By dankempster 12 Comments
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Hey guys, and welcome back to the second instalment of my serial blog chronicling my playthrough of Final Fantasy VII through the objective eyes of a modern gamer. You probably all know the story by now. If you don't, then I recommend you check out the previous entries listed under the 'The Story So Far...' section near the end of this blog to get up to speed. As for the rest of you, let's cut these formalities and get straight to the heart of the matter, shall we?
Episode Two - Flower Girls And Honey Bees
I boot up my save from the last episode and find myself just inside the entrance to the Sector 5 Mako Reactor. I get my bearings and run out of the reactor, only to find myself faced with an ambush. The President of the Shinra Electric Power Company puts in a brief appearance, presumably to remind me of the game's tone with a barrage of clichéd dialogue, before leaving me to 'play' with a robo-soldier. The battle against Air Buster doesn't differ too much from the game's first boss battle, the Guard Scorpion - I'm still relying on Bolt magic and praying for Limit Breaks to secure a swift victory. The fight is pretty short and climaxes with the giant robot exploding, taking part of the bridge it's on with it and leaving protagonist Cloud hanging over a pretty sizeable drop from a piece of jagged metal. After some parting words, Cloud loses his grip and plummets into the Sector 5 slums below.
This segment of the game perfectly illustrates how NOT to do dialogue trees. Just before Cloud falls to his doom, you're actually given a choice of responses! I remember when I first played the game as a ten-year-old, suddenly thinking, "Shit, if I make the wrong choice here, he could die." I chose to 'be strong', mainly because it seemed like a more sensible choice than 'I don't think I can hold on much longer', only to watch Cloud fall and the screen fade to black. At that point, I actually turned off the console thinking I'd made the wrong choice. Of course, when I came back later and chose the other option, the same thing happened, and I felt rather foolish. In retrospect, I shouldn't have felt foolish at all. It just amounts to pretty poor game design. It's a shame, because so far Final Fantasy VII has handled dialogue trees pretty well, in a way that almost pre-empts choice-heavy games like Mass Effect. So, a note to all developers - dialogue trees with no immediate consequences placed just before a near-death event are a big no-no. That is all.
Cloud wakes up after falling through the roof of a church in the Sector 5 slums. It's here that we meet flower girl Aerith Gainsborough properly. Oddly enough, she's the first character I've encountered that I actually find likeable. The 'promise' scene aside, I've been feeling pretty indifferent to both Cloud and Tifa, and the less said about the characterisation of Barret the better, but Aerith is handled pretty well in this introductory scene. Her script is a little plain and naive, but I think it makes her a more endearing character as a result. She's not trying to be tough, or hide anything. She's just unapologetically 'Aerith'. After renaming her from the mis-translated 'Aeris' to the now-canonical 'Aerith' (yes, I am that pedantic), the pair are interrupted by Reno of The Turks, and a barrel-pushing mini-game ensues as they try to escape. It dawns on me that this might be one of Final Fantasy VII's strengths in the gameplay department - the wandering and combat is broken up with plenty of simple mini-games like this one. This means that it's very rare to find yourself simply running from A to B with a few random encounters on the way. It may not be of huge significance, but it certainly stops things from getting too monotonous at this early stage - something that a game as long as Final Fantasy VII will probably benefit from in the long run.
Cloud and Aerith get safely out of the church, and Cloud agrees to escort her home. The journey to Aerith's house takes me through the Sector 5 slums, so I take the opportunity to do a little shopping and buy some new armour, as well as a few healing items. The events that unfold upon arriving at Aerith's house are some of the best-scripted of the game so far. The way Aerith learns about Tifa, offers to take Cloud to Sector 7, and tells her mother about her plans, is very down-to-earth and believable when compared to... well, pretty much anything that happened in Episode One. Aerith's mother asks Cloud to leave without Aerith, but when Cloud sneaks out of the house in the early hours of the morning, she's one step ahead of him. She guides him to a park in Sector 6 which is next to the gate leading to Sector 7. The two sit down and engage in a heart-to-heart, but they're cut short by the appearance of Tifa on a chocobo-drawn carriage. I stop. I blink. I rub my eyes. I blink again. The carriage is still there. My mind is boggled. This is Final Fantasy VII! A game that popularised the cyberpunk setting with its motorcycles and its jet-propelled airships. Why the Hell is there a chocobo-drawn carriage in the slums?! I try to subdue my disbelief and follow the... abomination into Wall Market.
I initially delayed my adventures in Wall Market, to allow any nostalgic whims to subside. For those of you not familiar with 'the Wall Market scenario', allow me to explain - Cloud finds out that Tifa is headed for the mansion of Don Corneo, a dilettante with a raging libido who's looking for a bride. There's a catch, though - only women can get into the Don's mansion. Aerith decides that the best way to get around this is for Cloud to dress up as a girl. The next half-an-hour or so of gameplay revolves around collecting all the necessary items in order to make Cloud a convincing woman. My first time through, I found this portion of the game to be absolutely hilarious. I wanted to shake off those preconceptions and experience it with objective eyes. After a pause and a little bit of grinding-for-Gil so I could afford some of the new weapons on offer, I ventured back into Wall Market.
