Things From E3 2015 I Am Excited About

  1. BioWare is working on a new Mass Effect.  It’s supposed to be set long after Shepard’s story in a different galaxy, which is always a great way to explain why the details from the previous games aren’t exactly consistent.  I’m halfway hoping that it’s set in the same era as Mass Effect 3‘s epilogue when Shepard’s story has turned into a legend about The Shepard.  I’m still curious about how details like whether Shepard chooses to destroy or synthesize with the artificial races will be handled, since it’s kind of a big deal if Geth are present in this new game.
  2. TellTale Games is producing a miniseries centered around Michonne from The Walking Dead.  I’m thrilled with this news, since the video game series is the only incarnation of the franchise that I unambiguously love, and Michonne’s a great character to tackle.
  3. Square Enix has announced they’re remaking Final Fantasy VII for the PS4.  Whether that actually materializes in the next couple years will determine if this is something to continue to be excited about.  I’ll be curious to see what a reincarnation of that game under Tetsuya Nomura looks like, especially since his involvement in the original game was merely as the character designer.  The fact that Nomura’s style has evolved significantly in twenty years and that he’ll be overseeing a lot more than just the look of the game leaves me a little skeptical, though we’ll see.  The one thing I really hope this doesn’t do is launch a trend with Square Enix trying to coast on their glory days by just redoing old titles with current design sensibilities instead of working on developing new stories and IPs.
  4. There’s a new Mirror’s Edge in development, and it will feature no gunplay for the protagonist.  This is wonderful news, because the gun mechanics for the first game were more or less irrelevant to what made it such a gem.
  5. Generally speaking, many of the announcements for big upcoming projects indicate a trend towards prominently featuring more female protagonists, which is a good thing.  Can we next talk about pushing for more representation for people of color and genderqueer people in big money games?

That’s all for today.  After recovering from our trip, I’ve been busy lazing around and alternating between reading about E3 news and tearing through Y: The Last Man (thanks, Dave!).  What are you all excited about from E3 this year?

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Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 1)

I haven’t tried to do a really in depth write up of a video game since my series on Final Fantasy VII two years ago (I’m going to say it was two years ago, because we’re in 2015 now and that means two years is a totally legitimate estimate), but I’ve been itching to go back and check out Chrono Cross ever since I did my replay of Chrono Trigger a few months ago before I got into Dragon Age: InquisitionChrono Trigger seems to be one of those generational touchstones that virtually all self-identifying gamers of a certain age have played, but its sequel is a really mixed bag in comparison.  I remember all the hype surrounding Chrono Cross, simply because there was a five year stretch between the two games, and that was an eternity of development for a sequel to such a popular game in comparison to the average two year dev-time that Square’s flagship Final Fantasy series had established for its Playstation era games (if I recall correctly, there was a new numbered Final Fantasy released every year from 1997 to 1999, with each subsequent game beginning production before its predecessor came out).  A lot of the long delay had to do with the fact that Chrono Trigger was a very special game for Square; they assembled what they called their “Dream Team” of writers, artists, and directors for this one game, and then the creators who weren’t directly employed by Square parted ways to work on other projects.  Getting all that talent back together for a sequel just wasn’t feasible, and in the end only one major contributor to Chrono Trigger, Masato Kato, returned for Chrono Cross.

I didn’t know about all the behind the scenes stuff when I was awaiting this game as a kid (though games have always had credits, I never really connected the funny looking names that played at the end of the story with actual creative minds that had to work together to come up with this thing that I was enjoying), but in retrospect it explains a lot about the very different feel that Chrono Cross conveys.  The cast from Chrono Trigger barely appear in the sequel, and what we do learn about them suggests that things didn’t end well for any of them (but I’m getting ahead of myself).  In many ways, this feels more like a spiritual successor rather than an actual sequel, since all that’s really retained are some thematic elements (in a much more contemplative mode; instead of focusing on a pulpy time travel adventure, Cross‘s plot spends a lot of time meditating on what happens to alternative time lines and how choices in the past impact the present), a few trappings from Trigger‘s design features (three-person party limit, combination attacks, visible enemies on the dungeon screens, simplified symbolic world maps), and the musical composer (Yasunori Mitsuda, whose soundtrack is pretty universally beloved, regardless of what people think of the rest of the game).  If you never played Chrono Trigger, you could theoretically jump into Chrono Cross without needing any prior knowledge.

