@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Thanks for getting back to me. I've since replayed the episode a third time, and continue to hit this exact same problem with Sybil failing to appear. I think I'm going to have to turn to YouTube in this case. I just hope I don't end up experiencing similar problems with future episodes when I move on to them.
dankempster's forum posts
@Sparky_Buzzsaw: I've done all the psychoanalysis stuff and gained access to Brady's Home for Former Child Stars. When I got in the duo were hypnotised by Brady, and I had to snap Sam out of his hypnosis by clearing all traces of Brady from the dream-office. Sam regained consciousness in Bosco's store and made it pretty clear that the next course of action is to save his little buddy. Talking to Bosco, he mentions a hypnosis-blocker, but says he wouldn't know how to make one. Pretty much everything I try to interact with makes Sam quip phrases along the lines of "That makes me miss Max". Looking at online guides, I gather the next thing I need to do is get the blueprints for the hypnosis-blocker from Sybil. But Sybil isn't there.
I bought all three series of Sam & Max from GOG.com during their Telltale sale last weekend, and started playing Culture Shock a couple of days ago. I'm really enjoying the game, but I think I may have hit a glitch that has halted my progress. Obligatory spoiler warning, I guess:
I've just roused Sam from his hypnotised state and need to formulate a plan to rescue Max from the clutches of Brady Culture.
After I'd been at a complete loss as to what to do for about an hour, I turned to a couple of online guides which told me I need to speak to Sybil to move the plot along. Problem is, I can't find her anywhere. She's not in her office, and I can't seem to locate her anywhere else in the gameworld. I've even gone as far as to speedily replay the episode in the hope that I might find a way around this problem, but to no avail - she's still nowhere to be seen. Searching the web to find out if this is a common problem has also turned up nothing. I'm completely stumped, and so I've come to the awesome Giant Bomb community in the hope somebody out there might be able to help me. Any ideas, folks?
@Fattony12000: Thanks for your kind words. I was planning on putting out a end-of-series mega-blog when I'm finally done with the game, answering the ultimate question - is this game still worth playing now? - but I suppose I could just as easily do that in a user review. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for your similar endeavour next month.
@Sparky_Buzzsaw: I'm in agreement with you that the Cloud/Tifa/Aerith love triangle is one of the best across all media, largely because it never falls into the all-too-easy trap of "THEY BOTH LIKE ME AND I'M CONFUSED, WHICH ONE DO I CHOOSE??!?!?!?!?!!!?!?!", but instead does something very different, something much more subtle, and something which, as you said, ends up drawing more empathy out of the player. It certainly shits all over that Twilight bollocks.
@ZombiePie: To be honest, I think you're right - I won't be seeing this series to its conclusion before the year is out. Given the impetus behind this blog, I can't really just skip all the masses of side-quest stuff that emerges on the third disc. I think a more realistic expectation is to have it finished up in February or March next year (assuming I can keep up my fortnightly posting schedule, that is).
@Mento: Yep, that's where I am. I'm pretty sure I'll try and cover most of the side-stuff - at the very least I'd like to bring each character to a point where they've got their ultimate weapon and Limit Break, in preparation for those final battles. As tedious as I find the chocobo-breeding stuff, I am quite keen to breed a gold chocobo and pick up some of that super-rare Materia, partly because I haven't done that in quite a few playthroughs. I'm also pretty determined to take on and beat both Ruby and Emerald Weapon, which as you know is something I've never achieved before. As you say though, that's going to mean a lot of grinding for both EXP and AP, which I'm sure won't make for very exciting blogging. Maybe I'll postpone those until this series is over, so I can approach it at my leisure, and then blog about it afterwards in an epilogue-style entry. As for the Black Mages, I am a fan of their stuff, and I'd have to agree with you that it's one of their best pieces. Damn, I really need to try and get hold of that album...
Welcome, one and all, and especially you, to Episode Thirty-Two of Enduring Final Fantasy VII. That's right - much like the original PlayStation I first played this game on some twelve years ago, this blog now has 32 bits. This is the most recent instalment of a long-running, fairly ubiquitous serial blog in which I try to determine whether Final Fantasy VII (one of my all-time favourite video games) has weathered well as the years have passed. How do I determine that? Why, by playing it, of course! And that's what I'm about to do now. Roll title card!
