Final Fantasy VII has long been regarded as one of the most important and popular releases in gaming history, remaining in many gamers top ten all-time list despite hitting the 25-year anniversary of the original date we all took our first steps in the shoes of spiky-haired protagonist Cloud Strife. I mean… a LOT of games have come out in the last 25 years, and somehow this singular RPG found a way to not only remain iconic and memorable but gain an entirely new fanbase through the Final Fantasy VII remake project that is currently underway. After the cliff-hanger of an ending that we received at the end of the first chapter of the FFVII remake, we were all left wondering what could possibly be coming next for these heroes and the story that we THOUGHT we knew so well. Well, it turns out Square Enix had an even LARGER surprise in store for us, as the next chapter in the Final Fantasy VII remake sage will not be a sequel, but a PREQUEL… we are returning to Crisis Core, an adventure many of us may have missed out on. While 2 million units in sales is no small accomplishment for a title that launched on the ill-fated Sony PSP handheld system, almost 20 million people have purchased (and more have most likely played) either the original Final Fantasy VII or the 2020 remake… meaning the vast majority of gamers are about to experience this story for the very first time.
Last week we took a look back at the PSP and the strange journey that Sony took in their attempts to achieve success in the portable gaming environment (linked below)…
But scattered along the broken road that Sony took to explore that challenging and competitive environment, many excellent gaming titles became trapped in the crossfire… and one of those was the universally acclaimed Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. This game had it all… full HD cinematics, an updated combat system, and most importantly a brand-new story that explored the untold origins of our favorite characters and how this whole conflict started in the first place. But despite all of its’ best efforts, Crisis Core was released on a system that was doomed… while the PSP technically survived on store shelves for ten years, it never managed to dent the impenetrable armor of Nintendo’s handheld dominance. The PSP, along with all of its’ underwhelming successors, faded into obscurity… and all of the games that were created specifically for this platform went down with the ship. Sure, a couple of lifeboats were launched that gave a new lease on life to PSP exclusives like Patapon, LocoRoco, and the God of War Origins titles… but Crisis Core and the epic story of Zack Fair was not even handed a life preserver as the PSP sunk to the bottom of the gaming ocean. It looked like “Game Over”… at least, until NOW.
We all know how difficult it is to return to sleep after experiencing a nightmare… after waking up in a panic and seeking reassurance that everything is okay, it is hard to trust that we won’t return to the hellish dreamscape we just escaped from. We are still tired… our eyes are heavy, our body is exhausted, and we crave the sweet release of drifting off to sleep. But we don’t control our dreams, and now we can’t trust them. The familiar embrace of our pillow now only represents fear, a broken promise of rest replaced by trauma. And for many of us, what I just described isn’t just the nightmares we have faced as we lay our head to rest after the end of a long day… it is the nightmare we face each and every day during our waking hours as we live a life that was once full of comforting promises, and now only offers us pain, sorrow, and regret. How do we wake up from a nightmare that is present during our waking hours? Where is our refuge when the light of day only reminds us of what we have lost? Even as followers of Christ, our God-give dreams can seemingly turn into horrific nightmares before our eyes for a variety of reasons. And today we are going to find some answers.
Contending with dreams that turn into nightmares is not unique to any of us… to varying degrees we all face these situations. And few souls can say they have experienced the level of painful and undeserved tragedy that was endured by Ruth… a woman who was simply trying to live her best life when a horrific nightmare intervened. In six short verses we are introduced to her story as a woman, a bride, and then a child-less widow… in ten years her dreams turned into nightmarish ashes with no reason to believe that things were going to get better. She had given the best years of her life in service of a dream that would never come to fruition… and her future prospects looked pretty grim.
Ruth 1:1-6 Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons. Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.
But the story of Ruth is more than just the story of Ruth… it is the story of her long-suffering mother-in-law Naomi. And in many ways, the book of Ruth and the way it intertwines Ruth and Naomi’s story reminds me of the twin helix of the narrative of Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud Strife and Zack Fair, the protagonist of Crisis Core. Think about it… the book is LITERALLY named the book of Ruth, and it is the redemptive story of Ruth as she moves on to marry Boaz and give birth to the lineage of descendants that would one day include King David as well as Jesus Christ Himself. But what about Naomi? What about the prequel story that set all of these future promises in motion? In our race to find Ruth’s happy ending, it is easy to forget that while Ruth lost her husband, Naomi lost her husband, her two sons, any hope of seeing grandchildren, AND any means of providing for herself and her daughters-in-law. Sure, Ruth was in a major crisis… but Naomi was trapped in an unimaginable nightmare.
Ruth 1:6-13 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”
Ruth 1:19-21 Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
Naomi saw her situation in very realistic and practical terms… too old to have a husband, no hope of having more children, and unwilling to drag these innocent women any deeper into her life of tragedy than what had already happened. When she said the words “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me”… well, I felt that. I have a feeling many of us have felt the exact same way. Naomi went as far as to embrace her pain with the new name “Mara” (translated as bitter) to replace her previous name, which meant “pleasant”. From pleasant dreams to bitter nightmares all in the span of just 21 verses… it would seem both Ruth and Naomi’s story had run its’ course. But similar to the strange and unexpected journey Crisis Core took from seeming irrelevance to becoming the next planned remaster in development from Square Enix, Naomi’s return from bitterness was a story that wasn’t over yet. The Lord had neither forsaken nor forgotten her… and Naomi would find a way back into her personal dreams by helping Ruth discover the purpose beyond her pain. Rather than bury herself in her personal tragedy, Naomi decided to help Ruth pursue her dreams and play matchmaker for her… and by unselfishly placing her own bitterness aside so that she could help someone else see their dreams come true, Naomi finally saw her nightmare end as well.
