After a delay that was slightly longer than scheduled, I'm happy to bring you another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII - the continuing series of semi-cynical, semi-nostalgic blogs chronicling my latest run-through of arguably Square's most revered (and most loathed) JRPG.
Episode Twenty-One - Breaking Out Of Junon
Episode Twenty culminated with a pretty spectacular finale - Cloud ended up giving the Black Materia to Sephiroth at the North Crater, who used it to summon Meteor. This act woke up the Weapons sleeping within the Planet, forcing them out of the crater and tearing a fresh wound in the Planet's surface. The rest of the party escaped from the crater just in time, but Cloud and Sephiroth end up disappearing into the Lifestream, their fate uncertain. It's here that we pick things back up, with the team in the custody of the Shinra Electric Power Company.
The game resumes with Tifa experiencing a flashback, serving to put another piece in the puzzle that is Cloud's character. Supposedly he just showed up in Midgar at the Sector 7 Train Station one day, incoherent and barely recognisable. Tifa confesses, presumably to herself, that she recognised something wrong with Cloud on that day, something in the way he acted and the things he knew that made him seem like someone different, but she didn't say anything because she was just happy for him to be around again, after such a long absence. The script might be a little melodramatic and hackneyed, but I think the fact it's delivered in the form of an interior monologue makes it a lot more bearable. We're seeing and learning what's going on in Tifa's head, by the game effectively putting us inside her thoughts. That's a much better way of handling these episodes of character development than, say, Final Fantasy XIII's highly melodramatic exterior monologues, which just came across as downright obnoxious at times.
Tifa wakes up in some sterile, lab-like environment in the city of Junon, with Barret at her side. He explains that she's been out of it for about a week, and a lot of stuff has happened in the interim - a protective barrier now surrounds the North Crater, preventing anyone from accessing it, and the freed Weapons are beginning to tear up parts of the Planet. When Tifa asks about Cloud, Barret has no answer to give. To top it all off, Sephiroth's summoning of Meteor was successful - the impending apocalypse now hangs lazily in the sky, threatening the Planet with its gradual approach. Barret's refresher is interrupted by the arrival of President Rufus and Heidegger, to inform the AVALANCHE pair that they're going to be publicly executed, used as scapegoats to appease the masses. Hands bound, Tifa and Barret are led out of their cell and towards the execution chamber.
A quick note on this short sequence - the player is put in control of Barret on the way to the execution, and I think it's yet another example of how the illusion of gameplay in Final Fantasy VII is a big contributor to how immersed the player can feel in the story and world. It's such a simple little touch, but the fact you take this walk yourself, rather than just watching it, heightens the tension and impact of what's coming up. I think at this point, I genuinely wasn't sure if Barret and Tifa would find a way out of this. Hell, I didn't even know if Cloud was still alive. The developers had already proven themselves willing to kill off a prominent playable character in Aerith - what's to say they wouldn't do it again?
I also want to give a nod to Shinra's plan to use these public executions to turn attention away from the true problems the Planet is facing. It's genuinely worrying how true this seems to be, not only as a fact in itself, but also as to how much it goes on in our own world and how willing the public seem to be to just take it. In a rare attempt at topicality, I want to draw a comparison with recent events in the UK, where a prominent ex-banker was stripped of his knighthood. Call me cynical, but at the time this happened, a lot of press was being given to bankers receiving huge bonuses. The revocation of this man's knighthood ended up distracting a lot of that press, causing them to focus on him while the bankers quietly accepted their bonuses with a comparative lack of fanfare. I'm not saying there's a definite correlation, but it certainly looks to me like this act could have been a 'public execution', intended to appease the masses while the real evil continued under the radar. Witnessing this scene play out again in Final Fantasy VII makes me wonder if the game might have gone some way towards formulating my attitudes towards this issue.
Tifa is first to enter Scarlet's gas chamber and is bound to a chair. As the guard leaves and locks the door, he drops a key on the ground. I think I can see where this is going... Outside, the proceedings are brought to a halt by an alarm signifying the approach of a Weapon. As the execution witnesses flee, one of them knocks Scarlet out with sleeping gas. Beneath the disguise is none other than Cait Sith, who quickly frees Barret. Barret tries desperately to open the door to the gas chamber, but the door won't budge. Meanwhile, with Weapon fast approaching, Rufus orders Heidegger to fire the city's primary cannon. The strike misses, leaving Junon open to attack from the incoming creature while the cannon is reloaded.
