Advent Children is Iconic

This movie is…embarrassing. It’s the first thought that sprung to mind during the opening motorcycle chase scene of last night’s screening of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. This admission wasn’t one of disappointment. It was the flat truth. This movie is a teenager’s perception of cool.

The thing was, I abjectly didn’t care. I had reverted back to being fourteen years old, staying up too late with my cousin, watching Cloud and Kadaj duke it out over plot points I wouldn’t understand until decades later. But it was cool. Cloud was cool. Sephiroth was cool. This was surely the height of Video Game Culture, a movie adaption of the greatest video game ever made (that I hadn’t even played yet, poser). My thirty-one year old body was in a catatonic state of reckoning with the outright embarrassing shenanigans on screen with the fourteen year old primal part of my brain that knew this was the shit.

I’ve been reckoning with this feeling ever since. How can something be both dog shit and the best thing in the entire world? Advent Children is objectively uncool, and yet it is so dang iconic. It defined a subset of a series that really didn’t need further defining, but managed to sharpen everything we knew and felt about Final Fantasy VII in a two hour, largely meaningless coda almost ten years after it would have been relevant.

Part of it is certainly the desire of the creators to continue honing a work that is important to them. Prior to the screening, there was a brief retrospective featuring interviews with the series’ creators and producers on why they made the movie to begin with. Tetsuya Nomura explained that for such an iconic game, they didn’t want the world of Final Fantasy VII to be “stuck on the PlayStation” with all the blocky textures and polygonal incongruities being the only lasting visual reference for the series. Advent Children was a way to literally flesh out the characters and reframe what people thought about when they thought about Final Fantasy VII.

As a result, Advent Children is the textbook definition of fan service. The plot here is secondary to making sure you can see all your favorite characters doing cool things all the time. Everyone gets a glow up (except for Vincent’s spiky clown shoes, kept reverently intact). Series staple Behemoth gets a big set piece. All of the Turks make an appearance, for however briefly. Rufus Shinra is back for some reason. And, of course, everyone’s favorite long-blade wielding hater shows up for a finale iced with a heavy metal version of video games’ baddest theme song. It plays the hits, it plays the tunes, it gets the gang back together, and it tells a new story that gives lore fanatics something new to chew on.


The movie completely took over my fledgling teenage mind. It was one of my earliest exposures to Final Fantasy as a series, let alone the world of Midgar. YouTube was a relatively new godsend for reliving the sick fight scenes over and over in gloriously crunchy 240p. I downloaded some version of One Winged Angel on iTunes to put on my gumstick iPod shuffle. A link on a random Kingdom Hearts forum took me to a website where I could download clips myself and I began making my own AMVs.

Advent Children was a revelation. It thrust Final Fantasy VII back upon the masses and into the forefront thoughts of everyone who missed the first wave back in 1997. My own mother knew who Cloud was. I was a susceptible, cringe teen and Advent Children was poised directly on the corner of being the sickest thing I’d ever seen and also mature enough to prove that games weren’t just for kids. I was the target demographic and I let it consume me. I had to get more of it, which at the time meant playing the original game.

I distinctly recall supervising over my mom’s shoulder as we perused eBay for a copy of the original PS1 game so she could put it away for Christmas. Would I have played FF7 without Advent Children? Likely someday. But that iron struck me when I was hot. What a blissful post-Christmas haze that year was. I have distinct memories of playing in the little nook in my room where I had a standard definition TV, the drums of Cosmo Canyon beating softly from the speakers. All the while I turned over the Advent Children designs like action figures in my mind. I knew games had come a long way graphically since VII, but the blocky polygons were larger than life fully figured leather clad heroes in my head already. Advent Children had planted a seed that bloomed with the original game.

Put together, Final Fantasy VII was a formidable piece of media. Say what you want about the plot, Advent Children certainly didn’t hurt the original game in any way. It was something to dig into and chew over. Even at the time I knew Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz weren’t as cool as Sephiroth, but it didn’t really matter. You got to see Tifa kick ass while a gorgeous piano rendition of the main fight theme plays out. Even my barely-into-adolescence child brain could feel that they were breathing life into something that had been static for so long. It was embarrassing, but it was playful and fresh. The movie and game would work in concert with each other in my mind for the years to come.


Fast forward to 2020. We’ve had almost twenty-five years of the original’s plot and Advent Children‘s aesthetics to marinate in our collective consciousness. How do you remake something that has such a clear, concrete foothold already?

In the same pre-show interview reel, they mentioned that Remake took so long to come out because they wanted the new version of the game to be able to fully catch up to the CG renderings of Advent Children. The movie was, as they put it, an important stepping stone to the path of Remake, letting them see how these characters move around with realistic proportions and sharply rendered environments. So many of us salivating at the thought of a VII remake back when the PS3 demo came out absolutely had Advent Children in mind. We knew what this world could look like. Please let us play in it.

Watching Advent Children in 2024 at this juncture, between Remake and Rebirth, struck me in a similar way as playing the original game after watching the movie. There’s continuity there, certainly in design and movement, but also the characterizations. During the film’s ending when a lifestream-bound Aerith turns to say goodbye, I couldn’t help but pour all of my feelings for Remake‘s version of her into the scene. She was a character I had come to know better since the last time I rewatched the movie when my only context was the original game and what little of Crisis Core I played. Remake now firmly orbited the same core of the Final Fantasy VII experience in my brain and became just as inseparable as the game and movie before it.

This feedback loop within Final Fantasy VII, one that the creators are keenly aware of, means every iteration, spinoff, and extra-media component builds off the other and is canon. But unlike some other Square Enix franchises I could name, Final Fantasy VII seems, so far, to be keeping it together. It’s as if the creators are constantly turning the game around in their minds and pondering how to more closely get the idea in their heads out into the world. Advent Children is an important, iconic lynchpin in Final Fantasy VII’s three-decade history, which is weird to say when I spent most of my life thinking it was the terminus.


When the lights came on after our screening, we were buzzing. I looked around and took in the theater: my wife frantically texting people about how Rufus’ motivations made complete sense, someone dressed up as Tifa for the screening even though we were in the middle-of-nowhere upstate New York, the gaggle of friends who warmly chuckled at “Dilly-dally-shilly-shally.” Advent Children is cringe and embarrassing, but it is, indeed, the shit. I realized there is a part of my brain that is always going to be that excited little fourteen year old boy who could think of nothing cooler than Cloud flipping down the side of a crumbling building while One Winged Angel blasts your ear drums.

Advent Children is important because it set the aesthetic tone for an iconic game well after the fact, ensuring it remained relevant between 1997 and now. But it’s also important for keeping the cringe little teen in us alive.

And as a reward for suffering through my Advent Children ramblings, here’s one of my AMVs for posterity:

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