Episode Thirty-Two - An End To Bad Science
At the end of the last episode, I left our crew of competent adventurers after they'd just parachuted back into Midgar to stop a crazed Professor Hojo from destroying the city by overheating the Sister Ray. They've landed just inside the perimeter of Sector 8, and are planning to use the underground to avoid SOLDIER troops and make it to Shinra Headquarters. Cait Sith has located a trap-door leading down into the myriad tunnels beneath Midgar, and as Cloud approaches he throws it open, ushering the party into the bowels of the city. As he does so, a familiar piece of music begins to play:
I closed the last episode with some brief thoughts about how the return to Midgar at the end of the second disc effectively brings the whole game full circle. The recycling of 'Bombing Mission' as the team begin their descent into the Midgar underground is a very welcome nod to this cyclic progression of the narrative. The last time we heard this music over forty hours ago, Cloud was bound for the Sector 1 Mako Reactor on a terrorist mission with AVALANCHE. This time it signifies a similar journey through the city's industrial workings, but with a view to saving the city from almost certain destruction. I really like the parallels between these two different points of the game's story, and the incorporation of 'Bombing Mission' into this second visit to Midgar only serves to increase that appreciation.
The Midgar underground only amounts to a few screens' worth of navigation, but its maze-like layout and a handful of scattered treasure chests serve to turn it into something of a mini-dungeon. I've rambled on at length in other episodes about how Final Fantasy VII uses unconventional settings to make traditional JRPG tropes feel fresh, so I'll just say that this is another fine example of this and leave it at that. I take my time moving through the underground, engaging in a few random encounters and picking up all the goodies along the way (among which is an awesome new weapon for Barret, making my primary fighter even more powerful). The enemies that litter the underground don't pose any real threat, with the exception of the irksome Crazy Saws - these robots have the ability to inflict Confuse on my party members, turning them on each other. Given the amount of damage I'm now causing, Confusion could be potentially disastrous, and in one battle my party very nearly wipes itself out. Without an appropriate accessory to remedy the situation, all I can do is prioritise my attacks towards them and hope for the best.
The party emerges from the underground into what seems to be a disused portion of Midgar's rail system. Here they encounter three familiar faces in the form of Turks Reno, Rude and Elena. Even with the Shinra Electric Power Company in turmoil and Midgar on the brink of disaster, they've been sent after Cloud and co. to stop them before they can reach the cannon. The party are given the option to talk their way out of this fight, an option that, given the progression of the relationship between the party and the Turks, might be a more fitting way to conclude their story arc. On the other hand, I find it very hard to say no to more EXP and Gil...
This incarnation of the Turks is without a doubt the strongest yet. Even with Cid casting a protective Wall spell on his first turn, the collective battering from Reno, Rude and Elena deals quite a bit of damage. While Cid continues to set up the party's defences with Regen and Haste, Barret launches his usual physical offensive (bolstered by the '2xCut' Materia, which allows him to attack twice per turn) and Cloud attacks with sweeping Summon spells like Alexander and the recently-acquired Bahamut ZERO. In this fashion, it doesn't take long for my party to turn the tide of battle and put paid to the Turks one last time. As is customary for them, they turn tail and run from the battle, leaving Cloud's party free passage into Midgar.
Before heading for the Sister Ray, I take advantage of the opportunity to pay a return visit to Shinra Headquarters. After Diamond Weapon's attack it's impossible to go any higher than the 65th floor, and there's nothing to do besides picking up a few items, but boy, do those items make the trip worth it. Cait Sith's ultimate weapon, the HP Shout, is tucked away in a locker on floor 64, and a powerful new weapon for Tifa, the Master Fist, sits in a treasure chest in the gift shop just off the lobby. There are also new weapons for Barret and Cid, albeit inferior to what I have now (especially after stumbling upon the Max Ray in the underground only recently.