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The game’s North American cover, featuring Serge, Kid, and the villain Lynx. I still don’t know why Kid has an Australian accent. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

The obvious paradox is you probably wouldn’t be playing Chrono Cross unless you’ve played Chrono Trigger.

Anyway, I’m going to blog through my replay (maybe I’ll do a New Game + run through after I finish the game once, but that’s a ways off right now), so I better get to it.  Much like my FFVII series, I figure this’ll be a regular staple for a few months, and I’ll try to write spoiler-free until I arrive at the corresponding plot points (this won’t be nearly as hard as it was with FFVII since Chrono Cross‘s plot is really convoluted, and I honestly don’t remember a lot of the major story beats).

So, we start off with Serge (our protagonist), Kid (our deuteragonist, who also happens to be curiously Australian), and a randomly generated third party member (on this playthrough I got Nikki, who’s kind of an emo punk rocker) storming a dungeon for some reason that’s not yet fully explained.  After reaching the top of the magical tower thingy (that’s a technical term), we’re treated to a cutscene which shows Serge suddenly stabbing Kid in the back and grinning maliciously.

Fortunately, this was all a dream and Serge wakes up in Arni Village, a small fishing community in the El Nido archipelago. Serge is supposed to be getting ready for a lazy day spent with his girlfriend, Leena (this opening scene’s a callback to the beginning of Chrono Trigger, which is a nice touch), but he’s running late.  Leena happens to be a sweet girl, and she tells Serge that since he woke up too late for them to go hang out (she got roped into babysitting some of the village’s kids), he can make it up to her by going to the nearby starter dungeon and getting her some jewelry from the local wildlife (there are worse excuses for starting an adventure; I just can’t think of them right now).  Once that errand’s completed, Serge meets up with Leena at the spot on the beach where Serge nearly drowned a decade earlier, and as they discuss what makes a moment memorable (more like Leena talks and the player puts words in Serge’s mouth, because he’s one of those now rare mute heroes) Serge has a moment of major vertigo and falls through a dimensional rift.

There’s much belaboring over the next hour of gameplay about the fact that Serge has found himself stuck in a world where everything is slightly different from how he remembers it, with the largest change being the fact that in this world Serge actually died as a child.  We meet Kid for real at Serge’s grave, and then we run into one of the most memorable things about the game: the decision branches.

See, branching paths in games isn’t terribly special these days, since any self respecting game developer who makes RPGs (particularly Western style ones) is going to incorporate some branching plot points.  Chrono Cross is interesting because the game is thematically all about considering the choices not made, and to emphasize that theme, it frequently presents the player with decisions that affect in small ways how the game’s going to play out (mostly in terms of what characters are available to recruit; I forgot to mention there are forty-five party members available in this game, and many of your decisions limit who will actually play a part in the story).  At this point, the player can choose to either let Kid join you in your adventure or send her away (I never really made the connection when I was younger, but all the decisions to not recruit Kid play into Serge’s fears of what he sees in that opening dream sequence; he’s trying to avoid that future by keeping her at a distance).  I chose to send her away, both because Kid’s a very unreliable party member (though she’ll prove to be important to the story, she drops out of your party with surprising regularity, so it’s better not to get too attached to having her around) and because on this playthrough I’m imagining Serge is really bewildered to actually meet the girl in his dream, and he’s wary of what else about the dream might come to pass.

As a result of refusing Kid’s company, Serge goes back to Arni Village where he befriends this world’s Leena, who just thinks that he’s somebody else who has amnesia and only believes that he’s Serge.  Together, with the village’s resident talking dog, they set out to figure out the mystery of where Serge came from and how he can get back to where he belongs.

Recruited Party Members

Serge – The protagonist.  Start the game and he’s in your party!