Ruth 3:1-3 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.
Ruth 4:9-10 And Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Naomi. Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from his position at the gate. You are witnesses this day.”
Ruth 4:13-17 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him. Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “There is a son born to Naomi.” And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.
In Crisis Core, we found the origin story of Zack, a character who would hand the iconic Buster Sword as well as the role of hero over to Cloud Strife, the protagonist of Final Fantasy VII. And while Cloud receives all the attention and accolades as the main character of the series, the reality is that his story only exists because of Zack’s. And while it took many years for it to finally happen, Zack is finally going to get his moment in the sun when his game is remastered and released across EVERY current console… all thanks to the breakout success of the Final Fantasy VII remake and the triumphant return of Cloud Strife. These characters are not just intertwined in their story, but in their success… the accomplishment of their dreams was only possible because each of them served the other to fulfill their joint destinies. And when Naomi set aside her pain and bitterness to serve Ruth and help her achieve her dreams, she found her own prayers answered as well in the grandchild she had given up dreaming for and the perpetuation of the family name that she believed was gone forever.
Setbacks, disappointment, and tragedy are an unfortunate and unavoidable part of our path… dreams turn to nightmares without warning even for those who have placed our trust fully in the Lord, and in those moments it is easy to believe that our Father has turned His back on us. Like Naomi, in this painfully hopeless place we may even choose to define ourselves by our losses, embracing the darkness that has now become more familiar than the happiness we once enjoyed. But there IS a way out of the nightmare… and both the fictional character Zack as well as the real-life widow Naomi has showed us the path. By lifting our eyes beyond our own crushing pain and allowing Christ and His love to flow through us as a vessel to show grace to others, we can help others reach THEIR dreams. And it was in the unselfish pursuit of Ruth’s happiness that Naomi found her path from bitterness to blessing. True, her pain was real… her husband and sons were still gone. But the nightmare that she had been living in was now filled with the new and precious light of a child that would not only bring joy and fulfillment back into the lives of Ruth and Naomi, but also bring about the salvation of the world.
The triumphant remastering of Crisis Core will finally allow the incredible story of Zack Fair to be discovered by an entirely new generation of fans…. bigger and better than ever before. Sure, for a long time it was a discarded relic from a long-forgotten system that is no longer in production. And in our pain, it is easy for us to feel forgotten, discarded, and abandoned as well. Crisis Core was an amazing game for its’ time…. it didn’t do anything wrong to deserve its’ original fate. It was just released on a doomed platform. And similarly, the tragedies we endure and the nightmares that follow are not necessarily our fault… this earthly platform we are currently running on is simply a flawed operating system that has been corrupted by the effect of the sinful choices of generations of selfish beings. Our once pleasant dreams may have been replaced with nightmares beyond our ability to escape, making our waking hours more painful than we believe we can bear. And the way out of this prison may not be in seeking a way back to OUR dreams but allowing the Lord to use us to fulfill the dreams of others. Just as Joseph’s unselfish interpretation of others dreams eventually led to his escape from prison and the fulfillment of his long-gestating dreams (Genesis 40-41), Naomi found her fulfillment in life once she assisted Ruth with achieving HER happy ending.
It can be hard to wipe the tears from someone else’s eyes when we can’t even see past our own. But as we saw with Naomi and Ruth, it is through our unselfish pursuit of using the gifts the Lord has given us to help others fulfill THEIR God-given dreams that many times the answers to our prayers and the fulfillment of our dreams can be found. Our tragedies don’t magically become pleasant simply through our service and devotion to Christ, and some of the things we have lost don’t find their way back to us… at least not on this side of eternity. But there IS an escape to the nightmare we are currently walking through, and we DON’T have to allow this darkness to rename us or define us. If we will raise our heads and look past our own sorrow, we will often find another soul who is enduring the same dream-shattering nightmare we are enduring… and if are willing to act as a conduit for the love of Christ to heal their pain, we will find that His grace will be sufficient for their needs as well as ours (2 Corinthians 12:9). The pain we are enduring is real, and the nightmare often seems more real than the dreams we once believed in. But the light that will illuminate our darkness may come from giving the little remaining light we have left to another who is in need, just as the widow who fed Elijah had to be willing to give her last remaining meal to receive the provision that would save her and her son (1 Kings 17:8-16). And as we are seeing with the Crisis Core Remaster which has been named “Reunion” by the game developers, we can also experience a beautiful reuniting of our hopes and dreams on the other side of our nightmare… by helping to carry a fellow soul out of their darkness and into the Lord’s healing light. We may find that this current painful epilogue we are playing through is actually just the prologue to a whole new story far beyond our wildest dreams.
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