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 Buglehorken 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 Borkahoogen 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.

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 6

Where I left off, the party had just remembered that they were supposed to be looking for Sephiroth, who is supposedly heading for a place called the Temple of the Ancients.  Questioning random members of the citizenry reveals that this temple is ‘way down south’ and cannot be entered without a special keystone – and, as luck would have it, we also happen to bump into the random weaponsmith who just sold this thing to, of all people, the owner of the exorbitantly pricey Golden Saucer amusement park, who even agrees to loan it to Cloud in exchange for a brief stint in his arena.  Everything’s going according to plan!  Now all we have to do is keep Sephiroth from getting his grubby mitts on this thing- and I guess maybe check out the temple too, just to be safe.  The party chills for a while at the Golden Saucer’s haunted house, which doubles as a hotel, and Tifa drags Cloud out on a date, although I don’t think he ever quite realises that it is a date.  He’s just… not a subtle person (as his taste in mêlée weaponry makes abundantly clear).

At this point, Cait Sith steals the keystone, hands it over to the Turkish police, and reveals that he’s been working for the evil power company all along, and GOD DAMN IT I knew it was a bad idea to trust a fortune-telling robot cat with a pet marshmallow demon but I just had to let myself be won over by his… his… I don’t know, I guess his blatant disregard for reality?  And after pulling that $#!t, he then has the gall to ask that Cloud let him stick around like nothing had ever happened!  Unfortunately, he has apparently taken Barrett’s daughter prisoner somehow (damnit, you had ONE JOB, Elmyria!), and his body is only a remote-controlled toy anyway (he’s really a power company employee, plugged into some sort of remote interface at their headquarters), so Cloud and Tifa reluctantly agree to let him stay rather than just filleting him on the spot as any reasonable person would.

Okay.  New plan.  We’re going to the Temple of the Ancients to fight the Turkish police.  Cait Sith, for his part, is totally okay with this and even gives us the co-ordinates to the temple.  Once we get there, it turns out that the Turkish police not only stole the keystone, they also failed to keep Sephiroth out of the temple after opening the damn thing.  Nice going, boys.  Good job.  It’s not even like he’s that tough; one good stab and he just turns into a twenty-foot-tall alien angel monster, and we all know how to deal with those, right?  Anyway.  The moment Aeris gets near the temple, she starts hearing the voices of a group of Cetra who refused to rejoin the lifestream when they died, who give her pointers on getting through the temple, and also show us a vision of Sephiroth in a room with a striking mural of a large group of people watching a meteor fall from the sky.  When we find the room, Sephiroth isn’t there, but it doesn’t take him long to put in an appearance and, like all good supervillains should, explain his diabolical plan: acquire the ultimate destruction spell, Meteor (a ‘calamity from the skies’… hmm…), from the Black Materia inside the temple, then use Meteor to cause such massive, horrific trauma to the planet that it will divert a significant portion of the lifestream to the epicentre of the blast in order to heal itself.  Sephiroth will then use the knowledge he has already gained from the temple to absorb all that power and become, for all intents and purposes, a god.  Honestly this sounds like a terrible plan and, if not for the part about “massive, horrific trauma to the planet,” I’d buy a truckload of popcorn, tell him to follow his dreams, and settle in to watch the show, ’cause I figure there’s better than even odds the lifestream will either take control of him somehow or just blow him up.  It’s almost a shame we can’t afford to let him try.  Oh well.

Anyway, Sephiroth messes with Cloud’s brain briefly and then vanishes.  Aeris learns from the Cetra spirits that, actually, the Black Materia Sephiroth is looking for is the temple itself, which can be magically shrunk down to a nice convenient size by solving a puzzle model – but this can only be done from the inside, crushing whoever gets stuck with that job.  Luckily, Cait Sith has a suggestion – he’ll do it!  His body’s only a toy anyway.  Before the others leave, he says farewell to the party by offering to read someone’s fortune, and Aeris asks him to check her romantic compatibility with Cloud (apparently, they’re astonishingly perfect for each other) – while Tifa is standing right there.  Dick move, Aeris.  Seriously, dick move.  Cait Sith gets a nice scene in the temple core where he talks about how he’s happy that he gets to be a hero, and how there are lots of toys like him, but there’s only one of him, and anyway even if he’s going to die it was worth it to make Aeris smile, and y’know what?  This would be really touching if not for the fact that the bastard comes straight back in an identical new body about five minutes later.

