It has been twenty-three years since the city of Midgar was first introduced in Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy VII. Now, over two decades later, the town has been reimagined through Final Fantasy VII Remake in a new graphical glory. The inner workings of Midgar have been expanded upon now more than ever before, detailing a city of nuance and strife, of beauty and destruction. A city in the hands of an evil corporation, Midgar demonstrates the division between the affluent and the deprived through its world-building; its landscapes tell their own story, from vistas of concrete and steel to the grimy depths of sewers. It is a city worth appreciating for its multiple faces, wherein good and evil lie in unexpected places.
Midgar is beautifully realized, a city as eclectic as the series itself. The topography of the town is telling of a harsh class divide; there are those who live on the city’s plates, able to gaze freely at the stars above, and there are the poor who live far beneath, left only with a sky obstructed by metal. The slums exist in the latter area, old and yet dynamic; makeshift towns and rubble given a second chance through the endurance of its inhabitants. Amidst piles of concrete and cold steel, the poor of Midgar’s slums keep a sense of warmth through the company of each other, a sense of community emerging through the relationships of its inhabitants. As the city around you develops with the events of the game, so do the citizens of the slums; soft chuckles turn into nervous ramblings, despair rings out as safety becomes uncertain. The slums feel alive through the heart of its people, and with it, you can hear the beatings of their doubts, their fears, their outcry.
The reimagining of such iconic locations from the original game are as nostalgic as they are beautiful. The church of the Sector 5 slums is simply breathtaking; soft light filters through the windows, absorbed by the patch of flowers that lie amidst wooden pews – a vitality that exists even through death and destruction. Through rusted debris lies Petal Lane, a path that leads to the house of one of your companions, Aerith, the embodiment of nature’s sanctuary, where life can be felt through the soft swaying of flowers and the gentle current of water that pools from the house’s exterior.
Juxtaposed with such tranquillity comes the area of Wall Market, a turbulent section of the slums that is both dangerous and exciting. Red lanterns and neon signs light its narrow alleys and dense, shack-like buildings as you push past crowds of people looking to escape their worries with dance, drink, and lively conversation. It is, as aptly described, “the town that never sleeps,” complete with all your amusement needs – shops, dance clubs, and even an underground fighting Coliseum, packed with crowds eager to watch blood spill.
Other areas take a more melancholic approach, one such being the Train Graveyard – an abandoned section of the city strewn with rusted train carts and a heavy air, obstructing much of what lies beyond the steel debris. A haunting area of the city, in which it is said “no one escapes,” the graveyard has an almost palpable energy; the soft strums of a guitar and the reverberation of clanging metal in the section’s ambient music add a sense of unease and wistfulness that make traversing it a solemn affair. A deep blue sky cut only by the fluorescent glow of white streetlights, the Train Graveyard is a dark reminder of land and people lost to time, an unfortunate normality of life in the slums.
This sense of unease is translated to an overall fragility of the slums. As strong as its people may be, the instability of the land around you feels more apparent as the game progresses. Dilapidated buildings crumble before your eyes. Innocent people fall beneath the wreckage. Collapsed expressways become the refuge of bandits who live amongst concrete rubble.
In contrast, those who live on the plates above do so in the comfort of warm homes and paved streets, a stark difference to the conditions of the land beneath. The most egregious offence to this is the Shinra headquarters, the central place of work of Midgar’s ruling corporation. A lavish, modern lobby that consists mostly of empty space nuanced by rich detailing: decorative chandeliers dangling precariously over marble floors and grand staircases, a grandiose display of wealth and power. It is big; it is extravagant, it is the epitome of Shinra’s foreboding nature; though their headquarters is only a small glimpse into their grasp over the city – their influence can be seen both on the plates and below, weeding out the poor over the rich, the dead over the living.
The beauty of Midgar is relayed most through its dynamic nature. The landscapes of the city serve as a direct influence of its people. The slums, primarily destroyed, convey both the adversity of its inhabitants as well as their strength to continue on, to build up from meagre resources in order to take care of one another. On the other hand, the cold, mechanical qualities of the Shinra headquarters are telling of the corporation’s true indifference to the people they claim to serve. Shinra’s grasp over the city and their greed of its natural resources makes their building’s artificial landscape all the more apparent. The corporation’s crafting of a city of steel, devoid almost entirely of nature, is their attempt at a cold and calculated control. And yet despite this, we see an energy that blooms in unexpected places. Through its world, we see that Midgar has a life that cannot be so easily extinguished.