Final Fantasy VII Remake is not a self-insert RPG, but that didn’t stop me from finding some of its very heteronormative scenarios and dialogue off-putting.
It’s not so much that it feels like the game’s assuming anything of the player, as games like Persona 5 or the early Mass Effects do, but it at least makes assumptions about people with little to no hesitation. The sexual tension between Cloud Strife and Jessie Rasberry has reached meme levels so high people talk more about her advances on the hero than they do her actual inner conflicts. Cloud says the name of a woman and someone has to ask if she’s his girlfriend. Little by little, these lines and situations add up to paint a picture of a heterocentric view of the world, and while we are slowly chipping away at these notions in the real world, Final Fantasy VII Remake is based on a game from 20 years ago. Detractors might argue that it makes sense that these dated notions of the kinds of relationships men and women can have are part of being a faithful recreation of what Final Fantasy VII was in the 90s.
So, good lord, was it a relief to walk into the Honey Bee Inn.
Back in the original Final Fantasy VII, the Honey Bee Inn was a brothel, treated about as crassly as you’d expect something like that to be in 1997. In a (smart) move to make the game more tasteful and in line with modern sensibilities, Final Fantasy VII Remake instead portrays the inn as a cabaret nightclub. Some of the bullet points are still intact, like the female staff still wearing the honey bee costumes they wore 20 years ago, but now the inn is the home of nightly entertainment, all under the calculated, guiding hand of a man named Andrea Rhodea.
Originally, Cloud and Aerith are denied an audience with Andrea. While the two are looking for an endorsement to take part in an audition for a man named Corneo, all in an effort to save Tifa, who is taking part in this same tryout later that night, they’re turned away at the Honey Bee Inn as Andrea is booked for literally years from now. But after striking up a deal with Madam M, which puts them in a coliseum match where they’re, for literally no reason other than their standing proximity to one another, billed as a couple who is fighting in the coliseum as a date. The exhaustive joke gets made a dozen times over through the course of the mission, but while all this is going on, one Andrea Rhodea is watching, and he’s intrigued.
While Madam M’s endorsement lets Aerith into Corneo’s mansion, Cloud isn’t allowed in, as the engagement is exclusively for women. But luckily, he’s caught the attention of one person who is both willing to give him an endorsement and the look he’ll need to make it to the audition.
But despite his intrigue, Andrea isn’t going to just hand over an endorsement and a makeover befitting of someone auditioning for Corneo. No, Cloud has to earn both of these things by showing Andrea that he can keep up in a dance off. And friends, it is a beautifully gay moment in a game that was, not an hour prior, forcing a straight narrative on people for just being in the same room as one another.
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There are a few reasons why this sequence works as well as it does. Despite the entire thing seeming out of character for Cloud, a mercenary who’s not exactly been expressing a lot of emotion up to this point, him being dragged out of his element is rooted in the strong motivation of trying to save Tifa, and everything the Honey Bee Inn throws at him, from the dance off, to the Andrea’s overt flirting, is never treated as invasive or uncomfortable to Cloud beyond him just adjusting to the new environment. In general, everyone seems at home here, as Wall Market mainstays like Chocobo Sam and Madam M are seen in the audience having a great time, and Aerith is cheering Cloud on every time the camera points in her direction.
But once Cloud is convinced he’s got to dance to accomplish his goals, he commits, and matches Andrea for every step. As bizarre as it is to see one man dancing in armor while the other is in a more venue appropriate outfit, the scene oozes a playful, but sensual chemistry between both men. The actual rhythm game mechanics may be lackluster, but the scene is so well choreographed and shot that that was the last thing I was thinking about when the scene was over.
Once Cloud has proven himself on the dance floor, Andrea agrees to both endorse him for the audition and give him a drag makeover so he can get past Corneo’s guards. After Cloud is audition ready, the Honey Bee Inn patrons cheer in support, and his dressing as a woman is never once treated as something worthy of ridicule or shame. Andrea gives Cloud one last bit of advice after one last dance:
“True beauty is an expression of the heart. A thing without shame to which notions of gender don’t apply. Don’t ever be afraid, Cloud.”
The Honey Bee Inn and its loud and proud owner are but a footnote on Cloud’s journey, but they’re both an expression of values that might not fit within the main storyline of a 20-year-old game. It’s an unapologetically queer space in a story that could have, theoretically, gotten away with pretending these things didn’t exist in its world. But rather than run away from it, Final Fantasy VII Remake dives headfirst into a queerness that’s otherwise just beneath the surface. And it’s all led by a queer man who is confident, unfaultering, and never made to feel like he’s anything less than a star on his own stage.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is constantly dealing with the push and pull of purest nostalgia and being a modern take on what is widely considered to be one of the most important games of its time. At times it feels hamstrung by expectations of what Final Fantasy VII should be, rather than what it can be, but when it came to the Honey Bee Inn and its owner, it hit the sweet spot.