It's been a long time coming. Specifically, it's been over two months. I've written seven unrelated blogs and completed seven games in the interim. I've attempted to write this twice in that time period, both ended prematurely by web browser crashes. I've also stocked up enough notes for four further episodes beyond this one. Looking at all those statistics, it's probably time I returned to the serial blog that's responsible for my number of followers doubling in the last nine months. You know the one, where I play through Final Fantasy VII from the objective viewpoint of a modern-day gamer. The one where I criticise one of my favourite games just as much as I praise it, and often both in the same breath. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the long-delayed twelfth episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII.
Episode Twelve - Just A Little Nibel
Seeing as it's been a while since the last episode, a little memory refresh might be in order. Episode Eleven saw Cloud and the team arrive at Cosmo Canyon, where Red XIII's backstory was highlighted and the team gained a deeper insight into the workings of the Planet and the Lifestream. After Red XIII's reunion with his father, the group returned to their now-fixed buggy and headed north across the river towards the mountain town of Nibelheim. This is where I pick the game back up after loading my most recent save, and I waste no time guiding Cloud's party into his and Tifa's hometown.
Those of you who've played the game, or at least been with us since Episode Five, will remember the Kalm flashback. During that account of what happened five years ago, Cloud said that Sephiroth had razed Nibelheim to the ground and slaughtered all of its inhabitants. It comes as something of a surprise, then (or at least it would, had I never played the game before) that the town is seemingly unchanged from Cloud's youth. Aerith and Red XIII call Cloud's story into question, but he maintains that he saw Nibelheim burn. A quick tour of the town doesn't do Cloud's tale much good, either - all the residents insist that no such thing happened, and accuse Cloud of lying. The town is also full of weird beings cloaked in black, most of whom just babble on about a 'Reunion' of some description. It's only by rummaging around in what was once Tifa's house that Cloud's credibility is salvaged - a document left on a desk reveals that the Shinra rebuilt Nibelheim after the blaze, and populated it with actors trained to deny the truth. It also refers to the black-cloaked people as 'clones' - more Shinra experiments. This little snippet of information is another example of how Final Fantasy VII rewards thorough players with story exposition, and while it's on a much smaller scale than Gongaga in Episode Ten, I still applaud the design philosophy.
Thankfully, not everybody presents the party with dead ends. Two of the 'clones' in the northern part of town tell Cloud that Sephiroth is holed up in the Shinra Mansion. Not wasting any time, that's where I go. Before tracking down Sephiroth, though, there's another character I intend to encounter - namely, Vincent Valentine. For those not familiar with the hunt for Vincent, let me explain. On the first floor of the mansion there's a note with clues written on it. Each of those clues leads to a different spot in the mansion, where Cloud will find a number. These numbers correspond to the lock combination of the safe in the room upstairs. Opening up the safe triggers a boss battle with a monster called Lost Number, who when defeated drops a key to a locked door in the basement. Its a nifty side-quest, even if it isn't the most fun I've had solving puzzles in a mansion recently. There's just one problem with this. The note with the four number clues on it has to be re-examined to read each new clue. Every time you re-examine it, you have to flip through around four or five caption boxes of preface before you get to the actual clues. It's one of the game's many instances of unnecessary clunkiness. It was annoying ten years ago, and even more so today. After I've examined one clue, take me back to the list of clues so I can check another one, damn it!
A combination of memory and exploration reveals the safe combination, and the fight against Lost Number is both smooth and strategic. One side of the monster is highly resistant to physical damage but weak to magic attacks, and vice versa with the other side. A Limit Break from Cloud, Red XIII's elemental spells, and constant support from Aerith in the form of Regen and Haste are enough to bowl the boss over and reward me with the Basement Key as well as some Odin Summon Materia. The basement is the next logical destination, so Cloud descends the spiral staircase into the cavern beneath the mansion.
I feel at this point that I should say something about "returning" to Nibelheim and the Shinra Mansion. We've been here before, albeit in the form of a flashback, but those interactive moments spent here earlier provide the player with a familiarity with the place, presumably not unlike Cloud's own familiarity with it having grown up here. It's this established knowledge that enables the player to make the same leaps in logic as Cloud would in this situation. Having already seen Sephiroth spending so much time in the basement of the Shinra Mansion in the Kalm flashback, that's instinctively where we as players are going to go to find him now. Basically, the developers have pointed you in the right direction through foreshadowing. If you ask me, that's pretty clever game design on any level.
Down in the basement, Cloud uses the newly acquired key to open the locked crypt. Inside is a coffin, and inside that coffin is Vincent. He's not too talkative until the party mention that they're after Sephiroth. He tells them he's an ex-Turk, and another victim of the Shinra's warped science experiments. He also provides some more info on Sephiroth himself, stating that his mother isn't the creature Jenova, but an ordinary woman named Lucrecia. Apparently she was close of Vincent, and a willing participant in the Jenova Project that resulted in Sephiroth's creation. Before the party can get any more information out of Vincent, he shuts himself away in his coffin and asks them to leave. With all the options here exhausted, all that's left is to continue into the basement library and face the inevitable.
Sure enough, Sephiroth is down here. This encounter is just as brief (and leaves Sephiroth seeming just as enigmatic) as the last aboard the ferry from Junon. Like the cloaked people in Nibelheim, Sephiroth mentions a 'Reunion' to Cloud, and says that Jenova will be there. He also refers to her as becoming a "calamity from the skies", hinting that she's not of the Planet and not even an Ancient. Cloud doesn't even have an opportunity to make sense of this before Sephiroth departs, leaving a final order to head north past Mount Nibel if he wishes to understand what's meant by 'Reunion'. With no other leads to follow, all I can do is pick up the Destruct Materia dropped by Sephiroth and leave the mansion. On the way out, Vincent emerges from the crypt and requests to the join the party on their journey. He's welcomed, and yet another potential party member is added to the roster. Back in Nibelheim, the party rest at the Inn before heading to the foot of Mount Nibel. At this point, feeling an episode's worth of content is in my hands, I save my game and power down the PSP.
So at the close of Episode Twelve, my current vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 32), Aerith (Lv 31), Red XIII (Lv 31)
- Current Location - Nibel Region, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 17:50
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Thirteen - The Rocket Man here.
A long gestation period obviously makes for a long blog. It feels good to finally get this written and out there. Sorry for the lengthy wait I've subjected you all to. I'm hoping that in spite of impending University deadlines I'll be able to keep this series ticking over from now into the New Year and beyond. I'm still really enjoying writing these, and I hope you're all still enjoying reading them, too. The next episode should encompass the team's journey over Mount Nibel and into Rocket Town. Until then, be lucky. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)