Quarantine Playtime

Soooooo, a week into pandemic lockdown, my laptop broke down, and getting it fixed is taking a bit longer than it otherwise might, so I haven’t been able to work properly for the last few days (notwithstanding the Q-and-A posts I had already written and queued). Courtesy of this disruption to my normal workflow, you’re getting a short (and for once I actually mean that, I’m drafting this entirely on my phone) review/discussion of a Nintendo Switch game I bought to amuse myself while my laptop is out of commission: Octopath Traveler.

Continue reading “Quarantine Playtime”

A Paean to an Obsolete and Underloved Game

I wish to ramble, at length and for no reason in particular, about something of absolutely no importance.

More specifically, I wish to ramble about an interesting but obscure and not particularly successful 1997 real-time strategy game that is wildly unbalanced, has clunky and unintuitive controls, is frankly kinda glitchy, and was created by a studio that went under more than 15 years ago.

You have been duly warned. Continue reading “A Paean to an Obsolete and Underloved Game”

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 10 and wrap-up

Basically all that’s left to cover now is the final boss sequence – there’s a big cave full of monsters to go through, but nothing of tremendous interest happens during that, so I’ll just cut to the chase.  Cloud and his party reach the bottom of the old Jenova impact crater, which is now open to the lifestream beneath the planet’s surface.  They fight Jenova herself, who is… anticlimactic, to be honest; she’s mostly just a great big sack of HP with a couple of slappy tentacles.  I’m still not totally sure I ‘get’ Jenova.  She’s some sort of alien, she created a plague that wiped out the Cetra, one assumes she’s quite intelligent, and this whole thing has been about her cells, which have been implanted into various humans like Sephiroth and Cloud as part of genetic experiments, trying to reassemble themselves… but what exactly does that have to do with what Sephiroth is now up to?  Has he subordinated Jenova to the demands of his own power trip?  If so, how?  Or is Jenova just a destroyer by nature, and totally on board with anything that causes more death?

Anyway, once Jenova’s dead, it’s down into the lifestream to fight Sephiroth, who promptly turns into some kind of… giant floaty angel statue thing which has to be fought with two parties at once: one group to attack his left side and breach his defences, so Cloud’s group on the right can destroy his ‘core,’ which otherwise gives him sufficient healing power to recover from just about anything you throw at him.  A bit of a pain, but throw all your summons at him and he’ll drop.  And then turn into a radiant seraph-like creature with even greater powers.  Joy.  In this form, Sephiroth has a number of nasty abilities; he can shield himself from both physical and magic damage, he can attack with his one black wing, he can dispel your beneficial magic, he can blast you with magical energy, and he can turn your party members into frogs… but certainly the most devastating is his special attack, which is to blow up the sun.  He can do this more than once, which makes me wonder how many solar systems this planet is part of.  Equally, it makes me wonder why he didn’t do that earlier.  It seems like a much more efficient way of traumatising the planet, and also probably not vulnerable to interference from Holy.  He’s certainly happy to get rid of Cloud by blowing up suns left and right; it seems like it would make a useful all-purpose solution.  Neighbour’s dog digging holes in your yard?  Blow up the sun; that’ll teach ‘im.

Once Sephiroth falls and the party is about to leave, Cloud’s soul unexpectedly leaves his body and backflips into the lifestream for one final round against Sephiroth, but this seems to be unloseable; Cloud just kicks the cr@p out of him, then has a vision of Aeris before waking up – now certain that he’ll be able to meet her again in the promised land (I’m… still pretty sure the promised land is a Cetra metaphor for death, but whatever floats his boat, I guess).  The party zeppelins out on the edge of a huge explosion as the power of Aeris’ final spell, Holy, is released at last.  So, that should stop the meteor, right?  Well… no.  No, apparently not.  It’s too close.  Its proximity is already tearing the city of Midgar apart, and the Holy pulse only makes things worse, whipping up a vortex of doom across the entire massive city.  Nice going, Aeris.  GREAT plan.  Just GREAT.  At this point, countless tendrils of green light – the power of the lifestream – burst out of the ground from all across the landscape and converge on Midgar.  For a moment, we see Aeris’ face, surrounded by the green light of the lifestream.  And… then the credits roll.

…so what happened?

