Final Fantasy VII – The City of Midgar

Midgar.jpg
Equal Opportunities at Shinra decided that the city would live in perpetual nighttime so as to appease those in the slums they simply covered up entirely.

Described as a “pizza”, Midgar serves as the opening setting for Final Fantasy VII, a city built suspended over the remnants of former, now nameless towns; in more ways than one Midgar engulfs life, its long arm of oppression far reaching and devastating. The overall make-up of Midgar has much that grabs the player’s attention; the city is built upon two levels, with the supposedly more prosperous inhabitants living on huge “pizza slice” discs, suspended high above the less fortunate areas, now collectively known as the slums. All are surrounded by eight Mako reactors, which draw energy to power the city straight from the planet itself and at the centre of it all is the Shinra Headquarters, which towers above everything else as a beacon of power and authority. Yet for a place so huge in scale, the player is largely confined to the slums below leaving the majority of the city entirely unexplored. The fact is Midgar is never fully realised.

Sector 8.png
The devastation left behind in Sector 8 after the destruction of Mako Reactor No. 1

This leaves the city as more a plot device than an entity in its own right. During our brief time here, we see the devastation of the land and towns that the “pizza” slices have eclipsed, now wastelands where next to no natural life can flourish. The game wishes to make two things clear about these slums, those who live in them are either too poor to move above the plate or, more sentimentally, they love the land that once belonged to them (Midgar is still a young city at the start of the game). These people thus earn our sympathy because of the dreary circumstances they find themselves. Thus the terrorist plot to detonate the city’s reactors, is justifiable as far as we’re concerned, because its an act for those stuck in the slums. However, as one young girl in Sector 7 points out about the attack, “A lotta innocent people got killed, too! If the explosion had been in the middle of the night, that woulda been one thing. At least the people coulda gone in their sleep.” Interestingly these kinds of reports are kept to a minimum, the player need only hear them by talking to generic NPCs, meaning the more regrettable consequences of the protagonists’ actions aren’t dwelled upon.

Shinra Headquarters
This is one really tall building, nowhere else in Midgar comes close to being so high. A constant reminder of who rules this city.

Juxtaposing AVALANCHE are of course the Shinra Corporation, who we are given hints of their ruthless, dictatorial control of the city at the beginning but it is not until we meet President Shinra do we learn the extent of their capacity for evil. Thankfully just under two hours into the game we learn they are in fact malicious bastards and they deserve everything they get, which only escalates during the genocide of Sector 7. Thus our heroes look even better in our eyes because they are fighting to overthrow such an extreme evil. However what this also does is allow the rest of Midgar to formulate as such; everything on top of the plates belongs to Shinra and is of course immoral, and all below need a saviour to fight their cause. Yet what about those innocent people the little girl speaks of, those who most likely make up the casualties whenever Shinra and AVALANCHE make a move?

We never find out, because it isn’t part of Midgar’s purpose to discuss class systems, or the consequences of terrorism. It does however, establish this world as one of extremes, where the very essence of life is under threat from corporate greed. In such cases the middle ground cannot be considered because it can potentially endanger the cause of the protagonists, just as much as it can alleviate the actions of the antagonists. We need the struggle between the two ascertained whilst we explore the much more diverse and accessible world beyond this metropolis, where their opposing ideals aren’t perhaps so obvious to the player. The game relies on us remembering these extremes that Midgar represents, because it so clearly establishes the cause we’re fighting for and the villains we need to overcome. To give it full realisation would only obscure these facts, because in order for the city to be believable, the discourse could not simply linger entirely in extremities. Thus despite Midgar’s striking design, we must forever be restricted to precisely what we’re supposed to see, as otherwise we might not be so sure the AVALANCHE’s cause is necessarily the right one to follow.

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Next: Final Fantasy IV: Names & Titles

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