• Welcome to Talking Time's third iteration! If you would like to register for an account, or have already registered but have not yet been confirmed, please read the following:

    1. The CAPTCHA key's answer is "Percy"
    2. Once you've completed the registration process please email us from the email you used for registration at percyreghelper@gmail.com and include the username you used for registration

    Once you have completed these steps, Moderation Staff will be able to get your account approved.

  • TT staff acknowledge that there is a backlog of new accounts that await confirmation.

    Unfortunately, we are putting new registrations on hold for a short time.

    We do not expect this delay to extend beyond the first of November 2020, and we ask you for your patience in this matter.

    ~TT Moderation Staff

I'm playing through all of Final Fantasy, and everyone is invited (Playing FF VII now)

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Before doing anything else, I wanted to visit Wutai. Very soon, you get the scene where Yuffie tells us to prepare ourselves, as the monsters here are strong. So, I guess she wanted us to open the menu, like when we met her, so she could steal from us, while we weren't watching?

But Shinra soldiers appear just now, and she runs away. And, when the fight starts, we find ourselves without any Materia. It's not a hard fight, but really obnoxious, with soldiers that are able to put us to sleep, or blind us.

So, now we have to travel over the whole continent, from the South to the North. And Yuffie was right, the enemies here are powerful. It really shows us, how much we are dependent on our Materia - wihtout it, we aren't excactly helpless, but so much weaker than before. The game cheats a bit here, though. The birds here are just way more powerful, than any other encounter we had throughout the game. I ran into three of them after the sidequest, fully decked out, and still died miserably.

Still, the point stands. People on this planet need Shinra, to continue their lives in the comfort, this basically infinite power Mako offers. The power Shinra offers. The only way for us to fight against Shinra, and save the world, is to use the very thing we are fighting against. We are corrupting ourselves. It's an interesting comment of the game.

After traveling for some time (honestly, this part is the hardest in the whole game, and I only made it by running away from everything), we make it to the city Wutai. It is a really nice place, and looks pretty cool. Especially the mountain in the back, with the statues we run around on, looks amazing. Plus, there is a room full of cats, which is therefore the best room in the game.

What comes next, feels, again, more like an adventure game than an RPG. There is no fighting. We just look through the city, finding Yuffie again and again, just for her to avoid us one more time. Entering the weapon shop during that time is pretty funny, as there are weapons on display, and the clerks there tell us, that they don't have anything. They are very bad liars.

Also, we meet the Turks, who are on vacation here. Elena, as the newest member, is immediately motivated to fight us. But Reno and Rude just tell her to stop ruining their vacation. It is a nice scene, and interesting, how they really only see us as their job. Nothing personal.

At one point, we catch Yuffie, and she leads us to where she promises us, the Materia are. We even learn about her backstory. Basically, this city was once big and important. Interestingly, she talks about a time before her birth, so the relevance of Wutai declined, even before Shinra rose to power. Or, more likely, that was just something that happened over time. And now, after the war, Wutai is nothing more than a tourist spot. The emperor was once a powerful man, but only sleeps now. She wanted to collect a ton of Materia, so Wutai would have a chance against Shinra. Which, honestly, with that giant cannon at Yunon, that would never work.

It is a sad situation, but also, I'm still not sure what the war was actually about. Especially if Wutais role in the world was declining, anyway. And they are not about living as one with the planet, like the people at Cosmo Canyon are. They don't seem to have an actual problem with Mako. Was this just an ego thing for Shinra? That they had to defeat this important city, to make clear that they are the only ones that count? Was this a war over ressources? Doesn't look that way.

Honestly, I'm not sure if this is intentional, but the further we get away from Midgar, the less heavy Shinras presense is felt. Or, more precisely, the less horrifying it feels. Gongaga is a horrible sign of all that Shinra does wrong, but Cosmo Canyon is basically free from their influence - aside from the fact, that they will die with the rest of the planet. Rocket Towns problem is, that it's boring. Sure, Cid couldn't fulfil his dream, but elsewise the town doesn't seem to have been really traumatized. And, while Wutai has been beaten in a brutal war (which is awful, no question), their situation now seems more psychologically bad. But they don't seem to be under actual control of Shinra. Dunno, maybe I'm missing something here.

Also, Nibelheim throws a wrench into this idea, as it is between Cosmo Canyon and Rocket Town. Not perfect, but I like the idea.

Aside from that, we have now seen most cities on this world. And, I wonder how they governed themselves, before Shinra appeared. Like, maybe that is just a function of the technology not being far enough, to show us big, sprawling cities. But it seems, like this world only produced small towns, small enough, that a city council or something like that was all that was needed. Small enough, so that human rights were never an issue - if you live among your people, it gets way harder to be a jerk to them.

So, something like our Enlightenment was never necessary in this world. Which, when an entity like Shinra actually takes over, leads to a situation where people are treated horribly, but there isn't even an idea about how an actualy government should work. That it is responsible for its citizens.

Well, to get back to the game, it was just a trick of Yuffie. She tells us to to push one of two switches, and I'm pretty sure both lead to us being captured under a giant cage. It is easily reversible, but Yuffie is gone, again.

In the meantime, the Turks get orders to look for "someone", who was spotted here. Again, only Elena is interested, and despite the threat of the higher-ups learning about Renos and Rudes disinterest, they stay in the restaurant. Elena, though, goes. And is very soon, together with Yuffie, captured by Don Corneo. There is a fun bit later, when he wants to tell his sad story, about how Shinra was after him, after he talked to us - but Cloud doesn't care at all.

I really wonder how strong these ninjas are, that captured Elena and Yuffie. Yuffie has all our materia, so she should be plenty powerful. And Elena is a Turk. Even at the start, she should be a competent fighter. But, considering the reason of Don Corneo (getting a bride), this is basically just a case of "women suddenly have to be really weak and play a role as damsel in distress". I generally like, how this game portrays women, but this is a low point.

We do team up with the Turks, and together, we defeat Corneo. Who, thanks to Reno, falls to his death, which feels weirdly grim. It shouldn't feel that way. We killed a ton of soldiers throughout the game, and the Turks are paid killers. Dunno.

There is a nice bit at the end, where Reno gets a call to look for us, but, as a small thanks, he ignores it. Also, it's still their vacation.

Yuffie finally gives us back our Materia, but even Cloud comments on them being distributed completely wrong. It's another fun bit.

I do wonder, why Yuffie comes along afterwards. I guess she gave up on her plan, defeating Shinra the way she planned? Dunno, when we get here, it seems like the one and only reason for her, to follow us up to this point, was to steal from us. And she does so, not caring at all if we die. It feels a bit off.

That's all for now. A shorter post, I just wanted to talk about Wutai.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
With this in mind, I want to ask about summons in this game. Like, most materia enhance your abilities in some way, or give you straight-up magical powers. Which makes sense, you use energy to do stuff. But what are the summons? Are you actually summoning creatures from another dimension, or a hidden land? The idea that I like the most is, that these materia give us the chance to summon creatures from old and new legends. This would explain the weird Chocobo/Mog summon, in all its cartoony glory. So, maybe this world has legends about creatures like Shiva, Ifrit and Ramuh. And maybe, they had their own medieval times, and legends about twelve powerful knights.

Leviathan is worshipped as a deity in Wutai, or was before modernization crept in and the old belief systems declined, anyway, so the religious significance is there. I think you can take up the reading that the entities materia allows one to summon are or at one point have been literally real or real to the worldviews of past people and societies, considering materia is condensed mako energy, itself stemming from the lifestream containing the memories and spiritual residue of all life, constantly cycling through. It's the cultural legacy of the Planet, more often than not directly weaponized.

He uses this as an excuse to force himself into our party. Which, honestly, feels very weird and creepy. Like, it's such an essential thing in RPGs, that you choose your party yourself. It feels like a violation, that a character might force himself onto us, and will not go.

There's another point of unsettling texture to the scene which derives from VII's liminal position as a transition between the classic and modern eras. FF since the SNES days had resolved its scene transitions between player control and cinematics not with abrupt fadeouts, usually, but by the very particular visual convention of having all the actors literally walk in or out of the protagonist's body to take their positions on the stage, or return to behind the curtain afterward. It's as abstracted as anything else these games do in their visual language, so in that presentational context it probably warrants little comment beyond simply observing that it's there. VII retains its predecessors' storytelling instincts and rules to large margin even as it's innovating in others, so we still have people emerging from and retreating back within Cloud's body as required... only now it's conspicuous to witness as a result of the additional fidelity and tonality present in all the modern amenities in visual storytelling next to it. It feels ghoulish and intrusive, especially when characters like Barret and Cait Sith with their much larger frames are simply absorbed into Cloud's physique. It may seem like an observation and distinction only borne out of hindsight and what seems uncanny to modern standards, but even as a child with no context for the series beyond this game, it read to me as vaguely disturbing of an affectation. After VII blazed the trail that it did, the literally splitting and reuniting party never made a return in the series again, not even in the deliberately self-reflective IX.

This place also offers the Study of Planet Life, Bugenhagens laboratory. People come here to study, as did Barrett. He tells us about this, and that he couldn't do nothing. So he created AVALANCHE.

It's been rewritten and embellished a lot since in spin-offs and of course the remake, but even in the original game AVALANCHE wasn't founded by Barret. You can talk to him in Cosmo Canyon, around the bonfire and in the shops, to find out that the founder was someone who studied Bugenhagen's teachings and philosophies and traveled to Midgar, becoming an insurgent, but it wasn't him--he's never been to Cosmo Canyon before, but considers it AVALANCHE's birthplace because of the above.

To be honest, the whole thing with the Gi feels weird. Our enemy is Shinra, and Sephiroth, who is just one because of Shinra. The whole game talks about, how we are all one, and it never seems to care about nations or other aritificial differences between people. Having this tribe, that is just evil, without any explanation even, just feels off to me. Conflict is a thing, of course, and there are bad people. But so evil, that they won't even become a part of the Lifestream seems too much, for someone we never meet.

It is an odd fit and connects to the uncomfortable thematics around Red XIII and his "tribal" people. Many characters in the game, if not all of them in the playable party, have their "arc" or moment where their character focus is spotlighted with the rest of the crew taking on a supporting actor role or just merely the audience to a solo narrative. When it occurs with folks like Yuffie, whose very existence in the game's context is optional, it comes off as a natural fit to that context no matter how outlandish the premise. Red XIII is the most underutilized and in his way, unintegrated figure out of the playable cast, but the individual culmination of his story arc is still a mandatory leg of the story, wrapped in circumstances that feel isolated from what the rest of the game is doing, as eclectic as VII can be. It feels grafted in from something else entirely, and is mostly carried by Cosmo Canyon's strength as a setting and everything that Bugenhagen's involvement underlines in the game's larger story arc.

Honestly, I'm not sure if this is intentional, but the further we get away from Midgar, the less heavy Shinras presense is felt. Or, more precisely, the less horrifying it feels. Gongaga is a horrible sign of all that Shinra does wrong, but Cosmo Canyon is basically free from their influence - aside from the fact, that they will die with the rest of the planet. Rocket Towns problem is, that it's boring. Sure, Cid couldn't fulfil his dream, but elsewise the town doesn't seem to have been really traumatized. And, while Wutai has been beaten in a brutal war (which is awful, no question), their situation now seems more psychologically bad. But they don't seem to be under actual control of Shinra. Dunno, maybe I'm missing something here.

