The movie sequel to the smash hit PS1 JRPG and it does offer to the average fan what he would expect from the premise of the game -> Big swords, pretty chicks, emoness, some ecology-themed crisis and Sephiroth. Yeah, the main villain is a category of his own.
Above anything else, this movie is basically fan pleasing. It wasn’t made in order to offer a thought-provoking story or to further develop its characters; those are left as nothing but a rehash of the game. It was made just to show off at how cool their technology is and to milk the fans. But I must admit that this movie is not horrible, which means it is amongst the best videogame adaptations ever made. Yeah, the bar is set low on this particular category …
Anyways, the first thing one will notice is how the animation and the artwork kick ass, both literal and metaphorically. They didn’t hold back on the budget; that’s for sure. And it sure looks a lot better than in the game; not that I had any real problem with the blocky chibi characters there. They took the feeling of the original artwork, gave it a small boost of a 1.000.000% more polygon power, and created a far crisper version of the half-dead world in the series. The only details they really changed are how they added cell-phones instead of walky-talkies, which strikes me as nothing but product placement. I bet the sun-glasses are that too. Oh well, I can forgive them for something so minor, I have absolutely nothing to complain about the quality of the animation and I am not nitpicky enough to bitch at how some motions look stiff or some grimaces look fake. I liked it as it is. I had no trouble getting used to the more human-looking characters either (compared to the game). Even the action scenes, as far-fetched and unrealistic as they might have been, looked great as guilty pleasure.
I can now hear the characters talk and thus I can’t really make a comparison to the game; there were no voice-overs back then. I accept them as they are; no qualms again. They didn’t sound bad to me or anything although they did have that corny shounen-like feeling in them; which is fine since the movie is technically aimed at a shounen demographic. And hands down on the OST; it is the best remake from midi to rock/orchestra ever made. You can bitch about the story or the visuals but the soundtrack is plain awesome. I listen to it even after all these years; a thing I rarely do for other songs. Plus it was placed in appropriate moments in the movie and not in irrelevant moments. It helped to get the juices flowing and thus I again accept it as it is: perfect.
Now regarding the story part, there are two versions of it and you better go watch the extended one if you want to get the full picture of it in a more appropriate manner. With half an hour more footage full of talking and present the events in a more understood way, you get a lot more from it than from the original one, which was quite vague and rather dried up. I kinda excuse them why they did it, since they were pressed to finish the movie before the deadline and most viewers would probably be bored if it was any longer because of the talking. But past that difference, we are talking about a movie here based on cool characters and an interesting theme but nothing more. Expecting a great story is rather anal; especially when almost half its duration is action scenes and the entire backdrop has already been exposed in the game. And it’s not like you must play the game to fully understand what is going on either, since there is a kid describing via monologue the state of the setting in the beginning of the movie.
For a sequel, I liked how it didn’t do the mistake of ass-pulling new stuff in the setting, like most do. The new adversaries, the black Neo Stigma warriors and the sick children, fit in the core themes of the original scenario and were even vaguely foreshadowed in a way. It’s the day-after-the-game era, when the world tries to recover from the ecological damage Shinra and Mother did and there are remnants of both sides to deal with. I see nothing bad here; they didn’t throw in some weird new enemy out of nowhere or something and the core themes are intact. So far, so good.
A problem with the plot is that it’s mostly nothing but an excuse to move from one battle to another. In fact everything plays out as a poorly constructed build-up just for the gang to appear on-screen once more. And even when it does, it’s not really that amazing, so, seriously, don’t try to watch the movie for its storytelling because you won’t find much. Especially in the original version which leaves everything vague and confusing. It is fan pleasing to the most part and the most boring parts in it were the attempts at building up drama during the non-action scenes. “Hey, stop crying and start fighting already!” is what I was thinking. There are some really emo moments in it that feel way too sappy to work, but I guess this is the trend of the franchise series in general, after Square moved from Nintendo to Sony. But anyways, the interaction of the characters, despite feeling basic to the most part, is still fine for a movie feature and makes far more sense if you have played the game and are watching the extended version. Since the movie is not introducing anything entirely new, there was no need to waste much time in analyzing to begin with. Plus, three out of the five major characters from the game were already dead before the movie even begins so, ok, all there is left to expect is cool action. Some one-liners are exchanged, some emoness is thrown in just for the heck of it, and then here come the action.
Said action is great of course but to be honest it doesn’t last long enough to enjoy each battle to the fullest. It’s like they were planning to make a scene to last as much as the affiliated song in the background, which was never more than 5 minutes. Plus, they had two dozen songs to cover and around 90 minutes to wrap everything up. What else could they do other than making spars and short-lived emo speeches? It will mostly feel like poor screenplay, rushed pacing and not enough time to get into the mood of each scene separately. So yeah, the story is basic and there is nothing they could do with that; so you might as well just watch it for the cool factor.
Something similar comes with the cast which, just like the story, is already introduced and developed in the game. The movie uses them as nothing but cameos for the fans to enjoy, so do not expect character development from the main characters. Even the new villains and the sick children have a very basic handling in getting to know and like them beyond an equally basic level. And even that will probably be lost under a ton of action scenes. If you go in and expect to see everything established from point zero, then everyone in this film will feel too much like a caricature with a vague character trait that is thrown in there for fan catering and nothing more. Heck, they even threw in characters that were supposed to be dead; some as ghosts, others that were “presumed dead” and others as “resurrected” which pretty much ruins any drama around their deaths to begin with. But whatever, this is fan catering at its best.
What is a bit off is how they made Vincent to look more bad-ass than the protagonist Cloud, by making him appear to be this mean red-cloaked super ghost or something. Hell, he is almost presented as a main character when he is an otherwise minor extra character in the game. I guess they wanted to make him look cool for his upcoming Dirge of Cerberus game, where he is starring instead of Cloud. It was a silly attempt at building hype and the game ended up being an average shooter. But you know what? If they had the time to do something similar with every other character, this wouldn’t feel so weird (or bad). Each one would get his 15 minutes of glory and a nice introduction to his own game. In this case we would of course need enough more duration to fill a whole second movie or something but it would definitely save face for the characters and even make the story feel better.
But it’s ok, let’s not be too critical here; the movie is very good at what it’s supposed to be doing and since I liked the game a lot I am a bit biased towards overseeing its hiccups. It has a fine name in its title and for the duration it was allowed, it offered a basic plot and lots of good action. It sure felt a lot more enjoyable that, let’s say, the animated Tekken movie or the live action adaptations of Super Mario, Street Fighter, Dead or Alive, or Dragonball. Plot and character emersion suffer of course but the soundtrack is still awesome and I still watch the action scenes from time to time. That counts as a half-success to me.
So if I make some evaluation, we get these scores:
ART & SOUND SECTIONS: Both versions get 10/10
STORY & CHARACTER SECTIONS: Original: 6/10, Complete: 7/10
VALUE & ENJOYMENT SECTIONS: Original: 7/10, Complete: 8/10
VERDICT: Original: 7.5/10, Complete: 8.5/10