Considering it's such a short detour I'm surprised I manage to get annoyed about two things during my time back in the Shinra building. The first is the handful of random battles I encounter while I'm exploring, which are against the same enemies I fought on my first visit. The problem here is, I'm a full fifty levels higher than I was then, and as a result these fights serve as nothing more than an annoyance. It would have been preferable if the developers had either thrown some tougher enemies at me, or simply switched off the fights altogether this time around. The second annoying thing I encounter is a pair of translation issues, directly tied to the aforementioned items I've picked up. When retrieving the new weapons for Barret and Cid in the field, they're named 'Pile Bunker' and 'Glow Lance' respectively. Opening the inventory, though, I discover they're now dubbed 'Pile Banger' and 'Grow Lance'. It's a small thing to get worked up about, and I can't really explain why it irritates me so much, but it does, and serves to reaffirm just how much I'd love to see this game get a new translation.
When I've finished taking care of business at Shinra HQ, it's time to double-back on myself and head for the Sister Ray. As the party emerges from the rail network, they're greeted by yet another unwanted welcoming committee - this time in the form of Heidegger and Scarlet, both riding in an anti-Weapon artillery unit called the Proud Clod. They're planning to finish what the Turks couldn't, and end Cloud's meddlesome crew once and for all. This cues the second boss battle of our return to Midgar, and one of the most difficult encounters I've faced in a long time. Proud Clod is every inch the tank he appears, boasting an enormous amount of HP. On top of this he can cast Reflect on the party, an inconvenience that can result in some very frustrating moments where healing spells bounce off weakened characters and restore some of the Proud Clod's plentiful HP reserves. DeBarrier proves to be my best friend here, although it does mean my usual defensive strategy of regularly casting Wall isn't quite as reliable as it usually is. It takes a lot of gradual whittling, but eventually the Proud Clod falls, destroyed in a brilliant explosion that presumably takes Heidegger and Scarlet with it. My reward is the Ragnarok, a slight improvement over Cloud's current sword which I equip immediately.
With every obstacle removed, all that remains now is to ascend the makeshift scaffold of the Sister Ray in pursuit of Hojo. Halfway up to the control platform I open a treasure chest containing the 'Missing Score' - Barret's ultimate weapon. I promptly do the only sensible thing I can do - tuck it away in my inventory and forget about it. Call me crazy, but I've never seen much point in Final Fantasy VII's ultimate weapons. Yes, they're incredibly powerful. Yes, they have eight Materia slots, all paired up to encourage experimentation with different combinations of Materia. The problem lies in their putting a total block on the growth of any attached Materia. I'm not a huge grinder in RPGs, but I do casually appreciate the pursuit of better stuff through levelling up, and having an ultimate weapon equipped in Final Fantasy VII effectively kills that chase. I guess eventually, when the player reaches a point where they've mastered all the Materia, the ultimate weapons can be used without any detrimental effect, but I've never played obsessively enough to be in that position, and if I did, I probably wouldn't need the ultimate weapons anyway. Final Fantasy X did something similar with its celestial weapons, but at least their full potential could be 'unlocked', removing their 'No AP' clause. As things stand in Final Fantasy VII, I've only ever switched to ultimate weapons for the final boss battles, when earning AP to grow Materia simply ceases to matter.
Still favouring the Max Ray, and having switched Cid over to the Glow/Grow Lance (I decide its additional Materia slots will make up for the lower attack power), I approach Hojo as he mashes violently at the Sister Ray's control panel. He's initially disinterested by the team's arrival, but soon begins expressing his frustration at having evaluated Cloud as a failure when he was, ultimately, the most successful attempt to recreate Sephiroth. It's at this point that Hojo spells out something only hinted at previously - that he is Sephiroth's biological father. Hojo volunteered his unborn son as a candidate for Professor Gast's Jenova Project, for which the infant Sephiroth was injected with Jenova cells while still in the womb. Seeing all this revealed once again draws my attention to the sheer complexity of the interpersonal relationships that serve to hold up Final Fantasy VII's story. The connections between characters, both playable and non-playable, are interwoven in such a way that the resulting web is nothing less than impressive. It lends the narrative the feeling that every character's fate is intrinsically linked to that of the others, and serves to make the gameworld feel more alive, more believable, and more interesting to spend time in.
With the Sister Ray almost ready to fire again, Hojo turns toward the party and tells them he has also injected himself with Jenova's cells. Cackling maniacally, the Professor begins to transform...
