Video games have a complicated relationship with sex.
Relationships in general, romance as a side note, but particularly sex, and all the sex-adjacent parts of life. If I ask you to think about sex in games, some will immediately remember the Hot Coffee incident, where Rockstar accidentally left code in GTA San Andreas which allowed the main character to have poorly animated, full-clothed dry humping sessions with NPCs; it was hard to swallow that as a controversy even at the time, but still occupies the industry consciousness. Some might think of Bioware’s adorably tame fading-to-black, where Commander Shepard or Thedas’ Inquisitor culminate their game-long romance by cuddling their special someone in bed and, well, you know, the thing happens.
What you won’t see very often—outside of games literally about sex—is characters in a story who are absolutely gagging for one another, consumed by sexual or romantic feelings in a meaningful way. Nobody really wants to bang in mainstream video games, basically. They might talk your ear off about their emotions and how important you are to them, or how the galaxy exploding really made them think about what matters, but they don’t get messy. It’s all sterile, calculated, friendly the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Windows 11, or a Children’s Illustrated Bible is friendly.
And then there’s Final Fantasy VII Remake, kicking in the door, covered in sweat and dirt, shirt half untucked, confused and embarrassed look on its face.
Even if you haven’t played it, the first thing you probably learned about the game was that the character designs were all uncomfortably hot, and that’s part of the appeal, but beyond the superficial FFVIIR has a raw, haphazard sexuality present in every aspect of its design. The characters aren’t just sexy, they’re sexual. Human. They want one another in a breathtakingly forward manner, stopping the plot in its tracks frequently to have an indulgent pine over one of their very sexy colleagues.
Let’s take a look at Jessie Rasberry, which absolutely is her real name. In the original game, Jessie is an Avalanche freedom fighter who helps blow up a few Shinra reactors before getting unambiguously pancaked by a falling city block. In the Remake, however, she’s reimagined primarily as Someone Who Wants to Have Sex With Cloud Strife. This version of the character flirts mercilessly with Cloud, teasingly attempts to get his attention at various points, gives him gifts, and invites him to meet her parents (in order to rob them). Jessie kisses Cloud on the cheek during one mission, which makes Cloud very flustered, because he’s a very large, human-shaped golden retriever. Jessie’s flirting is so overt that Cloud at one point tries to divert her by calling her desperate, and she invites him over for a date that has particularly intense sexual implications.
They’re not all so in-your-face horny in Midgar, but that same feeling of humans being humans despite themselves runs through all the characters. Cloud clearly has heavy feelings for Tifa and weird new emotions bubbling up about Aerith, but he was a Soldier with a capital S, and they never taught you what to do about awkward, sexy thoughts; Tifa is a powerful and independent woman, and is still very ready to try and make herself known enough to get some romantic attention; Aerith is the quirky Zooey Deschanel next door, but she dedicates a good portion of her energy to making herself come across as sexy and capable as Tifa. Even Barrett—whose sexual exploits are limited to the ones that produced his daughter—exudes a messy vigour in every scene.
A tremendous amount of developer energy has gone into making sure players don’t just find these characters sexy, they find them to be sexual creatures. Ridiculous skin textures, realistic sweating, and hyper-realistic anime-style hair exists not merely to impress the audience, but to impress upon them the three-dimensional nature of the cast. Yes, they’re attractive and alluring, but they don’t want to have sex with you, they want to have sex with each other. Which is far more interesting.
That’s what’s so intriguing about the overwhelmingly horny nature of this game, it treats the character’s sexuality as an integral part of the storytelling process. Where many video games may have sexy character designs simply to titillate the player, FFVIIR uses it to increase the emotional and intellectual connection we have to these fictional people. Beyond the literal plot points about terrorism, capitalist hellscapes, living planets, and human experimentation, Remake makes us care about the individuals and their dirty thoughts. Aside from Jessie’s eagerness, a lot of the steaminess is communicated with 10% dialogue and 90% body language. In fact, have you seen how good these characters look when they’re touching each other? Do you know how difficult that is to achieve with 3D graphics? Just the scene in the ghost-infested train yard, where Tifa and Aerith both grip Cloud’s oblivious and perfectly-toned arms, must have cost a fortune in technology, time and labour. All to give us another indicator that these people absolutely want to get nasty.
This isn’t a game that shies away from sex or the sexual, and it doesn’t get weirdly defensive or judgemental about it either. Aside from Cloud’s reflex deflection of Jessie’s advances, nobody ever shuns anyone for being sexual or expressing themselves. Midgar is a safe place, at least down below.
Having that sort of acceptance allows them to use these aspects of the characters—and aspects of the human experience—in broader pieces of the game. On several occasions during the game, you have the chance to determine what sort of attractive outfit a character wears. In Tifa’s case, this is done by choosing the description which you think best suits, rather than by just picking the hot one; for Aerith, the dress she wears is picked by the game based on how many people you chose to help with side quests in the Wall Market. Both require you to connect on some level with the characters and the world.
The section where you need to enter Corneo’s mansion, infamously played for laughs in the original because Cloud needs to dress as a woman, is transformed into a complex minigame where Cloud needs to learn to dance as a gateway to learning to express his true self. It’s not accidental that this part of the game uses the language of burlesque, a performance art known for allowing participants to harness their sexual confidence. So many parts of the game that seem frivolous and ridiculous at first glance are actually using the raw humanity of the characters to bring you closer to them as a player.
On a macro scale, this is all serving the bigger story as well. Flirtation, romance, and sex are all framed as a necessary distraction from the soul-sucking dystopia in which these characters live out their lives.
Midgar is a blatantly horrible place filled with inequality and death, but the people in the slums survive and thrive because they maintain what makes them human. That includes sex, sometimes. Compare the Wall Market—which we first see as a seedy nightmare full of debauchery and criminals, but later come to embrace as a melting pot of people simply trying to enjoy themselves—to the cold, harsh architecture of the Shinra Headquarters. Shinra represents the cutting away of everything human, flattening and removing imperfections until only things that are ‘useful’ remain. In contrast, the Wall Market is excessive, loud, filthy; it has texture. You can sense the stories behind every corner in the Market, and imagine all the inappropriate acts happening behind every door. Nothing truly sexy has ever happened in the Shinra building, unless you find black marble and expense reports arousing.
Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s sexy and sex-distracted characters exist to tell us the same thing that the story of the game does: life is messy, and exciting, and it makes you want to kiss people and make horrible, sexy mistakes, and enjoy all the weird parts. If you take out the sex, the dirt, the fumbling looks and awkward touching, the colour, then you’re killing it. I hope that other developers look at this oddly-horny JRPG and see that games could stand to be a little less sanitised and a lot more emotional, to match the unsanitary, emotional people that play them.
Let more video game characters fuck each other, it’s good storytelling.