After the credits finish, there’s a short scene depicting Red XIII five hundred years later, along with two children (I guess he wasn’t quite the last of the last of his kind…) running through a canyon and cresting a ridge to see Midgar on the other side.  The city is in ruins, but it’s been overgrown by beautiful, thriving jungle.

Hmm.  Well, Sephiroth explained earlier that when the planet is wounded it uses the lifestream to heal itself.  That was the whole purpose of his plan, except that he was supposed to be at the epicentre to absorb the energy.  I guess that’s exactly what we saw happening.  It sort of seems like the whole ‘Holy’ thing was kind of a bust, because in the end it only caused more damage instead of stopping the meteor, so I guess that was a terrible plan after all, Aeris, but at least we killed Sephiroth and prevented him from following through with his plan to take control of the lifestream.  And anyway it’s all good because Aeris is… in the lifestream now.  Possibly… directing it.  Um… Aeris…?  Did you… get yourself killed on purpose so that you could reach the ‘promised land’ first and do what he was trying to?  Because if Aeris is seriously going to tell me that traumatising poor Cloud by being brutally murdered right in front of him was all part of the plan, then so help me, I- I-

…I really have to congratulate her.  Sephiroth struck her down, and she became more powerful than he could possibly imagine (well, okay, that’s going a bit far; Sephiroth has an unusually vibrant imagination when it comes to power, but you take my meaning), because she just ‘got’ the whole ‘lifestream’ thing about ten times better than him.  Go Aeris.

Speaking of Aeris, a couple of people have been wanting me to watch the Game Theory video on her death, which I have now done.  I gotta say… I am extremely sceptical.  Jim described it as “a waste of internet” and not “worth the megabytes taken to download it, let alone the time [we’ll] never get back,” and I don’t think I’d go that far, but I sort of have a hard time going along with it.  In case you’re not in a position to watch the video, the argument is as follows: Aeris did not die when Sephiroth stabbed her in the Cetra shrine, but collapsed and went into shock when his sword severed her spinal cord, dying only as a result of Cloud’s touching but misguided water burial.  The evidence presented is that Aeris does not visibly bleed when skewered (suggesting that the sword blow miraculously missed all her major blood vessels and internal organs) and that her body sinks like a stone when Cloud releases it (dead bodies are usually more buoyant than living ones).  The video does anticipate the obvious counterargument to the absence of blood (i.e. the developers thought it would be too graphic and avoided it) by noting two prominent and deliberate uses of blood in other parts of the game (namely, the aftermath of the slaughter in the Shinra building, and streaked all over Sephiroth’s face after his final dream-duel with Cloud in the lifestream).  I think there’s actually an even more obvious reason they forgot, though: the blood in the examples given by Game Theory is not moving; it’s texture, whereas blood spilling from Aeris’ perforated torso would necessarily have to be in motion.  Flowing liquids are notoriously difficult to model in computer animation, and this game was made over a decade ago.  Based on what I’ve seen of  Final Fantasy VII’s graphical capabilities, I don’t think the game designers could have shown Aeris bleeding in a realistic manner even if they’d wanted to; in fact, I think any attempt would have appeared almost comical and seriously detracted from the gravity of the scene – as good a reason as any not to do it.  For the water burial likewise, there is a perfectly good reason for Aeris’ body to sink: because it looks right.  There are only so many ways to get rid of a dead body.  Cloud could have buried Aeris, or cremated her, but somehow I just don’t think that seeing Cloud dig a grave for Aeris, or seeing her body burn, would have produced the same effect of serenity as seeing her body sink slowly into the clear water, with her hair fanning out around her.  The water burial also fits with the marine motifs of the City of the Ancients (I still have no idea why the City of the Ancients has a marine theme, but given that it does…).  In short, there are perfectly compelling artistic reasons for the anomalies noticed by Game Theory, and I think these are much more likely to have been on the developers’ minds than obscure anatomical trivia.  I just don’t buy it.

Anyway, the game.

So, I liked this game.  It was fun.  And stuff.