So we get the Black Materia… and Sephiroth shows up again, mind-rapes Cloud into handing it over, and leaves.

…y’know, I’m starting to think everyone in this party is going to betray everyone else at least once by the end of the game.

Cloud has a total breakdown and goes to sleep for about a week, waking up with a profound sense of total worthlessness, and contemplating abandoning the whole fight, since he clearly can’t let his teammates rely on him against Sephiroth.  Tifa and Barrett convince him that it’s no biggie; they can always smack him upside the head and sort him out later if he flips again.  There are bigger problems, though.  While Cloud is sleeping, he sees Aeris in a dream, explaining to him something she has evidently told the party as well: Sephiroth is going to a place on the northern continent called the City of the Ancients to cast Meteor, and Aeris wants Cloud to just sit back, take some Cloud-time, and let her handle Sephiroth.  Alone.

Wait, what?  No.  Aeris, no; that is a terrible idea.  Do you remember what happened the last time you left the party without taking any materia, Miss Quarterstaff-and-a-pink-dress?  I can understand wanting to leave Cloud behind; he’s just not in a good place at the moment, even if he is the best fighter in the group.  You don’t need to leave everyone else behind to guard him,though!  Even if you don’t want anyone else to get hurt, what did we just learn about Cait Sith?  It’s okay if he dies.  He doesn’t mind.  By the way, as long as we’re on this train of thought, it’s also okay if Yuffie dies.  She f#$%ing deserves it.  I’m pretty sure with Cloud out of commission you’re pretty much the de facto protagonist anyway; no-one’s going to question you if you just want to lead the whole party in there.  There’s no reason this has to be a…

…suicide mission.

…c^@p I just figured out how Aeris dies LET’S HAUL ASS, PEOPLE!

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 5

Where was I?

Oh yeah.  Nibelheim.

So, Cloud and Tifa’s hometown is still there, in flagrant defiance of its total destruction five years ago by Sephiroth, but is almost completely deserted.  There are two or three people, who claim to have lived there for decades but don’t know Cloud, and a large number of mysterious black-robed figures with different numbers tattooed on their faces (hmm – doesn’t Sephiroth have a 1 tattooed on his face?) who shuffle about murmuring about bringing something to “Great Sephiroth” for some kind of “reunion.”  We found Sephiroth himself in the old mansion at the edge of town.  He still doesn’t seem to remember who Cloud is, rambled incoherently about his ‘mother,’ Jenova, being a “calamity from the skies” (“not a Cetra?” Cloud asks, but Sephiroth isn’t keen to clarify – wait, if Jenova and Sephiroth aren’t Cetra, what the hell are they?  Is there some other ancient race out there intimately tied to the planet’s life force?), told us that he was going to nearby Mount Nibel for the “reunion,” and flew away.  Better follow him.  I took the party up Mount Nibel, to the old reactor where Cloud had confronted Sephiroth years ago, fully expecting a climactic boss battle… and found no-one there.  Hmm.

Did I… just get stood up by the villain?  Sephiroth sure knows how to make a guy feel inadequate.

Oh, yeah, and there was also a Turkish vampire named Vincent hanging out in the mansion – and by ‘hanging out’ I mean lying in his coffin sleeping through a perpetual nightmare to atone for his past failures.  He’s a cheery fellow.  Vincent was apparently in love with Sephiroth’s human surrogate mother, a woman named Lucrecia who, I am given to understand, died in childbirth or something.  Vincent has joined the gang in the hopes of getting revenge on Hojo, Sephiroth’s creator, for what happened to her.  Don’t know what I think of this guy.  I’m not generally a huge fan of the whole ‘life of revenge’ thing.  Then again, he’s a vampire with a red cape, a mechanical arm, and a pistol.  Dude has style.

Once down from the mountain, I ran into another new recruit: a passive-aggressive ninja chick named Yuffie who clearly wanted to join the party but wouldn’t say so, preferring instead to stalk and attack us, insulting us when she lost, then throwing a tantrum and leaving.  I have learnt that she can only be kept under control by paying her exactly the right amount of attention – don’t watch her carefully enough, and she’ll mug you and run away; watch her too closely, and she’ll decide she’s better than you, mug you and run away.  Mugging people and running away seems to be Yuffie’s schtick.  I despise her already.

