Oh look, a planarian! They have the cutest woogly googly eyes.
Uh oh... it seems...hungry?
Our friendly flatworm turns out to be the Midgar Zolom, a powerful boss that we're not meant to face this early. Luckily, I didn't come unprepared, as I was after its special "buttload of damage" skill to add to our blue magic collection.
Ow ow ow. Cloud's the only one standing by battle's end.
On second thought, let's go back to that Chocobo Stable we passed and pick up a more appropriate mount for crossing the marshes.
Just in case we're still traumatized from the Nibelheim flashback, the chocobos give us a happy wark dance.
On the far side of the marshes, we discover that the Zolom population has taken a significant hit.
"Did Sephiroth do this? Amazing," breathes Tifa.
"It's a power that we should respect," Nanaki agrees.
This is made funnier by the fact that we killed two, since I was a fool and halted while trying to screencap my chocobo dashing across the marshes. Cloud sulks because he can't levitate and hang his trophies on a tree.
In the Mythril Mines, we bump into Rude, Tseng, and Reno's newly-recruited replacement, Elena. This slightly pointless Turk scene establishes that (a) Rude doesn't talk much (b) Elena talks too much (c) the Turks have been assigned to obstruct us and (d) they're tracking Sephiroth.
Rude also passes on a message from Reno, who's still recuperating from our last friendly encounter:
Tseng also asks us to give Aeris his regards.
No boss fight? I feel vaguely snubbed.
Outside the mines, we make a detour to the creatively-named Fort Condor, which is a Mako reactor in the middle of absolutely nowhere sporting a giant bird hat.
The Forteans provide us with today's eco-parable: the nefarious Shinra are attacking Ft. Condor in waves to steal the very valuable materia upon which the ginormous condors are nesting. Considering the amount of troops Shinra is committing to the effort, it must be very valuable indeed.
Or else it's a painfully contrived excuse for a tactics-style minigame with ludicrously awful graphics (the only way to get 20-40 animated 3D figures on the screen at once in 1997).
It's ugly, but requires strategy more than reflexes, so I've come to enjoy it.
We repulse the first Shinra attack, collect a reward, and resume tracking Sephiroth to Junon and its unlikely
This entire military instillation is built above and overshadows a traditional fishing village where we encounter yet another environmental disaster. The runoff from the Shinra installation is polluting the ocean and killing the fish. Also, the upper city blots out the sky, much like Midgar's pizza plate over the slums.
A little girl playing out on the probably-toxic beach takes one look at Cloud's SOLDIER uniform and decides we're nasty Shinra people. Fortunately, a mutant fish monster attacks to help us prove we're the good guys.
Mr. Dolphin is, in fact, a dolphin, which has swum out of frame in the above screencap. Unfortunately, Priscilla is not so lucky. She gets bowled over while we're fighting, and no one thinks to drag her out of the water until after the boss battle. Cloud must perform CPR to revive her. (Idle question: Is CPR taught differently in Japan? This minigame has nothing about timing and simply emphasizes full-diaphragm breathing).
After we prove our good guy credentials, a nice old lady offers to put us up for the night. Cloud's Inside Voice takes this opportunity to quiz him over his memories again.
"Yeah...I was surprised," Cloud says. "But where was Tifa other than that?" Mysterious Voice continues. Cloud can't remember, and I am once again nearly as confused as he is.
At Mysterious Voice's urging, Cloud broaches the subject with Tifa the next morning. He starts by asking what should be a stupid question:
Tifa doesn't roll her eyes and say, "With you, cheesehead!" Instead, she gives an oddly tentative, "We saw each other, right?"
Is she asking to test his memory, or is she doubting hers? And why would that be in question, when she spent the whole day hiking up the mountain with him and Sephiroth? (Yes, I know the answer, but this is one of the clues that Tifa's memories don't quite jibe with Cloud's.)
"The other time," Cloud prods. Is he referring to their two different trips to the reactor— the expedition with Sephiroth and their return to yell at him — or some other incident?
"No..." Tifa says. "It was 5 years ago. I don't remember."
With that perplexing business out of the way, it's time to climb topside and spy on the new president, who's getting fêted with a parade. Barret is eager to "pay his respects."