I think, as ever, a healthy dose of abstraction is necessary to understand and align with the wavelength of narratives like this, told through means that can never directly reflect all that's said and intimated. Midgar is gargantuan in the game's scale, but it's suggested to be far more than a player's eye can ever see, both for the sections directly traversed and those unseen. The same goes for every single other location in the game and the world at large. There's no compelling reading to make when observing it all literally, as it's all more snapshots and suggestions of places than thorough documentations of them. It's what makes fiction at large so fun in general, but it's particularly relevant in a medium like this that's so much built on interpretive engagement. The Shinra and Wutai war feels like a complete farce and impossibility if just dealt with the visible material the game provides--these few houses and buildings and a dozen people on a continent that has nothing else on it fighting against a company-run megalopolis with influence throughout most of the world--so it's left for each individual to take the game at its word that it is a tangible event in its history, and that the military occupation and tourism of Wutai since are ongoing factors despite the game providing neither military personnel nor tourists to populate the few screens that comprise the location.

~~~
As for me, I'm just past Wutai too, having completed the events there at the earliest opportunity.

  • the brilliance of locations like Gongaga that the game utilizes lies in their optional nature and how very much essential they still manage to feel in what's done with them. Shinra's environmental, labour and human rights abuses are continually emphasized; the Turks and Scarlet make appearances; the "spy within our ranks" plot point is established; and much is added to all the interweaving histories of Cloud, Tifa and Aerith and where all of that is eventually going to go. And as stated, this is still even more layered in that those people have to be physically present to get the reactions out of them. VII is so unafraid in its storytelling to let these connections lay loosely and imperceptibly at one's feet, until it suddenly tightens its grasp so one trips on something that feels like a true unearthing of something hidden. They're often contextual, missable, and ephemeral in every way, which makes replaying the game as many times as so many people have compelling beyond just comfort in familiar spaces and insistence on routine regurgitation--there really is something unexpected to find in it even after so long and storied a relationship. Characters regularly react differently to scenes they're not forced to be present for; I brought Aerith to meet with Vincent and she roasted his ass at every melodramatic turn, for an effect that supported her prior characterization and elevated his through some much-needed levity. Since VII is mechanically so interchangeable and accommodating in who is actively fighting, the choice of people to include can just exist on this level of whose input you're interested in seeing when going to new places and meeting new people, which is an undervalued element of roleplaying very much present in it.

  • Cosmo Canyon sits as the thematic fulcrum of the game around which its aspirant ethics revolve. It's already positioned as significant before you even reach it, as it's the only place in the world where the atmosphere contorts to its mood, gripped in eternal twilight--contrasting with Midgar, against its darkening veil of haze and pollution when it's approached. More than anything, it's a microcosm of how the world and the Planet could potentially continue to survive and cohabitate with humans without forgoing the structures of human society entirely--Cosmo Canyon's belief systems in practice don't translate to total technological abstinence, as electricity and other modern machinery are still utilized, but the scale of them differs, and the sustainability of the power sources does too, as it appears mainly wind power is in use. The habitation itself is uncomplicated and integrated into the natural formations itself, carved into the cliffs and rock. It's an idealization of how the Planet could still heal and survive without shaking off the humans killing it, and sadly probably only an academic, limited scope experiment as its example would likely only suit smaller communities and those willing to give up the modern conveniences that is Shinra's devil's bargain. No one actually talks about any of this or that it's explicitly what it stands for as a community--it's just an interpretation that's powerfully present through environmental design and thematic focus both.
Bugenhagen himself is also just really funny to consider for how important a figure he is narratively at the center of all these underpinnings, and how completely abstract his visual appearance is at the same time. He flies around on a green orb, or are those actually his legs--why's a 130-year-old pile of beard a teenage lion's adopted grandpa--and other absurd things about him are just so potently there that you just have to roll with the game's punches or either be crushed underneath. And because it is still VII and so frequently deals in this kind of dissonance and is able to navigate it all the same, you do accept him as a dramatic figure even as the mind lingers on just who or what this guy is. The scene in the planetarium is affecting as a high point in the game's directorial voice with CG assets and the solidification of its larger themes, and it lands all the more memorably because it's delivered by this inexplicable orbal centenarian. It's going to be a wild ride to see how the remake is going to portray figures like him that it cannot reasonably write out of the story, and how those new portrayals will affect takeaways of those characters.​
  • I just really love Vincent Valentine. A character so devoid of humour in their own self-image often lands as the funniest of all, and that's Vincent, the king of goths with guns. Every movement is a theatric flourish, every utterance a dramatic interjection, every insight a tortured soliloquy--he is performing at maximum intensity at all times, no matter the size or presence of an audience. He's also intertwined with the aesthetics of the game that I find so compelling and singular in the biological horror aspects of it, as expressed through his Limit Breaks, which are also semi-comical in nature in what they lift from the wider horror genre. His backstory isn't a slam dunk as all the men orbiting around Lucrecia--him, Hojo, Sephiroth, Gast--tend to treat her as an object to pine over or to win or lose, but I also don't have cause to resent Vincent as the narrative figure he is because of it, and can just focus on aspects of the character that I do find entertaining.

  • I guess now we come to Cid Highwind. Good fucking lord. He came up a while ago and this is what I said then:
Ah, fuck it: I have to contest that reading of Shera and Cid's relationship outside of just light snark because it really does bother me and seems really romanticized and charitable to a damaging situation. There's just no other way for me to interpret what's going on there than the results of years of intense and regular emotional abuse on part of Cid, directed at Shera who's his former subordinate in the industry and project they both came from, so the power dynamics are already lopsided from the start. She ends up as practically his live-in maid (without any compensation of actual employment) out of guilt, for "ruining" a dream for him where he chose not to willfully allow the death of a person in favour of his own career and goals, and then uses that as a weapon to berate, insult and diminish her for years in the same household, and in front of strangers. The conclusion to this arc is to reward the serial abuser with a marriage with his victim, something the game considers a sweet and validating conclusion. I think it's one of the worst things the series has narratively ever done, and glorifies Cid's abuses as supposedly endearing character tics that the rest of his ostensible charm is built on.

Cid is everything that I found distasteful and objectionable about Cecil but supercharged from naysaying gaslighting and mitigation of women into barefaced, undisguised abuse. It's really interesting to me how primed we are to allow and accept a characterization like this and even tie it to the prime appeal of a person like Cid, whose cantankerous belligerence is the linchpin of why he's supposed to be entertaining and affable in the first place. Patriarchy allows men to misbehave like this where demonstrable offenses are contorted into lapses of judgment or pardonable exceptions, and patterns are willfully ignored with benefit of the doubt working in the abuser's favour rather than the victim's. We see so little of Cid and Shera's home life, but the very little we do witness is so unquestionable in its veracity to how these situations compound over time that nothing about it strikes as unbelievable or sensationalized. Even Vincent, the former career corporate assassin and thug, remarks that he's surprised that Shera can live with it. Moments like these are so painful to reconcile with in how they could be used to set up an arc with something real to say, instead of the eventual resolution where the offender never has to face consequences and gets to live on in people's memories and the game's estimation as a rough-around-the-edges, funnily hot-tempered codger before his time. VII's good at many things as a narrative experience, but this was a subject completely beyond the writers's grasp to reach, effectively sabotaging a character they clearly invested a lot into realizing.​
  • the Tiny Bronco is one of the best vehicles in the series for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it's a potent encapsulation of the aspects of Cid's character that aren't so repellent: a wounded flier with its wings clipped, having been denied the skies it belongs in. The mere concept of an aircraft, for so long in the series the mark of expanding possibilities and freedom, being limited in this way and occupying the same space as prior sea vessels but in an uniquely limited way... they rarely landed on something this intersectional in both structural and thematic design in exploring modes of traversal that are so important to the series's identity. The Bronco's acquisition is also the first time one can reasonably diverge from the path laid out by the game's orchestrations, the first bit of "well, where do I go now" felt in it. Together with that lack of explicit guidance, there's a chance to take in the shape of the world that's now been mostly traversed, through different vantage points along the way. Restrictions in open sea travel force tracing the continental shallows and shorelines, and natural discoveries like the river running through the western continent can be made just like that--you'd never think twice of it otherwise. The game's insistence at this point that you poke around and wander a little allows it to place those emergent hints at the farthest reaches, like Bone Village tipping one about the Keystone and the Temple of the Ancients, or the solitary weapon's dealer in the outskirts doing much the same. Wutai is also always there, geographically placed in proximity of the starting point so natural discovery of it is common, and if Yuffie was on the Bronco as it crashed, she'll also remark about the possibility of going there. VII is all in all a pretty directed, guided game in its play sequence, but because of its ability to step back at times and the geographical thoughtfulness of its world, charting that space never feels all that restrictive.

  • as Cosmo Canyon was the effective culmination of Red XIII's arc and the reaffirmation of his reasons for staying with the party, so is Wutai for Yuffie. The requisite marveling at the scope of how much the game is willing to leave unobtrusively missable by players applies here as much as anywhere else; one never needs to take a step into Wutai to finish the game, and the layered nature of its secrets also stands out, as Yuffie of course must be recruited to have her story be told, but even that might not play out if left on the table for too long and some of its key players are no longer available to take part later in the game. It wraps up a minor character's fate in a not too appealing story arc, and continues to build on the uneasy familiarity and occasional allying with the Turks, all the while wrapping all of that in the larger thematics around Shinra's global expansion which is ultimately at the root of who Yuffie is and why she does what she does, as minor a character as she's sometimes treated as. What I love most about it and her is that she's completely transparent in her intentions of robbing and profiting off of anything she can, and frames this as her defining self and persona, joyfully antagonizing everyone she can as she does. But just as transparent is that it's just all pretense, that Yuffie is a reluctant folk hero who veils her altruism and kindness in a guise of easily performed selfishness, her motivations always striving for something more than self-gain and preservation. The Don Corneo sequence is fine for everything it involves that's not him, but doing the pagoda climb afterward is crucial for getting the thematics across in her frustrations of having grown up in a country occupied by a foreign expansionist force, with its own culture being reduced to and peddled as exoticized diversions for the tourists that maintain its nominal autonomy and peace. And after all of that, she still remains true to herself by the end of it, only now with parental approval of her schemes. It's an arc that doesn't take the character to somewhere she already wasn't, but it does a lot of lifting in exploring the reasons for that status quo in a way that makes all of it feel consequential and worthwhile.
 
Last edited:

Bongo

excused from moderation duty
(he/him)
Staff member
There's another point of unsettling texture to the scene which derives from VII's liminal position as a transition between the classic and modern eras. FF since the SNES days had resolved its scene transitions between player control and cinematics not with abrupt fadeouts, usually, but by the very particular visual convention of having all the actors literally walk in or out of the protagonist's body to take their positions on the stage, or return to behind the curtain afterward. It's as abstracted as anything else these games do in their visual language, so in that presentational context it probably warrants little comment beyond simply observing that it's there. VII retains its predecessors' storytelling instincts and rules to large margin even as it's innovating in others, so we still have people emerging from and retreating back within Cloud's body as required... only now it's conspicuous to witness as a result of the additional fidelity and tonality present in all the modern amenities in visual storytelling next to it. It feels ghoulish and intrusive, especially when characters like Barret and Cait Sith with their much larger frames are simply absorbed into Cloud's physique. It may seem like an observation and distinction only borne out of hindsight and what seems uncanny to modern standards, but even as a child with no context for the series beyond this game, it read to me as vaguely disturbing of an affectation. After VII blazed the trail that it did, the literally splitting and reuniting party never made a return in the series again, not even in the deliberately self-reflective IX.
Even more Mario RPG connections here. That game, which I mentioned earlier as the intermediate step in area design between Chrono Trigger's still basically 2D presentation and the fully flexible 3D of FF7, used the same convention of having the party lead's sprite represent the entire party - still present but not displayed - even after the oversized Bowser joins you. One scene featured a gag in which the party prepares to rejoin Mario at the apparent end of a scene, but they are all interrupted by an NPC saying one more thing, and instead they all bump into each other, causing Mario to pratfall. At the scene's real ending, they all walk toward Mario again, but they pause first, with Mario bracing himself for a collision and everyone else turning their head to glance at the NPC.

(Actually, that last one is another thing I hadn't considered with respect to Mario RPG: it made the characters more articulated. Specifically, and most importantly, they had sprites for them turning their heads 45 degrees to the left or right, so they could look at each other without rotating their entire bodies, another feature that was expanded on in FF7, in which characters pitch and yaw their heads arbitrarily in many scenes.)

I think that's evidence that they were fully aware of the same incongruities that you point out as arising from the process of adapting the visual language of 2D tile-based scenes to less abstract environments. I wonder if perhaps by FF7 they still considered it part of the series' visual identity to eschew the Dragon Quest style of having the party follow you around. But it's clear that they were experimenting with the presentation by having so many scenes where Cloud walks through rooms that the party members already occupy. Or maybe they were simply bumping up against their polygon budget in screens where NPCs might appear, and hadn't yet come up with the FF8 trick of baking stationary characters into the pre-rendered backgrounds.
 

Torzelbaum

????? LV 13 HP 292/ 292
(he, him, his)
Now I'm wondering if the stacking mechanic in World of Final Fantasy was inspired by the old merge into the leader convention.

FF8 trick of baking stationary characters into the pre-rendered backgrounds.
Huh, I never noticed that.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
It's a lot more noticeable in modern versions of the game (and presumably the old PC one too). A big thing about the PSone era Squaresoft games was that Square knew how to turn the console's limitations into an advantage.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
As always, after leaving Wutai, I feel drawn to the North of this world. I think the game mentions Sephiroth going there, but I'm not sure - maybe I just remember it being the part that comes soon. There at least, in Bone Village, we get confirmation for Sephiroth. But we can't go on, without a keystone, which is needed to enter the Temple of the Ancients. That this temple is somewhere completely different is something I always miss, and always have to consult a guide for.

The clue we get, to find the keystone, is that some rich guy has it. Not the greatest hint, but this time, I assumed it only could be Dio. He seems to be the only non-Shinra person in this world, who is still at the top, probably because the Gold Saucher is such a great place to make people forget about any problems that exist in this world. It's similar to Costa Del Sol in that regard. Shinra still leaves a few places untouched, that offer as a reward for hard work.

The keystone is easily found, in Dios little museum, and all he wants for lending it to us is, to get a bit of entertainment. Which is just the games way of introducing us to the Battle Arena. I think I died in the third round, because the stupid enemy put me to sleep. But I always really enjoyed this concept, where you get more and more restrictions put upon yourself (or even, sometimes, get healed, if I remember correctly). I certainly want to get back there, and at least try to make it through.

When trying to leave, we learn that the cable car is out of order, so we have to spend the night here. I had forgotten the reason, but thought that it was weird, how we would spend our time here, at this awful place, that imprisons people below it, entertaining ourselves.

That said, I am glad that the game forces us to enjoy the sites that are offered here. Or, more precisely, some things that are only offered now, in this special night, where everything is free.

The hotel, for example, is probably the most delightful place that the game has to offer. It's so full of funny, interesting things to look at. In the lobby, you have a table with two chairs, which are sometimes occupied by two ghosts. One of them has the most charming, delightful smiles ever. It's beautiful. Clouds room has all kinds of creepy, weird nonsense to look at. I would love to visit this place, in real life.

Here it gets clear, that Square knew that this story is a bit more complicated than the ones in the earlier games. The others ask Cloud to summarize what had happened, and you can decline or accept the question, getting a summary if you need one. Which is really not a bad idea. We are following Sehiroth, but, up to now, the things Shinra did to the different cities took up way more of our attention.

This would now change, anyway. Shinra is an important antagonist, but their role, after leaving Midgar, lies deeply in a more passive one, or one that has already happened and is now established as something that doesn't happen, but is. While traveling, we learn about the horrible things Shinra did, not what they are doing now. As already mentioned, similar to Kefka, they already won and did all these horrible things, that we are too late for. And killing the planet is mainly a thing of not changing the status quo. This would only change later, when we get captured by them. But for now, they are mainly part of the backstory and environment, with Sephiroth as the active antagonist. It's a really interesting setup.

We do learn, that the Promised Land can only be found by feeling it, and only a Cetra, like Aerith, is capable of doing so. Or, at least I only realized it here. But it is the reason Shinra not only needs her, but also needs her to cooperate.

Which confuses me. What exactly was Hojo trying to do with her? Exctract the knowledge out of her? Or her feelings? Her connection with the planet? No wonder that he would have needed over a hundred years.

