Enduring Final Fantasy VII - Episode Seven

<< Episode Six - An Abundance Of Big BirdsEpisode GuideEpisode Eight - Over The Mountain, Into The Saucer >>

Hey guys, and welcome to another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII, the serial blog in which I attempt to play through fan-favourite Final Fantasy VII through the objective eyes of a modern gamer to determine whether or not it still has something to offer a contemporary audience. I've got a lot of ground to cover in this long-overdue blog, so I'm going to skip over most of the formalities and get straight to the heart of the matter. Let's go!

This episode brought to you by the eye-opening powers of Relentless energy drink, without which I would almost certainly be failing my exams

Episode Seven - Hitching A Ride

Loading up my save reintroduces me to my now-familiar party of Cloud, Aerith and Red XIII sitting patiently just outside the entrance to Junon Harbour. Upon entering, there isn't really anything interesting to note about the place. Much like the village of Kalm, it's little more than a standard JRPG town with nothing to do outside of story progression, save for rest and shop. I stock up on Potions and Phoenix Downs, and continue with my exploration. There's a lift leading up into the city of Junon proper, but it's guarded at present due to an important event going on up there. The one thing that really separates Junon Harbour from Kalm is its sandy beach, and I waste no time in checking it out. Down by the crystal clear waters is a young girl, Priscilla, who's playing with a dolphin. She instantly takes a dislike to Cloud and the gang, mistaking them for Shinra operatives and telling them to get lost. Unfortunately, a sea monster takes this opportunity to attack Priscilla and the imaginatively-name Mr. Dolphin, forcing the party to step in and save them.

The ensuing boss fight against Bottomswell reminds me quite vividly of the earlier battle against Reno atop the Sector Seven Pillar. Just like Reno, Bottomswell has an ability which encases a character and prevents them from acting, forcing an extra level of strategy into the fight. Thankfully the sea snake is weak to the Wind element, meaning my newly acquired Choco/Mog summon Materia comes in handy. It doesn't take long for Bottomswell to fall, leaving Cloud free to rescue Priscilla from drowning. What follows is - I kid you not - a CPR mini-game in which Cloud has to give Priscilla the kiss of life in order to save her. I think this is the first time that one of Final Fantasy VII's mini-games has been downright awful, because the CPR has no redeeming qualities. It literally consists of nothing but pressing the Square button periodically to fill up Cloud's lungs and breathe into Priscilla. Beyond the creepy factor instilled by Cloud locking lips with a dying little girl, it's a dull distraction from the gameplay accompanied by very bad breathing sound effects, that lasts way longer than it should. After about a minute of this, Priscilla splutters back to consciousness, just in time for the harbour's residents to arrive and carry her away to recover. Cloud and the gang are offered respite in the local inn overnight, which they accept.

Cloud's sleep is troubled by the disembodied voice that's been following him around for the whole game so far. It brings up the Nibelheim incident and points out some holes in Cloud's story, inviting him to cross-check his story with Tifa in order to fill them. Next morning, Cloud and Tifa have a heart-to-heart in which Tifa reveals that she can't remember what happened. As usual, this represents one of the game's best handling of character interaction. Or at least, it would, were it not for whoever was in charge of audio cues for this scene. The entire duration of this serious conversation, the background music is this jovial parade/march tune:

It makes the seriousness of the conversation that's going on feel really out of place. Would it really have been too much to ask for this music to kick in after the heart-to-heart? Anyway, this music drags Cloud and Tifa out into the village, where Priscilla is now back to health. As thanks, she offers Cloud a piece of Materia containing the Summon Shiva, which is sure to come in handy down the line. After learning that Cloud and the gang want to get up into Junon proper, Priscilla concocts a plan involving none other than Mr. Dolphin - if Cloud positions himself correctly, Mr. Dolphin will leap up out of the water with him and set him atop an electricity pylon, from which he'll be able to get into the city. It's yet another mini-game-type sequence that feels half-arsed. Maybe it's supposed to be funny, but it just strikes me as daft, and positioning Cloud correctly seems to be more a case of trial and error than actual logic. Anyway, after a few attempts Mr. Dolphin sets Cloud on top of the pylon, and the ascent into the city of Junon begins.