How do we get up there? With the help of high-jumping Mr. Dolphin, of course! Priscilla loans Cloud her special dolphin-whistle to achieve this unlikely feat. (I loathe this minigame, which requires you to maneuver Cloud to the exact pixel where the dolphin's high-jump will propel him to an overhead beam.) Once again, Cloud is playing fast and loose with gravity.
I won't ask why Cloud and the dolphin don't get electrocuted while swimming right next to the high voltage tower, or why, indeed, there's high voltage running down the tower in the first place. Up he goes.
"Oh, phew," Cloud says. "I was wondering when we'd get to the airship." Sorry, Cloud, I don't think it'll be ready until disc 2.
Displaying his keen SOLDIER infiltration skills, Cloud blunders into a squad of army grunts preparing for the parade. Their captain mistakes Cloud for a rank-and-file soldier despite his SOLDIER gear, and orders him back to their locker room and into an infantry uniform.
"A Shinra uniform... I was so proud when I first put it on. I wonder when it was... I couldn't stand wearing this thing anymore." I imagine it was when he got fed up with cleaning hair gel out of the helmet.
Now Cloud gets to march in formation behind Rufus' vehicle, waggling his gun and singing an inane song about Ruuu-fus -- Shiiin-- ra, which I didn't screencap because I can't walk, chew gum, and hit command-shift-4 at the same time. I love the catchy marching band music, even though it sticks in my head for days.
I'm so out of step that the disgusted TV broadcaster sends Cloud a grenade. And I thought Fox News was dangerous.
Cloud's squad halts in front of a platform where Rufus is reaming out Heidegger once again. I like the "New Age Rufus" posters in the background. He's such a sensitive new age guy.
After Rufus leaves, Heidegger vents his frustrations on the nearest soldiers, and (I think) actually smacks Cloud in the face. Then he, too, stomps off.
Time to gather intel! Cloud eavesdrops on his squad and learns that Sephiroth's killed 3 soldiers in Junon within the past few days. Also, Heidegger's pissier than usual because Hojo resigned from his post and disappeared. Oho. Is Hojo after something, or just making himself scarce so as not to face an inquiry about why three of his lab specimens escaped and redecorated Shinra HQ with blood and corpses?
While visiting all the shops and sleazy dives in town, Cloud bumps into Rude drinking and smoking with some rough-looking characters.
At first I thought this was some sort of neutral zone where Turks and adversaries schmooze under a flag of truce. But actually, I think it's meant to show that Rude can't recognize Cloud with that helmet on.
Almost the same thing happens in a more upscale joint where the other three Turks are chilling.
Again, I thought this was Elena saying, "Yo, I'm off duty so I'm just going to ignore you, Cloud." But unless she's had a body swap with Reno, Elena is more likely to say, "Mr. Tseng! Mr. Tseng! They're here! Permission to beat his face in, sir!" I can only assume that Shinra News is broadcasting Cloud's bumbling parade performance on an infinite loop.
Speaking of which, Cloud's bumbled around so much that he gets roped into yet another minigame, a gun twirling drill, in front of Rufus. This time he manages to finish without looking doofy.
Rufus reminds Heidegger that Cloud's party will show up as soon as news of Sephiroth reaches them. Heidegger promises to crush us. Considering what he did to Sector 7, that may not be metaphorical.
Oh, hey, I guess Cloud should be looking for a way to get the rest of the party up here, right? Or not. Inexplicably, Nanaki is hiding right behind Rufus, crouched down behind the hydraulics. And I'm pretty sure that's Aeris or Tifa in disguise behind Heidegger.
As soon as Heidegger and Rufus are out of sight, Cloud and friends follow them into the ship, leaping nimbly over a whole meadow of plot holes:
- How did the rest of the party climb up here? Mr. Dolphin? That I'd like to have seen!
- How did the rest of the party acquire Shinra uniforms or 6X sailor suits?
- Why are we boarding Rufus' ship to who-knows-where when all the Sephiroth-rumors say he's in Junon?
- Why isn't there any security to stop us from boarding the President's ship?
- And WHY did we climb all the way up here to board a boat that travels at sea level?
