Read From Memory: FFVII pt. 13

Last time in FFVII we got to North Corel, a run down mining town. It’s in rough shape thanks to Barret, for reasons we don’t know. We’re heading to the famous Gold Saucer next.

Exploring Beautiful North Corel

North Corel is an impoverished tent city. There are a couple of shops here and some NPC conversations for local flavor. But the place is small and desolate. There’s a loose Ether to we can loot in one of the houses though, the home of a senile old man and his granddaughter. Outside, there’s a ring of shop stands, one of which has a Force Stealer. At last, Cloud has a double growth weapon. At some point, he could have upgraded his sword to a Mythril Saber. That is, I could have looked at my inventory and given him a better weapon. The buster sword is so…iconic! Anyway, heading left a screen; you enter into at trolley station. Or Rope Trolley. It’s a gondola that will take you up to the Gold Saucer. One of the locals reminds us of how poor they are, noting the station isn’t busy these days. Barret is still angry, so we leave him be for a moment and get on the trolley.

Gold Saucer

When we take the trolley, there’s a CGI sequence that actually still looks decent for being 20 years old. The sequence takes you through the entire entry into the theme park. I got hit with a wave of nostalgia as the car comes through the moogle’s mouth and parks. Can’t recall how many times I must have seen that cut/loading scene. I spent a lot of time at this level, sometimes to listen to the theme. (Oh go ahead, revel in the awesome stage music for a while before reading on. )

Amazing how it all comes back to you.

Exiting the car, we see a fat Chocobo mascot hopping around like an idiot. If you speak to him, he’ll give you an enthusiastic Welcome message. There’s a save point here, but you have to pay 5 “GP” to use it. Now that’s a bummer. They were going for the authentic nickel-and-dime-you feel with these theme park. The hostess at the door explains that the Gold Saucer uses an alternate currency called GP. You can only use GP at the place, and you can only get it by playing games in the arcade and Chocobo racing. Fine. The door pass to get in costs 3,000 gil and a lifetime pass costs 30,000. I’m down to about 9,000 gil, so I fork over the cash for a single day pass and head in.

Once you’re in the lobby, there are tubes you jump into to go to any of the different zones in the place. Barret is still angry with life and lets Aeris know this when she tries to cheer him up. She acknowledges the gravity of the situation but she “wants to have fun for a while.” I agree with her, so that means that’s what we’re going to do. Barret reminds us of the mission and then jumps into a tube going to Wonder Square. For the heck of it, I decide to take Yuffie with me and explore the Saucer. She expresses her surprise at the choice but doesn’t put up a fight.

Exploring the Gold Saucer

With Yuffie, I head to Chocobo Square first. I spent a lot of time here back in the 90s. Before we get far, Cloud tells Yuffie to hold it – there’s a squad of Shinra troopers at the entrance to the races. Wonder who they’re looking for. Anyway, I can’t do anything at the moment, so next, we go to Ghost Square. It’s a kind of like Disney’s Haunted Mansion, except there’s a gift store here. Since I don’t have any GP, I can’t buy anything. So next we go to Speed Square, which I visited once during my original playthrough. We’re greeted by a man in a speedo who calls Cloud “boy” several times, to our avatar’s chagrin. This is Dio, the owner of the Gold Saucer. He’s a very busy man, but he’s nice. He asks Cloud if he has a tattoo on his hand, since “all the kids his age seem to be doing it these days.” He explains he met a guy with a “1” tattooed on his hand. So Sephiroth is around huh.

Once Dio departs, I go inside to take a look. Speed Square contains some sort of interactive ride, but I don’t have the time to try it out this session. Next up we go to Battle Square, but it’s currently closed for “renovations.” Well, so much for that. Time to follow Barret to the arcade.

Wonder Square

Upon getting to Wonder Square we’re greeted by a large animatronic beast that offers to tell us our fortune. Why hello there, my old friend Cait Sith. My least favorite character of all time across the entire Final Fantasy franchise. Comic relief ensues when Cloud asks Cait Sith to give him his fortune. After a couple of duds, the bot finally produces an ominous fortune. Foreshadowing the grim things to come for the party. Cait Sith is incredulous at the result. He swears he never got that before, and then demands to go with the party to find out “what the fortune means.” Apathy wins the day and Cloud allows the walking fortune teller to join in.

Moving on into the arcade and blow most of my remaining gil on the basketball game and the arm wrestling game. I got an elixir out of the claw machine for 100 gil, but I was out of money before I could play the motorcycle game. It’s a rehash of the escape scene from Shinra HQ, way back in Midgar. This is how I got most of my GP – and will again when the time is right.

Out of money, I leave the place and go to Battle Square.

Murder at Battle Square

Well, this is unfortunate. Somebody came in and shot up the entire arena, killing the Shinra soldiers and the attendants. And they had almost finished the renovations! Sephiroth isn’t the culprit since he never would use a gun to kill, according to Cloud. Since Barret is the only one we know of in the whole place who carries a gun, it’s clear he’s the prime suspect.

Hey, I’m reporting the plot as it unfolds, I didn’t come up with it.

At that moment Dio shows up with his private security and tries to arrest you. Cait Sith urges Cloud and Yuffie to escape into a dead end. For reasons I never understood, you follow into the building. There’s not a lot of time to discuss, and about 20 seconds later Dio and his men capture you with some odd looking mechs.

The screen fades, and we transition to an undisclosed time later. Cloud is about to meet some horrible fate. Cait Sith and Yuffie were already punished, and now it’s Cloud’s turn. He tries to reason with Dio one last time. But the owner dismisses him, and the “door to Heaven” portal opens in the ground. The mech jumps through with Cloud in its clutches.

Corel Prison

You land in a desert prison, surrounded by quicksand so nobody can escape. At least, that’s what one of the denizens tells us. Your party is with you and Barret is here too. He’s standing over a dead body, but he ignores you and walks south. I spend few minutes in this area, but there’s not much to explore. There’s an odd well you can climb down into that has an empty treasure chest. There are some random encounters with jerks who steal your money and stuff.

Heading south, there’s a whole town of convicts. Some NPC follows you around in an obnoxious manner. He’s insane, not that I can blame him. There’s a row of three guys who lie all the time, according to one of the other criminals. They’ll tell you that “the boss” headed southwest along with some other nonsense. The riddle – such as it is – is that you should believe the exact opposite of whatever these guys tell you. I don’t loiter here long, and to the east, there’s a house. I go there.

Barret’s Story

While you’re standing around in the house, Barret comes in. Cloud tries to interrogate him, but in a tense moment, Barret points his gun arm at the party. He shoots some hoodlum who was hiding behind the couch. At that, Tifa, Aeris, and Red XIII enter. Barret reiterates that he told us all to stay out of it, but nobody is listening to him. So instead, we get story time with Barret.

To make this short, four years before the events of the game, North Corel was a prosperous coal mining town. Shinra offered to install a Mako reactor, and everybody – including Barret – wanted it. Scarlet gets a cameo in all this, acting as the saleswoman. One man named Dyne was the sole holdout. But the village “headman” and Barret persuade him to go along with the upgrade.

Well, the reactor blew up shortly after its completion. So as Shinra is wont to do, they came in and leveled the entire town, killing all the villagers. Barret and Dyne had been away from town during all this. Returning via the railroad tracks we traveled on last time; they saw their home in flames. They also witness the village elder gunned down by Shinra troopers. The duo tried to help their friends and neighbors, but the Shinra goons interdicted. These guys have horrible aim, and Scarlet mocks them. But finally, they get close to the mark and knock Dyne off the cliff. Barret scrambles and holds him with one arm, which the Shinra guys pump full of lead. Dyne plummets to his doom.

So that’s how Barret got into the Eco-terrorist trade. He took up a vengeance quest against the Shinra and discarded his old prosthetic for a gun arm. When he got the operation, the doctor told him somebody had the same work done, which clued him into Dyne’s survival.

Leveling in the Desert

There’s a touching exchange between the party members as they pledge to support Barret. Cloud refuses to let him go it alone, so we have to pick a third person. I go with Aeris, and finally, take out a few minutes to get everybody’s Materia and equipment in order. The inventory system in FFVII doesn’t scale too well once you start accumulating stuff.

The three liars in town told us to head South West to find “the boss,” so that means we’re going to go North. After a few screens, there’s an endless loop in a desert map. I spend a good amount of time here killing the Landworms for 400XP and 40AP a pop. Bagged two Cactuars too for a cool 20k gil haul. I got Barret up to level 26 and made big dents in the Materia levels, thanks to the double growth weaponry.

If you go to the left screens, a guy in a Chocobo wagon will stop and offer you a lift. When you take his offer, you’ll end back up at the perimeter fence right before the endless loop. There’s a criminal milling about here, and he tells you that the boss is in a rotten mood. Proceeding past him, we find ourselves in a junkyard. One more screen, and we finally meet Dyne.

