Final Fantasy VII Remake was released just ten days ago and it has been a pop culture event. Final Fantasy VII has been considered one of the most important games of the last thirty years. Characters like Barrett Wallace have become iconic. The game’s legacy allowed it to be inducted into the coveted World Video Game Hall of Game two years prior.
To say that Final Fantasy VII is influential would be a gross understatement. With such influence comes a wealth of unprecedented responsibility to not paint with generalizations and stereotypes in your storytelling and characters. A few years ago I wrote a piece on SquareEnix‘s trouble with black characters. It struck a cord with a lot of people but there was fair amount of pushback from devout Barrett Wallace fans. They felt that I reduced him down to just an Angry Black Man. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy VII didn’t do a great job of giving Barrett any type of nuance back then. The genre was still very infantile. Some mentioned that the western localization changed Barrett significantly.
Regardless of those circumstances and whomever is to blame, Squaresoft released the game to the world with that characterization of Barrett. My critique was pointed because mass media has painted black people in the worst light and Barrett only contributed to that narrative that black men are loud, angry, foul-mouth, gun-touting, ignorant “thugs” that lacked self-control and tact.
In addition, another point of contention was my “total disregard for his parenting.” You don’t get points for being a good parent. Being a good parent is the bare minimal. You are suppose to be a good parent. The bar is set pretty low. But I’m not here to hammer on whether or not I think Barrett is a good parent. There’s enough evidence to argue both sides, especially now with the Remake.
Our Old Friend Barrett Wallace
One of the best things about a “Remake” is that you get to revisit characters and expand on them. Final Fantasy VII Remake did a great job of expanding on all the characters in the game; even ones that had limited roles in the original. However, one character that definitely needed to be updated to modern times was Barrett.
Barrett Is Kinda Quirky
There was definitely a balancing act that needed to occur with refurbishing his character. Barrett’s character in the original game was pretty much Mr. T with a gun arm. It was one dimensional and was riddled with American stereotypes about Black men. This was a great opportunity to give Barrett’s character some much needed dimensions.
Barrett is so obnoxious in this game but it’s forgiven because it makes him so much more endearing. Barrett is such a dork in this game and hearing him sing the Victory Fanfare was amazing. And he does it quite a bit in the game. It softened his rough and menacing exterior.
Barrett Shows His Fears
One of my favorite moments was seeing Barrett be scared of heights. Even a guy as big and strong as he is still has fears just like everyone else. It made Barrett relatable and more human. He wasn’t just some hulking mountain of muscle and anger. Him being openly fearful despite trying to play it off added a lot to his character.
Barrett Can Be Vulnerable
Moreover, it was great in this “Remake” seeing Barrett be vulnerable independent of Marlene. I felt that Marlene was the only time Barrett showed any range of emotion outside of anger in the original game. I think great characters need to be able to express themselves in a multitude of ways independent of other characters being that motivation to do so. Many argued that Marlene was the source of his vulnerability. But that doesn’t do much for Barrett the man. He is still a person too and needs to be explored without the need of a child to bring that vulnerability out.
In closing, I really think that SquareEnix did a great job with his character. I think that’s due to his amazing voice actor John Bentley. He did an awesome job bringing Barrett to life. Also, the script was handled very well. Barrett’s lines and dialogue were true to the character while adding a lot of personality to him. He was able to be a multifaceted, fully realized character that was not burden by racial stereotypes. Barrett has layers and hopefully we get to see more of them.