So what do you do once you’ve escaped from an oppressive megalopolis where it always seems to be night time and a crazed murderer has apparently just run amok on the top floors of the evil corporation that owns said oppressive megalopolis?
You go for a walk, that’s what.
Finishing the Midgar segment in Final Fantasy VII was a really big deal when I was a kid. This was the first game I ever owned on the original Playstation, and because I wasn’t familiar with the limitations of optical drives, I spent about a week without a memory card to save my game. Leaving the system on while I wasn’t playing was not an option, so I repeated the Midgar sequence right up to climbing the wire out of Wall Market multiple times before I was finally able to move on. While nowadays I never play without a memory card, and I can finish Midgar in the approximately six hours it takes from the start of the game, every time I get to this point in a play through, I feel a sense of accomplishment. For me, getting out of Midgar originally took closer to twenty hours of playtime, even if most of it was never recorded.
This is all to say that getting access to the world map is a really big deal for me.
Now that I’m older, I’m learning to better appreciate the amount of detail that went into the pre-rendered backgrounds drawn for town and dungeon areas, but when I was a kid, the more polygons I saw on the screen the better. It was magical being thrust into a world where for the first time that I can remember, I could move the camera around and look off to the horizon in any direction. It felt like there really were no limitations on what could happen.
Of course, any seasoned gamer knows that world maps are just a clever way to disguise a linear experience by giving you segments in between important places where you can wander around aimlessly, even though there’s usually nothing else of interest besides your next objective.
Nonetheless, seeing Midgar from the outside was an amazing experience the first time, and it always brings back fond memories when I see Cloud towering next to the city like some great purple triangular beast.
Landing on the world map really is the moment when you realize that this game is way bigger than you first thought, especially with fresh details like the overworld music (I find that FFVII‘s overworld music is some of the most foreboding I’ve ever heard; it starts out somewhat unsettling, and just gets more and more nerve-wracking as things go from bad to worse), the twilit sky around Midgar (it visibly brightens as you move away from the city), and the vast rocky desert that surrounds it. Though the place looked run down on the inside, seeing it from a distance really slams home what Barret’s been saying about Shinra ruining the planet with their Mako reactors. The environment around Midgar just looks horrendously bleak.
The little pseudo-Germanic town of Kalm looks quite pleasant in contrast. Of course, that’s where we finally get Cloud’s explanation for why Sephiroth is not someone we want to mess with (but we’re going to anyway), which I’ll finally jump into next time.