Hojo is an example of one of my least favourite JRPG tropes in action - namely, the multi-tiered boss. Hojo has three different incarnations in this battle, each one progressively more deformed and deadly than the last. Presumably the intended effect is to lend the conflict a sense of gravitas by making it lengthier and seemingly more epic, forcing the player to change their tactics on the fly to accommodate each new incarnation's attack patterns, and construct an air of uncertainty as to just how much fight the incredibly strong opponent has left in it. Personally, I've almost always come away from multi-phase boss fights feeling like they're an unnecessarily long and pretty cheap way of trying to make fights more interesting - I think things like facing multiple enemies who co-operate with each other, or a single enemy with the ability to change its strengths and weaknesses at will, fit the bill much more effectively. I remember the first time I played through Final Fantasy VII some twelve years ago, I'd never before encountered the phenomenon of the multi-tiered boss battle. I wasn't prepared to face more than one version of this deranged scientist, and dumped all of my most powerful abilities onto him right from the off. By the time the third, most deadly incarnation rolled around I'd exhausted all my summons and MP and ended up watching my severely debilitated party succumb to a barrage of status effects. That, too, may have gone some way towards shaping my opinion of this trope.
The first phase of this fight, simply dubbed 'Hojo', doesn't pose much of a threat. I get Cid to cast Haste on the whole party and lay into Hojo with a swift barrage of physical attacks. It only takes a few turns to cause the second form - 'Helletic Hojo' to emerge. Cid throws up a party-wide Barrier spell and heals as necessary while Cloud and Barret chip away at the monster's HP. This conservative approach to the first two phases ensures that when the third form - 'Lifeform Hojo' - arrives on the scene, I can launch an all-out offensive with my most powerful spells and summons. Cloud calls on Alexander, whose Holy-elemental Judgement, combined with an equipped Magic Plus Materia, encroaches on the range of the 9999 damage limit. Barret's 2xCut ability ensures a comfortable 4000 damage per round. Cid's role becomes a completely supportive one, healing any damage dealt and casting Esuna to counter the boss's constant infliction of negative status effects. The whole battle takes around eight minutes (longer than I'd expected it to), and when it reaches its conclusion, Hojo is no more.
I mentioned this briefly in the comments below the previous episode, but I feel the need to reiterate here that this whole 'return to Midgar' part of the game leaves me feeling a little underwhelmed. Given how much time the player spends in this city in the game's opening hours, it would have been great to see this return be a little more substantial. As things stand, it ends up being little more than a quick bombing run through a series of boss battles, and that's what underwhelms me about it. Midgar is a huge place, but over the course of the game we only see a handful of locations within it. The amount of untapped potential makes the brevity of the party's return even more disappointing. I realise it's possible to get back into Midgar on disc three, but it's a convoluted and completely optional process with (as far as I can recall) very limited pay-off story-wise. I guess there just seemed to be so much potential to do something more interesting with the team's return, but a lot of that potential was squandered.
With Shinra in tatters and Hojo defeated, the party return to the Highwind to re-assess their gameplan. Cloud instructs everybody to leave, return home, think about why they're fighting, and come back to the airship only if their reasons are good enough. That leaves just Cloud and Tifa behind - two former residents of Nibelheim who have no home to return to and nobody to fight for but themselves and each other. The pair spend the night together under the stars, in a scene which I've always considered to be one of Final Fantasy VII's most understated brilliant moments. Returning to the subject of the game's interpersonal relationships, I've long been fascinated by the 'love triangle' between Cloud, Tifa and Aerith. What follows is my own personal interpretation of that triangle, and an attempt to explain why it's captivated me through several playthroughs:
The next morning Cloud and Tifa return to the deck of the Highwind and are discussing their plans to assault the North Crater when the airship unexpectedly roars to life. The pair rush to the cockpit, where they find the entire party has returned. One by one they each reaffirm their commitment to the cause, encouraging Cloud to set a course for their final destination. As the fully-laden Highwind approaches Sephiroth's subterranean lair, Cid starts to lose control of the airship. Looks like the crew are in for a pretty bumpy landing...
It's here that disc two of Final Fantasy VII comes to an end. I take the opportunity to save my game and switch to the third and final disc before turning off my PSP.
So at the close of Episode Thirty-Two, my vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 65), Cid (Lv 66), Barret (Lv 62)
- Current Location - Highwind
- Time on the Clock - 44:36
The Story So Far...
