Read From Memory: FFVII pt. 26

We last left off in FFVII in Corral Valley, a sea-bed like place between the Sleeping Forest and the Forgotten Capital. This is the end of Disc One, and for those of you who’ve played FFVII before, you know what we’re in for. I shouldn’t have to do spoiler warnings for a twenty year old game (I’ve spoiled much of it already) BUT, if you don’t want the plot twist spoiled, don’t read on.

Run back to Fort Condor

Thanks once more to bover_87, I know I have to go back to Fort Condor again. These battles are getting a little tedious, but it should be worth it in the end. I definitely missed this the first time around. This battle features 40 enemies, and 5 X potions as the reward. Not bad.

The Forgotten Capital

This dungeon is a small maze, with three directions you can go: East, West, and North. I’ve swapped in Cid and Vincent into my party, and equipped them with Earth based Materia, in anticipation of the boss fight ahead. The stage music, Listen to the Cries of the Planet, is pretty ominous. On the east path, there’s a place to rest – and doing so prompts Cloud to wake up in the middle of the night. He can sense Aeris is here. He confers with the others, and they all agree that “something terrible is about to happen.”

Blunt foreshadowing, but ok.

After this point I head back to Fort Condor, fight the battle and win. You know the routine by now.

Back at the Forgotten Capital, the music has changed to Aeris’ theme. On the west path there’s a save point which I use. Having gathered all of the treasure in the place, I head into the building with Aeris.

(Final Warning: major spoiler ahead)

Aeris in Prayer

We take a long surreal stairway down to what looks like a moon pool. Aeris is in the center of this place on a platform/shrine, praying. There are a bunch of pedestals that you have to hop on to get over to her. Cloud tells his party to wait, and he hops over to her.

Once there, Aeris doesn’t acknowledge Cloud right away. He starts to wig out again, much like he did at the Temple of the Ancients. Your controls get all wonky, and you have to stop him (sort of) from splitting her head open with the Buster Sword.

She finally looks up and smiles at Cloud, right before…well. I could type it all out, but why don’t you just watch what happens next, as played by A-M-D. Behold “one of gaming’s most famous and historic cutscenes” as bover_87 put it.

Aftermath

And with that, we have the perma-death of a major character in a console RPG. There may have been other instances in other games, but back in 1997 I wasn’t aware of any. My teenage self was shocked, as I’m sure a lot of other gamers were back then.

Afterward, you’re back at a house in near the rest area. Cloud has a moment of doubt, and decides to push on. He will never forgive Sephiroth, and now he definitely must stop him. He asks Vincent and Cid to do him a favor, and stop him him from doing something terrible again. Vincent replies “I guess so…”

There’s one way to lighten the mood. Lousy writing.

With that, we insert Disc Two. And that’s where I leave off for today.

 

Read From Memory: FFVII Pt. 21

Last time in FFVII I had just beached the Tiny Bronco “east of the sea” on the island where the Temple of the Ancients is located. Thanks to the traitor Cait Sith, the Shinra have the Keystone, so we’ll deal with that when we get there.

Leveling Up

It’s around this point that I remember FFVII getting tough. So to avoid that this time around, I did the necessary drudgery of leveling. The “Slaps” monsters around the temple give pretty good XP/AP – if you encounter a group of five, I think it’s around 1400XP and 150AP. Armed with the Aqualung enemy skill (thanks bover_87) and a peace ring to avoid the berserk status, I slaughtered dozens upon dozens of the insects. When it was over, Cloud was at level 50 and I had Mastered a few Materia and unlocked many of the level 3 spells.

Entering the Temple

After entering the Ziggurat, there’s a scene with Aeris. She’s hearing things from the world, but can’t make them out. Crossing the well maintained bridge, and up the stairs, we encounter the slumped figure of one of the black capes. He tells us “black….materia…..” before he dies. They note the tattoo on his arm before proceeding into the temple itself.

Inside the Temple

We find a wounded Tseng lying up against an altar. He speaks briefly about betrayal and misfortune, and admits to Cloud that Sephiroth is indeed here. Aeris loses her composure over the Turks’ injuries (apparently he’s a childhood acquaintance) but she resolves to carry on. Tseng gives us the Keystone and instructs us to place it on the altar. The room is actually an antechamber to the temple proper.