Leena – Serge’s girlfriend in his home dimension, and a concerned party who wants to make sure this strange boy with the identity crisis finds the help that he needs.  She only joins you if you refuse to let Kid tag along after meeting her at Serge’s grave.

Poshul – A talking dog who lives in Arni Village.  She comes along on your journey because I guess the developers thought it would be cruel to make you continue on without a third party member.  I find her very annoying, and switch her out of my party as soon as I have other options.

Mojo – A dancing, life-sized voodoo doll with a giant nail stuck through him.  In alternate Arni Village, there’s a guy who’s spent the last decade worshiping this thing, and if you show him a keepsake from his other self then Mojo comes to life and decides to spread love throughout the world by following you around.  Don’t ask questions; just go with it.

Revisiting Final Fantasy VII (Part 30)

The end of Final Fantasy VII is kind of weird.

Sephiroth’s defeated, and everyone’s escaping on the Highwind (which it turns out can transform into a super awesome highly aerobatic jet plane) and the Northern Crater is kind of imploding and stuff is happening all over the place like mad in full FMV goodness.

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Final Fantasy VII. (Image credit: finalfantasy.wikia.com)

It looks pretty quaint by today’s standards, but a ten-plus minute pre-rendered CG video was a really big deal back in 1997.  Even though the character models are laughably simple in comparison to the real-time models used just a generation later on the PS2 for Final Fantasy X, they actually still look quite beautiful in a way.  Taken as a product of its time, I’m still impressed with the visuals of this game over fifteen years later.  Of course visuals aren’t everything, and I’m a little disappointed that Square’s (now Square Enix) legacy since FFVII has been emphasizing flashy visuals to the point of being ridiculous (you can always count on a late generation Final Fantasy to be visually stunning, but the aesthetic sometimes strikes me as just awful).  Nonetheless, this is our ending.

With Sephiroth finally dead (I don’t care what the later entries in the canon may say about him coming back, Sephiroth is D-E-D dead now) there’s nothing blocking Holy from attacking Meteor, so it emerges from the planet around Midgar just as Meteor’s about to strike (I thought we had a week to go, but whatever).  Unfortunately, it’s too late and Holy doesn’t have enough power to stop Meteor, so the Lifestream lends a hand.  Midgar’s utterly demolished in the process, and everyone across the globe watches in terror as these two colossal forces battle it out in the sky (I’m not entirely sure how folks in Cosmo Canyon can see anything since that’s theoretically on the other side of the globe, but maybe that’s why we don’t get to see anyone from that locale during the final cutscene).  The final image we see is Aerith, watching from the Lifestream.

Cue credits.

Yes, that’s right.  The game ends without telling us what happened.  Of course, there is a post credits scene set 500 years later where we get to see Red XIII and his cubs surveying the overgrown ruins of Midgar, so we can at least infer that the planet was saved from Meteor.  As for humanity, well…

I just have to say, after seeing this ending again, I love it.  It feels like a great summation of the game’s central theme dealing with humanity’s need to balance natural resources with technological development.  While the majority of the story has revolved around chasing Sephiroth around because he’s trying to destroy the world and become a god, we have as our background a world that’s slowly being ravaged of its natural resources (in this universe, the very lifeblood of the planet) due to simple human greed.  It’s important to remember that Shinra is not an intrinsically evil entity; a case can be made that Shinra is actually very beneficial as its the major developer of new technologies that go a long way towards improving the quality of life for most of the inhabitants of the planet.  What makes the corporation an antagonist to the party is the fact that it’s run by jerks who are consumed with greed to the point of ignoring basic human decency (Cloud, Tifa, Barret, Aerith, Red XIII, Vincent, and Cid are all direct victims of people at the top of Shinra abusing their power in order to make more money or accomplish some other selfish goal).

What I’m trying to get at is that Shinra’s evil is incidental, which doesn’t necessarily diminish the way they ruin a lot of lives, but does suggest that we take into consideration the good they do as well.  They are ultimately just human, even if they are painted in rather broad, unsympathetic strokes because of the personal circumstances of our heroes.

