We drag our reluctant tails back to the Gold Saucer. Speaking of which, I missed a spiffy FMV during our first visit, when I was trying to take Aeris around for a date. Check out the Gondola ride starting around 11:00.
Sorry, Aeris. Let's pretend my Cloud took you on that date earlier, okay? You're allowed to call me cheesebrain.
All right, back in the present...
Dio's put the Keystone on display in his Vegas-style museum of rare artifacts that say, "Yo, I'm rich and eccentric."
I can't tell the difference between the Keystone, regular magic Materia or an FFX Glyph Sphere, but Indiana Jones Cloud is instantly able to make the call.
In order to obtain the plot coupon, Cloud must endure yet another creeper.
Somehow I find this scene more disturbing than the hot tub date.
Dio: Since you've been good to me in the past [Don't want to know], I CAN give it to you on one condition.
Cloud: One condition?
Dio: Heh, heh, heh. Entertain me!
Yuck. Cloud's dialog options are "What do you want me to do?" or "Not in the mood." Where's "Give it to me now, or Tifa smashes 'em"? But Cloud has to give in or we'll be stuck in the Gold Saucer for all eternity, so he braces for the worst.
Dio: Hoo boy!
Dio: Heh heh heh. It's not something that's really difficult.
Mercifully, Dio just wants Cloud to fight in his Battle Arena, and doesn't even make him wear a gladiator outfit. Okay, this we can handle without emotional scarring.
(The floor says, "THE BRAVE DO NOT FEAR THE GRAVE.")
Cloud has to fight eight rounds of progressively nastier monsters. Each round adds a new handicap that randomly disables spells, weapons, summons, skills, or just pulls some sadistic trick like Poison or Mini. The handicaps stack every round for cumulative suck. Luckily, the Sadistic Slot Machine fails to disable my Enemy Skill Materia, which includes yummy blue magic spells like Frog Song (puts critters to sleep INCLUDING DRAGONS), Big Guard, White Wind, Magic Hammer (Lance[t] for MP) and Aqua Breath. Thank you, Kimahri, for teaching me the Way of the Big Blue Kitty.
Keystone in hand, we hightail it for the exit. But wait! Another You-Can't-Go-That-Way barrier has appeared!
Noooooo! We're stuck here listening to the Gold Saucer theme forever! We'll go mad! Hojo, is this your latest cruel experiment?
To add insult to injury, Cait Sith leaps out of the Bag of Holding and promises to get us free rooms at the hotel. This is in no ways suspicious.
Despondent, we head to the Tim Burton side of the Gold Saucer.
I fully expect to be accosted by some lame Scooby Doo plot. Instead, the worst we have to face besides the hotel's gimmicky decor is an Exposition Dump for characters who came late to the party.
Barret, we wuv you.
Cloud and Aeris take turns wearing Maechen's hat and beard. In sum:
- We're hunting Sephiroth, who's looking for the Promised Land, which Shinra thinks is a "land full of Mako energy," but Aeris believes is more of a spiritual paradise or state of supreme happiness for the Ancients.
- Sephiroth is also searching for something called Black Materia.
- So are the figures in Black Capes, all sporting a number tattoo. They have some connection with Sephiroth.
- Nanaki reveals that numbered tattoos are given by Hojo to his specimens. In fact, Nanaki's got a "XIII" tattoo.
Poor Nanaki is worried.
Nanaki addresses this to Cloud, but it's Tifa who steps in to give him a pep talk. As a bartender, she's the closest thing this party has to a therapist.
She's also the only one who bends down to Nanaki's eye level to address him.
"But..." Nanaki says.
"Be strong," Tifa says, exactly what she told Cloud back in Shinra HQ when Jenova started to get at his mind.
"Stop it, Nanaki! Be strong!" Tifa insists.
"Tifa?" Cloud says.
Without voice acting, it's hard to tell whether Tifa's giving Nanaki tough love, or whether she's alarmed at the prospect of a hitherto sane party member starting to wig out.
By this time, Cid's snoring, Yuffie's bored, and Aeris has pulled a Yuna-like "I think I'm tired. I'm going to bed now" disappearing act which suggests she's got something on her mind. The Black Screen of Fast Forward deposits Cloud in a hotel room that makes Vincent's man cave look tasteful.