This is a very long blog. It's almost certainly the longest episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII I've done to date. To tell the truth I did think about cutting it off before the Hojo fight, but it felt like it made sense to carry on right through to the end of the second disc. From here on out I have a choice to make - do I postpone the end-game in order to dick around some more with the game's myriad side-quests and distractions, or do I simply press on into the North Crater and bring this seemingly interminable series to its grand finale as soon as possible? The first is more in line with my original plan for this series, but after Giant Bomb moderator ZombiePie wagered that I couldn't possibly finish the game before the end of the year, the second has become very tempting indeed. Be sure to tune in to the next episode in a fortnight's time to find out what I'll have chosen to do. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)
I'll add my voice to the crowd and say you should definitely check out Red Dead Redemption. It's a brilliant adventure that addresses a lot of the problems you quote yourself having with the PS2-era GTA games - vastly improved gunplay, a beautifully detailed world to explore, and a story that will knock your socks off. It's also reasonably cheap to pick up at this point, so you have little to lose in checking it out.
I'm looking forward to this, definitely. I played through the original Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing earlier this year, and it's a surprisingly great kart racer. It did seem a lot like a 'foundations' game, though - a solid base on which I hope future instalments will iterate. If Transformed can pull that off, and the shape-shifting vehicle stuff doesn't turn out to be too gimmicky, then I'm sure I'll get just as much enjoyment out of it as I did with its predecessor, if not more.
Oh boy. I knew I'd be making my return to blogging at greater length about individual games at some point, but I never would have guessed this would be the game to make me do it. Around this time last year I was bemoaning how Forza Motorsport 3 had all but destroyed my enjoyment of the racing genre, proclaiming that it would be a very long time before I could invest myself in another driving game. And up until a couple of weeks ago I still believed that. Earlier this year I attempted stints with Gran Turismo 3 and ToCA Race Driver 3 on my PlayStation 2, neither of which I managed to stand for more than a few races before my racing game fatigue re-emerged and I was forced to retire them back to my gaming garage.
And yet here I am, dedicating an entire blog entry to a driving game whose career mode I raced through in the space of a week. What the hell happened?
DiRT. DiRT happened.
At this point I can't remember what inspired me to pick up Colin McRae: DiRT (to use the full title of its UK release) when I popped it into my Xbox 360 a couple of weeks ago. I'd just finished a tenth anniversary run-through of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and was on the look-out for something to replace it as my go-to console game, but I really don't know what possessed me to choose DiRT. As if my aforementioned 'racer fatigue' shouldn't have been enough to dissuade me, the game had also left a pretty negative first impression when I initially checked it out not long after purchasing it last summer. Trying to pick it up right off the back of several lengthy Forza sessions, I was put off by the comparatively loose handling, tier-based career structure and dearth of options. Why would I be interested in playing a game with less than fifty cars when Forza boasted a figure closer to five-hundred? In every respect, DiRT was a non-starter for me.
When I booted DiRT back up a fortnight ago, I was fully expecting to dislike it. And initially that same disappointment from last year began to surface. Chugging round Knockhill in a Renault Clio isn't fun, no matter how enthusiastic the game's announcer sounds about it. But once I broke through the tedium of the first few events, unlocked some cars that were actually enjoyable to drive, and started throwing my vehicles round the courses a little more assertively, I began to have a lot more fun with it. By the time I reached the top tier of DiRT's career mode, I was completely converted and reluctant to let the experience end. Even now I find myself switching the game back on at least once a day, eager to race the Suzuki Escudo to the top of Pike's Peak, or wrestle aggressively to the front of a pack of dune buggies in a CORR event. Right now my career completion percentage stands at 80%, but I wouldn't be surprised if that rounds out to the full 100% before the year is out.