Aeris may love dress-up, but Tifa's none too thrilled. "I really hate this uniform. Uniforms, soldiers, war, I hate 'em all..."
Nanaki, also in uniform, is dancing around on an upper deck as if he's got bugs in his britches. Which is in no way conspicuous, especially with his tail sticking out. Aeris tells Cloud to find Barret. "I hope he's not doing anything stupid..."
Sure enough, Barret's spying on Rufus and Heidegger, and has worked himself up to a frothing lather about the murders of Biggs, Jessie and Wedge. Before Cloud can sit on his head to prevent him from storming the bridge, an intruder alert sounds:
Has somebody in our party been caught? Amazingly, no. Spock Nanaki deduces that, "logically," it's Sephiroth. And "logically," a shipwide search is the perfect time to take off our disguises and wander around belowdecks. Good thing the crew has other things to worry about.
In the next compartment, there's an ominous throbbing heartbeat and yet more bodies. An officer collapses just as Cloud asks him...
An unlabeled text box intones: After a long sleep...time has...come...
And Sephiroth appears to rise right out of the floor.
"Sephiroth! You're alive!" Cloud cries, and I still want to know why he thought Sephiroth was dead.
"You don't remember me?! I'm Cloud!
"...the time... is now..." Sephiroth repeats. Gravity goes even more haywire as Sephiroth flies into the air, bumper cars everyone out of the way with green flashes, and floats out of the hold.
Uh, Sephiroth, I think you dropped something.
Jenova? Man, Sephiroth must leave his keys all over the place. (Not that the text boxes ever confirmed that it was actually Sephiroth. Sneaky text boxes.)
I'd forgotten how awesome the Jenova battle theme was even before Advent Children revamped it.
Jenova the moose antler is a mean-ass boss. We prune it down to a tentacle before it croaks. It had a head, so as best I can tell, Jenova regenerates body parts like a starfish.
Conveniently, Jenova has so decimated the ship's crew that nobody bursts in on Cloud and friends standing around in the hold jawing over what just happened, and we're perfectly free to wander out of the ship and continue chattering when we arrive at Costa del Sol.
Oh, Barret. Stealth is your middle name.
Barret is relieved to get out of his disguise, but Aeris is disappointed.
I agree: Barret's "bear wearing a marshmallow" ensemble should be his alternate Dissidia costume. I wonder what outfits Aeris is going to try to stuff Cid and Vincent into when we catch up to them. I'm going with "French maid" and "Elvis impersonator."
Meanwhile, some of the resort residents appear to be stoned.
Either I'm hallucinating, or you are napping on a Cessna. This game does the oddest things with reality vs. perception.
We finally mosey off the dock just before the Shinra bigwigs disembark. Rufus tears more strips from Heidegger, telling him that he's heard Sephiroth and Cloud's party snuck aboard. I note that Rufus doesn't bring this up until it's too late to catch them. He really wants to make his Dad's appointments look bad.
I find it sad that of all the things Rufus rebukes Heidegger for, "entire ship's crew massacred" is not important enough to warrant a mention. Poor blueshirts.
Eventually, Rufus takes off in his Lego helicopter while Heidegger punts all the nearby sailors into the water.
Costa del Sol turns out to be the typical beach town: surfers, tourists, and mad scientists catching some rays.
What a classy shopkeeper.
We head down to the beach to pay our respects to Zack's umbrella and the site of the single greatest battle in Final Fantasy history.
Cloud somehow recognizes this fuzzy pile of pixels as Hojo in a labcoat and asks, "What are you doing?"
A long tense scene ensues, during which Cloud falls right into Hojo's trap.
Cloud: "Answer me!"
Hojo: "Hmm! I believe we are after the same goal."
Cloud: "You mean Sephiroth?"
Hojo: "Did you see him?"
Hojo: "I see... Ha! Ha!"
Cloud asks why he's laughing, not realizing that Hojo was totally bluffing to find out what's going on. Creepy Science Guy quickly changes tack.
You mean like the voice in Cloud's head? Or the other voice nattering on about the Time Is Now and all that bat guano?
"Or that you had to visit someplace?" Hojo continues prodding.
