Barret Wallace artwork by Tetsuya Nomura
|Final Fantasy VII|
|Final Fantasy VII|
Barret Wallace (バレット・ウォーレス, Baretto Wōresu) is a player character in Square Enix's role playing game Final Fantasy VII. Created by character designer Tetsuya Nomura, he has since appeared in the CGI film sequel, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children as well as other games and media in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII series. As of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Barret is voiced by Masahiro Kobayashi in Japanese and Beau Billingslea in English localizations.
Barret is first introduced in Final Fantasy VII as a terrorist, leading the group "AVALANCHE" to bomb power plants in the fictional city of Midgar to avenge the losses dealt him by the city's ruling company, Shinra, under the pretense of saving the planet. As the story progresses, Barret re-examines his efforts and focuses AVALANCHE's to pursuing villain Sephiroth to protect the planet and the future of his adopted daughter, Marlene. Elements of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII would later expand upon his character, detailing the character's history before and after the events of the original game.
The first black playable character in the Final Fantasy series, Barret's portrayal through his appearance and sometimes profane speech has been heavily compared to that of actor Mr. T, earning praise for this aspect but also heavy criticism and accusations of being a racist presentation of black people by sources such as IGN. In contrast, others have defended the character's positive aspects, and publications such as Edge have described the character as bringing something new to the series.
Conception and design
Designed by Tetsuya Nomura, Barret was present in Final Fantasy VII since its early development, and one of the only three intended playable characters for the entire game, developed after protagonist Cloud Strife and heroine Aerith Gainsborough. During a phone call to project director Yoshinori Kitase, the idea was suggested at some point within the game to permanently kill one of the characters, and after heavy discussion it was decided between Aerith and Barret to have Aerith die, as they felt Barret's death would be "too obvious".
Standing 6 feet 5 inches (197 cm) tall, Barret's name is a Japanese transliteration of the English word "Bullet", and was developed in mind to have the "Gunner" character class. He appears as a black large male (the first black playable character in the series) with a high and tight haircut and full beard, and an earring on his left ear. His attire consists of a jacket with torn sleeves, dark green pants, boots, a fingerless glove on his left hand, and metal bands surrounding his abdomen and left wrist. His left upper arm is covered by a tattoo, designed with a "skull and fire" motif in mind. In early versions of Barret's design he had both hands and was armed with a wrist-mounted bowgun; this was later changed by replacing his right hand with a prosthetic gatling gun (called a "Gimmick Arm") which he refers to as his "partner" in-game. He was also originally planned to have a medallion around his neck, described as a gift from his deceased wife despite in itself not being feminine looking. This aspect was later changed to a set of dog tags.
When developing Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Nomura stated that because of heavy comparison between Barret's original design and Mr. T, they decided to take it in a different direction for the film. They used director Takeshi Nozue's suggestion to give him cornrows for his hair, while Nomura designed his face. Artist Yusuke Naora influenced the design as well, also developing his attire, which originally planned to use white overalls before instead giving him a down vest. Barret's arm tattoo was changed as well, though retained the "skull and fire" motif of the original. Other aspects of his design included the loss of the metal bands around his body, a white sleeve extending from the middle of his right forearm to his elbow fastened by straps, a black band on his left forearm surrounded by a pink string and bow, and a fishnet shirt that ends in torn fibers below his waist. The dog tags were altered to a bullet and medallion supported by a chain around his neck, and three rings covered his left hand. His Gimmick Arm was modified into a robotic prosthetic hand, developed by Nomura with the only guideline of being also "a huge, over-the-top gun that transforms in a huge, over-the-top way". Nozue stated that these specifics made it difficult to work with, and decided to conceal the hand's transformation sequence into the gun as much as possible.
When choosing a voice actor for him, Nomura was initially unsure of having Masahiro Kobayashi do the role of Barret or another character in the film, Loz. Kobayashi described his performance as treating Barret as "unrefined [...] but also dependable and unique", trying to keep his "upbeat character and good outlook in mind". He tried to give him a booming, confident sounding voice, though at times was instructed to "take it up a notch".
Final Fantasy VII
Introduced in Final Fantasy VII in 1997, Barret is introduced as the leader of the terrorist organization known as AVALANCHE, armed with a gun grafted to his arm. Situated in city of Midgar, his group opposes the ruling company, Shinra, and their use of "Mako" energy from the planet as a power source. To this end AVALANCHE bombs their power plants, under the goal of saving the planet. To this end he hires Cloud Strife as a mercenary at the behest of his friend Tifa Lockhart, nicknaming him "Spiky" in reference to his hairstyle. After the deaths of several members of AVALANCHE, he follows Cloud out of Midgar in pursuit of the game's villain, Sephiroth.