This is the moment of truth: the Gold Saucer Date with Aeris, Tifa, Yuffie or Barret, depending on player choices made earlier in the game. There's a knock, and I get... *drumroll*
Alas, this is the most straightforward communication they'll have all evening.
Cloud doesn't get a chance to answer; he just says, "Hey," as she seizes him by the shoulders and pushes him out the door.
Thanks to the beneficence of the Contrivance Fairy, all attractions tonight are free. I'd hate to waste the night playing arcade games trying to win enough GP to take Tifa to a show. Speaking of which, there's a show about to start in Event Square, and — the Contrivance Fairy is on a roll — Tifa and Cloud are the lucky 100th couple!
Cloud is dubious, but Tifa urges him to play along. "Sounds like fun!"
Cue goofy, tinkly, happy Renfaire music and a rejected Rocky & Bullwinkle skit.
Narrator: Princess Rosa has been captured by the Evil Dragon King, blah blah blah, ask a wizard.
"I am the great wizard, Vorman. What do you want to know?"
I fail my saving throw vs. trolling and pick the second option. The narrator brushes it off: "Oh, what is going to happen next? Oh, Legendary hero, look!"
The Evil Dragon King lumbers onstage grasping Tifa, who gets to play the part she fantasized about with Cloud when they were kids. "Please help me, Legendary hero!"
"Who is your enemy! Say it!" EDK booms at Cloud (or, possibly, says in a sultry female voice; we're free to guess). Decisions, decisions...
The correct line's punctuation hints at Cloud's brittle delivery.
But of course, I pick "That Knight." ("The King" has the same result.)
Tifa, incensed, smacks Cloud so that he spins around comically and falls over, and karate-kicks the Evil Dragon King offstage.
I swear to gosh, I had not played FF7 in nearly ten years when I wrote that silly "Sir Elma, Legendary Hero" snippet.
Abusing emulator save states, I back up and have Cloud pick, "The Evil Dragon King," just for a change.
To my surprise, Cloud walks over, takes the dragon's arm, and kisses his wrist with an audible smack.
Through the magic of video game physics, the EDK costume is tossed away.
Alas, neither Barret nor Mukki are inside.
"Oh look! Love has triumphed!" gushes the narrator, adding a bit more fluffy filler. Cloud and the EDK twirl offstage together, leaving Tifa standing alone saying, "That can't be the end!" I agree. Mukki should've carried Cloud off to fairyland.
Aww, no Speed Roller Coaster? It's like the Buzz Lightyear ride. Okay, okay, romantic gondola ride it is...
What follows is the epitome of a high school date between two socially awkward teenagers who don't find a fandom to geek about. Tifa makes small talk. Cloud sits like a lump of glue.
Although he does look out when she urges him to watch the fireworks.
It's really quite a lovely FMV. And the music isn't even annoying, a first for the Gold Saucer.
As the fireworks continue to bathe the cabin in pretty colors, Tifa screws up her courage.
Cloud's noncommittal "What" pulls her up short. She mumbles, "Aeris would be able to just come out and say it, probably." Oh, you poor kids.
"Cloud," she tries again.
"I mean, timing is everything." CLUE PHONE, IT'S FOR YOU.
"Yeah," says Cloud, not picking up.
"Cloud," she says again. But at that point she gets a string of ellipses caught in her throat and is still coughing them up when the car pulls into the station. Cloud doesn't notice.
Cloud offhandedly wonders what she was trying to say a moment ago, but she can't blurt it out in front of the attendant. Instead, she suggests that it's time to turn in.
Ah well. Despite communication miscues, I think they both had a good time tonight. Bonding with friends, a lighthearted farce at the theater, a heart-to-heart on a cozy gondola ride: what could possibly spoil—?
Oh yeah. THAT.
Just to make sure I can't ignore him, Cait Sith pulls the Keystone out of his pocket and waves it about (as is prudent during a heist) before he spots Tifa and Cloud, does a double take and flees into the nearest hole.
The Wutai Yuffie Hunt was just a warm-up; this damned stuffed cat can move. We finally spot him outside the chocobo racetrack, where a hovering Lego Helicopter pulls up. Who's that standing on the antigrav sidecar?
Cait tosses the purloined plot device into the waiting hands of...