Also, I didn't realize that Red is tattooed, like the hooded guys have been. That he is basically number 13 of them. He fears to go crazy, like these guys did. But I guess it's not quite the same. Maybe he was special enough to get a tattoo, but for another reason, but it never comes up, that he is also controlled by Sephiroth. Unlike Cloud, he never loses control.

For some reason, I found it very interesting how Tifa loses her cool here, telling Red to stop being scared about this. There are a lot of feelings, bubbling up inside of Tifa, aren't there? It just stands out. She might have been snarky on the giant staircase, but in general, she hides her feelings very well. The things in the reactor, in Nibelheim, back than, must have really hurt her.

With that, we go to sleep. And then, the date happens. As always, I got Aerith. At some point in the future, I really need to try to be a bit meaner to her and nicer to someone else, because I'd really like to get a different date. But then, after watching the others, the main one I want to play out is Tifas - the other two are fun Easter Eggs (I enjoyed Yuffie knocking out Cloud, for not playing along in the play, and then the dragon), but they don't offer much else. Aerith and Tifa go somewhat deeper.

I really enjoyed taking part in the play. Maybe it's a bit of a reference to the opera in VI, just way more goofy? I actually wished it went on a bit longer. It's also a nice proof, that Cloud is just a dork, the way he intentionally says dumb lines, and then might pirouette off the stage, together with the actors. That the dragon, upon being kissed, would turn into a princess, and Aerith being irritated that Cloud didn't kiss her, was a really fun bit.

In the gondola, we finally learn that Aerith didn't come along, just for fun. Cloud reminds her just very much of Zack. I really like this - JRPGs can have characters tagging along, without a good reason to do so. It looks a bit that way with Aerith, like she just finds Cloud nice to hang out with. But no, it's deeper than that. He fills a void inside her.

But also, she knows that there is something off with Cloud, and she wants to meet the real one.

I really enjoy the date, and it's another thing where, even with the same person, you can try out a few different answers during the play. And, if you are lucky, you get Yuffie or Barrett the second time. It's just another nice piece of offered replayability.

And then, it gets serious again. We see Cait Sith, as he hands the keystone to Tseng. Cait Sith tries to play it off, to just continue the journey. But as Cloud isn't having it, that stuffed toy gets more real, and it's one of the more irritating moments.

I'm always fascinated, if one character or setting shows itself as nice and friendly, and then shows a really grim side to itself. This game is full of this anyway, but, up to now, we never saw anything like this. Cait Sith was weird, and him forcing himself into the party felt off, but he seemed nice. Even if it was probably obvious that he is the traitor, this stuffed kids mascot getting serious, and threatening us with the lives of Marlene and Aerith' mother, is pretty dark.

It's also here, where Reeve admits to only now comming around on us. He is fascinated, as we risk our lives without getting paid or praised. There is a clear thing going on. As mentioned, he always is portrayed as the morally least corrupt of the Shinra leaders. But being at the top of this awful company probably means, that you have to leave most of your morals behind you. Travelling with us shows him, that there is more to live than just money and power.

We still continue on, to the Temple of the Ancients. I'm actually surprised, that Shinra didn't get there, up to now. But I guess they didn't realize, that they would need the keystone.

When entering, Aerith immediately connects with the planet, and talks to it. She could become one with the planet. And it's happy, that she is here.

On the top, we can enter, and find a very hurt Tseng leaning against a stone pedestal. We get the keystone back, as he tells us, that it's not the Promised Land that Sephiroth is after.

I did find interesting, that Aerith cried a bit for Tseng. Her relation with the Turks is pretty weird, but it makes sense, considering that they, up to this time, they never tried to hurt her. She has known them for years, that is true, and you just do connect, after some time.

With the key, we enter the temple for real, and are teleported to a complex looking maze, that's actually not really that hard to navigate. There is only one way forward, anyway. I remember the enemies here being relatively hard, but they are all vulnerable to Frog Song. Or just kill them all with Trine, that works too.

We find some creatures here, that Aerith can talk to - Spirits of the Ancients. They have been away from their planet for a long time, to protect this one, and lost their ability to talk over time, as that was not necessary anyway. They all offer healing, shopping and saving. You can't just get out, so this is an offer to grind and heal, if needed.

So, these spirits are similar to the enemies in the Cave of Gi, aren't they? Souls of dead Cetra, who still have something to do, and don't want to go on, for that reason. Only, in this case, for a positive reason.

The temple, on the whole, is a fun dungeon. I really like the labyrinthine design of the first area, and how it changes that up with that hallway, where hollow rocks roll at you, and then that room with the clock hands, that you can manipulate to enter the different, twelve doors.

That hallway also offers a pond, that shows us how Tseng was attacked by Sephiroth. Who, now, starts to talk a lot of cryptic stuff about becoming one with the planet. He also explains to Tseng, that his death will not be a bad thing, as he will become, as a spirit, one with Sephiroth.

I always hated villains, who were that egocentric. Telling others, that it is not so bad to become one with a big entity, as long as THEY are the big entity. It's ok for others, to give up their identity. But not for the person who says so. It's really gross. At least be honest, with your evil nonsense.

The room with the clock hands leads to twelve different rooms, which contain different things. Some have treasures, some dead ends, some chests with only monsters. I think it's the first time since FF II, that we see that goo-like creatures that are covered with eyes everywhere, again. They are still really obnoxious, being able to steal 80%, or something like that, of HP or MP, with one attack.

Door V leads to a ribbon! That's pretty great, and will make the Battle Arena way easier.

Door VI leads to a place, where we have to get a key from one of the spirits. It's a neat minigame, where doors lead to different places, and we just need to catch the spirit, by going through the right one. After this, we enter the door, and get to the place where Sephiroth wounded Tseng.

There is a big mural, and if you know about the story, you see what Sephiroth learned here - that the Black Materia will summon Meteor. Also, we find different Sephiroths here, who appear, talk cryptic, and disappear again. When playing for the first time, this seems probably like Sephiroth being weird, and just moving and theatralic ways. Now, we know that these are just the different tatooed people, who are actually Sephiroth clones, or something like that. I forgot the details, but I assume the game will tell me later. The main point is, that we are not talking to Sephiroth here.

At the end of the hallway, we learn of his plan: To wound the planet, so a ton of Spirit Energy will move to one place, so it can heal the wound. With Sephiroth at the center, and nearly all Spirit Energy collected at this point, he would be able to become one with the Lifestream, and basically will become a god, ruling over every soul.

As mentioned, this is basically the same thing that Kefka did, just less physical. Both he and Sephiroth collected a great, ancient source of power, and would become like god, through it. As we saw with Kefka, it wouldn't work. Sephiroths suffering would not end.

Then, Sephiroth flies off, and Cloud hears a "Wake up" in his head, which makes him go crazy, for half a minute or so. So, it is clear now that at least one voice inside his head is the one from Sephiroth.

Then, we suddenly get a boss battle, against a Red Dragon. He drops the Bahamut Materia, which is very nice.

After the fight, we suddenly find a floating, hologram-like depiction of the pyramid at the altar. Touching it makes the whole temple shake, and Aerith finds out, that we have to solve puzzles, which would shrink the temple down. It is the Black Materia, and would need to become small enough, to be picked up. But whoever is inside the temple, would be crushed.

It reminded me, again, of FF II. Especially Leviathan was a very effective way, of keeping Ultima save, and making you kill yourself, to get to the Black Materia, is also a very clever, interesting protection mechanism.

As Sephiroth has no problem sacrificing his people, we need to get the Black Materia, to keep it save. It's here, where Cait Sith offers to do it, as he is just a stuffed animal, dying is no problem for him.

We accept, but he comes along to the clock room, to enter door XII. In there, a locked door awaited, which is now warm. And so, we are attacked by another reference, this time from FF IV - the Demons Gate, which is clearly inspired by that stupid wall. Except, that it doesn't kill us immediately when coming close, it only hits everyone like a truck. It is also not really hurt by spells, so we soon change to physical attacks. It's clearly, up to now, the most challenging boss in the game.

After this, Cait Sith has his goodbye scene, which is kind of silly, as he even says that there are other versions of him out there. Aerith, though, takes it seriously, and asks him for a fortune. It's weird, but also a nice scene. Maybe there is some sentience inside this stuffed doll robot thing? Maybe Reeve just enjoys, that Aerith actually takes him seriously, showing him compassion, despite kidnapping her mother and Marlene?

Or maybe this is just a reference to the sacrifices in FF IV, where everyone comes back at the end.

From outside, we see the temple shrink to Materia size. Aerith explains, that it can not be used by one person alone. A lot of planet energy is needed, which means the Promised Land. Cloud assumes, that Sephiroth doesn't know where it is, but he appears and tells us, that he learned it by traveling through the Lifestream.

It's the first time, that we hear about a Materia, that can't be used alone. But we learned, way back in Midgar, that Aerith also has a Materia that she can't use. I guess she connected the dots here already, realizing that she needed to be somewhere, where she could use the power of the whole planet, to summon Holy. And that she, therefore, needed to die.

A voice inside Cloud tells him to "wake up". And so, we see a smaller version of him, watching as his regular version moves slowly to Sephiroth, giving him the Black Materia. Who flies off. Leaving back Cloud, who has a total breakdown. And he falls unconscious.

We see his dream/vision. We are in the Sleeping Forest, which we have already found near Bone Village, where Aerith says goodbye. She tells Cloud, to stop worrying about Sephiroth, and mainly care for his own well being. That he should find out, why he was just controlled by Sephiroth, and that he should leave that part to her. Everything in a very kind way - she doesn't mind what Cloud just did, or at least doesn't blame him for it.

Well, she doesn't say goodbye, as she says that she will come back, when she is done. So, not already planned out, I guess. But it's clear, that she will be gone, when we wake up. She runs away, with Cloud trying to run after her, but without being able to move.

And then, Sephiroth appears, telling Cloud that he will have to deal with Aerith.

So, Aerith is special, in that she can talk with spirits and the planet. It's therefore no surprise, that she can talk to other people telepathicelly. But that Sephiroth can talk to us, here, in Clouds mind, is another hint that part of him is in Clouds head.

Cloud wakes up in Cosmo Canyon, with Barret and Tifa at his side. As we learn later, they waited on his side the whole time. We came a long way with Barrett, didn't we? Meeting Dyne, and seeing him die, must have really mellowed him out.

Both want to follow Aerith, to defend her from Sephiroth. But Cloud is scared. What if he gets crazy again? He has the same fears as Red had, earlier on, but Tifa shows more kindness now. Barrett, though, clearly tells Cloud that it's his fault, that Sephiroth got the Black Materia. That he is a coward - there are plenty of people who don't know themselves, and still carry on. Well, that's not a great comparison, but Clouds situation is very confusing.

This is, of course, not a good way to deal with Clouds problem. Telling people how they are at fault, for problems their brains create, is pretty shitty. But Barrett isn't the most understanding person, when it comes to issues like this. He does show some, though, when he tells Tifa at the door, that Cloud has to deal with this on his own. Maybe he just wanted, to motivate him that way? I'm sure Barrett is just not that well equipped for stuff like this.

When alone, Cloud accepts that he is afraid of learning the truth. He doesn't even know why, though.

Outside, Barrett explains that Cloud doesn't have to deal with this on his own, mirroring the situation below the Gold Saucer, where Cloud told Barrett the same thing. He and Tifa would be there for him, stop him. They will be able to deal with it.

This is important. Basically, these are people, who know that their friend as psychological problems. And they want him to carry on, as, no matter what happens, they will have his back. They will be there for him. It's not ideal, I think - in the end, it's Clouds decision, if he trusts himself. Pressure isn't helping. But having people, who will help you, if your brain fails you, is really important. People, who will not blame you, if anything happens. Who will accept you, the way you are, and show understanding of your problems.

This time, we really need to go north. In Bone Village, we first have to play the excavation minigame, to find the Lunar Harp, which we need to wake up the Sleeping Forest. It's an easy minigame, and you can use it to find other stuff, too.

The amount of minigames here is really crazy. There are all these one-offs, like running in the parade or dolphin jumping, but also the defence of Fort Condor, the bike and snowboard games, which you can replay at Gold Saucer, all the other stuff that you find there, Bone Village, and I'm probably forgetting some. It's amazing, how much this game has to offer, even if all these games are pretty shallow. Square would learn from this, when designing one specific minigame for the next three games, which was only one, but also way deeper than anything found here.

It's the first time, that I found that summon materia in this woods. It's really well hidden, but pretty strong. Forgot the name, though, as you don't even summon an entity, but only the elements.

The way to the city isn't hard, we are there soon. And find a dead city. It looks like an underwater city, with giant corals, and even a fish in one of the houses. Maybe the idea is, that this is the city of people, who lived in harmony with the planet, so their design choices mirror they basis of live?

After exploring the city, we find some beds, and decide to take a break. But in the middle of the night, Cloud, Tifa and Barrett get up. Cloud can feel it, both Aerith and Sephiroth are here. So we look around, find an underground area with more houses, and Aerith at the end, praying.

As Cloud approaches, the very thing happens, that he was afraid of - he grabs his sword, and tries to kill Aerith. There is a very interesting design choice here, where Cloud, when standing next to Aerith, is frozen. We, as the player, have lost control of Cloud too. We can tell him to go on, but how is out of our hands. Every push of a button just brings him closer to strike Aerith down.

Only when Tifa and Barrett scream his name, does he wake up. So, the deep friendship he developed with his teammates is actually stronger, than whatever control Sephiroth has over him.

And now, Aerith looks at us. But not for long, as Sephiroth jumps down, and impails her. A pearl, that she had tied to her hair, falls off, and lands in the water, sinking to the ground. The musical background here is amazing.

Cloud catches Aerith, before she falls to the ground. Sephiroth babbles more nonsense, and Cloud tells him to shut up.

"What about my pain?"

It's the same question, he asked back in Nibelheim, after Sephiroth burned down that village. Why is Sephiroths pain the only one, that counts? Why isn't he looking a bit out for others? Why is he so blinded by his pain, that he can't see how everyone else is suffering?

It's an essential question, and explains a lot of the difference, between Cloud and Sephiroth, who are, kind of, mirrors of each other.

Maybe, the whole "sacrifice" of Cait Sith is just there, to catch you off guard. His was basically nonsense. But now, the harshest thing happened, and one of your team members, the light and hope of your group, is gone, forever.

People don't die in combat, in RPGs. You can revive them. You can heal them. Except when you can't, which makes these situations all the more powerful.

Sephiroth is confused, why Cloud asks about his pain. That he has feelings. He thinks, Cloud is just acting. And then, he flies off, with the words "Because you are...". Leaving us a part of Jenova, Jenova-LIFE, to fight against. Except that the music doesn't change. Aeriths theme plays over the whole battle, giving one of the hardest bosses up to now, a very sad, somber note.

After the fight, it's Jenova, who continues Sephiroths sentence. "Because, you are a puppet." It's the first real hint, that Sephiroth and Jenova are not necessarily different entities.

But that is not important. Everyone says goodbye to Aerith, and Cloud picks her up, putting her gently on the water surface. We see her slowly descending into the depths, until she isn't visible anymore.

Cloud plans, to get the Black Materia back. But he also admits, of being scared of himself. Which isn't a surprise, in any way. Losing control of your body, especially to hurt someone you love, must be horrifying. How do you even go on, like that, it must be really traumatizing.

But the game makes a break here. And we have to change discs.

I remember, when my friend played this game, changing discs was a really cool thing. I don't think it was this game, or maybe it was the swap from disc 2 to 3, but I didn't learn here, that Aerith died. It felt like a feature, sort of similar to how Sonic 3 could be put into Sonic & Knuckles. It felt like this amazing, technical thing, that you could take out the disc, and swap it for another one. We were scared of doing it wrong, and needed some time, before we had the courage to take the disc out. After all, if you took out a cartridge, in the middle of playing, you might destroy it, or lose your save, or whatever we thought back then. It was a really scary thought, taking the disc out. But, of course, it worked out fine.

This is the first time, that Aerith' death really hurt me. I remember, when I played it on my own, I didn't really realize it, only getting it after the fight, that she was gone. But I didn't have a real connection to her, except for her part in the battle as a healer. And that could be taken up by anyone else, due to how Materia works. And next time, I already knew about it. Only this time, where I thought more about, well, everything, did it really leave a mark. I thought about it again, and again, over the next few hours. It's an incredibly powerful scene. One of your party died, irreversibly. Aerith died, who was such a positive influence on the group.

It's a very effective scene, and a great breaking point for the first disc.

That said, I don't like how the game seems to have been reduced to "Aerith dies", maybe with the scene of Sephiroth in the flames. It's such a reduction, of all that game has to offer. There is so much more to it, and even without her death, the game would still be amazing. It is a very effective scene, but it itsn't even really essential. In the end, it's just a twist, to give the player a gut punch.

I'm not trying to minimize the scene here. You could tell the story without Aerith' death, but it has a very strong impact on this specific version. Thematically, it's essential, of course - Aerith' body might have died, but she is still very much there. Not only as a spirit, as part of the Lifestream, but as an individual.

An interview shows a bit insight, here:

Kitase: In the past FFs as well, important characters died and went away. Like Galuf in FFV for example, they followed a pattern where the character would go down after giving it his all in a fight. In this case, often it went that the characters think something like, they’ve tired so hard, and just accept the death and overcome it. When creating stories I think that is an option, but in FFVII we were thinking, could we take this a step further? Bring out a sense of loss somehow? What I didn’t want to have was the kind of story development where even when a character dies there’s no sense of loss, on the contrary it just raises motivation and pushes you forward.

Nojima: Kitase’s loss talk has been consistent since back then.

Kitase: And with a lot of stories, before they die there’s a lot of dramatic preparations, aren’t there? Like a “pre-prepared excitement”, or “using this as a step to fight evil further”, those are the kinds of developments I wanted to avoid. In reality, death comes without warning, and you’re left feeling dazed at the gravity of the loss… Rather than wanting to fight evil, you’re just overcome by a great sense of loss, like you just want to give up everything. I was in charge of the direction of that scene, and I tried to bring out that sort of sense of realism.

Nomura: It’s related to ‘life’, one of the themes of FFVII, so it’s not portrayed as a “death for excitement’s sake” but expresses a realistic pain. Death comes suddenly, so I think the emotion there wasn’t excitement or anything, but sadness.

