Enduring Final Fantasy VII - Episode Twenty

Posted by dankempster (2249 posts) -

Another week, and another return for Enduring Final Fantasy VII - the serial blog chronicling my journey through Square's seminal work, as I attempt to play it with the objective eye of a twenty-first century gamer and determine whether or not it's genuinely deserving of its stellar reputation.

A pre-emptive warning - this is a long episode, much longer than these things usually weigh in at. That was kind of out of my hands, due to this covering a section of the game that features a lot of story development. There's still some commentary and cynicism in there, but you'll have to dig a little deeper than usual to find it. Consider yourselves warned. With that out of the way, let's begin!

Episode Twenty - The Illusion Broken

Loading my save puts me back near the top of the Gaea Cliffs, the mountainous rock face standing between Cloud and the place where Sephiroth is most likely to be found - the North Crater. Before the crew can ascend to the very peak of the Cliffs, though, there's one more obstacle to overcome - Schizo.

Schizo is a boss that follows a pretty standard JRPG trope - it's a two-headed monster, with each of its heads being aligned with a different element. Its left head has an Ice-elemental breath attack, and its right head has a Fire-elemental breath attack. This means that each head has a different weakness - the left to Fire, and the right to Ice. It also means that using an elemental spell that matches the element of a head will heal it. It turns an otherwise simple situation into a pretty tactical affair, but not one that poses too much a problem for me at this point. Cid's quick to get off an MBarrier spell on the whole party, seriously impeding most of the damage I'd otherwise take from its breath attacks. From there, it's just a simple case of casting the right elemental spells with Red XIII and pounding away with Cloud's physical attacks, while Cid offers healing support and keeps the MBarrier topped up.

Once Schizo's been dealt with, the team are free to move on into the crater. Passing over the crest of the cliff triggers an FMV sequence showing the crater itself - a gaping wound in the top of the Planet, with the Lifestream surging up and out of it, slowly healing it shut. It's a pretty awesome sequence in its sense of scope, even if the graphical fidelity leaves a lot to be desired these days. The party begin their descent into the crater, stopping before-hand to... recap and clarify some plot points. I don't know why, but this particular conversation feels really jarring and out of place. Maybe it's because Final Fantasy VII is usually so good at saving its plot clarification and exposition for appropriate moments (like the story recap at the Gold Saucer's hotel, for instance), or maybe it's just the questionable translation of these few sentences. Whatever it is, I know that this doesn't quite fit in with other, similar moments in the game.

Not long after starting to move down into the crater, the party is slowed by a call from behind them. Tifa runs after them, and demands to be switched into the party. Not having much choice in the matter, I decide to swap her in for Cid and make her the dedicated healer and support character. I've always admired Final Fantasy VII for the way it ties these forced adoptions of characters into your party so brilliantly into the story, and especially the way it ensures your unused characters remain fairly competent by awarding them a portion of any earned experience points even when they're not in the party. As a result of this, the forced introduction of Tifa is nowhere near the inconvenience it could have been. Even the dilemma of not keeping her equipment up-to-date is accounted for - the developers have left a Kaiser Knuckle in the crater for me to collect. All of these touches add up to make the process relatively painless, and considering how wrong this system could have gone, I think it's definitely a commendable aspect of Final Fantasy VII's design.

Heading deeper into the crater, it becomes apparent that something serious really is afoot. The black-cloaked 'clones' from Nibelheim all seem to have made their way here, and they continue to babble on about Sephiroth and 'Reunion'. To top it all off, the Shinra Electric Power Company has just arrived on the scene by way of airship. Witnessing the Lifestream surging up and out of the crater has convinced Rufus, Heidegger and Scarlet that Sephiroth has indeed brought them to the Promised Land (as a side-note, I've never understood why it took the Shinra so long to find this place, or even why they needed Sephiroth to guide them. Surely with an airship at their disposal, it should have been pretty easy for them to find a giant conspicuous column of Lifestream energy shooting out of the top of the Planet). Professor Hojo, meanwhile, seems more pre-occupied with thoughts of the imminent 'Reunion', and what effect it will have.