The path into Junon takes Cloud through an airship dock, a route which is conveyed through some pretty cinematic backdrops that serve to remind me Final Fantasy VII still has moments where it looks pretty impressive. Upon entering the city, Cloud runs into a group of Shinra employees who mistake him for one of their own and force him into a Shinra uniform. Before he can make a break for it, he's caught up in a procession which he soon learns is to welcome President Rufus to Junon. As luck would have it, though, they're late for the parade, which means that they're going to have to sneak into position. This means - yep, you guessed it - another poorly-implemented mini-game in which Cloud has to get in position without screwing up the TV ratings. After this thankfully short distraction, Cloud gets wind of what's going on here in Junon. Apparently, Sephiroth has been spotted, and that's the reason for Rufus' visit. After this, he's then taken to one side and taught the moves for Rufus' send-off in a scenario that takes the form of yet another mini-game!

If you haven't worked it out by now, Junon for me essentially feels like little more than a mini-game compendium, especially when directly compared to the rich mix of exploration, narrative and combat the game has shown off up to this point. It probably wouldn't bother me so much were they more evenly separated, or given a little more substance, but as it stands it feels like a rushed attempt to keep the player in control rather than implementing lengthy cutscenes. This is one of Junon's redeeming qualities, though - it never removes the player from the action and endeavours to keep them involved at all times. Its other redeeming quality, though, is its unique appearance. It's arguably the first location since Midgar that doesn't scream 'JRPG archetype' in its architecture. Instead of the quaint Elizabethan edifices seen in Kalm and the harbour below, the city of Junon is characterised by its tiers of straight roads, bordered by what seem to be high-rise apartment blocks. And then, of course, there's the magnificent military cannon taking pride of place in the centre of the city. Junon, like Midgar before it, illustrates the efforts of the environment designers to create a memorable, unique world.

Between the glorified dance recital and the glorified dance performance, I take the time on offer to explore Junon. Given the apparent urgency of the situation forced on the player by the game at this point, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of players missed out on exploring Junon altogether until much later on in the game. Rooting around in the roadside buildings leads me to a few shops where I pick up some new weapons, as well as finding some stat-boosting Source items that are sure to come in handy later on. When I'm done rummaging through people's residences, I press on and head for the dock where Rufus' send-off is taking place. Rufus' subsequent exchange with Heidegger brings a fact to my attention that I'd previously overlooked - an advantage of not having voice acting and relying on dialogue boxes instead is that it allows the player to determine the attitudes of the characters on-screen (to an extent, at least). Rufus could quite easily be read as either a ruthless dictator, or a whiny power-hungry rich kid. Voice acting would take away this element of ambiguity and player choice, almost certainly to the game's detriment. Anyway, after a quick rhythm-style mini-game (far and away the strongest of all the mini-games seen in Junon, although that's not saying much), Rufus boards the ship and the rest of Cloud's company leave, giving him the perfect opportunity to sneak onto the boat that will take him across the ocean in search of Sephiroth.

As Rufus' boat departs from the dock, Final Fantasy VII offers another reminder that it really hasn't held up well from a technical standpoint. Not that I'd expect it to, being thirteen years old and a horrible reminder of the industry's initial forays into the third dimension, but even so, there simply isn't an excuse for entire mountain ranges suddenly vanishing due to an abysmal draw distance. At the very least, disguise the limitations of your graphics engine by fading them out of view Morrowind-style. Anyway, back on the ship, it soon becomes apparent that the whole crew has managed to sneak on board, and it doesn't take long for Cloud to reacquaint himself with all of them. These one-to-ones do a great job of highlighting some successful attempts at humour. Seeing Barret in a sailor suit is definitely chuckle-inducing, but it's Red XIII that takes the cake. Even though I know it's coming, I can't help but laugh every time I see this scene. It a simple joke, but it's done very well.