So what exactly is it about DiRT that's seen it achieve what neither Forza nor Gran Turismo could? If I'm honest, I think it's a combination of its entire feature-set - the same feature-set that put me off the game just over a year ago. The smaller overall scope of the game makes it feel like a less daunting proposition to pursue that coveted 100%, but within that narrower focus there's a great deal of variety to the events themselves - traditional rally is far enough removed from, say, CORR, to keep the whole experience feeling fresh. The fast, loose driving model makes driving the zippier cars feel exciting and precarious, but it's also forgiving enough to encourage players to take risks without having to worry too much about potentially disastrous consequences. While it's got a wealth of tuning options for petrol-heads, more casual gamers like myself can ignore all that stuff and still do respectably well on the higher difficulties - I went through most of the game on Pro-Am without ever tweaking anything. Pretty much the only thing I dislike about DiRT are the Crossover events, which feel like they're governed by cheap rubber-banding AI. Take those out of the equation, and it's a game that I'd find incredibly hard to fault.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about why a game I'd previously had no interest in has managed to completely subvert my expectations of it, and the best I can come up with is this. A lot has changed since last summer, and I'm certainly not the same person I was then. I have a lot of commitments that demand huge chunks of my time - my job and the obscene amount of overtime it's thrust upon me recently, playing drums for a new band, and playing and practising darts, just to name a handful. I don't have the time or the energy to invest in a simulation racer with the size and scope of Forza or Gran Turismo any more. I have no desire to dip my toes into another car collect-a-thon, spending scores of hours earning credits and working my way through an interminable list of events. When I've finished doing everything that needs to be done, I just want to sit down, pick up a controller and throw a virtual car around a virtual track, with no additional commitments. DiRT satisfied that need perfectly.
So now that I've finished with DiRT, what's next? While I don't think I'll be playing any other racers for at least a few months, I've got a title waiting in the wings in the form of Race Driver: GRID. Also developed by Codemasters, GRID falls under the same umbrella as DiRT, so I'm hoping it will provide a similarly smooth, enjoyable racing experience. I'm also keeping a tentative eye on Forza Horizon, the new release under the Forza banner that seeks to marry the series' reputation with the open-world model pioneered by Burnout Paradise. Again, it's not something I'm planning to play immediately, but it's intrigued me enough to think about buying it once it drops below £20 or so. Right now, I'll be diverting my attention back to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance - I'm now around halfway through the core story missions, with thirty-five hours on the clock and sixty-or-so missions completed in total. I've also been craving a first-person shooter of late, and am in the process of narrowing down my options on that front before picking one to play. And of course, there'll still be the odd intermittent racing session with DiRT.
Before I sign off this blog, I'd like to draw your attention to something I'll be doing in a few weeks' time. Regular readers of this site are no doubt aware of Extra Life, a charity event which encourages gamers to play for twenty-four hours non-stop to help raise money for childrens' hospitals. Unfortunately I didn't catch wind of the event until just a few days before, and so I wasn't able to take part. The idea has stuck with me, though, and I've spent the last couple of weeks putting together a little charity event of my own. On Friday November 23rd, I'll be running my own one-man twenty-four-hour gaming marathon to raise money in aid of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. Some of the finer details (like which games I'll be playing, and how I'll be broadcasting the event) are yet to be finalised, but you can read about the marathon (and if you're feeling really generous, slip me a small donation) on my JustGiving page. Wish me luck, Giant Bomb - I have a feeling I'm going to need it. As always, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GBA)
@Mento: I am not looking forward to the Hojo boss battles at all. Final Fantasy VII definitely falls victim to the JRPG trope of multi-stage bosses, what with the upcoming fight against Hojo and the final boss battles against Sephiroth. I'm not sure if the fights against Jenova would count, too - they're individual battles spaced out throughout the game, but there's also a clear sense of progression from one incarnation to the next which echoes classic multi-stage bosses. I've never been a huge fan of such fights, and recent encounters with extreme examples of the trope in titles like Persona 3 haven't helped, so don't expect me to heap praise on them in the coming episodes. As for the North Crater, it'll be a little while before I jump in - I'm planning to polish off as many side-quests as possible right at the start of disc 3 - but I am looking forward to it. It's definitely my favourite 'final dungeon' from any Final Fantasy that I've seen through to the end, although I am a big fan of Memoria in Final Fantasy IX too.
@Sparky_Buzzsaw: I agree with you that the return to Midgar feels under-cooked, at least in terms of what it could have been. I was hoping for something that would last a decent amount of time, something that would at least partially mirror the game's opening hours to bring the whole thing full-circle. Unfortunately all it ends up being is a rush on Hojo, and then it's straight back to business with the North Crater. I'm pretty sure it is possible to revisit key areas of Midgar on disc 3, but it's a rather convoluted process - if I remember right, you have to dig up a key at the Bone Village which will grant you access to the slums, so you can visit Wall Market and Aerith's church. I can't remember if anything significant comes of doing so, mind - it's been a long time since I last saw that part of the game.