Halfway through the journey to the centre of the North Crater, the party encounters Sephiroth once again. He mutters something about his body reaching the end of its usefulness, then disappears in a puff of smoke. A disembodied voice kicks in, saying that the sole purpose of this visit to the crater is to present the Black Materia to 'the Master'. As the party gaze on bewildered, Sephiroth re-materialises above them and knocks them to the ground. He leaves behind another Jenova incarnation for them to tackle - Jenova DEATH. It's a pretty straight-forward battle, with no need to employ any specific strategies. Playing this through has caused an old query to flare up in me once again - specifically, I've always wondered why the Jenova LIFE and Jenova DEATH fights are so close together, especially when compared to the very long gap between the Jenova BIRTH and Jenova LIFE fights. I've never been able to come up with any theories as to why that might be (besides strange pacing issues), so if anybody has anything to contribute in that regard, I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts!

After the battle, Jenova DEATH drops the sought-after Black Materia, which Cloud quickly picks up. Threads of story finally seem to be reaching a head, and that's reflected in Cloud's beginning to piece together what's really happening here. Although the party have been pursuing Sephiroth all this time, it's starting to become apparent that he might not be the real villain here. If Jenova is Sephiroth's mother, and the black-cowled beings are Sephiroth's clones, then it stands to reason that their gathering here is a means of reuniting Jenova's cells - the 'Reunion' that keeps getting referenced. Unable to trust himself with the Black Materia, Cloud opts to leave it with Barret before moving on.

As the party draws ever-closer to the middle of this enormous crater, they begin to experience illusions - presumably a result of Sephiroth's proximity, an effort on his part to confuse and disorient Cloud. The illusion perfectly mirrors the details of the story related in Kalm, about the events in Nibelheim five years ago, but with one crucial difference - Cloud is nowhere to be seen. In his place is another man - eerily similar to Cloud, but noticeably different from him by way of his jet-black hair. Tifa tries to reassure Cloud that what he's seeing is simply an attempt by Sephiroth to break him, but even she seems strangely defensive when faced with the sights unfolding before them. Finally, Sephiroth appears before Cloud within this illusion. Cloud believes that what Sephiroth is showing them is a fabrication, lies intended to break his spirit and drive him to insanity, but Sephiroth says differently. He puts it to Cloud that the contents of this illusion reflects reality - Cloud was not the hero who faced him at Nibelheim five years ago. Instead, he is merely a puppet; a vessel without genuine emotion or feeling; a failed experiment.

Sephiroth claims that after the Nibelheim incident, Cloud was 'constructed' by Professor Hojo - a failed attempt to create a clone of Sephiroth through infusing his body with Jenova cells and Mako energy. Cloud turns to Tifa, relying on their childhood memories to disprove Sephiroth's claims, but she seems unable to give him the support he seeks. In one last attempt to drive his point home to Cloud, Sephiroth produces the photograph taken on that fateful day. Sure enough, it's not Cloud standing beside Sephiroth and Tifa, but the unidentified black-haired man. Desperately, Cloud begins to tug at the unravelling strands of his memory, searching for the truth, but every thought he holds in his mind turns to dust. So much of his past is shrouded in fog - he can't remember when he joined SOLDIER, or how. He can't remember when he was promoted to First Class. Eventually, he simply casts the confusion aside - right now, pressing on is the most important thing.

Meanwhile, the Shinra head honchos have handed at the centre of the North Crater and are examining their findings. Everything seems to point to this being the Promised Land - an abundance of Mako energy, and huge treasure troves of condensed Materia. Hojo dismisses Rufus's claims, though, stating that the Promised Land is nothing more than a myth. Before they can argue, the entire crater begins to quake. Something is stirring deep within the Planet, and Hojo knows precisely what it is - the Weapon mentioned in Professor Gast's lost report. Back at the team's camp, Barret finds himself swept up in an illusion of his own. 'Tifa' has come back, calling for him to come and help Cloud, who's in serious trouble. Ever the hero, Barret obliges and runs off, just as the false Tifa reveals himself to be Sephiroth. With Cloud's mind intensely fragile, and the Black Materia making its way to the centre of the crater, it looks like Sephiroth's plans (whether they're his own or not) are coming to fruition.

