PictureFinal Fantasy VII Advent Children Complete leaps onto our Blu-ray screens with a 1080p AVC encoded image, framed within a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
Much has already been said in certain circles about the quality of the image on display and forums have been ringing out with differing opinions. Unfortunately the vast majority seem to be half baked ideas that include every suggestion from re-rendering, upscaling, downscaling and every other buzz word that is oft misunderstood and bandied around all too readily without a whiff of genuine proof. Frankly I wouldn't be surprised to read someone purporting it to be drawn in crayon, such is the nature of the myriad of theories surrounding the origin of the visuals.
What we know is that this project started out as a straight to DVD and UMD (the film and game disc format for the Sony's PSP handheld console) film. With the addition of the scenes that make this the “Complete” version and the transition to Blu-ray this has caused many to question the quality of the source material. Personally I would rather judge this on the image that is portrayed here, which in my eyes is stunning in so many ways.
There may be a level of hit and miss with regards the crispness at times and the textures sometimes vary a little but the overall feeling is that of an extremely well realised virtual world. Small touches like lens flare and focal shifts really add to the atmosphere and give a sense of reality with a filmic, celluloid like quality. The overall palette is slightly washed out to allow for that post apocalyptic look but when colour is needed it springs forth with a vibrancy that is all too pleasing. The textures during close ups are palpably real and show the level of detail that is possible in such a computer generated image. Far from the often blanket colours and amazingly crisp nature of the Pixar films, the dilapidated world is shown to us with crumbling edges and a myriad of different surfaces, all subtly different. The depth created in the frame is wonderful and draws the eye perfectly into a three dimensional scene.
This might not reach the heights of the mainstream Hollywood CG films, but it does more than enough to be considered a visual treat. Some may bemoan the slightly hazy fog effects that perhaps cover less intricate elements of the image, but to focus purely on such instances is surely missing the point. This is a feature length Square Enix cut-scene of the highest standard. Quibbles about aliasing, haze effects and upscaled/downscaled/crayon etc textures and resolutions won't detract from the average viewer's enjoyment of a visually striking experience.
SoundSound options on this disc are numerous and thankfully they are all within lossless formats. Viewers will be given the choice of three Dolby TrueHD tracks; English, French and Japanese. For the sake of this review I focussed mainly on the Japanese option as most fans of Eastern cinema tend to prefer the authenticity of subtitles and original language (though you could argue that as this is a fictitious universe it barely matters but I'm a stickler for such things!).
The first thing that will strike most listeners is how well the music by Nobuo Uematsu is handled. The various themes that pepper the film, from the subtle high frequencies of the tender moments, to the more gripping pounding of action set-pieces, all are capably dealt with and have a taut feel to them. The front speakers combine to give a remarkably wide sound-field which swells in intensity when necessary. The ensuing sounds thus seem to easily fill the room and envelope the viewer.
The centre channel is similarly tight, with dialogue never falling below the high standards of this track. Voices are crisp and clear throughout, with perhaps the slight exception to be made when changing language options. It is a little hard to describe but there is a slight feeling that the Japanese vocals just tend to integrate better into the rest of the mix. Personally I'd put this mainly down to the voice acting of the American cast which, as with many US translations of such material, has a tendency to feel overlaid and in front of the mix rather than a clear part of it. My advice would always be to stick with the original language option, but for those who feel that reading and watching don't go together, you'll be pleased to hear that the voice acting of the US cast is certainly of a higher standard than one might expect.
The one area in which the audio is slightly let down is that of bass. For a film that relies so heavily on the action set-pieces, the LFE tended to rumble rather than shake. The large impacts of characters being flung into objects and the devastating boom of buildings falling just lack the veracity and raw power needed to startle. It is far from an impotent mix in terms of punch, but it could have been more forceful. Luckily, the use of rear channels more than make up for this by their fine balance of discrete panning effects. The myriad of noises associated with a bustling metropolis often fill the room from behind the viewer and the use of drawing the viewer by highlighting noises off the screen is a fine touch.
The options available are perfect for all tastes and whichever is chosen, they vary very little. The Japanese track is still my preference, but all contain the same crisp dialogue, broad soundscape and engaging effects.