Anyway, it should be noted here that for many years after Final Fantasy VII was released, there was a lot of debate in fan circles about the interpretation of the ending.  As a kid, I was really invested in reading the ending as humanity surviving, mostly because I hated the idea of having a save the world story where humanity didn’t survive (there’s an interesting deconstruction of “save the world” going on here where the player’s asked to consider just what they expect from that kind of story); it seemed pointless to me at the time.  Now that I’m older and have a slightly better appreciation of existentialism (the belief that it is only our actions that have the potential to create nobility in an otherwise meaningless existence) and Christianity (the belief that it is an essential part of love to oppose evil where it is found regardless of the personal cost in order to redeem the good), I’m actually really cool with this ending.  I think it’s pretty bold for a video game to suggest that the state of humanity is such that we’re just not that good for life on our planet, and the best option might be our disappearance.

I’m not suggesting that that’s what anyone who’s reasonable would actually want.  The amount of interim suffering while humanity dies out would be incredibly tragic.  A better choice would be, and I think this is the one that the game strongly advocates, is for humanity to recognize the effects it has on its home, and move towards a path of development that harmonizes with our environment.

Of course, all the wonderful ambiguity and sombre tone of this ending got ruined by Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which shows us a post-Meteor world where humanity has survived and Cloud is an emotional wreck because of his survivor’s guilt in relation to Zack and Aerith’s deaths (which, keep in mind, he wasn’t even indirectly responsible for).  I’ve seen Advent Children only a couple times, and while it’s a visual feast, it just feels like a cash in.  The fan community was clamoring for more from this world, and what we got feels disappointing to me.  I like Cloud as a protagonist because in Final Fantasy VII we went through the journey of him being forced to deconstruct and rebuild his identity, which betrayed the myriad psychological problems he brought with him getting off that train in the game’s opening scene, and then after he came to grips with his real past, he was able to move on and regain some of that confidence that was part of his facade, except now it was genuine and tempered with humility.  Cloud ends Final Fantasy VII as a character who’s gone through a complete developmental arc and emerged emotionally and psychologically healthy.  Then Advent Children came along and made him angst over his friends’ deaths when we saw in the game that he came to terms with those events!

To sum it up, I think that Final Fantasy VII is a fantastic standalone game.  It’s very much a product of its time, and a lot of the design elements feel a little archaic now, but the core experience and story are still satisfying, even with all of their flaws.  I just wish Square Enix would just leave the blasted franchise alone instead of milking it for all the crossovers and such.  Sephiroth is dead and Cloud is emotionally whole at the game’s close.  I’m happy with that ending.  I don’t need anymore.

Revisiting Final Fantasy VII (Part 29)

So this is it.

Shinra’s a shambles, the WEAPONs have been neutralized (well, the ones that actually do stuff to threaten people; I’m content to let Ruby and Emerald just chill out in the wilderness because they don’t seem that interested in terrorizing the masses–also, I’ve never beaten them and I’m not going to start now), all the fancy chocobo materia is in my possession, Meteor’s a week away from landing, and the shield over the Northern Crater is broken.  It’s time to go face off with Sephiroth.

Before our heroes go to do that, Cloud tells them to take some time and go see their friends and family.  Confronting Sephiroth is most likely a suicide mission, and even if they succeed the human race may still be wiped out by Holy, so it’s best to take care of these things ahead of time.

Everyone disperses to get their heads straight, and Cloud and Tifa watch the Highwind since all the people they loved are dead (nice consolation prize).  If Tifa was the player’s date at the Gold Saucer earlier before visiting the Temple of the Ancients, then there will be some extra dialogue in this scene suggesting that the two spend the night together.  The following morning everyone shows up, even Yuffie (whom Barret was sure would skip town).

Cid pulls a lever that he’s been wondering about on the Highwind‘s dashboard, and all the propellers fall away to be replaced by jet engines (because where we’re going, we don’t need roads?) and our heroes race off to the Northern Crater.

The trek down to the center of the planet is largely uneventful (Final Fantasy‘s final dungeons are historically uneventful with virtually no story until the player reaches the final boss), though there are a couple of opportunities to split the party up, which operates as a way to get the loot that’s strewn about on the various branches of the path without having to backtrack (unfortunately, this isn’t explained in the game, so I totally went and did all the paths to get free stuff).  There are a lot of really strong enemies in the Northern Crater (obviously), but nothing that’s really that difficult to deal with.