After the helicopter flies off, Cait waits for Cloud and Tifa, saying he won't run or hide any longer.
"How 'bout if we continue like nothing ever happened?" he says.
How about we rip you into chocobo bedding?
"What are you gonna do, kill me?" the two-faced plushie says. "You'd just be wastin' your time if you tried. This body's just a toy anyway. My real body's at Shinra Headquarters in Midgar. I'm controlin' this toy cat from there." Cait refuses to reveal who is controlling him, although Cloud deduces that he's a Shinra employee.
Cait pulls on the hair shirt of contrition, saying he wants to salvage his relationship with them. "Something bothers me. I think it's your way of life." I thought he was going to explain why he infiltrated a terrorist organization that goes around bombing city infrastructure and mowing down scores of blueshirts without a thought for casualties, but that's not where he's going here.
"It just makes me think about my life. I don't think I'd feel too good if things ended the way they are now."
Tifa accuses him of lying again. When I first played FF7, I assumed she was right. But in fact it may be the most honest thing he's said so far.
However, when Cloud refuses to let him stay with the group, Cait pulls THIS bit of treachery out of his polyfilled ass.
Yep. He's kidnapped Marlene and is holding her at Shinra HQ to ensure our cooperation.
Cloud, quite rightly, calls him "The lowest..."
Yeah, but you DID, you spineless... oh nevermind. I'll save my Cait Sith rant for when he's fully unmasked. Anyway, we're stuck with him.
Let's talk about the three alternate Gold Saucer Date scenes. The dragon play has the same dialog tree for the three women, but homophobically punts Cloud and Barret out after the "You're the 100th couple!" line with a lame apology, so Barret doesn't get to be a damsel. The gondola rides are unique.
Aeris: Blissfully free of UST, Aeris pushes Cloud out the door before you can say "diamond tiara." During the gondola ride, Aeris confesses that it's been bothering her how much Cloud looks, moves, and acts like "him" (Zack). She tells Cloud, "I'm searching for you... I want to meet you." Baffled, he says, "I'm right here." She repeats: "I want to meet... you."
I wish she and Tifa would compare notes. Then again, this is one of those "I'm actually a dream" plot twists that in-game characters couldn't figure out in advance.
Yuffie: Nothing too notable on this date, except that Yuffie's the first person to kiss Cloud. Which, had their positions been reversed, would give her the right to punch him in the nads, so his snarky non-response is only fair.
Barret's date with Cloud meanders between "why am I here with this loser?" bluster, gossip about the ladies, and Barret fussing over Marlene. The angst dagger adds an extra twist when Barret hears Marlene's voice during the Cait Sith confrontation.
There's a ton of other "Gold Saucer Date" vids on YouTube, but they're all fan hacks substituting character models and dialog. Some are entertaining, others wildly offensive. Explore at your own risk.
All right. Back to the Temple of the Ancients. We find Tseng gravely wounded by Sephiroth. Good thing he's a named character, or he'd be dead.
Is he lamenting his several-year delay in capturing Aeris? That's not gonna win you much sympathy, Tseng.
Tseng reports that the Promised Land is not what Sephiroth is searching for, even though everyone from Cloud to Palmer has heard Sephiroth spouting about it. Career change?
Aeris says that the Promised Land isn't what Shinra thinks it is, anyway, and she's bally well not going to help them — or maybe she just won't help Tseng; it's not quite clear. Tseng hands over the Keystone. (Gee, thanks. "Here, see if Sephiroth will stab you, too.")
Despite telling Tseng, "I'm not going to help," Aeris steps away to hide the fact she's crying.
I assume our translator is having pronoun problems again: that should be "since I was little." Aeris admits that Tseng knows her as well as anyone. Ah, the screwed-up friendships/relationships in this game.
Vincent, I love ya, but I'm afraid Tifa gets first dibs on plot. Back you go into the Bag of Holding. If it makes you feel better, pretend it's a coffin.
Cloud sticks the Keystone in the stele, and the party drops right through the top of the pyramid into an old-school video game labyrinth. My Breath of Fire nostalgia goes pit-a-pat. Speaking of which, why is there a purple wizard bounding away? Looks like Mygas, the first level magic tutor in B0F3.
