Alright, so here’s the set up:
Everyone’s frantically looking for the key to enter the Temple of the Ancients since that’s apparently where Sephiroth plans on going next, and it turns out that Dio, the owner of the Gold Saucer, happens to have the key in his possession. Cloud and company head over to the amusement park to convince Dio to give them the key, which he does without much fanfare (though he first makes Cloud fight in the arena for funzies).
It’s at this point that Cait Sith reveals himself to be a spy who steals the key and hands it over to Shinra before explaining that there better not be any funny business because he has Marlene in his care.
Also, just because she doesn’t want me to forget that she exists, Aerith forces her way into my traveling party for the next dungeon for some inexplicable reason. Seriously, there’s no explanation given for why she insists on going; the group’s talking about who’s going to go and then she just says “I’m going!” without offering a reason. If I had been playing the game as though Cloud liked her, then this might make sense in a “I wanna be with my booooyfriend” way because these events transpire after Cloud goes on a date with whichever girl (or Barret) he has the closest relationship with based on some hidden stats. Aerith is the default, but I find her personality grating (she’s just an idealized version of that girl you had a crush on in middle school but never actually talked to!) so I did everything I could to make her hate me (which is impossible, unfortunately), so she doesn’t even have the excuse of wanting to spend more time with Cloud after they’ve kind of sort of defined their relationship.
Nonetheless, the point of all this summary is to give a sense of how dire the situation is. Marlene’s been kidnapped, Sephiroth is heading towards the Temple of the Ancients, Shinra’s one step ahead of us, and I’m stuck with Aerith in my party until I finish this next dungeon. There are a lot of incentives to move the plot forward.
So naturally, I spent probably five hours playing mini games at the Gold Saucer.
As I pointed out previously, we’re now at a juncture in the game where world exploration’s opened up a lot, and the Gold Saucer’s various attractions are starting to become available to play around with (if you have enough money to pay the entry fees). Like any fine establishment modeled on Dave & Busters, you pay money to play the games, and depending on your performance you earn currency that’s only useful at the Gold Saucer to allow you to play other games that you can earn really nice items from if you do well enough.
I was trying to get some of those nice items, but the problem is that the mini games are pretty hard, and they require a lot of grinding just to earn enough points to buy what I want to buy.
Keep in mind, none of this stuff is necessary to move forward; I just wanted to get it early.
I have not been very successful in my mini game playing, and so today, I decided that it’s time to move on.
This is an interesting change from how I played when I was a kid, because any feature that required me to spend more time playing the game was considered a bonus. Yeah, the mini games are a grind, but they’re also pretty fun for what they are. The biggest problem is they all have absolutely awful control schemes that really didn’t age well; Final Fantasy VII was released before the advent of analog controllers for consoles, and so everything relies on the d-pad for navigation, which is uncomfortable after long periods of time and in situations that require high hand-eye coordination, like most of the mini games in FFVII.
Beyond the controller issue, I have a life now. I’m playing this game to enjoy some nostalgia, but I also have other ways I want to spend my time (and I have a blog schedule to keep), so sequences that require hours of repetitive grinding on nonessential mini games really don’t sound like my idea of a good time. Even including weekends, I’m typically playing this game about three to four hours a week, and it’s just not a good match for my schedule anymore.
I suppose that’s a sign that Final Fantasy VII belongs to an earlier era when developers could rely on most of their customers being children who had a lot of free time to sink into their products. I clearly remember a period when I was in middle school during the heyday of the original Playstation when a major selling point of a game was its average playtime being really long. These days, that’s not what I’m really looking for; I’d rather have a game with a solid ten to fifteen hour single player campaign that is entirely meaningful in terms of gameplay and story experience than something that boasts a hundred hours of playtime without noting that most of that involves doing repetitive side quests that aren’t needed to actually finish the main story.
So for now, I’m done with the early side quests. Some of the items I was trying to earn won’t be useful for much longer anyway, and others will be easier to acquire later. If I’m going to maximize my quality time with FFVII, then right now that probably means I’ll need to reduce the quantity of time I’m spending on side quests.
Anyway, next time we’ll get into the Temple of the Ancients for realsies and maybe even talk a little bit about what’s beyond.