When Cloud's caught up with everybody, an alarm sounds, indicating that an intruder is on board the ship. Initially Cloud and the gang think they might have been spotted, but it soon becomes apparent that the alert is related to somebody else. Could it be Sephiroth? The team decide to investigate. As always, I opt for my physical-magic-healing combination of Cloud, Red XIII and Aerith, and head down into the ship's cargo hold. The trail of dead bodies is eerily reminiscent of my trip through the Shinra Headquarters earlier in the game, and serves to further highlight the fact that even though Sephiroth has been established as a threat, the team have always been one step behind and still haven't actually encountered him yet. That soon changes as the team enter the cargo hold and come face to face with their antagonist for the first time. Sephiroth rises out of the floor (because, you know, he wasn't scary or untouchable enough prior to this), and says very little before setting a form of Jenova upon the party.

As Meowayne has pointed out in the comments sections of previous episodes, it's moments like this that highlight the true villainous qualities of Sephiroth. A lot of people talk him up as being a badass motherfucker who snacks on kittens, but where Sephiroth truly shines as a villain is in his subtlety. Up until this first encounter, it's been the presence of Sephiroth that has cemented his status as villain - the sword in the back of President Shinra, the fable-like retelling of the Nibelheim incident, the impaled Midgar Zolom, the constant whisperings in every town of the presence of a man in a black cape. Without even appearing once in the chronology of the story before now, the very mention of Sephiroth has become associated with superhuman strength and villainous insanity. Even now, with his first true appearance, Sephiroth lets his reputation do the talking. He says very little, and rather than dismissing of the party himself, he leaves them a form of Jenova to fight. This means that the true strength of Sephiroth in relation to that of the party still remains untapped, allowing him to maintain the air of mystery that has served his villainous reputation so well thusfar. It's just a shame that the battle itself doesn't really live up to its set-up - the fight against Jenova BIRTH is pretty flat and devoid of any necessary strategy. This is also the first time I've noticed that eleven and a half hours into the game, I still don't have access to many debuffs (I think Sleep may be the only one), and I can't use any buffs at all. That's a long time to go without any of those kinds of tide-turning abilities.

After defeating Jenova BIRTH, there's no sign of Sephiroth at all. A voice over the ship's tannoy announces that's it's about to dock at Costa Del Sol. With the team no closer to any real answers, there's not much to do besides pick up the Ifrit Materia dropped by Jenova BIRTH and disembark the boat. Costa Del Sol may be a seaside resort, but Cloud warns the group that they're here on serious business, and that this isn't a vacation. That said, there isn't much to do here anyway. A quick trip to the beach results in a run-in with an old friend - Professor Hojo from Shinra. Apparently he's resigned from Shinra's Science Department and is now soaking up the rays in Costa Del Sol, surrounded by a bevy of bikini-clad beach beauties. Cloud and Aerith seem to desire a confrontation, but Hojo isn't in the mood and seems very reluctant to share any information with them despite no longer being affiliated with Shinra. All they manage to get out of him is that they should head west. The whole conversation comes off as incredibly awkward to be honest, and not in an "appropriate to the situation" kind of way. With Hojo not giving up any more information, all that remains to be done is stock up on healing items and rest at the Inn before leaving Costa Del Sol and saving my game on the world map. Another episode done and dusted!

So at the close of Episode Seven, my current vital statistics are:

  • Current Party - Red XIII (Lv 21), Cloud (Lv 21), Aerith (Lv 21)
  • Current Location - Corel Region, World Map
  • Time on the Clock - 11:44

I won't be bullet-pointing my findings this episode, and may cease doing so for all future episodes. It's started to seem a little superfluous from where I'm sitting. That, and I'm running out of taglines for this section.

Whoa, that was one hell of a long write-up. Four days long, in fact. I wrote the first sentence of this four days ago, shortly after finishing my previous blog post. With exams almost over (just one left!), I anticipate that the frequency of these episodes will pick up over the coming months. Regardless, I've already started taking notes for Episode Eight, so expect that soon (or at least, a little sooner than the last couple of episodes). Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)

<< Episode Six - An Abundance Of Big BirdsEpisode GuideEpisode Eight - Over The Mountain, Into The Saucer >>
4 Comments
4 Comments
Posted by dankempster

Hey guys, and welcome to another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII, the serial blog in which I attempt to play through fan-favourite Final Fantasy VII through the objective eyes of a modern gamer to determine whether or not it still has something to offer a contemporary audience. I've got a lot of ground to cover in this long-overdue blog, so I'm going to skip over most of the formalities and get straight to the heart of the matter. Let's go!