"I'll go anywhere that Sephiroth is at!" Cloud replies. Poor, poor Cheesebrain.
Hojo, still laughing, says, "This could be interesting." This is an understatement.
He continues to push Cloud's buttons for a bit, then switches to poking at Aeris, who tells him that he can bally well use her name instead of calling her "The Ancient." She tries to dig out of him whether Sephiroth and Jenova are really Ancients, but Hojo simply sticks his nose back in his doujinshi and mutters something about "Go west." Which we are forced to do since geography gives no other option.
So we roust Barret from the inn where he's barricaded himself into the bathroom to primp in front of the mirror...
... blow a kiss to Mukki who totally fails to recognize his Bubby while expounding on the delights of Costa del Sol ...
... and head inland to Mt. Corel, where the tracks of an abandoned coal mine show that even back in the day they were thinking of setting up an amusement park. Roller coaster, whee!
Oh, hell, there's a Mako reactor up here. It looks kinda wrecked.
After the land of broken-down mine tracks, we come to a dilapidated shantytown, North Corel. Barret is greeted by a punch in the face from his former co workers.
The guy sneers, "What, another town kick you out? You destroy everything you touch." Another blames him for turning the place into a "Garbage dump." From this I gather that Barret must have blown up his home town before graduating to blowing up reactors. Eventually they decide it's not worth their trouble to fight the "techno freak" and let us pass.
The only other thing of note in this miserable place is that at least two of the families are multiracial like Barret and Marlene. Also, I can never find the turnoff for the Gold Saucer and always get totally lost looking for the Path of Plot Advancement, because I am blind.
I would like to know why anyone bothered to build an aerial tramway from the monster-infested, economically-stricken mining town of Mt. Corel to
Barret apologizes and explains that he was responsible for his hometown's destruction. So, do we get to hear about his former life as a mad bomber? Nope. Via flashback!cam, we learn that Scarlet of Shinra came to this remote coal mining town promising clean energy, guaranteed jobs, and
After the reactor was built, there was "an explosion," Barret says. Shinra blamed rebels and torched the whole town.
Barret's wife, Myrna, died in the attack.
None of this explains why the survivors have scapegoated Barret. He does say that he and Dyne were off
The tram attendant interrupts storytime to tell us to hurry up and board the gondola. One long FMV ride later, we soar over a sandy desert and arrive in...dear GODS.
I wonder if the Corel reactor (and Gongaga) were originally built to power the Gold Saucer. If so, where's it getting its power from now?
HELP! I don't like commercially-contrived cuteness. I don't like in-house money systems which require play money (GP) to pay for everything, yet it's worthless outside their walls. I don't like arcade games that eat all your quarters. I don't like "fat mogs" with big gaping mouths and ugly faces; gimme my cute wee winged moogles. And the Gold Saucer music is the worst earworm in the entire game.
Yes I am a party pooper with no sense of humor, and I don't even have Barret's excuse.
...portrait of my worst nightmare.
(Actually, I've warmed up to the Gold Saucer since my first playthrough, but I'm deeply suspicious of anything that's trying this hard to sell me on its being "FUN!!!!" It's just as well that my parents took me to Disneyland before I became jaded and cynical.)
Aeris wants to have fun. She tries to cheer up Barret by inviting him along.
"Really? That's too bad!" Aeris says. "Let's go!" Aww, I feel sorry for Barret, as that's not very sympathetic, but she can't help him much by indulging his wallowing, either. (This approach is certainly the right one for AC Cloud.)
"Wasn't that a little harsh?" Tifa whispers to her. "Just act normal when this happens," Aeris whispers back. "You think so?" whispers Tifa. Yeah, these two ladies are just so totally jealous and don't get along with each other.
So I bravely face the Land of Forced Frivolity with Aeris, because
Ok. Deep breaths. Picture kind-hearted man with goatee. Lovely voice. Weird puppet fetish. (Yes, I'll drop a spoiler here and note that Cait Sith is Reeve's creation, because it makes the character far more tolerable for me.)
Somehow, despite Cait's menu portrait, it took me some while to spot the black cat figure perched on the large white mog's head. And that the cat is operating the mog by pulling strings or (in combat) shouting orders with a megaphone. LUNAR WHALE.
