Final Fantasy and Philosophy: Cloud’s Existential Quest for Authenticity

I’m beginning to suspect that 2009 was near some kind of peak Nietzsche, a point in time when every two-bit philosopher tried to seem edgy and profound by citing all the ubermensch stuff all the time, and that we’re now living in the era of the backlash. I suspect this because dear God does Nietzsche come up a lot in Final Fantasy and Philosophy.

Nietzsche, in this case, is just used to set up the idea of radical freedom, although he didn’t call it that. Instead, Nietzsche uttered the famous line “God is dead,” meaning that the notion of absolute morality delivered from above was no longer viable in the modern world. Without a source of absolute morality, everyone has to figure out for themselves what is right and wrong, an idea that today is usually considered to be a normal part of growing up.

The essay’s back half focuses more on Sartre’s notion of authenticity, however. Sartre gives the example of a waiter who tries to imitate a good waiter, having stiff and overly formal movements and mannerisms. This is a dumb example, because wanting to be good at a job is something that plenty of people might just genuinely want to do, even if it means straightening out a slouched posture.

Final Fantasy VII gives us a much better example, though: Cloud’s efforts to pass himself off as a SOLDIER. In the first half of FFVII, Cloud is cold and aloof from the rest of the party, committed to his paycheck as a mercenary rather than any ideals. He (allegedly) doesn’t care if the planet is dying and Shinra’s killing it. He even wears a Shinra uniform. After the truth is revealed midway through the game, that Cloud was never a SOLDIER, just a common grunt who played sidekick to Zack, an actual SOLDIER first-class, Cloud’s mannerisms change. Cloud tried to behave like his image of what a SOLDIER was in order to pass himself off as something he wasn’t, not just someone who held the literal rank of SOLDIER, but as a badass anti-hero who played by his own rules and wasn’t scared of anything. It was inauthentic, because the truth was that Cloud was a kid from Nibelheim who never fit in and wanted to do great things to win the respect and admiration of his hometown – but who never did. At least, not until the back half of the game, when he saves the world from a SOLDIER juiced up on JENOVA cells who’s trying suck the planet’s life force out and become a god. That all happened after Cloud came to terms with the fact that his life was unexceptional and kind of pathetic, though.

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