This episode brought to you by the eye-opening powers of Relentless energy drink, without which I would almost certainly be failing my exams

Episode Seven - Hitching A Ride

Loading up my save reintroduces me to my now-familiar party of Cloud, Aerith and Red XIII sitting patiently just outside the entrance to Junon Harbour. Upon entering, there isn't really anything interesting to note about the place. Much like the village of Kalm, it's little more than a standard JRPG town with nothing to do outside of story progression, save for rest and shop. I stock up on Potions and Phoenix Downs, and continue with my exploration. There's a lift leading up into the city of Junon proper, but it's guarded at present due to an important event going on up there. The one thing that really separates Junon Harbour from Kalm is its sandy beach, and I waste no time in checking it out. Down by the crystal clear waters is a young girl, Priscilla, who's playing with a dolphin. She instantly takes a dislike to Cloud and the gang, mistaking them for Shinra operatives and telling them to get lost. Unfortunately, a sea monster takes this opportunity to attack Priscilla and the imaginatively-name Mr. Dolphin, forcing the party to step in and save them.

The ensuing boss fight against Bottomswell reminds me quite vividly of the earlier battle against Reno atop the Sector Seven Pillar. Just like Reno, Bottomswell has an ability which encases a character and prevents them from acting, forcing an extra level of strategy into the fight. Thankfully the sea snake is weak to the Wind element, meaning my newly acquired Choco/Mog summon Materia comes in handy. It doesn't take long for Bottomswell to fall, leaving Cloud free to rescue Priscilla from drowning. What follows is - I kid you not - a CPR mini-game in which Cloud has to give Priscilla the kiss of life in order to save her. I think this is the first time that one of Final Fantasy VII's mini-games has been downright awful, because the CPR has no redeeming qualities. It literally consists of nothing but pressing the Square button periodically to fill up Cloud's lungs and breathe into Priscilla. Beyond the creepy factor instilled by Cloud locking lips with a dying little girl, it's a dull distraction from the gameplay accompanied by very bad breathing sound effects, that lasts way longer than it should. After about a minute of this, Priscilla splutters back to consciousness, just in time for the harbour's residents to arrive and carry her away to recover. Cloud and the gang are offered respite in the local inn overnight, which they accept.

Cloud's sleep is troubled by the disembodied voice that's been following him around for the whole game so far. It brings up the Nibelheim incident and points out some holes in Cloud's story, inviting him to cross-check his story with Tifa in order to fill them. Next morning, Cloud and Tifa have a heart-to-heart in which Tifa reveals that she can't remember what happened. As usual, this represents one of the game's best handling of character interaction. Or at least, it would, were it not for whoever was in charge of audio cues for this scene. The entire duration of this serious conversation, the background music is this jovial parade/march tune:

It makes the seriousness of the conversation that's going on feel really out of place. Would it really have been too much to ask for this music to kick in after the heart-to-heart? Anyway, this music drags Cloud and Tifa out into the village, where Priscilla is now back to health. As thanks, she offers Cloud a piece of Materia containing the Summon Shiva, which is sure to come in handy down the line. After learning that Cloud and the gang want to get up into Junon proper, Priscilla concocts a plan involving none other than Mr. Dolphin - if Cloud positions himself correctly, Mr. Dolphin will leap up out of the water with him and set him atop an electricity pylon, from which he'll be able to get into the city. It's yet another mini-game-type sequence that feels half-arsed. Maybe it's supposed to be funny, but it just strikes me as daft, and positioning Cloud correctly seems to be more a case of trial and error than actual logic. Anyway, after a few attempts Mr. Dolphin sets Cloud on top of the pylon, and the ascent into the city of Junon begins.