For me, it wasn’t a big turning point in how I view games or anything, though perhaps it might have had a greater impact on me if I had played it in the 90’s when it was first released.  The plot is intricate (at times a little too intricate for my taste, to be honest, and I feel like there are still loose ends there – which I guess is the reason this game has a movie sequel, Advent Children… which I guess I should watch… later…), the characters are compelling (even Cait Sith has his moments, I feel – though I think I’m in the minority on that one), and as I’ve said before this game has a really good handle on atmosphere; the music does a great job of backing up the action, there are a good number of very powerful moments in the story, and the game milks the extremely basic character models for all the expressiveness they can muster and then some.  I mean… I certainly can’t say there’s nothing I would have done differently, but in terms of story and atmosphere it’s undoubtedly well put-together.  I’m kind of neither here nor there about the battle system.  Although it produces some interesting tactical considerations, I’m not a huge fan of the materia system, partly because it makes switching party members such a pain, but also because it makes it rather difficult to see what each character actually brings to the table in terms of skills and abilities.  The characters have different stats, sure, which makes some better at certain roles than others, but even Barret and Tifa aren’t that bad at magic, even Aeris and Cait Sith aren’t that bad at hitting stuff, and most of the other characters are pretty competent at both.  That just leaves their limit break powers, the vast majority of which are pretty straightforward: Aeris’ limit breaks heal and protect the party while Vincent’s allow him to transform into various horrifying monsters, but aside from them, most of everyone else’s skills basically amount to “I hit the monster lots of times really hard.”  Of course, for most of the game, that’s all you really need – I thought Pokémon was generally pretty easy, but Final Fantasy VII was a walk in the park up until the last four or five boss battles, when things rather suddenly became much more interesting (and apparently my party was dramatically under-levelled compared to Jim’s normal experience of this game because I spent very little time training, finishing with no-one above level 60 except for Cloud).  Is that a bad thing?  I’m not really sure.

In short?  I guess I have mixed feelings about this game.  I can see why it’s considered a classic, though.  It got a lot of things right – and, well, compare it to what Pokémon was doing in the same year.  Obviously comparing gameplay and mechanical complexity isn’t entirely fair because the demands of their respective consoles are very different, and I’d still side with Pokémon on creature design and diversity, but in terms of story and characterisation… well, Yellow version made some important advances on its predecessors, but was still kinda ‘meh.’  I mean, Final Fantasy’s going to have to do a lot more than that to convert this Pokémaniac, but I’m still glad I played this game, I think.  Beats the $#!t out of doing actual WORK, anyway…

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 9

Cloud and Red XIII drag the party back to Red’s hometown, Cosmo Canyon, to get advice on the whole “obliterative meteoric cataclysm” thing from his human grandfather, Borgenhorgen.  Badenhoffen.  Whatever.  He feeds them a spiel about having to remember where they’ve been in order to figure out where to go next, or something like that, and they all just start thinking about poor dead Aeris, which is kind of a downer for everyone concerned (‘cept for Bosenhugen; I’m not sure he ever actually met her, so he just keeps doing his creepy “hoo hoo hoo!” laugh).  It occurs to Cloud, though, that maybe Aeris actually had some kind of plan.  That… huh.  Y’know, I suppose if she had some kind of Cetra ace up her sleeve, that would explain why she was willing to go and face down Sephiroth alone… I mean, it was still dumb; there’s no reason she couldn’t have taken a few people with her and left Cloud behind, but if she legitimately had good reason to think she could end it right there, I can sort of understand wanting to keep her friends out of danger (well, except for Yuffie; I think Yuffie should be kept in as much danger as possible).  Binglehopper suggests he accompany the party to the place of Aeris’ death and see if they can find any clues as to what her plan was, so it’s time to hit the road again.

Back in the City of the Ancients… well, the entrance to the hidden shrine where Aeris actually kicked the bucket is blocked by some kind of oversized ornamental clownfish (seriously, what is with the marine motifs in this place?), but Morgenstern does discover that Aeris’ plan was to use an artefact known as the White Materia to access the ultimate form of white magic, Holy (the opposite to Meteor, Sephiroth’s ultimate black magic), a spell which is said to wipe out everything that threatens the planet.  Cloud, justifiably, finds this definition concerningly vague, but Rosencrantz insists it’ll work out fine.  For a given value of “fine.”  And “work.”  They discover that Aeris has actually cast the spell already (so there’s no need to go and find the White Materia, which was in her possession when she died), but Sephiroth is blocking it from taking effect somehow.  Remove Sephiroth from the equation in time, and Holy will take out the meteor.  You know, I think this is the first time in this entire game we’ve actually had a plan!  YES!

