Hello everyone. My name is dankempster, and when I'm not reading middling epic fantasy, throwing darts in the vicinity of a board, or eating copious amounts of sausage rolls, I like to pass my time by playing Final Fantasy VII, determining if it's still a good game by modern standards, and then writing about it in serial blog form. If you've got ten minutes to kill, why not join me?
Episode Twenty-Three - Catching The Train
At the end of the last episode, we left the party of Cid, Barret and Red XIII standing just outside North Corel, in preparation to try and recover a piece of Huge Materia from the Mako reactor there before the Shinra Electric Power Company. On entering the town it's apparent that not much has changed. A few of the NPCs have had their dialogue patterns altered to reference an inbound train, but that's about it. Remembering that the reactor is located quite a way from the town, I begin following the tracks leading back towards it. Despite having played this segment of the game several times in its own right, it's still very evocative of the initial passage through this area en route to the Gold Saucer on disc one.
The crew arrive at the reactor to find it in a very different state than on their first visit - no longer defunct, the entire structure is lit up, presumably indicating that Shinra got here first. Two guards are standing at the reactor entrance, but they stand no chance against the party and fall almost instantly. As the battle ends, a train much longer than the reactor is deep emerges from the entrance like a ream of scarves from a magician's sleeve. Cid, seized by one of his brainwaves, heads into the reactor, steals a SECOND train (how the hell does all this fit inside such a comparatively small reactor?!) and gives chase.
As with so many of the other incidental happenings of Final Fantasy VII, the train chase is turned into a simple rhythm-based mini-game. Cid, in control of the chasing engine, has to alternate the movement of the twin levers to increase the speed of the train. This means the player has to alternate button presses between the Up button and the Triangle button. It's another example of something I've cited several times over this series - Final Fantasy VII's determination to keep the player interactively involved in as much of the game as possible, instead of just turning everything that isn't exploration or combat into a cut-scene. It's such a simple little thing to include, but one that refuses to let the player simply sit back and watch. There's also an imposed time limit stretching over the whole runaway train sequence, which adds a sense of urgency and acts as a reminder that failure is possible, giving the player input even more meaning. Much better than just watching Cid freak out at the controls, eh?
In no time at all the party catches up with the Shinra train and leaps across to it. At this point, I'm left wondering about a few things:
- The two trains set off on the same course, and yet are now side-by-side. I don't recall either train being diverted onto a second set of rails. Also, the different sets of rails we saw while walking down this path are radically different in height. How is this jump even possible?
- Erm... Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't there loads of gaps in these tracks? Gaps that, y'know, Cloud actually fell down on our first pass through this area? How are the trains supposed to overcome these obstacles?
- Like I said above, the runaway train sequence is governed by a ten-minute time limit. It's taking these trains up to ten minutes to cover a stretch of track we've just travelled along on foot in the space of about ninety seconds. How slow are these damn things?
I realise I'm being pedantic, and all of these questions can be answered with the simple cover-all excuse that it serves the gameplay, but it's still kind of hard not to think about them. Especially the failed sections of track, which to be honest is the only one I refuse to suspend my disbelief over.
The party now has to fight their way to the front of the Shinra train harbouring the Huge Materia. Each cart of the train is guarded by an enemy, which the team must dispatch while the countdown continues to tick. None of the battles are exceptionally tough, save perhaps the Wolfmeister guarding the third cart. The challenge in these encounters comes from the accompanying clock, which forces you to balance calculated strategy and brute strength. With the clock against you, even something as simple as using a turn to Sense the enemy's weakness could cost you valuable seconds, with potentially no pay-off. Thankfully, a combination of past experience and sheer muscle see me through to the front of the train with a little over five minutes left on the timer.
Here, the game adopts yet another button-pressing mini-game to keep the player involved, this time demanding that they stop the commandeered train before it collides into North Corel. Manage to stop the train before the time limit expires and you're rewarded with the Huge Materia and the highly-coveted 'Ultima' Materia, courtesy of the people of Corel, as a thanks for saving their town. Fail to stop the train, and your punishment is walking away without any Huge Materia, having to pay a 50,000 Gil premium for the Ultima Materia, and putting the people of Corel through the destruction of their homes a second time. To be honest, I'm really surprised that the game features this branching path. While it admittedly doesn't have too much impact on the game, and certainly no long-term repercussions, I probably would have been less surprised if failing to stop the train had resulted in a straight-up Game Over screen. The fact you can effectively fail your mission, destroy a community, and continue the game after that is a pretty big deal. Sure, it's not on the same level of depth as, say, Fable or Mass Effect, but here's a game where your actions can have different impacts on the game world in 1997. I might be alone in this, but I do think that's pretty amazing.
I manage to stop the train with plenty of time left on the clock. I receive my rewards, and am thanked by the town. Because Barret's in my party, there are a few lines of dialogue between him and the townspeople, which seem to hint at him being forgiven for his past transgressions and welcomed back into the community. It's a shame the game doesn't make a bigger deal out of this, because it feels like it's a big moment for Barret that deserves more than a few text-boxes, but considering the choice of party for this part of the game is fairly open, I guess it's to be expected. The party rest in the inn for the night before moving on. I decide to head back to Mideel and bump my party up another level or two, during which I manage to raise Red XIII to a point where he can use his final Limit Break - Cosmo Memory. With my levels raised, I fly to the site of the next piece of Huge Materia - Fort Condor. Touching the Highwind down just outside the reactor, I save my game and wrap this episode up.
So at the close of Episode Twenty-Three, my vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cid (Lv 52), Barret (Lv 45), Red XIII (Lv 55)
- Current Location - Junon Area, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 34:13
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Twenty-Four - Fort Condor's Final Stand here.
It seems crazy that today's episode covers such a small amount of actual gameplay. Hopefully it will serve to balance out the next episode, which will likely feature more gameplay that I'll have less to say about. As always, sorry for the prolonged pauses between episodes. To be honest, I'm just glad they're seeing the light of day semi-regularly at the moment (one every two weeks or so counts as semi-regular, right?). As always, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around. Here's hoping Episode Twenty-Four isn't too long in the making.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)