The party is teleported to what looks like an imitation Escher painting. There’s no way back, Vincent helpfully points out, so we have to make our way through. On the other side of the screen, there’s a strange creature that hops away from us. It’s leading us through the semi-maze. There are a few nice items and Materia here. Eventually we reach the creature, which is an Ancient in the flesh. Aeris can’t understand their language, but it acts as a Shop and Inn for us.

After the maze we’re lead by a creature into dexterity-puzzle room with falling stones. A stop by the pool in the middle of the room gives us a vision of Sephiroth shanking Tseng. Afterward, we find ourselves in the clock puzzle room. This is where, 20 years ago, I blew off the items in favor of rushing through the plot, costing me the Ribbon accessory. Guess who never got Ominslash 20 years?

Finally, there’s a chase puzzle in the next room (from the Six O’clock position), which leads us to a boss fight.

Boss Fight: Red Dragon

I should mention there was a lot of dialog and plot reveals from Sephiroth’s ghost(?) in this section. What he wants is the Black Materia, which help him summon a planet-killing object from space. The planet will attempt to heal itself, and when it does, he’ll absorb all the Spirit Energy and become a God. Ok, back to the fight: maybe leveling up to 50 was overkill. A couple of hits and aqualungs later, the dragon is toast, and we get Bahamut Materia as our reward.

Now we’re talking.

We still have to get the Black Materia and get out of the temple, which we’ll do in the next installment. Thanks for reading!

Read From Memory: FFVII pt. 19

Last time in FFVII we were right at Rocket Town, having traversed Mt. Nibel.

Fort Condor Trip and Back

Thanks to bover_87’s guide, I’m know that I have to go all the way back to Fort Condor before speaking to “the Captain.” With that in mind, I visited a few houses, got some items, and met with Shera, really a tragic figure in the story. I bought a few pricey accessories (earring and another power wrist) and picked up the Yoshiyuki from an old man. With all that done I made the long journey back to Fort Condor. The trip wasn’t as bad as it could have been, I admit. Once at the Fort, I commanded a successful battle, losing only 4 units, and received 5 potions (yay?). I then started the long journey back to the plot thread.

That little side trip out of the way, at Rocket Town the party finds its next vehicle, the Tiny Bronco. It’s a cool little plane, reminiscent of a real Osprey. At Shera’s behest we go speak to “the Captain” who is in the tilting rocket north of the town. Oh, I should mention that Rocket Town derives its name for this prominent landmark. The Shinra space program built this town. This rocket, named Shinra-26, was supposed to be what took man into space, and the captain was to be the first guy to do it. We meet him now, this game’s Cid.

Cid is a foul-mouthed eccentric. He’s excited though, because Rufus is in town and he anticipates the new president Shinra will restart the space program. Cid refuses to let us “borrow” the Tiny Bronco though. Very well.

Uncomfortable Meetings

Back at Cid’s house, the long-suffering Shera relates the backstory to us. During launch day, she “caused” the last launch to fail, because of her slowness. She performed her final safety checks too slowly. Cid canceled the launch at the last second (literally) to save her from incineration. Ever since she’s served as his submissive woman without complaint.  Cid returns and promptly berates her (and us) and demands she serve tea. I remember back in the day one of my buddies thought this whole sequence was hilarious. It is still kind of amusing.

After a series of conversations and some more berating, Palmer of the Shinra Corp enters the room. Cid insults the man’s weight several times, and leaves to speak with Rufus. Palmer doesn’t recognize us initially, but he does ask Shera to put lard in his tea. Ok…

Outside, Cid is beside himself as Rufus tells him that he’s not in Rocket Town to restart the space program, rather he wants to take the Tiny Bronco as part of his pursuit of Sephiroth. After this scene, we head back inside and Shera tells us that Palmer is out back, preparing to hijack the plane. Cue the boss fight music.

Boss Fight: Palmer

After all that grinding, Cloud is level 41, and Aeris and Tifa are at level 39 and 37, respectively. The fat man takes a shot at Aeris with his Mako gun (Ice2) but unfortunately for him Cloud is at his limit break. I used Meteorain on Palmer, and that was it. In an amusing bit of slapstick, Palmer ducks the propellers of the rotating plane (ala Raiders of the Lost Ark), mocks us and waddles away – only to be hit by a truck.

Yeah I know. It’s ridiculous. But I can still appreciate the Saturday morning cartoon zaniness of it all.