The path into Junon takes Cloud through an airship dock, a route which is conveyed through some pretty cinematic backdrops that serve to remind me Final Fantasy VII still has moments where it looks pretty impressive. Upon entering the city, Cloud runs into a group of Shinra employees who mistake him for one of their own and force him into a Shinra uniform. Before he can make a break for it, he's caught up in a procession which he soon learns is to welcome President Rufus to Junon. As luck would have it, though, they're late for the parade, which means that they're going to have to sneak into position. This means - yep, you guessed it - another poorly-implemented mini-game in which Cloud has to get in position without screwing up the TV ratings. After this thankfully short distraction, Cloud gets wind of what's going on here in Junon. Apparently, Sephiroth has been spotted, and that's the reason for Rufus' visit. After this, he's then taken to one side and taught the moves for Rufus' send-off in a scenario that takes the form of yet another mini-game!

If you haven't worked it out by now, Junon for me essentially feels like little more than a mini-game compendium, especially when directly compared to the rich mix of exploration, narrative and combat the game has shown off up to this point. It probably wouldn't bother me so much were they more evenly separated, or given a little more substance, but as it stands it feels like a rushed attempt to keep the player in control rather than implementing lengthy cutscenes. This is one of Junon's redeeming qualities, though - it never removes the player from the action and endeavours to keep them involved at all times. Its other redeeming quality, though, is its unique appearance. It's arguably the first location since Midgar that doesn't scream 'JRPG archetype' in its architecture. Instead of the quaint Elizabethan edifices seen in Kalm and the harbour below, the city of Junon is characterised by its tiers of straight roads, bordered by what seem to be high-rise apartment blocks. And then, of course, there's the magnificent military cannon taking pride of place in the centre of the city. Junon, like Midgar before it, illustrates the efforts of the environment designers to create a memorable, unique world.

Between the glorified dance recital and the glorified dance performance, I take the time on offer to explore Junon. Given the apparent urgency of the situation forced on the player by the game at this point, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of players missed out on exploring Junon altogether until much later on in the game. Rooting around in the roadside buildings leads me to a few shops where I pick up some new weapons, as well as finding some stat-boosting Source items that are sure to come in handy later on. When I'm done rummaging through people's residences, I press on and head for the dock where Rufus' send-off is taking place. Rufus' subsequent exchange with Heidegger brings a fact to my attention that I'd previously overlooked - an advantage of not having voice acting and relying on dialogue boxes instead is that it allows the player to determine the attitudes of the characters on-screen (to an extent, at least). Rufus could quite easily be read as either a ruthless dictator, or a whiny power-hungry rich kid. Voice acting would take away this element of ambiguity and player choice, almost certainly to the game's detriment. Anyway, after a quick rhythm-style mini-game (far and away the strongest of all the mini-games seen in Junon, although that's not saying much), Rufus boards the ship and the rest of Cloud's company leave, giving him the perfect opportunity to sneak onto the boat that will take him across the ocean in search of Sephiroth.

As Rufus' boat departs from the dock, Final Fantasy VII offers another reminder that it really hasn't held up well from a technical standpoint. Not that I'd expect it to, being thirteen years old and a horrible reminder of the industry's initial forays into the third dimension, but even so, there simply isn't an excuse for entire mountain ranges suddenly vanishing due to an abysmal draw distance. At the very least, disguise the limitations of your graphics engine by fading them out of view Morrowind-style. Anyway, back on the ship, it soon becomes apparent that the whole crew has managed to sneak on board, and it doesn't take long for Cloud to reacquaint himself with all of them. These one-to-ones do a great job of highlighting some successful attempts at humour. Seeing Barret in a sailor suit is definitely chuckle-inducing, but it's Red XIII that takes the cake. Even though I know it's coming, I can't help but laugh every time I see this scene. It a simple joke, but it's done very well.

When Cloud's caught up with everybody, an alarm sounds, indicating that an intruder is on board the ship. Initially Cloud and the gang think they might have been spotted, but it soon becomes apparent that the alert is related to somebody else. Could it be Sephiroth? The team decide to investigate. As always, I opt for my physical-magic-healing combination of Cloud, Red XIII and Aerith, and head down into the ship's cargo hold. The trail of dead bodies is eerily reminiscent of my trip through the Shinra Headquarters earlier in the game, and serves to further highlight the fact that even though Sephiroth has been established as a threat, the team have always been one step behind and still haven't actually encountered him yet. That soon changes as the team enter the cargo hold and come face to face with their antagonist for the first time. Sephiroth rises out of the floor (because, you know, he wasn't scary or untouchable enough prior to this), and says very little before setting a form of Jenova upon the party.

