Enduring Final Fantasy VII - Episode Ten

Posted by dankempster (2253 posts) -
<< Episode Nine - Face-Offs And Race-OffsEpisode GuideEpisode Eleven - Canyons And Caverns >>

Hey guys, and welcome to yet another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII, the serial blog in which I examine Final Fantasy VII through the objective eyes of a modern gamer and attempt to discern whether or not the game still has relevance to a contemporary audience. Roll title card!

This episode brought to you by Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, my selected listening for the blogging process

Episode Ten - Going Gongaga

When we last left our band of heroes, they'd just raced their way out of Corel Prison, beneath the Gold Saucer. Loading up the save puts my well-established party of Cloud, Aerith and Red XIII just outside the immense amusement park, sitting pretty in their newly-acquired buggy. This new means of transportation is able to traverse desert and rivers, meaning that the team are now free to cross the stream to the south. The next stop is the village of Gongaga, the place where Dio believes that Sephiroth was headed. On the way there I get a feel for the buggy and, as is customary for any trek across the world map, get into a few random encounters along the way. The enemies around here employ techniques that inflict various status ailments - Stone, Frog, Sleep, and Stop, to name the ones I can remember. For the first time since the game started, this forced me to rejig my equipment and Materia in order to keep my fighters protected. The healing items came out in full force, too, and I ended up using more than a few Softs and Maidens Kisses while farming some experience around Gongaga.

As soon as the team set foot into the Gongaga area, they run into Reno and Rude. Initially unaware of their presence, the two Turks continue with their conversation - a slightly humorous bout of gossiping. It's not until fellow Turk Elena arrives on the scene that the two are alerted to Cloud's presence, and a brief fight ensues. After having to deal with a great number of status-inflicting enemies on my way into the forest, Reno and Rude really don't pose too much of a threat, and it only takes a few rounds of attacks and a choice Limit Break from Cloud to subdue them. After the battle, Cloud expresses concern that somebody in the party might be a spy, relaying information back to the Shinra. After all, how else would the Turks know they were coming? Rather than worrying about it, the party elect to press on. Next stop is the village's old Mako Reactor, or at least, what's left of it - the reactor was destroyed in an explosion. While wandering through the junk, the team spot two familiar figures - Scarlet, from Shinra's Weapons Development division, and Tseng, leader of the Turks. Scarlet appears to be looking for large quantities of Materia, which she says could be used to develop a super-weapon. Huge Materia and super-weapons... Shinra are definitely up to something. The question is, what? With no leads to follow for now, though, the team's best bet is to head into the village proper and see what they can dig up on Sephiroth.

The tone of Gongaga village is a somber one. Conversations with the residents soon reveal the reason - the explosion that took out the Mako Reactor three years ago also killed a lot of the villagers, and although it's never explicitly stated, you get the feeling from the aesthetics and music that the remaining community has never really recovered. In one of the houses, Cloud and the team are greeted by a worried couple. Noticing Cloud's Mako-tainted eyes, they place him as a member of SOLDIER and ask him if he knew their son, a young man named Zack who left Gongaga to join SOLDIER ten years ago. Cloud declares he's never met the man, but Aerith, seemingly overwhelmed by all this, has to step outside. Back out in the middle of town, Aerith reveals to Cloud that Zack was her first love. Like Cloud, he had been a SOLDIER First Class, but he'd gone missing on a mission five years ago and she'd never heard from him again. There's something about the whole story that suggests there's more going on than meets the eye, but there doesn't seem to be anything more to learn right now.