The party mounts the Tiny Bronco and it takes off on its own. Apparently on autopilot, the plane circles around the rocketship back to Cid, who’s still accosted by the Shinra men. The cantankerous guy leaps up to the plane for the dramatic escape, but one of the SOLDIER’s manages to put a round through the Tiny Bronco’s tail. We crash in the sea, and Cid is inconsolable. He lets us have the now unflyable (but apparently seaworthy?) plane, and then joins the crew. He insults all of us too, for good measure.

Now I’m starting to remember why I didn’t care for this dude.

A Brief Side Quest

Now that we can coast along the shallow water areas of the world map and travel rivers, I take the Tiny Bronco inland down a river and head back to the Gold Saucer area. There’s a small shack here, in which an Arms Dealer resides. If you recall way back when, we spoke to the old man in the cave near the Mythril Mine. Well, the Arms Dealer happens to need mythril to make weapons, so in exchange for letting him have this key item, he gives us a choice. We can take the contents in the big chest, or the little chest. The big chest contains some armor, but the little chest contains the Great Gospel, which is Aeris’ ultimate limit break. I choose the latter. This is the first time I’ve ever gotten Aeris to this point, so I’m happy to try it out.

The Saucer and the Temple

The friendly Arms Dealer also gives us some plot information. There’s a keystone that’s important to the fabled temple of the ancients. I believe that’s where we’re heading next. Unfortunately for us, the dealer had the keystone, but he sold it already to somebody else. When pressed for an answer, he tells us the buyer’s identity: our old friend Dio, owner of the Gold Saucer.

Next Up, we’ll visit the arcade again and maybe take the Tiny Bronco a spin, before heading toward the Ancients’ area of the world.

Read From Memory: FFVII Pt. 18

Last time in FFVII we got to the Shinra Mansion in the creepy (but important) town of Nibelheim. Just a reminder I’ll be posting my progress as I go along every day now until I beat the game.

Shinra Mansion

This time Shinra Mansion has a side quest for us. We don’t have to unlock the hidden character now, but since we’re here, why not? The mansion features what amounts to a scavenger hunt to unlock a safe on the second floor. Once you have all the numbers, there’s a time dexterity test to unlock the safe. That done, you face a tough boss called the Lost Number.

Thanks to bover_87’s guide I had little trouble with the boss. With a key and a shiny new Odin materia in my inventory, I headed downstairs to the graveyard/basement. Here’s where you can unlock a crypt which contains Vincent, the second hidden character of the game. He’s initially reluctant to join you. But after you confront Sephiroth in the next room, he decides what the hey and signs up.

At the suggestion of the main antagonist, from here we continue north into the mountains.

Mt. Nibel

Unlike in the flashback sequence we actually have a distance to go. We’re back on the world map and cut off from our buggy. Anyway, you’re in a valley of sorts, and at the end of it is our next destination. You find a few good items and Materia on the mountain path and in the ruins of the Mako reactor. And the enemies drop a lot of XP and AP. Cloud is around level 40 now, so these enemies aren’t difficult. After grinding a bit and unlocking my first level 3 spell (Ice 3), I make my way to a huge scorpion-like creature blocking my path. This is the Materia Keeper, but like Lost Number before him, he’s not overly difficult for my party.

Rocket Town

At last we’re getting somewhere in the main plot. After journeying for a while to the north, I got to Rocket Town, where yet another party member waits for us. Since I need to do some back tracking before meeting the new guy, I decide to save here for the day.

We’re getting close to the end of Disc One now, with a lot more plot twists to come.

Read From Memory: FFVII part 3

I had a chance to play for about an hour today. Where we last left off Cloud had just escorted Aeris from the church to her home in the slums of sector 5.

Sector 5 slums is really a small area, and a dump as the name implies. Interesting tidbit is meeting a sick man with a number 2 tattoo. He says gibberish and I thought you could get some items in a small side quest to cure him. That was my memories of the upcoming sidequest blending in. I also never knew that you could interact with one of the NPC’s television sets. If you do you’ll get a breaking news broadcast that updates you about your recent bombing mission in Sector 4. Once again painting AVALANCHE as terrorists.

Anyhow, you meet Aeris’ mother, Elmyra Gainsborough, once you reach their house. It’s quite nice for a poor area with a big yard. Aeris has promised to escort Cloud to the Sector 7 gate, past Sector 6, and her mother, apparently not into strong parenting at all, gives her ascent. However, as Aeris goes to prepare the spare bed for Cloud, Elmyra asks Cloud to leave in the dead of night. Mentioning something about him being in SOLDIER and her not wanting Aeris’ heart broken again.

