Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Big Question – How Gay is Final Fantasy VII Remake?

The release of Final Fantasy VII Remake feels slightly unreal. Fans have wanted a remastered version of Square Enix’s classic 1997 RPG ever since the infamous 2005 PS3 tech demo teased the mere idea of a modernised take on the original. It took another ten years for it to be officially announced as a real project, and five more for it to be released. It is an almost supernatural thing, practically willed into existence by the sheer obsession of its fanbase, yet now extant on the material plane.

As players’ excitement mounted at the prospect of reacquainting themselves with hero Cloud Strife and reliving his early battles against the planet-killing Shinra Electric Power Company, one question has been paramount though: how gay will the Remake be? The answer – much to the delight of the franchise’s queer following – is: so very, very gay.

First, there’s the innuendo-laden dialogue and imagery. There’s nothing overt here, no admissions of same-sex love, but when you have scenes where Wedge – one of the supporting characters in the ecoterrorist group AVALANCHE – is having his butt inspected by his best mate Biggs (he was bitten by a Shinra guard dog, OK?!) while he’s braced on the ground doggy-style, it’s hard not to think that the camera angle was very deliberately chosen.

Final Fantasy VII Remake screen capture – © Square Enix

Then, when Wedge and Cloud are strapped into a two-man parachute – in one of the game’s many new scenes that expand on the original – Wedge grabs his ass and says “I wish I could have done more… it just hurts”. Cloud’s reply? “You did enough. You took one for the team.”

That particular bit of gay-baiting doesn’t end there. When the pair land, Wedge grabs his dog-bitten butt again, and inbetween inviting Cloud back to his slice of heaven in the Sector 7 slums says, “I’m sore”. Which, of course, leads to this entirely innocent exchange:

Cloud: “Really sorry about your ass.”

Wedge: “It’s all good bro!”

Bro. Bro. No homo, bro.

Final Fantasy VII Remake screen capture – © Square Enix

As if such framing weren’t enough – and there are many similarly comedic exchanges throughout the game – there’s also the new character Roche. Like Cloud, he’s a SOLDIER – one of the highly trained private military employed by Shinra – but only a Third Class operative, which sparks a rivalry when he realises Cloud is First Class. This is a rivalry played out in anime rules though, where Roche’s desire to out-do Cloud becomes almost instantly homoerotic.

Roche is meant to be flashy and cool – he’s even nick-named “Speed Demon” for his penchant for motorcycle combat and high-speed stunts. However, he comes across more as flamboyant and camp, with more than a few rousing lines implying how he’d really like to tackle Cloud. After their first clash, he departs with what quickly becomes his typical flourish, even saying he wants their next encounter to be one-on-one.

It’s not all jokes though. One of the more legitimate concerns surrounding the FFVII Remake was how it would update the notorious crossdressing subquest. In the PS1 original, players could complete a number of objectives in Wall Market – the red light district of the sprawling Midgar City setting – to gather items that would help Cloud masquerade as a girl, in order to trick crimelord Don Corneo and help rescue your ally, Tifa. In 1997, it was played as a gag, making Cloud a “trap” while also making the very idea of two men in a bedroom together a punchline. Thankfully, 23 years later, the whole sequence lands a lot better, while also providing some of FFVII Remake’s most unabashedly gay-friendly moments.

Final Fantasy VII Remake screen capture – © Square Enix

A lot of the improvements centre on the introduction of another new character, Andrea Rhodea, who is now central to successfully dolling Cloud up as a woman. Not only does he bear a striking resemblance to former Drag Race judge Santino Rice, he introduces the very concept of gender ambivalence into the game. After taking part in a truly spectacular dance number – genuinely, one of the best moments in Remake – he remarks “true beauty is an expression of the heart, a thing without shame, to which notions of gender don’t apply. Don’t ever be afraid, Cloud.” That’s a statement worthy of a Pride float, right there.

Final Fantasy VII Remake screen capture – © Square Enix

Better still, in 2020, Cloud owns his feminised beauty. There’s still some reluctance on his part to dress up to start with, but once he does, he’s far more comfortable with it. After he’s reunited with Tifa, who is surprised when she eventually recognises him, Cloud simply says of his look “nailed it, yes, I know, thank you. Moving on!”

Rhodea is also the proprieter of the Honey Bee Inn, Wall Market’s hottest night spot. Originally it was heavily implied to be a brothel, but in Remake it’s now a cabaret venue – no Cher or Xtina, sadly – where Honey Bees and Honey Boys administer private shows to discreet clientele. Not only is the receptionist a sassy, incredibly well-groomed twink, but once you gain entry, Cloud can peer into the guest rooms, where you’ll spy male-female and male-male “private consultations”. It’s still played as seedy, but there’s no judgement – if you’re into it, and can afford it, anything goes at the Honey Bee Inn.

Final Fantasy VII Remake screen capture – © Square Enix

Moments and encounters around the core quest line of getting into Don Corneo’s mansion are also more positively representative of the LGBTQ+ community. A gym where you can engage in some workout minigames was, on the PS1, run by a character uncomfortably called “Beautiful Boy” – you could win a wig if you beat them at squats. Here, the equivalent character is Jules, a gender-nonconforming person who is treated with more respect – the other gym-goers look up to them, and they’re no longer the butt of a joke.

Final Fantasy VII Remake screen capture – © Square Enix

Even just wandering around Wall Market, flower seller-turned-healer Aerith – who at one point slays in a stunning red evening gown – will attract background dialogue from characters referred to as “Woman in Love” and “Man in Love”. Love isn’t blind here – its eyes are wide open, irrespective of gender.

Ultimately though, it seems that everyone’s horny for Cloud. Jessie, another member of AVALANCHE, borders on brazen in her flirtations with the taciturn mercenary, while Tifa and Aerith make more than a few passing comments. Even tough-guy Barret, the leader of AVALANCHE, acts disappointed in some of his post-battle dialogue, when Cloud sometimes says he wasn’t paying attention to his moves. Speed Demon Roche undoubtedly wants to rev Cloud’s engine, while one flash of memory Cloud has of nemesis Sephiroth sees the beautiful but evil arch-villain say – as the camera goes close-up on Sephiroth’s strangely gentle features – “I am your everything”. Cue eleventy-squintillion yaoi fanfics based on that exchange alone.

So while Final Fantasy VII Remake offers those of us here in the real world some vastly improved representation, in the game’s universe being gay, straight, or anywhere in between doesn’t matter – everyone is Cloudsexual.

Final Fantasy VII Remake screen capture – © Square Enix

Matt Kamen

[He/Him] Matt Kamen is a veteran media writer based in the UK, specialising in video games, film, and comics. If found, return to nearest coffee shop.