The whole Gongaga section of the game, for me, is a showcase for some of the things that Final Fantasy VII does incredibly well. First, it's probably the best example since Midgar of how all the game's parallel plots are meticulously connected. In the small space of time that the player spends in Gongaga, it becomes a focal point for three different plot lines to intersect. It's the pursuit for Sephiroth which leads them here in the first place, but while there, they encounter Shinra staff and gain some insight into their potential plans, and on top of all that there's some personal development of the characters through the encounter with Zack's parents. All this in the space of a twenty-five minute visit to a small village. Final Fantasy VII does a brilliant job of keeping its band of protagonists deeply involved in every plot strand, and manages to intertwine them in ways that make sense - a commendable feat that I've seen few games ever pull off. But perhaps the greatest thing about Gongaga is the fact that it's completely optional. That's right - it's possible for the player to completely pass by Gongaga and push on to the next plot-centric location (Cosmo Canyon) without ever seeing the scenes with Reno, Rude, Scarlet, Tseng and Zack's parents. In fact, I did as much on my very first playthrough some ten years ago. It's this approach to exposition that helps to make Final Fantasy VII's gameworld still feel deep, vast and well-realised, even today. Being pointed towards, or even stumbling upon, all this optional exposition is an incredibly rewarding experience, as my eventual visit to Gongaga in my second playthrough confirmed. Even now, there are things I'm picking up on that I'd never noticed before (the revelation about Corel Prison in the last episode being a prime example). I can't think of a single other game with that level of hidden depth, that I could pick up ten years after playing it for the first time and still find out new things about the gameworld. Maybe Oblivion, but that's a huge open-world game where you limit your scope from the off by picking a type of character class, and then get thrown into a sandbox where you can do anything you want in any order you please. By definition, you're going to miss stuff in a game like that. By comparison, Final Fantasy VII is a largely linear adventure, and it's pulled off this master stroke. Regardless of your opinion of the game, you have to be able to praise it for that.

All that's left to do in Gongaga is to check out what the various shops have in stock. The Accessory shop is peddling some Materia, including Time Materia. This means I finally have regular access to a buff in the form of the Haste spell. I commented in an earlier episode that Final Fantasy VII is very slow to dish out buffing Materia, which comes in very handy in longer boss fights. At almost fifteen hours in, this is the first type that I've had access to, and if memory serves me, the incredibly useful Barrier Materia is still a way off. Anyway, with the shopping done, and no sign of Sephiroth, it seems like the most logical course of action would be to hop back in the buggy and keep heading west. Unfortunately, this genius plan is short-lived - after crossing another river, the team's buggy breaks down. There doesn't seem to be any hope of the team fixing it, leaving them stranded. Thankfully, the buggy has broken down just outside the entrance to Cosmo Canyon. Seeing a logical position to bring this episode to a close, I save the game and turn off the PSP.

So at the close of Episode Ten, my current vital statistics are:

  • Current Party - Cloud (Lv 26), Aerith (Lv 26), Red XIII (Lv 26)
  • Current Location - Cosmo Canyon Region, World Map
  • Time on the Clock - 15:03

I've consciously tried to make this episode a little shorter than the last few entries, which I'm aware have probably been a little too long-winded. Regardless, I hope it continues to be as enjoyable for you to read as it has been for me to write. Getting back into this serial blog is proving to be a lot of fun, so thanks for your continued support as readers and conributors. In other news, I'm currently back at my parents' house, visiting family and friends. However, considering everybody's working during the day, I'm finding myself killing a lot of time by playing video games, listening to music, and reading Clive Cussler's Sahara (major props to Red12b for recommending this book to me, it's proving to be pretty unputdownable so far). Alongside Final Fantasy VII, I'm just getting into Mass Effect on the 360. I was a bit wary heading in, given that I've never had an interest in the whole space opera theme, but it didn't take too long for the game to drag me in. I'm playing as the Infiltrator class, and while I'm not playing with a particular moral path in mind, my Shepard seems to be leaning more towards the Renegade side of things. At nine hours in, I'm currently caught up in some side-quests, but I'll probably be pushing on with the main story fairly soon. I won't say anything more, given that I'll most likely want to blog about it when I finish it, but I am liking the game a lot more than I thought I was going to. As always, thanks very much for reading, guys. I hope to see you next episode, when we'll most likely be covering Cosmo Canyon and the Gi Caves.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)

<< Episode Nine - Face-Offs And Race-OffsEpisode GuideEpisode Eleven - Canyons And Caverns >>
#1 Posted by dankempster (2253 posts) -

Hey guys, and welcome to yet another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII, the serial blog in which I examine Final Fantasy VII through the objective eyes of a modern gamer and attempt to discern whether or not the game still has relevance to a contemporary audience. Roll title card!

This episode brought to you by Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, my selected listening for the blogging process

Episode Ten - Going Gongaga

When we last left our band of heroes, they'd just raced their way out of Corel Prison, beneath the Gold Saucer. Loading up the save puts my well-established party of Cloud, Aerith and Red XIII just outside the immense amusement park, sitting pretty in their newly-acquired buggy. This new means of transportation is able to traverse desert and rivers, meaning that the team are now free to cross the stream to the south. The next stop is the village of Gongaga, the place where Dio believes that Sephiroth was headed. On the way there I get a feel for the buggy and, as is customary for any trek across the world map, get into a few random encounters along the way. The enemies around here employ techniques that inflict various status ailments - Stone, Frog, Sleep, and Stop, to name the ones I can remember. For the first time since the game started, this forced me to rejig my equipment and Materia in order to keep my fighters protected. The healing items came out in full force, too, and I ended up using more than a few Softs and Maidens Kisses while farming some experience around Gongaga.

