Square Enix was in dire straits in 2002. Coming off the disastrous Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, it was badly in need of cash. The solution was "polymorphic content"—a strategy of pushing original content across a variety of platforms, from movies to games to anime. In other words, Square Enix wanted to push its franchises as hard as possible.
One result was the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7, a rather famous set of games and movies that exemplified Square Enix's approach to the series in the 2000s. Some are popular, like Crisis Core, while others are... less so. Then there are the lesser-known stories; the weird ports, spin-offs, and side-stories that were created to cash in on Final Fantasy 7 mania, but then largely forgotten. With Final Fantasy 7 Remake on the way, now is as good a time as any to remember them. After all, who knows if they'll suddenly pop up again.
Final Fantasy 7 G-Bike and Final Fantasy 7 Snowboarding
Let's start with some of the weirdest spin-offs to hit the Compilation. The first is Final Fantasy 7 Snowboarding, a mobile game designed for flip phones like the Samsung A890. Released in 2005, it's basically a straight port of the snowboarding mini-game that so famously broke the mood after one of the original story's biggest moments (seriously, it was weird). Jarring as it was though, the snowboarding minigame was actually very fun, so it wasn't the worst subject for a mobile port. At least it wasn't the squats mini-game.
Final Fantasy 7 Snowboarding is no longer available for download, so it's not much more than a historical curiosity. The same can be said for Final Fantasy 7 G-Bike, an iOS/Android game that functions as an updated version of the motorcycle escape that caps the Midgar section in the original game. Unlike Final Fantasy 7 Snowboarding, it had actually had improved graphics, but it was racked by technical problems. It was ultimately shut down in 2015.
An interesting footnote about G-Bike: it was developed by CyberConnect2, the same developer that initially assisted with Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Amusingly, when G-Bike was first announced, CyberConnect 2 CEO Hiroshi Matsuyama joked, "Well, if G-Bike is released and becomes a hit, let's make a Final Fantasy 7 [remake]."
Square Enix Producer Shinji Hashimoto replied, "Okay. First, Matsuyama holds the key."
Final Fantasy 7 Remake was announced less than a year later. Were Square Enix and CyberConnect2 hinting at the E3 announcement that would shake gaming in 2015? We may never know.
Before Crisis: Final Fantasy 7
The one spin-off from this list that most people might recognize is Before Crisis: Final Fantasy 7. Announced alongside Crisis Core, Dirge of Cerberus, and Advent Children as part of the original Compilation of Final Fantasy 7, it was a mobile game starring the Turks that was released only in Japan. Despite the simple phone technology of the time, it was a relatively sophisticated 2D action game with a host of characters and a comparatively dense story.
Directed by Hajime Tabata, who would later take lead on Final Fantasy 15, Before Crisis was largely successful. It sold well in Japan, ultimately featuring 24 episodes, several bonus missions, and a battle arena. Tabata would later express interest in remaking Before Crisis for 3DS, but that initiative never came to pass.
Before Crisis is obviously extremely dated now, but it's still notable for shedding additional light on some of Final Fantasy 7's most popular antagonists, as well for deepening the conflict between Shinra and Avalanche in general. Sadly, Americans are unlikely to ever be able to access its story outside of fan-translated recaps on YouTube.
Last Order: Final Fantasy 7
Anime fans will probably recognize Madhouse, the studio behind classic shows including Vampire Hunter D, Death Note, and Ninja Scroll. After producing a promotional clip for Before Crisis, Madhouse was recruited to produce Last Order: Final Fantasy 7, a 25-minute OVA that reimagines crucial flashback sequences from the original game. It was developed with the assistance of series artist Tetsuya Nomura and subsequently released with limited edition versions of Advent Children in North America and Japan.
It was a cool little project, but it was not without its share of controversy. It had inconsistencies with the backstory established in the original game, and fans quickly voiced their displeasure. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7, which was released in 2007, was distanced from Last Order.
Crisis Core Executive Producer Hideki Imaizumi told IGN, "When we made [Last Order], we changed the presentation of that event from the original Final Fantasy 7. And the fan response was—well, there was considerable negative feedback in regard to changing a part of the story that they considered integral to the whole lore. So we listened to that and learned from that. And in fact the Nibelheim incident is presented again in Crisis Core, and we were careful not to make the same decisions that we did in Last Order."
It's a shame since Last Order is a rather beautiful short otherwise. It may not exactly be canon, but as a unique bit of Final Fantasy 7 history, it's certainly worth watching.
On the Way to a Smile
Amid the avalanche (heh) of supplementary material created for Final Fantasy 7 is On the Way to a Smile, a series of short stories designed to fill in the gaps between the original game and Advent Children. These stories introduce a young orphan, Denzel, who reflects on life after the collapse of the Sector 7 plate and other events from the original game. Other stories focus in on Tifa, Barret, Sephiroth, and Aerith. The collection was released as part of Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children Complete in 2009, which also included a fully-animated OVA adaptation of Episode: Denzel.
These days I suspect most fans would rather forget about Advent Children, which was ultimately an underwhelming bit of fan-service that undercut the mystery and wonder of the original game's ending. Still, Advent Children is part of the lore (for now), and On the Way to a Smile goes a long way toward making sense of its story. You can even listen to it in an audiobook if you want.
The Maiden Who Travels the Planet
Finally, we have The Maiden Who Travels the Planet (星を巡る乙女), a novella that spotlights Aerith in the wake of major events in the original game. It follows Final Fantasy 7's heroine as she converses with the spirits of President Shinra, Zack Fair, and Jessie as they try and reconcile their deeds in life. It goes a long way toward explaining Final Fantasy 7's finale, as well as Aerith's presence in Advent Children.
With Final Fantasy 7 Remake less than a month away, fans have consistently speculated on whether Final Fantasy 7's myriad spin-off stories will be included in some way. Will one of the chapters be a fully playable Advent Children? Will Before Crisis and Crisis Core be mentioned in some way?
Right now, signs point to "no." Nomura has been adamant in his desire to provide a new take on Final Fantasy 7. Such changes would probably make the story beats featured in the spin-offs less relevant. After all, many of them are about filling in the gaps.
Even if this winds up being the case though, that doesn't necessarily mean that the spin-offs are now completely irrelevant. It's still possible to play Final Fantasy 7 on PlayStation 4, Switch, PC, and Xbox One, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake will ultimately stand as just one interpretation of the story. And in any case, Crisis Core has already received at least one nod in Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
We'll know for sure when it launches on April 10 for PlayStation 4. In the meantime, keep checking back for more coverage as our Countdown to Final Fantasy 7 continues.