Shinra's Experiments With Non-SOLDIER Combatants in the Remake

X-SOLDIER

Harbinger O Great Justice
AKA
X
#1
The Art Director of the Remake, Shintaro Takai, recently talked about designing things in the game, and this part about the enemies stood out to me most prominently:

Takai-san gives an interesting answer when asked what he wants to change in the remake compared to the original in terms of his field, which is visual effects. He mentioned that when working on the original Final Fantasy VII, he did not put as much thought into the effects as he does now.

For instance, there might have been an enemy emitted red flames while attacking even if it did not make much sense, just because it looked cool. Now, if an enemy emits red flames, it’s due to its nature, the weapons it uses, its energy source, and so forth. In this case, Takai-san also puts more thought into elements like emitted smoke and explosions. Even if it might not be official canon, he creates his own theories and stories about these things, so the effects at the time and those in the remake might not be directly connected.
This makes me incredibly pleased, because it's a component of solid, internally consistent world-building. Most interestingly to me (although I do joke about the Hell House) is the unexplored and creepy-as-hell stuff about Shinra's non-SOLDIER Combatants, and how I hope that the Remake really gives us some great stuff with them, because there is actually a LOT of detail and careful design about these enemies in particular that I'd love to see emphasized more heavily in the Remake, and I'm gonna go off into crazy detail about them.

Everyone's familiar with the classic Shinra MPs & the SOLDIER troops. They're Mako-showered humans, and at the end of the day, they're just human troops. Aside from that, Shinra also employs a large number of purely robotic troops and defense measures. Cloud refers to both groups in the classic line,
「俺が考えてるのは、さっさと仕事をおわらせたいってことだけだ。警備兵やガードロボットが来ないうちにな。」

However, there are a very particular group of enemy types in various locations in the Reactors, the HQ, and elsewhere that seems to land somewhere in the middle of those two categories of just Guards & Robots, that I've taken to calling "Combatants" as a catch-all term, and they're easily one of my favourite enemies in the game.

• Combatant: 戦闘員
• Special Combatant: 特殊戦闘員
• Senior Combatant: 上級戦闘員
• Strengthened Combatant: 強化戦闘員
• Aero Combatant: 空中兵

The first four all use the same "Combatant" term in Japanese 戦闘員 giving us a pretty clear indication that they're meant to be the same type of troop at their core. The only one here that doesn't (but amusingly are called Combatants in English) are the Aero Combatants.

First of all, how do we know they're not just robots? The Strengthened Combatants are the answer to that question. While it's not perfectly consistent, in-game Robots mostly have a breaking apart into bits animation, whereas organic things just disappear. In the case of the Strengthened Combatant, both animation types are used, where the robotic armor shatters off, but all other forms of this enemy turn red and fade.




The next thing to get into with them is their core design, and Mobius recently gave us a really damn good look a them:



The main design features between all 5 forms (7 technically) are consistent in-game, and in their concept art:
• Thin Humanoid.
• Unnaturally long feet.
• Large weaponized containers over their forearms.
• Some type of face-obscuring apparatus more extreme than the SOLDIER or MP helmets.
• Their head modifications posses some sort of gas-emitting attachment over the top of their heads.
• They see though a single robotic visor or robotic eye.

All of the main three Combatant forms all have sets of four kanji on their forearms:
• Combatant: 火気厳禁 Fire is prohibited, No open flames.
• Special Combatant: 問答無用 Arguing is pointless.
• Senior Combatant: 色即是空 – Matter is void, All is vanity.

The Strengthened Combatant has its four Kanji set on its forearms arms in its armored form, but possesses different kanji on its legs in its unarmored form, though it may only be visible in the Concept Art:
• 百発百中: Infallible, Always hitting the bullseye (they also have the Shinra logo on their shoulder)
• 交通安全: Traffic Safety

From the kanji there, it seems as though these types of Combatants aren't at all anomalous enemies, but that they're explicitly designed for a regular-use purpose in the general setting of FFVII. They give off a very distinct Shinra-type vibe in the messages that they carry around with them in a way where you'd expect to see them everywhere giving the sense of the unsettlingly oppressive environment. Their appearance existing in an uncanny valley of humanoid monster with de-humanizing cybernetic attachments itself is all poetically Shinra to the core.