Barret is unable to free Tifa from the chamber, and gas has now started pumping into the room. In a desperate bid to free her, he and Cait Sith head for the airport - the stuffed mog seems to have a plan. En route they bump into Yuffie, who looks like she's masquerading as a news reporter, or tourist, or something... the aged graphics make deciphering her disguise somewhat difficult. Anyway, she too joins the party and I'm once again rocking a party of three. I opt to make Barret my main damage-dealer and taker, assign Cait Sith as my mage, and turn Yuffie into a dedicated stats-alterer, loaded with buffs and debuffs. They're sitting quite a few levels below my old party, and their equipment isn't anything to write home about, but they still seem able to handle themselves - enough at least to cut through the Shinra guards between them and the airport. Unfortunately, Cait Sith seems to have led them to a dead end...
Back in the gas chamber, Tifa seems to have just noticed the key on the floor, and resolves to try and escape. What follows is a pretty interesting little button-based mini-game, that allows the player to actually orchestrate the escape rather than simply watching it in a cut-scene. Almost pre-meditating Assassin's Creed, each face button corresponds to a different part of Tifa's body - Triangle for her head, Square and Circle for her right and left arms respectively, and X for her legs. The process of retrieving the key is surprisingly complex, relying on some simultaneous button-presses to move two different parts of the body at the same time, but it's still much more engaging than just watching Tifa do it. It's also not timed - this is at once both a relief, giving you all the time you need to figure things out, and also a little jarring (this woman should be choking, damn it!).
Although free from the chair and now having stopped the gas flow, she's still trapped in the chamber itself. As she wrestles with the door, the attacking Weapon assaults Junon's central structure with some... mouth laser... thing. Before it can charge up another beam of energy, though, it catches a slug from Junon's cannon square in the face. What's left of the Weapon collapses into the sea. The attack has, by miraculous coincidence, opened up an alternative exit for Tifa out of the chamber. Pursued by Scarlet, she climbs down Junon's central edifice and runs to the tip of the barrel of Junon's famous cannon. There's a slapping match between the two women on the edge of the cannon, which to be honest just seems like overkill - a single interactive slap would have been enough to drive the point home, I think. Turning into another rudimentary mini-game kind of ruins the impact (not to mention playing up the underlying sexuality of this scene - two women standing on the end of a long, rod-shaped cannon, slapping each other? I'll let you extrapolate the connotations of that for yourself).
Scarlet, sick of Tifa's barrage of slaps, finally calls on the guards to come and take her away. As they approach, she hears a voice telling her to run to the end of the cannon. She does, and sure enough, there's Barret, standing on the deck of a stolen airship from the airport. Tifa runs, grabs the rope Barret throws, and is hoisted away from Junon with the rest of the crew. This airship, named the Highwind, used to belong to Cid, who's now seemingly 'reclaimed' it from Shinra for the party's use. While Cid's in charge of the ship, though, Tifa seems to have assumed leadership of the party, and her top priority is to try and find Cloud. Red XIII mentions that he's heard of places where the Lifestream kicks out of the Planet's core and into the ocean, and says it might be worth looking in those places. Unfortunately, his usefulness ends there - there's no way of knowing where those places might be. So, with a goal in mind and no idea of the destination, I decide to put the Highwind down for now, and wrap this episode up.
So at the close of Episode Twenty-One, my vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cid (Lv 46), Tifa (Lv 41), Red XIII (Lv 50)
- Current Location - Junon Area, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 32:34
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Twenty-Two - Mideel Or No Deal here.
And so I commit another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII to my blogging archives. Sorry for keeping the regular readers waiting for this one for so long. My Month in Skyrim journals ended up taking a lot more of my time than I'd anticipated, and since they've finished I've done pretty much nothing games-wise except play more Skyrim and Persona 3. It's been nice coming back to Final Fantasy VII though - in fact, it always is. Hopefully I won't leave it so long next time. As always, thanks for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)