By dankempster 11 Comments
Hey guys, and welcome to yet another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII, the serial blog in which I examine Final Fantasy VII through the objective eyes of a modern gamer and attempt to discern whether or not the game still has relevance to a contemporary audience. Roll title card!
Episode Ten - Going Gongaga
When we last left our band of heroes, they'd just raced their way out of Corel Prison, beneath the Gold Saucer. Loading up the save puts my well-established party of Cloud, Aerith and Red XIII just outside the immense amusement park, sitting pretty in their newly-acquired buggy. This new means of transportation is able to traverse desert and rivers, meaning that the team are now free to cross the stream to the south. The next stop is the village of Gongaga, the place where Dio believes that Sephiroth was headed. On the way there I get a feel for the buggy and, as is customary for any trek across the world map, get into a few random encounters along the way. The enemies around here employ techniques that inflict various status ailments - Stone, Frog, Sleep, and Stop, to name the ones I can remember. For the first time since the game started, this forced me to rejig my equipment and Materia in order to keep my fighters protected. The healing items came out in full force, too, and I ended up using more than a few Softs and Maidens Kisses while farming some experience around Gongaga.
As soon as the team set foot into the Gongaga area, they run into Reno and Rude. Initially unaware of their presence, the two Turks continue with their conversation - a slightly humorous bout of gossiping. It's not until fellow Turk Elena arrives on the scene that the two are alerted to Cloud's presence, and a brief fight ensues. After having to deal with a great number of status-inflicting enemies on my way into the forest, Reno and Rude really don't pose too much of a threat, and it only takes a few rounds of attacks and a choice Limit Break from Cloud to subdue them. After the battle, Cloud expresses concern that somebody in the party might be a spy, relaying information back to the Shinra. After all, how else would the Turks know they were coming? Rather than worrying about it, the party elect to press on. Next stop is the village's old Mako Reactor, or at least, what's left of it - the reactor was destroyed in an explosion. While wandering through the junk, the team spot two familiar figures - Scarlet, from Shinra's Weapons Development division, and Tseng, leader of the Turks. Scarlet appears to be looking for large quantities of Materia, which she says could be used to develop a super-weapon. Huge Materia and super-weapons... Shinra are definitely up to something. The question is, what? With no leads to follow for now, though, the team's best bet is to head into the village proper and see what they can dig up on Sephiroth.
The tone of Gongaga village is a somber one. Conversations with the residents soon reveal the reason - the explosion that took out the Mako Reactor three years ago also killed a lot of the villagers, and although it's never explicitly stated, you get the feeling from the aesthetics and music that the remaining community has never really recovered. In one of the houses, Cloud and the team are greeted by a worried couple. Noticing Cloud's Mako-tainted eyes, they place him as a member of SOLDIER and ask him if he knew their son, a young man named Zack who left Gongaga to join SOLDIER ten years ago. Cloud declares he's never met the man, but Aerith, seemingly overwhelmed by all this, has to step outside. Back out in the middle of town, Aerith reveals to Cloud that Zack was her first love. Like Cloud, he had been a SOLDIER First Class, but he'd gone missing on a mission five years ago and she'd never heard from him again. There's something about the whole story that suggests there's more going on than meets the eye, but there doesn't seem to be anything more to learn right now.
The whole Gongaga section of the game, for me, is a showcase for some of the things that Final Fantasy VII does incredibly well. First, it's probably the best example since Midgar of how all the game's parallel plots are meticulously connected. In the small space of time that the player spends in Gongaga, it becomes a focal point for three different plot lines to intersect. It's the pursuit for Sephiroth which leads them here in the first place, but while there, they encounter Shinra staff and gain some insight into their potential plans, and on top of all that there's some personal development of the characters through the encounter with Zack's parents. All this in the space of a twenty-five minute visit to a small village. Final Fantasy VII does a brilliant job of keeping its band of protagonists deeply involved in every plot strand, and manages to intertwine them in ways that make sense - a commendable feat that I've seen few games ever pull off. But perhaps the greatest thing about Gongaga is the fact that it's completely optional. That's right - it's possible for the player to completely pass by Gongaga and push on to the next plot-centric location (Cosmo Canyon) without ever seeing the scenes with Reno, Rude, Scarlet, Tseng and Zack's parents. In fact, I did as much on my very first playthrough some ten years ago. It's this approach to exposition that helps to make Final Fantasy VII's gameworld still feel deep, vast and well-realised, even today. Being pointed towards, or even stumbling upon, all this optional exposition is an incredibly rewarding experience, as my eventual visit to Gongaga in my second playthrough confirmed. Even now, there are things I'm picking up on that I'd never noticed before (the revelation about Corel Prison in the last episode being a prime example). I can't think of a single other game with that level of hidden depth, that I could pick up ten years after playing it for the first time and still find out new things about the gameworld. Maybe Oblivion, but that's a huge open-world game where you limit your scope from the off by picking a type of character class, and then get thrown into a sandbox where you can do anything you want in any order you please. By definition, you're going to miss stuff in a game like that. By comparison, Final Fantasy VII is a largely linear adventure, and it's pulled off this master stroke. Regardless of your opinion of the game, you have to be able to praise it for that.
All that's left to do in Gongaga is to check out what the various shops have in stock. The Accessory shop is peddling some Materia, including Time Materia. This means I finally have regular access to a buff in the form of the Haste spell. I commented in an earlier episode that Final Fantasy VII is very slow to dish out buffing Materia, which comes in very handy in longer boss fights. At almost fifteen hours in, this is the first type that I've had access to, and if memory serves me, the incredibly useful Barrier Materia is still a way off. Anyway, with the shopping done, and no sign of Sephiroth, it seems like the most logical course of action would be to hop back in the buggy and keep heading west. Unfortunately, this genius plan is short-lived - after crossing another river, the team's buggy breaks down. There doesn't seem to be any hope of the team fixing it, leaving them stranded. Thankfully, the buggy has broken down just outside the entrance to Cosmo Canyon. Seeing a logical position to bring this episode to a close, I save the game and turn off the PSP.
So at the close of Episode Ten, my current vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 26), Aerith (Lv 26), Red XIII (Lv 26)
- Current Location - Cosmo Canyon Region, World Map
- Time on the Clock - 15:03
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Eleven - Canyons And Caverns here.
I've consciously tried to make this episode a little shorter than the last few entries, which I'm aware have probably been a little too long-winded. Regardless, I hope it continues to be as enjoyable for you to read as it has been for me to write. Getting back into this serial blog is proving to be a lot of fun, so thanks for your continued support as readers and conributors. In other news, I'm currently back at my parents' house, visiting family and friends. However, considering everybody's working during the day, I'm finding myself killing a lot of time by playing video games, listening to music, and reading Clive Cussler's Sahara (major props to Red12b for recommending this book to me, it's proving to be pretty unputdownable so far). Alongside Final Fantasy VII, I'm just getting into Mass Effect on the 360. I was a bit wary heading in, given that I've never had an interest in the whole space opera theme, but it didn't take too long for the game to drag me in. I'm playing as the Infiltrator class, and while I'm not playing with a particular moral path in mind, my Shepard seems to be leaning more towards the Renegade side of things. At nine hours in, I'm currently caught up in some side-quests, but I'll probably be pushing on with the main story fairly soon. I won't say anything more, given that I'll most likely want to blog about it when I finish it, but I am liking the game a lot more than I thought I was going to. As always, thanks very much for reading, guys. I hope to see you next episode, when we'll most likely be covering Cosmo Canyon and the Gi Caves.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)