Welcome, lads and ladettes, to the thirty-first episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII. If you're new to this series, then welcome. You're a little late, but I'll fill you in anyway. Enduring Final Fantasy VII is an episodic blog that chronicles my current playthrough of Final Fantasy VII, one of my most beloved games, through the critical eye of a more mature gamer in 2012. Nostalgic and cynical in equal measure, it's my aim to find out if my favourite JRPG has stood the test of time as a gaming experience, or if it would best be lost to the winds of time and forgotten about - has it endured, or is it something that must be endured? Hopefully each episode brings us one step closer towards answering that ultimate question. Speaking of which, let's get this one underway, shall we?
Episode Thirty-One - Weapon On Weapon
Loading up the save I made at the end of the last episode puts me just outside the City of the Ancients, next to my improbably-landed Highwind. As I try to re-board the airship, Cloud is halted by the tremors of a distant earthquake. The camera cuts away to the source of the commotion - a Weapon has risen out of the ocean, and has started to approach Midgar. Word of the slumbering creature's awakening reaches the crew of the Highwind by way of Cait Sith, who seems to have suddenly and inexplicably begun affecting a more colloquial accent (something I'm willing to forgive as yet another example of this game's lacklustre translation). Barret is concerned for Marlene's safety, but the now seemingly Cockney cat-puppet reassures him that his adoptive daughter is just fine. It doesn't take long for Cloud to decide that they need to intercept it before it can reach the city. Back in control of Cid's trusty airship, I head for the coastline just north of Midgar and await the approach of Diamond Weapon.
Diamond Weapon certainly isn't a slouch in the combat department, providing me with one of the game's greatest challenges since I made my ill-advised early trip to the crashed Gelnika back in Episode Twenty-Seven. It hits hard and fast, a dangerous combination even so late in the game. My tactical choice to overcome this is to have Cid, my resident buffer, cast Haste and Wall on the entire party with his first two turns. These two spells ensure I can keep up with Diamond Weapon's barrage of attacks, and that those attacks do significantly less damage. From there it's a fairly simple case of balancing attack and defence, launching a full-scale onslaught with my strongest spells and summons while ensuring that my health doesn't drop too low. This war of attrition eventually ends in my favour, with the weakened Weapon turning its back on me and continuing its march towards Midgar.
Back at Shinra Headquarters, President Rufus gives the order to fire the 'Sister Ray'. With the power of all the city's Mako reactors behind it, the super-cannon fires a hyper-charged beam, on a collision course with both the advancing Weapon and the barrier around the North Crater. The beam slices through Diamond Weapon like a hot knife through butter, but not before the creature unleashes a volley of its own impressive weaponry. As the Sister Ray's inaugural shot pierces Sephiroth's protective barrier at the Crater, Diamond Weapon's attack reaches Midgar, reducing Rufus Shinra's office to ashes.
After the dust settles, the team decide to head for the North Crater to see if the Sister Ray has done anything to Sephiroth. Even Barret, who's apparently ignorant of the fact that the city where Marlene is holed up has just been bombed by a natural defensive super-weapon, is willing to forgo confirmation of her safety in favour of gallivanting back to Sephiroth's hiding place. Honestly, I wish there was some consistency in Barret's concern for Marlene at this late stage in the game. Their relationship is handled pretty spectacularly from the game's opening right through to the confrontation with Dyne at Corel Prison, but after that the subplot seems to fade into irrelevance, and never gets treated with any sense of importance again. The fact he yo-yos so rapidly from concern to indifference in this short sequence just makes the whole thing feel sort of half-baked. Flying the Highwind to a position hovering over the now-exposed crater confirms what the group thought - Sephiroth's energy barrier has been destroyed. The crew are just about to touch down inside the crater and pay their long-term nemesis another visit when Cait Sith (who's returned to speaking the Queen's English) halts proceedings with some very bad news.
Once again the action cuts back to Shinra HQ, where a conversation unfolds between Reeve, Heidegger and Scarlett. Apparently the Sister Ray is still drawing power from Midgar's Mako reactors - a dangerous occurrence, given the weapon is supposed to go through a three-hour cooldown time. On top of that, control of the cannon has been locked to the mainframe, meaning that nobody can gain access to shut it down. Taking on a commanding role in Rufus' absence, Reeve discovers that the culprit is none other than Professor Hojo. The lunatic scientist seems hell-bent on feeding Sephiroth with an enormous dose of Mako energy from the Sister Ray, presumably in the belief that Sephiroth's aspirations to become a god will be realised.