Ut oh.

When Cloud goes to bed, he has a brief conversation with the disembodied voice. It’s not clear if its him or somebody else. The voice mentions that the bed was nice, “like last time” or something, and then Cloud has a flashback to a similar scene. A woman is expressing her worries about him, and then suggests he needs to date somebody older. “To take care of him.” Cloud replies: “Not interested.” When I was younger I always assumed this woman was Cloud’s mom. If that’s the case, this conversation got a whole lot creepier…

Cloud manages to leave unnoticed but Aeris has already teleported to the exit to Sector 6. After deliberating and acting tough, Cloud agrees to bring her with him to Sector 7. The market place in Sector 6 and the road to get to it gets talked up like it’s an epic adventure. The road ends up being one screen with an obnoxious path and bizarre enemies. You reach a playground with huge cat playscapes and Aeris takes out a minute to reminiscence, Cloud dutifully playing the listening party. The sector 7 gate is visible, and it actually opens. A stage coach pulled by a chocobo exits and as it turns to your right, you see Tifa on the back. She’s wearing a dress of some sort. Puzzled by this Cloud and Aeris go to investigate.

Sector 6 Wall Market

The Wall Market is a cool looking area. There are five screens total and lots of NPCs to talk to. You’re not given any clue as to where Tifa might be, nor is it obvious where that stagecoach managed to squeeze through the narrow alleys between shops, or where it parked. You have to investigate the area and talk to people. As others have noted, it’s pretty comical when Aeris tells you that you have to find Tifa soon because a place like the Wall Market is “pretty scary for a girl.” As if neither of them can handle themselves after living in the slums for a while.

After you explore the starting area if you head east you’ll come to the Honey Bee Inn. This was one of the scenes I mentioned in my overview that feels like a subtle jab at Nintendo; both its history and its censorship of “edgy” themes. (Though I have to say the whole game feels like a middle finger to the Big N.) There’s a crowd of socially retarded guys trying to get in. But the doorman will tell you to scram if you don’t have a Membership card (quest item). The chubby middle aged man right in front of him will tell you about Tifa, after he insults you of course. He explains that she’s the newest girl but she’s being “interviewed” by local strong man Don Corneo. The Don apparently “interviews” all new arrivals since he “wants to settle down.” Seems to me that if this is true then he’s not serious about it, as aspiring prostitutes aren’t marriage material. But it does help cement Don Corneo as a buffoon. And it’s just a game, right?

Anyway, if you head back to the start and then north, you’ll get to the mansion of Don Corneo. The door man here will tell you to beat it, since the Don is not into men. Foreshadowing! As you go to leave, Aeris tells the man that she’ll come back with a cute friend. Yes, it’s time for the Cloud crossdressing experience.

Cloud in Drag

All you really need to advance the quest is a dress and a wig. There are multitudes of FAQs and guides that will explain how to proceed and get the necessary items if you happen to come across this page looking for a walkthrough. There are two possible paths: either dress up so well that the Don picks you for the “interview” session, which I believe is the canonical story, or do the bare minimum and he picks Aeris. A few points of this quest that I thought were interesting, or I missed/forgot about.

Honey Bee Inn

If you explore the Honey Bee Inn, there are two occupied rooms and two empty rooms to enter. You get some inner thoughts of the madam(?) as she’s guiding you through the process. None of them are flattering to Cloud, as you can imagine. I never explored the occupied rooms before. You’re given the choice of listening or peeking through each room’s keyhole. If you peep, you’ll see in one of them (the Queen Room) that there’s a satanic ritual going on (yes really). Apparently this is what Shinra executives like to do on their down time. It also provides some plot foreshadowing. The other room (Lover’s Room) has two old people in it who call each other grandma and grandpa. Apparently their son rented them this room in an attempt for each other to spice up their relationship. I don’t know about you guys, but I wouldn’t rent a room at a brothel for my folks. Ever.

Anyway, if you follow the madam to one of the two unoccupied rooms, you advance the quest. The Group room and the “&$#%” room. If you choose the “&$#%” room you’ll have a bizarre out of body experience and meet Mukki. If you go to the Group room, you’ll get a homoerotic “bath” with Mukki and a group of his pals. Having always chosen the “&$#%” room in the past, I went with the Group room for fun this time. Cloud doesn’t go psychotically haywire like the other room but he does get very…uncomfortable. Either way you’re not getting out of it without meeting Mukki. For your troubles you’ll either get some lingerie or bikini briefs, and if you go to the staff room you can ask one of the “honey-bees” to give you make up.