The next town shows no sign of Sephiroth, but does yield a rusted old rocket ship (the remains of the evil power company’s defunct space program), a pink seaplane, and yet another new party member: a foul-mouthed, grumpy old aviator named Cid (rule #18 of Final Fantasy games: there is always a guy named Cid who owns a zeppelin).  Cid wanted to be the world’s first astronaut, as the pilot of the rocket that dominates the town’s scenery, but his dreams were crushed, entirely accidentally, by a woman named Shera, an assistant who took too long checking the oxygen tanks in the ship’s engine room during pre-flight preparations.  Shera would have been incinerated if the ship had taken off, and kept telling Cid she was totally okay with that as long as she could make absolutely sure the oxygen tanks were good, but Cid cancelled the launch at the last minute to save her life – thus missing a launch window that only came around twice a year.  The incident led to the shutdown of the space program, and Cid was left with nothing to live for but insulting Shera for the rest of his days.  Kind of a contrived story, if you ask me, but hey, whatevs.

Anyway, the events that lead to Cid joining Cloud’s group are as follows.  Rufus Shinra has turned up with one of his underlings, Palmer, to confiscate Cid’s seaplane for use in hunting Sephiroth, who is apparently heading for a place called the Temple of the Ancients (our next destination – now we just need to figure out where the damn thing is).  While Cid and Rufus argue, Palmer goes to snag the thing quietly – and so does Cloud.  This leads to what is absolutely, without question, the most bizarre boss fight I have ever endured: a battle against a dancing fat man with a magic handgun who keeps mooning the party and inexplicably will not die after being pummelled with several rounds of the most powerful spells we have on hand.  He eventually gives up the fight and goes to hop in the plane – only to be flattened by a passing truck.

…you win, Final Fantasy VII; I officially have no idea what you’re smoking.

The party flees town on the plane, taking heavy fire as they do so, pick up Cid along the way, and are forced to crash-land in the nearby sea.  Cid pronounces the plane irreparable, but Cloud decides it can still be used as a leaky boat, so we all sail over to the next island.

Then Yuffie f*#&s off with all our materia.

GOD F&*%ING DAMNIT YUFFIE you’ve been in this party for like FIVE MINUTES and the first thing you do is steal all our $#!t and run away!?

You know what?  I was totally being WAY TOO HARD on Cait Sith.  There was no spy in this party at all; it was probably just F$#^ING YUFFIE following us and blogging about us for everyone to read.

The party pursues Yuffie to her hometown, Feudal Japan, and chases her all over the city.  At one point, she pretends she’s been caught and starts crying, telling a story about how she needed the materia to save her town from poverty, in order to lure Cloud and the others into a trap. Eventually, though, the group winds up having to join forces with the Turkish police in order to rescue the conniving b!^@# from, of all people, the goddamn pimp king from way back at the start of the game.  Rescuing her, I can get behind, since she’s the only one who knows where the materia’s stashed.  But then Cloud just lets her back into the group because she gave it back and said she was sorry!  What the hell is going on with him?  I want Depressed Bastard Cloud back!  He would never have stood for this nonsense!  Seriously, she’s spent, like, ten times longer running us around in circles and stealing our $#!t than she has actually helping us and he lets her back in?

Jerk probably just wants to sleep with her.

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 4

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.

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 3

So, I’ve just had a whole bunch of information dumped on me about what’s going on in this story.  In terms of what’s actually happened since the last entry… well, we rescued Aeris from the evil Turkish power company (break into an office building?  Yeah, I’ve raided Silph Co., I know what I’m doing), picking up a talking hyena named Red XIII in the process, got captured again, were mysteriously released to find everyone in the building dead, had a brief stand-off with the tyrannical new President (the son of the more manageably evil old President), busted out of the place with Cloud on a tricked-out motorcycle and everyone else piled into a three-wheeled pickup truck (I have to admit, this game has style), blew up a tank, and then fled the scene, and now everyone’s chilling in some small town inn listening to Cloud’s war stories.  In terms of what we now know…

