Author: Kazushige Nojima
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Fantasy, science fiction
Final Fantasy VII: On the Way to a Smile is a collection of short stories set in the world of Final Fantasy VII (if you have not played the original game, this review will have spoilers for the ending). The book follows the party members and the Shinra Electric Power Company as they navigate their world after the apocalypse caused by Meteor. It bridges the time gap between the game and film Advent Children, and gives fans insight into some of their favorite characters.
Violence/Scary Images: The book takes place after an apocalypse. Images of disaster and death are frequent and prevalent in the story, including an incurable sickness, kidnappings, and murder. Deaths and other injuries are not graphically described.
Language: Frequent use of mild language throughout including d***, h***, and a**. Less frequent use of s***, g********, and b******.
Drug/Alcohol References: One of the main characters owns a bar, and others are occasionally seen “nursing a bottle.”
Sexual Content: Two characters live together, but they are implied to have separate bedrooms.
Other Negative Content: After the apocalypse, citizens of Gaia feel every emotion from guilt to suicidal thoughts. Many of them make bad decisions to safeguard their own survival.
Spiritual Content: In this world, the dead become part of the planet’s Lifestream. There is no other overt spiritual content. Christians can recognize the characters’ fruitless redemption struggles as their implicit need for a Savior.
Positive Content: Main characters are all trying to redeem or reinvent themselves. Even though they have separated, each of them supports their comrades from afar and are available if needed. Though the selfish exist, most people all over the world come together to rebuild their homes.
Because of the Final Fantasy VII Remake release, I have dived headfirst into this world’s lore. My husband and I finished the original game, I saw him play the remake, I started the remake on my own, and we watched the movie Advent Children. Even with all these, I struggled to let go of the characters I love. Being an avid reader, I decided to check out this book.
On the Way to a Smile is the perfect remedy for more Final Fantasy VII. The book houses six short stories, each focusing on one or two party members (or NPCs). After each tale, a couple pages enlighten readers about certain thoughts circulating in the Lifestream. Fans will recognize these consciousnesses and applaud their inclusion. Every detail leads to Advent Children and serves as a perfect setup for its plot.
The End of the World Creates Dynamic Characters
This book immersed me in Gaia, or The Planet, and allowed me to see the inner lives of its people. While reading the Tifa story, I was pleasantly surprised to watch Cloud work at the new Seventh Heaven and help raise Marlene and Denzel. Barret and Cid search for fossil fuels to make a new airship engine. Vincent quits his tsundere act to comfort a panicking Nanaki, even if he adds, “Let’s keep [your visits] to only once a year. Don’t ask me for more than that” (098). Yuffie returns to Wutai, hoping to be a hero, and leaves as its possible savior. Even the stories about extra characters, like Denzel or the Turks, are more about relationships than following a predestined plot.
Because the book is written in third person limited, each titular character has thoughts transparent to the reader. These insights are as beautiful as they are heartbreaking. For example, Tifa regrets everything she did in the eco-terrorist group Avalanche, and the end of the world crushes her with shame.
“That day, the chosen day. Meteor, hurtling down from distant outer space, the Lifestream erupting from the planet to meet it above Midgar. ‘Just let it wash away everything,’ Tifa remembered thinking. ‘My past. Our past. And me'” (035).
Though she has her friends, her bar, and Marlene, guilt suffocates her. Cloud finds himself able to smile for the first time in years, yet she cannot grant herself enough peace to return the gesture.
A Book, Not a Game
Final Fantasy VII: On the Way to a Smile brings humanity and depth to characters who already had emotional development in-game. Unfortunately, it is obvious this is a book based on a video game. The adage “show, don’t tell” should apply to all novels, but this one does not deliver on that promise. Because the author assumes readers have played the game, he does nothing to describe the world or the people. I found myself constantly flipping to the pictures at the front of the book because there are almost no descriptions of anything.
As a result, readers who pick up this book without playing the game, or at least watching Advent Children, will be sorely confused. It advertises itself as “a must-own for enthusiasts and newcomers alike,” yet the plot revolves around the aftermath of the game and the sickness from the movie. The apocalypse is not explained in flashbacks, but rather in vague phrases like black materia, Sephiroth, and “tendrils of light darting and twisting like snakes” (016).
What is materia? Who is Sephiroth? Why is there a giant floating pizza dish with half a city on it? Where is Wutai? None of these questions will be answered.
Final Fantasy VII: On the Way to a Smile is a great book for fans of the universe. It gives readers a peek inside the heads of some of the most unreadable characters in gaming (like Cloud, not-Cloud), but it is not meant for newcomers. The messy, chaotic aftermath of the apocalypse is something that should be experienced after seeing the event itself. These stories appealed to me because I had walked through life with these characters. I watched them fight, fail, get back up, and fight again. I made decisions and cried with them. Without those memories, the people may fall flat. Character development is less impactful when you only see part of the picture. If you want to read this book, I recommend playing the game and then picking it up. The journey will be worth it.
Click here to read Courtney Dowling’s Final Fantasy VII think piece, “God of the Post-Apocalypse.”