Things are… disrupted a little… when one of the Weapon-monsters, Diamond Weapon, decides to attack Midgar, the capital city of the world or whatever.  Luckily, the Turkish electricity board have taken the giant cannon they used to destroy the first Weapon, moved it to Midgar and reconfigured it to run on pure life force, making it pretty much one step down from the Death Star as far as mass-mudering potential goes, but it’s not quite operational just yet (wait… how exactly did they move this thing to begin with?  It’s bigger than a skyscraper and clearly not built to move under its own power; did they… like, roll it to Midgar, or…?).  Cait Sith alerts the team to what’s going on, and actually gets a really awesome bit of dialogue where he calls Barrett out for only caring about his daughter’s safety and not being bothered with innocent people who just happen to live in Midgar or work for the evil power company (the kind of innocent people who were written off as collateral damage by Barrett’s eco-terrorists at the beginning of the story).  Y’know, I initially found Cait Sith kinda boring, and then he was a massive douchebag by betraying the party to the Turkish police, but in spite of everything, he’s really growing on me.  Even if he is a fortune-telling robot cat.

Cloud and the others go down and fight Diamond Weapon, keeping him busy long enough for the giant cannon (which, for some reason quite beyond my comprehension, is now called the ‘sister ray’) to fire.  Before the beam actually hits him, Diamond Weapon fires off a massive barrage of sparkly things.  End result: both Diamond Weapon and Midgar are wrecked, and Sephiroth’s great big energy shield, hundreds of kilometres further north and directly behind Diamond Weapon, takes a hit from the giant laser and collapses.  Whoo!  Let’s go stab him!

Only… the giant laser isn’t shutting down like it should.  Actually it’s drawing even more power for another shot.  It’s drawing levels of energy that are in fact hugely dangerous to the city.  Um.  It seems Hojo, the mad scientist, has decided that he can use the cannon to feed power to Sephiroth.  Cait Sith convinces the party to enter Midgar and stop him from blowing up the city in the process.  When we reach the giant laser to stop him, Hojo reveals that the reason he’s doing this is because he is, in fact, Sephiroth’s biological father.  Wait, I thought Sephiroth was… like, a clone or something, with a surrogate human mother (Vincent’s ex-girlfriend) but no father… no, actually, Hojo used cell samples from Jenova to mutate his own child.  Okay, I guess he thought he was making some kind of hybrid Cetra, which isn’t so bad, but still… WOW.  Just… WOW, Hojo.  Dad of the year.  Seriously.  And then once he’s finished explaining all of this he turns into a twisted purple fungus monster thing and tries to kill us.  And then turns into some kind of sleek, colourful, flying humanoid tadpole and keeps trying to kill us.  So, uh… good to see the gene therapy’s working out there, Hojo.

Hojo, after Diamond Weapon, is probably only the second fight in this game I’ve really had to think about, in terms of picking the right spells to use and managing my party’s actions and such.  To be honest, there are moments when it sort of feels like most of the actual gameplay in Final Fantasy VII is really just a run-up to the ridiculously powerful optional bonus bosses, Ruby Weapon and Emerald Weapon, and everything else is deliberately a little on the easy side so it doesn’t get in the way of the story.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Anyway, with all this happily resolved… well, okay, ‘happily’ is a bit of a stretch, but resolved, at any rate… there’s only one thing to do: go shank Sephiroth!  (Okay, this being a Final Fantasy game there’s actually loads of stuff left to do but most of it I don’t find all that interesting).

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 8

Where I left off, Tifa and Barret were about to be executed, Cloud was missing, presumed dead (or… as good as), and the rest of the party was I don’t even know where.  Luckily, an attack by one of the planet’s Weapons disrupts the execution, and they are rescued by an apparently headless fat man in a suit who turns out to be a disguised… Cait Sith!?  Oh, Cait Sith, you magnificent bastard; I forgive you for everything!  Despite complications, they all steal a zeppelin, to Cid’s inexpressible joy, and flee.  Meanwhile, the Weapon monster is defeated by a blast from a cannon the size of a skyscraper (good thing there are more of them out there to mess things up!).  With Tifa as the de facto party leader, the crew sets out to recover Cloud and defeat the numerous bad guys, with greater mobility and resources than ever before.  I’m starting to feel like this game just really enjoys jerking you between “everything’s great” and “c^@p, we’re doomed.”

