Beamed into your home fortnightly by nothing but a writer's imagination and the magic of the interwebs, it's time for another episode in everybody's fourth-favourite JRPG-centric serial blog - dankempster's Enduring Final Fantasy VII!
Episode Twenty-Four - Fort Condor's Final Stand
In the last instalment of our mammoth journey, we followed our band of intrepid adventurers to North Corel, where they were able to recover a piece of Huge Materia from the Shinra Electric Power Company. We left off just as my party of Cid, Barret and Red XIII set off for Fort Condor to retrieve the second piece, and that's where I'll pick things back up.
Inside Fort Condor, it looks like things haven't changed much since our first visit all the way back in Episode Six. Shinra are still laying siege to the decommissioned reactor, and its defenders are still just about holding them off. On Cid's arrival, he's told that the Shinra have changed their tactics and look set to launch a full-scale assault to reclaim the reactor and the Huge Materia within. This, naturally, calls for a return to the tower-defence mini-game that punctuated our first visit to the Fort some twenty-five hours ago. I've already said quite a bit about the reactor-defence mini-game in Episode Six, so I won't repeat myself here - if you want my opinion on it then that's the best place to check (short version: I like the concept, but it's very slow-moving and lacking in fun factor). Needless to say, this visit consists of more of the same, albeit with the difficulty turned right up to eleven.
If there's one thing that really bothers me about Fort Condor, it's that the whole mini-game feels like a wasted opportunity for something bigger. I don't just mean that in terms of the mechanics of it, I mean in terms of how the side-quest fits into the game. Yeah, you read that right - this is a side-quest. The two incidents at Fort Condor documented in this blog series are just the tip of a pretty vast iceberg. As the list at the bottom of this page shows, there are around a dozen battles that the player can get involved with before this final confrontation, each one triggered by a different happening in the course of the story. In that respect, it's a very developed side-quest. What's infuriating is that the player is never made aware of this at any time. I'm sure most players of the game, like myself, consider Fort Condor a two-visit locale - for the first time en route to Junon, and for the second time when collecting this Huge Materia. Up until my last playthrough of the game some four-and-a-half years ago, I didn't know anything about this hidden distraction at all. To quickly throw in another criticism before moving on, I'm disappointed this mini-game doesn't exist in some form at the Gold Saucer. It seems like a perfect fit for Wonder Square, and as we're about to see, this is very much the last chance to play it at Fort Condor. They're minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things, but they do add up to make Fort Condor feel like a missed opportunity for something more involving.
The final fight for Fort Condor is gruelling, and far more fraught than it should have been, but I just about manage to put down all the enemy units before any of them can reach the top of the hill. No sooner than the battle is over, the condor on top of the reactor suddenly keels over in a blaze of light and fire. In its place is a newly-hatched baby condor, and a piece of Materia containing the new Summon spell Phoenix. Back inside the derelict reactor, the defenders thank the party for their involvement and reward them with their second piece of Huge Materia. With only one left to recover, Cid decides the party should take a break from their search to visit Cloud and Tifa. I fly the Highwind back to the southern islands and, after a little more grinding, head into Mideel.
Back at the clinic, Cloud's condition hasn't changed and Tifa seems to be clawing at the very edge of her sanity. Before too much can be said, though, the town is hit by an enormous earthquake - the Lifestream beneath Mideel is close to breaking point. On top of all this, one of the Weapons has descended upon the town. Cid, Barret and Red XIII take it upon themselves to deal with the threat, and a boss battle ensues. The first thing I notice as the fight begins is that the party and their foe are no longer in Mideel - instead, they've been forced into a generic forest backdrop. This comes as a bit of a disappointment, especially considering a lot of the earlier boss fights in the game took place in unique locations (the fight against Air Buster on the Sector 5 Reactor walkway and the fight with Palmer in Rocket Town both spring to mind). It's certainly an immersion-breaker. The battle itself is a pretty demanding one, with Ultimate Weapon throwing down its highly damaging Ultima Beam attack every turn. Thankfully a party-wide MBarrier spell absorbs some of the flak, and a quick succession of Limit Breaks and my newly-unlocked Ultima spell are enough to deter the Weapon from continuing its attack. Weakened, it takes to the skies once more.
Ultimate Weapon is the least of everyone's problems though, as the Lifestream flowing under Mideel continues to violently shake the earth above. Sensing imminent disaster the party disperses, leaving Cloud and Tifa to find their own way out of the danger zone. As the town begins to fall apart around them, the pair make their attempt to escape. It's a futile effort though - along with Mideel itself, Cloud and Tifa are caught in the quake and cast into the depths of the Lifestream, their fate uncertain. It's at this juncture that I'm choosing to bring this episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII to a close.
No vital statistics this episode, due to not ending at a save point.
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Twenty-Five - Revealing A Clouded Truth here.
Sorry for making this another short episode. My reasoning is simple - the upcoming sequences with Cloud and Tifa are a huge part of the game in terms of story revelations, and I want to make sure I give the plot developments plenty of breathing space. Given how the game chooses to convey those developments, I think I might have a lot to say from a gameplay standpoint as well - in short, expect Episode Twenty-Five to be pretty long. I'm also really eager to return to this part of the game, so expect it to surface a little sooner than in two weeks' time. In the meantime, all that's left for me to do is say thanks for reading, as always, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)