Once you exit, all of the dudes outside are fawning over Aeris. She’s managed to rebuff their advances and collect some gil from them in exchange for flowers. I wonder if that gil goes to the party fund…doubtful.  A bizarre sequence, in any case. You can read more about the Honey Bee Inn and what didn’t make the cut in the English version here.

Rescuing Tifa

Gathering the rest of Cloud’s outfit involves getting a drunk tailor out of his stupor long enough to fashion you a dress and convincing “big bro” to give you a wig.  You can also obtain a tiara from a lazy shop owner if you’re willing to spend the money. The encounter with big bro is a mini game at the gym that involves Cloud doing as many squats as he can against one of big bro’s disciples. Getting pretty involves pain, I think is the game’s message here.  Big bro will say something to that effect. If you win you’ll receive a blonde wig, making Cloud more desirable over a fairer haired maiden, I suppose. After you pick up the dress from the tailor, Aeris will also select a dress and doll herself up for the occasion.

Heading back to Don Corneo’s mansion, the doorman will now be very complimentary of you both and allow you in. The receptionist inside will instruct you to wait while he notifies the Don that you have arrived. I take it that Corneo practices formidable OPSec by not permitting phones in his home. You’re free to look for Tifa.

FF7 screenshot - Don Corneo's dungeon
Finding Tifa in the Don’s waiting room

This will lead you down some long, candle lit stairs to a temple where human sacrifices are performed. Or a sex dungeon, depending on how you look at it. Either way it’s a weird room, but Tifa is here. After her initial shock at your get up, she’ll firmly cement you into the BFF-zone for Aeris’ benefit. They share in common amusement at your discomfort and beta male status. Tifa then reveals why she’s at the mansion: the Don has been sniffing around the bar, looking for evidence of AVALANCHE. Barret roughed up the PIs and considered the matter closed. But Tifa was uneasy with it all so she decided to come meet the Don herself to see what he had found out about their terror cell. In order to do that she has to get “interviewed” by the man. Aeris then proposes that since they are three of them, and the Don views three ladies at a time, they can get the information no matter what. Tifa readily agrees to this plan, and the assistant finally returns, bemoaning “women nowadays” “who don’t listen.”

Meeting Don Corneo

At last, your group is brought before the Don. The Don Coreno character model looks a little like the President Shinra model, but with a cigarette, monocle, and Mohawk. Despite his girth he gleefully hops onto and over his desk to evaluate you. If you got all the correct quest items, he’ll choose Cloud as his interviewee for the evening. The other two are given to his minions.

In his bedroom you get several amusing dialog trees to choose from. Eventually Cloud will reveal his true self, and Tifa and Aeris will bust in. Threatening the Don with castration several times, he will reveal that Shinra is planning to destroy Sector 7 entirely in order to eliminate AVALANCHE and send a message to any other lower city dissident groups. The plan is to bomb the pillar holding up a “plate” above the slums. That way the incident can be blamed on AVALANCHE. Devious, right?

Well as you go to leave, you get one last dialog choice with Corneo. He asks why you think he was willing to tell you about the Plan. The distraction gives him enough time to activate a trapdoor to send you to your doom. Not unlike Jabba the Hutt, really. You fall down  to somewhere even lower than the slums, and the game fades to black.

Shinra Executive Meeting

The game goes into exposition mode in which President Shinra meets with  his henchmen, Heidegger and Reeve. I’ll have more to say about the villains of Final Fantasy VII in a later post. It’s unclear at this point if Heidegger is related to existentialist and Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger. In any case they simply reiterate what Don Corneo told you: they play to destroy Sector 7 entirely with a bomb, which will be blamed on AVALANCHE, and Shinra will come in and handle the clean up, getting a PR boost presumably. Reeve is adamantly opposed to this plan, but is shut down by the president, who suggests he take a few days off.  It’s an unexpected level of depth from what could otherwise be cardboard cutouts, and perhaps because I’m paying more attention this time, I appreciated it more.

