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. That 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.

Kickstarter Look: SNES/Super Famicom visual compendium

Bitmap Books brings us the 5th entry into its unofficial visual compendium series. This time the subject is the SNES, and it looks quite beautiful. Estimated delivery is November 2017. See the pitch video below.

Project Overview

Already funded and at $108k at the time of this writing, backing it now includes several stretch goals. The goals are more pages and artwork, basically. The compendium is a coffee table book filled with representative 16-bit artwork. To round it out there’s some promising written content included. Bitmap Books reached an agreement with John Szczepaniak to include his developer interviews. Recall that he produced the excellent Untold History of Japanese Game Developers books. Damien McFerraen of Nintendo Life is writing relevant company profiles. Steve Mayles of Rare/Donkey Kong Country fame is penning the forward. Gary J. Lucken (Army of Trolls) created a custom map for the layout of the book. Check out that website and his clientele list to get an idea of why that’s a cool thing indeed.

In the pitch you can see a ton of old favorites. I’m curious about what else is going to make the cut. Given that the SNES has over 700 games in its library, including them all would be too much. Not to mention, there are several games that should never be in. I’m also intrigued by the canceled games section and the home brew section.

I admit I’m a sucker for these kinds of books. I have a few bookshelves filled with game art books. Recently I’ve gotten into collecting titles that cover old school systems. The SNES is becoming the epicenter of a nostalgia craze. The same craze that the NES and other 80s consoles enjoyed a few years ago. Kudos to Sam Dyer and his team for filling this particular niche so well.

ClayFighter Tournament Edition Longplay

ClayFighter: Tournament Edition as played by SCHLAUCHI.

I’ve lamented in past posts that developers today don’t take as many risks as they used to 20+ years ago. Admittedly there’s probably a good reason for that. But how can we ever hope to push the envelope if we keep playing it safe, right? ClayFigther is a bizarre title that started life as a parody of then ultra popular Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat series. Because of the controversy surrounding Ed Boon’s and John Tobias’ opus, Interplay thought it would be a good idea to create a child friendly fighting game. The characters and the world would be fashioned entirely out of clay.

Yes in the early 90s Brian Fargo’s outfit gave us a Gumby fighter. How’s that for pushing the envelope?

Developing ClayFighter

If you look at the entry for this game there’s a surprising amount of information. I’m interested in the process behind the development; I’ve always assumed that the claymation was very time consuming to set up. Hard to imagine converting that work to a video game afterward. Yet that’s what Jason G. Anderson did. From a 1994 article in Wired:

The painstaking, shape-and-shoot process of creating and animating the claysters took nearly a year…At Visual Concepts, programmer Jason Anderson put in a year’s worth of 18-hour days to turn the raw clay animations into a smooth-flowing, ass-kicking-fun fighting game, which cheerfully boasts flying chunks of colorful clay instead of virtual viscera.

Visual Concepts, of course, was the company that developed ClayFigther, and the name ought to be familiar to people who are steeped in DreamCast lore. But more on that in a future post.

Was ClayFighter Any Good?

I only played the rental Tournament Edition when it came out. I remember enjoying it but not nearly as much as Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat. Really if you had access to one or both of those games there was no need to buy ClayFighter beyond the curiosity factor. As you can see for yourself from the Longplay, there’s slow down and no unifying system of fighting mechanics. Still the game must have been successful enough to warrant two sequels. I never played either of them.

Atari 2600 Retrospective

I’ve been reading, off and on, Steven Kent’s 2004 tome The Ultimate History of Video Games. It has a lot of space dedicated to Atari and the Atari 2600 in general. It’s a good book but probably needed to be written as a series to really be an “ultimate” history. Technically the Atari 2600 was the first console I ever played along side the Colecovision but I was all of two years old at the time. I couldn’t appreciate it and it doesn’t hold the same place in my heart as the NES does. Still we can’t deny the place it holds in history. It’s instructive to us to see where it fit into the overall picture of the industry, and the hobby.

Chronicling the Atari 2600

Here’s a video by DaveControl about the Atari 2600. It’s 13 minutes long and gives you a good background on the system. Notice he has Steven Kent’s book listed as a source, so you can probably spare yourself reading it if you just watch this video:

Note the discussion about the infamous ET game at the 10:45 mark. Imagine having 5 weeks to bang out an entire game on your own without the benefit of any sort of IDE. Or even having an artist to produce art for the project.

Atari’s Legacy

Anyhow, Atari’s legacy is multifacted to be sure. Ever wondered about Activision’s rise to prominence in the industry? It was founded by ex Atari employees with axes to grind. Suffered through a birthday party at a Chuck E Cheese recently? Thank Atari founder Nolan Bushnell for that. How about the razor and blade business model that drives the pricing of “cheap” console hardware and expensive game software? Atari gave that to us with the 2600.

I’m being facetious of course. At a time when the home market was very much in play Atari paved the way for every console since and much of the characteristics we come to expect from them: including decent controllers and top notch software. For that Atari and the Atari 2600 will always have an honored place in the pantheon.

Breath of the Wild sales

Came across this clickbait when looking for sales data on Breath of the Wild:

The Nintendo Switch has been given a new update, which means users can now check out the latest eShop charts.

But fans expecting Zelda: Breath of the Wild to be sitting pretty at the top of the charts will be surprised to find out that it doesn’t even make the top 5.

I admit to a little surprise that Breath of the Wild is currently number 7 in Nintendo’s eShop. Now, we don’t know how Nintendo calculates and populates that chart. I don’t believe that any concrete sales data would be available to the general public. However, we can make some good guesses as to how a game is relatively doing.  Really, considering Breath of the Wild was the launch title and Nintendo reportedly moved historic numbers of Switches, I assume it’s the overall best selling game in the library. For the moment.

Also, Amazon lists Breath of the Wild at Number 9 overall in all of Video Games categories.

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.

Kickstarter Look: Tangledeep

Though it’s already been funded, today we take a look at Tangledeep, a retro action-RPG in the 16-bit variety.  Creator Andrew “zircon” Aversa has worked on several projects in the past, including successful kickstarters. He’s a composer by trade but is handling all of the design and programming for this project by himself. The pitch video is below.

He has the right inspiration (Secret of Mana, Chronotrigger, Lufia) and the right idea (playable demo!). It’s already been funded to the tune of $18K at the time of this writing, so here’s crossing fingers that he’s able to get to the 20k+ tier and Hiroki Kikuta can write a guest track.