Boss Fight: Dyne

Aeris expressed her hope that Dyne would join their party, but the man is insane. Barret confronts him about the murders in Gold Saucer, but he replies that he wants to watch the world burn. Or something like that. When Barret tells him that his daughter, Marlene (remember her?) is still alive, Dyne blows a gasket. Since he assumed that his dead wife Elanor had Marlene to keep her company, he and Barret need to fight to the death. That way, she can have company. The logic of a madman.

The boss fight doesn’t give me too much trouble. It’s a solo encounter between the men with the gun arms. I take bover_87’s advice and cast Sleepel on him to start, and then cheese him to death with spammed Fire2’s. Afterward, Dyne slinks over to the two crosses he set up, presumably for his wife and daughter. He implores Barret to take care of Marlene, and as the sun shines on the headstones, he jumps off the cliff. This time, we can assume he’s dead.

Dramatic.

Racing out of Heaven

We’re back in bandit town with an elevator operator. Now that Dyne is out of the picture he’s a little more receptive to us, but he can’t allow us to leave. Dio gives criminals a chance to earn their freedom by competing in the Chocobo races. IANAL, but none of this sounds legal to me. But hey it’s a way out of here. An attendant named Esther volunteers to aid us, and she’s our in-game tutorial on how to race Chocobos.

Much like the Moggle cinematic, I got hit with a ton of nostalgia on the race track. I spent a lot of time racing chocobos. In the jockey room, there’s a Ramuh summon materia lying on the floor. It’s like these guys don’t even know what they’missing. Chocobo racing is yet another mini-game, but I’m OK at this one. I gassed my first Chocobo so lost the first attempt. Nut Esther gives us another Chocobo and enters us into a second race. I win this time, and we’re finally done with Gold Saucer, for now.

Esther hands us a letter from Dio, which is a sort of apology non-apology for all the trouble. He tells us that he met with Sephiroth, who “must have a lot of fans of boys your age” and we get the man in black’s next target.

At that, our PHS rings and Aeris is ecstatic. We got a buggy from Dino to drive around in! “Isn’t it great!” she says. I wouldn’t know since I haven’t gotten there yet. Anyway, we have our first vehicle of the game. Now several areas of the world map are open to us, thanks to the buggy’s ability to cross rivers. We’ve got a bit of exploration and leveling to do now. But I’ve spent too much time on this session, so I’ll end this week’s week’s installment. Thanks for reading.

Read From Memory: FFVII pt. 12

We last left off on the outskirts of Costa del Sol. Previously, we crossed the ocean from Junon and while on the ship confronted Sephiroth and Jenova. While in the resort town we met Hojo, who told us to “go west.” So that’s what we’re doing today.

From the Coast to the Mountains

I used PHS to swap out Aeris and Red XIII for Yuffie and Tifa. This is the first time I’m using the secret character and the first time with Tifa since…the Shinra building? Anyway, I want to level them a bit and unlock their Limit Breaks. They also both are packing Double materia growth weapons now and it’s time to lay the groundwork for some better spells. After some equipment rearrangement, I’m back on the grind.

Somewhere in the abyss of Buzzfeed, there’s an article floating around about the “bizarre enemies of FFVII.” Or maybe I glanced at that on IGN. In any case, the sentiment is right, FFVII does have some really weird enemy models. I encountered a lot of “Grangalan” enemies in the immediate area around Costa del Sol, and all the way up the mountain path. It’s basically a JRPG version of a Matryoshka doll. Words can’t do it justice so here’s a screen cap of it.

FFVII Grangalan model
FFVII Grangalan model

I wasn’t paying close attention but if you beat on it enough that it spits out all of its little dolls, you get a lot more XP and AP. Compared to the nickel and diming I did on the other side of the world, 368 XP and 36 AP (doubled for Yuffie and Tifa) for one enemy is a nice change. These guys are pushovers too, so I grind about 20 minutes to get Tifa up to Level 25.

Eventually, I head West as Hojo suggested and also because it’s the only way you can go. I have to say; it’s a breath of fresh air to get some different terrain after spending hours on the greenish plains in the old spot. Soon we’re in the mountains and we cross over a bridge. While doing so, we encounter some new (and weird) enemies, this time a bird of some sort and mushrooms with caterpillar-like bodies. They drop lighting plumbs and their XP and AP is decent.

Crossing the Corel Range

After crossing the bridge, there’s a cave we can enter from the world map. Since there’s nowhere else to go, that’s what I do. Soon we come to a man just relaxing on the rocky ground. Stopping to chat for a few minutes, he tells Cloud he tried to warn “a man in black” about the dangers of the path ahead. But the guy just ignored him! Can you imagine? Anyway, Cloud mutters “Sephiroth…” which prompts some disquiet from Yuffie and Tifa. We can continue now, but I don’t remember this little exchange, so I activate the rest of the dialog tree with the man. He tells us it’s dangerous ahead and to be careful. Sadly he doesn’t offer us any wood swords. The final dialog is a reminder of etiquette on the road when meeting strangers. Good to know.

The vistas are quite nice for the next few screens as we auto jump up the hill. Soon the music changes and there’s a huge Mako reactor in the center of the screen. Our sprite is now Tiny so we can get the Huge Scale sense from the place. Have I mentioned that I find this really annoying? We get some more random battles to boot. There’s a new guy here, a six-legged dinosaur who is apparently immune to Fire attacks. Since I have a Fire Materia linked by Elemental in Cloud’s buster sword, his physical attacks are useless. A couple of Ice2’s from Yuffie and Tifa do the trick though.

I wander around the Reactor but I can’t go into it. There’s no treasure chests or freebie Materia’s either. Guess I should have consulted bover_87’s guide to save myself a few minutes here.

The Railroad Tracks

Leaving the reactor area, we come to some stairs and a track heading offscreen. I take the path up and circle back to the overlook in the reactor area, and again there’s nothing there. Ok? Going back to the stairs, I take them down and follow a ridge that also contains a whole lot of nothing. Mapping for the sake of mapping, I suppose. It’s here that I encounter my first Bomb enemy. If you’ve played Final Fantasy before these guys should be familiar to you. There are two of them and one of them explodes himself, doing some hefty damage even to Cloud who’s just breached level 29. Happily, nobody was Downed and we got a lot of AP for that.

Though I equipped my empty Enemy Skill Materia on Tifa, she hasn’t picked up any skills, to my disappointment. Somewhere around here though Cloud got his Meteorain Limit Break so, the leveling is not a total bust. Continuing along the tracks…

We’re now Small Scale in the next area which looks like a rickety wooden roller coaster. There’s a save point at the start of the trail which I elect to use, along with a Tent to recover the party’s depleted HP and MP. At last there’s some treasure here, including a Double Growth weapon for Barret. Everybody’s getting in on that action save for Cloud.

On the tracks, there are some weak spots which break. It’s a random mini-game where you can get some treasure if you hold down a direction button and tap O. I do this three times but each time Cloud doesn’t budge, simply catching himself in the middle and free climbing back up several stories. I’m just not good at these FFVII mini-games.

On the Way to North Corel

On the next screen, we find Aeris, Barret and Red XIII hanging out in front of a raised drawbridge. Somebody points over to a shack on the other side which may contain the controls. The game GUI comes alive and helpfully reiterates this for us. I’m not entirely sure why none of them thought to cross over and lower the bridge since that’s all Cloud is going to do, but when in Gaia, right? We have the option of changing party members with PHS but I’m happy with my company at the moment.

Anyhow, Cloud crosses over the expanse on the upper tracks and gets over to the shack. Aeris shouts “good luck” to us as we pass over them. Thanks Aeris. In the hut, the party talks about tight fits and being used to it. If the writers wanted to you to feel awkwardness and discomfort, it worked. The game then prompts us to hit the button. Or not. Deciding not to take my chances with the dialog tree I hit the button and the drawbridge lowers for our friends. Excellent. Now we backtrack once more to where we met the others. They’ve gone on ahead instead of waiting for us. Fine.

On the next screen the track winds down and there’s a junction. Remembering all the other dead ends on this journey, I almost don’t go down but the game rewards our persistent curiosity. There’s a cave hidden behind the tracks. Inside there’s a fellow who will tell you all about North Corel, the town we’re heading to and his employment status. North Corel has seen better days; I take it. But he has a Tent for us along with a Mind Source and Power Source, so I nab these and exit.

Finally we come to the end of this area. We go back to Tiny Scale once more as we cross an immense rope bridge, spanning the chasm.

North Corel

The unemployed cave dweller we just looted wasn’t kidding. North Corel isn’t a shanty; it’s a tent city. Upon entering the place, we get an in-game cutscene. A group of men berates Barret, and one of them plants a hard one right on his kisser. The assailant demands to know why he’s returned and theorizes that Barret must have ruined another town. They’re about to mob him but Barret is so cowed that they decide he’s not worth the effort. As they disperse, they call him a “techno-freak” in a shocking display of ableism.
What a brutal world Square dropped us into.

Once we have control again, Barret walks toward Cloud. He’s dejected but when Cloud asks him why he just took it on the chin like that, Barret acknowledges that the angry mob was right. He did ruin North Corel. I find this hard to believe but we’ll soon get a chance to explore Barret’s back story. Though there are NPCs to interact with and potential shopping to do, that’s all the time I have for the game today, so I head back to the World Map and save my progress.