As Meowayne has pointed out in the comments sections of previous episodes, it's moments like this that highlight the true villainous qualities of Sephiroth. A lot of people talk him up as being a badass motherfucker who snacks on kittens, but where Sephiroth truly shines as a villain is in his subtlety. Up until this first encounter, it's been the presence of Sephiroth that has cemented his status as villain - the sword in the back of President Shinra, the fable-like retelling of the Nibelheim incident, the impaled Midgar Zolom, the constant whisperings in every town of the presence of a man in a black cape. Without even appearing once in the chronology of the story before now, the very mention of Sephiroth has become associated with superhuman strength and villainous insanity. Even now, with his first true appearance, Sephiroth lets his reputation do the talking. He says very little, and rather than dismissing of the party himself, he leaves them a form of Jenova to fight. This means that the true strength of Sephiroth in relation to that of the party still remains untapped, allowing him to maintain the air of mystery that has served his villainous reputation so well thusfar. It's just a shame that the battle itself doesn't really live up to its set-up - the fight against Jenova BIRTH is pretty flat and devoid of any necessary strategy. This is also the first time I've noticed that eleven and a half hours into the game, I still don't have access to many debuffs (I think Sleep may be the only one), and I can't use any buffs at all. That's a long time to go without any of those kinds of tide-turning abilities.

After defeating Jenova BIRTH, there's no sign of Sephiroth at all. A voice over the ship's tannoy announces that's it's about to dock at Costa Del Sol. With the team no closer to any real answers, there's not much to do besides pick up the Ifrit Materia dropped by Jenova BIRTH and disembark the boat. Costa Del Sol may be a seaside resort, but Cloud warns the group that they're here on serious business, and that this isn't a vacation. That said, there isn't much to do here anyway. A quick trip to the beach results in a run-in with an old friend - Professor Hojo from Shinra. Apparently he's resigned from Shinra's Science Department and is now soaking up the rays in Costa Del Sol, surrounded by a bevy of bikini-clad beach beauties. Cloud and Aerith seem to desire a confrontation, but Hojo isn't in the mood and seems very reluctant to share any information with them despite no longer being affiliated with Shinra. All they manage to get out of him is that they should head west. The whole conversation comes off as incredibly awkward to be honest, and not in an "appropriate to the situation" kind of way. With Hojo not giving up any more information, all that remains to be done is stock up on healing items and rest at the Inn before leaving Costa Del Sol and saving my game on the world map. Another episode done and dusted!

So at the close of Episode Seven, my current vital statistics are:

  • Current Party - Red XIII (Lv 21), Cloud (Lv 21), Aerith (Lv 21)
  • Current Location - Corel Region, World Map
  • Time on the Clock - 11:44

I won't be bullet-pointing my findings this episode, and may cease doing so for all future episodes. It's started to seem a little superfluous from where I'm sitting. That, and I'm running out of taglines for this section.

The Story So Far...

Table of Episodes
Episode Zero - The Obligatory Back StoryEpisode One - Initial Reactors... I Mean, Reactions
Episode Two - Flower Girls And Honey BeesEpisode Three - The Valiant Rescue Effort
Episode Four - Escape From MidgarEpisode Five - All Kalm On The Eastern Continent
Episode Six - An Abundance Of Big Birds

Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Eight - Over The Mountain, Into The Saucer here.

Whoa, that was one hell of a long write-up. Four days long, in fact. I wrote the first sentence of this four days ago, shortly after finishing my previous blog post. With exams almost over (just one left!), I anticipate that the frequency of these episodes will pick up over the coming months. Regardless, I've already started taking notes for Episode Eight, so expect that soon (or at least, a little sooner than the last couple of episodes). Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)

Edited by gla55jAw

The music during the Cloud and Tifa confrontation, although I understand where you're coming from, is the way it is because that is the music being played from Junon and the party members even reference being able to hear it.
As for the no Buffs yet, you're using Red XIII and his second level 1 limit break casts haste on the party.
 