The only ones lacking Kanji are the ones who don't have the same Japanese root name as the others, the Aero Combatants. However, their appearance provide additional details about these beings, as do the Unarmored variants of the Strengthened Combatants.

Like the Strengthened Combatants, the in-game enemy for Aero Combatants has two forms: flying & grounded. However, their forearms are replaced with propeller blades. Like the other Combatants, it's clear that these are heavily mechanical and not just some form of armor. When looking at the bare bodies of the Unarmored Combatants, it's clear that anywhere these massive capsules are attached, the thighs and shoulder joints also have bolts of some kind, where the rest of the limb between them is some lined, eerie emaciated section that's modified to accept the attachment.

On top of that, the Unarmored Strengthened Combatants' chests have familiar markings. They're the three bolts that would insert into the armor that SOLDIER use.

The Aero Combatants' heads are wide with flat helmets covering their whole heads, with a tube coming out the back connected to some sort of tank. This is especially interesting, since the concept art for the Combatant & Strengthened Combatant both show little gas lines coming from openings on their heads, which would suggest that this is a container, rather than something allowing them to breathe.

Here's where I'm going to venture a guess at the nature of our Combatants.

With the elongated clawed limbs, and odd cranial gas emission, I'm betting that they're some form of Makonoids and that the concentration of Mako Energy in their bodies is actually being tapped into, in order to power the cybernetic attachments that've been grafted into them. The off-gassing that we see from them is similar to what you'd see coming out the top of a reactor, but significantly reduced.

To me, this makes Shinra feel much more like the sort of weapons manufacturing company that has always seen humans as the means to an end, would be the sort of place that openly welcomes all of Hojo's totally fucked up experiments, and would drop a plate on a whole group of people without hesitation. With the name "Combatant" it's pretty clear that these things are an unexplored branch of Shinra military experimentation that none of the games has ever really dug into.

The Remake is an opportunity to do those sorts of things, and I'm thinking that with the recent interview, it's likely that we'll get more detail on these things than the original game provided – which, as you can see here, is already quite a bit.

(Hooray for writing an article bringing back all of my very tl;dr FFVII posting impulses!)




X :neo:
 

ChipNoir

Internet Ghost
AKA
Mister Spooks.
#3
It gets creepier with some of the more esoteric creatures like Brain Pods. The implication, now that I think on it, is that not only did JENOVA run amok in the building, but without anyone there to keep the labs on lock down, monsters that they were working on are now just freely roaming the halls of the lab and upper floors. That was a very BAD day to go to work for ShinRa employees. I could see them totally going a Resident Evil 1 type vibe for those portions.

I mean, it's hard to tell, but the implication of a brain pod seems to be a SEVERED HEAD in a teapot like aparatus that can cover about and spit out clouds of toxic vapor.

Hojo's twistedness really knows no bounds.
 
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AKA
The Engineer
#4
It would be great if they add more consistency and world building this way.

Probably one of my favorite things about the FFXIV Lore Book is that it has a complete Bestiary of nearly every enemy type in the game (same thing goes for FFXII's bestiary). It would be really, really cool if FFVII could get something similar in-game.

I also like that a game developer can admit how he's grown as a developer over the years.
 

X-SOLDIER

Harbinger O Great Justice
AKA
X
#5
I really hope that these connections means that we get some better overall consistency, but also have an excuse to dive into Shinra & Hojo's weirdness in more detail on little side stories or bits of background information, even if it's delivered like FFXV's Bestiary.

Also, if anyone can get some decent translations on the other notes on the Strengthened Combatant concept art, it'd be super appreciated, as I'm curious what else's there.







X :neo:
 

ChipNoir

Internet Ghost
AKA
Mister Spooks.
#6
I really hope that these connections means that we get some better overall consistency, but also have an excuse to dive into Shinra & Hojo's weirdness in more detail on little side stories or bits of background information, even if it's delivered like FFXV's Bestiary.

Also, if anyone can get some decent translations on the other notes on the Strengthened Combatant concept art, it'd be super appreciated, as I'm curious what else's there.







X :neo:
Well the translations are supposed to hit sometime this year in official publication, aren't they?
 
#7
I always just assumed they were humans in suits of armour.