The save file says we’re in the Gold Saucer area. Next time that’s where we’ll go to. We should be picking up a new character and advancing the romance story between Cloud and Aeris (spoilers…) and we’ll find out more about the man with the gun arm. Thanks for reading.

Read From Memory: FFVII pt. 11

After two short sessions last time in FFVII, I was able to put work in and advance the plot some more this week and gain some new stuff. We last left off with Cloud solo back at Fort Condor, to finish battle 2 and battle 3. This is where we pick up.

Fort Condor Battles and Dolphin Jumping

On the advice of bover_87’s guide, I backtracked to Fort Condor during the Junon section. I completed Battle 2 with relative ease, though I think I overachieved with all the mercenaries. I’m down to just over 10,000 gil after this battle. I started the encounter with 19,000. My bad. I got a Peace Ring as a reward for beating back the Shinra this time.

At that, I trek back to Junon and advance the plot. Your party is loitering around the center of the fishing village, listening to the Shinra fanfare and speculating about it. At that, Priscilla emerges from her house. Cloud exchanges pleasantries with her in an awkward moment. She gives you a medallion as thanks for saving her life. This turns out to be a Shiva summon materia. Great! Speaking to the party again, she says she knows a way to bypass the high voltage tower and get to the Shinra-built town above the whole place. She reiterates her hatred for the Shinra for wrecking the beach at Junon. They radicalize at a young age; it would seem. Anyway, my brave party resolutely volunteers me to take on the task of infiltrating the town by myself. They, of course, will follow me once it’s safe. Thanks, guys.

I follow Priscilla to the beach. She gives me a whistle and explains that “mr. Dolphin” will respond to the call. All I have to do is paddle out in the shallow water, blow the whistle, and the dolphin will come under me and jump me the 50-60 feet or so that I need to go to avoid the electrified pillar. Barret joins us at the beach, and when Priscilla demonstrates the dolphin jump, he exclaims that he “never seen a dolphin jump that high before!” When have you ever seen a dolphin before, Barret?

Anyhow, after that commentary I again follow bover_87’s advice and head back to Fort Condor for battle number 3. This time I elect to let the Shinra forces reach the command post at the top so I can battle “CMD Grand Horn.” He’s a bit of a beater, but at level 27, Cloud has no troubles putting him away. In his guide, bover_87 informs us that doing it this way costs us the Perfect Game playthrough and the reward of three ethers, but getting the Vagyrisk Claw as the boss’s loot drop is worth it for later.

Ascending to Junon

I return to Junon once more and take Priscilla’s whistle. The dolphin leaps me up the strut and to the crossbeam that leads to a ladder. Taking this, I emerge on a landing pad. There’s an impressive CGI of an airship (foreshadowing?) waiting on the airstrip. My avatar is tiny during this sequence, and I move down the screen to an immense elevator. I hit the shiny box and activate the elevator, which slowly moves down. All of this makes physical sense, and works to give us a sense of scale. But regarding gameplay…once the elevator is down; I head into the air base.

Minigames and Explorations

I emerge into a hallway from the previous scene. There’s a Shinra officer here, who mistakes me for one of his men. He admonishes us for being out of uniform, and he leads you into a locker room to change into some Shinra gear. Cloud reminiscences to himself while he dresses up. Two additional Shinra troopers come into the place and offer to help the officer “drill you” into shape for President Rufus’ welcoming ceremony. Cue mini game number one.

In this mini game, you have to march along in Shinra formation. It consists of keeping pace with the other troops and tapping Circle in time with the marching feet. There’s a “TV Ratings” meter in the UI during this sequence which serves as the gauge for how well you’re performing. I’ve always sucked at this part, and I’m probably even worse than I was 20 years ago. I barely keep up with the parade and once it’s over the horrified TV station crew sends me a grenade as a gift for tanking the ratings.

Look. I’m a soldier, not a showman.

Anyway, I’m free to roam around now for a bit. I leisurely explore the shops and some character dialogs I never accessed before. I had no idea, for instance, that you could actually enter into the lighted doorways on the main street. Always thought it was part of the scenery. Guess I should have had the Arrows overlay activated.

There’s a bizarre area called the Respectable Inn which provides you with intermediate training tutorials. Since I never explored this part before, I suppose this is why I never figured out Limit Breaks. It’s bizarre because the room is inhabited by three ghosts of the fellows from the beginner tutorial room in the Sector 7 slums. You know, the guys who got crushed to death by the plate? They mock you and imply they’re going to haunt you since you gave such bad tutorials while they lived. Okay?

There’s also a bar where you can interact with some of the Turks. Oh, and Reno is back and healed up, apparently. Good for him. While it’s neat to see some bosses take a load off the banter is short and disappointing. After I’m done picking up random items and shopping for some new materia, I proceed to the final mini-game. There’s a brief interlude in the locker room in which you can train for the upcoming demonstration for the President. I take advantage of this to refresh my memory. At that, it’s time to perform for Rufus.

This minigame involves following all of the leader’s instructions by tapping the appropriate button in time with the other soldiers. A “President’s mood” gauge pops up in the UI. The higher his mood, the better your reward will be. This goes on a for a while, and I do a lot better at this than marching in the parade. Rufus ends up pleased (I got his mood up to 90), and as a reward, I’m given an HP Plus Materia. Awesome. Afterward, there’s some bullying from Heidegger and a little exchange with my “fellow” soldiers. One of the troopers drops a bit of plot exposition, stating that Heidegger is a worse mood than usual because Hojo has abruptly resigned from Shinra. Interesting. Anyway, my work here is done, so I get onto the ship and advance the plot.

Cargo ship Stowaways

We get a view of the world map while the Cargo ship crosses the ocean to “the new continent.” In disguise, all of the fearless party have accompanied us. Apparently. In the cargo hold, where you begin, you’ll find Yuffie dressed as a sailor. She’s seasick, and giving her a Tranquilizer at her request will help move her out of the way so we can access that All materia she’s blocking. Aeris is also down here, wearing a Shinra soldier uniform.

Topside you’ll find Tifa also in a Soldier uniform. While she’s outwardly enjoying this cosplaying moment, she takes the opportunity to remind you how much she hates war and soldiers. I see that explains why she became an eco-terrorist, right? There’s also a sailor on deck here who acts as the Inn/shop (you can go to him and pay 200 gil to get all your stats restored, ala the inn mechanic). Toward the front of the boat, you’ll find Red XIII doing a bit of comic relief. He’s in a soldier uniform and dancing about on his hind legs. He offers some condescending insight on human nature and observes that it must be tough to walk on two legs all the time. Hence the title of the awesome stage music for this level. As he “walks” about, note his tail sticking out of his pants. Too funny.

I don’t recall if I found Barret at this point, but I headed back down into the holds again. Aeris will confide in you that she’s worried that Barret will “do something stupid.” That’s a legitimate concern, so I go back topside and find the man hanging around the bridge of the ship. He’s in a sailor uniform and spying on Rufus and Heidegger. His temper gets the better of him as he contemplates the fact that his fellow eco-terrorists are dead thanks to them. He’s about to burst into their conversation when an alarm goes off. Apparently, there’s an intruder on board, and we’re all called to general quarters to confront him. Or something like that.

Intruder Alert

With that, the whole party assembles on deck and you can choose two of them to go with you. I select Aeris and Red XIII. It feels like forever since I had a full compliment in the party, so I take a moment to make sure everybody’s gear is in order. I go down into the holds, and the music is now “ominous.” There are bodies strewn on the floor and random encounters with some weird enemies and Shinra Marines. They’re not too tough, so I grind a little here to steal some of the good Shinra armor off the Marines and ethers from the floating beasts.

In the next hold, there’s a catwalk with a treasure chest. It contains a Wind Slash, a double growth weapon for Yuffie. The game is giving us a lot of these double growth items so I can foresee some more grinding in my immediate future. Anyhow, I head over to the Shinra officer near the back of the room who is just standing there. Talking to him will cause the model to turn around slowly, collapse on the floor, and blink out of existence. The time-honored video game way of indicating a dead character. Where the guy was standing, Sephiroth rises out of the floor. Cloud tries to talk to him, but in another unintentionally funny moment, Sephiroth doesn’t know who he is. Nothing worse than telling everybody you’re buddies with a celebrity, only to have that person blank on who you are in front of your pals.

Sephiroth speaks in broken sentences, repeating “the time…is…now!” or maybe it was “Now…is…the time!” Either way, He pushes you back with force and flies off camera, leaving you with a boss encounter. The first of several Jenova forms. Note her special boss music too.

Boss Fight: Jenova*BIRTH

Jenova is one ugly motherf…well, you know the line. She’s a tough boss at this stage but Cloud is level 27 and Aeris and Red XIII are level 25. I’m not too concerned. I had built up Red XIII’s limit break for this and used it right away. Essentially I pummel Sephiroth’s mom to death with Red’s limit, Summons, and Ice2/Bolt2/Fire2 spells from Aeris. It takes only a few minutes to reduce her to 0. She drops a White Cape as loot (very nice).