Nojima: Speaking from a scenario standpoint, FFVII is ‘a story of life cycling through the planet’, so someone needed to be part of that cycle. In other words, although what happened to Aerith isn’t really based on logic, as far as the story goes, maybe one of the team was destined to lose their life from the very start. But how that one became Aerith wasn’t decided through a notice as is popularly mentioned. It was decided after everyone, including myself, racked our brains about what to do.

Also, years ago, I heard that the death was included later, as a shocking moment. Which seems to be wrong, according to this interview:

—Was the Aerith’s shocking death scene also confirmed at that time?

Nomura: I suggested to Kitase about having either Aerith or Tifa die, and it was decided that we’d go in that direction.

—Were there two heroines from the outset?

Nomura: No, originally there was only Aerith, and Tifa was added as another heroine later. To make up for Aerith dying, we needed a heroine who would be by the hero’s side until the end. Plus with Aerith’s death, while there were characters in previous “FF” games who lost their lives, we wanted to try a different approach. By bringing out a ‘sense of loss’ with Aerith’s death, we also wanted to portray the theme of “FFVII” which is ‘life’.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Here it gets clear, that Square knew that this story is a bit more complicated than the ones in the earlier games. The others ask Cloud to summarize what had happened, and you can decline or accept the question, getting a summary if you need one. Which is really not a bad idea. We are following Sehiroth, but, up to now, the things Shinra did to the different cities took up way more of our attention.

It feels like an acknowledgement of the storytelling conventions of a game like IV, which took extreme, almost comically painstaking measures to have its characters introduce one another and catch up on things and what had gone on since if they'd separated before. That's the justification given by newer arrivals like Cait Sith and Cid, who weren't there from the start, in that they want a summary of just what they signed up for--the game's self-awareness of what kind of story it's telling is to have Barret chime in that he's been here from the beginning, and still has no idea what the heck is going on.

There's a more somber note to the scene too in that it's the only time in the entire game that all nine playable characters are united in one space, sharing time and conversation between themselves, just before the inevitable separation. That it takes place in the lobby of a kitschy haunted house hotel inside an garish amusement park makes it feel all the more ephemeral and precious, a once in a lifetime moment never to be repeated.

For some reason, I found it very interesting how Tifa loses her cool here, telling Red to stop being scared about this. There are a lot of feelings, bubbling up inside of Tifa, aren't there? It just stands out. She might have been snarky on the giant staircase, but in general, she hides her feelings very well. The things in the reactor, in Nibelheim, back than, must have really hurt her.

I'm consistently taken with how they're writing her, how absolutely true it rings to me of a person who's severely repressing things about herself and her loved ones, all in the name of maintaining a false but comfortable equilibrium, and the moments when that facade breaks before being repaired again. The biggest issue I have with Tifa as a character is that she barely exists outside of Cloud's orbit; everything she does and reacts to is in some way reactionary to him and his circumstances, where she ends up playing a vehicle to get his arc to its destination rather than developing one of her own. What actually works about it is the specific contrast between the two, of Cloud who's a prisoner of his own psyche but largely unconscious of his own issues, and of Tifa who's confirmed her own suspicions time and time again and chooses to remain silent, equally as entrapped by her own inability to act.

I really enjoy the date, and it's another thing where, even with the same person, you can try out a few different answers during the play. And, if you are lucky, you get Yuffie or Barrett the second time. It's just another nice piece of offered replayability.

The payoff is great but the road to getting there is maybe even more impressive. It's not just that the game features an extremely granular system of additions and deductions in point totals, tracking the individual opinions of four different characters for practically the entire game up until this point. Or that these mechanics are tied to the dialogue choices offered regularly to give a measure of player direction in guiding Cloud's character through his responses to others. What gets me about it is that absolutely none of it's ever made transparent to the player; the only reason we can talk about "date mechanics" at all is because the game's code was parsed through, those hidden values determined, and it ended up in guidebooks and through them in digital guides and wikis where they live on in cultural consciousness. There is no "Barret's affinity rate increased! Tifa's affinity rate decreased!" messaging enacted by the game, so outside of the specific context of gamifying what's kept behind the curtain through outside information, it's just the natural consequence of one's actions in the story. VII more than enough flirts with the conventions of the kind of genre works it's riffing on here--whether you view Cloud as a "deconstruction" of a harem protagonist or the ultra-capable hero in general or not is irrelevant when those thematics are still actively invoked--but its commitment in remaining true to the characters themselves even in the moments when it lines them up as date prospects strikes to me as more humane way of incorporating player avatar infatuation into the narrative.

The play is funny and charming, but the gondola ride is the highlight even so: "Interrupted by Fireworks" is one of Uematsu's best from this or any other game, and the direction of the scene is so, so strong and emblematic of the unique boons of the medium VII occupies, interweaving between the static shots inside the ride and the CG moments outside--ones prompted to be observed by Cloud's partner, and which you have to lean toward the window to witness. Even in this pre-determined story scene, a layer of interaction and player direction remains, as you can affect Cloud's body language where he might stoically sit the ride through, pensively lower or lean back his head, or be as engaged as asked of him. The choreography in its primary movements is charted out, but you can still determine the steps.

And because it is still VII, the dating concept also engages in homophobia for comedic intent. Barret's the joke option, positioned with a minimal default affinity value by default so he'll be the most difficult scene to land on, practically untenable outside of explicit planning or abusing glitches. Doing the most work for the worst end result doesn't spell a good time, and as conflicted as I am about some of the remake's revisions in this area, the equivalent scene there is more considerate of Barret as a character, and of the audience who are playing the game.

I did find interesting, that Aerith cried a bit for Tseng. Her relation with the Turks is pretty weird, but it makes sense, considering that they, up to this time, they never tried to hurt her. She has known them for years, that is true, and you just do connect, after some time.

This connects to something I've been thinking about a lot through this playthrough, and since the remake, in how morality and sympathetic portrayals fluctuate in how these characters and this story are treated across the years. Aerith talks here of how Tseng is one of the few people she can claim to know her, so she has empathy for him on that basis... but this is still Tseng, who's hounded and stalked her ever since her childhood, actively ordered her kidnapping, and physically struck her onscreen earlier in the game, in recent history. It's Aerith's choice to still feel for him, and more importantly, the writers's choice to portray her as having those conflicting, complicated and ultimately irreconcilable emotions in ways that don't offer an easy takeaway of the situation but lands as more genuine than a clear-cut stance might've.

That kind of unease in making sense of murky distinctions is I think paramount to a number of the major players in VII's story. The Turks are positioned in series-internal tradition as the successors to the Gilgamesh and Ultroses of the world, the recurring comic relief pests who formally oppose but have a glimmer of some kind of rapport to be had with the heroes. The difference comes in that one cannot really claim the prior examples of the archetype to have done irredeemable things in their time, not callously killed as they played out their role. The Turks are different in premise, because they are so much closer to real-world institutions of violence and oppression; they're the CIA or equivalent of the power structure and regime they serve. We can read them as completing those tasks when offscreen, as nothing really claims otherwise, and we see it in person too: Reno for instance drops the Sector 7 plate killing all on and underneath it, as "part of the job", and does so glibly and while quipping about it. They're textually unrepentant career killers, but played as sufficiently amicable to the heroes' context--and the player's, because familiarization builds affection out of habit more often than not--so they still get to balance on this line of rival or foe one is kind of glad to see turn up as often as they do.

The same applies to AVALANCHE, whose eco-terrorist label is not just a catchy label for the heroic party of an RPG, but the real motivation and function of their actions and what effect they leave in their wake. I think it's crucial that the game's given premise is felt to be so dire by its ostensible heroes that they resort to these actions knowingly, cognizant of the destruction and people who will die as the cost of that need to act. Jessie knew and accepted her death as the just cause for all those her work killed, and those that go on the survive that phase of the game have to carry that blood on their hands for the rest of their lives. It's so much at the heart of what VII is and what state its world and people are in that to dilute it would risk the integral sense of conflicting ethics that prop up the story's thematics and the motivations of its actors.

The remake, then, does do these things, for reasons that I like least about its numerous alterations. It "softens" both the portrayal of the Turks and AVALANCHE; lessens their individual culpability in their stated organizational goals and the specific events portrayed in the game. Reno is made conflicted and reluctant to drop the plate; Rude's crush on Tifa is there to humanize him from the start; Tseng doesn't physically abuse Aerith. The last point especially is not something I bemoan for being cut, but it is indicative of the revisionist image of these characters that in reality have been fan favourites longer than many of the remake's audience have been alive; they're recast as almost entirely sympathetic, increasingly goofy recurring pals to tangle with despite who they nominally are and what their work entails. AVALANCHE, too, is attempted to be awkwardly danced around in what their purpose and M.O. are, or what their conception of their own actions even is: we get inexplicable "did we..... do this????" lines after planned out bombing missions, and odd contrivances like it actually being Shinra who knowingly destroy their own reactor to frame AVALANCHE... for the act they're already doing. The important thing in the game's mind is that these people it spends time in endearing to the player cannot have the baggage of pre-meditated and carried out political mass killings on their heads, so it does its utmost to preserve the sequence of events laid out by the original but tries to absolve the actors of all responsibility for what actually occurs. It's good for some theoretical peace of mind on part of the audience who imprint on fictional characters, possibly, but intrudes upon the fundamental thematics of the story--whatever will ultimately result from the curious mix the remake is brewing, anyway. In those early stages, it's still beholden to much of what made the original work and in its dialogue with the material it stumbles in trying to reorient it to more acceptable ethical ends.

Also, we find different Sephiroths here, who appear, talk cryptic, and disappear again. When playing for the first time, this seems probably like Sephiroth being weird, and just moving and theatralic ways.

The most important thing about Sephiroth as an onscreen presence is that he loves to t-pose more than anyone ever has. It's his preaching power pose.

After this, Cait Sith has his goodbye scene, which is kind of silly, as he even says that there are other versions of him out there. Aerith, though, takes it seriously, and asks him for a fortune. It's weird, but also a nice scene. Maybe there is some sentience inside this stuffed doll robot thing? Maybe Reeve just enjoys, that Aerith actually takes him seriously, showing him compassion, despite kidnapping her mother and Marlene?

Or maybe this is just a reference to the sacrifices in FF IV, where everyone comes back at the end.

Oceans may boil and the earth freeze over, and I will never understand a single thing about Cait Sith's sacrifice as far as the tone reached for. Like, we're engaged in an ongoing close read of the game in our own ways and I just have nothing. Reeve's big into sentimental LARPing, I guess. It gets boring in his ivory tower.

Both want to follow Aerith, to defend her from Sephiroth. But Cloud is scared. What if he gets crazy again? He has the same fears as Red had, earlier on, but Tifa shows more kindness now. Barrett, though, clearly tells Cloud that it's his fault, that Sephiroth got the Black Materia. That he is a coward - there are plenty of people who don't know themselves, and still carry on. Well, that's not a great comparison, but Clouds situation is very confusing.

This is, of course, not a good way to deal with Clouds problem. Telling people how they are at fault, for problems their brains create, is pretty shitty. But Barrett isn't the most understanding person, when it comes to issues like this. He does show some, though, when he tells Tifa at the door, that Cloud has to deal with this on his own. Maybe he just wanted, to motivate him that way? I'm sure Barrett is just not that well equipped for stuff like this.

This is a really important scene, I think, because it's the first time someone's really openly confronted Cloud or even brought it to his attention that he needs help. Tifa's commitment to awkwardly sheltering and looking after him isn't bringing either of them anywhere, and this is the point where Cloud now knows there's something wrong with him and people around him are acknowledging it. Barret isn't faultless in how he reacts to things but he's as fallible as anyone, and cares a lot besides. Some of the game's best lines come here, from him: "I know you got problems... hell, we all do. But you don't even understand yourself. But you gotta understand that there ain't no gettin' offa this train we're on, till we get to the end of the line" and "How many people in this world do ya think really understand themselves? People get depressed in life because they don't know what's up. But, they go on living. They don't run away... Isn't that how it is?" The language and attitude is coarse but crudely poetic, and it is exactly who this character is and how he reasons out things while attempting to offer support the way he knows how.

Cloud's mental health has been the slow-burn conflict playing out outside of the physical opposition of RPG battles and scenario-writing throughout all of this in a way that increasingly threatens to boil over. I don't think you should or could attempt to diagnose Cloud's condition, because he is fictional and afflicted by the supernatural elements of his world, but it doesn't mean there's not a compelling or true mirror to be had in how it's portrayed; leaving it ambiguous is in fact more responsible. There's a real fear in anyone broaching the subject, even as the various characters notice odd aspects of his behaviour, of no one wanting to "rock the boat" as far as questioning the health of someone they're close to and look up to for leadership. The hardest scenes are when Cloud has some kind episode that he doesn't seem to remember having--such as in the Temple of the Ancients, where he cycles through the practiced poses of who "Cloud Strife" is supposed to be as if rehearsing a role through his body language staples--and people present to witness it are forced to pretend nothing is amiss or that things will be fine; they have to perform this emotional labour for his sake because telling him could crush him or lead to denial or rejection.

That's why the breaking point comes where it does, I think, not just because Cloud hands off the Black Materia to Sephiroth and there's factual proof of what someone taking advantage of his condition has resulted in, but what occurs in the middle of all of that. Cloud doesn't just lose consciousness after handing out the materia but he strikes Aerith down and begins pummeling her with his fists until whoever's present forces him off and knocks him out. That's the unforgivable act that means more than handing out a doodad to a villain, and which he has to live with, whether he was just the instrument to something else's will or not. The following scene, of Aerith's functional farewell to him, is framed from a perspective of significant emotional distance; the rift is there whether the act's been nominally forgiven or not. It's a really heavy topic to explore and I think it's given the appropriate significance, respect as to its effect on the characters and their relationships, and an apt tone in how it's treated narratively. Cloud can't remain ignorant of his condition anymore, and it's better off for him that people know that he is, in fact, ill, and beginning the road to recovery by having that support group to fall back on.

It's the first time, that I found that summon materia in this woods. It's really well hidden, but pretty strong. Forgot the name, though, as you don't even summon an entity, but only the elements.

It's Kujata, rendered as "Kjata" in the original English release, and it is portrayed as a represented entity in the game, as a pretty direct riff on its source from the Islamic cosmic bull. Unlike many cultural lifts in FF's shifting pantheons, this one's relatively authentic. That it is the very next summon materia acquired in sequence after Bahamut is a nice detail, intended or not.

The way to the city isn't hard, we are there soon. And find a dead city. It looks like an underwater city, with giant corals, and even a fish in one of the houses. Maybe the idea is, that this is the city of people, who lived in harmony with the planet, so their design choices mirror they basis of live?

The Forgotten City, in a game full of standout locations, is probably my favourite. It houses an incredible theme in "You Can Hear the Cry of the Planet", the mere title of which is chilling. Because of what's known of the game beyond a first playthrough, and anxiously felt the first time around, perhaps, all of those connotations rush in every time you step into the place, and a relief is felt upon departure. It's not just retroactively applied tonality either as the concept of a city so devoid of life in every way, so contrastingly intact, and melding mundanities like built houses with carved out massive conches amidst a landborne coral reef... it's an alien place, and it rejects one's presence there. Like Cosmo Canyon stood as a microcosm of the Planet as it may continue to house people on it, the Forgotten City is a picture of its past when another people entirely walked upon it, and intrusion on their memory is not welcome.

But that is not important. Everyone says goodbye to Aerith, and Cloud picks her up, putting her gently on the water surface. We see her slowly descending into the depths, until she isn't visible anymore.

Basically everything about the staging of Aerith's death is done well as a directed piece. The setting, the futile struggling the player is made to inhabit through Cloud's unresponsive movements, the use of music in synchronization with the FMV and its persistence during the battle... they don't really miss a beat with any of it. It's as much a part of why it still lingers on in cultural memory, defines the entire game, hovers as a question over its remake--who Aerith was as a character and why people cared about her, but also how they were dragged into the emotional responses through all these tools in the moment. Out of everything that occurs, it's the reactions that play out after the immediate threat has been dealt with that stand out in my conception of the scene. They are collectively the foremost example that I could ever give of the importance and potential of VII as the transitional game it was in exploring storytelling through 3D models that now seem rudimentary and archaic, but which were capable of communicating nuance in ways previously couldn't be realized. There aren't any words to go with each individual's handling of the situation; you learn all there is in how they move around Aerith's body, how they relate to Cloud with gestures. It can be far more insightful and true to themselves than any word they could say, and more affecting too: I don't really know how to handle Yuffie, the perpetually standoffish braggart and individualist, breaking down sobbing and being vulnerable in ways she herself would hate to be seen as. Or Tifa, tenderly caressing someone she loved one last time. All of the eight have different contexts and relationships to Aerith and who she was, some more intimate than others, and they're all laid out here in their multitudes. Again, you only see the reactions of people you bring with you to the scene, stressing the bond that presumably informs who you have in your party at a given time over others.