They have the 'Shinra Officer' model in the field, and talk to you normally when you fight them in the rocket or the submarine. The first guy on the inside of the rocket that fights alone panics because he/she is expecting the Turks, and then in the battle screen he/she's a Senior Grunt in armour.
 

X-SOLDIER

Harbinger O Great Justice
AKA
X
#9
I always just assumed they were humans in suits of armour.

They have the 'Shinra Officer' model in the field, and talk to you normally when you fight them in the rocket or the submarine. The first guy on the inside of the rocket that fights alone panics because he/she is expecting the Turks, and then in the battle screen he/she's a Senior Grunt in armour.
Their equipment always gave me the sense that there was something more going on than the sort of standard issue armor that the MPs and SOLDIER had for their general troops. With the MPs and SOLDIER, we always see their mouths or arms or something else that indicates that they're humans. The Combatants' oddly crouched stance, with the too-thin upper arms, and long clawed feet & hands really always stood out to me with them. Their whole bodies showed no skin, and the battle models still really exaggerated the features well beyond just the stylistic look FFVII had with its characters that these particular guys always stuck in my head that something was up with them – especially in the concept art.

I always figured that they were humans at some point in the same way that all members of SOLDIER were. They're just... further augmented to the point that they were physically more monstrous – which felt more than likely given any of the number of things that Hojo had happening in his lab and the Nibelheim reactor. Experimentation with Mako infusion on people producing those features in test subjects seemed like the natural explanation, but one that wasn't focused on as a story beat, but something that's more hiding in plain sight as a detail of the setting itself.

Personally, I thought that you tended to encounter them in Reactors and other Mako-energy-saturated places because they'd be unaffected by long-term exposure to a toxic environment like that, so they made for ideal security troops in addition to the roboguards - hence why you only encounter the regular MPs outside the first reactor.

Also, my head canon when I first played FFVII was that Combatants were to normal People what Guard Hounds were to regular Dogs (which is why they both come in the Blue, Red, & Black varieties).




X :neo:
 

The Twilight Mexican

Ex-SeeD-ingly good
AKA
TresDias
#11
They mostly remind me of these guys from Dirge of Cerberus:



Like you, though, X, I remember always thinking that those various "Combatant" enemies were once human. Even when I first played the game.

The Beast SOLDIERs from Dirge really hammer home that possibility, though.
 

X-SOLDIER

Harbinger O Great Justice
AKA
X
#12
They mostly remind me of these guys from Dirge of Cerberus:



Like you, though, X, I remember always thinking that those various "Combatant" enemies were once human. Even when I first played the game.

The Beast SOLDIERs from Dirge really hammer home that possibility, though.
I'd totally forgotten to go check DoC's Deepground Soldiers, but I think that this one makes it even more clear and consistent when you look at the details:
• Head apparatus covering their whole face.
• Single robotic eye.

What's especially interesting (especially given my last comment) is that these ones have the same permanent-grin that the Makonoids do, as well as the spikes along their spines, but their stance and tail are just like the Guard Hounds:



DoC even has its own version of Guard Hound and Crimson Hounds

Another point I forgot to mention regarding their coloration: The Makonoids are also Blue & Red, which are the same colors as the first stages of the Combatants & Hounds. What makes that more than just coincidence to me is the fact that the Makonoid's coloration seems to be in the process of shifting since the red just stops at their thighs, but not in a way that makes their legs distinctly red.



But yeah, this feels like it's definitely an intentional branch of Shinra's military forces that're being subjected to a different type of experimentation than SOLDIER that knowingly leads to more monstrous results, that they're then augmenting with cybernetics to varying degrees. Whether that's operating husks with an AI, or just enhancement, it's something that's been there the whole time that hasn't been dug into much.



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Teioh

Pro Adventurer
AKA
Teiocho
#13

I still can't make out whether it's a barcode or letters/numbers on its left shoulder. And just look at its skin all stapled together, man, I've always loved FFVII's enemy designs.

I always just assumed they were humans in suits of armour.