Afterward, back in field mode, one of Jenova’s tentacles flops around on the ground. Cloud will explain what he thinks the plotline of the game is up to this point if you choose so. There’s also an Ifrit summon materia lying on the ground, so I snatch that up and leave.

The port of Costa del Sol

The game will return us to overworld view as the ship completes its journey. You all exit the ship and have a brief conference at the dock. Cloud tells everybody to take the opportunity to relax a bit which prompts Barret to wonder who died and left him in charge. I thought Barret was over the fact that this was now Cloud’s show? Anyway, I interact with several of the NPCs before leaving the dock but none of the interactions are terribly interesting. You can hear the beating of a chopper during all of this, but LEGO copter won’t appear until after you leave.

After you head off screen, the aforementioned copter swoops in and slowly lands on the helipad. President Rufus and Heidegger slowly emerge from the boat now, and slowly make their way over to the chopper. Rufus is not pleased with Heidegger. He goes over the fat villain’s various recent screw ups and reminds him that things are different now that he’s in charge. He expects results. Rufus also tells him to knock off that “stupid horse laugh” before getting into LEGO copter and flying away. Slowly. For his part, Heidegger takes out his dressing down on nearby NPCs. We cut to Costa del Sol.

Costa del Sol

A nice resort town with a very helpful guide at the front of the place. I pick up some useful items and yet another double growth weapon, this time for Tifa. On the pleasant beach, you’ll find Hojo living it up, surrounded by babes admiring him for his intelligence. Tifa tells Cloud to go over to him and ask what he’s doing. Cloud briefly converses with the retired scientist, who I imagine must be a bit like Milton from office space at this point. Hojo will drop a hint as to where to go next (head west…) and after that, he won’t be of much help to you.

At this, I head back up to the inn. I find Barret in the bathroom, admiring himself in the sailor uniform in a mirror. Uh huh. I pay the 250 gil to stay the night and refresh. The next morning I head out of town and save the game. Since this is post is pretty long, this is a good place to end for now. The save file says I’m in the Corel area, which means the casino is coming up soon and Barret’s side story awaits us. Thanks for reading.

Read From Memory – FFVII pt. 10

Once more I didn’t have much time to play this week. I got to Junon Harbor after loitering around Fort Condor for a spell. I leveled Cloud, Aeris, and the Red XIII, unlocking most of their limit breaks. I also took advantage of my first “Double” equipment to level up a few Materia.

At Junon Harbor, a depressing locale by the way, I had to rescue “Priscilla” from herself as a boss character attacked. I remember that boss being tougher the first time around. But I also didn’t have Cloud at level 27 the first time around. After putting away the boss, you have to perform CPR on the girl. Gives us another opportunity to see Cloud’s discomfort with physical interactions. Especially with the opposite gender. (Ok ok, he was held up on the fact that Priscilla is a little girl. But shouldn’t he have been more timely?) After doing the heroic deed, I took advantage of the offer to stay for free at an Inn.

During sleepy time, Cloud converses with the disembodied voice once more. The voice taunts him to ask Tifa about where she was, 5 years ago. Meaning, why did she avoid him until she served as the guide to Mt. Nibel? Cloud listens to the voice this time, and wakes up to her at the foot of his bed. Conveniently. There’s some Shinra fanfare echoing from somewhere, and she bides him to come take a look. But when Cloud asks her about her whereabouts during the Mt. Nibel expedition, she ducks the question and heads out. OK then.

Instead of following her up to the others – and advancing the quest – I decided Cloud needed some alone time. Instead I headed back to Fort Condor. I had to call it a day at that point, but I’ll battle Shinra mercs once more and gain a Peace Ring. Hopefully.

I’m about halfway through Disc One at this point. Next week I’ll have a much longer update as my schedule returns to normal.

Read From Memory: FFVII pt 9

Only a little time to play FFVII this week, so we didn’t get too far. We last left off at Fort Condor, where a resistance fights against the Shinra company’s troops.

Helping out Fort Condor

There are two sparse shops inside the fort, I browse for the sake of browsing but there’s nothing I need now. Heading up the next ladder I reach an observation post. Called a “shed” in the game dialog. The observer will offer you instructions on how to play the battle minigame. Since it’s been a good long while since I’ve done this, I freshened my memory. You need gil to fight the battles. The Condor crew has some money saved up, but since I’ve got about 35,000 gil  I make a substantial donation to the cause. Next it’s on to the first battle.

Your mission is to prevent the enemy from reaching the top. If they manage to get to the “Shed” you’ll enter combat yourself. You win when you kill all the enemies on the board. Fairly straightforward. You can hire up to 10 types of troops, which have various specialized attributes. If you paid attention to the observer, you know that the meta driving unit choices is a rock-paper-scissors affair: attackers kill beasts, shooters (bowmen) kill fliers, etc.

The first battle has a bunch of beasts and wyvrens and a larger model as the boss. There’s probably a fine art to the minigame but I’m in a hurry today so I buy a bunch of attackers and shooters and sent them down to attack. Eventually they mow down all the enemies and take out the boss. You get 200 gil for each unit you preserve, and I ended up with 1400 gil. The observer also gives you a magic comb weapon. Red XIII can use it, and it’s a three slot double growth equipment. Very nice!

I know that there are a number of battles you have to fight at the Fort before you get the Phoenix materia, but I don’t think I can do any more at this time. So I save and leave. Time to pick up the first optional character in the game.

Yuffie

In the nearby forests you occasionally enter into a battle with a solo “mysterious ninja.” She can do some damage but she’s not much of a match for level 23 Cloud and pals. This is Yuffie, one of two optional characters you can acquire. I wanted to pick her up before continuing on to Junon Harbor. Thankfully I only had one random encounter before I got to her. I defeated her easily.

To get her into your party you have to make the correct dialog choices in the scene that follows the battle. We had to do this by trial and error back in the old days. But today FAQs are but a google search away…suffice to say, I got Yuffie on the first try. I know she brings an ability materia with her (Throw?) but like I said my time was short this week so I didn’t even check on her.

Next week I promise to have a longer entry. I’ll put work in on leveling some Materia and unlocking more Limit Breaks before proceeding to the harbor.

Read From Memory – FFVII pt. 8

Last time it was all exposition from Cloud, as he explains to his party mates who Sephiroth is and what happened at Nibelheim five years ago. The Mt. Nibel Mako reactor was producing monsters, and when Sephiroth and Cloud discovered the source, it sent Sephiroth spiraling into madness. That’s where we pick up this week’s entry.

Back to Nibelheim

Having taken the opportunity to rest (and save the game), Cloud continues his storytime. The expedition had completed its mission at the Mt. Nibel reactor and returned to Nibelheim. But rather than return to Midgar or wherever, Sephiroth opts to stay in Nibelheim for a while. Cloud wakes up the next morning, but Sephiroth isn’t there. Inquiring, he finds that he has gone to the Shinra Mansion (where Cloud said he would come to later). So he goes to see what he’s doing.

Investigation at the Shinra Mansion

Like the rest of Nibelheim, we’ll become quite familiar with this locale before the game is over. It’s a multiroom, multilevel dungeon. This time around there are no random encounters, and no treasure chests to open. Heading up from the foyer and to the right, there’s an odd wall which can be opened. Inside there’s a hidden spiral staircase that leads down to the basement. This leads you to a cavern-like hallway, which in turn leads you to a secret laboratory.

There are rows of bookshelves in here, all lined with logs, to go with the typical hidden laboratory props. Sephiroth is also in here, going through the books. When Cloud asks him how’s he’s doing; he dismisses you gruffly. So you leave your great war buddy to his devices and return to the inn. Cloud narrates a cutscene in which you see Sephiroth in the lab, in various poses, with the stacks of books growing larger. He says that Sephiroth read like a man possessed, not sleeping for three days and nights. Clearly, something is wrong with the man.

Finally, on the fourth day, you make the trek back to the lab. Sephiroth is now in the far room, seated at a desk. When you approach, he calls you a “traitor.” Like most in the grips of a psychotic episode, he explains he has unlocked the true meaning of the world. JENOVA was indeed his mother and was a representative of the Cetra master race. The Cetra created Civilization in search of the Promised Land. But things went wrong, and inferiors (aka humanity) let the Cetra die off. So humans had “betrayed” them, and they never reached said Promised Land. Sephiroth, a clone of JENOVA’s preserved tissues, claims to be the last Cetra, and will now complete the destiny of his people. So he says. He’s off to see “his mother, ” and he brushes past you.

Nibelheim in Flames

When you follow Sephiroth, you find that Nibelheim is on fire. The man in black has torched the town, kicking off his descent into total evil. Zangan, Tifa’s mentor, is still alive, and he offers to help search for survivors. If you rush into Cloud’s house, he walks back out slowly and shakes his head. So that’s how Cloud’s mom died suddenly. Anyway, there’s not much to do here, and with Sephiroth off to the Mt. Nibel reactor to visit with his mom, that’s where Cloud goes next. We got a cutscene too in all this, and here we see the famous visage of Sephiroth walking through the fire. Made it into one of the TV spots and everything:

Confrontation at the Jenova Chamber

Cloud arrives at the reactor and finds Tifa there with her father. He’s lying in a heap on the ground with Sephiroth’s sword laying next to him. Understandably upset, Tifa takes the sword and rushes into the Jenova chamber after her father’s killer.

