It's been a while, huh? Specifically, it's been just over three months since I last sat down with what is arguably my favourite game of all time, played a chunk of it, and then wrote down some semi-cynical, semi-nostalgic thoughts about it. I guess that makes this special thirtieth anniversary episode a little overdue, but better late than never, right? Ladies and gentlemen, it's once again time for me to resume Enduring Final Fantasy VII.
Episode Thirty - An Ancient Secret
Given the extended hiatus this series has just returned from, it would probably make sense for me to sketch out a brief recap of recent events, so readers (not to mention myself, as well) can get back up to speed without having to trawl through the last couple of entries. Last time we saw Cloud and the gang, they were hot on the heels of the Shinra Electric Power Company in search of Huge Materia - extra-powerful chunks of magical ore. Having retrieved three pieces of the stuff, their attention was drawn to a fourth piece being relocated to Rocket Town, where it would be place into the rusted Shinra No.26 rocket and launched straight into Meteor. The crew were able to stow away on the rocket, recover the Huge Materia, and escape before the collision, which failed to the asteroid's impending descent. At the point where we left off, the party were about to visit Bugenhagen at Cosmo Canyon to seek his advice on how to proceed. It's here that my chronicling of the game's events will resume.
The first thing that I'm reminded of when the game loads are the limitations put on the Highwind in terms of where it can and can't land. Basically, anything that isn't a lush grassy plain is a no-go. Given that Cosmo Canyon sits amidst rocky surfaces devoid of plant life, it means I have to land my airship quite a distance from my destination and cover the rest of the journey on foot. This means encountering some random battles, and while my character levels are high enough for them not to be a problem, that means they're instead reduced to the level of an annoyance. There's no logical reason why I shouldn't be able to land right outside Cosmo Canyon, so I'm not sure why the developers felt the need to make it a no-go area for the Highwind.
Bugenhagen has been hanging out in his Planetarium, and it's there that the group find him. When Cloud asks him for guidance, he advises the whole band of adventurers to come together and try to think about things they might have forgotten. The group consensus all seems to come back to Aerith, and her statements regarding her plan to stop Sephiroth. What did she know that the rest of them didn't? Everyone draws a blank on this question, but Bugenhagen suggests that the answer may lie somewhere within the City of the Ancients - it is, after all, the place where Aerith went after she left the party. Cloud agrees to return, and it sounds like Bugenhagen will be coming along for the ride too this time. Before everybody returns to the Highwind, Cloud asks Bugenhagen if the party can keep their stash of Huge Materia here in the Planetarium. Bugenhagen kindly obliges, and Cloud drops off the four retrieved pieces of Huge Materia for safe-keeping.
Before returning to the airship, it's possible to examine each of the four pieces of Huge Materia. Three of them (the green, red and yellow pieces) correspond to different schools of abilities (Magic, Summon and Command respectively), and right now they don't serve any function. Diligent players who master every piece of Materia in the game can receive rewards from the Huge Materia in the form of Master Materia, a feat I've never quite been obsessive enough to accomplish. The piece I'm interested in right now is the blue piece, which holds a special piece of Summon Materia in the form of Bahamut ZERO. The three instances of Bahamut in Final Fantasy VII is something I've only come to appreciate in recent playthroughs, as a more established fan of the franchise. Now I understand Bahamut's position within the franchise, the existence of three different Bahamuts, each more ludicrous than the last, seems like the game's tongue-in-cheek attempt to one-up its predecessors: "You thought Bahamut was badass in Final Fantasies IV through VI? Well check this out - Bahamut just got an upgrade!". I'm probably reading far too much into it, but that's how I interpret it, and thinking about it that way makes me smile. It doesn't hurt that all three versions are awesome summon spells, either.
Back on the Highwind, Bugenhagen retires to the deck and leaves Cloud to get back to running the ship. I fly to the northern continent, landing the airship on what appears to be A FIELD OF ICE AT THE BOTTOM OF A NARROW CANYON.
