It's July, and while the summer weather might still be eluding us, one thing that's here to stay is my fortnightly foray into my favourite Final Fantasy. Let's get Enduring!
Episode Twenty-Nine - Touching The Stars
After last episode's efforts to begin breeding a gold chocobo ended up being all work and no play, I've decided to return my attention back to story progression with this entry. It's been a little while since we've done any meaningful adventuring with Cloud and the gang, so allow me to quickly recap on recent story developments. Our band of intrepid adventurers are currently gallivanting all over the world map trying to find pieces of Huge Materia before the Shinra Electric Power Company do. Shinra want the power of the Huge Materia so they can use it to try and stop Meteor. Cloud and his crew managed to pick up one piece of Huge Materia after an intense submarine battle, but there's still another piece about to be flown out of Junon airport. That's our next destination.
The crew arrive back at Junon, and go through the rigmarole of paying another 10 Gil to use the elevator to reach the upper city. They reach the airport just in time to watch an FMV sequence of a Shinra plane taking off, presumably carrying the Huge Materia. It's kind of frustrating that after having literally just done this (in story terms, at least), you then have to do it once more just to move the story along. It would have been nice had Square streamlined the process and made the comms relay in the submarine just state that the next piece of Huge Materia was headed to Rocket Town, cutting out this extra ascension into Junon altogether. While I'm on the subject, I'm also not entirely sure how Cloud can be so certain of the Huge Materia's destination. It's evidently been a while since I've done anything story-related, so forgive me if there was a previous mention of Rocket Town that I've now forgotten. But the way Cloud seems psychically aware of where Shinra are sending the Huge Materia, to the point where he drives home the statement with an "of course", just strikes me as a nonsensical way to move the plot along. Anyway, rant over. Let's go intercept that last piece of Huge Materia!
Leaving Junon, the party re-boards the Highwind and flies due west, back to Cid's hometown. On their arrival, the locals reveal that President Rufus has sent mechanics to fix the ancient rusting rocket that looms over the town. Time for a little investigation, methinks. Approaching the rocket causes the Shinra guards stationed nearby to attack, but at this point in my characters' development, they're small fry and don't even hold up to a single attack. At the top of the rocket, the party encounters an old friend - Rude of the Turks. Unaccompanied by his partner-in-crime Reno, he poses little threat and goes down after Barret drops a Limit Break on him. With the last of Shinra's defences decimated, the party proceed into the rocket's cockpit.
Inside, the mechanics are beavering away and making final repairs to the rocket. They explain to Cid that Shinra have loaded the Huge Materia onto the rocket and plan to launch it, using it as a makeshift Materia bomb to blow up Meteor. The prospect of his old rocket finally making it out into space has a marked effect on Cid, and he tells the mechanics to clear off, offering to pilot it instead of waiting for Shera to fix the auto-pilot. Cloud tries to talk him out of it, but there's no convincing Cid, who seems obsessed with this second chance to fulfil his life-long dream. Before Cloud and Barret can get off the rocket, though, Shera finishes repairing the auto-pilot and Shinra employee Palmer initiates the launch sequence. The rocket shudders, then lifts clear of the ground, leaving a billowing trail of smoke as it shoots into the stratosphere. With both the party and the course locked in, it looks like our band of world-savers have just bought themselves a one-way ticket to their own premature doom.
Thankfully, Cid's got all the answers. The rocket has an escape pod built in, so the party can make good their escape before the rocket smashes into Meteor. Cloud's keen to make sure the Huge Materia gets out intact as well, and moves to release it from the capsule it's been locked into. The lock can only be overrided by guessing the correct passcode, which (of course) leads to another of Final Fantasy VII's cool little mini-game moments. The guessing game takes the form of a logic puzzle, in which Cid gives the player clues as to the composition of the passcode while the player inputs possibilities. Having only three minutes to decipher the puzzle, it's pretty imperative that you follow Cid's advice if you hope to recover this piece of Huge Materia. It's a mini-game I remember struggling with immensely on my first time through the game, but nailing the second time round without too much trouble. Since then, the code has become seared into my brain (beside the likes of the GTA: Vice City 'all weapons' cheat and everyone's favourite, the Konami code), rendering the whole section devoid of tension. In spite of that, though, I still think it's a pretty cool mini-game that ascribes to Final Fantasy VII's philosophy of constantly mixing things up to keep the player engaged in what's happening on-screen.
After recovering the Huge Materia, it's time to high-tail it down to the escape pod and get off the rocket before it crashes into Meteor. On their way down to the pod, one of the tanks below-deck explodes, throwing it into the path of the party. Cloud and Barret get away unscathed, but Cid ends up trapped beneath a piece of sheet metal. Cid tells his buddies to leave him behind, but they refuse and try to shift the debris. While Cid reflects on the fact that the tank which broke was the one Shera said was malfunctioning, Shera herself shows up to lend a helping hand. Together they free Cid and head for the escape pod, launching it just in time to watch the Shinra #26 rocket sail into Meteor.
The unspoken subtext of the interactions between Cid and Shera serve as a great example of how subtle inference can be a powerful storytelling agent. At no point in Final Fantasy VII are we explicitly told that these two characters feel anything for each other, but everything surrounding them seems to point the player subtly towards that conclusion. I'm a particular fan of the way these events bring the whole story round full-circle - after Cid aborted his take-off all those years ago to save Shera's life, so Shera's care and attention-to-detail manage to save Cid and his comrades now. It's these subtle touches that provide constant pleasure to me through replaying the game, in ways that familiarity with the overarching story can never quite manage.
The rocket's collision with Meteor fills the sky with a blinding flash of white light, and for a moment it genuinely seems like Shinra might have repelled the imminent threat. Then the light dissipates, revealing the grim truth - the collision has caused nothing more than surface damage to the incoming asteroid, and its path towards the Planet continues uninterrupted. Back on board the Highwind, Cloud and the rest of the crew begin to wonder if there's any chance at all of stopping Meteor. They find the answer in Cid's new sense of perspective - even if there isn't any chance, that doesn't mean they shouldn't stop trying, because the Planet needs protecting. The next port of call is a return to Cosmo Canyon, to discuss what to do next with Bugenhagen. After a little more fighting to boost my levels, I fly the Highwind to the Cosmo region of the world map, and save my game. Another episode, done and dusted.
So at the close of Episode Twenty-Nine, my vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 61), Cid (Lv 62), Barret (Lv 58)
- Current Location - Cosmo Area, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 41:10
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Thirty - An Ancient Secret here.
I can't believe that there are now twenty-nine of these Enduring Final Fantasy VII blogs in the bank. It's been a long road, and there's still quite a way to go, but I'm starting to feel like the end of this epic blogging journey is finally on the horizon. I anticipate there might be roughly another ten episodes of this series still to come, and I'm also planning an end-of-series summary to answer the question I set out to answer in the first place - is Final Fantasy VII still worth playing? I hope you'll continue to join me on my journey, which is likely to resume with return trips to Cosmo Canyon and the City of the Ancients in two weeks' time. Until then, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)