Speaking of which… Someone (Red XIII?  I don’t recall) suggested that if Cloud fell into the lifestream when Sephiroth collapsed the impact crater, he might have been spat out onto the seafloor and washed up somewhere.  Wait, that’s… weird; this whole time I’ve been assuming the lifestream was this sort of abstract, cosmic thing that had measurable effects but couldn’t be directly observed – apparently not.  It turns out that it’s an actual, physical place; this planet’s mantle is literally made of pure life force… and Cloud’s fallen into it.  Luckily, Red’s suspicion turns out to be totally correct: we stop by an island town we haven’t been to before, and lo and behold – they found Cloud on the beach a few days ago.

…and that’s where the good news ends.

To Tifa’s shock, Cloud is confined to a wheelchair, shows no sign of recognising anyone or even acknowledging their presence, can manage single words only with difficulty, and has only partial control of most of his muscles.  WOW.  I just… WOW.  That is COLD, Final Fantasy VII.  I’d already been sort of desensitised to the idea that Cloud might die (I mean, I doubted he would, but it wouldn’t exactly have been a shock), but this… it had never occurred to me that the game would do this to him, and that made it a pretty powerful, pretty gut-wrenching experience (possibly more so than Aeris’ death, if only because I knew that was coming), and Tifa’s reaction only makes it worse because you can’t help but see it from her perspective: her best friend and possible love interest, in what amounts to a coma, with no apparent hope of recovery… ouch.  The doctors explain that, basically, he’s had a stroke due to massive overexposure to pure soul energy while floating in the lifestream, and that a normal person would certainly have died (I would here like to repeat my assertion that Sephiroth’s plan is probably not going to end well for him, no matter what we choose to do about it).  Tifa, understandably, elects to leave the party and stay with Cloud.  Barrett decides that they need a leader, but no longer feels up to the task, and selects… Cid, who initially declines the position, saying it sounds like a “pain in the ass,” but is eventually persuaded to accept.

So… Aeris is dead, Cloud’s a f$#&ing vegetable, Tifa’s on Florence Nightingale duty, and our new leader is a foul-tempered chain-smoking senior citizen who joined the party because he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life violently swearing at his girlfriend.  That’s great odds.

Credit where it’s due, though, Cid’s leadership is… unorthodox, but effective.  On the suggestion of Cait Sith, who has chosen to become a double agent, we decide to interfere with the evil power company’s latest plan: gather something called Huge Materia, build a bomb out of it, and launch it at the oncoming meteor in order to destroy it.  Wait, that… actually sounds like a way more solid plan than anything we’ve got; I think I’m okay with this.  Oh, whatever.  The team prevents them from collecting two pieces of Huge Materia – in the process hijacking a train, saving Barrett’s hometown from destruction, commanding an army when the game suddenly tries to reinvent itself as real-time strategy, and hatching a giant phoenix egg (look, it was just that kind of Wednesday afternoon) – before going to visit Cloud and Tifa.

Then one of the other Weapon monsters attacks, causing an earthquake that plunges the entire town into the lifestream.

Well, $#!t.

Tifa winds up floating in Cloud’s subconscious, which is a pretty weird place to be but does give her a unique opportunity to fix him by rooting through their shared memories.  They eventually establish that neither Cloud’s account of his life nor Sephiroth’s is correct, and settle on an entirely different third version.  Basically… Cloud wasn’t a clone of anything after all; he did grow up in Nibelheim and did know Tifa, although they weren’t exactly ‘friends’ (Cloud didn’t really have friends because even as a kid he was a tremendous douchebag), but when he left to join the evil power company’s secret private army of magic cyborg knights, he found that he just didn’t make the cut.  The initiation treatment (which includes direct exposure to pure magical energy and injection with cells from Jenova) left him a bit unstable, somewhat prone to hallucination, suggestion and memory modification, and generally unsuitable as a magic cyborg knight (though it did, as we know, enhance his abilities to the point that he’s the best fighter in this party, anyway).  He instead joined the evil power company’s regular private army of faceless minion cannon fodder.  He did come back home five years ago, but not as one of the two elite agents on the mission – he was just one of Sephiroth’s troops.  He saw Tifa, but she didn’t see him.  When Sephiroth went nuts, the other elite, Zack, challenged him and was quickly defeated – but Cloud took Zack’s sword, sneaked up on Sephiroth, and stabbed him.  Sephiroth, wounded but alive, fled.  When Cloud attempted to pursue him, Sephiroth stuck a sword through his shoulder and told him “don’t push it”… and Cloud countered by grabbing the sword, lifting Sephiroth up, and flinging him into the reactor core.