Okay, so Elmyria is not really Aeris’ mother, or not her birth mother anyway.  Aeris was orphaned at about 8 years old.  Elmyria happened to be present when her mother, Ifalna, died, and figured “eh, my husband’s off fighting in some war, I don’t have any kids, and I’m not getting any younger, know what I’m sayin’?”  Aeris and Ifalna were the last of a race called the Ancients, also known as the Cetra (etymology – possibly from Latin cetera, ‘other’?  If so it’s probably not what they called themselves), who are prophesied to lead the way to the ‘Promised Land,’ a beautiful and ever-fertile place which, logically, would be a great spot to set up a few hundred of those fertility-burning power plants.  The Turkish chief scientist, Dr. Hojo, seems to think it would take 120 years to actually use Aeris to find the way there, though, and thus wishes to ‘breed’ her (makes sense, although that doesn’t quite explain why his Plan A was to stick her in a cage with poor Red XIII…).  Apparently Ifalna was subjected to some kind of experimentation as well in her time (Hojo comments that she was a much better subject) – I’m guessing she and Aeris were on the run when she died.  Sephiroth, Cloud’s old boss whom everyone thought was dead, is a Cetra too, and seems to be at least partially responsible for the massacre in the power company’s headquarters.  He seems to regard the Promised Land as his birthright, and isn’t keen on letting anyone else get there first.

There’s a whole story behind that, too, which is the purpose of the war story Cloud is sharing with everyone.  Apparently when Cloud knew him Sephiroth was a pretty good dude (of course, apparently Cloud was a pretty good dude back then too, so what can I say, people change.  ZING!).  As part of their work in the evil power company’s secret private army of magic cyborg knights or whatever, Cloud and Sephiroth were both sent to Cloud and Tifa’s hometown to check out a malfunctioning reactor.  Turns out the reactor was malfunctioning because Hojo for some godawful reason had been using it to broil soldiers in pure life-force, causing them to mutate into horrible monsters (and that… I guess goes some way to explaining all the wild Pokémon in this world).  Sephiroth, who’d known all his life that he was somehow ‘special’ (dude is probably the greatest swordsman in the history of swords, and his aptitude for magic makes Aeris look like an idiot child), made the disconcerting connection that he may have been ‘grown’ in the same way, which would explain why he knew nothing about his parents but his mother’s name, ‘Jenova.’

‘Jenova,’ Sephiroth discovered through subsequent research, was a mostly-dead 2000-year-old Cetra found preserved underground.  The Cetra, according to legend, were a nomadic race who moved from planet to planet in search of the Promised Land, but were destroyed on this world by some sort of cataclysm, while humanity survived (from the sounds of it, the Cetra sacrificed themselves to save humanity – although, given Aeris, it would seem that not all of them died).  Hojo’s far more inspired predecessor, Professor Gast, had been attempting to clone Jenova, or at least use her DNA to create humans with Cetra powers.  Sephiroth put two and two together.  He also blamed humanity for the destruction of the Cetra, completely flipped his lid, and slaughtered everyone in the town except for Cloud and Tifa, claiming to hear his mother speaking to him telepathically and commanding him to take back the world for the Cetra (judging from Aeris’ case, telepathy does seem to be a notable trait of the Cetra – and possibly hearing the voices of one’s ancestors as well).  Cloud confronted Sephiroth, but doesn’t exactly remember what happened, except that he wasn’t turned into a shishkebob and Sephiroth was never seen again.  This, I’m guessing, is what led to Cloud quitting his job.  Understandable, given the circumstances.

There was a tank labelled ‘Jenova specimen’ inside Hojo’s lab, while we were breaking Aeris out – after we were released from our cells later, this tank was at one end of a trail of blood leading up several floors to the President’s office, where the President was slumped over his desk with Sephiroth’s sword in his back.  The tank had contained some sort of alien thing, which Barrett described as a ‘headless freak.’  When Sephiroth found the original Jenova in the power plant outside Cloud’s hometown, she was a weird blue tentacle-y humanoid with red fleshy wings and eyes in funny places.  Aeris’ example (and Sephiroth’s, for that matter) would suggest that this is not exactly what Cetra look like.  I’m sort of inclined to conclude that Aeris and Ifalna were actually human/Cetra hybrids – and hybridisation does seem like a fairly scenario, given that they’re still around even though their race was supposedly wiped out two thousand years ago.  As for the thing in the tank… the trail of blood leading to Sephiroth’s sword seems to suggest either that it was Sephiroth, and this is just what he looks like now, or that he let it loose and helped it kill everything in the building.  Either possibility is worrying.  Sephiroth definitely has some kind of messiah complex thing going; people told him he was ‘special’ while he was growing up, he believed them wholeheartedly, and coming to realise that he wasn’t the kind of ‘special’ he thought was such a shock to his worldview that he immediately had to make a new destiny for himself even more glorious than the one his creators had planned for him.  This guy is bad news.