The real fun comes when we reach the Center of the Planet (yeah, we’re apparently traveling several thousand miles down while on foot in the space of a few hours) where we encounter first Jenova (the whole thing) and then, finally, Sephiroth.

Now, I may have mentioned this a while back, but until this playthrough I’d never beaten the final boss without cheating.  This time, I did fine (although there was a very close call during the final fight when Sephiroth used his attack that reduces everyone’s HP to 1 and I nearly flipped out because I had forgotten he was going to do that).

The fight with Sephiroth is broken up into two stages.  The first is kind of a gimmick fight, because depending on the player’s performance in the final dungeon, this fight can be done with up to three separate parties attacking different parts of the boss (I can’t remember exactly what the conditions are for getting the three party formation, but I didn’t do it because I had to fight with two parties–no big loss because it meant I didn’t have to bother with equipping Cid and Cait Sith).  In this stage, Sephiroth’s in some weird kind of larval stage where he’s all purple and green and appears to be melded with Jenova’s body (the boss is called Bizarro-Sephiroth, which is a mistranslation based on the romaji of his Japanese name, Ribasu-Sefirosu–Rebirth-Sephiroth–the localization team thought it was supposed to be Reverse-Sephiroth, and went with Bizarro as a synonym; I’d just like to take a moment to acknowledge that FFVII has an accidental Superman reference, and it is way more awesome than anything about stubborn gorillas).  It’s not a difficult fight.

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As monster designs go, I like this one, even if it does introduce that @#@%!&%^#&^*& single black wing. (Image credit: finalfantasy.wikia.com)

The second part of the fight is with Sephiroth in what I think of as his Christ-pretender/Divine ascendant form.  If you’ve played Final Fantasy VI, then you’ll be familiar with the final boss of that game, Kefka, who has a similar pseudo-divine motif (presumptive gods are a common feature of the series overall).  Anyway, it’s this form of Sephiroth that was the start of the one black wing design feature that I think is so loathsome (in this version the wing’s actually replaced his right arm; though I’ve not noted it before, Sephiroth’s a southpaw).  The name of this version is called Safer-Sephiroth, which has a more complicated background than other weird translations in this game.  Safer may be a corruption of Savior (sticking with the false Messiah theme) or a mistranslation of Seraph (Sephiroth’s final form has six wings where his legs would be, echoing the description of Seraphim found in the Book of Ezekiel) or even a transliteration of the Hebrew word for book (because Sephiroth’s name is derived from the Sephirot, the 10 aspects of creation in Kabbalah, this suggests that the final boss’s name is intended to be understood as Hebrew for “Book of Numerations”).  No matter what you think the name is supposed to be, it’s clearly one that was chosen in order to have a ton of layers and echoes of the presumptive god motif.  He’s a moderately difficult boss (see above re: my freakout over the instant critical HP attack), but I beat him.

So with Sephiroth defeated, things can finally wrap up hap–

Oh right, there’s one more stage of the fight.

Beating Safer-Sephiroth wins you the game, but following that knockdown drag out, we have one more fight that’s more or less a glorified cut scene (this last duel between Cloud and Sephiroth even uses special, higher poly-count character models to emphasize the cinematic quality of it).  Cloud gets sucked back into the Lifestream one more time to confront Sephiroth, who’s ready to end this thing.  Except that Cloud’s limit gauge is full (it’s always full for this battle) and he knows his ultimate limit break Omnislash, regardless of whether you actually bothered to learn and set it.  Cloud lets loose with a flurry of impossible blows (or he just attacks regularly as an instant counter if you let Sephiroth go first) and somehow only manages to give Sephiroth a bloody face (limitations of the technology, I suppose), signalling his victory.

After this, Cloud gets ejected from the Lifestream, and it’s time for everyone to run for their lives.

We’ll wrap this up next time.