Just in case we wanted another chase sequence, we can play hide-n-seek with not-Mygas, who also resembles an old-school FF Black Mage in purple. When we corner him, all he says is, "Nyum Nyum." I hope this isn't one of those FFVI Magic Pots in disguise, begging for us to feed it an Elixir.
Aeris explains (or not) why not!Mygas has forgotten speech:
So he's one of the "spirit bodies" of the Ancients. Apparently the vital mission that has him postponing a blissful retirement in the afterlife is to Sell Us Stuff. I buy a potion, just to be polite.
Deep in the labyrinth, past an annoying Tomb Raider puzzle-corridor with stone rollers that keep squashing Cloud flat (with no apparent ill effects), Aeris dashes over to dabble her hand in a weird swirly purple hot tub. This is wise?
She says it's aware, "a living soul." It tries to warn her about an "Evil Consciousness." Aeris has no idea what it's talking about, despite, you know, news that Sephiroth was headed to the Temple of the Ancients and Tseng lying on the doorstep talking about Sephiroth and sporting a katana wound. You can almost feel the disembodied facepalm as the
The Turks are a bit dastardly, and I don't know what's happened to Elena's eyeballs, but I don't think she or Tseng are the aforementioned "Evil Consciousness."
After Elena leaves, flustered by Tseng asking her out to dinner, Tseng muses, "Is this the Promised Land? No, it can't be..." I assume he's talking about what's in the mural, because a dungeon full of centaurs and purple frogs (what?) is not my idea of paradise.
Oh, no. Tseng just set off the Bells of Doomy Doom. A loooooong Sword of +10 Compensation slides into view, followed by Sephiroth. Ominously, he turns and looks at our party, as if he can see the people watching the flashback. Gulp.
There's a flash, and he's suddenly kneeling on the floor behind Tseng. I have to admire Tseng for sticking to his job; he tries pumping Sephiroth for information. Seph spouts vague platitudes about the temple being a repository of Ancient knowledge and his becoming one with the Planet. He concludes by slashing Tseng. Not in the fun way.
"Soon, you will live again as part of me." NOPE NOPE NOPE.
By this point there are two Sephiroths, the one that hit Tseng, and a second flickering white one that's detached itself and seems to be facing us. (Eep!) Ghost-Sephiroth laughs at us and shoots straight up in the air, disappearing into the ceiling — get used to this creepy maneuver, which he will repeat fifty zillion times — while the background Sephiroth looms over Tseng, laughing too.
Afterwards, Aeris asks, "Did you see it?" "I saw it," Tifa replies. Always an important thing to check in this game.
Cloud, as Hojo predicted, is showing signs of obsession. "Where is that room? Is Sephiroth here?" The rest of the flashback hasn't penetrated his thick noggin. "I'm taking him out!" Cloud all but shouts.
Nice try, Tifa. Try using a 2x4. Or possibly a Meteor.
Cloud doesn't reply.
As the party begins to walk away, ghostly!Sephiroth floats down from the ceiling and hovers over the pool facing Cloud's back. He raises his sword...
And then flies straight up and disappears again. The bright light illuminating the pool winks out. As if Sephiroth were in it, controlling the vision we just saw. I don't like this, Mommy.
Next, we land in a Final Fantasy XIII-2 style clock puzzle. Oh, boy! Ten dead ends and one path forward! We're gonna loot around the clock to night, open every chest in sight...
Said loot includes the NAIL BAT! and Aeris' ultimate weapon, Princess Guard, which is far too easy to obtain. This game is such a tease.
Hey, I never noticed before, but Yuna's Nirvana may be a more elaborate version of this staff.
Past the clock puzzle is a maddening hide-n-seek game with a teleporting Ancient. Aeris pauses to check on Cloud, who admits he's tired. I am immediately suspicious, as it is not standard dungeon crawl procedure for friends to pop out of the Bag of Holding and randomly inquire whether the party leader is okay. Then again, this is Cloud.
Ahahahahaha. Yeah. Cloud's such a happy-go-lucky guy; I'm sure he'll be recounting this adventure as a funny vacation anecdote.
Hide-n-seek puzzle solved, we find out way to the Egyptomania room, where, as usual, hieroglyphs in a Mayan step pyramid provide the key to "ancient wisdom." Cloud couldn't care less about plot foreshadowing laid out as wall art. "Where are you, Sephiroth?!"
