Cloud Strife: A Veteran Lost in the Twilight of Sentimentality and Nostalgia

Originally written in 2015, but still true.

Final Fantasy VII was the first game I ever pre-ordered. I went into a KB Toys (RIP) and saw a sign announcing that the game would be available for pre-order and that if you pre-ordered it, you would get a free Final Fantasy t-shirt.

When the game was finally released, I was happy to receive the promised shirt. It was white with a picture of the main character Cloud Strife on the back. Next to the avatar was some biographical data.

If you look closely, his job is listed as “former soldier.”

I remember thinking at the time – and I was just a 15 year old kid who had no idea I’d be writing about the oddities of veteran life in 2015 – “isn’t it kind of weird to list your job as something you were formerly?”

Cloud Strife is a veteran, lost in the twilight of sentimentality and nostalgia.

As fans of the game know, the word ‘soldier’ probably should have been written in all upper-case, since it was more akin to a unit than an individual job profession.

But fans of the game also know that the crux of the story revolves around Cloud’s latent PTSD and his self-delusions of grandeur and heroism. Before I even knew what PTSD was, I watched Cloud struggle with it. He also struggled with transitioning out of the military. With no skills, he joined a bunch of ‘freedom fighters’ for no reason other than to keep fighting, really. He broke down – over and over – clasping his head as memories of the past surged into his mind.

As you slowly tease out the story of what happened at the Nibelheim Reactor, the big reveal is that Cloud isn’t who he says he is. What’s particularly interesting to me, is it’s not exactly clear whether he deliberately misremembered the past of his own accord (to trump up his deeds) or if he just didn’t remember, because of the psychological trauma or injury. I always thought it was a combination of the two.

“Former soldiers” or veterans tend to embellish their war stories. While war can be exciting, it doesn’t always match the vivid imagination of the listener, whose frames of reference are action movies and video games. Each time the story is told, a gentle adjective sneaks its way in. The next time, you were a little closer to the explosion – “it was right in front of me!” Usually, these retellings are innocent enough – and they don’t involve the release of a murderous psychopath bent on destroying the world. But the idea of a former soldier mistelling his past for whatever reason – fame, power, gil – is common.

I’ve always wanted to dig into the Nibelheim Incident and Cloud Strife’s PTSD and memory as a larger piece for this blog. It’s a good way to tell the story of something important (veteran PTSD issues, moral injury, stolen valor) in a way that is interesting and might capture the attention of an audience that normally would be uninterested in veteran issues. It was only recently that I remembered the pre-order t-shirt and I wanted to get this idea out there. I doubt I’ll ever have the time to explore Cloud’s lore and background to give the idea the attention it would deserve to do it justice, so in the meantime, these half-baked ideas will just have to sit here, and wait.

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The Battle of Fabul

The Battle of Fabul, a sequence early in Final Fantasy IV, still represents one of the most exciting pieces of gameplay I ever experienced – especially in a role playing game.

There are a number of things that heighten the tension. This is the first castle that the player is able to get to before The Red Wings show up to capture the crystal, so there is a feeling of “hold the line” that settles in early. Before the battle begins, the game does away with music initially and there is just silence and the sounds of footsteps as Fabul’s soldiers move about, preparing the defenses. When the first wave of soldiers show up, the traditioinal battle music is replaced by one of the “boss” themes, which hints to the player that this is going to be more serious. They also keep the theme going even between the multiple battles, which helps keep the tension up. After the first fight, The Red Wings bomb Fabul, which is in line with what happened earlier at Castle Damcyan when their crystal was taken. As a player, it really felt like you were “in it” and by being there before The Red Wings show up, there is a chance at actually protecting the crystal. The battle begins, and the party is constantly falling back, deeper into the castle (despite always winning the battles). Of course, Edward trips en route to the Crystal Chamber, requiring the team to rescue him, which admittedly is less dramatic than it sounds. Finally, the party finds itself in the chamber, ready to hold out, when an old friend shows up in one of the series’ great plot twists.

The whole thing is just really well done. The first time you go through it, without knowing exactly what is going to happen and whether or not there are potential multiple outcomes, it really pulls the player into the game.

Also, I imagine Fabul rhymes with Kabul.

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The Beautiful Female Warriors of Troia

final_fantasy_iv_conceptart_qtfu9

The castle and town of Troia (or Toroia, for those who played it on SNES in the 1990s) has always fascinated me. The nation is governed by women. Its leaders and warriors are all female. Both the town and castle are marked by their greenery and water. It’s lush and peaceful. The music of each castle in Final Fantasy IV reflects the character of its nation; the imperious Baron, the warrior-minded Fabul, the sadness of destroyed Damcyan. Troia’s music reflects peace and contentment.

