Video game fans are often defined by their obsessions. I used to think this was not true of me, until I found myself in a career where I frequently, without being forced to, wrote about them. We all tell on ourselves eventually, I suppose. So let me get ahead of things, and tell you about an obsession of mine.
Twice have I succumbed to a fixation over Final Fantasy VII. The first was in middle school, when a kid named Thomas loaned me the BradyGames strategy guide and I, having never seen anything like it, read it cover-to-cover no less than five times. (I did not have a PlayStation, and YouTube did not exist. There was no point in keeping myself unspoiled.) The second was years later in high school, when I played the PC version and finally saw the game’s intro – where a young woman named Aeris emerges from an alley and wanders into a busy street, as the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the strange diesel-punk city of Midgar.
There’s a huge billboard there, one you can only see briefly, and never in full. Only three details are discernible: A date, June 25th, an illustration of a woman, and one word in all-caps: LOVELESS. If you pause it, or have very sharp vision, you can make out a fourth – what appears to be the words “My Bloody Valentine.”
I didn’t know this at the time, but to many this was an immediate and obvious reference to Irish band My Bloody Valentine’s seminal 1991 album Loveless. It was also a fascinating one, because it implied that My Bloody Valentine existed in the world of Final Fantasy VII, and that, as far as we knew, Loveless was the biggest and only pop culture hit in Midgar. But again, at the time, all this went over my head: I just remembered it because I had never seen anything quite like it before, a small background detail that was evocative of so much.
What was Loveless? I didn’t know, and Final Fantasy VII wouldn’t really give me a full explanation – unless I talked to a character named Cid late in the game. Anyone who did that would hear him say it was a play he saw once and slept through. I did not want to talk to Cid at the time, and if I did, I likely would have been very mad he did not appreciate art. I have since grown as a person.
Thusly negged, I speculated fervently. A movie, perhaps. Or yeah, sure, a play. I suppose I was taken by that incomplete glimpse of rough illustration on the poster juxtaposed with that title. It hinted at romance and melodrama, things I had not yet seen in video games – but would soon, after a fashion, because I was playing Final Fantasy VII.
Like the illustration of Cosette that advertised productions of Les Miserables, or the spare Yoshitaka Amano illustrations that would accompany every Final Fantasy logo, it was a bit of art that yearned for something. If I had unsupervised access to the internet at the time, this is the exact point in my life when I would have become an ardent writer and reader of fan fiction.
Since I didn’t spend much free time on the internet until after high school, I wouldn’t piece together that Loveless was an album until university – I came up on hip-hop, and so My Bloody Valentine’s massive influence was completely over my head. The first time you listen to Loveless, you won’t be able to make out many lyrics. That’s part of the mystique: Loveless is about what you feel when you hear it, layers of distorted guitars washing over you, your only real anchor that forlorn, apt-seeming title. It’s the perfect soundtrack for an obsession you don’t fully understand.
Perhaps the strangest thing about Loveless is that it would grow along with Final Fantasy VII, simmering in the background until it was as vital a part of the game as Mako, or recreational eco-terrorism. It appeared (although far less visible) in the 2005 PlayStation 3 tech demo that recreated Final Fantasy VII’s opening scene. Ruins of Loveless posters would show up in Advent Children, the 2005 sequel movie. It would be fleshed out to an entire epic poem in the PSP prequel, Crisis Core.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
And then, of course, it returns in Final Fantasy VII Remake, which finally gave me the chance to officially ask someone about it in the year 2020.
After working my way up the requisite channels, I sent off a barrage of Loveless questions that I am, frankly, surprised anyone answered. But they were, graciously, by Naoki Hamaguchi, co-director of Final Fantasy VII Remake. I was not going to blow my shot. Here is our exchange, only slightly condensed.
I have a lot of questions about LOVELESS! Is anyone from the original team who wanted to put that LOVELESS poster in the game involved in the remake?
Hamaguchi: None of the people from the original team [that were involved with the LOVELESS posters] are working on REMAKE, but the development team is aware that LOVELESS is a location beloved by fans, and so we made sure to gather a decent amount of reference materials, including from the previous compilation titles.
Are there more references to LOVELESS in the remake? Which characters in Final Fantasy VII like LOVELESS, or want to see it? Can I see it?
Hamaguchi: I can’t say much, but… there is an additional side story about visiting Sector 7, where Jessie’s childhood home is, and we may touch upon LOVELESS as part of Jessie’s past… I hope you catch it.
Should people listen to Loveless, the My Bloody Valentine album, while they play Final Fantasy VII? How about m b v, their surprise album from a few years ago? (Did you like m b v?) Any more thoughts on LOVELESS?
Hamaguchi: If you have fond memories of a particular song, then by all means, you are more than welcome to listen to it while you play (laughs)!
That being said, LOVELESS is a very important area of the narrative, where Aerith and Cloud meet for the first time. We’ve also included a new seamless soundtrack system that dynamically changes the background music according to the actions occurring on screen, so from a developer’s perspective, I would also recommend listening to the music we’ve prepared in-game when you play through as it creates a very immersive experience.