Anyway, complaint aside, this preposterous landing does at least mean I don't have to waste time trawling through Bone Village and the Sleeping Forest all over again. Our destination within the City of the Ancients is an open, forum-like room at the back of the abandoned city, with a mysterious machine at its centre. As soon as he enters the room, Bugenhagen attunes to the voices of the spirits of the Ancients, and is able to glean some of the information Cloud and co. are searching for. Apparently the only way to stop Meteor is to call upon the power of the ultimate White Magic, Holy. If a soul seeking it communes with the Planet, Holy will be released, cleansing the Planet of all that seeks to harm it. In order to speak with the Planet and cast Holy, the White Materia is needed. As far as Cloud is concerned, this piece of news might as well be the final nail in the coffin. He recalls Aerith being in possession of the White Materia, and seeing it fall from the altar when she was killed. Bugenhagen, meanwhile, notices some lettering upon the machine they're standing beside, which refers to a 'key' hidden in a place where 'not even light can reach'.
I remember this clue causing me an untold number of headaches in my youth. I spent several consecutive evenings scouring every inch of the world map, trying to find this elusive dark spot and the key it housed. Eventually I think I was told where to look by a schoolmate, who was discovering the game around the same time as me (and who, to be honest, was probably consulting a guide of some description himself). Playing it now as an older, wiser gamer who's less willing to put up with lazy design, the whole sequence smacks of artificial lengthening - the clue is so obtuse as to leave the player with very little idea of where to search, and because this 'key' serves any purpose beyond delaying the story's progression, there's no decent reason why the game's story couldn't have been altered to completely skip this step. Final Fantasy VII is guilty of leaving the player stranded like this at a few points in its lengthy story, but this is arguably the most infuriating example of it purely because it all feels so unnecessary.
Thankfully, I've memorised where the key is hidden, so the unnecessary globe-trotting is kept to a minimum on this occasion. The Key to the Ancients is sitting in a well-hidden cavern on the ocean floor, accessible only by submarine. A quick round trip puts the key in my possession - what once took me an uncountable number of hours to achieve is now dealt with in less than ten minutes. Seriously Square, why didn't you guys just give us a slightly more obvious clue, eh? Something that mentioned water, perhaps, if only tangentially? Anyway, moving on...
Upon Cloud's return with the key, Bugenhagen uses it to activate a music box within the room. The chimes bring water gushing down from above, enveloping the central machine with water. The machine projects an image of Aerith onto the cascading waterfall, clearly showing that when she dropped the White Materia, it was giving off a faint green glow - a sign that she was able to call upon Holy before her death. But something is preventing the spell from acting upon the Planet - or more accurately, someone. Sephiroth's presence at the North Crater is blocking Holy, and stopping it from dispelling Meteor. In order to release his hold on Holy and potentially save the Planet, Cloud and the crew are going to have to stop Sephiroth once and for all.
As the party step away from the machine, Cloud receives a call on the PHS from Cait Sith. Remember on our last visit to Junon, its famous cannon was nowhere to be seen? Apparently, President Rufus had it moved from Junon to a place where it could draw on the energy of Mako directly - the super-weapon has now been installed in the city of Midgar. A cut-away to Rufus's office reveals the plan in all its sinister glory - Shinra have aimed the cannon at the North Crater, and wired it up to every Mako Reactor in Midgar. A super-charged, Mako-powered shell is going to be launched from this new weapon (dubbed the 'Sister Ray') towards the crater, in an attempt to destroy the magical barrier encasing it. This looks bad. Very bad indeed. So bad, that there's only one possible course of action - to return to the world map, save the game, and bring this episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII to an end.
So at the close of Episode Thirty, my vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 61), Cid (Lv 62), Barret (Lv 58)
- Current Location - Icicle Area, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 42:10
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Thirty-One - Weapon On Weapon here.
Thirty episodes, eh? Who'd have thought that when I embarked on this crazy, oft-delayed journey two-and-a-half years ago, I would end up making it this far? Realistically, we've probably only got another ten or so episodes to go from this point, so from here on out the finish line is very much in sight. Join me again in a couple of weeks' time when I'll be making a (hopefully triumphant) return to Midgar. As always, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)