Hello to all of you lovely ladies and gents, and welcome to the first episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII of 2012. I was originally hoping to write and post this on Wednesday, but those plans were sabotaged by my PSP charger going missing. Again. Thankfully it didn't take me long to find this time, and now I'm ready to carry on Enduring. With a bit more time on my hands and a lot more drive to press on, I'm hoping this will be the year that I see this project through to the end.
Episode Nineteen - Come Rain, Sleet Or Snow
The action picks back up on the world map, just outside the Great Glacier - a huge snow-covered environment that Cloud and co. need to cross in order to pursue Sephiroth all the way to the north crater. After giving the party the once-over and making sure I'm ready to tackle it, I step forward into the wall of ice in front of me.
One on level, I love the pristine, glacial aesthetics of the Great Glacier. Combined with 'Buried in the Snow' as musical accompaniment, it really does create an atmosphere that's nothing like any other location in the game. On the other hand, though, it's probably my least favourite area in the whole game to navigate. If you read Episode Seventeen, you might remember that I compared the Sleeping Forest to the famous Lost Woods from the Legend of Zelda games. Truth be told, the Great Glacier definitely better fits that comparison. The entire Glacier consists of about a dozen unique areas, all inter-connected by several labyrinthine pathways. But hey, it can't be that bad, right? That dude from Icicle Inn let us borrow a map so we wouldn't get lost, after all. Problem is, the map is just plain useless, because there's practically no correlation between what's going on on-screen and what the map seems to be saying. Pathways between the unique areas are all instances of the same few screens, as well, so it's very easy to end up on the wrong path by accident and lose your way.
As a saving grace, the game implements a temperature fatigue condition in the Glacier - spend too long out in the cold, and you'll pass out and get picked up by a local climber (more on that later). So if the less-than-stellar map and confusing layout get the better of you, it won't drastically hamper the progress of your adventure. Unless, that is, you're interested in picking up the various items scattered around the Glacier. Collecting every item on the Great Glacier is less gameplay and more an exercise in masochism, requiring you to battle not only the piss-poor map and nonsensical layout, but also the time limit imposed by the blizzard. What makes it arguably even worse is that some of these items (like the powerful Alexander Materia and death-preventing Safety Bit) are incredibly useful and desirable. I don't mind being forced to endure tough challenges in order to reap the rewards of special items, but being forced to endure terrible game design choices is another matter entirely.
I'm able to collect the things that matter before Cloud succumbs to the blizzard, and he regains consciousness in a log cabin just north of the Glacier. An old man named Holzoff found the party not long after they collapsed, and brought them back to his cabin to recuperate. He warns the team about what lies ahead - a huge rock formation known as the Gaea Cliffs. They're going to have to scale it to reach the Northern Crater on the other side, but it's not going to be easy on account of the freezing temperatures and bitter winds. Before the party leaves for the Cliffs, Holzoff offers some climbing pointers, which also serve as the mechanics for the upcoming mini-game.
In terms of the core mechanics involved, ascending the Gaea Cliffs isn't all that different from any other part of the game that features climbing - there are sections of wall to hop onto and scale, punctuated by the occasional cave to navigate. Where this ascension differs, though, is in its employment and embellishment of the temperature fatigue first encountered at the Great Glacier. As Cloud climbs the Cliffs, his body temperature will decrease at an alarming rate. If it drops below a certain amount, Cloud will pass out and get hauled back to Holzoff's cabin. This has to be countered by mashing the Square button to 'warm up' before every ascent, making the Cliffs more of a challenge to tackle. That being said, I do think it's a preferable alternative to simply climbing all the way up, and yet another example of Final Fantasy VII's apparent refusal to let any section of exploration be a straightforward run from A to B.
Another way the Gaea Cliffs differentiate themselves from the game's other dungeons (because underneath the cliff-face veneer, this is still very much a JRPG dungeon) is through the appearance of simple environmental puzzles. One involves taking a side-path in order to push a boulder, which in turn smashes a barrier preventing access to the main path. Another involves dislodging icicles from the ceiling, forcing them into holes below and giving Cloud access to the cavern's exit by way of some stepping stones. This one in particular is noteworthy for how the game forces you to dislodge those icicles - by fighting them in the game's combat engine. It's an awesome touch, and a lot more interesting than simply pressing a button to work them loose in the field.
Near the top of the Gaea Cliffs, the party encounters a save point. This seems like as good a point as any to take a rest, so I record my progress and wind down the latest episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII.
So at the close of Episode Nineteen, my current vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 49), Cid (Lv 46), Red XIII (Lv 49)
- Current Location - Inside of Gaea's Cliff
- Time on the Clock - 28:21
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Twenty - The Illusion Broken here.
Well there you have it - the first Enduring Final Fantasy VII episode of 2012, in the bank. Looking back on it, it's pretty short, and covers a section of the game where not a lot happens either gameplay- or story-wise, so I apologise for that. If it's any consolation, based on my memory of the game, Episode Twenty looks set to be a very long one, and a very interesting one from a story perspective. I hope you'll join me for it. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)