By dankempster 10 Comments
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Hey guys, and welcome to another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII, the serial blog in which I record a playthrough of one of my favourite games - Final Fantasy VII - through the objective eyes of a modern gamer. Progress has been somewhat slow this week for two reasons. The first of these is essays - I have four to write over the next couple of months, totalling 14000 words. It might sound like an easy workload, but I also have to do extensive research for a few of them. The second reason is Borderlands - I'm devoting most of my free time to playing it, in the hope I'll be able to finish Playthrough 1 before Final Fantasy XIII takes over my life. I did manage to squeeze enough time into Final Fantasy VII this week to get out of Midgar, though, and I think that's substantial enough progress to warrant the writing of a new episode. So, let's get this show on the road!
Episode Four - Escape From Midgar
Those of you present for the previous episode will recall that Cloud and company are currently on Floor 67 of Shinra Headquarters, in an attempt to rescue Aerith from the clutches of the evil corporation. After loading up my game, I hop into the nearby elevator and ride it up to Floor 68. Here the crew encounter Professor Hojo proper, as well as finding Aerith at last. It turns out Hojo is about to conduct one of his "experiments". He calls for another specimen to be brought up into Aerith's cell - a red lion-type creature. Panicking, Cloud gets Barret to break into the cell, releasing Aerith and the lion-thing (who can talk, by the way). In response, Hojo calls for another of his specimens to be sent up, to take care of the intruders. I remember thinking this scene was great back when I was ten, but now it doesn't seem to hold the same magic. My biggest problem with it is that Cloud is hesitant to harm Hojo because he's allegedly the only person who could operate the complex machinery in the lab, but he's happy to order Barret to break said machinery. It seems a shame that there are so many inconsistencies within what is evidently a painstakingly-realised game world. Maybe my ability to suspend disbelief is waning now that I'm getting older, but it just doesn't sit right with me anymore.
What follows this scene is a boss battle against Hojo's specimen, named Sample HO512. It's... ok, I guess. It's certainly not as memorable as the other bosses encountered so far (or the other bosses encountered in this episode, for that matter), but it is well constructed, making clever use of the battle system's front and back rows in order to provide the boss with a "living shield" of sorts. It's also the first boss battle in the game with the ability to afflict the party with a status effect, specifically Poison. Thankfully, as I'd stocked up on Antidotes prior to the invasion of the Shinra building, this doesn't pose too much of a problem and I'm able to take out the boss pretty quickly. After seeing off the specimen, the party gets acquainted with the talking lion. His name is Red XIII, and it turns out he was captured by Hojo and brought to the labs for research. After checking Aerith is ok, the team split up into two parties and head for the elevators on the 66th floor. Cloud's party arrives there a few minutes later, only to be greeted by Rude of The Turks. D'oh!
Our band of heroes is brought by The Turks to the office of President Shinra, where the man in charge proceeds to reveal... well, exactly the same plan he revealed in the executives' meeting last episode, actually. After some melodrama involving The Ancients and AVALANCHE (nothing we haven't heard before), the party are hauled away to prison cells on Floor 67. The office scene highlights one of my big problems not just with Final Fantasy VII, but with JRPGs in general - they feel the need to re-iterate the apparently-important points of their narratives several times over. I like to dub this phenomenon "The Billy Connolly Opera Effect". Final Fantasy VII is guilty of doing this with the whole "Aerith is the last surviving Ancient" trope. I've already lost count of the number of times this fact has been stressed since it was first revealed by Aerith's mother at the start of Episode Three. We know she's the last surviving Ancient, Square. Now get on with it!
Cloud awakes the next morning to find his cell door open and the guard slain. After freeing the rest of the team, they agree to follow the trail of blood left in the attacker's wake, and investigate what's happened. Reliving this portion of the game reminded me how freaked out I was the first time I experienced it. Oddly enough, it's still very unsettling even to this day. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but the combination of the haunting music and the bloody smear that I was following through the Shinra Headquarters managed to unsettle me ten years later, as a twenty-year-old in 2010. If there's anything that Final Fantasy VII does well, it's conjure up a foreboding atmosphere, and this scene goes a long way to proving that. The trail takes Cloud past the spot where he encountered JENOVA in the last episode, but it's no longer there. It seems it's been forcibly ripped out of her container and transported away on the specimen elevator. Things are getting exceedingly creepy round here.
The trail of blood leads the group all the way up to the President's office, where they find his body slumped over a desk with an enormous sword sticking out of his back. Cloud immediately recognises the sword as belonging to Sephiroth, but doesn't have too much time to share his thoughts with the rest of the group because a helicopter carrying the President's son, Rufus Shinra, lands outside. The group rush out to confront him, and what follows is a pretty well-scripted (if a little melodramatic) exchange between them and the new President of Shinra. At this point, I'm not sure if the writing's genuinely improving or if I'm just getting used to it, but it does seem to be getting more tolerable. Cloud urges the rest of the party to depart, leaving him to face off against Rufus alone.
