Hey guys, dankempster here. I would write up a fancy preamble to this blog post, but I'm too busy Enduring Final Fantasy VII right now. Sorry.
Episode Twenty-Seven - Tying Up Some Loose Ends
In the last episode, we witnessed Cloud and the gang infiltrate the Underwater Reactor near Junon, recovering another piece of Huge Materia and pilfering a Shinra submarine in the process. Rather than press on with the main task at hand in this episode, though, I figured it'd make for a nice change of pace to get lost in some of the side-quests that make up Final Fantasy VII's optional content. Most of what I tackle in this episode will be story exposition, so be prepared for a pretty plot-heavy episode. Let's crack on, shall we?
Having both the Highwind airship and the Shinra sub in my possession, there are very few places on the world map that are out of my reach at this point. I figure it's therefore as good a time as any to revisit a few familiar locations and wrap up some unfinished business. My first port of call is Wutai, home of Yuffie and one of my favourite optional sections of Final Fantasy VII. Astute followers will recall that in the last episode, I picked up an item called Leviathan's Scales while exploring the Underwater Reactor. Well, those scales are about to come in handy! Up on Da Chao (Wutai's answer to Mount Rushmore), these items can be used to put out the fires blocking access to some super-secret items - the Oritsuru weapon for Yuffie, and a piece of 'Steal As Well' Materia. As a side note, I'm not sure why the party had to track down a box of Leviathan's scales, considering he is, y'know, at the party's beck and call by means of his Summon Materia. I know it's nit-picky, but I can't help but feel like the flame-dowsing key item should probably have been given a different name. As it stands, it's just weirdly illogical.
Next on my list of places to visit is Cloud and Tifa's hometown, Nibelheim. Now that Cloud's memory is almost fully restored, there's one last loose thread of his history left dangling, and a visit to the Shinra Mansion is exactly what's needed to tie it up. Returning to the basement where Sephiroth locked himself away brings the memories flooding back - after the incident five years ago, Zack and Cloud were held beneath the mansion and experimented on. Zack broke himself and Cloud out of confinement and the pair hitched a ride back to Midgar. Just before they reach the city, though, they're ambushed by Shinra troops. Zack dies in the ensuing fracas, leaving Cloud alone on the edge of Midgar. This short series of vignettes serves to plug up a lot of holes. It sums up what happened to Cloud and Zack between the start of Final Fantasy VII and the incident five years previously, it hints even further at the romantic links between Zack and Aerith, and justifies Cloud's schizophrenic behaviour throughout most of the game - he was just trying to fulfil Zack's wish of becoming a mercenary. What's most impressive is that it does most of this without ever really explicitly stating any of it. This sequence is much more about what's implied than what's actually said. I'm with Sparky_Buzzsaw on this matter in thinking that Crisis Core tells this part of the story with much greater clarity, but in the context of Final Fantasy VII, these flashback-y bits of exposition are a much better fit.
For the next leg of my distracted journey, I'm going to have to make a temporary alteration to my mainstay party of Cloud, Cid and Barret, and sub in Vincent Valentine for a bit. My destination is pretty out-of-the-way - after swapping the Highwind for the submarine, I have to follow a small, hidden underwater tunnel to reach an enclosed waterfall cave not too far from NIbelheim. Enter this cave without Vincent in your party and nothing will happen. Bring the mysterious gunslinger along, though, and you'll be treated to a tasty morsel of plot exposition for your trouble. Again, we're treated to a series of vignettes from Nibelheim's past - Vincent was once a Turk, and fell for a Shinra scientist named Lucrecia. She spurned his advances, though, ending up in the arms of Professor Hojo. She carried his child, a child that was also one of his experiments - a child named Sephiroth. When Vincent protested about the prospect of experimenting on humans, Hojo shot him, held him captivee and used him as a guinea pig for even further tests. As soon as Vincent awoke and realised what he'd become, he locked himself away in the Shinra mansion's basement. Like Cloud's flashback before it, very little of this is explicitly stated (even more so in the case of Vincent's flashbacks, where very little text appears on-screen), but the scenes play out in a way that invites the player to draw those inferences and lets them work things out for themselves. While I do admire the clarity with which Crisis Core and Dirge of Cerberus present Zack's and Vincent's back-stories respectively, seeing those moments play out in Final Fantasy VII almost makes the other games in the Compilation seem patronising in their need to state and justify every minute detail. As they say, sometimes less is more.