Boss Fight: Abs

Back to our heroes, Cloud checks on Tifa and Aeris, who have survived the drop. You are now in the sewers, and are soon attacked by a creature named Abs. It has some relatively powerful attacks but I was able to defeat it without too much trouble. Tifa despairs a bit, saying they have no time to stop the bombing, but Aeris cheers her up. Heading two screens up and beating off a few random encounters, you eventually make it to the Train Graveyard, where I stopped for the moment.

Read From Memory: Final Fantasy VII part 2

I left off last time having just bombed the Sector 7 reactor with AVALANCHE, avoiding pursuit of the Shinra soldiers, and making it to the sector 7 slums. Continuing on with this point, you get to shop a little if you chose before a lot of exposition dump in the main quest.

Sector 7 Slums

The Avalanche Hideout

Barret has chased out all the patrons of the bar which a front for AVALANCHE’s “hideout”.  Here you meet Tifa, a childhood friend of yours, and Marlene, small daughter of Barrett. Obviously there’s more to the story because Marlene is white and Barrett is a burly black man. With a machine gun as his right hand. (This was 1997, remember.) Inside the bar your partners in ecoterrorism are enjoying a few drinks. You can interact with them if you wish, with a limited dialog tree with Biggs. Marlene is very shy around you. You get the option of giving her a flower (if you bought one from Aeris) after you speak to Tifa. I chose to give it to Tifa. I have a feeling that might affect some later interactions with Barret.  The rest of the group follows Barret into the lair. If you choose you can have a drink with Tifa before going down yourself.

The pinball machine is the secret lair door. It’s an elevator that leads down to the basement with a punching bag, a computer, and a TV. Very high tech lair. Speaking of the imagery I forgot all the local flavor that Square packed into these scenes: packs of cigarettes and butt-filled ashtrays, some middle school level alcohol references, and an odd Texas sign on the wall. They really tried to earn that Teen ESRB rating.

In the hideout, Barret works over the punching bag before abusing one of his teammates. It’s then payout time for Cloud, which leads to an awkward conversation. You have some dialog choices but it all inevitably leads to you being perceived by the others as a cold hearted mercenary. As you go to leave, Tifa stops you and reminds you of “your promise.” Cue the first of many flashbacks for Cloud.

FFVII Flashback 1: Cloud and Tifa

Seven years before the game, Cloud and Tifa have a night rendezvous at a well in their hometown. Cloud apparently had something to tell her. She’s late because she had been dolling herself up. At least I think that’s the unspoken message, given the fact that she shows up wearing a nice dress and heels. To a meet up with a boy her age at a grimey well under a starry sky. Cloud – doomed to ever be confused about women – tells her he’s decided to leave town in the Spring. She drops another hint, mentioning that all the boys are leaving their town. That having gone right over his head, he blabs on about wanting to join SOLDIER and be like his hero Sephiroth (villain foreshadowing).  Tifa is bored: “right, the famous Sephiroth…” and finally salvages some of her evening by extracting “the promise” from Cloud. She asks Cloud to come back for her if he gets into SOLDIER and becomes famous. To “rescue” her. She explains the concept of white knighting to him, and he agrees. Back in present day, Cloud is apparently unwilling to renege on this verbal agreement, and tells Barret he will stay on for an additional mission for 3,000 gil. Barret fumes about this but Tifa reasons with him, so he counteroffers 2,000. We cut to black and inn music before we can find out if Cloud’s salary was negotiable.

Attack on Sector 5 Mako Reactor

The next morning you wake in the basement hideout and head back up to the bar. Tifa asks you how you slept, and you’re given a dialog option of hitting on her or taking a friendly jab at Barret. I chose the jab. Barret tells you that the next target in the Sector 5 Mako Reactor. He drops the hood act for a moment to ask Cloud about using Materia – Final Fantasy VII’s magic system. You’re given the option of skipping this but I chose to go through it anyway for a refresher. Once you’re back outside you can enter several buildings you couldn’t before. Barret pays out 1500 gil, combined with the 700 or so I had previously I was able to afford all near gear for the party (Tifa has joined you at this point) and some new Materia. It’s an interesting design choice to shove the rest of the tutorials into an unlocked room above the weapon and armor shop. Skippable if you want to miss out on a free material (All) and some treasure.

Once you’re done with this area, it’s time to head back to the train stop. There are a couple of dialog encounters along the way if you want to take them (I did). If you do so you’re learn that AVALANCHE is being painted as a murderous terrorist group. At last you’re back on the train. Barret bullies a Shinra white collar employee, and then notes that your fake IDs won’t work this time. To avoid detection you’ll have to jump off before you reach Sector 5. Apparently security has been tightened and sensor sweeps begin early. You have to run from car to car, given 15 seconds or so, and you also get jacked I believe by a thief.

