Welcome, lads and ladettes, to the thirty-first episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII. If you're new to this series, then welcome. You're a little late, but I'll fill you in anyway. Enduring Final Fantasy VII is an episodic blog that chronicles my current playthrough of Final Fantasy VII, one of my most beloved games, through the critical eye of a more mature gamer in 2012. Nostalgic and cynical in equal measure, it's my aim to find out if my favourite JRPG has stood the test of time as a gaming experience, or if it would best be lost to the winds of time and forgotten about - has it endured, or is it something that must be endured? Hopefully each episode brings us one step closer towards answering that ultimate question. Speaking of which, let's get this one underway, shall we?
Episode Thirty-One - Weapon On Weapon
Loading up the save I made at the end of the last episode puts me just outside the City of the Ancients, next to my improbably-landed Highwind. As I try to re-board the airship, Cloud is halted by the tremors of a distant earthquake. The camera cuts away to the source of the commotion - a Weapon has risen out of the ocean, and has started to approach Midgar. Word of the slumbering creature's awakening reaches the crew of the Highwind by way of Cait Sith, who seems to have suddenly and inexplicably begun affecting a more colloquial accent (something I'm willing to forgive as yet another example of this game's lacklustre translation). Barret is concerned for Marlene's safety, but the now seemingly Cockney cat-puppet reassures him that his adoptive daughter is just fine. It doesn't take long for Cloud to decide that they need to intercept it before it can reach the city. Back in control of Cid's trusty airship, I head for the coastline just north of Midgar and await the approach of Diamond Weapon.
Diamond Weapon certainly isn't a slouch in the combat department, providing me with one of the game's greatest challenges since I made my ill-advised early trip to the crashed Gelnika back in Episode Twenty-Seven. It hits hard and fast, a dangerous combination even so late in the game. My tactical choice to overcome this is to have Cid, my resident buffer, cast Haste and Wall on the entire party with his first two turns. These two spells ensure I can keep up with Diamond Weapon's barrage of attacks, and that those attacks do significantly less damage. From there it's a fairly simple case of balancing attack and defence, launching a full-scale onslaught with my strongest spells and summons while ensuring that my health doesn't drop too low. This war of attrition eventually ends in my favour, with the weakened Weapon turning its back on me and continuing its march towards Midgar.
Back at Shinra Headquarters, President Rufus gives the order to fire the 'Sister Ray'. With the power of all the city's Mako reactors behind it, the super-cannon fires a hyper-charged beam, on a collision course with both the advancing Weapon and the barrier around the North Crater. The beam slices through Diamond Weapon like a hot knife through butter, but not before the creature unleashes a volley of its own impressive weaponry. As the Sister Ray's inaugural shot pierces Sephiroth's protective barrier at the Crater, Diamond Weapon's attack reaches Midgar, reducing Rufus Shinra's office to ashes.
After the dust settles, the team decide to head for the North Crater to see if the Sister Ray has done anything to Sephiroth. Even Barret, who's apparently ignorant of the fact that the city where Marlene is holed up has just been bombed by a natural defensive super-weapon, is willing to forgo confirmation of her safety in favour of gallivanting back to Sephiroth's hiding place. Honestly, I wish there was some consistency in Barret's concern for Marlene at this late stage in the game. Their relationship is handled pretty spectacularly from the game's opening right through to the confrontation with Dyne at Corel Prison, but after that the subplot seems to fade into irrelevance, and never gets treated with any sense of importance again. The fact he yo-yos so rapidly from concern to indifference in this short sequence just makes the whole thing feel sort of half-baked. Flying the Highwind to a position hovering over the now-exposed crater confirms what the group thought - Sephiroth's energy barrier has been destroyed. The crew are just about to touch down inside the crater and pay their long-term nemesis another visit when Cait Sith (who's returned to speaking the Queen's English) halts proceedings with some very bad news.