Without warning, the party suddenly materialises at the centre of the crater, alongside the Shinra crew. At the same moment, Barret shows up with the Black Materia. Cloud, seemingly possessed yet again by whatever force has been manipulating him thusfar, retrieves the Black Materia from Barret and apologises to everyone - in particular Tifa, saying he hopes that one day she can meet the 'real Cloud'. Hojo initially seems ecstatic that Cloud's presence has proven his theory of Reunion - the theory that even when dismembered, Jenova's body will find a way to make itself whole again - but that euphoria soon turns to shock as he learns that Cloud is one of his failed experiments. With Cloud acting erratically, Hojo confirms the claims Sephiroth made in his illusion - five years ago, he infused Cloud's body with Jenova's cells and Mako energy, in a bid to create a clone of Sephiroth. Hojo also reveals that Sephiroth himself died during the Nibelheim incident. It seems that this whole time, Cloud has been doing nothing more than following a spectre - a summons from Sephiroth with the intention of guiding him (and therefore Jenova's cells) back to the North Crater for the Reunion. Hojo explains that he's been anticipating the Reunion for some time now, and had been expecting it to happen in Midgar, where Jenova's body was kept. Instead, Sephiroth has been orchestrating the convergence of Jenova's cells towards the North Crater, where his own lifeless body rests, encased and preserved in a huge piece of Materia.

In his possessed state, Cloud gifts the Black Materia to Sephiroth. At the same moment, the crater erupts with the force of the Lifestream, and the long-dormant Weapons are unleashed upon the Planet. Our band of adventurers are swept away only just in time, ferried away by President Rufus on his airship. All of them that is, except for Cloud, who along with Sephiroth has plunged deep into the freshly-opened wound at the North Crater, swept away by the Lifestream...

I realise this episode has already gone on far too long, and for that I can only apologise, but I want to close with some general thoughts about how this whole section of the game is handled. Eleven years ago, this whole section of the game left me absolutely dumbfounded. I think part of that was because I was a ten-year-old kid and this was my first exposure to something that might be considered an epic work of fantasy, which made the scale of some of the concepts at work here a little difficult to wrap my head around. I think another part of that was the questionable translation, which also made it difficult to wrap my head around. But I like to think that a significant portion of that sense of awe and astonishment was on Final Fantasy VII's own merits, simply because this is such an incredible turning point in the game's plot. Playing it through for the first time, it's a shocking moment of revelation in and of itself - you're presented with these sudden truths regarding the character of Cloud, the plot of Sephiroth, and even the involvement of Jenova, to the point where everything you believed for the first twenty-five to thirty hours of this game is actually a lie. Playing it through for a second or third time, it's a moment that's masterfully built up to - returning to the story with that established knowledge reveals a wealth of clues leading up to this moment that are so subtle and seemingly irrelevant, you can forgive yourself for missing them the first time. Playing it through for the sixth time in eleven years, fourteen years after its initial release, and under an eye that seeks to be as objective as possible, I still think it's almost peerless in its execution. I've played a lot of great games in those eleven intervening years, and I've witnessed a lot of great plot twists and unexpected shocks. For me, this moment easily sits on par with the "Would you kindly?" revelation in BioShock, or the momumental mindfuck of Metal Gear Solid 2's ending. Hell, it might even top them. Whatever way you choose to spin it, I don't think there's any getting away from the fact that this moment is still one of the greatest examples of peripeteia in video game storytelling history.

Although I haven't reached a save point, I've decided to bring this episode to an end here. It's gone on long enough as it is, I think, and this seems like a very fitting point to take a break. Given that I can't access my menu to get the relevant information, I can't give you my usual series bullet points to wrap up proceedings. Don't worry though, they'll be back again next episode.

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
Episode Ten - Going GongagaEpisode Eleven - Canyons And Caverns
Episode Twelve - Just A Little NibelEpisode Thirteen - The Rocket Man
Episode Fourteen - The Great Materia HeistEpisode Fifteen - Conflict, Romance And Betrayal
Episode Sixteen - An Ancient EvilEpisode Seventeen - The Death Of An Ancient
Episode Eighteen - Story Exposition And... ...Snowboarding???Episode Nineteen - Come Rain, Sleet Or Snow

Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Twenty-One - Breaking Out Of Junon here.

Whoa, really long episode this time. In spite of its length and story-heavy nature, though, I really enjoyed writing this episode up. This has always been one of my favourite sections of the game, and I'd like to think that comes through in the writing. I'm expecting Episode Twenty-One to come to fruition within the next few days, mainly because I can't really leave my PSP running for the next week or two, so keep an eye out for that. For now, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)

#1 Posted by dankempster (2249 posts) -

Another week, and another return for Enduring Final Fantasy VII - the serial blog chronicling my journey through Square's seminal work, as I attempt to play it with the objective eye of a twenty-first century gamer and determine whether or not it's genuinely deserving of its stellar reputation.

