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?

Revisiting Final Fantasy VII (Part 25)

I’m kind of sailing through the game at this point (things really pick up from here on out), so I’ll be skimming over stuff a bit here.

After Cloud goes bonkers, Tifa and friends escape from the Northern Crater with the help of Rufus and the rest of Shinra, who take them captive (naturally).  Tifa hits her head in the commotion following Sephiroth’s summoning Meteor and the WEAPONs being unleashed on the world to wreak havoc (fun fact: the WEAPONs are actually supposed to be protecting the planet from Sephiroth, but since he encased himself inside a magical barrier, they don’t realize that they just left the spot where their target was, so now they’re just going to rampage for funzies), so she winds up in a coma for a week.

Meteor FFVII

Final Fantasy Wiki says Meteor’s a little smaller than Gaia’s moon, but it sure doesn’t look like it to me. Who thought it would be a good idea to be able to summon a giant rock to hit the planet anyway? (Image credit: finalfantasy.wikia.com)

When she awakes, Barret informs her that Meteor’s looming overhead (shouldn’t that thing be affecting the planet’s tides or something?) and Rufus plans on executing them as a scapegoat to keep the huddled masses from panicking over the end of the world.

This is probably a weak point in Final Fantasy VII‘s plot, because I think it’s highly unlikely that everyone in the world would be appeased by knowing that the people they think caused the apocalypse died a few weeks before the rest of them.  I mean, when you look at the size of Meteor (it’s so massive that it looks to be about two to three times bigger than Earth’s moon) you have to realize that when it hits the planet everyone is toast.  Even if people happen to be nowhere near the impact site, they’ll freeze to death with the huge dust cloud that gets kicked up and blots out the sun (also, there’s the whole magic lifestream thingy where Sephiroth’s going to basically suck the planet dry like a vampire so he can become a god, if you want a less technical explanation for why everyone’s doomed).  It just seems to me that Rufus is going to a lot of trouble to maintain order for the remaining few weeks that the world’s going to be around.

Of course, I should keep in mind that Shinra’s supposed to be an evil corporation, so sometimes they don’t have to have a good reason to do what they do (also, this is a plot point I always forget about, but Shinra’s doing their best to blow Meteor up or kill Sephiroth or something, so maybe they’re working from the assumption that they’ll save the world somehow and need some good will from the populace).

Anywho, Tifa and Barret get rescued in the nick of time by Cait Sith and Yuffie of all people, who take them to the hijacked airship, the Highwind.  We find out quickly that the crew defected from Shinra after they met Cid, who impressed them so much with his magnificent leadership qualities that they decided he would make a better captain than anyone from Shinra.

Following this daring escape, everyone rallies around Tifa, who’s dead set on going to find Cloud (don’t worry, this next bit actually doesn’t take long at all).  In the meantime, the player’s just celebrating because we just got our airship, and the entire map is open to us now.

Revisiting Final Fantasy VII (Part 18)

It has occurred to me that in the course of sailing through Disc 1 (we’re closing in on the totally unexpected climax of the game’s first half rapidly), that I skipped a party member introduction a while back.  Anyone who’s played the game and is already familiar with this last character could probably understand why I skimmed over him.  He’s just not very interesting when he first joins the party, which happens in the middle of the party’s first visit to the Gold Saucer (which is when we were dealing with Barret’s backstory, a far more compelling plot point at the time).

CaitSith-FFVIIArt

It’s okay if you don’t understand what you’re seeing here. I think it was months before I figured out it was a cat riding on the back of a giant white… thingy. (Image credit: finalfantasy.wikia.com)

The character in question is a fortune-telling robot cat who rides a behemoth of a stuffed moogle and makes his mount attack by calling out commands with his megaphone.  Anyone over the age of five probably read that last sentence and wondered what the heck I’m talking about.  It’s okay; I’ve played this game a couple times, and I still don’t know what to make of this party member.

Cait Sith (which translates from Scottish as “faerie cat” and is pronounced “kat sthee”) is the resident trickster figure of the group.  He joins the party under the pretense of wanting to find out what the meaning of a particularly mysterious fortune that he’s dispensed is, and for some reason everyone’s just cool with it.

I don’t know about you, but if I encounter anyone who’s associated with the Fae, I’d run the other way very quickly, because those mythological creatures are way beyond unpredictable.  Of course, Cait Sith operates much the same way in battle, because he’s a gambler-type character (Final Fantasy has a long, storied tradition of characters who do random stuff that range from being only mildly helpful to really harmful for the party, and very rarely doing something great) whose Limit Breaks revolve involve a random damage generator and a slot machine that can either instantly win a battle or wipe out the entire party.

Like I said, don’t mess with anything associated with the Fae.

Of course, since Gaia’s a planet that apparently only has a handful of cultures (none of them even vaguely Celtic), the party probably don’t know that they should be very concerned about letting Cait Sith tag along.  What they do have that should be a warning sign is the knowledge that they’re wanted fugitives from Shinra.

