When I first played Final Fantasy VII at the ripe young age of about 10, I had no grasp on “meta-gaming” or what “stats” were. So rather than use the best party (Cloud-Tifa-Barret/Cid/Yuffie), I instead opted for the vampire dude and the cool talking cat. It wasn’t until a few years later that my feline fascination grew with the discovery of Yoshitaka Amano’s stunning FF7 concept art in a magazine. Aside from a noticeable Romeo & Juliet aesthetic in the presentation of Cloud and Aerith, Red XIII pops up the most as Cloud’s closest companion in Amano’s work. And yet, in the game, Red XIII’s importance to the overall plot is middling at best. What if Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 fixed that?
Don’t get me wrong: Uncovering Red XIII’s real name, Nanaki, and finding out the tragic fate that befell his father Seto remain some of the best subplots in the game. Red XIII’s adoptive grandpa, Bugenhagen, also serves as a sort of Yoda-like mentor figure to the party. Cosmo Canyon, their home, is a spiritual safe haven for Cloud and friends until the very end; Its tribal-infused theme song haunts me to this day (in a good way).
And yet, as rich as all this plotting and artistry remains 25 years later, Amano’s art still makes me wish FF7 did more. Cloud develops deep relationships as part of his love triangle with Tifa and Aerith, and the first FF7 Remake did an excellent job developing his and Barret’s begrudging mutual respect and affection.
Most of the FF7 characters were designed by Tetsuya Nomura, and Amano created his illustrations based on those. It’s abundantly clear that Amano loves Red XIII. Granted, that may have something to do with the creature’s vibrant red-orange color compared to the mostly drab rest of the cast. Still, Amano’s FF7 portfolio seems to imply that aside from Aerith, Red XIII is Cloud’s closest companion. That’s not the case at all in the actual game, but I’ve always wished I could see Cloud and Red XIII become real good pals.
Frankly, it’s a bit lame that he’s one of the few party members that Cloud can’t hang out with at Gold Saucer.
One Amano piece (featured above) simply shows Cloud standing front and center with Red XIII behind him. It has big “man and his cat” energy, almost like a magical warrior and his magical familiar readying for battle.
We get similar vibes in this other piece, where Cloud levels his sword at the camera. Directly behind him are Red XIII, Aerith, and a hulking male humanoid that probably was inspired by Barret. There’s also a little dragon and a small creature that in other versions is unmistakably a Moogle. Yet here, it’s clearly an early concept for Cait Sith.
In yet another piece of battle art, Red XIII is in the foreground leaping to the left. Cloud is in the background looking in the same direction. In just about every piece of Amano’s FF7 concept art where Cloud has his sword drawn, Red XIII is there, ready to pounce. The only exception is a moment where Cloud and Aerith stand back-to-back, weapons drawn.
Perhaps my favorite piece of Amano’s work ever is also for FF7, and it has nothing to do with combat. It’s a quiet moment of rest. Cloud’s sword and a piece of armor lay on the ground. He’s leaning back against a tree, glancing towards the camera. Red XIII sits in repose to his right, calmly staring ahead. There isn’t much color to the plant and wildlife around them, yet it still comes across as wildly vibrant and detailed. And that moon in the background? Exquisite.
FF7 Remake is inching its way through the grander story, so there’s time and space to invest in quieter character-driven moments just like this. There were plenty of new contrived circumstances that split the party up in various ways, so why not have a short stretch where Cloud and Red XIII have a paired adventure leading to this very moment?
Amano seems to seldom take the time to sketch out the background details in his work, but when he does, you know you’re in for something special. Final Fantasy VI’s Terra sitting atop her Magitek armor gazing at a cityscape comes to mind. Amano instead often opts for straightforward profile sketches with a splash of color. Many pieces feature one or two characters posing in some way with a deeply abstract background, like the colorful Tidus and Yuna Final Fantasy X art with a gold background (also one of my favorites, by the way).
The vibe is always ethereal and somehow immensely detailed yet also impressionistic. “Influenced by early Western comic books, art nouveau, and Japan’s own ukiyo-e style,” an excellent blog from Sabukaru.online describes. “The images that Amano creates are wispy, dreamlike, and floaty.”
Yet here in this stunning Cloud and Red XIII moment of repose, we get a lot of detail. This moment probably won’t ever happen, but I’d love to see FF7 Remake Part 2 and beyond invest more in moments just like it. And who knows? Maybe my wish just might come true.
Want to learn more about Amano’s work and approach? Check out this video:
FF7 Week is an Inverse celebration of the 25th anniversary of Square's landmark 1997 RPG.