So anyway, Cait is a fortuneteller. Cloud, man on a
GEE HOW SUBTLE. (Cloud says, "Forget it." I'm guessing the blue refers to Mako eyes.) Cait's third try is even worse: "What you pursue will be yours. But you will lose something dear."
However, in the meantime, the guy that Cloud's pursuing is always one town ahead of us, while we're gaining something we don't want at all: Cait Sith. He invites himself into the party so that he can learn what the fortune refers to. Cloud says no, but Cait jumps him ("H-hey!") and disappears into him along with Aeris. Sigh. We head to the Wonder Square game room. The least the stupid cat could do is spot us some GP.
I go to the one game that's easy to win.
My brain is melting. I think this is some kind of divine retribution for having loved The Smurfs and inflicted the Smurf theme on my parents when I was five. Grumping my way through this scintillating minigame to find Mog a Mog Mate and make lots of Mog Babies, I seize my hard-won 30 GP and flee with flecks of spittle flying from my lips.
Next, Cloud bumps into the obnoxious owner of the Gold Saucer, Dio, who runs around in orange bikini briefs and calls him "boy." He randomly asks if Cloud knows about "Black Materia." I think a plot anvil just fell from the sky.
Sephiroth is about 10 years older than Cloud, but I'm pretty sure it's him, because Dio says the "boy" had a number 1 tattooed on his hand.
Okay, I'm going to cut the Gold Saucer tour short (sorry, Aeris) since we'll be seeing the rest of it later. Time to head to Battle Square and find trouble.
Cloud has an odd knack for arriving in places just as a guard slumps to the ground dead. This is the first Shinra presence we've seen in the Gold Saucer. Cloud examines the body, then rushes up the stairs.
"Did Sephiroth do this?" Cloud wonders, since he is good at pattern matching. But wait! He realizes that they've been shot, not stabbed. We should probably be going now.
Too late. Dio rushes in and lodges the inevitable murder accusation, but Cloud nearly sweet-talks his way out of it. Then Cait Sith tells Cloud and Aeris to run because "this could get ugly." They both have brain farts and follow his lead instead of pointing and shouting, "HE DID IT!" Thank you SO much, stupid cat: the battle arena is a dead end.
Of course Dio decides that since we ran, we must be guilty, never mind that none of us have guns. We are unceremoniously dumped into a pit ironically labeled "Gateway to Heaven" (The radioactive symbol is a nice touch.)
Hey! I paid 30,000 gil for a lifetime membership to Gold Saucer! Wasn't that torture enough? AAAAAHhhhhhhh...
Below, we land in a benighted desert prison, which Cait Sith says is entirely surrounded by video game quicksand (as opposed to real quicksand, which requires water).
Barret is sulking nearby, but he's not in a talkative mood. Um, Barret, we got THROWN DOWN HERE because of you, buddy.
And yes, there's a body at his feet.
The game strings along "Is Barret a murderer?" as long as possible, going so far as to have him shoot at Cloud and Aeris when they corner him in a hut. Except he's not aiming at them, but at some random npc hiding behind the sofa, whom he kills for reasons never explained. (!) I am also puzzled why the house where the Corel village council met in the previous flashback seems to have been transported to this prison in the middle of a desert, nowhere near Barret's former hometown:
(Mountains. Forests. Not desert basin.)
Getting the story out of Barret is like pulling teeth.
Tifa tells him they bally well are involved. Nanaki, equally blunt, asks Barret if he's responsible for the Gold Saucer murders. He says no. By amazing Video Game Coincidence, another man had a gun grafted onto his arm. Flashback time!
As Dyne and Barret turn to see their town going up in flames, Shinra troops catch up to the headman and shoot him in the back. Then they take aim at Barret and Dyne. The pair are chased to the edge of the cliff, where, according to the laws of Hollywood, comics, and anime alike, one of them must fall and be caught by the other.
Scarlet impatiently kicks one of the Stormtrooper Sharpshooters off the tracks, snatches his gun, and shoots right through the friends' locked hands. Dyne falls like Wile E. Coyote and disappears into the chasm. Not explained: how Barret survived. He eventually goes to a doctor who grafts a gun onto his stump (eat your heart out, Nooj).
