stunning sequences and not one golden chocobo in sight...
In a time of great heroes, the evil Sephiroth and the power of Meteor were vanquished by a warrior named Cloud Strife and his companions. Now, though the life stream of the world has been restored, certain people have become sick with Geo Stigma -- an illness which is as mysterious as it is incurable. Meanwhile, in the shadows, a new enemy has appeared: Kadaj, who holds the key to the destruction of all life. Against insurmountable odds, Cloud, Tifa, Barrett, Cid and the rest of the gang must band together one last time to defeat Kadaj and save the world from annihilation.
I'll review anything as long as there are words in the dictionary to describe it. Disagree with me? Want to leave feedback? Please do, but take a look at my personal rating scale first.