Along the way he encounters a former friend of his, Dyne, armed in a manner similar to him and who forces Barret to kill him. Through flashbacks its revealed that Shinra had desired to build a power plant in his home town of Corel, an idea Barret advocated. However due to an accident at the plant, Shinra razed the town, killing Barret's wife in the process, and causing Barret and Dyne to flee with Dyne's daughter, Marlene. Cornered, Dyne slipped off the cliff they stood upon and Barret grabbed his hand; Shinra soldier's opened fire, and destroyed Barret's and Dyne's right and left hands respectively, causing the latter to fall to his presumed death. Barret adopted Marlene as his daughter, had an "adapter" grafted to his arm to interface with prosthetic weapons to combat Shinra, and founded AVALANCHE. Dyne's death causes him to admit his grudge with Shinra is solely for revenge, with earlier claims of "saving the world" meant to convince himself as well. Barret shifts his goal to actually saving the world, doing so for Marlene's sake, and helps Cloud and his allies defeat Sephiroth to prevent the planet's destruction.
Early drafts of Barret's background featured subtle differences, such as Marlene intended to be Barret's biological daughter, and his wife executed in front of him by a then-undecided Shinra executive. The attack on Corel was initially written to be due to the discovery of Mako energy and Shinra's desire to keep its existence a secret. Barret's reunion with Dyne was also originally different, written to culminate in a duel between the two in Corel's ruins while Cloud and the others fought investigating Shinra soldiers.
Compilation of Final Fantasy VII
Barret appeares in Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII, a 2005 mobile video game prequel to the events of Final Fantasy VII, shown during the events prior to Corel's destruction. He helps the game's protagonists, the Turks, defend the power plant, believing it to be the town's future. It is revealed that the plant is under attack by the original AVALANCHE group, who are responsible for Shinra's attack upon the town. Unaware of their involvement, Barret uses their ideals to form his own branch of the group.
In 2005, Barret appears in the CGI film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which details the events after Sephiroth's defeat. Barret places Marlene in Tifa's care, travelling the world to rebuild the planet's infrastructure due to the collapse of Shinra as well as find alternate power sources to replace Mako. He returns later to assist in combating the film's villains, the Remnants. He later appears in the 2006 video game Dirge of Cerberus, helping the protagonist Vincent Valentine prevent Omega from destroying the planet.
A novella entitled Case of Barret was released in 2007 exclusively for American and European audiences as part of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children's "Collector's Edition". Written by Kazushige Nojima, it details the events between Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, examining Barret's reaction to his weapon and belief it made him a monster. At the conclusion of the story, Barret visits the creator of the adapter on his wrist and receives the prosthetic hand/gun combination seen in the film, reasoning while he needs a hand he still needs a weapon to prevent others from needing to fight, and decides to return to Marlene.
Barret's heavy comparisons to Mr. T by the media has resulted in both praise and criticism, most notably of the criticism being accusation of serving as a negative racial stereotype towards African Americans. IGN argued in favor of this point, citing his use of "stilted slang", and stating that the character stands out amongst the cast because "his dialog is written as if it was run through a broken ebonic translator", further noting it as a trend in Japanese games to apply such dialogue to characters based on their skin color. Journalist Jeremy Parish agreed that it was a depiction of racism, though he argued that cultural gap between Japan and the United States and the lack of American translators for Final Fantasy VII may have been a contributing factor, citing that the likeness of Barret to Mr. T was possibly an attempt to make a character that appealed to Americans as the actor did.
In contrast on 1UP.com, Parish argued in favor of Barret, noting that while on the surface he appeared to be the "worst kind of stereotype", he was a great character with complexity, having made "difficult decisions in his life, and agonized over his losses". Parish went further to describe Barret as the "first true father figure the [Final Fantasy] series had ever seen", noting his relationship with his adopted daughter. RPGamer's content manager Shawn Bruckner took the discussion further, arguing that claims of Barret's presentation being racist was over-simplification of the character's portrayal, and states that while he was in some aspects a stereotype, in others such as his compassion towards his daughter or guilt regarding his past actions, he was not. He added that Barret "shows us that a black man speaking in 'ebonics' is not something to fear", and that his portrayal was not racist but instead the opposite.
Despite their criticism, IGN ranked Barret fourth "Top 10" best sidekick characters in video games, stating he "took the videogame world by storm" when introduced and noting that his portrayal was also appealing, further adding that his past made him a visibly loyal character. Joystiq named him one of twenty characters from the Final Fantasy franchise they wished to see in Square Enix's crossover fighting game Dissidia, noting a preference for his use of profanity and citing his combat abilities as easily suitable for the game. Edge praised Barret's introduction as something "new" to the series, citing both his use of a gun and being a "distinctively black" character, and further describing him as a "pseudo-nod" to similarly armed characters such as Mega Man or Samus Aran, who in contrast were either robots or encased in armor. In a 1UP's article whose author, Bob Mackey, commented which actors should portray the Final Fantasy VII characters if a live-action film was made, Barret's actor was Wendell Pierce, finding that Pierce's acting in series The Wire easily made him suitable to portray Barret.
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- Tetsuya Nomura (Director). (2005-09-14). Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. [DVD]. Square Enix. "Barret: What up, fool! It's Barret. I am the man! Oil, Cloud! I just found the biggest damn oil field you ever seen. Surveying's done, so I should be able to come over and see Marlene soon. You let her know, all right, Spiky?"
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- Buchanan, Levi (2009-03-06). A History of Insensitivity. IGN. Retrieved on 2009-06-29
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- Barret Wallace character profile at the official Square Enix Final Fantasy VII website