As soon as the team set foot into the Gongaga area, they run into Reno and Rude. Initially unaware of their presence, the two Turks continue with their conversation - a slightly humorous bout of gossiping. It's not until fellow Turk Elena arrives on the scene that the two are alerted to Cloud's presence, and a brief fight ensues. After having to deal with a great number of status-inflicting enemies on my way into the forest, Reno and Rude really don't pose too much of a threat, and it only takes a few rounds of attacks and a choice Limit Break from Cloud to subdue them. After the battle, Cloud expresses concern that somebody in the party might be a spy, relaying information back to the Shinra. After all, how else would the Turks know they were coming? Rather than worrying about it, the party elect to press on. Next stop is the village's old Mako Reactor, or at least, what's left of it - the reactor was destroyed in an explosion. While wandering through the junk, the team spot two familiar figures - Scarlet, from Shinra's Weapons Development division, and Tseng, leader of the Turks. Scarlet appears to be looking for large quantities of Materia, which she says could be used to develop a super-weapon. Huge Materia and super-weapons... Shinra are definitely up to something. The question is, what? With no leads to follow for now, though, the team's best bet is to head into the village proper and see what they can dig up on Sephiroth.

The tone of Gongaga village is a somber one. Conversations with the residents soon reveal the reason - the explosion that took out the Mako Reactor three years ago also killed a lot of the villagers, and although it's never explicitly stated, you get the feeling from the aesthetics and music that the remaining community has never really recovered. In one of the houses, Cloud and the team are greeted by a worried couple. Noticing Cloud's Mako-tainted eyes, they place him as a member of SOLDIER and ask him if he knew their son, a young man named Zack who left Gongaga to join SOLDIER ten years ago. Cloud declares he's never met the man, but Aerith, seemingly overwhelmed by all this, has to step outside. Back out in the middle of town, Aerith reveals to Cloud that Zack was her first love. Like Cloud, he had been a SOLDIER First Class, but he'd gone missing on a mission five years ago and she'd never heard from him again. There's something about the whole story that suggests there's more going on than meets the eye, but there doesn't seem to be anything more to learn right now.

The whole Gongaga section of the game, for me, is a showcase for some of the things that Final Fantasy VII does incredibly well. First, it's probably the best example since Midgar of how all the game's parallel plots are meticulously connected. In the small space of time that the player spends in Gongaga, it becomes a focal point for three different plot lines to intersect. It's the pursuit for Sephiroth which leads them here in the first place, but while there, they encounter Shinra staff and gain some insight into their potential plans, and on top of all that there's some personal development of the characters through the encounter with Zack's parents. All this in the space of a twenty-five minute visit to a small village. Final Fantasy VII does a brilliant job of keeping its band of protagonists deeply involved in every plot strand, and manages to intertwine them in ways that make sense - a commendable feat that I've seen few games ever pull off. But perhaps the greatest thing about Gongaga is the fact that it's completely optional. That's right - it's possible for the player to completely pass by Gongaga and push on to the next plot-centric location (Cosmo Canyon) without ever seeing the scenes with Reno, Rude, Scarlet, Tseng and Zack's parents. In fact, I did as much on my very first playthrough some ten years ago. It's this approach to exposition that helps to make Final Fantasy VII's gameworld still feel deep, vast and well-realised, even today. Being pointed towards, or even stumbling upon, all this optional exposition is an incredibly rewarding experience, as my eventual visit to Gongaga in my second playthrough confirmed. Even now, there are things I'm picking up on that I'd never noticed before (the revelation about Corel Prison in the last episode being a prime example). I can't think of a single other game with that level of hidden depth, that I could pick up ten years after playing it for the first time and still find out new things about the gameworld. Maybe Oblivion, but that's a huge open-world game where you limit your scope from the off by picking a type of character class, and then get thrown into a sandbox where you can do anything you want in any order you please. By definition, you're going to miss stuff in a game like that. By comparison, Final Fantasy VII is a largely linear adventure, and it's pulled off this master stroke. Regardless of your opinion of the game, you have to be able to praise it for that.

