In theory, the game is now about gallivanting around the world trying to hunt down Sephiroth. In practice, I’m not sure when the last time was that we actually had a solid lead on where the bastard is, and the game is really about the characters going on a road trip and solving their personal problems. They did actually encounter Sephiroth at one point, when both he and they stowed away on the same ship. He doesn’t recognise Cloud, talks as though he has been asleep for a long time (since the events of Cloud’s long flashback five years ago?) and responded to aggression by turning into a six-metre-tall blue-grey fleshy angel-monster thing, which, as I’m sure I don’t need to inform you, is not a widely recommended conflict resolution tactic. After that the plot mostly forgot about him, although I’m sure he will return with a vengeance later. Mostly, we’ve been spending our time colliding with and resolving Barrett and Red XIII’s backstories.
Barrett apparently used to live in a coal-mining town in the middle of nowhere. It’s now a dump and everyone hates him, because years ago he persuaded the rest of the town to give up coal and get one of those awesome new soul-consumption reactors instead, which indirectly led to the total destruction of the town by the Turkish army when an accident at the reactor was blamed on sabotage. That… doesn’t particularly seem like his fault, really, but whatevs. I guess that explains why he’s so angry at everything. Anyway, the party went to an amusement park (because… just because), Barrett was blamed for a bunch of murders committed by ‘a man with a gun for an arm,’ which, let’s face it, is pretty damning under the circumstances, but it turned out to be his BFF from years ago who also has a gun for an arm and is now some kind of gang leader in the amusement park’s private prison (this, as of course you know, is something all amusement parks have). Barrett’s friend, Dyne, has basically become disillusioned with the whole concept of existence and just wants to, in his words, ‘destroy everything,’ and eventually kills himself after losing a duel with Barrett, telling Barrett to take care of Marlene (who is actually Dyne’s biological daughter and was adopted after their hometown was destroyed, which… you know, I had been wondering about the whole black father/white daughter thing, but I just assumed Marlene was actually Cloud and Tifa’s illegitimate love-child, so hey, go figure). I don’t think we actually managed to resolve anything and I’m pretty sure everyone in what used to be Barrett’s hometown still hates him, but he seems happier about it, so… yay?
Also, we found Red XIII’s hometown. Now, I have been wondering about this ever since he mentioned it. Is there a whole town of magic talking hyenas? Well… no. It turns out Red (whose real name is Nanaki, though he doesn’t seem to care what we call him) is, like Aeris, the last of his kind, although the village where he grew up, Cosmo Canyon, is still inhabited by humans, many of whom consider him family (also he’s 48 years old, but his species lives for a very long time, so he’s actually, like, the equivalent of a teenager). The town is famous for its observatory, where Red’s (human) ‘grandfather,’ Bugenhagen, studies life-force. He explains the metaphysics driving the plot for us: when living things die, their souls pass to something called the ‘lifestream,’ where they all get mixed up together and provide a source for the souls of new living things, and indeed non-living things too (he seems to say that the lifestream is important to the physical integrity of the planet itself). This is a problem, since the lifestream is the fuel source being used by the evil power company’s reactors. Another of the elders also told Cloud a little bit about the Cetra, saying that their ‘Promised Land’ probably isn’t an actual place, exactly, as the evil power company and Sephiroth seem to believe. Rather, since the Cetra view life as a journey (which makes a lot of sense for a nomadic culture), the Promised Land is the ultimate destination of life – that is, death. I guess that means the Promised Land is actually a metaphor for rejoining the lifestream? So for the Cetra death is, like, no biggie? Good news for Aeris, I guess (since, as we all know, Aeris dies). Someone should probably explain that to Sephiroth; it might make him a bit less angsty and… y’know… genocidal.
Oh yeah, and also there was a thing where Red believed his father Seto was a coward who ran away from battle, but actually it turns out he was this really amazing war hero who kept fighting to protect the village even as his body was being turned to stone by poisoned arrows, and I’m not… quite sure exactly where Red managed to get his wires crossed there, but apparently his mother didn’t want anyone to speak about Seto’s last battle, or something? But whether it makes sense or not I have to admit that the scene where Red finds out and pledges himself to honouring his father’s memory, causing his father’s petrified body to shed tears, is very touching. So Red is now a happier, better-adjusted person… hyena… thing. Yeah.
Also my party has been joined by some kind of… fortune-telling cat with a… cape, a megaphone, and a pet… marshmallow demon… or something. He calls himself Cait Sith, which is rather a disappointment, because normally I expect anything with the word “Sith” in its name to come with a red lightsabre (note that, although I’m using masculine pronouns here, I have no idea whether Cait Sith is male or female, or indeed whether those concepts have any meaning for him… her… it). This game is… a lot weirder than I had bargained for. Touché, Final Fantasy VII. Touché. Honestly Cait Sith doesn’t seem to have much personality to him, he’s just… really weird, and kind of obsessed with food, and luck? Then again, maybe we’ll go to his hometown someday and meet a whole race of fortune-telling cats with pet marshmallow demons and it will all make sense. Somehow. The possibility was raised at some point that there is a spy in the party, since our Turkish rivals seem to have information on our movements, and Cait Sith was like “aww, man, everyone’s going to blame me because I’m new,” and Cloud was like “but I trust everyone,” which… wait, Cloud, are you feeling all right? That sounded almost nice. I think maybe Aeris and Tifa have been slipping something in his drinks. Only… hang on a second, Cloud, let’s think about this – Cait Sith joined the party, like, five minutes ago, for extremely flimsy reasons (he claims to be curious about Cloud’s destiny, since he wasn’t able to tell his fortune coherently – just produced some nonsense about his ‘lucky colour’ being blue), and is literally the only person in the group without a serious personal grievance against the bad guys. I mean, on the other hand, he’s a friggin’ joke character, and I wouldn’t even be thinking about it if he’d just kept his mouth (or… his megaphone?) shut, but… you gotta admit, it looks suspicious. I don’t know, it could just as easily be Cloud; he was pretty quick to stop anyone from asking questions with that ‘trust’ comment…
And now we have wandered into Cloud and Tifa’s hometown of Nibelheim. The town which was burnt to the ground by Sephiroth five years ago, but now appears to be standing intact. Hmm.
…I gotta say, this is not the strangest thing that has happened to the party today.