Playing it as a kid, I was always impressed and intimidated by the order and symmetry of the castle, especially compared to the mish-mash style of the other castles. Troia is swarming with female warriors, but it is also the only castle that has frogs in the water, a seemingly insignificant but nice touch that makes the castle appear friendlier. There is a soldier inside who confesses that Troia has never been in a war before, but the impression given through exploring the town and castle is that Troia is a powerful nation that jealously guards her power. I always imagined that their military might is such that they wish to avoid war for fear of unleashing it, in the same way martial artists swear that the best way to win a fight is to avoid getting in one in the first place – a line of thinking I never understood as a child.

In furiously Googling conducting research for this piece, I came across some familiar scenes from Troia. Considering Troia is female run, it surprised me as a kid (and more surprising now) that the town is also home to a pretty robust prostitution racket. I’m sure there is an argument in here somewhere about the politics of sex and who has the upper hand, but I would have expected that in a matriarchal nation like Troia, prostitution wouldn’t feature so prominently. In the North American version of Final Fantasy IV, a lot of the text in the Troia was modified to try to present something other than what was going on (click here for an in-depth look at what was changed). Instead of a “pub” for example, they changed one location to a “Cafe.” Some of the lines that the patrons speak are completely re-written, making the whole visit awkward at times. Still, it wasn’t too difficult to decode that something scandalous was going on – even as a 12 year old kid.

The video below is from the “pub” in Troia, in which you have to purchase a special – and expensive – pass to gain access. It’s a strange departure in the game. Once you talk to the guy at the desk you get sucked into a performance that looks like a kind of cabaret show. There’s a creepy feel of being at a night club in the middle of the afternoon, with only one other patron in the audience and the normal, calm village music softly playing in the background until the show begins. During the show, Cecil gets pulled into one of the chairs and is surrounded by the dancing girls. It’s an old game with basic graphics, so you have to use your imagination as to what’s going on. I’ve always been haunted by the way Cecil dips his head after he is pushed into the chair. He looks shamed, and he holds it until all the girls leave, one by one and the town music fades back in.

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Magic and Steel: The Predator Drone as Magitek Armor

Predator

Something fun for the weekend.

One of my favorite pieces of music from the Final Fantasy series is ‘Devil’s Lab,’ which is the mechanical theme played while exploring the Magitek factory in Final Fantasy VI. Magitek armor, for those not in the know, is the fusion of magic and technology to create a powerful weapon.

I don’t know what gave me the thought, but as we soar into the future, I can’t help but think that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or “drones” as we commonly know them, are our Magitek armor. It’s the fusion of all of our best technologies to create a beautiful and deadly machine, without too much thought given towards the ethics of the matter.

If I were to visit a drone factory, this is the music I’d expect to hear.

In drafting this post, I listened to a lot of different version of ‘Devil’s Lab.’ This one, done 8-Bit style, was the most interesting.

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So, now what?

Lest there be any confusion, I’m not shutting down the blog. Last week I wrapped up ‘Iraq: Ten Years Ago‘ and I heard from a few people that they were sad that I was stopping the blog. That’s not the case, I’m just not recounting that experience anymore.

For the past year, that was the meat of the blog. The readership grew exponentially as a result and it gave people a reason to come back to the blog every couple of days or so.

To be honest, the Iraq posts really didn’t garner a lot of heavy traffic. My longer, reflective and analytic posts are the ones that make the most waves, and they are actually a lot more satisfying to write. With Iraq over (nothing is over!), I can focus more on those pieces. Going forward, I think I’ll average one or two posts a week. But they’ll be good.

Work has me pretty busy for the next few months, and likely the next year, but I will do my best to keep new stuff coming. I’ve been socking away article ideas for the past year that I just haven’t been able to get to.

Now, I will finally be able to get to that crazy article on how Cloud from Final Fantasy VII suffered from PTSD and committed Stolen Valor.

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How to Win in Afghanistan

If you are a real Paladin, then put your sword away and endure it! There is something even more important than justice and righteousness. Someday, the time will come when you understand this.
– ‘Mysterious Voice’ on Mt. Ordeals

If the video above is familiar to you, you might enjoy ‘Legends of Localization‘ which is where the above quote came from – a more literal translation of some of the text from the Paladin/Dark Knight fight.

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