Sephiroth rises from the floor and slowly floats into the air. "So cold," he says.
Good gods there are a lot of creepers on Cloud's tail. No wonder he's so willfully dense about overtures from an old friend.
"Come," Seph intones, shoots straight into the air and vanishes. Every time we take a few steps to the right he reappears, emits another cryptic statement and shoots into the ceiling. STOP DOING THAT.
"Look well," Sephiroth says. "At what?" Cloud says.
He laughs silently again, and AGAIN flies up and disappears. Cloud, I'm beginning to see why you're so obsessed with killing this guy.
Oh fer cryin' out loud. Mr. S. floats in again.
Oedipus complex alert! He also says he wants to become one with Mommy Dearest, and — just what are you doing with that sword, young man?
I love how Tifa runs up ready to punch Sephiroth in the face. Whereas Aeris just wants to pick Seph's brain. How exactly does he plan on doing this— oh gods, Aeris, do you really want to ask him that?
He stands up, slashes his sword around and then stabs the ground with it, piling on disturbing symbolism.
His body is flickering from black to ghostly white as he speaks. There's an odd double image, as if there's two of him on a half-second delay.
He says the Planet will pour massive spirit energy into the wound. And that's where he'll be standing, because
Hey, Seph, while you're sharing your villainous plans with us in violation of rule #7 of the Evil Overlord code, would you mind telling us how you intend to trigger this cataclysm?
"That'll never happen!" Cloud insists. Because Final Fantasy heroes never play into their enemy's hands.
At that point Seph flies straight towards— and through? Cloud and out the side of the screen. Clould gives chase, but he doesn't get far. He pulls up short in front of the mural, flickering double like Sephiroth and twitching.
The Bells of Doomy Doom change to a heartbeat plus a new theme in the key of Uh Oh. And the camera's started lurching from side to side.
"Ha ha ha... Call Meteor!" Screencaps cannot convey the uncanniness of Cloud at this moment; he's moving like an old-fashioned (as opposed to Hollywood) zombie.
Aeris tells him to get a hold of himself. This should really be Tifa's line, but it was probably easier to give it to Aeris, who's required for this dungeon.
Cloud reels back and grabs his head. "Cloud... I'm...Cloud..." Then the after-image Cloud disappears, and he comes back to himself. Maybe.
His friends are entirely too willing to let this drop. "Something wrong?" he says, noticing they're gaping at him. "Nothing," Aeris assures him, turning to Tifa, who just nods. NO IT BALLY WELL ISN'T.
Their discussion of Meteor is interrupted by a random Boss attack: a Red Dragon that Tifa suplexes with an impressive string of Attack Reels. Maybe you've heard of Tiger, Crane, or Snake kung fu styles? Well, Tifa's got her own, which explains her odd hairstyle (sort of): Dolphin.
Then we get back to our Apocalypse 101 lesson. Tifa is so on edge that she drops into fighting stance when a ghostly model of the Temple of the Ancients appears.
"Black materia" Aeris reads out. Let me note that the last panel on the back wall shows people being immolated by Meteor. Just...FYI. Reading the mural from left to right, I suspect it says, "NEVER. DO. THIS."
"Black Materia!" Cloud says with another emphatic arm-swipe. Oh, this isn't going to end well.
Aeris consults the Ancients again and learns that the entire Temple is the Black Materia, transformed to keep it out of the wrong hands. The only way to restore it is to solve a series of puzzles that will progressively shrink the Temple to pocket-sized, crushing and killing whoever completes the puzzles.
"Let's just leave it, okay?" Tifa says. Wise words.
Cloud says nooooo, WE MUST GET IT, because Sephiroth has flunkies he can sacrifice, so if we don't take it, he will. Which is a fair point, but — grrr, Cloud's cellphone interrupts, just like in real life.
It's Cait Sith. He volunteers to sacrifice his "stuffed body for the future of the Planet." That doesn't sound sufficiently epic to have a chance of working. Cloud objects, since he doesn't want Shinra to get the Black Materia either, but the game traps him in another "make a choice— but I'll keep asking until you choose yes" dialog box.