They have the 'Shinra Officer' model in the field, and talk to you normally when you fight them in the rocket or the submarine. The first guy on the inside of the rocket that fights alone panics because he/she is expecting the Turks, and then in the battle screen he/she's a Senior Grunt in armour.
Off topic but this post plus the mention of Guard Hounds in X-SOLDIER's reminded me of that one time when I was failing at toppling the barrels to save Aerith and she was attacked by two dogs wearing an MP uniform. It did have me looking at the fact that no one noticed Red XIII wearing a uniform in a whole new light :lol:
 
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ChipNoir

Internet Ghost
AKA
Mister Spooks.
#15
So here's the interesting question: What do the public know and think of such things?

I pity the poor NPC that wanders into the wrong part of a subway system, or is caught out during a lockdown/curfew and runs into one of these things. Absolute nightmare material.

Another angle to consider: It may not be soldiers that are getting this treatment. I don't care how loyal a soldier you are, you don't really hold ranks very well if it's well known that you could be turned into a horrifying monster.

So ShinRa has to be getting it's resources from someplace else, as there seems to be no end of these creatures (Ignoring game logic).

Did it ever strike you as interesting that of all places to hold Avalanche, it's in the lab section? Why exactly does the ShinRa Inc Labs have prison-like cells at the TOP security floors? Surely ShinRa must have their own prisons.....right?




People probably have a way of vanishing in the middle of the night if they remotely start to act up, and then well...
 

X-SOLDIER

Harbinger O Great Justice
AKA
X
#16
So here's the interesting question: What do the public know and think of such things?

I pity the poor NPC that wanders into the wrong part of a subway system, or is caught out during a lockdown/curfew and runs into one of these things. Absolute nightmare material.
This is one part of the game that REALLY interests me that we've only ever heard the tiniest hints about in things like Denzel's story – what DO the people on the Plate really know about Shinra, and how do they feel about them?

What makes the Combatants particularly interesting is that it seems like they're designed such that they might actually end up being seen by civilians, which is why the Kanji messages are printed on their limbs, since it prevents a need to have them communicate for themselves in an every day environment.

The two most basic forms of Combatant have: 火気厳禁: "No open flames" and 交通安全: "Traffic Safety" printed on them, so that it seems like there's a way for your average citizen to understand what these things are doing without needing to attempt to approach or engage with them verbally. It's a really interestingly socially dissuasive way of keeping the public at arm's length from them. In a place where things like Sweepers and other large robotic things wouldn't be overly uncommon to some degree, I think that this is exactly the level of disconnect that you'd need to keep the general public from really digging in any deeper.

And for any of those that DO, well...

Another angle to consider: It may not be soldiers that are getting this treatment. I don't care how loyal a soldier you are, you don't really hold ranks very well if it's well known that you could be turned into a horrifying monster.

So ShinRa has to be getting it's resources from someplace else, as there seems to be no end of these creatures (Ignoring game logic).

Did it ever strike you as interesting that of all places to hold Avalanche, it's in the lab section? Why exactly does the ShinRa Inc Labs have prison-like cells at the TOP security floors? Surely ShinRa must have their own prisons.....right?

People probably have a way of vanishing in the middle of the night if they remotely start to act up, and then well...
Yeah, my thoughts were along the same lines, but given that they're missing ends of their limbs and had robotic enhancements/replacements, and were called "Combatants" I had always assumed that it was related to the way that they dealt with injuries from the Wutai War (and I wouldn't assume it was only their own injured troops either). Zack and Cloud's situation is solid proof that they're more than happy to subject their own former subjects to experimentation if it helps to cover up an incident of any kind, so I wouldn't be surprised if any security employees suffering from work-related injuries go in for "treatment" and just don't come back.

Either way, it all just reinforces that Shinra was always more interested in people being means to an end than really who it was that they selected for their experimentation.

I could be mistaken, but I don't really think that it's ever really clarified exactly who they've been abducting for the Makonoid experiments, especially out in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a long road that's barely connected to Nibelheim. I think that the answer to that and the answer to the human source of our Combatants are very closely intertwined.




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The Twilight Mexican

Ex-SeeD-ingly good
AKA
TresDias
#17
Just who the makonoids were and what they were being used for really is a mystery that the game raises, then never bothers with ever again. I feel like we will see more of it this go round.