Revisiting Final Fantasy VII (Part 28)

So Cloud’s rejoined the rest of us in the land of the nominally sane and the Huge Materia are safely stowed away in Cosmo Canyon’s observatory where they can uselessly collect dust for the remainder of the life of the planet (even with all of my diligent materia leveling, I still couldn’t get a complete set of mastered materia to turn into Master Materia, a single materia that can be equipped to give all of the skills associated with either magic, summons, or battle commands on a single character).  Clearly, I have further endangered the planet in my useless quest for knowledge when perhaps that materia nuke that Shinra was planning on throwing at Meteor might have worked when fully powered (these are the lies I think Cloud and friends tell themselves so they can sleep better at night with the end of the world looming).

We’re at the darkest hour now, with Meteor threatening to strike in only two weeks, when things really go south for Shinra.

Rufus Shinra and the Turks. From left to right...

Rufus Shinra and the Turks. From left to right: Elena, Tseng, Rufus, Rude and Reno (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the Huge Materia no longer an option for a power source, Shinra comes up with the brilliant plan to relocate Junon’s gigantic cannon to Midgar, where it can be powered by the seven remaining reactors, and the big gun can be pointed at the Northern Crater.

Surely nothing can go wrong with this plan.

Unfortunately for Shinra and their massive egos, the Diamond WEAPON decides that an artificial WMD that draws its energy from the planet (which is totally different from an organic WMD that was created by the planet) is the largest detectable threat to Gaia, and attacks Midgar.

Yeah, I think the planet might have self-loathing issues.  Also, the writers are really laying it on thick here that humans might be a real danger to the planet, since our resident sage Bugenhagen explains to the party just after they all go to visit Aerith’s grave the Ancient City that Holy (the ultimate White magic, intended to protect the planet from all hostile forces) was successfully summoned by Aerith before her death, but Sephiroth’s blocking its activation, and there’s a good chance that since it’s a spell designed to protect the planet from anything that could do it serious harm, that humanity may be wiped out along with Meteor.

This was pretty heady stuff back in the day for a video game.  Plenty of sci-fi stories before Final Fantasy VII have suggested that humanity’s actually a blight on the earth, but to suggest that the end of this story, in a genre that up to this point pretty much always revolved around successfully saving the world (and by extension, humanity), might involve saving the world at the cost of the human race was a big deal.  Our heroes, being heroes, accept this in rather stoic fashion, but I can totally see all the average citizens of the world utterly despairing over this news.  What’s the point of stopping Meteor if people are going to be killed by Holy instead?

Of course, we’re following the adventure of a bunch of ecoterrorists, so they make the noble decision that even if humanity is doomed either way, it’s better to do what they can to protect the planet.

For all my ribbing of our heroes, I do think this decision is genuinely heroic.

Anyway, WEAPON attacks Midgar, and lots of people die, including Rufus (except no, because Advent Children).  Despite the heavy casualties, Shinra manage to fire off a single shot from the newly dubbed Sister Ray (except when Tifa escaped from Junon after waking from her coma, we saw pretty clearly that this name had already been stamped on the barrel of the canon, so clearly Shinra’s head of weapons development Scarlet was already planning to use this name for a while), which pierces Diamond WEAPON, killing it, and passes on to the Northern Crater, where it destroys Sephiroth’s barrier.

This would be the opportune time for everyone to go after Sephiroth, but first we find that Professor Hojo’s gone crazy and is planning on firing the cannon again so that Sephiroth can absorb the blast’s Mako energy.

There’s a dramatic air drop into Midgar, and Cloud and friends rush to stop Hojo before he causes a meltdown that could blow the city up.  Along the way, we encounter the Turks for the last time (who, in a rather touching nod to that one time everyone worked together, the player can choose not to fight one last time if the Wutai sidequest has been completed) as well as Scarlet and the head of Shinra’s military division Heidegger, who have decided a crisis like the imminent explosion of the city’s reactors is a good opportunity to seize power (they’re both kind of idiots, but they make really dangerous weapons).