Once again the action cuts back to Shinra HQ, where a conversation unfolds between Reeve, Heidegger and Scarlett. Apparently the Sister Ray is still drawing power from Midgar's Mako reactors - a dangerous occurrence, given the weapon is supposed to go through a three-hour cooldown time. On top of that, control of the cannon has been locked to the mainframe, meaning that nobody can gain access to shut it down. Taking on a commanding role in Rufus' absence, Reeve discovers that the culprit is none other than Professor Hojo. The lunatic scientist seems hell-bent on feeding Sephiroth with an enormous dose of Mako energy from the Sister Ray, presumably in the belief that Sephiroth's aspirations to become a god will be realised.
Something worth noting is that this short sequence, without ever explicitly saying it outright, reveals to the player the true identity of Cait Sith's operator as Reeve. It's a strictly implicit reveal, cutting away from Cait Sith on the Highwind to a scene in which Reeve serves as the central character, and making the point through the transference of knowledge between the two characters. It's another perfect example of how Final Fantasy VII doesn't feel the need to constantly force its lore and backstories down the player's throat, instead leaving them to pick up on the clues and inferences hidden effortlessly within the primary plot-line's grand scope. Or at least, it would be if the whole scene wasn't then undermined by Barret clumsily letting the Mog-riding cat out of the bag back on board the Highwind. Honestly, Final Fantasy VII, you were so close to pulling that one off...
Anyway, Cait Sith tells Cloud and co. that any attempt to cut the power to the Sister Ray would result in a catastrophic explosion that would most likely destroy Midgar. Therefore, the only way to stop the threat is to eliminate Hojo himself. Getting to him isn't going to be easy, though - Heidegger and Scarlett don't take too kindly to what they see as a mutiny on Reeve's part, and have him held under arrest while they prepare a special surprise for our band of adventurers in the form of a 'new weapon'. The threat posed by Heidegger and Scarlett isn't enough to dissuade Cloud, though, who tells the Highwind's pilot to plot a course for Midgar immediately.
As the airship passes over Midgar, Cloud devises a novel way of getting into the city without having to get through the Shinra defences - by parachuting in from above. The party follows their leader up to the Highwind's deck, and as they cross the screen in a single-file line, it's brought to my attention for the first time that every single one of these characters has a unique running animation. Red XIII is understandably unique in being four-legged, but even the bipedal party members have noticeably different gaits - Cid leans slightly backwards, while Vincent Valentine runs hunched forward in a manner befitting his vampiric appearance and the muscular Barret is led by his enormous shoulders. That level of attention to detail, to animate every single playable character in a unique way, must have been unprecedented in 1997. Even now in 2012, I'm left rather stunned by this revelation.
The feeling of being impressed carries over into the ensuing cut-scene, in which all eight party members leap from the Highwind's deck and descend upon Midgar from above. Thematically it's a nice call-back to the game's opening cut-scene, providing a similar sense of Midgar's enormous scale and adding to the feel that the whole journey has come more or less full-circle. The fact that Cloud can be manipulated into doing flips on his descent is also a nice nod to the game's emphasis on interactivity over passive viewing, but I'm not sure it's tonally appropriate. To be fair, this entire episode has been responsible for some pretty great FMV moments - the CGI render of Diamond Weapon was spectacularly detailed, as was the powering up and firing of the Sister Ray. I've said it a lot through this series, but I maintain that character models aside, Final Fantasy VII doesn't look bad at all, and I think these scenes serve as perfect proof of that.
The party land deep in the heart of Midgar's Sector 8. With Shinra guards crawling all over the place, there's only one safe way to reach the central structure where Hojo is - through the underground network. Caith Sith leads the party to an entrance to the underground, which is conveniently placed right next to a save point. I decide that this is as good a time as any to wrap up proceedings, so I save my game and turn off my PSP, bringing this episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII to an end.
So at the close of Episode Thirty-One, my vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 62), Cid (Lv 63), Barret (Lv 59)
- Current Location - Sector 8, Midgar
- Time on the Clock - 42:50
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Thirty-Two - An End To Bad Science here.
Another entry done and dusted. For anybody who's been keeping count (probably just me), the posting of this episode means Enduring Final Fantasy VII has officially overtaken A Month in Skyrim as my longest-running serial blog. And we've still got quite a way to go before our time with Cloud and company comes to an end. The next episode should cover the remainder of the party's return to Midgar and see us through to the end of disc two, so keep your eyes peeled for that in a couple of weeks' time. Until then, thanks for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)