All that's left to do in Gongaga is to check out what the various shops have in stock. The Accessory shop is peddling some Materia, including Time Materia. This means I finally have regular access to a buff in the form of the Haste spell. I commented in an earlier episode that Final Fantasy VII is very slow to dish out buffing Materia, which comes in very handy in longer boss fights. At almost fifteen hours in, this is the first type that I've had access to, and if memory serves me, the incredibly useful Barrier Materia is still a way off. Anyway, with the shopping done, and no sign of Sephiroth, it seems like the most logical course of action would be to hop back in the buggy and keep heading west. Unfortunately, this genius plan is short-lived - after crossing another river, the team's buggy breaks down. There doesn't seem to be any hope of the team fixing it, leaving them stranded. Thankfully, the buggy has broken down just outside the entrance to Cosmo Canyon. Seeing a logical position to bring this episode to a close, I save the game and turn off the PSP.

So at the close of Episode Ten, my current vital statistics are:

  • Current Party - Cloud (Lv 26), Aerith (Lv 26), Red XIII (Lv 26)
  • Current Location - Cosmo Canyon Region, World Map
  • Time on the Clock - 15:03

The Story So Far...

Table of Episodes
Episode Zero - The Obligatory Back StoryEpisode One - Initial Reactors... I Mean, Reactions
Episode Two - Flower Girls And Honey BeesEpisode Three - The Valiant Rescue Effort
Episode Four - Escape From MidgarEpisode Five - All Kalm On The Eastern Continent
Episode Six - An Abundance Of Big BirdsEpisode Seven - Hitching A Ride
Episode Eight - Over The Mountain, Into The SaucerEpisode Nine - Face-Offs And Race-Offs

Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Eleven - Canyons And Caverns here.

I've consciously tried to make this episode a little shorter than the last few entries, which I'm aware have probably been a little too long-winded. Regardless, I hope it continues to be as enjoyable for you to read as it has been for me to write. Getting back into this serial blog is proving to be a lot of fun, so thanks for your continued support as readers and conributors. In other news, I'm currently back at my parents' house, visiting family and friends. However, considering everybody's working during the day, I'm finding myself killing a lot of time by playing video games, listening to music, and reading Clive Cussler's Sahara (major props to Red12b for recommending this book to me, it's proving to be pretty unputdownable so far). Alongside Final Fantasy VII, I'm just getting into Mass Effect on the 360. I was a bit wary heading in, given that I've never had an interest in the whole space opera theme, but it didn't take too long for the game to drag me in. I'm playing as the Infiltrator class, and while I'm not playing with a particular moral path in mind, my Shepard seems to be leaning more towards the Renegade side of things. At nine hours in, I'm currently caught up in some side-quests, but I'll probably be pushing on with the main story fairly soon. I won't say anything more, given that I'll most likely want to blog about it when I finish it, but I am liking the game a lot more than I thought I was going to. As always, thanks very much for reading, guys. I hope to see you next episode, when we'll most likely be covering Cosmo Canyon and the Gi Caves.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)

#2 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6197 posts) -

I liked the feel of Gongaga.  It gave a deep impression that the world was not well, nor the people in it, and that you really are fighting to make a lot of things right.  That's a feeling that's never really been replicated in the Final Fantasy series.  Lost Odyssey almost gets it right, especially in the latter half of the game, but FF7 is still the best example of this type of devastated somberness.

Moderator
#3 Posted by WilliamRLBaker (4777 posts) -

.....Plot lines are meticulously connected? Id have to disagree gongaga actually add's more plot inconsistencies to it then anything, proven by the fact its a completely optional area, Square at this point still didn't know what they were doing so instead of making it a required area and fleshing it out and adding some decent things its an optional area which really gives nothing in terms of plot.  specially the turks which are supposed to be in other places while this is happening.

#4 Edited by dankempster (2253 posts) -
@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Definitely. It's a theme that I think runs through a lot of the locales in the game, particularly those on the Eastern Continent. From the suppressed slums of Midgar, through the devastated Corel and Gongaga, and even into Rocket Town with its rusted, all-but-abandoned rocket... There's an overwhelming feeling that a lot of the world is in a really sorry state, and even falling apart in places. It also, I think, has the effect of making you question whether it's a world worth saving, which is a vibe I can't recall picking up from any other game I've played. 
 