A pre-emptive warning - this is a long episode, much longer than these things usually weigh in at. That was kind of out of my hands, due to this covering a section of the game that features a lot of story development. There's still some commentary and cynicism in there, but you'll have to dig a little deeper than usual to find it. Consider yourselves warned. With that out of the way, let's begin!

Episode Twenty - The Illusion Broken

Loading my save puts me back near the top of the Gaea Cliffs, the mountainous rock face standing between Cloud and the place where Sephiroth is most likely to be found - the North Crater. Before the crew can ascend to the very peak of the Cliffs, though, there's one more obstacle to overcome - Schizo.

Schizo is a boss that follows a pretty standard JRPG trope - it's a two-headed monster, with each of its heads being aligned with a different element. Its left head has an Ice-elemental breath attack, and its right head has a Fire-elemental breath attack. This means that each head has a different weakness - the left to Fire, and the right to Ice. It also means that using an elemental spell that matches the element of a head will heal it. It turns an otherwise simple situation into a pretty tactical affair, but not one that poses too much a problem for me at this point. Cid's quick to get off an MBarrier spell on the whole party, seriously impeding most of the damage I'd otherwise take from its breath attacks. From there, it's just a simple case of casting the right elemental spells with Red XIII and pounding away with Cloud's physical attacks, while Cid offers healing support and keeps the MBarrier topped up.

Once Schizo's been dealt with, the team are free to move on into the crater. Passing over the crest of the cliff triggers an FMV sequence showing the crater itself - a gaping wound in the top of the Planet, with the Lifestream surging up and out of it, slowly healing it shut. It's a pretty awesome sequence in its sense of scope, even if the graphical fidelity leaves a lot to be desired these days. The party begin their descent into the crater, stopping before-hand to... recap and clarify some plot points. I don't know why, but this particular conversation feels really jarring and out of place. Maybe it's because Final Fantasy VII is usually so good at saving its plot clarification and exposition for appropriate moments (like the story recap at the Gold Saucer's hotel, for instance), or maybe it's just the questionable translation of these few sentences. Whatever it is, I know that this doesn't quite fit in with other, similar moments in the game.

Not long after starting to move down into the crater, the party is slowed by a call from behind them. Tifa runs after them, and demands to be switched into the party. Not having much choice in the matter, I decide to swap her in for Cid and make her the dedicated healer and support character. I've always admired Final Fantasy VII for the way it ties these forced adoptions of characters into your party so brilliantly into the story, and especially the way it ensures your unused characters remain fairly competent by awarding them a portion of any earned experience points even when they're not in the party. As a result of this, the forced introduction of Tifa is nowhere near the inconvenience it could have been. Even the dilemma of not keeping her equipment up-to-date is accounted for - the developers have left a Kaiser Knuckle in the crater for me to collect. All of these touches add up to make the process relatively painless, and considering how wrong this system could have gone, I think it's definitely a commendable aspect of Final Fantasy VII's design.

Heading deeper into the crater, it becomes apparent that something serious really is afoot. The black-cloaked 'clones' from Nibelheim all seem to have made their way here, and they continue to babble on about Sephiroth and 'Reunion'. To top it all off, the Shinra Electric Power Company has just arrived on the scene by way of airship. Witnessing the Lifestream surging up and out of the crater has convinced Rufus, Heidegger and Scarlet that Sephiroth has indeed brought them to the Promised Land (as a side-note, I've never understood why it took the Shinra so long to find this place, or even why they needed Sephiroth to guide them. Surely with an airship at their disposal, it should have been pretty easy for them to find a giant conspicuous column of Lifestream energy shooting out of the top of the Planet). Professor Hojo, meanwhile, seems more pre-occupied with thoughts of the imminent 'Reunion', and what effect it will have.

