I kind of want to address the emotive characters more from my earlier essay on Final Fantasy. Lots of characters in Final Fantasy games are emotive and expressive but none of them feel as alive as the ones from Final Fantasy VI. This can likely be attributed to two major factors: limited technology and will to create wonderful characters. Meanwhile Final Fantasy VII may suffer from two specific factors making it harder for them to be as expressive: new technology and pre-rendered cutscenes.
The characters in Final Fantasy VI are able to jump quickly around the screen, dance, and pull off a wide variety of facial expressions. The Super Nintendo was not a powerhouse console, though at the time it was the near best one could do. But pixels had been around for a while. The pixel art used to create the game was something just being mastered and games with extremely active and interesting characters were made during the console’s tenure (Donkey Kong Country, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and Square’s own Secret of Mana are just a few examples). By learning how to make a master pixel presentation on the Super Nintendo the characters, as well as the beautiful game world, were able to do much more than ever before.
But they had to do a lot for people to feel connected to them. These are fictional characters made out of blocks and no stirring dialogue would ever make them interesting. But having them run around holding up their arms with a completely confused look on their face…that is how you win an audience. Their downcast eyes make you sad and their adorable laughter was contagious. There was a lot of loving effort put into the characters of Final Fantasy VI thanks to the artists trying very hard to make believable characters with the limits they were forced to work within.
Final Fantasy VII is a different story. Square was always interested in making great spectacle with their flagship franchise (VI not being an exception). With the new technology though they would have to spend years and many games working to make the characters feel more realistic. The in-game art suffered for this. VII’s characters were bulky with emotionless faces, which is a big jump from the lovably emotive 2D heroes and villains of VII.
VII made up for this with prerendered cutscenes which were big and interesting. Finally players could see the heroes look as heroic as they imagined they were. No more of this little, blocky kawaii imitation, ho no, now it’s serious. Prerendered cutscenes were a new way to show the player that the characters were “real” and emotive. And it is important to note that this is not a bad thing. Final Fantasy VII is a beloved game and its cutscenes only added to the praise it deserved at the time. But even these cutscenes have become dated.
I love both games, but the emotive nature of characters in VI allows them to be strikingly easier to empathize with. Because the technology during VI was being mastered and not learned it allowed greater skill with much more ease. And as much as I love VII I believe its emphasis on cutscenes does add something to a negative turn towards flare over personality that is clear in the later installments.