The next part of the game chronicles two simultaneous events separately. The first of these is the escape made by Barret, Aerith and Red XIII in the Headquarters' glass lifts, where they have to face off against two Shinra machines, the Hundred Gunner and the Heli Gunner. This probably amounts to my favourite boss battle in the game so far, even if it does follow the example set my the game's first two bosses (spamming it with Bolt spells works just fine). Because the machines are in the opposite lift, ordinary physical attacks won't cut it. This leaves me using Barret as a long-range attacker, Red XIII as a damage-absorbing black mage of sorts, and Aerith as a dedicated healer. It feels like one of the most strategic battles in the game to date, and is thoroughly enjoyable as a result. In contrast, Cloud's face-off against Rufus is pretty underwhelming and one-dimensional. It's also made unnecessarily long through the employment of the Barrier spell by Rufus' canine companion. It's one of the few fights so far that I'm glad to walk away from when it's over.
After all of these fights have played out, the team reconvenes on the ground floor of the headquarters where they seem to be trapped inside. Thankfully, Cloud has a plan. Tifa takes the rest of the party over to one of the trucks on display, while Cloud commandeers a motorcycle, and the adventurers escape by driving through a window, out onto the Midgar highway. The sequence that follows, affectionately dubbed "the motorcycle minigame" by fans, involves controlling Cloud on his bike and preventing the pursuing Shinra bikers from excessively damaging the truck his friends are driving. Even in 2010, the motorcycle minigame is still pretty fun to play through. There are, however, two glaring problems with it that I feel I should address. The first of these is the rather dull environment. This is the first time the game has offered a full 3D environment to us, and it really amounts to little more than a string of grey highway with no roadside detail whatsoever. I can kind of forgive this, though, given the game's technical limitations and the dull uniformity already established within the city of Midgar. Less forgivable, however, is the appalling collision detection in this sequence. It makes it very difficult to judge when is the right time to swing Cloud's sword, and in a mini-game like this, timing is all-important. Thankfully, the sequence still manages to get by on its novelty, and continues to be an especially memorable part of the game for me even when all my personal bias is set aside.
At the end of the highway, Cloud and friends are tasked with yet another boss battle (there have been a hell of a lot of boss battles in this episode, haven't there?), this time against the Shinra robot Motor Ball. With a party consisting of Cloud, Barret and Aerith, I set up the two guys as attackers and rely on Aerith to take care of both the offensive and defensive magic from the back row. Yet again, we're dealing with a boss that's weak to Bolt spells, and this continuous dealing with mechanical enemies with identical weaknesses is starting to take a bit of fun out of the boss battles for me. At the same time, however, things are starting to get interesting regarding Materia combinations. The -All and -Elemental Materia I've been sitting on is finally starting to become useful, for one thing. In anticipation of Motor Ball's fire-based attacks, I set up a Fire-Elemental combination on Aerith's armour so as to ensure my weakest party member didn't take too much damage while she was switching between her offensive and defensive spells. I'm already looking forward to when this side of things starts to get even deeper.
After defeating Motor Ball, Cloud starts piecing things together and tells the rest of the group he's leaving Midgar in search of Sephiroth. The rest of the team agree to accompany him, and it's arranged that they'll meet up at the nearby village of Kalm to discuss matters. After that, the game plonks me out on the overworld, just outside Midgar, with a notification that I can save anywhere on the overworld. I decide to take advantage of that privilege, and call it quits for this episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII.
So at the close of Episode Four, my current vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 15), Barret (Lv 14), Aerith (Lv 13)
- Current Location - Midgar Region, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 6:54
And if you have an important function to attend today and don't have time to read everything above, here's a bullet-point summary:
- Final Fantasy VII has plot holes coming out of its ears. A real shame that such a carelessly executed plot should be layered over such a rich, detailed world.
- Aerith is the last surviving Ancient.
- The trail of blood in the Shinra Headquarters is still scary. Top notch music composition from Uematsu for this sequence, and the smears of blood on the floor help to make the scene even more unsettling.
- Aerith is the last suriving Ancient, by the way.
- The motorcycle sequence is bland, and the collision detection is terrible, but its novelty compared to the rest of the game so far ensures that even in 2010, it's still a very memorable sequence.
- The last surviving Ancient is Aerith.
- Boss fights against mechanical enemies are getting very stale, and I'm getting sick of Bolt-spamming. On the other hand, the Materia system feels like it's starting to open up in interesting ways, just as the game itself seems to be opening up, too.
- Just in case you didn't manage to work it out, Aerith is the last surviving Ancient. Got it? Good. The game will remind you in fifteen minutes or so, but for now, good.
Once again, I thank you for joining me on this leg of my Final Fantasy VII journey. I suspect that the next episode (most likely covering Kalm Village) will be up late next week, or early the week after. Any delays are likely to be due to Final Fantasy XIII, which is coming out on Tuesday. I have my pre-order in with Amazon, and I'm hoping that it turns up before Friday so I can sink a nice long weekend into it. That is, of course, assuming I manage to finish Borderlands in the meantime. My level 33 Soldier has just taken out the Rakk Hive , but I have no idea how much more of the main game there is for me to experience between now and the end. In other news, I bought the platform-puzzler Toki Tori from Steam on a whim, and I picked up a copy of retro-adventure Sam & Max Hit the Road last weekend from my local Wilkinson's. No idea when I'm going to find the time to play either of those, but hey, what does that matter, right? Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)
|<< Episode Three - The Valiant Rescue Effort||Episode Guide||Episode Five - All Kalm On The Eastern Continent >>|