The Myth of the Promised Land
One way of looking at both Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII Remake is as video games that attempt to answer the question;
What if Oil was Magic?
The game frames this magical essence, known as "mako," as the actual lifeblood of a living planet. In doing so it creates a larger metaphor for the destruction of our world by oil companies and the environmental movement that takes them on.
In the game, the planet is dying and its people are suffering because of the extraction of this buried fuel source and the pollution it causes. However, with oil being magic, the mutations are often non-fatal in humans and instead, it turns animals into literal monsters as well as the people themselves -- both literally and metaphorically. In this respect, the game takes a more comic book interpretation of mutation similar to the effects of nuclear power rather than oil, but it is still a good metaphor for the capitalist oil industry we know from our world.
About half of the enemies you fight within the game are either products of technology or products of the mutations caused by mako poisoning the natural world.
Additionally, some of the human antagonists and even the main protagonist of the story have been mutated by this magical energy source themselves through inhumane experimentation at the hands of their uncaring capitalist overlords.
Chief among them is President Shinra, who can imagine a scenario where his machines finally drain Gaia of all of its life and the planet dies more easily than he can imagine a world without capitalism. And this is a trap we find ourselves in as well.
This is scary to me because it mirrors reality: our real-world oil companies have known they were damaging the planet’s ecosystem since their own studies told them this in the 1960s and 1970s and perhaps even earlier than that. But they come up with justifications so they can continue a march forward striving only for-profit and progress in the same way Shinra strives for the proliferation of power and circuits.
Shinra and our oil companies are willing to do some pretty terrible things to maintain their power. Even though the President preaches he is doing what he does for the good of the people, he clearly doesn't care about our individual lives.
Not just because he forces those whom he cannot profit from to live in the slums.
Not just because he blew up two reactors to try to frame Avalanche so that he could retain power.
No my friends, even later in the game he commits an act of mass murder and drops one of the eight plates on Sector 7 in an attempt to destroy Avalanche completely.
Enough about that megalomaniac, let's talk about our female protagonist, and how she fits in this dark picture as well.
Aerith is a part of a long-forgotten race known as the “Ancients.” In the game, they are a separate race who may have been the original people of Gaia and were charged as the stewards of the planet. However, the ancients were discovered by the precursors of Midgar and their connection to Gaia and understanding of how to use its magic was manipulated by these people to build the city of Midgar and the reactors which fuel it through the same magical source. They were colonized, their knowledge was stolen, and their practices were morphed into something unsustainable and a dark shadow of what it once was.
In this way, we see direct parallels to colonialism and it seems like this story is intentionally set up to mirror what many indigenous cultures throughout the world went through and how they lived, and how their means of living were warped by their colonizers to eventually become industrial society instead of the sustainable natural way of living many of them practiced.
In Joanna Pocock's book Surrender: Mid-Life in the American West, she described a character named Finisia Medrano who in many ways reminds me of Aerith.
She is the descendant of indigenous peoples, and, like Aerith, she has inherited their knowledge of how to live in harmony with the world. In a surprising twist, she reveals she has been locked up by the federal government and is wanted as a sort of ecoterrorist. Why? You might ask.
It's because she has been planting the native species her culture revered on public lands and cultivating them to collect their seeds so she could continue their life as they are all in danger of dying out.
She sees the coming end of the world caused by capitalism and realizes her knowledge will become necessary when climate change makes our way of life even more impractical than it already is.
And for attempting to keep alive a part of the world that has been passed down to her and given to her to protect, these native species of plants that were a part of a long-forgotten civilization, she is considered a criminal and wanted by the federal government.
Like Joanna Pocock, Aerith is fighting for her planet of Gaia and for the memory and heritage of her people against those who had directly taken it away from her while killing her mother and using her much like a lab rat. In opposing Shinra, she is fighting for her own freedom in a way far more direct than any of the other protagonists.
Why is Shinra pursuing the last of the ancients, you ask? It's because profit-driven colonialism will never end so long as there are new territories to colonize. There is a legend predicting the Ancients will one day return to a place called the Promised Land which is said to abound with mako energy. With Aerith being the last of the Ancients, Shinra desperately wants her to lead them to this promised land so they can suck up all that mako.
It doesn't matter at all to them that this is possibly just a legend or a myth. It doesn't matter if the lands they wish to colonize have been proven to exist or not, nor even if the person they are willing to manipulate to take them there even believes The Promised Land exists, or that she can lead them there.
All that matters is there is a profit to be made, and the system which animates the world demands they go and make it.In the rest of this 5 part series, I’ll give you some ideas of the political system governing Midgar to help you decide if Shinra is fascist or just a libertarian dystopia; I’ll show you the three-tiered class system, built right in the city by design and finally; I’ll discuss the invisible hands of fate and how they shape our world. Tune in next time or check out more of my work at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDfnoYQUfECzpS5r_f7mFUA