Inside, Sephiroth is standing before the door to the Jenova Chamber, asking his mother to let him in. Tifa rushes up the stairs, asking nicely for Sephiroth to explain his actions. But the future guide/martial artist is no match for the legendary soldier. He disarms her after a brief struggle and blasts her black with a strike. She floats/falls the steep stairs with a critical wound just as Cloud enters the room. Sephiroth proceeds into the chamber. Meanwhile, Cloud carries Tifa aside, and she reminds him that he promised to come when she needed him. With Tifa secured, our protagonist heads up into the Jenova chamber.

Inside, Cloud demands that Sephiroth explain his murderous rampage. But the villain laughs and taunts him. We go into CGI mode as Sephiroth tears away the mechanical angel sitting in front of the Jenova avatar. She’s revealed, with a head this time. Cloud moans, “What about meeeeeee? What about my sadness? It’s the same as your sadness!” Sephiroth turns it on him, claiming that he has nothing to be sad about since he’s the new Chosen One who will go into the Promised Land.

Cloud draws his Buster sword and faces off with his nemesis. The scene cuts rapidly back and forth between Cloud and Sephiroth to the point where I’m worried about a seizure. And Story Time is finally concluded, much to Barret’s chagrin.

Cloud claims he doesn’t remember what happened at that point. He admits he couldn’t have killed Sephiroth, given the disparity between their skill levels. Tifa cites official records that Sephiroth is dead, but Aeris calls it Fake News since Shinra owns the paper. Barret leaves the room, determined to save the world. And with that, the long exposition is over.

Back to Actual Gameplay

We can stay at the inn and rest or continue the quest. I’m going to take a look around Kalm and see what info I can glean from the locals. There’s some shopping to do too. NPCs talk about the Mythril Mine several times, so I guess that’s where I’m going next. The shops are underwhelming, to be honest, but that’s the price of leveling everybody past 20 in the early going. I stocked up on Items and bought some new Materia.

I should mention, as I left the inn, Barret gave me the “PHS” which is a satellite phone that allows you to change party members whenever you’re on the world map. Finally! I took out a few minutes to equip everyone with their new gear, such as it was and swapped Materia. I’ll probably write a separate post on the leveling and character system of FFVII, which has always mystified me. Maybe I should have read the instruction booklet?

Anyway, here we go back onto the world map.

Back in the World

I selected Red XIII and Aeris as my party mates for this leg of the journey. We’re all more or less at the same level, so there’s no need to grind for the moment. The map’s topography forces me east, as I can’t cross dark blue rivers (no ford) nor can I pass any mountain ranges. Soon I’m crossing different colored grasslands, with large tracks on them. Ah yes, Chocobo farming. The minigame that took up far too much of my time back when FFVII was new.

At this point I know I have to get a Chocobo to cross the marshlands and avoid the huge snake that prevents you from doing so on foot. So I stop in at the ranch.

Chocobo Ranch

The screen perspective changes to behind-the-shoulder, roughly. We get a nice view of a pen with several Chocobo’s milling about inside. In the background, there’s a ranch and a large barn. If you approach the first Chocobo at the fence and communicate with it, it and the rest of the brood will do a strange dance. You’ll receive your first Summon Materia for your troubles, “choco/mog.” It’s a wind-based spell and will come in handy where we’re going.

Continuing to the farmhouse, there’s an elderly rancher inside. He’ll explain about the “Midgar Zolom” which is the snake of unusual size I mentioned before. Good sales pitch for a Chocobo rental service. I wonder if ol’ Choco Bill also feeds the Zolom to keep the scheme going. Anyhow, he tells you to speak to his grandson, Choco Billy, who’s over in the barn. So that’s where I head next.

Inside the barn, Choco Billy will reiterate your need for a Chocobo to avoid the Zolom. But, you’re SOL because he’s fresh out of Chocobo’s for you to rent. Thankfully he’s got a solution: catch a wild bird yourself. For the low cost of 2,000 gil, he sells you the special “Chocobo Lure” Materia, which you need to equip to attract Chocobo’s during random encounters. You also have to buy some greens, which are pricey, to feed the Chocobo, so it doesn’t run away. I’m not hurting for gil at this point, so I buy a few of the expensive greens. Not sure that I needed to do that just yet, but whatever. If you speak to the little girl here, she’ll apologize for gouging you but explains that it’s quite necessary for them. Or something.

To the Mine

To catch a Chocobo, you just need to trigger an encounter and kill the enemies (and never attack the Chocobo…) before the bird runs away. I did this on my second try. With the creature corralled, I can now safely cross the marshes and avoid the Midgar Zolom. Heading southwest, I eventually reach said marshes. You can see the silhouette of the zolom swimming around in the swamp. If it touches your avatar, it triggers a battle sequence. In the past, I’ve killed this beast several times, but it never goes away from the map.

Anyhow, once we’re past the marshes we dismount the Chocobo, and it runs away. Take a step forward and trigger an ominous cutscene. There’s a lightning crash in the mountains in the background, and the camera pans up. There’s the mighty zolom impaled on a tree. You and your party mates comment that it was Sephiroth who did this. Move Cloud forward past the corpse to exit.

Back briefly on the world map, you can then enter the Mythril Mine.

Turks in the Mine

The cave complex is rather small compared to later maps. If you head down and left, you’ll enter a room and Rude will stop you. He tells you that the Turks’ mission has changed somewhat since you last met. At this, a new Turk, a blonde with short hair, will enter from a different direction. This is Elena, a replacement for Reno. Recall that Reno was the sloppy dresser you battled atop the pillar above the Sector 7 slums. Apparently, you injured him, and so Elena took his place.

Nobody ever told Elena that loose lips sink ships though. She casually reveals information, that the Turks are also pursuing Sephiroth and have been thwarted by Cloud and his friends along the way. Or rather, the Turks are to prevent him from getting to Sephiroth.

At this, Tseng enters and politely tells Elena to STFU and go file a report. Not getting the message, she reveals that Sephiroth is heading toward “Junon Harbor.” I guess we know where to go next. Tseng is rightfully irritated at his new hire, calls her a moron in so many words, and then dismisses her and Rude. Before he leaves, Rude tells Cloud that Reno will have a surprise for them next time they meet. A new weapon. For her part, Elena doubles down on what Rude said, but also thanks Cloud for allowing her promotion. After the goons depart, Tseng has an awkward exchange with Aeris. He says he missed her and that for now, at least, there’s a reprieve from the hunt. Aeris rebuffs him, and he leaves.

You can climb after him and exit the caves, but I decided to pick up whatever I could in the other sections before doing so. There are some potions here and a “Long Range” materia. The enemies in here aren’t overly difficult for my crew, save for the dragon creatures. They give you the “Flame Thrower” enemy skill and fire actually heals them. Many of the monsters in the cave are weak against Wind, including these ugly dragonets. So Choco/Mog was useful to me in a pinch.

After I’m done exploring and robbing several Ethers and a power glove for Tifa from the random enemies, I backtracked a short way to the area where Tseng was and left the Mine.

Fort Condor

Before heading off to Junon Harbor and picking up a certain “secret” character, I decided to stop by Fort Condor. This is the site of a minigame or two in which you have to prevent Shinra troops from reaching the top of the cave. If you played any of the previous Final Fantasy games, this should be a familiar exercise to you. Since this post is very long, I decided to use the save point and call it a day.

Next time we’ll continue the search for Sephiroth, pick up a ninja, and help defend some bird nests.

Read From Memory: FFVII pt. 7

We last left off in FFVII on the outskirts of Midgar, having escaped from Shinra. A lot of story unfolded at Shinra HQ. It appears the evil corporation is a minor concern now that Sephiroth has returned. Our road after the man in black begins at Kalm, a town to the northeast. That’s right, we’ve finally made it off the railroad and to the open world.

Leveling Up. Again

I elected to keep Aeris and Tifa in my group. Barret and Red XIII head off to Kalm together. Barret has to make a snide remark about my party configuration. Cloud was at level 20 and Tifa was at level 18, but Aeris was level 16. So it was time to level grind once more. I spent about 75 minutes doing this. I fought in 58 random encounters, good for ~7,780 XP and ~770 AP. All that got Aeris up to Level 20, and along the way, I unlocked a few Limit Breaks and obtained the Ice2 spell. Not bad. By tradition, I give Tifa the “Steal” Materia, and she stole a bunch of Hi-Potions and a few Ethers for good measure. I also gave her the Enemy Skill Materia, and she picked up the potent “Matra Magic” skill.

One thing that never occurred to me when I first played this game was how to unlock Limit Breaks. I always assumed it was dependent on how many times you used them; turns out that not the case. Anyway, with everybody now at level parity, it was time to continue the quest.