When the party confronts Hojo (protip: if you bring Vincent along for this segment, he has some choice words for Hojo, who was the one who experimented on Vincent and turned him into everyone’s favorite immortal brooding vampire) he confesses that he is Sephiroth’s father (I kind of forgot that that’s a plot point that doesn’t get revealed until so late in the game, so sorry to anyone who was bothered by that spoiler way back when I first introduced Vincent).

Anyhow, we kill Hojo and all his genetic horrors, and Midgar is safe once again (for about two weeks).  With all the immediate crises resolved, it’s finally time to head into the Northern Crater and face off with Sephiroth once and for all (until the inevitable sequels).

Revisiting Final Fantasy VII (Part 27)

So, Cloud’s psyche.

This is probably a highpoint in the game’s plot, especially in comparison to the Huge Materia episode.  That sequence of missions is ultimately pointless from a narrative perspective, because whether or not we succeed in obtaining the Huge Materia, Shinra’s attempts to save the planet through the power of science always ultimately fail (though I doubt the designers would have ever implemented this, I think it would have been interesting to have an alternate ending where Shinra succeeds in destroying Meteor and saving the day if the party utterly fails to stop them from collecting all the Huge Materia–a costly prospect, since failure in the Huge Materia missions involves the desolation of two innocent communities.

Clouds subconscious

Cloud’s subconscious. (Image credit: finalfantasy.wikia.com)

That’s all a tangent though, because I was talking about Tifa’s visit to Cloud’s psyche.

After his identity crisis at the Northern Crater, Cloud disappears into the Lifestream when the WEAPONs break loose.  He washes up in Mideel, an island village famous for its relaxing hot springs, but is in a catatonic state (fun facts: canonically, Cloud’s trip through the Lifestream before he washes up in Mideel is the point where he gets sucked into the world of Ivalice for his cameo in Final Fantasy Tactics, and if you talk with him while he’s catatonic, he’ll mumble something about “Zenogias,” a romanization of the katakana for Xenogears, another Square RPG that was developed concurrently with FFVII and released about a year later).  Tifa chooses to stay with Cloud and wait for him to regain his sanity while the remaining crew (a group that can be as many as six or as few as four depending on whether or not you’ve recruited Vincent and Yuffie) carry on with the mission to recover the Huge Materia.

Eventually, Ultimate WEAPON (it’s actually the second weakest of the four WEAPONs that the player can fight in the North American version of the game, but the other three weren’t included as bosses in the original Japanese release, so it’s kind of an appropriate name) attacks Mideel and somehow causes an earthquake that forces the Lifestream to erupt to the surface.  In the chaos of the town being swallowed by a giant sinkhole, Cloud and Tifa get tossed into the Lifestream, and Tifa gets to take a trip through Cloud’s memories.

And now, finally, we learn the truth about Cloud, and it is… a little underwhelming.  He’s not a clone created in a lab, but the real Cloud from Tifa’s childhood.  He just has amnesia about the past five years because it turns out he really was at Nibelheim when Sephiroth decided it was cool to be angsty and homicidal, but not as a member of SOLDIER.  Cloud was actually the unfortunate grunt who accompanied Sephiroth and the real member of SOLDIER, Zack (we met his parents briefly in Gongaga a long time ago, but Cloud had no recollection of him at the time), on the trip and had to deal with motion sickness, the embarrassment of returning to his hometown a failure (the reason Tifa doesn’t remember Cloud being there, it turns out, is because he never took his mask off while he was in town), and the discomfort of being that annoying guy who kept everyone from seeing anything interesting inside the reactor.

It’s a pretty tidy explanation of all the inconsistencies in Cloud’s memory, though on this playthrough I was bugged by the fact that it could have been pieced together that Cloud wasn’t really in SOLDIER as early as the return visit to Nibelheim when I checked the specimen chambers in the basement lab, and saw that they were labeled for specimens “C” and “Z.”  That by itself might not be a big giveaway, but the lab notes also say that the two subjects were captured following the Nibelheim incident, and that one of them was a SOLDIER while the other was just a standard Shinra MP (the SOLDIER was shot to death outside Midgar after they escaped from Nibelheim nearly five years later).  An observant player could figure out pretty easily that if Cloud claims to be the other SOLDIER besides Sephiroth at the incident, and that SOLDIER was captured and later killed, then the only other person he could have been was the faceless grunt who witnessed everything that Cloud describes in his flashback.