Halfway through the journey to the centre of the North Crater, the party encounters Sephiroth once again. He mutters something about his body reaching the end of its usefulness, then disappears in a puff of smoke. A disembodied voice kicks in, saying that the sole purpose of this visit to the crater is to present the Black Materia to 'the Master'. As the party gaze on bewildered, Sephiroth re-materialises above them and knocks them to the ground. He leaves behind another Jenova incarnation for them to tackle - Jenova DEATH. It's a pretty straight-forward battle, with no need to employ any specific strategies. Playing this through has caused an old query to flare up in me once again - specifically, I've always wondered why the Jenova LIFE and Jenova DEATH fights are so close together, especially when compared to the very long gap between the Jenova BIRTH and Jenova LIFE fights. I've never been able to come up with any theories as to why that might be (besides strange pacing issues), so if anybody has anything to contribute in that regard, I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts!

After the battle, Jenova DEATH drops the sought-after Black Materia, which Cloud quickly picks up. Threads of story finally seem to be reaching a head, and that's reflected in Cloud's beginning to piece together what's really happening here. Although the party have been pursuing Sephiroth all this time, it's starting to become apparent that he might not be the real villain here. If Jenova is Sephiroth's mother, and the black-cowled beings are Sephiroth's clones, then it stands to reason that their gathering here is a means of reuniting Jenova's cells - the 'Reunion' that keeps getting referenced. Unable to trust himself with the Black Materia, Cloud opts to leave it with Barret before moving on.

As the party draws ever-closer to the middle of this enormous crater, they begin to experience illusions - presumably a result of Sephiroth's proximity, an effort on his part to confuse and disorient Cloud. The illusion perfectly mirrors the details of the story related in Kalm, about the events in Nibelheim five years ago, but with one crucial difference - Cloud is nowhere to be seen. In his place is another man - eerily similar to Cloud, but noticeably different from him by way of his jet-black hair. Tifa tries to reassure Cloud that what he's seeing is simply an attempt by Sephiroth to break him, but even she seems strangely defensive when faced with the sights unfolding before them. Finally, Sephiroth appears before Cloud within this illusion. Cloud believes that what Sephiroth is showing them is a fabrication, lies intended to break his spirit and drive him to insanity, but Sephiroth says differently. He puts it to Cloud that the contents of this illusion reflects reality - Cloud was not the hero who faced him at Nibelheim five years ago. Instead, he is merely a puppet; a vessel without genuine emotion or feeling; a failed experiment.

Sephiroth claims that after the Nibelheim incident, Cloud was 'constructed' by Professor Hojo - a failed attempt to create a clone of Sephiroth through infusing his body with Jenova cells and Mako energy. Cloud turns to Tifa, relying on their childhood memories to disprove Sephiroth's claims, but she seems unable to give him the support he seeks. In one last attempt to drive his point home to Cloud, Sephiroth produces the photograph taken on that fateful day. Sure enough, it's not Cloud standing beside Sephiroth and Tifa, but the unidentified black-haired man. Desperately, Cloud begins to tug at the unravelling strands of his memory, searching for the truth, but every thought he holds in his mind turns to dust. So much of his past is shrouded in fog - he can't remember when he joined SOLDIER, or how. He can't remember when he was promoted to First Class. Eventually, he simply casts the confusion aside - right now, pressing on is the most important thing.

Meanwhile, the Shinra head honchos have handed at the centre of the North Crater and are examining their findings. Everything seems to point to this being the Promised Land - an abundance of Mako energy, and huge treasure troves of condensed Materia. Hojo dismisses Rufus's claims, though, stating that the Promised Land is nothing more than a myth. Before they can argue, the entire crater begins to quake. Something is stirring deep within the Planet, and Hojo knows precisely what it is - the Weapon mentioned in Professor Gast's lost report. Back at the team's camp, Barret finds himself swept up in an illusion of his own. 'Tifa' has come back, calling for him to come and help Cloud, who's in serious trouble. Ever the hero, Barret obliges and runs off, just as the false Tifa reveals himself to be Sephiroth. With Cloud's mind intensely fragile, and the Black Materia making its way to the centre of the crater, it looks like Sephiroth's plans (whether they're his own or not) are coming to fruition.

