That dankempster is so unreliable, isn't he? Promising regular instalments of his serial blogs, and then failing to deliver when the time comes. Honestly, why won't he just either keep the blog regular, or give up and let the damn thing die?
...So I'm sure many (read: none) of you have been thinking since the failure of this episode to materialise on its appointed slot of release. There's a (barely) legitimate reason for the delay, though. These blogs are usually put together and go up on Sundays, because up until recently that's been the most convenient day for me to just sit down and power through an entry. That's changed over the last couple of months due to the commencement of cricket season here in England. My Sunday afternoons, previously dedicated to the maintenance of this series, are now consumed by that most fantastic, most ridiculous of sports. This leaves me with no real solid chunks of free time to devote to writing an entire episode, save for Tuesdays (and those are now dedicated to a different serial blog, which I may write more about at the end of this entry). Long story short - I'm sorry this episode has been such a long time coming, but it's here now.
With all that said, let's brace ourselves to Endure, shall we?
Episode Twenty-Eight - Choc-A-Block With Chocobos
Continuing in the vein of the last episode, which saw us visit some optional areas and reveal a little more of the game's back-story, I've decided to dedicate this episode of the blog to two of Final Fantasy VII's more substantial side-quests - chocobo racing and breeding. Taking off in the Highwind just outside Junon, my party of Cloud, Cid and Barret head for the grasslands east of Midgar - home of the Planet's only chocobo ranch.
Arriving at Choco Bill's ranch, the first step is to speak to the proprietor and rent out some chocobo stables. These cost 10,000 Gil each (a small hint at the amount this little distraction is going to cost our band of adventurers), and there are six available for hire. For the time-being I choose to rent out four stables, handing over my hard-earned Gil somewhat grudgingly. Bill advises me to speak to his son, Billy, who mans the stables, if I have any questions. Fortunately the chocobo-catching process is still pretty secure in my mind, and so I pass on his offer of assistance. I stop at the ranch for just long enough to buy a healthy supply of Gysahl Greens, then leave the ranch and re-board the Highwind.
My next destination is a small, secluded patch of land bordered by mountains on the northern continent. This hidden spot is home to the Chocobo Sage, a wizened old fool who claims to know everything there is to know about chocobos. I'm not here for his advice, though - the Sage has a plentiful stock of Sylkis Greens, the best (and most expensive) chocobo food available. I fill my pack, parting with almost 300,000 Gil for this wonder-weed, and return once more to the Highwind. Now loaded with a healthy supply of items, I head for the area surrounding the Gold Saucer, and put myself to work at catching my first chocobo since crossing the Midgar Zolom's swamp some thirty-odd game hours ago.
The plan, in theory, is simple. I need to catch a total of four chocobos right now, with specific genders and skill ratings. I need two Good chocobos and two Great chocobos - a male and a female of each. Good chocobos hang out near the Gold Saucer, while Great ones can be found on the island where Mideel used to be. That's right, they're in specific locations. They even appear within specific monster groups, without fail - the game is simply set that way. The pre-determined nature of this stage of the process is presumably supposed to be convenient, so people who know what they're looking for can find the chocobos they want with minimum hassle. Unfortunately, the random nature of the game's encounters mean that hassle isn't eliminated entirely. If anything, I'd posit that knowing exactly what you're looking for brings a level of tedium to the proceedings that wouldn't be present otherwise.
After catching a chocobo, I immediately dismount and order it to return to the stables. When I've amassed a collection of four birds, I hop back on the Highwind again and fly back to the grasslands. When I arrive back at the ranch, I need to hand-pick which chocobos I want to keep and which should be released back into the wild. Billy offers a helpful hint as to the quality of each chocobo during the selection process, which makes it easier to tell which birds are worth keeping and which ones aren't. What Billy doesn't tell me, however, is the gender of each chocobo. The only way to determine a chocobo's sex is to place it into a stable, at which point Billy will finally reveal whether it's a male or female. This resulted in two separate occasions where I added a new chocobo to the stable, only to immediately release it again because I already had one of the same sex. Considering gender is just as important as quality in the breeding process, I'd have thought that information should be available front-and-centre. Apparently not. Very frustrating.