Something worth noting is that this short sequence, without ever explicitly saying it outright, reveals to the player the true identity of Cait Sith's operator as Reeve. It's a strictly implicit reveal, cutting away from Cait Sith on the Highwind to a scene in which Reeve serves as the central character, and making the point through the transference of knowledge between the two characters. It's another perfect example of how Final Fantasy VII doesn't feel the need to constantly force its lore and backstories down the player's throat, instead leaving them to pick up on the clues and inferences hidden effortlessly within the primary plot-line's grand scope. Or at least, it would be if the whole scene wasn't then undermined by Barret clumsily letting the Mog-riding cat out of the bag back on board the Highwind. Honestly, Final Fantasy VII, you were so close to pulling that one off...
Anyway, Cait Sith tells Cloud and co. that any attempt to cut the power to the Sister Ray would result in a catastrophic explosion that would most likely destroy Midgar. Therefore, the only way to stop the threat is to eliminate Hojo himself. Getting to him isn't going to be easy, though - Heidegger and Scarlett don't take too kindly to what they see as a mutiny on Reeve's part, and have him held under arrest while they prepare a special surprise for our band of adventurers in the form of a 'new weapon'. The threat posed by Heidegger and Scarlett isn't enough to dissuade Cloud, though, who tells the Highwind's pilot to plot a course for Midgar immediately.
As the airship passes over Midgar, Cloud devises a novel way of getting into the city without having to get through the Shinra defences - by parachuting in from above. The party follows their leader up to the Highwind's deck, and as they cross the screen in a single-file line, it's brought to my attention for the first time that every single one of these characters has a unique running animation. Red XIII is understandably unique in being four-legged, but even the bipedal party members have noticeably different gaits - Cid leans slightly backwards, while Vincent Valentine runs hunched forward in a manner befitting his vampiric appearance and the muscular Barret is led by his enormous shoulders. That level of attention to detail, to animate every single playable character in a unique way, must have been unprecedented in 1997. Even now in 2012, I'm left rather stunned by this revelation.
The feeling of being impressed carries over into the ensuing cut-scene, in which all eight party members leap from the Highwind's deck and descend upon Midgar from above. Thematically it's a nice call-back to the game's opening cut-scene, providing a similar sense of Midgar's enormous scale and adding to the feel that the whole journey has come more or less full-circle. The fact that Cloud can be manipulated into doing flips on his descent is also a nice nod to the game's emphasis on interactivity over passive viewing, but I'm not sure it's tonally appropriate. To be fair, this entire episode has been responsible for some pretty great FMV moments - the CGI render of Diamond Weapon was spectacularly detailed, as was the powering up and firing of the Sister Ray. I've said it a lot through this series, but I maintain that character models aside, Final Fantasy VII doesn't look bad at all, and I think these scenes serve as perfect proof of that.
The party land deep in the heart of Midgar's Sector 8. With Shinra guards crawling all over the place, there's only one safe way to reach the central structure where Hojo is - through the underground network. Caith Sith leads the party to an entrance to the underground, which is conveniently placed right next to a save point. I decide that this is as good a time as any to wrap up proceedings, so I save my game and turn off my PSP, bringing this episode of Enduring Final Fantasy VII to an end.
So at the close of Episode Thirty-One, my vital statistics are:
- Current Party - Cloud (Lv 62), Cid (Lv 63), Barret (Lv 59)
- Current Location - Sector 8, Midgar
- Time on the Clock - 42:50
The Story So Far...
Looking for the next episode? You can find Episode Thirty-Two - An End To Bad Science here.
Another entry done and dusted. For anybody who's been keeping count (probably just me), the posting of this episode means Enduring Final Fantasy VII has officially overtaken A Month in Skyrim as my longest-running serial blog. And we've still got quite a way to go before our time with Cloud and company comes to an end. The next episode should cover the remainder of the party's return to Midgar and see us through to the end of disc two, so keep your eyes peeled for that in a couple of weeks' time. Until then, thanks for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)