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Yep, it's that time again, folks. It's the latest episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII, the serial blog in which I chronicle my return to Final Fantasy VII, playing it through the objective eyes of a modern gamer to find out if it still has something to offer. This episode has emerged a little later than planned, but better late than never, eh? Roll titles!
Episode Eleven - Canyons And Caverns
After loading my save, the action picks up just outside Cosmo Canyon, with Cloud on the world map standing next to a broken-down buggy. A quick scan of the immediate area reveals a river to the north, meaning we can't make any progress without the buggy. Perhaps somebody at Cosmo Canyon will be able to repair it? Deciding it's worth a shot, the party steps into Cosmo Canyon. Upon entering the town, Red XIII breaks away from the party - it turns out the Canyon is his home. It's also revealed that his real name is 'Nanaki'. Now short of an established party member (not to mention all of his Materia), the game takes me to the Party screen and orders me to select a placeholder. I promptly select Barret, and set off in pursuit of Red XIII.
Within seconds, my party disbands.
This is pretty annoying, to say the least. The game's just prompted me to replace Red XIII in my party, and then removed that party, leaving Cloud to explore Cosmo Canyon alone and rendering the entire affair somewhat pointless. Thankfully, it's not an issue that I dwell on for too long, and that's largely due to getting swept up in the aesthetics of Cosmo Canyon. The environment looks completely unlike anything else I've encountered so far in the game - the caverns cut into red rock faces and elevated tribal huts blow the stereotypical-JRPG-residential-location appearance of places like Kalm and Costa Del Sol out of the water. The music is also fantastic, really helping to create the feel of a place with a long, peaceful and spiritual history. In the centre of the Canyon, Cloud encounters a fellow who offers to fix the buggy, although (somewhat predictably) it's going to take some time. While pursuing Red XIII, Cloud also takes some time to check out the various vendors in the Canyon, picking up some pretty nice new weapons and Materia along the way (including some Stat-boosting Materia, available for the first time in the game).
Cloud finally catches up to Red XIII in the Planetarium on top of the Canyon. The Planetarium is owned by an old man named Bugenhagen, who claims to be Red XIII's grandfather (I'm not sure how that works, but hey, let's roll with it). A lot of story exposition follows, concerning both Red XIII's past and the party's ongoing mission to save the Planet from both Sephiroth and the Shinra Electric Power Company. Bugenhagen seems to find the group's aim almost entertaining, given that he's already foreseen the Planet's destruction within the near future, but nonetheless he invites Cloud and two other party members into his Planetarium to demonstrate what he knows about the workings of the Planet. This is apparently my cue to resume rambling about the Canyon, hunting down party members to accompany me into the Planetarium. I opt to take in Aerith and Tifa, and make my way back up to Bugenhagen's hideaway. What follows, if you'll permit my nostalgia to creep in for a single sentence, is probably one of my favourite scenes in the entire game:
The moving Planetarium, and Bugenhagen's explanation of spirit energy and the Lifestream, is a brilliant piece of visual storytelling. Although it's not immediately apparent, the things that Bugenhagen says throughout this scene (unfortunately missing in this video) will have a great degree of relevance to later events in the game, and I remember that as an eleven-year-old, this simple visual explanation really helped me to get to grips with the rather complex concepts being banded around. When Bugenhagen's show comes to an end, things become a little clearer in Cloud's eyes - by drawing the Lifestream up through Reactors and converting it into Mako energy, Shinra are upsetting a very delicate balance and effectively choking the Planet. Could Sephiroth's plan have something to do with the Lifestream, too? Cloud, Aerith and Tifa head down to the Cosmo Candle, the big flame burning in the centre of the settlement, to meet up with the rest of the crew. Cloud takes the opportunity to sit down with the party and find out what's up with everybody, which makes for some interesting little tidbits of character development (even in spite of some awkward Engrish). Barret reveals that AVALANCHE was founded here in Cosmo Canyon, presumably by a man who'd seen the same eventuality that Cloud had just witnessed in the Planetarium.
When Cloud sits down beside Red XIII, a full account of his history comes out. It seems that long ago, the people of Cosmo Canyon were attacked by a tribe known as the Gi. Red XIII's mother bravely fought back the attackers, but his father supposedly ran away from the onslaught, a coward. Bugenhagen arrives on the scene right on cue, telling Red XIII he has something to show him, and inviting Cloud and one other party member along. Logic dictates I should revert back to my accepted posse of Cloud, Red XIII and Aerith, so that's exactly what I do. The Cosmo Canyon scenario has forced me to shift my party around rather a lot, and most of it has seemed pretty unnecessary. There's just enough time to rejig my equipment and Materia to accommodate my recent purchases, and as soon as that's done I follow Bugenhagen up to the locked door on the second floor of the Canyon. According to the eccentric old fellow, there's a secret trapped behind this door that he believes Red XIII is now ready to see. Suited and booted, Cloud and the others descend into the Gi Cave. As they do so, the pleasant music of Cosmo Canyon slowly fades into nothingness.