~~~
With that, I'm past Disc 1 too.
 
Last edited:

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
The Highwind has been repossessed and the spiky-haired jerk's gone.
  • I might like Icicle Inn the most out of any inhabited space in the game's world. It's a resort and a tourism spot, pointedly deliberate in its attempt to invite a visitor in with its almost hokey picturesque snow globe aesthetic. Artificial or not, it's cozy where the Forgotten City was alienating, a slice of quaint mundanity on the outskirts of the world. Part of it is comfort and nostalgia in the climate representing something I've lived my own life amidst and fear losing, and how this fictional representation at least will remain. It's also in the way livable space is portrayed in its interior shots, as the dioramas take care to include the world outside the walls which are pierced through in the game's directorial view. Here's a particularly striking one that's never really left me (and I suppose I should've been illustrating these posts all along considering how much weight I place on the environmental design).

I've heard it said on occasion that it's some kind of narrative flub that Aerith's death is followed by this townscape, with Elena of the Turks making an appearance in her usual mode of bumbling comic relief, and concluding with the snowboarding sequence. Heartbreak followed by tonally confusing levity. It's a thought worth considering (and there are places where this kind of rapid-fire moodbending doesn't land for me, like Cait Sith #2 giddily hopping along just as Cloud is assaulting Aerith) but experientially doesn't threaten to diminish what's just transpired for me. Even as the town's brief respite coaxes one in, Professor Gast's former home can be entered and his records observed; it's the first and only time both him and Aerith's mother Ifalna are given a chance to be seen as people and a couple, before it's all stripped away in that same video record. You go from powerlessly witnessing the daughter's death to seeing the same happen to her parents, years and years before, knife twisting in a wound that's both fresh and old. That's why what follows feels apt in the game's narrative sequence.​

  • Cloud and the others are at this point almost certainly emotionally lost, so it's in accordance with that atmosphere that they will soon be so physically as well. It's all goal-oriented, of course--track and follow Sephiroth, as far as any one of them guesses--but the gradual penetration into the wilderness past any remaining echoes of civilization comes off as a willing and almost reckless attempt in throwing themselves in their work in order to distract and cope with grief. If you take that tenor with you to the Great Glacier and Gaea's Cliff beyond, one of the game's most conceptually inventive and daunting dungeons becomes even more so; the potential frustration in navigating it turning into something that must be overcome, symbolically and practically. It would remain engaging even without these undertones as the northern continent of VII presents the Planet at its most inhospitable, vast, forbidding and awesome. Its greatest pain is there, far older than Shinra, and the scar it bears from it. As a player, to be privy to what lies beyond one must commit to dungeon-delving at a scale the game has not done before. It's all there to imprint on one the scale of the world they're caught in, and how tiny all the players really are in it; little specks charting winding passages to some great unknown. And it is so solitary and desolate, with time to reflect and time to simply disappear for a while, as the narrative threads begin tightening again soon enough.​

  • Sephiroth's breaking of Cloud's fractured self-image even more than it already is in order to manipulate and force him under his thrall hits harder if one's kept with the whispers and mentions of the "calamity from the skies" and what it did to the Cetra. Jenova is unknowable enough as something from beyond space, but its actions in how it propagates itself--mimicking and posing as loved ones, insinuating itself into communities, infecting others with its virus--is both a compelling portrait of horror and a good lens on what Cloud is subjected to now, shedding light on a menace that's more than just physical. It's not a fun scene in any way where he's presented with the incongruities, the constructed falsehoods of his past, and the desperate nonchalance he attempts to shrug it off with before it becomes too much to live with. It's as much a protagonist giving up as these games have explored, in the ways that they don't only bemoan their own weakness or the villains that landed them in these circumstances, but are so undone internally by them that they latch onto any kind of pre-determined role they could still play out in search of some kind of self to define themselves by, whether that's in direct assistance to their supposed archenemy or not. Cloud's deadliest foe was always his own mental health, externally tampered with and set up for a fall as it may be, so the worst case was never his defeat by the opponent's brawn but the total collapse of his fragile selfhood. It is a different kind of dressing down of an RPG hero and one that works as well as it does because the entire game is dedicated to telling that story, and even here when it presents multiple confirmations of aroused suspicions about the account of Five Years Ago, it withholds the final revelations for a later time, the player left as detached from resolution and assurance as Cloud as he slips into the lifestream.