While performing all the necessary tasks and obtaining all the things I needed to become 'Miss Cloud', I came to the conclusion that the Wall Market scenario is still pretty memorable as far as moments in games go. It plays out a bit like a point-n-click adventure, requiring you to pick up certain items and exchange them for others (for instance, a Pharmacy Coupon can be redeemed for some Medicine, which in turn can be swapped for some Cologne). The dialogues between the characters that Cloud involves in his 'predicament' are genuinely funny at times, with scenes like the squat competition in the gym and the 'encounter' with Mukki in the Honey Bee Inn actually making me laugh out loud still. On the other hand, though, this scenario has a lot to answer for - it's arguably the pivotal moment in gaming that gave the green light for all other JRPGs to force androgyny upon us. A lot of the laughs also stem from the game's stereotypical portrayal of transvestitism and homosexuality, which in 2010 makes those laughs feel a little more uncomfortable than they were back in 1997. All in all, though, I think the Wall Market scenario still holds up, and I think it's still funny.
While I'm having some degree of success in suppressing my nostalgia, suppressing my memory is much more difficult and I end up remembering everything I need to do to ensure Cloud gets picked by the Don. The conversation that ensues still cracks me up, as Cloud reveals himself to be a man and he, Tifa and Aerith manage to squeeze information out of Don Corneo by threatening to damage his crown jewels. He reveals that Shinra are planning to destroy the support column holding up Sector 7's plate. The falling plate will crush the slums below and wipe out AVALANCHE. Before they can leave, Cloud and the girls are sent tumbling into the sewers when the Don activates a trap door, and they have to face off against the alligator-like boss Aps. This is the first situation where the game's combat system really starts to feel like it's coming into its own. With Cloud's physical prowess, Tifa's speed and Aerith's magic abilities, I finally feel like I'm in command of a fairly balanced party. Cloud attacks, Tifa assaults with Fire magic and Limit Breaks and Aerith heals, and in no time at all Aps bites the dust. The team make their way through the sewer system and climb up and out into Sector 7's Train Graveyard. Conveniently, there's a Save Point here, so I decide to make use of it and wrap up this episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII.
So at the close of Episode Two, my current vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 12), Tifa (Lv 10), Aerith (Lv 9)
- Current Location - Train Graveyard, Sector 7, Midgar
- Time on the Clock - 3:40
And for those of you who scanned the wall of text above and thought 'TL;DR', here's a bullet-point summary:
- Putting a dialogue tree immediately before trying to convince us that a character has died is NOT an example of good game design.
- Aerith is pretty much the only character I can empathise with right now, largely thanks to the down-to-earth nature of her dialogue. She seems genuine, unlike Cloud, Barret and Tifa with their clichéd scripts.
- The Wall Market scenario is still funny. Not as funny as you might remember it being, but it's still funny.
- While I still feel fairly limited in terms of combat possibilities (not a great thing almost four hours in), it's at least starting to feel like battling is becoming more strategic. With an out-and-out fighter, a speedy brawler and a dedicated healer, I feel like I can approach battles in a more methodical way than simply mashing the Circle button now.
- Seriously, a chocobo-drawn carriage in the slums?! How would you even keep a chocobo in the slums?! Even flowers struggle to grow there, so how the Hell would you go about cultivating Gysahl Greens?!
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out SamStrife's serial blog in a similar vein, 'Enduring Final Fantasy IX'. Latest episode - 1a: Once Upon A Time... and 1b: I Want To Be Your Canary.
Thanks very much for taking the time to read this episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII. I expect the next episode to appear in roughly a week's time, given that I'm not exclusively playing Final Fantasy VII right now. I'm still playing Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, but I'm trying to do so fairly sparingly. It's starting to feel rather repetitive in its challenges, which is a shame because I love the game's core components. With a current amassed total of 65 Jiggies, I think I'm going to keep playing until I can take on Gruntilda, take a break from it for a while, and then return to it later in the year to polish off some more challenges and check out the DLC. I've recently decided to do a similar thing with Viva Pinata after starting to feel burned out on that as well. Those of you reading this in blog format rather than as a forum post might be able to guess from my profile background that I'm about to start playing Borderlands, too, after my girlfriend bought it for me last week. As a final thought, I've also found myself feeling the urge to leap into a Fable game over the last week or so. As a result, I think that once I'm ready to put Nuts & Bolts back on the shelf, I'll pick up my copy of Fable: The Lost Chapters and try to get into that. Once again, thanks for reading. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)
|<< Episode One - Initial Reactors... I Mean, Reactions||Episode Guide||Episode Three - The Valiant Rescue Effort >>|