Aeris guesses it was Dyne. Tifa, ever the optimist, suggests recruiting Dyne for AVALANCHE, since he surely must want revenge. Barret is less hopeful. He just wants to find Dyne to apologize to him, and insists that he has to go alone.
Cloud says, "Do what you want...is that what you want to hear?"
Ooo, tasty foreshadowing. I like Cloud here, too: he's not being the least bit wishy-washy.
So we go off to hunt for Dyne, who is hanging out in the desert, instead of up in the Gold Saucer where we saw the carnage he wrecked. We find him at makeshift graves he's built for his wife Eleanor and his daughter Marlene.
Dyne, like Cyan in FFVI, can hear his wife's ghost in his head. But it's not helping.
Barret says, "I know I was stupid. I'm not asking you to forgive me." Once again, I'd like to know why Barret feels solely responsible for Corel's destruction. But he doesn't let Dyne off the hook, either. "Why you wanna kill those that ain't even involved? Why?" Um, Barret? Do you realize how many innocents were killed in your AVALANCHE bombing missions? Never mind.
Longwinded soul-baring ensues. Dyne is angry and wants to destroy the world. Barret is angry and wants to save the planet. Barret reveals that he saved Dyne's infant daughter Marlene and has been raising her, and he tries to coax his old buddy to go see her. However, Dyne's so unhinged that he promptly vows to kill Marlene to give her dead Mom company. That would be a no. Cue boss fight.
(Hey, Cloud, I thought you said you were gonna help Barret with this maniac?)
Of course being pumped full of bullets does not mean auto-death in FF, so there's some post-battle angst. Barret tries again to talk sense into him. Dyne says that even if he did go back, Marlene won't remember him, and "these hands are a little too stained to carry Marlene anymore." With that, he issues his last request and flings himself off yet another cliff (leaving us to wonder whether this cliff is any more fatal than the last).
Nah, he'll just stash her with Elmyra or Tifa or Cloud while he's off doing stuff. Barret's such a great dad.
"Dyne, me an' you were the same," Barret says, falling to his knees. "My hands ain't any cleaner... I shouldn't be able to carry Marlene either."
Well, that was depressing. So what can we do for a change of pace? Oh, I know! Let's RACE CHOCOBOS!
*party stares blankly at the script*
Right. The Get Out of Jail Free card requires us to get Dyne's permission — Coates hastily decides we've fulfilled that requirement by killing him — and win a Chocobo Race. Which isn't quite as far-fetched as it sounds, since in ancient Rome criminals sometimes fought as gladiators for a chance at freedom.
Just then, a woman named Ester stops by the desert prison's office and offers to help Cloud as his manager for the race. (He looks so much like a chocobo, after all; anyone in the business couldn't help but like him). On the elevator ride back up to the Gold Saucer, Cloud fills her in.
So it's up the elevator, to the jockeys' room and out to the Chocobo race. WHICH I WON, ha. (I usually don't. I credit Suikoden V's lovely dragon racing game for giving me better reflexes).
Afterwards, Dio sends an apology, a pardon, and a buggy so we can cross deserts and rivers. It would've been nice if he'd sent the pardon before the race, but hey, I never mind hopping aboard a chocobo.
Wait, what letter would Dio have sent if Cloud hadn't won? "Ester's convinced me of your innocence, but you suck so badly at chocobo racing that I'm going to let you rot."
Just to add insult to injury, Dio suggests that Cloud should go get Sephiroth's autograph, which stings all the worse since he probably bought an autographed poster when he was a kid.
"P.S. I just recently met Sephiroth. He must have a lot of fans with boys your age. Why don't you get his autograph? It seems he's headed towards the South of the River, towards Gongaga."
What, did Sephiroth leave Dio his concert schedule in case Cloud asked?
So we have our clue, our vehicle, and can get the heck away from the Gold Saucer.
Next time, we finally collect Vincent, whom I adore despite his clichéd backstory. Also, you'll get to watch me freak out and gibber as FF7 keyboard smashes all my "visceral horror" buttons at once.
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