So after a little trial and error and another trip round the world, I have the four chocobos I want - two male, two female; two Good, two Great. That's taken me the better part of an hour and a half to pull off. With my newly domesticated birds all stabled and stuffed full of Sylkis Greens, I head for the next location in this arduous quest - the Gold Saucer. This time I'm heading into the Saucer itself, to the Chocobo Square, to indulge in a spot of racing. To put it in simple terms, feeding greens to a chocobo will raise its stats, but only winning races at the Golden Saucer will boost a bird's class. Classes ascend from C, through B and A, with class S being the highest rank of chocobo available. What this boils down to is - you guessed it - grinding races at Chocobo Square until the chocobos in your care ascend to a good rank for breeding. If memory serves me, that's a B rank for Good chocobos and an A rank for Great chocobos. I've already talked about the racing mini-game at length in Episode Nine, so I won't recap here. Let's just say it doesn't hold up to repeated plays, and leave it at that. I get as far as raising both my Good chocobos to rank B before I recognise I'm not having any fun at all doing this, and decide to stop. The prospect of flying around the world, wasting more money on greens and stealing specific breeding nuts from specific enemies, sounds like a nightmare to me right now.
This is a familiar experience for me, having bred maybe three gold chocobos across my five previous playthroughs of Final Fantasy VII. Every time the process has been laborious, mechanical and devoid of all redeeming entertainment value. Weirdly, the most fun I ever had with the chocobo-based stuff was during my first playthrough, when I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I'd simply catch chocobos, take them to the races, feed them whatever greens I had, then keep the best and release the rest. I don't think I ever even touched the breeding aspect to begin with. Interacting with the side-quest on that level was fun. Having to power through the optimum route to earn that gold chocobo is not.
Based on my own past experience, I think Final Fantasy VII's chocobo-based side-quests are at their most absorbing when the player doesn't really have a clue what they're doing. There's an almost Pokémon-style appeal to simply cornering and catching a bird at random, feeding it whatever greens you have or can afford, and putting it through its paces in the races at the Gold Saucer. Accidentally stumbling upon the correct combination of variables to produce a special chocobo, however, is very unlikely indeed, meaning you'll need an awareness of the mechanics at work to make real progress. The unfortunate trade-off for progress, though, is the fun that comes from approaching it with a leisurely mindset. Reduced to a check-list, the journey towards a gold chocobo ceases to be entertaining. It becomes a grind-fest, a chore that's made even worse by the arbitrariness of supposedly pre-determined values. It's arguably the first part of the game that I've genuinely 'endured' so far.
Right now, with a big dent in my clock and an even bigger one in my wallet, I've more than had enough of gallivanting round the world in search of prime chocobos. I decide to knock the side-quest pursuit on the head for a while, return to the side of the Highwind, and save my game. Another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII (albeit a largely uneventful one) is in the bag.
So at the close of Episode Twenty-Eight, my vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 59), Cid (Lv 60), Barret (Lv 56) - chocobo-catching is good for levelling, if nothing else!
- Current Location - Grasslands Area, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 40:21
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Twenty-Nine - Touching The Stars here.
Reading this back, I realise it's probably one of the worst episodes of 'Enduring...' thus far. For that I apologise, but when a game isn't enjoyable to play, it makes it difficult for me to make it enjoyable to read about. I plan to return to the chocobo breeding in a future episode - I have some personal ideas as to how the whole process could be improved (read: made actually fun) if a Final Fantasy VII remake should ever materialise. For next episode, though, I intend to get stuck back into the game's story and return to Rocket Town.
As a quick side-note, if you're interested in fuelling my self-indulgent penchant for serial blogs even further, I started a new one last month over on my writer's blog, Writer's Unblock. It's a serial fantasy novella called The Hawker, and it revolves around the efforts of three hired sentinels to guard and protect an independent city from the impending threat of takeover by a rival government. The first three chapters are already up and available to read, while new instalments are released weekly on Tuesdays. If that sounds appealing to any of you, I'd be hugely grateful of your readership and thoughts. This is the first project of mine in a long while that I've felt genuine pride and confidence in, and I'm eager to share it with as many folks as possible.
As always, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)