And that just leaves one thing to talk about: Red XIII, the new team member.  Red is a talking hyena.  In fact, he’s a very well-spoken talking hyena (I can’t help but imagine him with an English accent), seems quite intelligent, and was even fairly well-acquainted with the workings of Hojo’s lab.  He was one of Hojo’s experiments, but I’m not sure whether or not his intelligence is the result of this; Hojo seemed as surprised as anyone else to learn that Red could talk.  He says he’ll stick with Cloud, Aeris, Tifa and Barrett until they get as far as his home, but I get the impression he has a certain intellectual curiosity about the whole Cetra business, and might well decide to stay on just to see what happens.  I quite like this character, as he is possibly the only sane member of the party at this point.  I hope to learn more about him as the story progresses.

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 2

So Cloud, Tifa and Barrett walked into a trap while attacking another power plant (considering that they tried to attack this plant, during business hours, only a day after attacking the last one, again during business hours, I’d say they got what was coming to them, but then again, they’re the terrorists and I’m not going to tell them how to do their jobs).  Long story short, Cloud fell off a building and landed in some chick’s garden inside a ruined church.  This is, like, just a regular work day for him, you understand.  Luckily, the girl says, the roof broke his fall.  Ha.  Ha.  Ha.  Still, after a fall like that, I suppose the five minutes or so of unconsciousness Cloud suffered are a fairly minor setback, all things considered, so maybe she has a point.  The church is a wreck anyway; everything is falling to pieces, and the gardener seems to have torn up the floor to make room for her flowerbed.

This girl is Aeris (which means that she is going to die).  Her thing is basically hanging out in this abandoned church growing flowers, which she then sells on the street.  Cloud has actually met her once before, hanging around near the first power plant we bombed, apparently totally oblivious to the chaos.  She strikes up a conversation with him as she tends her garden, prattling about nothing for a while, before asking him to escort her home, since he’s such a hotshot mercenary – in exchange for the promise of a date at some unspecified time in the future.  Aeris is being hunted by Turkish people from the evil power company who want to give her Cloud’s old job.  Cloud is a bit mean about Aeris’ combat skills when he learns this, although in fairness she does manage to kill a couple of trained soldiers with machine guns using only a long stick – she’s definitely much more effective as a spellcaster, though.  The Turks want Aeris because she is something called an Ancient – supposedly the last one.  Not entirely sure what that means, though I’m guessing her aptitude for magic has something to do with it.

Cloud is inexplicably nice to Aeris, possibly because he hopes to one day sleep with her, possibly because he enjoys being around someone who just flat out refuses to buy into his usual “I am the biggest jerk on the planet” persona.  Aeris, in turn, is inexplicably nice to Cloud, possibly because she also hopes to one day sleep with him, but probably more because she’s nice to everyone.  After he finishes escorting her home, Aeris attaches herself to Cloud, deciding that she will help him with his vaguely-defined quest – as far as I can tell, she does mainly because she’s bored of being a florist – and has been tagging along pretty much ever since, apparently always meaning to go home but never quite finding a moment at which she’s prepared to stop helping.  This works for me since, again, she seems to be the game’s designated spellcaster and is pretty damn good at it.