  • the human experience is to find patterns where none may be intended, but there's enough of a factual record to support the undeniable common lineage and genealogy that runs through the mid-to-late-'90s works of Squaresoft. They share staff, concepts and development periods, and enthusiasts are going to find the commonalities with fervor to construct a narrative around them. The value comes in comparing and contrasting how shared ideas are treated, how they might evolve in other contexts and what may result from multiple tries at the same root concept. Jenova is the most immediate connecting thread to another work as the invader from space was seen in Chrono Trigger's Lavos, and it's perhaps also that game's influence in how Cloud is wrested away from protagonisthood for a time in the later acts to illustrate a group dynamic without its most central component. Tifa's awakening under the nascent Meteor's glow presents a world not quite ruined, but on the cusp of it--maybe a riff on the thematics of the game immediately prior, even mirrored by this later stage occupying a similar structural position as the exploration of a world already seen from the bird's eye view, completing odds and ends until the final confrontation. VII's later portions are more orderly and directed than those others, but in them there still beats the heart of the common creative ethos that brought these unique but not so dissimilar games into existence in a period that was marked by a great profusion of overlapping projects.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
There's a more somber note to the scene too in that it's the only time in the entire game that all nine playable characters are united in one space, sharing time and conversation between themselves, just before the inevitable separation. That it takes place in the lobby of a kitschy haunted house hotel inside an garish amusement park makes it feel all the more ephemeral and precious, a once in a lifetime moment never to be repeated.
Oh, right. That makes this moment pretty precious. I didn't think of that, thanks for pointing it out.

I'm consistently taken with how they're writing her, how absolutely true it rings to me of a person who's severely repressing things about herself and her loved ones, all in the name of maintaining a false but comfortable equilibrium, and the moments when that facade breaks before being repaired again. The biggest issue I have with Tifa as a character is that she barely exists outside of Cloud's orbit; everything she does and reacts to is in some way reactionary to him and his circumstances, where she ends up playing a vehicle to get his arc to its destination rather than developing one of her own. What actually works about it is the specific contrast between the two, of Cloud who's a prisoner of his own psyche but largely unconscious of his own issues, and of Tifa who's confirmed her own suspicions time and time again and chooses to remain silent, equally as entrapped by her own inability to act.
I didn't even consider, that Tifa doesn't really have an arc of her own. But even so, I still feel like she is a very well done character, and enjoy her presence in the game very much.

This connects to something I've been thinking about a lot through this playthrough, and since the remake, in how morality and sympathetic portrayals fluctuate in how these characters and this story are treated across the years. Aerith talks here of how Tseng is one of the few people she can claim to know her, so she has empathy for him on that basis... but this is still Tseng, who's hounded and stalked her ever since her childhood, actively ordered her kidnapping, and physically struck her onscreen earlier in the game, in recent history. It's Aerith's choice to still feel for him, and more importantly, the writers's choice to portray her as having those conflicting, complicated and ultimately irreconcilable emotions in ways that don't offer an easy takeaway of the situation but lands as more genuine than a clear-cut stance might've.

That kind of unease in making sense of murky distinctions is I think paramount to a number of the major players in VII's story. The Turks are positioned in series-internal tradition as the successors to the Gilgamesh and Ultroses of the world, the recurring comic relief pests who formally oppose but have a glimmer of some kind of rapport to be had with the heroes. The difference comes in that one cannot really claim the prior examples of the archetype to have done irredeemable things in their time, not callously killed as they played out their role. The Turks are different in premise, because they are so much closer to real-world institutions of violence and oppression; they're the CIA or equivalent of the power structure and regime they serve. We can read them as completing those tasks when offscreen, as nothing really claims otherwise, and we see it in person too: Reno for instance drops the Sector 7 plate killing all on and underneath it, as "part of the job", and does so glibly and while quipping about it. They're textually unrepentant career killers, but played as sufficiently amicable to the heroes' context--and the player's, because familiarization builds affection out of habit more often than not--so they still get to balance on this line of rival or foe one is kind of glad to see turn up as often as they do.

The same applies to AVALANCHE, whose eco-terrorist label is not just a catchy label for the heroic party of an RPG, but the real motivation and function of their actions and what effect they leave in their wake. I think it's crucial that the game's given premise is felt to be so dire by its ostensible heroes that they resort to these actions knowingly, cognizant of the destruction and people who will die as the cost of that need to act. Jessie knew and accepted her death as the just cause for all those her work killed, and those that go on the survive that phase of the game have to carry that blood on their hands for the rest of their lives. It's so much at the heart of what VII is and what state its world and people are in that to dilute it would risk the integral sense of conflicting ethics that prop up the story's thematics and the motivations of its actors.

The remake, then, does do these things, for reasons that I like least about its numerous alterations. It "softens" both the portrayal of the Turks and AVALANCHE; lessens their individual culpability in their stated organizational goals and the specific events portrayed in the game. Reno is made conflicted and reluctant to drop the plate; Rude's crush on Tifa is there to humanize him from the start; Tseng doesn't physically abuse Aerith. The last point especially is not something I bemoan for being cut, but it is indicative of the revisionist image of these characters that in reality have been fan favourites longer than many of the remake's audience have been alive; they're recast as almost entirely sympathetic, increasingly goofy recurring pals to tangle with despite who they nominally are and what their work entails. AVALANCHE, too, is attempted to be awkwardly danced around in what their purpose and M.O. are, or what their conception of their own actions even is: we get inexplicable "did we..... do this????" lines after planned out bombing missions, and odd contrivances like it actually being Shinra who knowingly destroy their own reactor to frame AVALANCHE... for the act they're already doing. The important thing in the game's mind is that these people it spends time in endearing to the player cannot have the baggage of pre-meditated and carried out political mass killings on their heads, so it does its utmost to preserve the sequence of events laid out by the original but tries to absolve the actors of all responsibility for what actually occurs. It's good for some theoretical peace of mind on part of the audience who imprint on fictional characters, possibly, but intrudes upon the fundamental thematics of the story--whatever will ultimately result from the curious mix the remake is brewing, anyway. In those early stages, it's still beholden to much of what made the original work and in its dialogue with the material it stumbles in trying to reorient it to more acceptable ethical ends.
I really need to play the remake at one point, whenever I get a PC or console that is capable of doing so. I'm very interested in seeing the new interpretation of the first part of FF VIIs story.

That they portray both AVALANCHE and the Turks differently, with less criticism sounds a bit disappointing, to me. But even in the original, they are presented in ways, that makes them sympathetic to the audience, even if these things come later. Even here, I'm not sure what to think about the Turks. As the game goes on, the horrible things they did at the beginning gets a bit lost in my memory, and I experience them more as a new , harsherinterpretation of Ultros and Gilgamesh - yes, they do awful things then too, but off camera. When we meet them, they talk about which woman of our group they like most, and team up with them.

Dunno, I feel even in the original, the Turks are portrayed more sympathetic than they should. That Aerith has sympathy for them makes sense. I imagine you just do - if you know someone for so long, you create a bond. And Aerith is always portrayed as kind and forgiving. She has a fun side to her, and isn't above making light fun of her friends, but she seems like someone who will always look for the good in someone. Writing this reminds me Usagi Tsukino, or maybe a more adult version of her.

It's Kujata, rendered as "Kjata" in the original English release, and it is portrayed as a represented entity in the game, as a pretty direct riff on its source from the Islamic cosmic bull. Unlike many cultural lifts in FF's shifting pantheons, this one's relatively authentic. That it is the very next summon materia acquired in sequence after Bahamut is a nice detail, intended or not.
For some reason, I forgot that Kujata actually appears in the summon. I never heard of it before, but it reminds me a lot of the Discworld, with the four elephants, standing on a giant turtle, that flies through space.

Thanks for pointing this out.

I don't really know how to handle Yuffie, the perpetually standoffish braggart and individualist, breaking down sobbing and being vulnerable in ways she herself would hate to be seen as. Or Tifa, tenderly caressing someone she loved one last time.
These two are especially hard to see. I never saw the scene with Yuffie, it made me tear up a bit, when she jumped into Clouds arms. It's an amazing scene, and it is one more time, where we can see the amount of work and thought, Square put into this game and all of its characters.

Jenova is the most immediate connecting thread to another work as the invader from space was seen in Chrono Trigger's Lavos, and it's perhaps also that game's influence in how Cloud is wrested away from protagonisthood for a time in the later acts to illustrate a group dynamic without its most central component.
I wanted to point out, that I'm a bit sad to have ignored Chrono Trigger for this project. As you point out here, there are clear paralels between the two games, mainly that you lose you protagonist for some time, and that the main danger is coming from space. There are surely others too, but I haven't played Chrono Trigger in a few years, so I'm likely forgetting some here. Considering that we are past that point in the chronology, and that there are likely other things that I might have done differently, I'm fine with leaving it that way, but I thought it was worth a mention.

----------------------------------

After Aerith' death, Cloud still feels connected to Sephiroth, and knows that they have to go further North. We find a village, nearly the last bit of civilization before it gets too harsh and cold. And while Shinra can find it's way here, they don't seem to have touched this small, cozy village, where people don't seem to be to attached to what happens outside. It is a very nice place, and offers one more time a small taste of an adventure game, by making you find a map and a snowboard. Both are easily found, but it's nice to have these little moments of changing genres.

In the local bar, we learn that a Cetra lived here, 20 years ago. And we can actually see her - Professor Gasts lab is also here, and there are videos of him and Ifalna. Once again, this is completely optional, but gives us some more interesting details on Aerith' parents.

In the first video, "The Original Crisis", we learn about the time when Jenova crushed into the planet, creating the original wound, that it is still healing from. It has a feeling of how people reached America, acted as friends, but only brought decease and death to the people who already lived here. Or take any other country, where people forced their culture on others who were less technologically developed.

Ifalna talks about it, how it first appeared as a friend, letting the Cetra see their dead, loved ones again. And then, it would strike them with the virus, that would let them mutate. It's a horrible thought, and is just one more betrayal of hopes and dreams, one of the themes of this game. Shinra does, what Jenova did, 2000 years ago - promising the people something beautiful, getting their foot in everywhere that way, and then bringing death and horror with them.

And, similar to how Shinra is the worst, which is shown by putting them in high places, far away from the planet, it's something from Outer Space, that nearly destroyd an ancient culture here. It reads a bit, like everything that comes from the planet is good, and the further you get away from it, physically, as well as emotionally, the worse it is. Which also reads a bit xenophobic, maybe? This is only a vague point, though. The game also loves the sky, especially the night sky, full of stars. Not sure what to make of this at the moment, maybe I'll think about it a bit more, later.

The second video lets Ifalna talk about Weapon. Interestingly, only Weapon. Which is easily explained, the other Weapons, or at least the two that were superbosses, were only added to the Western release.

Anyway, we learn here, that the planet created Weapon, to fight against Jenova. But when it was ready, the Cetra had already defeated it, so the Weapon just slept.

And then, there are the two confidential videos. The first is just new parents being new parents, trying to record their new daughter, which is really cute and humanizing. The second is way darker - we see Hojo, how he invades the home of the young family, together with two soldiers, forcing Aerith and Ifalna to come with him. One of the soldiers shoots the camera, but it only adds to the horror, as we still hear them talk. Gast is killed here, and Hojo mentions, that they shouldn't forget the baby.

This whole scene reminded me so much of the scene in FF VI, where we learn how Gestahl got his hands at Terra. Similar to her, Aerith is half human, half old, powerful race. And like Terra, her parents couldn't protect her from the planet-controlling entity. Except that, through Aerith connection with the planet, she can deal with all the horrors easier than Terra. And she does have her mother with her, until she finds someone who will take up that role, when Ifalna dies. She always has protection, and a home, in some way.

Next, we are going snowboarding. Personally, it never was a problem for me, how we went from the emotionally draining death of one of our characters, to another minigame. If nothing else, one can interpret it as trying to occupy ones thoughts with other, lighter things, so we can forget our grieve, at least for some time. Dunno, it never took anything away, for me.

After the snowboarding, we find ourselves in a snowfield. It's an interesting idea, how you have to navigate via landmarks on the map you got in the village. I remember there being a few hidden things to find, here. I'll have to come back, as I soon found the hut.

This is the true, last bastion of civilisation. A hut, where only one person lives. I guess it's the guy, whose wife told us, back in the village, how her husband got lost in the mountains, twenty years ago. He tells us about his buddy, who killed himself in a climb, so that the guy, Holzoff, would survive. He also gives us some advise, and lets us rest.

Before carrying on, Barrett talks about how this is the very opposite of Shinra, and has a short, weak moment, where he thinks that these jerks aren't that bad. He immediately catches himself, though.

It is nice that the game, even if only shortly, offers this idea up. That the planet itself can be horribly deadly. And that this here is another extreme, on the opposite side from the technological nightmare that is Shinra. Only that Shinra makes it possible for many people to live. This place doesn't. Which seems to talk about, how maybe humans shouldn't be here, or at least not that many, if they cost the planet so much?

There is, of course, a middle ground. Also, the only reason why this place is so dangerous for humans is, that the planet needs the local energy to heal its wound.

While I appreciated the harsh dungeon, I don't like it that much. Thankfully, the environmental design in this game is excellent, so even a place like this looks interesting. That's just something personal, I think - I hate the cold. The twin-headed dragon boss here is probably the hardest I faced, up to this point. I didn't die, but was actually in some kind of danger. No gimmick, though, it just hits really hard.

At the top, we find a crater, and a great animation shows it with a lot of swirling energy. We reached the Promised Land. Soon, we see an airship, and change inside. It's, of course, Rufus, with Heidegger, Scarlett and even Hojo.

On the way forward, we see many black-hooded people, many of whom die on the way. We also find Kobold enemies, who don't look like the classic ones, but are enjoyably easy to kill. Also, on the short way to the center of the crater, we fought a Gigas, and while climbing, we met a Malboro.

