By dankempster 2 Comments
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Hey guys and welcome back to another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII, the serial blog in which I play through the fan favourite Final Fantasy VII through the objective eyes of a modern gamer. I apologise for the delay in bringing you this episode. It's a result of a combination of factors including University assignments, a brief bout of illness, and a compulsion to play nothing but Borderlands in my free time. I've now reached a point where I feel another episode is due, so get comfortable and prepare to dive back into Midgar with me...
Episode Three - The Valiant Rescue Effort
Last time on Enduring Final Fantasy VII, we left our heroes at the start of the Train Graveyard. After loading the game, I proceed to navigate my way through the maze-like layout of this locomotive resting-place. On the way, I get engaged in more than a few battles, and for the first time, Final Fantasy VII starts to feel 'right'. With the party combination of Cloud, Aerith and Tifa, the fighting is starting to feel a little more balanced and tactical, the way things should in the opening hours of any good JRPG. I set up Cloud as an out-and-out physical fighter, Tifa as a speedy thief, and Aerith as a dedicated magic-user in the back row, and the balance feels very comfortable. Through the employment of what I like to call the 'attack, steal, burn-and-heal' strategy, I cut my way through the Train Graveyard in next to no time while nabbing a few handy items in the process. I even manage to steal a new weapon for Aerith from one of the enemies that I encounter. Nice!
Upon emerging from the other side of the Train Graveyard, I find myself in familiar territory - the Sector 7 train station. I push on to the base of the Sector 7 pillar, where all Hell seems to have broken loose. From what I can gather, Barret and the rest of AVALANCHE seem to be holding off Shinra forces at the top of the pillar. At this point, Aerith leaves the party to go and protect Barret's daughter Marlene. This strikes me as kind of unfair. The game has just given me a sense of what it's like to fight with a balanced party, resulting in some of the best combat yet, and now it's taking my mage away! Anyway, I make my way up to the top of the pillar (with just Cloud and Tifa) and meet up with Barret. Reno of The Turks arrives and sets the pillar to detonate. A brief-but-cool boss battle ensues, where the team has to protect each other from being "frozen" inside Reno's conjured pyramids. It's a pretty nice concept, and adds that same extra layer of depth that's made all the boss battles so far pretty special. After fighting Reno, Tseng appears, and who should be with him but... Aerith! You know, considering how quickly I made it up this pillar, she must have worked real fast tending to the wounded and protecting Marlene before she got captured. Unfortunately, there's nothing the team can do at this point. Tseng flies off with Aerith, the pillar is destroyed, and the upper plate of Sector 7 falls, crushing the slums beneath it.
Of course, our heroes make it out by... swinging to safety into Sector 6. The rest of the slum-dwellers aren't so lucky. Barret's given some time here to mourn the deaths of his fellow combatants, and we finally start to see a human side to the big guy. It's kind of funny that the only character who we haven't seen any emotional output from at all so far is... well, Cloud. Anyway, Tifa recalls that Aerith said Marlene would be someplace safe, so Cloud leads the way to Aerith's house in Sector 5. There, Barret is reunited with Marlene and we learn a little more about Aerith's background from her foster mother, Elmyra. It's a pretty interesting history that's handled in a rather touching way. Apparently Aerith is an Ancient, and Shinra have been keeping tabs on her because she may hold the key to finding the "Promised Land", a land abundant in Mako energy. In an abrupt shift from the touching to the ourageously improbable, Cloud, Tifa and Barret vow to infiltrate Shinra Headquarters and rescue her. They leave Aerith's house for Wall Market, with their expectations seemingly set a little too high.
Wall Market hasn't changed all that much since the group were last here. There's just a lot less stuff to do this time around. It's the logical place to come, I suppose, since it borders the just-collapsed Sector 7, leaving a great big hole in the plate for the team to get through. The question is, how? After picking up some Batteries from the local weapons dealer, the group find the answer - there's a wire that leads up through the hole in the plate, up to Shinra Headquarters. When Barret starts going on about it being a "golden shiny wire of hope", I brace myself for more cringe-worthy dialogue, but Cloud cuts him short with "That was a bad analogy, Barret". Wow. The game actually knows it has a poorly translated script! Anyway, the only way from here is up, so I hop on the wire and make my way up to the plate level. Before I know it, the team are standing outside Shinra Headquarters, the enormous building that dominates the centre of Midgar.
Here, the game presents you with two choices - burst in the front door with guns blazing, or sneak in by taking the side-stairs. I decide the scenario lends itself to the most extreme examples of melodrama available, and opt for the former option. The result is a few random battles with Shinra employees and a lengthy lift-journey punctuated with combat. Given the party isn't particularly well-balanced any more, I decide to load most of my Magic Materia onto Tifa and pop her in the back row with Barret while he and Cloud focus on getting the job done with physical attacks. After a bit of a delay, we make it to the 59th Floor. From here on, the building turns into a more traditional JRPG-style dungeon, complete with puzzles that must be solved to progress.