Meanwhile, Tifa has apparently become a prostitute to help make ends meet.  This does not seem like her at all, so Cloud decides to investigate – but the local pimp king’s mansion is only open to girls, and he isn’t willing to let Aeris go in alone.   Aeris devises a zany scheme to get Cloud inside by dressing him up as a girl, which works surprisingly well, they get inside, and they find Tifa, who is actually here for a chance to get the pimp on his own and interrogate him for information about the power company.  Tifa and Aeris seem to get along very well, all things considered, probably because Tifa likes being able to complain about Cloud to someone who ‘gets’ it (also because Aeris is a pretty difficult person to dislike).  Further zany antics ensue, culminating in Cloud, Aeris and Tifa confronting the pimp king in his bedroom and proposing increasingly gruesome threats to his vulnerable genitalia.  He confesses that the power company has decided to just drop a couple of suburbs on Tifa’s pub and blame it on the eco-terrorists.  Then he drops them through a trapdoor into the sewer.

To cut a long story short, Cloud and Tifa arrive home too late to prevent the destruction of the pub (along with, incidentally, a huge swathe of the city), while Aeris, who had gone off on her own to find Barrett’s daughter Marlene and get her to safety, runs afoul of her Turkish enemies and is kidnapped (when characters leave the party they don’t take any materia with them, and Aeris without materia is basically a girl with a big stick, so in retrospect it was probably a bad idea to send her off on her own).  Cloud, Tifa and Barrett escape unharmed, but the rest of the eco-terrorists are buried under thousands of tonnes of rubble.  A moment of silence for these three – Biggs, Wedge (named, I imagine, for Luke Skywalker’s friends and fellow pilots Wedge Antilles and Biggs Darklighter in the Star Wars films), and Jessie.  They weren’t remarkably competent, but they got their jobs done and they seemed like nice people.  They liked Cloud even though he was a total jerk to them most of the time, and Jessie the technician, I think, even had something of a crush on him.  Barrett loses it when he realises that they’re dead, but manages to calm down a little once Tifa explains that there’s a good chance Aeris was able to get Marlene out, at least.  He seems to be oscillating between the ‘denial’ and ‘anger’ stages of the grief process, although it’s hard to tell against his usual baseline anger.  Tifa has fast-forwarded to ‘depression’ and is no longer sure she can keep up the fight.  And Cloud… well, Cloud, as usual, doesn’t give a $#!t about anything; he wants to go see Aeris’ mother Elmyria and find out what the hell this ‘Ancient’ business is really all about.

I have to admit, this game knows a thing or two about atmosphere.  The graphics may be extremely clunky by today’s standards (it was made in 1997) but the character sprites are pretty expressive considering the level of detail they have to work with (basically substituting gesture and body language for facial expressions and vocal cues), I’m enjoying the music, which contributes nicely to the overall ‘feel’ of each area, and the cutscene of the huge chunk of city falling on the slums gives this wonderful impression of impending doom; it’s really quite powerful stuff.  Also – not going to lie, a lot of Aeris’ dialogue during the cross-dressing sequence made me giggle, especially the part where you’re asked to choose what kind of dress you want for Cloud, “something soft… that shimmers…”  Getting in touch with his feminine side is probably going to be good for him in the long run anyway.

Final Fantasy VII: Entry 1

Right, been playing for a couple of hours now.  I have established that we are definitely terrorists, and we are definitely fighting an evil power company that is providing cheap electricity by burning the soul of the planet as fuel, which seems like a mildly terrible long-term strategy to me, although I think I might detect perhaps a hint of allegorical political commentary in there?  Anyway.  The player character is a young man named Cloud, who used to work for the power company as part of their secret private army of magic cyborg knights (or something) but quit a while ago and now works for the eco-terrorists who are trying to blow up their power plants.  Cloud is a massive douchebag and doesn’t care who knows.  He’s a pretty abrasive guy, all around, and will make it clear to anyone speaking to him that, whatever they’re talking about, he doesn’t care.  This includes the loud angry black man who runs the eco-terrorists, Barrett, who is somewhat incredulous that Cloud can know about what’s happening to the world and still only be in it for the money (which is coming out of Barrett’s daughter’s college fund).  I can think of two explanations here.  One is that Cloud genuinely doesn’t buy into Barrett’s whole “they’re destroying the soul of the planet!” line, and doesn’t believe it ultimately matters who he works for – I don’t quite think I buy this, because he must have quit his old job for some reason.  The other is that Cloud is just fundamentally depressed and sincerely wouldn’t mind if the world ended, and at the moment this seems more likely, because he’s just not a happy person, and also seems prone to debilitating flashbacks reminiscent of PTSD.  I’m pretty sure his deal is that he’s just coming to realise he’s been a horrible person for most of his life, and further realising that he doesn’t actually want to change as much as he probably should, and the combination of those two realisations is basically sending him into a downward spiral of self-loathing.  Something like that.