And while I know that I’m nitpicking all these plot details now, I still have to give the developers credit for putting together a mystery that the player could have pieced together early on, but only if they were meticulous about looking at various environmental details throughout the first half of the game.

Anyway, with Cloud’s identity restored, he and Tifa escape from the Lifestream and rejoin everyone on the Highwind.  This moment is when Cloud’s at his best, because he’s finally able to  be totally honest with himself about his failures in the past, and he’s also regained his confidence as the group’s leader.  It’s a shame that following this highpoint, he’ll spiral into depression and angst over the deaths of Zack and Aerith in the stories that chronologically follow Final Fantasy VII.

I don’t want to talk about those.  They’re all disappointing.

Next time: Shinra’s last stand.

Revisiting Final Fantasy VII (Part 26)

As I’ve mentioned before, things really start to speed up after Cloud goes cuckoo.  The next major sequence gives us a break from the Sephiroth chase (we know where he is now; we just can’t get to him) and instead turns the focus back on the megacorporation that everybody loves to hate while being hopelessly dependent on it, Shinra.

Following our acquisition of the Highwind, it’s time to do some major world exploration, character grinding, and chocobo breeding (fortunately for you, I did all that and don’t plan on going into excruciating detail about the process; needless to say, the past few weekends have involved a couple of marathon gaming sessions to get most of the extra, non-plot-related junk out of the way).  The world has opened up considerably, because we’re now able to go pretty much anywhere (ironically, getting the Highwind now only opens up access to one brand new location; all the other fun stuff requires fancy flightless birds and a submarine) we’ve previously been without any hassle (also, the Tiny Bronco and the Buggy are mysteriously missing from the world map, which makes me slightly sad).  This is important, because it’s now time to start acquiring the Huge Materia.

The Huge Materia are Final Fantasy VII‘s nod towards a recurring plot element in the series at large: giant magical crystals that are important to the well-being of the world.  This element goes back to the first Final Fantasy when the four heroes of light (who could consist of whatever party makeup you wanted) came forward to restore the inner light to the four elemental crystals that keep the natural forces of the world in balance.  In keeping with this theme, our heroes in FFVII want to capture the Huge Materia from Shinra in order to make use of the stored up knowledge of the planet inside them (remember that all materia is just crystallized Mako, which is a distilled form of Lifestream energy) to help figure out a way to defeat Sephiroth.  Shinra wants to take all the Huge Materia, which apparently have 330 times more energy inside them than regular materia, stick them in a rocket, and launch it at Meteor to try to blow it up (this plan, naturally, is doomed to fail).

Rocket town rocket2

The Shinra No. 26 lifts off with our heroes aboard. (Image credit: finalfantasy.wikia.com)

Since there are four Huge Materia (to correspond with the series’s original four crystals) Cid and company have to take off on a globetrotting adventure to collect them from Mako reactors all over the world while Tifa nurses Cloud out of a vegetative state in the spa town of Mideel (for such a sparsely populated world, there are a lot of vacation spots; I think there might be more places to go on vacation than there are regular towns where people just live and work in this game).  All of these missions involve some kind of challenge or mini game that has to be completed successfully, or the party loses access to one of the Huge Materia permanently (failing to recover any of the Huge Materia isn’t the end of the world, but it’s inconvenient for purposes of powering up the party).

Regardless of what happens, this portion of the game closes with Cloud and Cid hurtling through space on a rocket destined to crash into Meteor (Cloud gets better halfway through the Huge Materia plot, but I’ll discuss his recovery more in depth in a future post).  While our heroes escape to safety, the rocket collides with Meteor, and regardless of how many Huge Materia are loaded on board, the resulting spectacular explosion does nothing but cosmetic damage to the giant rock.  Looks like Shinra’s last ditch effort to save the world themselves has failed.

Oh well, at least they still have their great monument to human achievement, Midgar to comfort them.  The world’s only city should be absolutely fine, right?

Right?