I've harped on a lot in this blog series about Final Fantasy VII's approach of rewarding exploration with story exposition, and how a lot of the game's loose plot threads are often tied up completely optional encounters. These two sequences are great examples of this, although they're also much more tucked-away than all the other optional exposition we've encountered so far. Up to this point, the game does a great job of guiding you into the general vicinity of it - you have to pass Gongaga to reach Cosmo Canyon; the Tiny Bronco starts off pointing toward Wutai; if you fail the primitive quick-time-event at Icicle Inn, the game puts you inside the same building as Professor Gast's computer terminals. By contrast, there's nothing actively encouraging the player to revisit Nibelheim or track down Lucrecia's cave. This point is further compounded by the latter encounter, which requires you to have a specific character in your battle party and is located inside a cave that isn't an obviously accessible location (for all intents and purposes, it just looks like a waterfall). I guess what I'm trying to say is that, while I love Final Fantasy VII's approach to fleshing out the story's skeleton, I do think that these two bits of exposition (Vincent's in particular) are tucked a bit too far out of the way. Heck, I only found the Cloud-and-Zack stuff by chance on my last playthrough, and I'd never have known about Lucrecia's cave were it not for a friend in school who'd "found it" (I suspect with a bit of help from the internet). It's great what you're doing, developers, but please at least try to give everybody a fair chance of stumbling upon this stuff.
My final destination on today's tour of the Planet is the Gelnika. It's essentially Final Fantasy VII's answer to an optional dungeon - a location completely removed from the main story, filled to the brim with useful items, and crawling with uncomfortably strong monsters to keep the player on their toes. Except in Final Fantasy VII, rather than go the traditional JRPG route and stick this location in a cavern on a remote island, the developers chose to put their optional dungeon at the bottom of the ocean in a crashed plane. It's a refreshing twist, and one that's nicely in keeping with Final Fantasy VII's overall quasi-modern aesthetic. It's a shame the 'dungeon' is so small, only covering a few screens, but hey, beggars can't be choosers.
The first thing that strikes me about the Gelnika is the difficulty of the random encounters. The freakish beasts that patrol the waterlogged corridors of the Gelnika (presumably more of Hojo's twisted experiments) are a lot stronger than anything I've encountered up to this point, dealing deadly amounts of damage that would make the last few bosses I've faced look on in awestruck admiration. Couple that with their ability to afflict the party with status ailments like Stop and Confuse and you have some pretty deadly foes on your hands. I'll admit that at this point, thirty-seven-and-a-half hours into my sixth run through the game, I saw a Game Over screen. It was my own fault for severely underestimating the strength of the enemies lurking on the Gelnika, and it's something I rapidly took steps to remedy - equipping accessories and Materia combinations to guard against Confuse and launching party-wide Wall spells at the start of every battle proved to be enough to keep me safe from the monstrosities during the remainder of my stay on the Gelnika.
A little way into the belly of the crashed plane, the party encounters Rude and Reno of the Turks. Naturally, they're not happy about our band of adventurers being on Shinra's sunken aircraft, which was apparently carrying biological weapons prepped to eliminate Sephiroth when it was brought down by one of the Weapons. A battle ensues, one which feels comfortably simple after the tough random encounters I've been dealing with on the Gelnika up to now. As with previous battles against this pair, it's simply a case of chipping away at one until he runs away, leaving the other open to all attacks. They don't hit too hard, and go down pretty easily. With that meddlesome pair dealt with, it's simply a case of exploring every nook and cranny for goodies. I pick up some incredibly useful items during my stay on the Gelnika - new weapons for Cloud and Cid, an item named Highwind which teaches Cid his final Limit Break, Double Cut Materia (which instantly replaces the unreliable Deathblow Materia I've been using for most of the game), and another piece of Materia which summons a monster dubbed Hades. My pack now firmly weighed down with all these goodies, I retrace my steps to the exit and ride the sub back to Junon, where my trusty airship is waiting.
With those trials faced, I figure here's as good a place as any to bring this episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII to a close. I save, turn off the PSP, and sit down to write this here blog.
So at the close of Episode Twenty-Seven, my vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 54), Cid (Lv 56), Barret (Lv 51)
- Current Location - Junon Area, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 38:00
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Twenty-Eight - Choc-A-Block With Chocobos here.
I guess I should begin my closing message with an apology for not writing this last weekend. I had hoped to put it together last Sunday evening, after my game of cricket. Then I got hit in the face with the ball, and my plans changed slightly. So, sorry it's a week late. I'll post another episode next week, and from then on resume the fortnightly schedule that I've unofficially established. Also an apology to anybody who was expecting this episode to cover the chocobo breeding aspect of the game. I started delving into it, and quickly came to the recollection that particular side-quest is a huge time-sink, one that would probably benefit from its own dedicated episode. So that's what I plan to do for the next instalment - a choco-focused Enduring Final Fantasy VII extravaganza! So keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, thanks for reading as always, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)