Now, by emphasising that Cloud is a dick, I don’t mean to imply that Barrett isn’t, because he is also angry, abrasive, violent, and prone to taking his anger out on civilians or teammates (at one point physically throwing an ally across the room apparently for no greater crime than being in the fallout zone of an argument with Cloud).  However, Barrett at least has the redeeming features of his love for his daughter, Marlene, and his apparent sincerity in wanting to, y’know, stop the world from ending.  Also one of his arms ends in a machine gun, which makes him okay in my book.

The third member of the team so far is Tifa, who owns the local pub.  The eco-terrorists live under her pinball machine.  She seems to be an on-and-off member of their group.  She was also Cloud’s best friend when they were children, and I kinda think they have a ‘thing’ going on?  Or maybe they had a ‘thing’ and it ended badly?  Or maybe they both want to have a ‘thing’ but Cloud is too much of a douchebag to say anything and every time Tifa’s about to say something she remembers what a douchebag he is?  I’m kinda getting mixed signals on this one.  Tifa also has issues, because according to one of Cloud’s PTSD flashbacks her father was killed by an employee of the power company’s private army named Sephiroth, who was Cloud’s idol growing up (aside: I am familiar with the name ‘Sephiroth’, and it is definitely a name to run away from very very fast).

The city they all live in seems like a pretty awful place, all around – lots of smog and grime, all the buildings are falling apart, most of them seem to have been built from rubbish anyway, the power company owns the government and runs it like a police state, and people are just generally miserable.  Apparently there’s a nice part of the city where all the rich people live, but I haven’t seen it yet.  As crappy as things are, I’ve got to wonder about the wisdom of blowing up all the power generators to stop pollution – quite aside from the fact that, as various townspeople note, lots of innocent workers are dying in the blasts, I’m also not entirely sure leaving a city of that size completely without electricity is going to be a particularly good scenario either, especially as a lot of their transport infrastructure seems to be electrical.  Lots of people are probably going to die in the ensuing anarchy, and there’s a good risk that a fair few will starve after that.  On the other hand, I can’t say I’m qualified to predict the short- or long-term environmental and societal impacts of the soul of the planet dying, so this may be a case of “you can’t make an omelette without blowing up eight massive power generators in a sustained campaign of militant eco-terrorism.”

As far as the combat system goes – well, I’ve played other Final Fantasy games and so far it seems fairly straightforward but I’m still wrapping my head around this ‘materia’ business.  Apparently people use magic by collecting orbs of… stuff… and jamming it into their equipment?  And then there are some other ones that don’t seem to have anything to do with magic but I haven’t quite worked out what those do.  Cloud is an almighty badass who shakes off machine gun fire and lasers like water off a duck’s back, fights with a sword that’s bigger than he is, and also seems to be some kind of spellcaster, although again I’m not totally solid on the way magic works yet.  Barrett is big and tough and never dies and, again, has a machine gun for an arm, although somehow it doesn’t seem to be as effective at killing things as Cloud’s big-ass sword.  Tifa seems to be an all-rounder.  She punches things.  She must be very good at punching things, because although she’s not quite on the same level as Barrett’s machine gun, I’d say just being on the same order of magnitude is quite an achievement.  Also her special attack has something to do with a slot machine?  I don’t know.  The fights have been fairly straightforward so far, except for the first boss fight against a giant robot scorpion, which I blame entirely on Cloud.  When it raised its tail, Cloud shouted “Be careful, Barrett!  Attack when its tail’s up!  It’s going to counterattack with its laser!” which I took to mean “shoot the f&$#ing thing before it finishes charging its Solarbeam!”  Not a good idea, because every attack made against this thing, by either character, while its tail is up causes it to immediately blast both of them with a giant laser, so apparently when Cloud said “attack when its tail’s up!” he actually meant “DON’T attack when its tail’s up!” which strikes me as evidence of dangerously poor communication skills on his part.

Well, either that, or he’s so far gone that he’s open to enemy-assisted suicide and doesn’t much care whether he takes Barrett with him.  Hmm.

Classic cry for help, that.