Hamaguchi is right – Final Fantasy VII Remake does add a little more Loveless to the story. In Remake, you spend a lot more time with the members of the eco-terrorist cell AVALANCHE and get to know what their personal lives are like. In the fourth chapter, you specifically learn more about Jessie: namely that she was an actress, and that she was up for a part in Loveless before her father’s illness radicalised her into taking action.
And even earlier there’s another small addition, one that really got me going: The street outside the theatre where Loveless plays is called Loveless Street. As Hamaguchi noted, this is where protagonist Cloud Strife meets Aerith, the woman who will change his life forever, which is exactly the kind of melodrama I live for.
Encouraged but unfulfilled, I wanted to know more. I tried tracking down every environmental artist from the original Final Fantasy VII, and noted that a few still seemed to work at Square Enix. I asked Square Enix if any of them could talk to me, but alas, I was told that none were available. I then decided to try and track down the former artists who weren’t with Square anymore, but I could only find a contact for one – Matsuzo Machida, who now runs a new studio named Wild Rose. I sent them a polite (English) email to their (Japanese) address. I do not expect to get a response.
So, while language and geography made it difficult to get a whole lot of information about the making of the Loveless posters, there was one more thing I could try: Getting a hold of My Bloody Valentine.
For those of you who don’t know, this was a very stupid idea, because no one really gets in touch with My Bloody Valentine. That’s kind of their whole deal. Released in 1991, Loveless was not their first album, but it was their most influential, a work that has inspired reams of writing and an entire sub-genre of rock known as shoegaze. It was an album so new and distinct that, the story goes, Kevin Shields – the public face of the band, albeit one with a strong distaste for giving interviews – retreated from the world as the band dissolved around him when nothing they made was good enough to follow it in his estimation.
Even when My Bloody Valentine surprised the world and reunited in 2008 for a tour, or drop a long-rumoured album m b v without warning in 2013, the band remained far from chatty. Shields would only sometimes give an interview in support of a release; the other band members would adhere to tradition and not talk at all.
I really wanted to talk to them about a video game from 1997. I probably would have been better off learning Japanese.
In the entertainment business, if you want to get in touch with an artist, you hit up their publicist. From my own research, neither My Bloody Valentine nor Kevin Shields seemed to have one, and they cut ties with major labels a long time ago, so there was no obvious way in. A music editor friend had a two-year-old publicist contact, but that was a dead end. But another friend knew someone, who knew someone, and that someone replied.
Her name was Anna Meldal, and she worked with the band. She also knew what I was talking about.
“We don’t have any more information than you do unfortunately,” Meldal wrote. “As you mention, the game designers were fans of the band, so they decided to put Loveless and the band into the game with various references (possibly 4 or 5 or more, not sure, that’s what we’ve been told). The band has never spoken to them.”
Meldal then apologised for not knowing much more than that, but offered to pass along my finished story to the band whenever it was published; they might be interested in reading my story, even though they didn’t want to talk to me. Which honestly seemed pretty fitting for My Bloody Valentine.
But we were talking about Final Fantasy, you and I. In Final Fantasy VII, Loveless effectively functions as an Easter egg – again, if you have that conversation with Cid, you learn it’s a play, that there’s a couple involved, and that in the one scene he recalls, one of them was leaving, with the hopes of returning some day.
In Crisis Core, a prequel about the events leading up to Final Fantasy VII, Loveless becomes a kind of epic poem that inspires said play. There’s a character, Genesis, who is obsessed with it, and quotes it throughout. Unlike what’s hinted at in Final Fantasy VII proper – a conventional romance – the Loveless of Crisis Core seems like something more akin to The Iliad. There’s a “War of the Beasts,” some passing references to the end of the world, and a hero seeking the gift of a Goddess. All of it is written in cryptic language, meant to play up the mythic nature of the story being hinted at. An excerpt:
My friend, do you fly away now?
To a world that abhors you and I?
All that awaits you is a sombre morrow
No matter where the winds may blow
It’s hard to actually play Crisis Core for yourself – it was only ever released on PlayStation Portable in 2008, with no re-release on another platform. You can, however, see most of it on YouTube.
Despite all these revisitations and re-imaginings, this is about as clear as Loveless gets, and it’s ambiguous at best. Throughout Crisis Core, you get a couple of stanzas of the Loveless poem for each act of the epic, although it’s never clear if those stanzas comprise the entirety of the Act, or if they’re just excerpts. All that you know for sure is that Genesis is utterly consumed by the poem, and through it romanticises his descent into villainy as he becomes the game’s antagonist and catalyses the transformation of his friend Sephiroth from legendary soldier to the ultimate threat at the end of Final Fantasy VII. In other words, the only clear thing about Loveless is that it’s about obsession.
In this, the Loveless of the multi-game Final Fantasy VII saga and the Loveless of the real world become intertwined again—the former the work of countless creators picking up and embellishing threads but stopping just shy of giving it a real shape, lest it kill the magic of that image first glimpsed in 1997.
As for the real Loveless, it’s an album that changed everyone who heard it and haunted the people who made it, so much so that they would only venture out afterwards in fits and starts, miraculously still capable of making their fans feel the same way they did almost thirty years ago, but stopping just shy of taking them somewhere completely new. We all just want to feel the way we felt then, when we caught a glimpse of something that hinted at a little bit of romance.
Joshua Rivera is a freelance writer based in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter, if you like.