So we hurry out, fight another obligatory boss—
— "Demon Wall," in a comparatively less dangerous incarnation than FFIV or FFXII, especially since I let Aeris summon Bahamut to unleash a Mega Flare —
— and meet Cait Sith at the entrance. He has an awkward farewell scene, and Aeris asks him for one more fortune. Or actually, she asks whether she and Cloud are compatible. AHEM. Tifa is standing right there.
Cait Sith hems and haws, says "poor Tifa" (she turns her back), and eventually foretells that yes, the Cloud/Aeris ship is written in the stars.
Tifa? Just deck him. (Not that I have anything against Cloud/Aeris, but this discussion is tactless, not to mention wasting time.)
Cait heads back to play with the mini temple model — which, come to think of it, is just the sort of weird gadget that would appeal to him — and breaks the Fourth Wall for another maudlin farewell speech.
I am torn between feeling a smidgeon of goodwill towards him and wishing the Temple would hurry up and fall on his head.
Fade to white. The temple vanishes.
Aeris and Cloud climb down into the gaping hole that remains to collect the Black Materia at the bottom. (Which, as we can see in this dummied close-up scene, really is that pointy shape seen in the mural).
Mmm-hm. I detect a slight flaw in your plan, Cloud.
Aeris and Cloud waste time talking about it instead of getting the heck out of there. Aeris notes the Black Materia can only be used in a place with lots of spirit energy, like the Promised Land. Since Sephiroth isn't really an Ancient, he shouldn't be able to find the Promised Land, so they're safe. Right?
Sephiroth alights on the rim of the pit. Tifa runs towards him. Guts, that girl.
Strike up the Bells of Doomy Doom. Sephiroth explains that as a "traveler of the Lifestream," he's gained the knowledge of the Ancients and those who came after them, and he plans to create the future.
Sephiroth flies into the air — Tifa's still trying to reach him — and descends down into the hole, deploying his usual slow-motion three-point landing.
There's a whining noise which we've heard whenever Cloud really wigs out (i.e. next to the Jenova tank).
Cloud rises and runs towards Sephiroth in eerie, dreamlike slow motion. Another Cloud-figure in white appears behind him, calling, "No!"
Afterwards, Sephiroth coos "good boy" again — ew — flies straight up and vanishes.
She tells him to be strong, insisting that it's not his fault.
In the midst of this angstfest, Cait Sith #2 arrives and introduces himself. No one notices.*
Tifa climbs down to knock out Cloud. The two Clouds collapses into one another.
The screen goes white — FWIW, Cloud's previous conversations with himself were always on a black screen— and he again asks himself, "What did I do?"
Sorry, cheesebrain; that's FFX, and you're going to wish this were all a dream before it's over.
The next bit, however, really is a dream, or at least a vision. Aeris pops in and out of the trees of a mysterious forest.
In the dream, he seems calmer.
She tells him not to worry about it. He says he can't help it. "Then, why don't you REALLY worry about it?" she says. "And let me handle Sephiroth."
In other words, get therapy. She playfully tells Cloud to take care of himself, "So you don't have a breakdown, okay?"
Aeris exposits that Sephiroth's going to call Meteor, so she's going to the City of the Ancients where, as a Cetra, she has the power to stop him.
Aeris gives a cute little wave and walks away. Cloud runs after her, but he's moving in slow motion again, and she quickly dwindles into the distance.
Oh, great. Sephiroth butts in again. Doesn't he have a Meteor to summon or something?
Seph: "Hmm. She's thinking of interfering? She will be a difficult one, don't you think?"
The scene flickers with static and blinks out.
And... I'm gonna stop there, because it's a good cliffhanger.
* A word about Cait Sith's overly-drawn-out farewell, death and resurrection, a forced bit of comic relief during a rather grim patch. It almost works: I feel a pang of fondness as well as annoyance while he's milking his big goodbye. But I think there's another reason for this pointless "I'm dead — just kidding!" sequence.
When this game came out, FF fans outside of Japan were used to the "soft" deaths in I, IV and VI. With rare and heavily-foreshadowed exceptions (Tellah), "dead" characters always turned up again, wounded but alive — Yang does so twice! The only FF games with significant "dead is DEAD" party member or guest character deaths (II, III, V) weren't ported internationally until the 2000s. So I think Cait Sith's phony death scene was meant to spoof the non-deaths in the FF installments most fans were familiar with, thereby lulling players into a false sense of security.
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