So when we get the big reveal at this point in the game that Cait Sith is actually a spybot whose controller works for Shinra and has been feeding the company information about Cloud and friends’ movements, I just have to shake my head and say, “I told you so.  Never trust a faerie cat.”

Though it’s not quite been revealed yet, we’ll soon learn that Cait Sith’s controller is someone at Shinra that we’ve met before, although he’s a very minor character that I barely remembered seeing at the beginning of the game.  He’s captured Barret’s daughter Marlene, and is holding her hostage, which is a wonderful explanation for why after discovering that we have a spy in our midst we should let him stay in the party.

I always thought it was funny that you could go along and have Cait Sith in your party at this point, but because the plot says we don’t hurt him, none of the horrible cruel things you could do to him, like beating him up or turning him to stone in battle, would stick in the game world.  Even something as mildly passive aggressive as just refusing to heal him (in case his controller was watching and saying, “Don’t hurt me or the small child gets it!”) would have been satisfying.

Of course, this will all get straightened out eventually and the guy behind the cat will have a change of heart so he can fully support the party in their quest to save the planet (and also to act as a double agent).  That part’s not really so unexpected, because a game like this can only take one dramatic loss of a annoying valued party member for plot reasons.  Still, it kind of sucks for Shinra that their spy ends up spying on them.

But like I said, stay far away from anything to do with the Fae.

Also, because where else will I have an opportunity to link back to this video:

Revisiting Final Fantasy VII (Part 9)

After catching my wild Mystery Ninja and saving the condors from extinction, it’s time to continue forward with the main story.  Our next stop is the port city Junon, which I mentioned previously is more or less just a smaller version of Midgar.

Ff7-junon

Yes, that’s a cannon. No, I don’t know what it’s aimed at. (Image credit: finalfantasy.wikia.com)

Junon has the same structure of Midgar with a poor fishing village (the original Junon) on the ground and a great hulking monstrosity floating above it with multi-tiered levels so that the wealthier inhabitants can all get a nice view of the ocean.  Unlike Midgar though, Junon has a more festive air about it, primarily because we arrive just as they’re ramping up inaugural festivities for Rufus Shinra, the new company president.

Of course, not just anyone is allowed into Junon, so Cloud has to sneak into the city via dolphin jump (just go with it).  Once he gets inside, he gets mistaken for a Shinra grunt, and is forced to don the ubiquitous Shinra uniform that has become synonymous with expendable crewmen in this game (seriously, if you see someone in blue with a helmet, he is probably going to die very shortly–if he isn’t dead already).  After putting on his disguise, we proceed through a series of minigames that revolve around Cloud trying to blend in with the crowd as he navigates the parades and ceremonies that are happening for Rufus.  Depending on how well Cloud does, the player earns some item rewards after each minigame, and also gets to explore Junon proper where a bunch of shops sell things that you probably can’t afford (if you’re like me and ended up giving all your money to save the condors).  Eventually Cloud reaches a ship in the port that’s leaving for the western continent, and somehow everyone else has already arrived and stowed away.  Ignoring this strange impossibility, Cloud hops aboard and everyone sets out on an overseas journey to keep chasing Sephiroth.

Throughout the Junon sequence, we get several callbacks to Cloud’s flashback story about Nibelheim.  The most apparent one comes after the party spends the night at the inn in Junon village, and Cloud’s odd inner voice suggests to him that he should ask Tifa about that trip to Nibelheim, since she was strangely quiet about the whole thing when they were all in Kalm.

Conveniently, Cloud awakes to find Tifa watching him sleep, so he asks her what she remembers about the Nibelheim incident.  Tifa fumbles around with an explanation that doesn’t really tell us anything, and is conveniently interrupted by a little girl being attacked by a sea serpent.

Yes, the game throws a boss fight at us out of nowhere just to keep from explaining what’s going on right now.

In all the excitement following, Cloud forgets to ask Tifa about Nibelheim, which I’m sure she’s grateful for because she seemed really uncomfortable with the pointed questions.

Besides that mysterious bit of Cloud’s past, we also get a throwaway line when Cloud’s putting on his disguise so he can wander around Junon that he hasn’t worn this uniform in a long time.  Naturally Cloud had to have started as a lowly grunt when he first joined Shinra, but considering he was 16 when he returned to Nibelheim as a SOLDIER First Class, it can’t have been too too far in the past for him.  At the same time, it makes you wonder just how Cloud managed to attain First Class by the time he was 16 when while wandering around Junon you come across another Shinra grunt who’s diligently studying for the SOLDIER aptitude tests.  Cloud must either be quite exceptional (not too far-fetched; he is the hero of the story) or something about his story must be off.

At any rate, those are thoughts for later; right now, we have a boat ride with Sephiroth.