@WilliamRLBaker: I think I'm going to have to respectfully agree to disagree with you on that one. I personally think that Gongaga is a pivotal part of the game simply because of its optional nature. Obviously, I'm only so far through the game, so my memory isn't that great regarding the points that are coming up, but if I remember correctly, it's possible to completely miss out on every single scene that ties Zack and Aerith together in this game. And while I'd certainly recommend that player's don't miss those scenes, it's not a game-breaking issue. It's simply an extra dynamic that further fleshes out the game's backstory - it's by no means "required reading" to understand the plot as a whole, as it were. As for the Turks, I think it's made pretty clear why they're there - a spy in the party's ranks has been feeding them information. You're not wrong about the plot inconsistencies, though - the game has a ton of them.
#5 Posted by Leoplureodon (89 posts) -

I only played the game a year or two ago and I thought it held up quite well. That said, I used a guide for the whole thing which made it so much more enjoyable for me personally.
 
Cosmo canyon (and the return) was possibly my favourite part of the game stylistically.

#6 Posted by Oni (2098 posts) -

Bit of a short one. Cosmo Canyon is a pretty great place though, I think all of that stuff with Nanaki is second only to Barret's side story in terms of character development of your cast. Love the song, Great Warrior, also.
 

#7 Posted by gla55jAw (2689 posts) -
@dankempster:  In regards to missing out on scenes about Zack and Aeris, if you simply go to Gongaga without her in your party, you can still meet the parents and they will ask you if you know a "Zack from Soldier" but you won't find out about the relationship at all. 
 
Keep up the good work.
#8 Edited by Meowayne (6084 posts) -
@gla55jAw said:

" @dankempster:  In regards to missing out on scenes about Zack and Aeris, if you simply go to Gongaga without her in your party, you can still meet the parents and they will ask you if you know a "Zack from Soldier" but you won't find out about the relationship at all.   Keep up the good work. "

This is what happened in my first playthrough. I went to Gongora but did not have Aerith in my party, and I did NOT return to Nibelheim for the Zack flashback. 
Oh, and it's Aeris in the US version of the game, Aerith in the EU version, and Erisu/Earth in the Jap version.
#9 Posted by dankempster (2253 posts) -
@leoplureodon:  @Oni:   Thanks for the comments, guys. I, too, am looking forward to returning to Cosmo Canyon, purely because of its distinct style and my fond memories of the place (although I'll be trying to suppress those as best I can in the interests of keeping this series moderately objective). Also, to maintain the integrity of these blogs, I'll do my best to resist the temptation to throw a Phoenix Down at Gi Nattak :P
 
@gla55jAw: Thanks for the semi-confirmation. Looking back at it now, it's amazing just how much of the game's backstory is restricted to optional areas and scenarios, and how a lot of it is simply alluded to rather than being spelled out for the player - in that respect, the game was pretty far ahead of its time. Also, sorry if the 'Aerith' thing is bugging you. I think I mentioned in an earlier episode that I changed her name in-game, to reflect the developers' acknowledgement that 'Aeris' was a mistranslation.
#10 Posted by BulletproofMonk (2721 posts) -
@dankempster: Gi Nattak was a pain in the ass for me on my last playthrough, because I totally forgot about the fight, and you don't get your health and MP back after all those fights in the dungeon. I did beat him though.
#11 Posted by gla55jAw (2689 posts) -
@Meowayne: @dankempster:  I know, I know haha. I'm just messing about the Aeris/Aerith thing. I'm just so used to Aeris from playing the game so many times I refuse to change.
#12 Edited by Meowayne (6084 posts) -

At this point in the game - because it will now slowly begin to abandon its preachy tone - how does the whole Tolkienesque "technology is the root of all evil and we cannot miss a single opportunity to shove it into your face" tone sit with you? Midgar, Nibelheim, Junon, Corel, Gongaga and the upcoming Rocket Town, they're all slaves to telling you just how bad everything becomes once you use machines. It didn't bother me back then, but it sort of bothered me last year, because it simply is not part of the overall plot, nor do I see the necessity to dwell on it, especially after the Corel episode. 
It gives the whole game a hippy-ish and as I said, preachy tone of rainbows and flowers that should've had its place as a side of one character (Barrett) and not as The Voice of the Development Team. 
 
Ha, wait a second. The second layer of meaning, or the symbolism in Aerith - "Earth" - dying early in the game at the hands of a "calamity from the sky" just dawned on me. I never thought about that. Fuck you Final Fantasy VII and your new revelations every year. :D

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