…well done, Cloud.

Now, I’m not sure whether this is true, or just sufficiently plausible and agreeable that Tifa and Cloud decided to run with it, but either way, this is enough to heal Cloud’s tortured psyche and wake him up.  He and Tifa survive their dip in the lifestream and wash up on shore to be collected by the rest of the party (wait, why isn’t Tifa…? Oh, you know what, I’m not going to question it, I’m just going to be grateful).  There’s another piece of Huge Materia to snag, but this one slips through their fingers (long story short, it winds up on the bottom of the ocean and we now own a submarine – it was just that kind of Thursday afternoon).  One last piece is already being loaded onto Cid’s old rocket ship – so the party hijack the rocket so Cid will get to go to space, steal back the Huge Materia, and then bail in the escape pod before the rocket hits the oncoming meteor (with a little timely and Karmically-appropriate help from Cid’s much-despised girlfriend Shera).

Without the Huge Materia in its warhead, the rocket damages the meteor (quite severely, in fact – several chunks of it are blown off, and some kind of core is now visible) but fails to destroy it.  Again… would it maybe have been a better idea just to give this plan a try?

Cloud and the others realise that, in fact, blowing up the meteor with a Materia bomb was pretty much the only solid plan anyone had, and, in the absence of any better ideas, decide to head for Red’s home town to consult Bogenhogen.  Blegenhegen.  Bargenhosen.  Er… Grandpa Red XIII.  He’ll know what to do!

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 7

Well, Aeris is dead.

I realise I should probably be more emotional about this, but I think the fact that I knew it was coming dampened the impact a little.  I can imagine that for Jim, playing this game when it first came out at the ripe old age of 8 (what kind of sick mind does that to an eight-year-old?  Hell, what kind of sick mind does that to my eight-year-old best friend?), it was probably a pretty nasty shock.

What happens, in short, is that Cloud and the others arrive at the City of the Ancients (which seems to have a very pronounced marine theme for some reason; I didn’t think the Cetra were an aquatic race…) and find Aeris praying alone in an underwater sanctuary.  Apparently under Sephiroth’s influence, Cloud draws his sword and, slowly but surely, struggling every step of the way, raises it over his head, ready to slice Aeris in two.  This, I think, is about as close as I got to the shock someone playing this game sans spoilers would have experienced because, although I’ve known from the start that Aeris’ life had a use-by date, I didn’t think the game would be cruel enough to make the player push the button.  That was… well, honestly a little sickening.  I briefly contemplated just turning the game off.  In the end, though, Cloud snaps out of it, and instead Sephiroth drops out of nowhere and skewers her.  As I said, probably quite a nasty shock for someone who doesn’t know it’s coming, especially after Cloud has just come to his senses and you think it’s safe.

After Aeris’ death, Cloud vows revenge, and the party continues following Sephiroth north, past another town (where we learn some interesting things about Aeris’ mother, Ifalna) and eventually to a crater in the middle of an ancient glacier where Sephiroth’s black-robed mind-slaves are gathering for the ’re-union.’  Cloud fights Sephiroth again and takes back the Black Materia, gives it to Barrett for safe keeping, and heads further in to settle things once and for all.  Meanwhile, Rufus Shinra arrives at the head of the Turkish air force, believing that the materia-rich crater is the ‘Promised Land’ he has been searching for this whole time.  This… is where things start to get a little bit screwy.