Finally you make the jump, after Barret admonishes you not to “get your spikey ass hurt” so early in the mission. 20 years later and that line is still funny to me for some reason. In the tunnels you can move up to Sector 5, but there’s an opportunity to grind here. If you head down you’ll eventually reach a Shinra checkpoint. The guards there are pretty easy to beat, and they’ll keep coming until you run away. I spent about 45 minutes or so getting Cloud up to level 12 and Tifa and Barret up to Level 11. That would pay some dividends later.

Backtracking to the Sector 5 entrance, you have to enter in through the garbage chute ventilation shaft. You’ll meet up with Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie at various points, and then you’re in the reactor area. The layout is basically the same as the first reactor. Its in these scenes where I’m reminding that while the environmental artists got to show off their skills, the character artists didn’t always do so well. Your Cloud sprite tends to get engulfed by some of the larger areas you move through.

When you reach the reactor, Cloud suddenly collapses. He hallucinates Tifa, over the body of her father, with a sword nearby. She’s distraught and mentions Sephiroth. “Sephiroth did this?!” It passes and Tifa and Barret ask him if he’s ok. Now, personally I’d be apprehensive about letting the guy who just fainted and had visions handle high explosives…but perhaps he’s the only one who can set the bomb. Having done that, you make your escape, back tracking through the huge, empty (but pretty) scenes you just came through.

Shinra President and Boss Battle 1

Just as you’re making it to safety, your route is cut off by a squad of Shinramen. The president of Shinra…President Shinra…creeps up from behind you. Cloud confronts him, identifying himself as a member of SOLDIER. The President brushes it off, name drops Sephiroth, and brushes off hood mode Barret. He gives you a “playmate” before hopping onto a helicopter that looks like it was modelled from a LEGO toy.

The boss is “Airbuster”, a “techno-soldier” who looks like a kitchen utensil or some sort and has the articulation of a generation one Transformers toy.  He has some nasty magic attacks, but thanks to my grinding in the tunnels, it took just two limit breaks to finish him off, for about 1500 damage or so. When this boss is defeated he explodes, destroying the pre-rendered bridge right underneath Cloud’s feet. There’s a “Fly you fools” moment, with dialog choices naturally, and the game dramatically reverts to field model cutscene mode and Cloud plunges down into the slums.

Cloud and Aeris in the Church

The screen is black but Cloud has a conversation with some disembodied voice. It makes an awkard reference to skinned knees, and gradually the dialog morphs into a conversation with Aeris. The Flower Girl you met before. She says you were lucky to break your fall on the flowerbed, and like all people who have just free fallen hundreds of feet, Cloud gets up and shakes it off.

You get some more dialog choices with Aeris, and during this time a figure comes into the entryway. If you break off talking with Aeris and go talk to them, they’ll tell you “not to mind them.” Weird glitch? Anyhow, after some charming talk Aeris rekindles Cloud’s tradition of white knighting and asks him to be her bodyguard. She offers to pay his fee by going out on a date with him. Aeris at least won’t resign him to the friend zone right away.

At that, the figure in back walks up with several Shinra guys. Here we meet Reno, of the Turks, for the first time. It won’t be the last in this game. A chase scene ensues, and you get one of your very first minigames. There are four barrels stacked up in the rafters. Don’t ask me how they got up there, or why. But as you’re separated from Aeris by a hail of gunfire, you can shout out instructions to her to evade (or fight) the guards that come after her. You can help her avoid these fights by knocking over the barrels onto the bad guys below as they try to corner her. Of course, you have to pick the right barrel or you’ll miss, and Aeris will be forced into an encounter by herself.

Naturally, I missed with each barrel (you get three chances). It’s not a big deal, as Aeris is apparently OP compared to the military police and dogs. Eventually she gets back to you in the rafters, and Reno calls out that “the Ancient is getting away!” You exit the church via the roof, and continue hopping along the rooftops of the shanties. Aeris reveals that she has been chased by the Turks many times before. Cloud says they recruit for SOLDIER, among other acts of subterfuge. Though she was able to evade them and defeat guards all by herself, she’s winded by all the jumping on the rooftops.

I finished today’s session with her “getting home” to the slums in Sector 5.  Check back next week for Part 3.