Also, looks like you've got material for another article, X. =P
 

ChipNoir

Internet Ghost
AKA
Mister Spooks.
#18
Or a Youtube colab video? I'm still learning Sony Vegas, and I've gotten a taste of it with Vizzy, and I wanna keep going with projects, especially this summer. I'd love to work on this with yah! I've got a lot of time on my hands in a few weeks.
 
#19
Also chiming into say I love this thread.

And yeah, I also thought the combatants were some kind of human when I first played it. Though the big armored dudes with roller skates underneath I was never sure if they were just robots or what.
 

X-SOLDIER

Harbinger O Great Justice
AKA
X
#20
Just who the makonoids were and what they were being used for really is a mystery that the game raises, then never bothers with ever again. I feel like we will see more of it this go round.

Also, looks like you've got material for another article, X. =P
I was thinking the same thing. It ties in really well with the new interview that just came out, so I was thinking on working on it this weekend since I don't have D&D, but letting it wait a until later on in the week before posting it.

Or a Youtube colab video? I'm still learning Sony Vegas, and I've gotten a taste of it with Vizzy, and I wanna keep going with projects, especially this summer. I'd love to work on this with yah! I've got a lot of time on my hands in a few weeks.
Shademp mentioned that my last article would work really well as a video, too. Having been digging through comments on Kotaku there's a big split between users who like reading articles vs. those who like watching them, but I am 100% on board doing a collaboration with any of these sorts of things, even if it's converting extant articles as just a way of stretching out to a broader audience.

Also chiming into say I love this thread.

And yeah, I also thought the combatants were some kind of human when I first played it. Though the big armored dudes with roller skates underneath I was never sure if they were just robots or what.
<3




X :neo:
 
#21
Whatever the Combatants are underneath those fighting uniforms, one of two things has to be true about them:

- they have no agency or real consciousness and are controlled/programmed by Shinra
- they are happy being what they are, and are voluntarily loyal to Shinra

You don't take a bunch of, for example, condemned prisoners, turn them against their will into highly powered fighting machines, and then just let them lose, unless you are pretty sure you can trust them not to turn on you

Human beings are so fucking weird I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that all the Combatants had volunteered for that service.
 

ChipNoir

Internet Ghost
AKA
Mister Spooks.
#22
Whatever the Combatants are underneath those fighting uniforms, one of two things has to be true about them:

- they have no agency or real consciousness and are controlled/programmed by Shinra
- they are happy being what they are, and are voluntarily loyal to Shinra

You don't take a bunch of, for example, condemned prisoners, turn them against their will into highly powered fighting machines, and then just let them lose, unless you are pretty sure you can trust them not to turn on you

Human beings are so fucking weird I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that all the Combatants had volunteered for that service.
There is the whole fact that these things are only in reactors and restricted floors. The reactors all seem to be self-run, and probably only have annual inspections.

So I can very easily imagine these things just roaming around as semi-primative monsters that attack anything that they're not programmed to ignore.
 

X-SOLDIER

Harbinger O Great Justice
AKA
X
#23
Alright, this is definitely happening.

I'm actively in the process of compiling image assets to turn this into an article, and utilizing the list of the image assets from Mobius, and while not all angles look this way, the side-view of the Guard Hound eyes give a VERY particular glow:



I'm going full forward on the theory that these mutations are all Mako-Exposure related, and I'll dig into the Guard Hounds a bit more, and tie the similarities between them, the Combatants, and Beast Soldiers in together. With this, there's also enough to compare original concept art, old FFVII models, and the current Remake Renders / Mobius Art.


Additionally, once I finish work on this one, I think that I'm gonna be in a good position to write another article about Jenova's Portrayal in the Remake that I was initially gonna loop into my first one but wanted to split out into its own thing since (like this) I think that there's a shitton to go over that's worth taking time.





X :neo:
 

X-SOLDIER

Harbinger O Great Justice
AKA
X
#25
Oops... I slipped and accidentally the whole article already. :awesomonster:
I still need some proof-reading, but yeah. It's all there and done in a draft now, so if Shad/Tres/Lex want to check it out, go ahead or just PM me, and I'll get about to doing edits when I can.

I'm gonna start on the Jenova one at some point soon as well, but I will definitely re-ignite that thread as soon as I set about to dive into that.

I think this one will work best if I wait until Monday to post it, so that the current one's got some time to breathe and have some people run across it.





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