At the end of the way, we find Sephiroth, who strikes two hooded guys down. He gives us another Jenova fight, this time against Jenova-DEATH.

And here, our group realizes that it is not Sephroth they have been after - it is Jenova, who called everyone with her cells.

To be honest, I'm still confused here. First, why is Sephiroth striking the black-hooded guys down? Sephiroth is one of the successful clones, right? And the black hooded guys are failures? And the only point of them is, to bring the Black Materia? So, as the one successful clone has it, the others are not useful anymore?

Second, was it every time a Sephiroth clone, a successful one, who fought against us, when we fought against Jenova? I guess that makes sense - I always assumed they left a piece of Jenova, and flew away, when they actually transformed. Which is the reason, why we get the Black Materia back, when we kill this one.

We can choose someone, to hold onto the Black Materia, as Cloud and his team want to confront Sephiroth. Taking it with them would be, of course, be stupid. The reason why we don't just go back, and why Cloud is so adamant on fighting Sephiroth, though? I guess, that comes from his weird condition. He didn't take well, to the injection with Jenova cells, did he? And it makes him want to recombine, as Jenova is trying to do.

Anyway, I gave Barret the Black Materia. But as our core team goes forward, Sephiroth creats the illusion of Nibelheim. And here, we see the truth. It's not Cloud, who accompanied Sephiroth, it was Zack. Well, Cloud was of course there, but not as the great SOLDIER, just as a hidden grunt. And Sephiroth tries to spin it, so that he wasn't here at all. Cloud doesn't care, ignores the truth - he thinks Sephiroth is lying.

At one point, Sephiroth appears, telling Cloud that he was just created by Hojo, after the Nibelheim incident. That he is just a puppet, made out of Jenova cells. A failed clone, without a number. And it is Tifa, who he makes think that her memories might be false. That Jenova has merged with her, to create false memories.

Cloud rejects everything, doesn't want to listen. Until he thinks about when he became a first class SOLDIER. And here, he starts to break down.

We switch to Rufus, Scarlett and Hojo, who enter the central cave, where Sephiroths real(?) body waits. A giant eye, which looks pretty great and creepy, looks at them, and here, Hojo talks about the Weapon. The chance to learn about it, if one missed Gasts videos.

We switch again, to Barrett and the others. The one who holds the Black Materia sees everything disappear, until Tifa shows up, telling them to come along, as Cloud is in danger. It is a pure mind trick of Jenova - when that one person is gone, we see the others, knocked out.

Back to Rufus again, we see Cloud and the other two appear. He tells the others to get out, as the reunion will happen soon. The one with the Materia appears, and hands it to Cloud. Who finally broke, and accepted Sephiroths lies. He believes to be a puppet. Tifa begs him to stop, but doesn't reach him.

There is an interesting bit, where Hojo is very happy about his experiment being a success, and his theory of Jenova reuniting itself, is true. But then, he realizes that Cloud doesn't have a number, and is very dismissive of him, while Cloud begs to actually get a number.

As always, Cloud just wants to be accepted and wanted. And now, when he thinks he is a clone, he wants to be accepted as such by his creator. Poor guy, so full of self doubt.

But he stops, and rises up. Up at the nest, we hear Hojo talking about how this all was just an experiment, so he could prove his theory, that Jenova would put itself together, if split apart. Cloud thinks, that this was his drive to come here. Which is a nice idea, to give the whole travel through the whole world a real, personal reason.

And then, Sephiroth, inside a giant Mako egg, descends, and Cloud gives him the Black Materia. And with that, the end of the world starts.

Rufus tells the others, that he wants them to come with him. He has some more questions. Everyone flees in time, to get away from the white beam, and the rise of the weapons. It is another great scene, disc two is full of them.

One more thought, before I take a break: When playing for the first time, I got here, and Hojo and Rufus just talked to us. The just asked questions, and acted like the past didn't matter. I, generally, hate fights, and it is mostly enough for another person to act normal or friendly to me, to forgive them. I'm just happy, that there is harmony. The way Hojo and Rufus talked to us in a normal way, indicated that we would now work together. Somehow, that, and the threat of Sephiroth, was enough to make me think that Shinra was ok now.

Thinking back on that, it's really weird. But, if I wouldn't watch myself thinking that, I would act the same - just being happy, that we would now work together. Which is crazy, because Shinra is the worst.

-----------------------------------------

I have played some more, but start to get tired. So, I'll take a break for now.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
We see a flashback, of how Cloud and Tifa met in Midgar. He was unconscious at the train station, and she recognizes him. It reminds me of the way Elmyra found Aerith and Ifalna there, too. Both times, people needed help, deeply. That a train station stands for the end of travelling isn't particularly clever, but I feel like there is something on my mind, that I can't quite reach. Like, Midgar is this destination of everything, the Rome of this time in this world. All ways lead to Midgar. And things, journeys, end here. And new ones start.

He recognizes Tifa, but we see him being in deep, psychological/emotional pain. And, again, a wrong memory. He is sure, that it was five years, when Tifa knows that it has been seven.

The way this game, and Sephiroth, plays with memory and truth is fascinating and horrifying. Lies are such a horrible thing, in most cases, because they basically change how we perceive reality. The actual reality might not change, but our experiences and memories are limited, and don't tell the truth. If someone tells us, that a memory is wrong - how can we absolutely proof this to be incorrect? There is just so much sadness here, with both Tifa and Cloud struggling, in their own way, with Clouds problems.

Tifa knows, at this point already, that Clouds memory contains things that weren't there, but are remembered by him, and that there are certain things missing. Just imagine this, seeing an old friend again, realizing that he has serious problems and learning that his memory is off. It must be horribly unnerving, and hard for you.

Cloud wanted to go, but Tifa told him about AVALANCHE. Gave him a reason to stay. She didn't want him to go.

While it's true, that Tifas arc is mainly defined by how she interacts with Cloud, and that the game uses her as a vehicle, there is a clear reason here. When Nibelheim burned down, Tifa lost everything. Nothing from her past was left. Except for Cloud. When we leave Midgar, she explicitely states, that she has nothing else. I imagine Cloud is an anchor for her, as the only thing that remains of her past. I guess her reason for joining AVALANCHE was similar to Barrets for creating it - vengeance. But that only carries you so far.

Finally, she wakes up, and is in a room with Barret, the window curtains closed. We get an update. She was asleep for seven days, the crater is surrounded by a barrier of light, Cloud is still missing. Weapon is attacking cities, wreaking havoc, and Rufus tries to find a way to fight it.

And then, the big thing. Barret opens the curtains, and we see a giant meteor. It is quite intense, looking into your doom, but already having this size. There isn't much time left. This scene will never not be reminiscent of Majoras Mask, with the moon slowly coming down. Chilling stuff. How do you even deal with this, seeing how you will die soon, but completely incapable of doing anything about it? Well, Majoras Mask offers some answers here. It's an excellent game.

Back to FF VII, Rufus and Heidegger enter, and tell us about our public execution. He needs a scapegoat. And as always, Shinra overreacts and does insane things, to deal with a problem. What does that even mean, we are responsible for the meteor? A regular person would be unable to understand the connection here. But that's Shinra. Doing the worst things, just to save their image.

So, Barret and Tifa are led to a room with a camera, with multiple people on seats, looking forward to the execution. And, of course, the death will not be swift and easy, but brought to us through slow and painful gas. Because Shinra. And Scarlett, I guess.

Is she the only competent person in this company? Well, Rufus at least has drive, I imagine he could be a capable dictator, had he the chance to try. But, honestly, I enjoy hating Scarlett.

Tifa is first, and is led into yet another room with a chair, where she is tied to. But suddenly, Weapon attacks, and the audience flees. Scarlett and the guard run out in panic, and the guard drops his key. Cait Sith, though, is here, and had dressed up as part of the audience. He knocks Scarlett out, with some sleeping gas.

We learn a bit more about Reeve, and that he is definitely on our side now. Well, he doesn't really fit in with the other insane people at the top of Shinra. He is against capital punishment, too, and I assume this was a stance he already had. I'm still not quite sure where he stands. Is he against this Shinra, specifically? How much did he learn, on the road with us? But considering how this group works as a tight-knit group of friends, who shared the death of one of theirs, he is probably really sold, now.

We switch to Heidegger and Rufus, who try to hit Weapon. There is a nice cutscene, where we see it being hit underwater, without any recognisable effect. It comes closer and closer, until it rams into Junon.

Barret and Cait Sith can't unlock the door, and so try to do so from somewhere else. It's Cait Sith' plan B. On the way, we find Yuffie, who acts like a reporter. Which seems like a weird plan, as they don't really have a way of freeing Tifa this way. All they are doing is fleeing.

We switch to Tifa, and play another minigame, moving her limbs and head with different buttons. It's quite fun, if somewhat clumsy. But in the end, she frees herself. And then, Weapon frees her from the room, by making a giant hole into the wall. It looks at Tifa.

I imagine this is Aerith, influencing Weapon, to help out a bit? Or the planet itself, which might be a bit of the same thing?

But here, the canon is fired again, and Weapon is actually hurt. I remember, in earlier playthroughs, I thought it to be horrifying, how Shinra had actually some kind of power that could threaten even the strongest defence the planet could muster. It still find this quite disturbing, that, no matter what the planet does, Shinra might be able to win.

But then, this is not all. The planet has still some more aces to play. And Weapon isn't done yet.

At the end of the whole scenario, we have the weird slapping duel, between Tifa and Scarlett. I really wished, that Scarlett was actually just a skilled martial artist herself, and that we would have to fight her in a real fight. This is just really dumb. But it is easy, and doesn't last long. The Highwind, stolen from Shinra, is flying by, and throws a rope out for Tifa. And with that, we are free.

We can learn what actually happened, as it is quite confusing. Specifically, why only Barret and Tifa had been captured. If you talk to one of the crewman, you learn that they mutinied, as Cid offered them work that was actually enjoyable, with him as a captain. Considering that the other choice was continuing to work for Heidegger, that's not a hard choice.

We are still not complete, though, as Cloud is missing. We learn, that the Lifestream might puke people out, who fell into it. So, we look, and there is only one place we haven't been to yet: The enjoyable, calm Hot Springs town Mideel.

This one actually seems, like Shinra never knew anything about it, as one of the people here tells us, that they aren't touched by troubles from outside. Something like that.

It offers two shops, where both times a frantic version of the Chocobo theme plays, as a woman with here adorable, white Chocobo, still a chick, is running around, trying to buy everything before the world ends.

I always fall for the same thing here. I wait with buying new weapons, as the weapons sold here are the strongest you can buy, anywhere. But, before you get Cloud back, the village is destroyed. I never get these weapons. Funny, though, is that the wife of the shopkeeper criticizes the trope a bit, of having new, powerful weapons here, just because it is the latest town. She doesn't understand why her husband chose this place, where no people probably come, ever, to sell his great equipment.

After looking around for a bit, we find the clinic, and in there, Cloud. It's pretty intense, not only for our characters, but also for the player. Or maybe just for me. But seeing Cloud in this state is shocking. He sits in a wheelchair, he is unable to talk, he moves around, seemingly random.

This is the protagonist of this game. Probably your strongest party member. The person, who drove everything forward. You don't see this type of character this way, in JRPGs. They are strong, they are capable, and when they fall, they might get a bit depressed. But something extreme as this never happens.

I think it's really great, how Square gave us a protagonist that is plagued by some undefined psychological problem, and go this far with it. Taking it so very seriously. Showing your powerful party leader in such a weak, helpless form. Normally, a JRPG hero needs the power of his friends. But then, the leader himself has power, if nothing else, to ask for it. Or it can be at least fixed with some people dying for him, so he can be revived.

This here is more heavy. Cloud can't even ask for help, Tifa just decides to stay. And it isn't done with that. Tifa has no idea, how long this will take, or if he can be healed, at all. This might be permanent.

And the other party members understand. This is essential, as, yes, there are other important jobs to be done. In real life, this might not be a literal, giant meteor, that will soon destroy the world. But these are things like the work in our mundain jobs, or even doing chores around the house. Sometimes, people can't help out there, because they have some kind of psychological problem. That we find understanding here is big, it's important. Show compassion for these kind of troubles. They are very, very real.

And so, Tifa stays. Interestingly, she was the party leader for the short time, between fleeing from the execution, to finding Cloud. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what to do with that, except to like that the game offers this role to her, if only for a short time.

Back on the airship, with Cid as the new leader, we listen through Cait Sith to a Shinra meeting. I did find it hilarious, that he called Heidegger and Scarlett gya ha ha and kya ha ha. It's about destroying Meteor, and removing the barrier at the North, to attack Sephiroth.

For the first problem, Heidegger is already working on a solution: Collecting Huge Materia, and smash them into the Meteor. Barret isn't having any of it, and wants us to get the Huge Materia, in hope that they might spark something in Cloud.

Honestly, this is probably the only time where I'm not on the side of our heroes, but on Shinras. Rufus isn't trying to do anything horrible. He tries to use his ressources, to save the planet. We haven't learned about Aerith trying to cast Holy yet, and the end is approaching fast, so this might be our only hope. It also doesn't seem, like the planet explicitely needs the Huge Materia? And even if, better to lose them and survive, at least.

Also, the connection between getting the Huge Materia, and getting Clouds mind back, seems very flimsy. It all seems like Barret just wants to do this, because he hates Shinra. Understandable, but this plan is the best one to destroy the Meteor.

And that's it. We never learn, what they want to do about the barrier, or maybe I just forgot to write it down.