Kalm Arrival

We can look around when we get to Kalm, Tifa and Aeris make a beeline for the Inn, which is right at the entrance to the place. Aeris explains that “Barret and the others” (others?) are already waiting there. Rather than stick out, I head in and upstairs to meet with the crew. They’re anxious to hear all about the crisis facing the world and whatever else Cloud has to tell them about. So it’s time for another exposition dump. Pour yourself a stiff drink, and get comfortable. We’re going to be here a while.

Story Time with Cloud

Cloud begins by reiterating his man crush for Sephiroth, five years ago. He then has to clarify the nature of his friendship with the main villain for Barret (and us, presumably). He explains that he and Sephiroth were “war buddies” after they had been on a few missions. They trusted one another. Tifa gives us the dreaded eight dots of disapproval. Anyway, Cloud and Sephiroth are pals. Until One Day…

We cut to the back of a truck, with Cloud and Sephiroth and a few other SOLDIER drones. Cloud is antsy and his war buddy Sephiroth mocks him to calm him down. Cloud prods Sephiroth until he finally briefs him on the mission they’re undertaking. They’re to investigate a malfunctioning Mako Reactor which is producing “brutal” monsters. The rub: the location is the town of Nibelheim; Cloud’s hometown. Soon afterward the truck stops. There’s a dragon of some kind outside. You go into fight mode, and you have a measly 140 HP. Sephiroth is, of course, OP, as he has several thousand HP and his attacks deal several thousand damage. In two hits, the thing is dead.

Cutting back to the Inn, Cloud gushes over Sephiroth some more. He says that the rumors and legends of his strength don’t even match reality. “His strength is unreal.” Isn’t that the definition of not matching reality? Tifa gives us more disapproving dots and shakes her head.

And I thought I was safe from the hokey dialog…anyway…

A Little Town Called Nibelheim

Like most small mountain towns, Nibelheim is quaint and menacing at the same time. Sephiroth stops and turns to face the camera. He asks somebody off camera (Cloud?) how it feels to be back in his hometown. See, he wouldn’t know because he doesn’t have one. Ok? This perplexes Cloud. Sephiroth explains that his father died and his mother Jenova also died after he was born. Barret interrupts the flashback again. He reminds us that Jenova was the name of the “headless spook” in Shinra HQ. Thanks for that Barret.

Returning to the flashback, Sephiroth gives the marching orders. They’re to proceed to the reactor in the early morning. As he heads for the inn, he permits his men to visit friends and family if they have any around. A generous afterthought. After he enters the inn, a guy comes rushing out from next door with a camera in hand. He’s disappointed that he missed his chance for a photo op. If you offer to let him take your picture, he says he doesn’t take pictures of nobodies.

Some hometown greeting.

Tifa’s House

You’ll get stopped at various points as you enter Tifa’s House as she asks you if you violated her privacy. If you answer “no” any time she asks, you get put back outside the house. Answer “Yes” and you’ll get to snoop around. You can read a (non)love letter on her desk. You can play the iconic “highwind” theme on her piano. And, you can grab a pair of “Orthopedic Underwear” from her dresser. This last action will prompt an indignant response from Tifa. She tells you to get serious and continue with the all serious stuff. It was weird 20 years ago, and it’s still weird now. There’s a whole long history behind this mysterious item, if you have the courage to look it up.

Continuing on…

Cloud’s House

If you enter Cloud’s house, you’ll get to see him interact with his mom. I referenced this scene in an earlier post. It’s not as perverse as I thought it was this time through, but it’s still rather odd. Cloud’s reluctant to talk about this, and it takes some prodding from Barret and Aeris to get to continue. For her part, Cloud’s mom alternates between showing concern and badgering him. The scene jumps from one snippet of dialog to the next. Finally, Cloud stops reminiscing about this and continues with the story.

Tifa’s Dad

Tifa’s father is outside Shinra mansion. If you approach, the mansion Cloud will say, “no I come here later.” Fine. If you converse with Tifa’s father, he’ll remark under his breath about how much of a punk you are. Or something like that. He’ll ask you if you recognize him. When he identifies himself, in the next breath, he’ll tell you to stay away from his daughter. As if dude. Unbeknownst to him, Cloud is already her beta white knight. Per the starry night rendezvous at the water tower.

At this point, we’ve exhausted the useful conversation options. If you enter the shop, Cloud will say he didn’t go in there, though it seems like he did. Anyway doing so will prompt Barret to say he’s getting pissed off at all the misdirection in the story. Like he hasn’t been interrupting us every couple of minutes to editorialize. But I can see his point, so it’s time to head to the Inn.

Sephiroth in the Inn

There’s a man in the Inn who calls himself Zangan. He tells us that he has trained a very specific number of students (128) around the world. His student in this town is none other than Tifa Lockhart, and he says she’ll be a great martial artist one day. Good for Tifa.

You’ll find Sephiroth upstairs, staring out a window. He intones that he feels like he knows the place. Excellent foreshadowing.

Anyway, there’s nothing left to do except get some sleep and advance the quest. One of the SOLDIER drones points out that there are not enough beds for everyone. Somebody mentions that they thought that some would prefer to “sleep in their own beds.” I guess this is a clue for Cloud but it goes over his head. I hope the floor was comfortable or at least clean for whoever got the short end with that.

To Mount Nibel

The next morning, everybody has assembled outside the Shinra mansion. There, Sephiroth informs you that he’s hired a guide to lead you and the others to the reactor. That guide is Tifa, who saunters into the scene wearing a big hat and cowgirl boots. Her father isn’t pleased with this, but she reminds him that she’s the best guide (only guide?) in town.

Before you get underway, the photographer bugs you to get Sephiroth for the photo op. I don’t know why you’d be willing to help him out after his “warm welcome” the previous day, but you’re a good guy. You, Tifa, and Sephiroth pose for the quick picture, and the guy promises to give you a copy once it’s developed. And with that, it’s time to teleport to the mountain.

There’s a CGI cutscene in which the camera rotates around the mountain. It looks particularly spiny. You also get a glimpse of the reactor. Exposition happens over this cut scene but to be honest, I can’t recall what it said. The CGI was that amazing.

The Bridge

Tifa guides the expedition to a long, rickety bridge suspended over a chasm. About half way monsters attack and Sephiroth defeats them. The rope bridge gives out at this moment, and we all fall into the valley below.

Caves and Fountains

Everyone is OK save for one AWOL SOLIDER guy. Sephiroth says he doesn’t mean to be cold, but he has no time to search for the missing man. We all have to travel together now, so everyone merges into the Cloud model.

Tifa leads you into a cave system which is like “an ant farm, ” but we’ll get back to the Reactor that way. In the caves, you come across a green fountain. Sephiroth explains that it is naturally occurring Materia, and is quite rare. We learn about Materia and how it forms, versus how it’s created artificially in the Mako reactors. It’s concentrated “Wisdom of the Ancients.” People who have it get the root password to the various powers of the planet. Those in the SOLDIER program are “showered” with Materia. This gives them their unique abilities. Cloud calls it all “magic” and Sephiroth laughs at this. He recalls an egghead scolded him once for using such unsophisticated terminology.

At the Reactor

At last, you reach the Mako Reactor. At the entrance, Sephiroth tells Tifa that she has to wait outside. The place is full of industrial secrets and things of that nature. So he instructed the remaining uniform to stay with her and “take care of her” as he and Cloud head inside.

Tifa harrumphs while the SOLDIER drone puts his hand in her face. She mutters “yeah, you better take real good care of me then.”

Uh…Moving on

Hojo’s Monsters

Inside you reach a red room filled with hoses and several platforms with pods on them. There’s a long steep stairway leading to a large pod at the top. The word “JENOVA” is prominent on this pod, along with one of the hoses that lead away from it. Anyway, the most famous soldier in the world happens to be an expert Mako reactor technician. He diagnoses the problem and tells Cloud to repair a loose gasket on one of the pods. While he does that, Sephiroth looks into another pod. He tells you to look also, and you see a demonic looking creature inside some liquid.

Sephiroth explains that this is the work of Hojo, the guy who replaced “a much greater man.” Instead of “showering” people with Mako energy, he’s growing them in these pods. He starts to go haywire now. He wonders aloud if he was also “grown” in the same way, and he notes that his mother’s name was also Jenova.

At that moment, one of the chamber’s bursts open, and a creature falls out of it in CGI mode. It shrieks but looks to be DOA. Cloud says he didn’t know what Sephiroth was going on about. He was also surprised to find out about this special Shinra program. Barret chimes into to editorialize again about the evilness of the Shinra. We get the option to save and rest here, and since this post is over 2,000 words, that’s what we’ll do for now.

Don’t worry. We’ll be spending a lot more time at Mt. Nibel and Nibelheim as this series continues.

Read From Memory: FFVII pt 6

Last time we entered Shinra Headquarters with the aim of freeing Aeris who had been captured by the Turks. We learned she was an Ancient and central to the Shinra plans of starting Neo Midgar in the Promised Land. Cloud encountered the body of a being called JENOVA which is linked to main game villain Sephiroth. Afterward the party freed Aeris in a lab as she was about to be forced to fight a strange red monster. The monster turned out to be friendly, and then joined the party. After a boss fight with another test subject, the party split up to escape.