Good job! Keep 'em coming.

Posted by Meowayne

I can't even begin to tell you how great this series of blogs is. I sincerely hope you manage to see this through to the very end. *pressure pressure pressure* ;D
 
If there is one thing I get from this particular episode, it is that Final Fantasy VII, today, feels very much like it did back in the day. Almost all of your criticism was just as valid then as it is today, and everything you praised is just as great as it always was - perhaps more, even, seeing the declining interest in well-written and set-up dialogue the medium exhibits this gen. 
 

 there isn't really anything interesting to note about the place. Much like the village of  Kalm, it's little more than a standard JRPG town with nothing to do outside of story progression, save for rest and shop.  

I think it was devised as a fishermen's village, hence the few fish-related set pieces, "Mr. Dolphin" and so on, but they didn't really hit the spot there. It'd be interesting what the concept art for Junon Harbor looked like. They later nailed that idea with Fisherman's Horizon in Final Fantasy VIII.
That said, the way it is designed now has the huge advantage of serving as a krass contrast point to Junon City above. 
 


 he city of Junon is characterised by its tiers of straight roads, bordered by what seem to be high-rise apartment blocks.  

 The Junon apartment blocks mesmerized me as a kid. Looking back on it now, they do not encompass that many screens - but certainly more than any town interiors before or after that. It was my first introduction to what I can identify now as a very "Japanese" industrialized, packed way of life. To this day, I have probably not even seen every detail they packed into the apartments and shops in the few blocks they have you access in Junon - and it gives an impression of a much larger city. 
 
Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX mastered the art of JRPG city creation. They just perfected it in a way that was never achieved afterwards. Midgar, Junon, Esthar, or (especially) Lindblum - Those cities are (feel) HUGE, and are yet packed with detail and personality. Sometimes this was backed up by many screens to explore, but more than often this was just achieved by clever camera positioning and art, even though the actual room you could access wasn't that large. 
Space restrictions, gamers screaming for open worlds, freely rotatable cameras and polygons prevent the recreation of such locations. Lost Odyssey did an OK job, and so did Final Fantasy XIII to some extent, but it just isn't the same. 
 
--
 
Totally agree with you on the stupidity of Junon's minigames. Still, as you correctly pointed out, it still beats non-interactive cutscene storytelling.
 
To keep this short, I will only reply to one more thing you mentioned, the most important of all.
 

Rufus' subsequent exchange with Heidegger brings a fact to my attention that I'd previously overlooked - an advantage of not having voice acting and relying on dialogue boxes instead is that it allows the player to determine the attitudes of the characters on-screen (to an extent, at least). Rufus could quite easily be read as either a ruthless dictator, or a whiny power-hungry rich kid. Voice acting would take away this element of ambiguity and player choice, almost certainly to the game's detriment. 


I wish you'd talk more about this particular aspect, because you are damn right. Did text boxes exist due to limited possibilities and would they have made voice acting if they could have? Yes, certainly. Does that mean there are no advantages and good things about the boxes? Hell no. The written word, especially in combination with a visual representation of the world and characters, is one hell of a powerful storytelling device, and though the dialogue itself may have been weak at times, the SNES/PSX Final Fantasies (and other games) used them for great effect and I miss them dearly. 
 
Prose, combined with music, combined with a stage, combined with "interactive" text (where location, font, and your input matters) - for me, this is the high point of video game storytelling. For me, actors acting out condensed dialogue in combination with video game developer's attempts at cinematography has not added to the immersion and accessability of the telling of these stories. Quite the opposite. 
Posted by owl_of_minerva
@dankempster:  For a moment I thought you were talking about the philosopher Heidegger in relation to Final Fantasy. That would officially make this blog 11/10, but as it stands it's still great. I've played Final Fantasy VII so long ago that it's hazy in my mind, but your interpretation sounds far better than my youthful infatuation with every aspect of the game.