Without warning, the party suddenly materialises at the centre of the crater, alongside the Shinra crew. At the same moment, Barret shows up with the Black Materia. Cloud, seemingly possessed yet again by whatever force has been manipulating him thusfar, retrieves the Black Materia from Barret and apologises to everyone - in particular Tifa, saying he hopes that one day she can meet the 'real Cloud'. Hojo initially seems ecstatic that Cloud's presence has proven his theory of Reunion - the theory that even when dismembered, Jenova's body will find a way to make itself whole again - but that euphoria soon turns to shock as he learns that Cloud is one of his failed experiments. With Cloud acting erratically, Hojo confirms the claims Sephiroth made in his illusion - five years ago, he infused Cloud's body with Jenova's cells and Mako energy, in a bid to create a clone of Sephiroth. Hojo also reveals that Sephiroth himself died during the Nibelheim incident. It seems that this whole time, Cloud has been doing nothing more than following a spectre - a summons from Sephiroth with the intention of guiding him (and therefore Jenova's cells) back to the North Crater for the Reunion. Hojo explains that he's been anticipating the Reunion for some time now, and had been expecting it to happen in Midgar, where Jenova's body was kept. Instead, Sephiroth has been orchestrating the convergence of Jenova's cells towards the North Crater, where his own lifeless body rests, encased and preserved in a huge piece of Materia.

In his possessed state, Cloud gifts the Black Materia to Sephiroth. At the same moment, the crater erupts with the force of the Lifestream, and the long-dormant Weapons are unleashed upon the Planet. Our band of adventurers are swept away only just in time, ferried away by President Rufus on his airship. All of them that is, except for Cloud, who along with Sephiroth has plunged deep into the freshly-opened wound at the North Crater, swept away by the Lifestream...

I realise this episode has already gone on far too long, and for that I can only apologise, but I want to close with some general thoughts about how this whole section of the game is handled. Eleven years ago, this whole section of the game left me absolutely dumbfounded. I think part of that was because I was a ten-year-old kid and this was my first exposure to something that might be considered an epic work of fantasy, which made the scale of some of the concepts at work here a little difficult to wrap my head around. I think another part of that was the questionable translation, which also made it difficult to wrap my head around. But I like to think that a significant portion of that sense of awe and astonishment was on Final Fantasy VII's own merits, simply because this is such an incredible turning point in the game's plot. Playing it through for the first time, it's a shocking moment of revelation in and of itself - you're presented with these sudden truths regarding the character of Cloud, the plot of Sephiroth, and even the involvement of Jenova, to the point where everything you believed for the first twenty-five to thirty hours of this game is actually a lie. Playing it through for a second or third time, it's a moment that's masterfully built up to - returning to the story with that established knowledge reveals a wealth of clues leading up to this moment that are so subtle and seemingly irrelevant, you can forgive yourself for missing them the first time. Playing it through for the sixth time in eleven years, fourteen years after its initial release, and under an eye that seeks to be as objective as possible, I still think it's almost peerless in its execution. I've played a lot of great games in those eleven intervening years, and I've witnessed a lot of great plot twists and unexpected shocks. For me, this moment easily sits on par with the "Would you kindly?" revelation in BioShock, or the momumental mindfuck of Metal Gear Solid 2's ending. Hell, it might even top them. Whatever way you choose to spin it, I don't think there's any getting away from the fact that this moment is still one of the greatest examples of peripeteia in video game storytelling history.

Although I haven't reached a save point, I've decided to bring this episode to an end here. It's gone on long enough as it is, I think, and this seems like a very fitting point to take a break. Given that I can't access my menu to get the relevant information, I can't give you my usual series bullet points to wrap up proceedings. Don't worry though, they'll be back again next episode.

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
Episode Ten - Going GongagaEpisode Eleven - Canyons And Caverns
Episode Twelve - Just A Little NibelEpisode Thirteen - The Rocket Man
Episode Fourteen - The Great Materia HeistEpisode Fifteen - Conflict, Romance And Betrayal
Episode Sixteen - An Ancient EvilEpisode Seventeen - The Death Of An Ancient
Episode Eighteen - Story Exposition And... ...Snowboarding???Episode Nineteen - Come Rain, Sleet Or Snow

Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Twenty-One - Breaking Out Of Junon here.