Leveling Up

Thanks to my bad planning I was stuck with Barret and Red XIII in my party. Aeris and Tifa made their way to the elevators to escape. Barret and Red XIII both have “Sense” materia and Red XIII came with the useless (for now) Enemy Skill materia. So, not an optimal load out for grinding, but this was my last real chance to grind before the end of the Shinra scenes. As I mentioned in an earlier post I like to get Cloud to level 20 before I leave Midgar (spoiler alert).

The farming on Floor 67 isn’t spectacular in terms of XP and AP but it’s sufficient as the encounters tend to average out at 150 xp and 10 ap. Cloud is finally level 20 two hours later. Floor 67 littered with hundreds of dead SOLDIER guys and mothbuster wrecks. For their trouble Barret and Red XIII get to level 19. I also unlocked several of their LIMIT BREAKS. As an added bonus we got Fire2 on Red XIII’s fire materia. And 15,000 gil wasn’t a bad fee for the time. I should mention I also threatened a lab employee to get his keycard.

Meeting Aeris, Tifa and President Shinra

I figured I kept the ladies waiting long enough and so I journeyed down to floor 66 to get on an elevator to meet them. Once you step in though, a bald man in a black suit follows you into the car. It’s Rude, a Turks agent. He motions upward and asks/tells you to hit the button. Tseng crowds in and says some boilerplate villain talk to cement the “oh no we’ve been captured” feels.

Everybody is brought handcuffed before President Shinra at his UFO sized desk. Not quite sure why the party of Eco Terrorists and an AWOL test subject gets to meet with the CEO at this moment. But it is a great opportunity for him to explain his evil plans for dominating the Promised Land with his “money sucking machines.” He reveals that the Ancients are called Cetra, and that Sephiroth is also an Ancient. With that the big boss dismisses you, though Barret tries to get a word in before he’s hauled off. The President says, after everybody is off screen, to “see his secretary if you need anything else.”

Menacing last words right there.

I may have been blurry eyed from all the leveling, but it seems like the dialog is hokier than usual in this part. Anyhow after the fadeout you’re in the holding cells of level 67. You share a cell with Tifa.

EXCUSE ME

Tifa is on the bed. If you speak to her she will ask you about escaping. If you give a hopeful answer she’ll say you’re so brave; if you give a skeptical answer she’ll tell you keep your chin up. Thanks Tifa. Anyway you’re given the option of speaking to Aeris, Barret, and Red XIII to “see how they’re doing.” Aeris will hit on you which will prompt an indignant Tifa to interject. Aeris tries to backpedal to which Tifa responds “EXCUSE ME!” She then proceeds to ask the hapless Flower girl about her mysterious past.

Have I mentioned the dialog is hokey in this section?

Tifa and Cloud ask about the Promised Land. Aeris explains she thought it was a legend until she started hearing voices of her real mother (and many others) presumably from the Promised Land. So she hears dead people constantly in her head. Not creepy or anything. She has no more useful information beyond what the President just told you. Once you’ve exhausted that dialog, you can listen in to an exchange between Red XIII and Barret. Barret remarks that Red XIII is a “cold man” like “someone else he knows.” I wouldn’t refer to a talking red lion as “a man” but I guess I’m not a localization expert.

Anyway, now that you’ve checked on everyone there’s naught left to do but to choose the sleep option and advance the plot.

Sephiroth’s Back

You awake to a conveniently open door. The level music is now “ominous ambiance.” Waking up Tifa and exiting the cell you find a dead guard. He has a key on him and you spring the others. Red XIII sprints over to the body and pronounces that no human could have done this. I can’t tell from looking at the low poly count model of the guard, so I’ll take his word for it. He goes on to scout while Tifa and the others remain behind to “clean up.” She doesn’t explain why or how they’ll clean up, but I’ll take her word for it too, I guess.

You join Red XIII by the holding tanks, where you see a blood trail leading from the JENOVA tank. The tank is torn open, and the trail leads to the staircase. There’s nothing else to investigate, and I suppose the designers have made it fairly obvious where they want you to go next. But if you do loiter and activate random encounters, you’ll note that the creatures are different, presumably representing freed test subjects. Gone are the SOLDIERS and mothbuster bots, replaced by models of emaciated big cats and other weird things. The floor in the pre-rendered scenery has a big blood trail on it too. Nice detail work here.

Dead President

The body of President Shinra is slumped over his immense desk. There’s a distinctive sword sticking out of his back. Cloud says its Sephiroth’s sword, because only he could use “that kind of sword.” Barret repeats that “President Shinra is dead” a few times just in case you haven’t puzzled it out yet. The neurotic Shinra executive Palmer emerges from behind a pillar and confirms what Cloud said. He says he saw Sephiroth and heard him speak. At that moment the LEGO copter appears, and the fat manager breaks free from you. He lumbers along an excessively long path outside to greet the new arrival. I know it’s just the style of these old games but it’s unintentionally funny to watch the party watching Palmer slowly make his way outside. I just wish it didn’t take a full 30 seconds.

Meanwhile the whole crew gawks at LEGO copter. We haven’t recovered from Hokey Dialog yet as everyone awkwardly talks about Rufus, son of the dead President and Vice President of Shinra.

All Hail Rufus

The party rushes outside to meet the new President Rufus, who is wearing an appropriately 90s style baggy white suit. He asks who you all are and after everyone declares themselves in semi-comedic fashion, Rufus exclaims “What a motley crew.” I really need to get away from this dialog. Anyway, Rufus says he’ll preview his inaugural speech for you, but it turns out to be your standard villain monologue. He dashes Barret’s hopes for a kinder, gentler Shinra when he says he won’t waste money the way his father did. Instead of relying on bribery and propaganda, he’ll rule everyone by sheer fear. He reasons that it’s more cost effective just to terrorize the populace. OK.

At this Cloud will tell everybody to get out while he has a few words with Rufus. Aeris leads everyone off, so these two can have a chat.

Party Leader Aeris

Finally Aeris is nearly free but in order to keep the 3 character party mechanic, Tifa says she’s waiting behind for Cloud.

Read From Memory: FFVII part 5

Last week’s entry was short but fear not: this week I put more time into FFVII. We last left off at Aeris’ house in Sector 5 slums. Sector 7 was destroyed in a dramatic scene, and Shinra finally captured Aeris.

Back at Aeris’ House

You barge in on Aeris’ mom Elmyra once again and she rewards you with long exposition about Aeris. I forgot that Aeris was a member of the Ancient Master Race. I knew she had Strong World Magic (TM) but blanked on this plot bit. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First Barret wants to know about his daughter, Marlene, who had been in Aeris’ care. Elmyra chastises him for leaving his little girl alone. We get a bit of unexpected character development for Barret. He laments the tough work life balance of single dad and an eco-terrorist. Elmyra explains that Marlene slowed Aeris down, resulting in her capture. captured because Marlene slowed her down which makes him feel even worse.

Aeris the Ancient

Now for Aeris’ backstory. Elmyra is only her foster mother. She met Aeris and her real mom at the train station 15 years before the event of the game. Elmyra was waiting for her husband to return from the war with Wutai. With the trainman looking on sadly, the dying woman begs Elmyra to take Aeris in. She agrees, reflecting that it was simple boredom on her part. See, she had no kids of her own and her husband wasn’t coming back anytime soon. Apparently, adopting war orphans on the spot like this was common in those days.

We see Aeris growing up via flashback. She’s in tune with the world in a way normal people aren’t. The Turk Tseng enters into the exposition. He confirms to Elmyra (and us) that Aeris is indeed Different and Special. She’s also vital to the future. What’s not explained is why he didn’t take her in then. Cloud is also skeptical, but Elmyra says she was too valuable to risk harming. Right.

Cloud resolves to go and rescue her so we can continue the main quest. Barret volunteers to help as does Tifa. Elmyra agrees to watch Marlene while he’s away “doing his thing.” Marlene clues Cloud onto Aeris’ burgeoning crush on him. You get a dialog choice where you can either play dumb or hopeful. I chose the dumb branch, and the seven year old calls you Stupid.

Backtracking Sector 5

The destruction of Sector 7 preoccupies everyone in the area. Imagine that! If you go all the way back to the church, you’ll find two kids there tending to Aeris’ flowers. You’re given the option of telling them to scram or encouraging them to continue. I chose the latter branch. If you go even further, you can run around a cordoned off area and see the wasteland surrounding Midgar.

Wall Market Redux

Next you return to the Sector 6 wall market. Things haven’t changed since your last visit. If you go back to the brothel, the patrons will block your entry. They mention they know about your cross dressing and your violent tendencies. So you’re no longer welcome at the Honeybee Brothel. Oh well.

The locals will tell you that the scrap hoarder picked up some interesting items from the fall. What are the city ordinances about salvaging from recent disasters? Anyhow at the weapon shop, you can buy three batteries from the guy. Batteries? Cloud is as incredulous as you are but the man assures you that you’ll need them. Since you’re made out of gil, why not?

