We’re coming up on the portion of the game that focuses on developing Barret’s character a little bit, which is great. He’s been a difficult character to relate to up to this point, because he has the unfortunate job of being the World’s Only Black Man as well as the Idealistic Terrorist Leader.
Those are not easy roles to fill; I’d probably buckle under the pressure.
I remember when Final Fantasy VII first came out that there was a lot of buzz on the internet about the fact that Barret is a horrible black stereotype (Square Enix has since avoided repeating this problem by just not having black characters in Final Fantasy–except for Sazh in Final Fantasy XIII, who has an afro shaped like a bird’s nest) who speaks only in slang, is shown repeatedly to be a poor leader, and comes off as little more than a parody of Mr. T. Unfortunately, that’s all true.
One point in Barret’s favor is that he doesn’t speak so much in slang as his dialect is emphasized. I chalk this one up to just a sub-par translation. Yes, it’s problematic that in a game with nine playable characters it was the black man whose voice was most distinctively written, but a lot of the writing in the localization is just a little flat. I’d guess that he was written stereotypically (at least for the English translation) because racial stereotypes provided an easy shortcut in characterization.
Also, the Japanese are kind of racist.
Despite Barret’s problems as a character, the Corel/Gold Saucer sequence is his time to shine. We get his backstory, which involves him lobbying for his hometown to let Shinra build a Mako reactor nearby because coal mining isn’t the industry it once was (though it’s not stated explicitly, we could probably infer that coal is no longer a major energy source precisely because Shinra started building Mako reactors). After the reactor’s built, Barret has second thoughts and goes to take a look at it with his friend Dyne. They’re mistaken for rebels (an earlier incarnation of AVALANCHE had just attacked the reactor) and shot at, leading to the incident in which Barret lost the use of his right hand. Because Shinra thought that they were affiliated with AVALANCHE, the town of Corel was burnt down. Barret returned to find the town in ruins where he discovered Dyne’s newborn daughter, still alive. He subsequently adopted her as his own.
The most important thing we pick up from this flashback is that Barret’s talk about saving the planet is really a facade for his deeper personal vendetta against Shinra for massacring his hometown. Yeah, he cares about saving the planet, but like Tifa, he’s motivated more by his need for revenge. We also discover that because Barret advocated for the building of the reactor, he’s an outcast in the shantytown North Corel, where the survivors from old Corel have banded together.
The stress of being confronted with his past leaves Barret in a bad mood, and when the party departs for the Gold Saucer, a giant tree-shaped amusement park situated in the middle of the Corel desert (the mythology nerd in me feels this was a missed opportunity to get some mileage out of the name Yggdrasil), Barret runs off to be by himself. Then, with the help of a plot hole big enough for Barret to fit through, there’s a shooting at the park, and the culprit is a man with a gun on his arm.
We discover after being thrown in the Gold Saucer’s desert prison that the perpetrator is actually Barret’s friend Dyne, who had a similar operation performed after his hand was mangled in the same incident as Barret’s. Dyne is also the boss of the prison, which leaves me wondering exactly how he got out of the prison in order to go on a killing spree, and then managed to get back inside the prison without anyone noticing that he’d escaped. I think I’d prefer to believe that Barret really did just snap and kill some people, and he’s disassociated himself from the events due to extreme trauma (it wouldn’t be the first time this game’s pulled a narrative trick like that).
Anywho, Barret deals with his personal demons by shooting his best friend repeatedly (it’s okay, that doesn’t kill Dyne; the suicidal leap off a cliff does), and the party escapes from the Gold Saucer prison thanks to Cloud’s superhuman chocobo jockeying skills. As a consolation prize for all the confusion, the park’s owner gives us a car and sends us on our way before we kill any more of his guests.