Whoa, really long episode this time. In spite of its length and story-heavy nature, though, I really enjoyed writing this episode up. This has always been one of my favourite sections of the game, and I'd like to think that comes through in the writing. I'm expecting Episode Twenty-One to come to fruition within the next few days, mainly because I can't really leave my PSP running for the next week or two, so keep an eye out for that. For now, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)

#2 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6103 posts) -

I thought this point in the game was pretty damn neat. Between the revelations of Hojo and Sepiroth as well as the arrival of the Weapons, it was a lot to take in very, very quickly. And I think that was kind of my sole problem with it back then - the story had been nicely paced up until this point, but all of a sudden, it reaches this frenetic pitch only to end in the worst segment of the game - Cloud's memories in the Lifestream. It's not so much that I don't like this part of the game - far from it. But I do wish more time had been devoted to it, to further help the gamer to understand the revelations and give them time to settle in. It's also at this point that the translation starts to falter.

Anyways, great write-up as always. I've been giving some serious thought as to playing back through all the PS1-PS2 Final Fantasies when I knock down my pile of shame. I've been doing great with that - no new game purchases besides a few DLC packs, and I've managed to beat and still thoroughly enjoy several games already this year. I'm hoping maybe by year's end to start a retrospective on my favorite JRPG's as I play through them. Not nearly as detailed as yours, mind you, but going over the evolution of the game mechanics and where I think certain series might have gone wrong.

Moderator Online
#3 Posted by dankempster (2249 posts) -

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: I agree that it's a lot to take in for a first-time player, and especially if you've missed all of the hidden exposition up to this point. The video logs in Icicle Inn, in particular, go a long way towards 'softening the blow' of all these simultaneous revelations, with its mentions of Jenova and the Weapons. That being said, it is still a lot to take in, and in a very short space of time - even though this is probably the longest episode I've written, it's probably the shortest in terms of gameplay time (I'd guess maybe forty-five minutes?).

I do love the way the perception of Cloud flips on its head here. It's such an iconic moment for me, a brilliant shift in dynamics that really robs Cloud of his 'hero' status. It kind of redeems Sephiroth for me, as well, or at least renders him less culpable for his descent into stereotypical "I want to destroy the Planet" villainy, because you learn he really is little more than the poster-boy for Jenova's plot. I personally love Jenova as the primary antagonist in this game - the notion of a being that's completely physically powerless, but able to passively manipulate characters like Sephiroth, Hojo, and even Cloud, is as frightening for me as it is exhilirating. As a final point, I find it really interesting that you consider 'Cloud in the Lifestream' to be the worst part of the game, because I'm of a slightly different opinion. I won't say too much now, other than I'm really looking forward to you elaborating on your opinion when this series reaches that point.

I would definitely be interested in reading some Sparky's JRPG Retrospectives, so I'll quietly twiddle my thumbs and hope that comes to fruition some day. You've also reminded me that I'm due an update on my own Role-Playing Run-Through of Persona 3 FES, although I'm not sure I've really played enough of that game over the last fortnight to warrant writing anything about it - I've been so caught up in the Skyrim journals and various other non-game-related commitments that I've not even given it a thought! Congrats on keeping on top of your Pile of Shame, by the way - that makes two of us who haven't bought a game yet this year (well, I bought a darts game for the Wii, but that was a present for my dad, so that doesn't count, right?).

#4 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6103 posts) -

@dankempster: I think we can rule out presents for family, especially when it comes to games that focus either on sports or mini-games (or both). While I'm not rushing through the games I have, it's a relief to finally have the Pile of Shame be reduced rather than adding up.

I'll save the diatribe on Cloud in the Lifestream for when you get to it, blog-wise. Calling it the "worst part of the game" might have been a bit of hyperbole for me, but it really wasn't a highlight. More on that later, though. I always did like the combination of Jenova and Sephiroth, as you have the extraordinary puppet and the puppetmaster. That's not a combination that always works (Final Fantasy VIII), but when it does, it can be pretty awesome. I don't quite put Seppie on the pedestal most gamers seem to do, but together? Those two make a fine argument for best bad guy combination.

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#5 Posted by Mento (2443 posts) -

That you're able to objectively rate this part of the game despite seeing it so many times and having it dissected so many more times (especially Sephiroth's demise at Nibelheim) in the interim by the various prequels and mid-quels and midgar-quels is impressive. I honestly haven't found the courage to revisit FF7 because of how adversely effected it's been by so much FF7-mythos dreck I've subjected myself to.

