Are you the kind of gamer who has fond memories of Final Fantasy VII, but is reluctant to return to it in case those memories are shattered by unremembered mediocrity? If so, then worry no longer - I'm here to do it for you! Presenting the latest instalment in the semi-cynical, semi-nostalgic, Endurance Run-inspired retrospective that is:
Episode Twenty-Two - Mideel Or No Deal
At the end of the last episode, we saw our band of adventurers escape from Shinra custody in Junon, making off with an airship in the process. In the absence of Cloud, Tifa has taken it upon herself to lead the party in their search for him.
At this point, I was just about ready to throw more criticism in Final Fantasy VII's direction for once again doing a piss-poor job of pointing the player towards their next goal. I've always remembered this point in the game as equalling (maybe even surpassing) the search for the Keystone or the City of the Ancients in its aimlessness - you're given this great airship, bringing the ability to fly anywhere in the world, and the game leaves you with absolutely no idea where to take it to progress. However, playing through it now for the sixth, I've just stumbled upon the game's attempt at player direction. Speaking to Red XIII twice reveals his knowledge of a supposed Lifestream breach in the ocean near the southern islands. This really leaves me in two minds - I feel like I should praise the developers for actually putting that sentence in there, but at the same time, I want to chastise them for tucking such a crucial piece of information away in such an obscure corner, so obscure it's taken me six playthroughs over twelve years to find.
With that piece of information finally come to light, I take once more to the skies and begin to fly south, in the direction of Mideel. Flying the Highwind comes pretty naturally thanks to a fairly intuitive control scheme. There are two things I want to mention about the Highwind at this juncture, the first being that it makes a pretty awesome hub for the remainder of the game. Save for shopping facilities, it's got everything the team needs - a save point, party-changing facilities, instant HP/MP restoration, the ability to talk to all the team members... it really is an ideal place for regrouping after a grinding session or an important piece of story progression, although it's still beyond me why a Shinra airship would need a chocobo stable on-board. The other thing worth mentioning is the awesome feeling of freedom that washes over you when you take to the air in the Highwind for the first time. You've got this entire world map, which you've been navigating gradually for the last thirty-or-so hours, and suddenly it's all blown wide-open for you. Even now, so long after first playing the game, I still get a thrill knowing that those previously impassable mountains suddenly don't even factor into it any more. The whole of the Planet is your playground. The fact you actually have control over the airship definitely adds to this, I think - physically flying the Highwind over the world map provides a much greater thrill than, say, the menu-based airship navigation of Final Fantasy X.
The team arrive near Mideel, and after a little bit of grinding in the surrounding forest, head into the town. It's a pretty unremarkable location aesthetically, not quite a typical JRPG town in its appearance, but at the same time not unique enough to stand out from the crowd in the same way that Midgar and Junon do. I decide to do some shopping, calling in at the weapons and Materia stores to pick up new Crystal equipment for my whole party and some extra HP/MP Plus Materia. In the middle of town, Tifa stops to pet a dog when she overhears a couple of men talking about a spikey-haired guy who washed up on the shore of the island about a week ago. Immediately thinking it must be Cloud, she rushes to the town's clinic to meet him. Sure enough, as epic narrative cliché dictates, it's Cloud, but not quite as we know him. Tifa finds him in confined to a wheelchair, babbling deliriously in a near-vegetative state.
I remember thinking this was a pretty shocking turn for the narrative to take the first time I played the game. Even though by this point the game's developers had established a pretty clear willingness to harm and even kill their main characters, I never expected Cloud to be reduced to this. I was convinced he'd already suffered enough, being consistently manipulated behind the scenes by Sephiroth and/or Jenova and even losing Aerith. After seeing all of that, this felt like a step too far back then. I do think it serves the story though, for various reasons, not all of which I'll explore in this episode to avoid too much foreshadowing. For now, I'll just say that I sort of admire the way it reduces Cloud to a position of not just powerlessness, but complete and total dependence. In a medium (and indeed, a genre) where the heroes and heroines are all-too-often abrasively confident, cocky and invincible, it's refreshing to encounter a protagonist who's so fragile, to the point where he actually breaks.
The doctor reveals to the party that Cloud's suffering from extreme Mako poisoning, after protracted exposure to Mako energy in the Lifestream. He's quite literally trapped inside his own mind, unaware of anything that's going on, and his chances of recovery are incredibly slim. Tifa makes the decision to leave the party and stay behind in Mideel with Cloud, to try and nurse him back to health while the rest of the crew continue to try and find a way of stopping Meteor from descending. Cid and Red XIII depart, and head back to the Highwind. Back on deck, Cait Sith has some information that may help to that end - President Rufus and the other higher-ups at Shinra have been busy devising plans to both stop Meteor and break through the barrier at North Crater. They're currently in the process of collecting pieces of Huge Materia (a high-density, more potent kind of Materia formed in Mako reactors) from around the world, with a view to colliding it with Meteor somehow. Their next target is the reactor at Corel, Barret's home-town.
Understandably, Barret's pretty miffed about this. Unfortunately, that's about all I can glean from the ensuing conversation, because it's one of the worst-translated sections of Final Fantasy VII's script so far (if you don't believe me, check it out for yourself - and sorry about the ridiculous names, not my video, blah-blah-blah). After the incomprehensible rambling, it's decided that Cid should be the new party leader, a somewhat humble (albeit completely unjustified) selfless act on the part of Barret, who for reasons unknown has decided he's not cut out to be a leader. Now in control of Cid, I head for the Operations Room and kit out a brand new party - Barret as a damage-dealing tank, Cid as a healer and buffer, and Red XIII as a black mage/summoner hybrid. Our next destination is Corel, so I head towards it, touch the Highwind down, and bring this episode to a close by saving my progress.
So at the close of Episode Twenty-Two, my vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cid (Lv 49), Barret (Lv 42), Red XIII (Lv 53)
- Current Location - Gold Saucer Area, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 33:37
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Twenty-Three - Catching The Train here.
I've deliberately tried to keep this episode brief (or at least, brief by the standards of this series). The last couple of episodes have really rambled on, so I figured that a nice shorter episode would serve to break up the walls of text a bit. Speaking of breaking things up, I've decided to employ a new method of listing past episodes, in the handy-dandy table above. I think it looks a bit neater, having done away with that long, narrow list of links. Anyway, thanks as always for reading. I genuinely promise to try and leave less time between episodes from here on out, I've been a touch distracted by the demands of the novel I'm working on over the last month or so. Ideally I'd like to get a regular weekly thing going on, but we'll see how (in)effectively I (mis)manage my time in the coming weeks. For now, I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)