The Gi Cave is a dungeon. In fact, this blog may well represent the most clear-cut structural conformity in Final Fantasy VII thusfar - moving from the world map into Cosmo Canyon, and from there into the Gi Cave, adheres pretty strongly to the formulaic standard of "overworld->town->dungeon" typical of most JRPGs. Typical of Final Fantasy VII, though, the Gi Cave isn't an out-and-out dungeon - it also serves as a means of revealing the truth behind Red XIII's lineage. Reaching the exit of each screen is accompanied by a brief bout of storytelling from Bugenhagen, detailing the occasion when the Gi tribe attempted to infiltrate Cosmo Canyon through this very cave. This constant stream of exposition means that while the Gi Cave is definitely a dungeon first and foremost, it serves as more than a simple shortcut under a mountain or levelling hotspot (although it's deinitely one of those). Another thing that surprises me about the Gi Cave is how small it is. My personal recollection of the Gi Cave was a lengthy dungeon, but the entire cavern is made up of only three navigable screens (to put it in perspective, that's one less screen than the Mithril Mine I navigated in Episode Six).
I take my time working through the dungeon, making sure I pick up all the items on offer, as well as gaining some useful experience points from the steady stream of battles I get into. It's somewhere within this process that I'm reminded of one of my pet peeves with Final Fantasy VII - the way it handles the obtaining and setting of Limit Breaks. For the uninitiated, allow me to explain - in Final Fantasy VII, each character has four levels of Limit Break. In most cases, the first Break in each level is earned by defeating a certain number of enemies, while the second Break in each level is earned by using the first Break of that level a certain number of times. This means it's possible for a character to earn a Limit Break from a more advanced level before earning both Limit Breaks for their current level, and this is exactly what happened with Aerith while I was fighting in the Gi Cave. Another, even more annoying issue in my eyes, is how these Limit Breaks are organised - it's only possible to use one level's Limit Breaks at a time. I can understand putting a cap on the number of Limit Breaks available to a character at any one time, but the levels prove to be an inconvenience a lot of the time. Just ask my poor Aerith, who's been stuck with the mostly-useless Breath of the Earth for the last five hours in the hope of unlocking the much-more-useful Fury Brand. Being able to pick any two options from a character's bank of learned Limit Breaks would have remedied this while ensuring no character became overpowered, not to mention offering an additional level of character customisation.
Anyway, Cloud and the party finally make it to the end of the Gi Cave, where they're confronted by that face. I should imagine that pretty much anybody who's played this portion of Final Fantasy VII will remember that face:
No word of a lie, this face gave me nightmares when I was a kid, and it still freaks me out now. The picture is bad enough, but to see it in-game, moving and gurning away, is a whole other level of disturbance. As far as unsettling, distorted faces go, I think it's right up there with Soundgarden's video for Black Hole Sun. Back on topic, that face represents Gi Nattak, the end-of-dungeon boss. It's a battle that has the virtue of being both the most complicated and the most straightforward encounter in the game thusfar. Which depends entirely on your approach. Battling it in the traditional way makes for a tough, strategic encounter. It's undead, immune to Fire attacks, capable of healing itself, and accompanied by two Soul Fires that can possess your fighters and damage them with Fire spells from within. It's a battle that requires a careful balance between attack and defence on the part of the player, ensuring that your party deals out enough damage to exceed Gi Nattak's healing spells, while at the same time keeping one eye on the party's health to ensure the Soul Fires don't put you in a dangerous position. This was the approach I chose to adopt, and it definitely proved to be the toughest and most rewarding boss battle in the game up to this point. Alternatively, for players who aren't willing to dig their heels in and grind away at Gi Nattak's HP, it's possible to end the fight simply by throwing a Phoenix Down at him. Yep, that's right - because he's undead, it'll kill him outright. Cheap and unrewarding, but it gets the job done.
Cloud's Deathblow attacks and Red XIII's Ice 2 spell both whittle away at Gi Nattak while Aerith keeps everybody's health topped up, and after a few minutes of sustained punishment the boss falls. With the spirits of the Gi tribe put to rest, Bugenhagen leads Red XIII out through the rear entrance of the Canyon. Red XIII is finally told the truth about his father, Seto. Anything but a coward, the courageous warrior had given his own life ensuring that the Gi attackers never made it inside the Canyon. Seto's body, petrified by the poisoned arrows of the Gi, now stands watch over Cosmo Canyon for all time. Reinvigorated by his new-found sense of pride in his father, Red XIII vows to keep travelling with Cloud's party, hoping that saving the Planet will keep the Canyon (and by extension, his grandfather) safe. With the buggy now conveniently fixed, the group are free to cross the northern river to reach Nibelheim. Thinking it best to save that leg of the journey for next time, though, I simply hop into the buggy and save the game, bringing this rather long episode to a fitting end.
So at the close of Episode Eleven, my current vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 29), Aerith (Lv 29), Red XIII (Lv 29)
- Current Location - Cosmo Canyon Region, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 16:37
As always, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for reading, especially those of you who've been sticking with Enduring Final Fantasy VII throughout the whole series so far, but also those of you who hop in from episode to episode to offer up their opinions on the game and the scenarios covered. Besides revisiting a game that I hold particularly dear and getting to write about it, a great deal of the satisfaction I get from writing this series has come from receiving and reading your comments, your feedback, and the memories (both fond and not-so-fond) you've shared. Part of the reason for the delay in writing this episode is that I've been playing Fable II alongside Final Fantasy VII, and it's captivated me quite a bit with its art style and dark, quintessentially British sense of humour. Rest assured, though, this is no indication that I'm slowing down, and I'm really looking forward to writing the next episode. Once again, thanks very much for reading. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)
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