I always had the impression that Sephiroth's been dead since a certain someone impaled him and threw him into the lifestream, and the otherwise formless Jenova just kind of borrowed his appearance because of their close connection. Sort of like how the similarly-themed alien in Slither took Michael Rooker's character and used it as a template to build on, or how Lavos copies the various lifeforms of the planet its siphoning from. Which means that any time Sephiroth shows up in the game, it's actually Jenova. Considering Jenova's original goal was to hit the planet as hard as it could and then drink its milkshake, figuratively speaking, the fact that summoning Meteor is a means to the same end makes me wonder. But then this sort of internet discussion is about as ubiquitous as that old chestnut of who would win between the Enterprise D and the Death Star.

As to why he keeps dropping Jenova ABSTRACT NOUNs all over the place at random intervals, I couldn't really say. It's used as punctuation for whatever plot bombshell the bishy one just dropped on you. I guess the downside is that getting two bombshells so soon after one another means two very similar bosses. Not the last time Final Fantasy's gameplay would be scuppered somewhat by the story it was telling.

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#6 Posted by dankempster (2249 posts) -

@Mento: Even now, having played Final Fantasy VII five-and-a-half times, I'm still not 100% certain who or what the Sephiroth that you spend the whole of Disc 1 pursuing actually is. It's established at this point in the game that the real Sephiroth has been entombed in a giant piece of Materia for the last five years, so it can't be him. The most rational explanation that I can come up with is that it's one of Hojo's more successful cloning attempts, being manipulated by Sephiroth's will, which is in turn being manipulated by Jenova. I've always liked to think that there is some aspect of it that might be a projection created by Cloud himself, but that of course creates some physical-world complications (how does a projection run the flower girl through with a massive samurai sword?). I guess there's a possibility that some of the encounters with Sephiroth might be projections created by Cloud, but actually influenced by Sephiroth himself, to... You know what, you're right, this is pretty pointless conjecture.

The Jenova LIFE-STAGE thing has always intrigued me because there's a pretty clear pattern in the order of their appearance - BIRTH, then LIFE, then DEATH. The LIFE and DEATH ones definitely meet the requirement of following plot bombshells, but the BIRTH one doesn't - it's dumped on the party on a ferry in the middle of the ocean. Since I posted the blog I've been thinking about it a little more, and I wonder if there's supposed to be some kind of correlation between the battles and the party encountering Sephiroth (or whatever it is) - the BIRTH battle happens the first time you meet him, and the DEATH battle happens the very last time you encounter the fake Sephiroth, just before coming face to face with the real Sephiroth. That leaves the LIFE battle, which happens after Aerith's death... developer's half-arsed attempt at irony? I don't know. To be honest I'm probably reading way too much into this as well. I've just always had this niggling feeling there might be more to it, even though there probably isn't.

#7 Posted by gorkamorkaorka (442 posts) -

One does not endure FF7. One enjoys it. ALL OF IT.

#8 Posted by Meowayne (6084 posts) -

Why am I only now seeing that this blog has been back for a while now? Awesome. reading through the last couple of entries, I once again realize how many things Final Fantasy VII (and by extension, all Final Fantasies IV - IX, really) does right that modern games, including (very prominently) SquareEnix own output completely lack due to their embarrassing attempt at recreating movielike continuity editing in cutscenes. Some of what made the PSX Final Fantasies so successful and popular, I dare to say, are the long long stretches of interactive exposition; the illusion of gameplay when, in fact, you mostly walk, talk, and participate in a very rigid procession of staged events. The fact that it is the player who is asked to walk Cloud towards Aerith, and to raise his sword against her, as you said, despite the reality that there is no real choice or gameplay here, does so much more - SO much more - to place them into the gameworld emotionally than fancy motioncaptured faces, high quality voice actors, shaders, or even the more or less profound choices found in, for example, Mass Effect. Especially in combination with NOT giving the player control over the camera (you mentioned this in the previous episode, I think?) and not having a HUD (ie keeping the extradiegetic elements to a minimum) this is a manner of interactive storytelling that I sorely miss. I like my Uncharted setpieces as much as the next dude, but damn... Playing a PSX Final Fantasy sometimes meant doing something other than walking, collecting and fighting for stretches of _hours_. More so than movies, it resembled some kind of interactive stage play or graphic novel, where the dialogue is set, but the developers put their work into transforming the stage directions into interactive game elements, spcing things up with tactical combat or microgames where it made sense. Sigh.

#9 Posted by Meowayne (6084 posts) -

Oh god, sorry for the wall of text. It would appear that the iOS text editor doesn't support line breaks. Ugh.

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