Backing up a bit.  Ifalna left a few video recordings behind – interviews between her and a scientist studying the history of the Cetra.  This man is Professor Gast, the former Turkish head of science, and apparently Aeris’ father (!!), who sacrificed himself to help Ifalna escape the Turkish police with their daughter.  The substance of what she says is as follows: two thousand years ago, the planet was struck by an object falling from the sky (the last time Meteor was cast…?) – the impact crater is where we are now.  The local Cetra clan attempted to help the planet heal itself, but they were deceived by the thing that fell from the sky: Jenova, who approached them in the guise of a Cetra and infected them with some kind of plague that drove them mad.  Jenova destroyed all the Cetra clans in the same way, though a few survivors eventually defeated her.  The planet itself had also been concocting some way of fighting back – a huge, powerful monster called simply ‘Weapon’ – but by the time it was grown, Jenova had already been subdued, so Weapon now sleeps in the impact crater along with Jenova’s remains… and Sephiroth.

Yeah, Sephiroth’s been here the whole time.  In fact, as far as I can make out, he’s been here ever since he was supposedly killed five years ago.  The Sephiroth we’ve been seeing, and chasing, and fighting, who killed Aeris, is… I guess a figment of Cloud’s overly active imagination?  The real one is sealed in some kind of crystal at the centre of the crater.  However, after he ‘died,’ Hojo tried to clone him, with mixed results – hence all the black-robed men with numbers tattooed on their faces… and hence Cloud.  Yeah, Cloud is actually a clone of Sephiroth… somehow.  Apparently the boy Tifa grew up with, who came back home five years ago and fought Sephiroth then, is a completely different person.  Cloud, being a clone of Sephiroth, who is a clone of Jenova, was able to insert himself into her memories, without even realising it himself (kind of like how Jenova was able to appear to the ancient Cetra as members of their families).  He, and all of the other clones, are drawn to “reunion” at the crater – they all contain cells from Jenova, who wants to reassemble herself.  How exactly this fits into Sephiroth’s whole “nuke the planet so I can take control of the lifestream” plan, I have no idea.  In fact, in the midst of all these revelations, I still don’t think we know what Jenova actually wants, or even whether ‘want’ is an applicable verb here, for that matter.  Is it just in her nature to destroy things?

Anyway, while Cloud and Tifa are learning all these things, an image of Tifa, another of Sephiroth’s illusions, appears to Barrett outside, telling him Cloud is in trouble and he needs to come and help right away.  Once Barrett arrives, Cloud asks him for the Black Materia, which he obligingly hands over, and Cloud promptly gives it to the real Sephiroth, suspended in his stasis crystal thingy.  All hell breaks loose.  Sephiroth brings down the whole structure of the crater, forcing everyone except Cloud to evacuate on Rufus’ airship, creates a magical barrier around his sanctum, and begins casting Meteor.  The monster Weapon wakes up (Ifalna only mentioned one of these things, but I think I counted at least four leaving the crater – only one seems to be relevant right now, though) and, apparently heedless of its function to destroy Jenova, starts destroying everything but Jenova.  This is where we stand now: Rufus Shinra, the evil power company, and the Turkish air force are trying to save the world from Weapon; Barrett and Tifa are prisoners on his airship, and are about to be executed as scapegoats for the whole ‘end of the world’ thing… oh, yeah, and Sephiroth is bringing an enormous flaming hunk of rock down upon the planet.

In short: it’s time to put on your war face, b!tches.

To be totally honest, the whole Cloud/Sephiroth thing is still making my head spin a little, but I think it may have some very worrying implications.  If Sephiroth’s been up north in the Jenova crater the whole time, it seems like the Sephiroth we’ve been seeing is basically in Cloud’s head – only everyone else can see him too.  Of course… as a descendent of Jenova, Cloud can alter people’s perceptions, without even necessarily realising that he’s doing it.  He caused Tifa to recognise him as her childhood friend (who looked completely different, by the way), and inserted himself into all her memories.  So maybe everything ‘Sephiroth’ has been doing this whole time is the work of the shuffling, mumbling clones… along with Cloud himself.  What I’m getting at here is that it’s possible Cloud never actually gave the Black Materia to Sephiroth at the Temple of the Ancients at all, but was just subconsciously creating a narrative that would justify his drive to travel north so he could bring the Black Materia to the real Sephiroth at the crater.  And, even worse… I think it’s possible Cloud actually did kill Aeris.