Interesting side note: I never knew you could go back into Don Corneo’s mansion. The Don is gone, but down in Sex Dungeon/Human Sacrifice chamber, you’ll find one of his henchmen tied up on the table. You’re given the option of freeing the minion, and I chose to do so. I recall an encounter with the Don much later in the game. Will this have an effect on that?

The Impossible Climb

Once you reach the wall with the cool artwork, several Sector 6 urchins are hanging around a loose cable. They don’t have PSAs about live wires in Midgar? The kids climb the cable to see “something cool.”

Cloud declares the climb impossible. For once I agree with the protagonist’s good sense. But Barret encourages him with a pep talk about a golden wire symbolizing all their hope. This mollifies Cloud but he does say it was a dumb metaphor. So there’s that.

As you climb you pass the kids who are perched on top of the wall, gawking at the devastation in Sector 7. You know, that “cool” thing.

You end up having to use two of the batteries to activate machinery so you can continue upwards. The last one will open a treasure chest and is optional. I do have a special memory reserved for this part: the stupid swinging pipe you have to time a jump onto. I must have spent 30+ minutes of frustration on it back in 1997. It only took me about 5 minutes this time on the Vita.

Breaking into Shinra Inc

At last you reach the front of the Shinra building. Barret observes that Cloud must be familiar with the place. Cloud replies that actually he was never at Headquarters. I find that a little difficult to believe but OK. You can choose either to go in the front door or sneak in the back, as Tifa advises. Regardless of what dialog choice you make, you can go any way you want. For the first time I decided to assault through the front doors.

This is a cool sequence. The receptionist tells you to bug off causing Barret to do the tough guy routine. Then the mass in the lobby realizes who you are and panic and flee in the other direction. Some guards attempt to intervene, but they’re chumps compared to my level 15 party. You have the option of taking an express elevator up or going up the stairs. I took the elevator.

To Floor 60 and Beyond

In the elevator, you stop at different floors and have to fight various bizarre enemies. Once you make it to the 60th floor, you take out some guards who drop a Key card, giving you access to the next area. There’s relative quiet here considering a terrorist group is attacking the building. A floor manager mistakes you for new employees of the “Shinra Repair Division.” He gives you a key card and explains that you need key cards to advance to levels beyond this point. You can then speak with some of the other NPCs if you want. It’s a Shinra recreation area with a nice cafeteria. I would hate having to go up 60 flights for lunch though.

Puzzling Floors

The next floors feature some gameplay puzzles. These include the classic sneak-past-the-sentries; a puzzle maze; and assemble-object-to-proceed. If you try your luck at figuring out the maze floor (or look it up in an FAQ) you can get some cool items. The Star Pendant protects against poison. An odd little accessory that hints at a coming boss.

You also get to meet the Mayor who’s a glorified librarian of company records. He’ll give you a keycard and a special gift if you manage to guess the password on the first try. Misplaced books throughout the library are the clues. Exciting right? You can ask the Deputy Mayor for help, but he’ll charge you 500 gil. FFVII is like one big Ancap experience. It’s worth it to cheat and look it up in an FAQ since he’ll give you an Elemental materia.

I find these puzzle floors to be jarring and weird but charming in a way. They make no logical sense in the game world. But at least the designers tried to preserve a game-like experience.

Another weird area is the employee gym. You can find some treasure and waste time on a treadmill and money on a broken vending machine. But there’s nothing else of note. For now.

Spying the Brass

Finally you reach a floor with a huge conference room. Some employees complain of a nasty smell coming from the room. Another will mention whispers from the bathroom. Your clue where to go next. Once in the stall, you can enter the vents and head over to a shaft above the conference room. You’ll see President Shinra with Heidegger, Reeve, and two you haven’t seen yet. These are Palmer and Scarlett. Reeve is recounting the numbers from the Sector 7 destruction: it will take 10 billion gil to rebuild. But the President has different plans: Sector 7 is not to be rebuilt. Instead, Mako energy bills will go up 15% across the broad, and the revenue will go to Reeve and Scarlett. Reeve cautions them about citizen discontent, but the President dismisses it. The people will be happy, he reasons, since he’s restarting the Neo Midgar project. Whatever that is. Heiddegar laughs at Reeve, gloating that they “saved” Sector 7 from Avalanche. That makes no sense to me but ok.

Now Hojo, lead Shinra scientist, appears, shuffling into the room. He reports on Aeris’ status: she’s not up to snuff. The President asks how that will impact his plan. Hojo suggests breeding Aeris to speed up the testing, since it will take 120 years otherwise. then leaves by shuffling out of the room. With that, The President adjourns the meeting.

Everyone leaves, but Scarlett looks at the vent and mentions the reek.

Huh.

JENOVA

The heroes realize (sort of) that the Shinra executives were talking about Aeris. They manage to puzzle that out among themselves. You retreat to the bathroom and then follow the shuffling Hojo to the next floor. It’s laboratory storage area. There are some holding cells and things in here. A strange red lion is in the tank, which Hojo in loving and creepy fashion calls his “Specimen.” Next to this area is a large chamber with a window. Cloud peers in and you go into cutscene mode. For a split second you see a headless torso with an eye for a nipple. Cloud faints again and Tifa exhorts him to pull himself together. When he comes to he mentions a connection between Sephiroth and the thing, which he calls his mother. Cloud’s amazed Shinra brought it here. He tells Barret to look to see how it’s moving. In my favorite line of the game so far, Barret declares “this is all stupid!”

Hard to argue with that.

Anyhow, you move up the elevator and finally see Aeris again.

The Erudite Specimen

Aeris is in a holding tank, which Hojo is monitoring. The platform raises and in comes the red lion. It starts to intimidate Aeris, who begs for help. Cloud manhandles Hojo while Barret shoots the array, much to Hojo’s dismay. The screen goes white, and Aeris breaks free while the creature tackles Hojo, grabbing him by the neck in its maw. Serves the nazi scientist right.

Cloud notices that the platform is moving again, and the creature speaks to them, to the amazement of all. He says he has no given name and doesn’t care for any, but Hojo named him Red XIII. Not seeing the need for a revision here, I go with the default name. He also apologizes to Aeris for scaring her. He speaks very well for a lion.

You get a choice here to have Tifa or Barret escort Aeris to safety. I had rearranged my materia between them both so it was a bad choice for me: either lose my healer or my offense. Red XIII’s offer of help for this boss battle is not optional. I sent Tifa with Aeris, so it was Cloud, Red XIII, and Barret for the fight.

Boss Fight

Cue the Final Fantasy VII boss music, and we get a freakish hulk and his three even weirder little pals. Right off the bat he casts a poison-all spell. Remember the foreshadowing? Now everybody is losing 17 HP per round. Brutal. I managed to defeat the resilient bastard but I almost lost. I wasn’t prepared for this battle.

Since I’ve played a long time, and knowing what’s coming next, I decided to call it a day at the save point.

Read From Memory: FFVII Part 4

I only had about a half hour to put into the game today. We pick up in the Train Graveyard, which seemed bigger and more obnoxious to navigate in the past. It’s a mere three screens, and the puzzles are light to say the least. Once more navigating the world of FFVII is harder than solving any traps.

Once you emerge at the train station, you head over to Sector 7 slums. The battle music is playing and the distinctive sound of Barret’s gun is over head. There’s a cutscene that gives us a sense of perspective. Biggs is thrown off the pillar, and after falling a few hundred feet he lands next to your position. You can speak with him if you like, and Aeris offers to give him medical attention. Tifa also implores her to go to the bar and get Marlene out of the area. On your feet thinking there, Tifa.

Heading up you get some random encounters against bizarre enemies. You encounter the severely wounded Wedge and Jessie, who bid you farewell. At last you team up with Barret, who is firing wildly. Not clear as to what he’s shooting at. Anyway, more Shinra are coming, he says, and soon a LEGO copper swoops in. Our pal Reno of the Turks comes in and set us up the bomb. The boss fight ensues.

Once he’s defeated, another copter comes up, and we meet Tseng, another Turk. He explains about the bomb, and brags about capturing Aeris also. He bitch slaps her for good measure to cement his evilness in our minds. They take off, and Tifa vainly tries to disarm the bomb. Somehow Barret finds a “wire” for you to escape from. It’s actually some sort of crane cable that’s connected somewhere beyond the Sector. Three of you group up and tarzan out of danger as the pillar explodes and the plate comes crashing down. It’s actually a well directed scene, and to highlight Shinra’s evilness a bit more, there’s a nice juxtaposition of President Shinra looking down on the carnage as he listens to classical music.

So cultured and savage.

As you recover in the playground, Barret is distraught at the devastation, the deaths of his comrades and his missing daughter. Tifa consoles him,  but Cloud wanders off on his own. The disembodied voice returns, clearly this time, and claims to be one of the Ancient Master Race. Cloud says, “Sephiroth..?” and that’s where I left off for today, getting to the save point as Aeris’ house.