The first of these, encountered on Floor 60, is an example of what I like to dub the Obligatory Stealth Sequence. Japanese developers must love these, because I seem to encounter one in almost every JRPG that I play. Even my most recent foray into the genre, Lost Odyssey, didn't see fit to do away with this abomination of game design. Final Fantasy VII is no exception to this rule, and it follows the JRPG Obligatory Stealth Sequence standards very closely indeed. You have to sneak past guards with pre-defined movement patterns without being seen. If you are seen, then you're thrust into a random battle and forced back to the very start of the sequence. As a rule, I'm not very good at Obligatory Stealth Sequences in JRPGs. Thankfully, Final Fantasy VII seems to know this, because after five failed attempts to make it past the guards, it lets me off and allows me to proceed (you could learn from this, Lost Odyssey!).
Floor 62 offers the second of these puzzles, a search to find a password for the Mayor of Midgar. This little escapade involves visiting the four libraries on the floor, examining the books on the shelves, finding the one that doesn't belong in the library, and making a note of a certain letter in the title hinted by the number of the book. It might sound complicated, but it's not too difficult to suss out and it's actually a pretty good puzzle. I fetch my letters, unscramble them into the word "BOMB" and earn my Keycard from the Mayor which enables me to reach Floor 65. This is where the third and final puzzle comes into play - reconstructing a model of Midgar using parts left scattered around the room. It doesn't sound too difficult, but there's a catch - all the parts are in treasure chests, which are locked, and unlock in sequence when parts are placed in the model. This means that every time you unlock a new chest, you have to check ALL the unopened chests to find out which one is unlocked. Completing the model unlocks a final chest, which contains a keycard for the remaining floors. It's a nice idea for a puzzle, but one that ultimately fails in its execution. Sorry, Square, but I'm only giving you a 1-out-of-three in the puzzles department for this episode.
The next floor, Floor 66, is where the Shinra executives have their board meetings. Conveniently, they're having one right now (in the middle of a terrorist break-in. Nice move). Cloud, Tifa and Barret get up into the air conditioning vents and listen in on what's being said. It transpires that President Shinra expects Aerith to guide them to the Promised Land, where he intends to take advantage of the abundance of Mako energy by constructing a new Midgar (inventively named Neo-Midgar). Enter Professor Hojo, the scientist who's currently running tests on Aerith, to explain the situation to the executives at the table. The team logically conclude that following Hojo might lead them to Aerith, so they tail him onto the 67th floor. Here, Cloud has an uncomfortable run-in with a "creature" named JENOVA. It starts to become apparent that there's more going on here than it seems. There's no time for that, though - Aerith could be in danger! On that note, I head nonchalantly over the nearby Save Point, save my progress, and bring an end to this episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII. I'm sure Aerith will be able to wait another week.
So at the close of Episode Three, my current vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 14), Barret (Lv 13) Tifa (Lv 13)
- Current Location - Floor 67, Shinra Headquarters, Midgar
- Time on the Clock - 5:43
And if extensive journal-style accounts ain't your kinda thang, here's a bullet-point summary:
- You can't give me a balanced party for the first time in three-and-a-half hours of gameplay and then take it away twenty minutes later. Not cool, Square!
- Aerith manages to tend to the wounded at the Sector 7 pillar, pick up Marlene from the Seventh Heaven bar, take her all the way back to her house in Sector 5, get captured by The Turks, AND get brought back to the Sector 7 pillar, all in the time it takes me to climb said pillar. She works pretty fast.
- Contradictory to earlier evidence, Barret is not an ape. Cloud, on the other hand, is almost certainly a robot.
- The translation of the dialogue might be bad, but at least it knows it's bad.
- Obligatory Stealth Sequences in Japanese RPGs need to die. Now.
Thanks very much for joining me for another episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII. In terms of other stuff I've been playing (besides the aforementioned Borderlands, of course), I've been dabbling with Fable II. I initially started playing though it as an evil character, but forcing the evil stuff didn't feel particularly natural for me, so I've started again and elected to take a more neutral moral stance this time around. I've also caved and made a couple of new purchases - namely Just Cause on the 360 to prepare me for the awesome-looking sequel, and the original Banjo-Kazooie on Xbox LIVE Arcade. It's been ages since I last played an old-school platformer, so I'm looking forward to checking that out. With all these games mounting up on my Pile of Shame, and Final Fantasy XIII and Red Dead Redemption just around the corner, I have no idea how I'm going to juggle all these games with my University work and a new job to worry about too. I'm sure I'll find a way to manage, though. Thanks for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)
|<< Episode Two - Flower Girls And Honey Bees||Episode Guide||Episode Four - Escape From Midgar >>|