Aug 9, 2022
Final Fantasy VII: On the Way to a Smile is a near perfect epilogue Final Fantasy VII and a great way to set up many plot points in Advent Children, in some ways even exceeding both of them. I would say you’d have to play Final Fantasy VII to enjoy this novel to its fullest, but in all honesty, this novel sets almost all of the characters up better than the game ever did. The novel does recount some things that occurred in the game when necessary, so even if you haven’t played the game in a long time, or never at all, you won’t
be completely lost. (This review will contain spoilers for the end of the Final Fantasy VII video game, but not the book itself)
The story consists of 6 chapters all telling the story of a specific character’s adventure through the world since Meteor almost destroyed the planet at the end of Final Fantasy VII, with six micro-chapters in between the main ones which take the perspective of either Aerith or Sephiroth. This novel mostly follows the characters’ experiences with the Geostigma disease, which I was weary about at first, given how poorly Advent Children explained it, but this novel not only makes sense of the Geostigma, but also made me interested to learn more about it. Most characters, however, do have something separate from the Geostigma that they’re occupying themselves with. Cloud has started a delivery service for towns that were torn up by Meteor, Tifa opens up a bar in the new town they’ve began constructing since Midgar’s destruction, Barret and Red XIII (Or Nanaki as I’ll be calling him) are both on separate self discovery missions, Yuffie is trying to find a cure for the Geostigma, Cid is trying to build a rocket that doesn’t rely on Mako energy, and Sephiroth is trying to bring himself back to life, just to name a few. The story isn’t exactly action-oriented, which is astounding to think about because of how engaging it is. Despite the lack of flashy battle sequences, the story is constantly moving at a perfect pace, learning new information about the characters, environment, and circumstances at just the right speed. To close off this section, I’d like to say that this novel sets up many aspects of Advent Children very well, the one thing the story doesn’t set up in preparation of the movie is why Cait Sith rides Nanaki’s back all of the sudden during Advent Children. Nanaki and Cait Sith don’t share any interactions in On the Way to a Smile when it could’ve easily just been thrown in at the end of Nanaki’s chapter. This isn’t a huge issue or anything, but it’s the only thing that the novel didn’t clear up and I don’t understand why. The story is a 10/10
The characters are all done masterfully in this novel. Even Cid, who I personally find to be horrible in the Final Fantasy VII game, is fun to see whenever he shows up. A real shock to me was how well it did characters who I personally didn’t care much for. I rolled my eyes when seeing Denzel in Advent Children, but in this novel, his chapter was a beautiful first impression and made me respect his character much more. The same can be said for Rufus Shinra, who in the video game is a throwaway “whatever” character, but the novel shines a light on his character during the Shinra chapter that makes him much more endearing and sympathetic. Nanaki as a character may very well be at his best in this novel, with his chapter by far being the highlight of the novel for me. I also respect the amount they used Vincent. He was there about as many times as you’d expect him to be if you know his character, and I really do like that. The only flaw with the way characters are handled is the severe underuse of Cait Sith. He’s on half a page in the Shinra chapter during a flashback to the events of a game and that’s it. Reeve, the man that controls Cait Sith has a sizeable role, but when Reeve isn’t controlling Cait Sith, Cait Sith is its own living being with its own thoughts. Cait Sith is even on the cover of the novel, and I don’t get that. They could’ve put Aerith or Denzel there instead, given they have relevance to the plot, but instead they give it to a character that isn’t even technically in the novel. I’d give characters overall a 9/10
As for art, there’s no visual art in the novel besides the cover, which does look nice, but the art in this novel comes far more from the words used than what you can see. A huge factor in this novel’s immersion is how it describes everything with its words. This novel creates the world around you while never dwelling on something too long. It just uses the perfect vocabulary to get the feeling across and then moves on briskly to the next plot point. It will use big words with ominous subtext during sections with characters in turmoil, while using short, snappy sentences during moments of comedy in which the dialogue is the bigger focus. The “art” in this light novel is a 10/10
Despite its very few and nitpicky shortcomings, Final Fantasy VII: On the Way to a Smile is a fantastic read that’s engaging straight to the end. It’s mysterious, saddening, thrilling, and heartwarming.
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