ExtrasLegacy of Final Fantasy VII - 480p - 6:38
This feature tells us the story of how the series of games came into being and how the seventh in the franchise became such a seminal hit with fans. It is told by way of a Japanese voiceover by Takahiro Sakurai (the voice of Cloud Strife) with English subtitles, whilst we are shown numerous clips of old gameplay footage from the series. For a short piece, there are some interesting titbits of information to be gleaned, such as the recounting of the development of the project dubbed “Compilation of Final Fantasy VII” as well as the reception it received at the Venice Film Festival.
Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII - 480p - 23:55
This will be useful to anyone unfamiliar with the back-story of the characters involved. It tells the various tales of our cast by using the cut-scenes from the game, as well as some interspersed clips of roads (representing Cloud riding his bike) to accompany voice acting. The oddity of this feature is that those it is aimed to help may be the very first to turn it off, being perturbed by the awful animation that seemed so cutting edge at the time. Personally I found it quaint and a great reminder of key moments and a fantastic taster that whetted my appetite for returning to the videogame one more time.
Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII Compilation - 480p - 29:43
This performs the same function as the aforementioned feature, only with the emphasis now being on the storylines of the games that were released as part of the Compilation. It uses clips from all of those games that fell under the umbrella of the project as well as some from the film and original game. As someone who is yet to delve into these other instalments, it was something of a spoiler filled task to view it, so for those in a similar situation - you have been warned.
On the way to a smile episode: Denzel - 1080p - 28:07
A half hour anime (though note the end credits last over four minutes!) that informs us of Denzel's story. It gives us a glimpse into how he lost his parents and what life was like in Midgar before the explosions in the Mako reactors and the meteor strike. The animation is good and the overall tone is somewhat bleak, making it a fine accompaniment to the main feature that adds much needed flesh to the bones of the central story.
Sneak peak at Final Fantasy XIII - 1080i - 7:12
If you weren't already champing at the bit for some more Final fantasy action, this will surely do the trick. Seven minutes of footage from the first of the series to appear on the current generation of consoles. Not only do we get a brief taster of what the universe will be like, we also get some much needed sights of the game actually running. This will hardly be a grand deal breaker for those who've been keeping a close eye on the title's development using the 'net, but it is nice to see it running on your main display device in 1080i.
A total of five trailers for the film, each being slightly different from the others. The emphasis and pacing may change but other than that they are fairly standard.
This represents a fine set of extras for fans of the series which not only complements the main feature but adds in a delightful whiff of nostalgia. I was only too pleased to take a trip down memory lane, though those with less of a gaming passion may not feel so thankful. The one glaring omission is the demo of Final Fantasy XIII which came with the Japanese release.
VerdictIt is all too easy to simply sum this up as “one for the fans” but in many ways this phrase is the most pertinent. Those who are into their sci-fi animation may find it easier to accept that there are things that make no sense, having not been fully explained, but for the rest of the potential purchasers of this disc, it must surely be approached with a little caution. To say there are holes in the story would be an understatement as there are many aspects of the game which are unexplained here. If you are one of the many who are unaware of the basis for the plot, you may still find great enjoyment within, the only stipulation would be the necessity to suspend any thoughts of rationalism and view it as a kooky Japanese ride.
The visuals can similarly be dismissed by those wanting nothing less than Pixar levels but they stand up extremely well. The textures on close up are intricate and vastly detailed, with clothing appearing distinctly touchable at times. The sound also does a fine job of delivering all the on screen action and moments of subtlety with aplomb. By giving viewers the choice of the original Japanese voice actors of those of their American cousins, both in Dolby TrueHD is only further proof that this can please purists and non fans alike.
The extras could be harshly adjudged as quaint or cheap given their reuse of clips but I personally found them to be extremely fitting, with the possible exception of the glaring omission of the demo for Final Fantasy XIII that accompanied the Japanese release - something that would have made this a must buy for fans. The story recaps are the sort of project one would assume an uber-fan had made and posted online, yet they also have a rightful place here. Like the package as a whole, they can be seen by non fans as quaint, or by those happy to dip their toes back into the waters of Midgar as a welcome gift. If you're still reading this, you'll know which you are.
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