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.