The first goal is the Coral reactor, which has a Huge Materia that Shinra wants to collect now. We come a bit too late - when we arrive, a train is moving out. We take another train, and follow. A neat setpiece follows, where we first have to charge the train, so that we are on the same level as the other one, and then cross over. On the other train, we have to fight a battle on every car, with increasing difficulty. These battles were surprisingly difficult at the end, but maybe the stress of the timer helped there. That said, there is more than enough time to get to the end of the train.

When we defeated the driver, we try to stop the train. I don't think I ever understood how this part works. I remember clearly, that the train just got faster last time, too. But we still see it stopping, right in time before it would have crushed into North Coral. Because, yeah, Shinra would have just killed all these people, because they don't care.

With this, we not only get the first Huge Materia, we also repair Barrets reputation in the town. They are all happy to be saved, of course. We do get some goodies, too: The Ultima Materia, and a free stay at the inn. Plus, we get Barrets Level 4 limit break item, Catastrophe.

Speaking of Limit Breaks, I really feel like you need too many killed enemies to unlock new levels. When I was first here, I grinded a bit, to unlock the second level for Cloud and two others. Since then, only Tifa unlocked the second level, and not even Cloud reached the third. Sure, you could easily grind, but I feel like you should, at least if you keep the same three people as much as possible in the party, to reach level 3 over the course of the game. It's a shame, really. Not that you need them, but I had the same situation last time I played too.

Next, we move to Fort Condor, and fight the last possible battle. It is fun, but ultimately kind of pointless. Despite doing my best, I can't stop the enemy, but when they finally reach the hut, all we have to do is defeat the leader monster. It's not a particularly tough fight. I wonder, how you would have to set up your units, to win the "correct" way. I guess there is a youtube video for this.

After our victory, the egg breaks, a huge flame bursts, in the form of a phoenix, and the "condor" dies. A little baby "condor" has hedged, and flies off. This was the reason, why the people where here, to protect the bird. It's a neat, little sidestory. You get, of course, the Phoenix Materia afterwards.

With that, we have the one Huge Materia in Junon left. But before going there, we should visit Cloud and Tifa. Nothing has changed, and it is kind of heartbreaking. Seeing Tifa, kneeling near Cloud and not knowing what to do, is pretty harsh. Just this is so strong, it's a problem that can't be solved by JRPG conventions (killing it). There is nothing to be done, but hoping.

But it doesn't stay calm. The earth is shaking, and Ultima Weapon appears. I wonder, if the two are related? Because the earthshakes come from the Lifestream, that is breaking through.

This can't be a regular thing, right? I mean, maybe the shaking, but not that the earth really breaks up. That's why I assume, that it has to do with the Weapon being near. Elsewise, this world would have different problems than Shinra. It actually reminds me a bit of FF X, with a horrible, basically natural desaster, that appears and can't be handled.

We fight against Ultima Weapon, which is weird, considering that it once helped us. Is this the fight, that was added for the US version? Anyway, it hits like a truck, but flies away after we deal some damage.

But the earthquakes aren't over, and the whole village gets swallowed up, by the Lifestream. And so, we come to the part where we finally puzzle together Clouds memory and mind.

It is quite striking - Tifa wakes up in a weird dream space, with a giant Cloud, moving around in pain, holding his head, as if it would explode every minute. The Lifestream must make him more connected with his mind, and we know that he is scared of the truth.

We also find three Clouds. One of them thinking about a secret, that no one should ever know. One thinks about the night, where he gave Tifa the promise of protecting her. And one is about the Nibelheim Incident. Here, we start.

And now, Tifa actually asks Cloud to remember that day. We get a little bit about how she viewed Sephirhoth. That he heard about him, how great he was, but that she found him pretty cold. She had a bad feeling about him, even than.

When Cloud appears, she tells him that this isn't the truth. She remembers that day - Cloud never came back.

With that, and seeing Tifa finally trying to show Cloud the truth, and find it out herself, we go to the second memory, the starlit night. Cloud doesn't believe anymore, that his memories are real. She tries to prove it to him, with this memory, but it doesn't work.

So, she asks why he joined SOLDIER, a decision that seemed rushed to her. And now, we are getting somewhere, because he mentions that he wanted to be noticed. By Tifa. Which is a big deal - as far as we know, and Tifa believes, they were good friends. But that isn't the truth either. She had other friends, and Cloud stood jelously on the sideline, being angry at the others for being dumb kids.

So, Cloud was a socially awkward kid. And I imagine that this world, this time, wasn't able to help kids with that. We, in our actual world, aren't very good at this either. I remember, my mother wanted me to spend some time with other kids sometimes. She mainly left me, doing my thing, hanging out with the one or two friends I had. But she never really got, that social interaction was hard for me to learn. I asked her two or three years ago. She thought I would learn it by doing, and I guess that is what most people think. Because, for most people it works.

But if it doesn't work for you, as a kid, because you aren't able to develop the necessary, mental tools yourself, no one might help you, and just criticize you for being alone, all the time. That wasn't me, as I said, my parents mainly respected that I liked being alone. But it's a problem that most people don't even know about, and can't help you with. Because people don't actually understand, how interactions with others work. They just do it. Asking them is pointless, I know that from experience. "Just talk with them" is not helpful in any way.

Well, we learn about a specific day, where Tifas mother died, and she wanted to meet her again. Being a child, it's understandable that this made her want to cross Mt. Nibel, and her friends came along. With Cloud far behind. Until Tifa reached the bridge, which collapsed there too. Her main friends got some adults, Cloud tried to help her - and fell himself.

I got really angry, at the next scene. Where adults come, help Tifa, and blame Cloud for getting her out to the mountain. Stupid jerks, how dare you. Poor Cloud. I imagine, he had no great childhood. This here certainly played a huge role in his further life, as he blamed him for what happens, probably because the adults were assholes.

So, he wanted to become strong, like Sephiroth. He hoped that Tifa would notice him, then. We switch to the moment in the reactor, years later, when Cloud rushes in, after Sephiroth hurt Tifa. But it's not Cloud, finally. It's Zack, who gets thrown outside. And here, Cloud finally remembers. He was one of the two grunts. He took Zacks sword, and stuck it into Sephiroth. Who didn't even know, who he was.

This is the breakthrough, and it makes Tifas version with Clouds somewhat compatible. He was in Nibelheim. Just not visible for anyone, because he was ashamed, not having made it into SOLDIER, like he promised.

We see Sephiroth coming outside, holding part of Jenova(?). Cloud follows him, and throws him into the Mako at the bottom of the reactor. Which makes Sephiroth switch to the Lifestream.

First, coming back here must have been very harsh for Cloud. It must have been one more failure, when he needed some actual success. He promised people to become someone big, and couldn't achieve it. This is horribly hard, being true to yourself, and feeling like you let your friends and family down. When they are the ones you should be able to be open to.

Second, the scene where Cloud throws Sephiroth into the Mako was what made him look pathetic to me, last time. Not so now, or maybe in a different way. Sephiroth, with all his strength and magical skills, was defeated by a weakling like Cloud. Because Cloud actually had a home. A family. Friends. He had people to fight for, which gave him strength Sephiroth could only ever dream of. But this is the very point, right? That Sephiroth couldn't live without these things. Being connected to other people is, in the end, what's really important.

And so, the secret is revealed, and Cloud finally accepted himself. The three Cloud fragments unite, as does the big one, that suffered the whole time. Together with Tifa, he rises out of the Lifestream, finally reunited with his team. Finally, he is the dork he always was, and can accept himself being said dork. It must feel good, getting over this hurdle.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
While it's true, that Tifas arc is mainly defined by how she interacts with Cloud, and that the game uses her as a vehicle, there is a clear reason here. When Nibelheim burned down, Tifa lost everything. Nothing from her past was left. Except for Cloud. When we leave Midgar, she explicitely states, that she has nothing else. I imagine Cloud is an anchor for her, as the only thing that remains of her past. I guess her reason for joining AVALANCHE was similar to Barrets for creating it - vengeance. But that only carries you so far.

Since this is responding to a point I made with the phrasing I used, I'll say that this line of reasoning has very little to do with the criticism I had earlier, and leans toward interpreting media by way of in-universe justifications of the text instead of being critical of it as a created work, or the Thermian Argument as it has been coined before. The issue isn't whether or not Tifa's internal reasoning follows the character's psychology or not--I think it does, exceptionally so, as she's among the most internally withdrawn characters in the story, and generally written well for that purpose. It's about why she narratively plays the role she does, what she's allowed to do within that definition, and whether the things that limit her as a narrative presence are based in gendered typecasting and thoughtlessness. I think for as much as the game does engage in playful notions of upheaval about the role of women in the genre--the appearance vs. personality contrast with Tifa and Aerith that's so calculatedly based on real-world biases that it still trips people up in their recollections and understanding of the pair as the most immediate example--it's also still at heart committed to a lot of unexamined assumptions and sheer outmoded inertia in how women get to be written, especially as part of primarily a man's story. VII is the biggest breakout the series had had at this point and in many ways would ever see, so that influence alone informs much of what follows it creatively, where this kind of central boy-girl fulcrum dynamic would be superficially echoed and genuinely reassessed and honed over time. Some of them work much more compellingly and with more interesting parity for me than Tifa's absolute subservience to Cloud's personal story, regardless of how much I like what's done with the two here as part of a larger narrative gambit.

And then, Weapon frees her from the room, by making a giant hole into the wall. It looks at Tifa.

I imagine this is Aerith, influencing Weapon, to help out a bit? Or the planet itself, which might be a bit of the same thing?

But here, the canon is fired again, and Weapon is actually hurt.

I did not read the scene this way. The Weapons as presented by the game are capable of individual human casualties, and in great numbers if given the opportunity, because fighting organic invaders is what they were created to do. It seems to me like they cannot actually compete or reckon with the march of cold, hard technology that's transpired in human civilization since their creation and slumber, or aren't as effective at killing people as humans are themselves--they don't target humans so much as monuments of human habitation, and a few appear reclusive unless directly antagonized. The evident anti-climax of a living doomsday weapon prepping all it has into a blast of energy and only being able to inflict a minor rupture in an edifice of human militarism to me underlines all of that. It's a contrivance of the plot that it occurs just where the heroes need it, but it's also kind of sad. The Weapons are things to be menaced by and to topple in the game's structure, but they were also born to be protectors of the natural world, and to see them rendered so irrelevant by the very forces the game sets one to philosophically and materially oppose verges on the painful.

The Weapon not only is hurt by the Junon Cannon, but killed entirely--its head is blown off by the point-blank shot. This is something that I wasn't clear on as a child, as you can fight every other Weapon during the course of the game, and thus become familiarized with their names and roles. Sapphire, which is not named anywhere in the game as it only exists as well as dies in cinematics, breaks that mold and because of the vague similarities to Emerald--water-dwelling, laser-blasting colossi; shared habitat--my mind fused the two into one, and assumed the now-headless Sapphire became the depth-traveling, also seemingly headless Emerald, instead of sinking to the ocean floor as a beheaded carcass. I chalked the differences in their designs to something beyond my ken to really comprehend.

I always fall for the same thing here. I wait with buying new weapons, as the weapons sold here are the strongest you can buy, anywhere. But, before you get Cloud back, the village is destroyed. I never get these weapons.

If you talk to the panicking woman who's stress-buying the inventories of every shop in Mideel, she acquires said shop's selection for herself for each establishment you speak to her in. After the town is destroyed and the survivors are working with reduced stocks, she alone has the previous selections available to be purchased. I find that VII does things like this often, in creating little mechanically salient and fascinating interactions with its nature as an RPG despite the game's level of difficulty never strictly warranting said level of thorough interaction or optimization with it. They're just there to be discovered for their own sake.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Well, I'm done.
  • there's quite a bit of game left after the events at the Northern Crater, so I could've stopped to gather my thoughts at any point before the end, but it also didn't feel that pressing to do so. The game adopts a mode of self-governed wanderings thanks to the Highwind's total freedom of travel, even if the remaining structure is set--despite the dire premise of a world's time running out, it's still a time to settle into the diversions and appendixes of the journey as much as the player cares to. I think that's why the shifts in protagonist perspective occur here, supplementary to their dramatic purposes: Barret is briefly controllable, and then Tifa and Cid have their windows to bounce around the world--it's all in service of adding more dimensionality to a game and story in relative hibernation before the encroaching climax, eventually joined by the new and authentic Cloud for the final permutation. I had a mind to engage with that the game at this point had to offer in the margins, so I basically did all I was interested to do: I bred chocobos and attained a golden one, searching the far reaches of the Planet for rare materia. I brought that chocobo ("Goko") to an S-rank winning streak in the races. I cleared the Battle Arena, purchasing the top rewards and triumphed over the secret champion's round. The Ancient Forest and Gelnika were braved for their treasures. The Enemy Skill materia was filled out. Weapons Ultimate, Emerald and Ruby were trounced. Outside of potentially the latter two Weapons, none of this is especially taxing as an RPG challenge; VII is not that kind of game. That I was willing to interact with these aspects of the game despite them providing no required or truly beneficial material advantage just speaks to the imaginative spaces they provide as concepts first instead of mechanically-driven pick-me-ups.

  • I just love the Weapons. Above I detailed some of what I think is going on with them thematically; a kind of Godzilla-esque melancholy in what they represent even as they're framed as a destructive spectacle. They're also just really slick visual designs, and that's with or without the context of how they mirror particular Gundam models, with a biological twist. For the first time, the concept of a "superboss" feels realized in the series in a way that integrates them to the narrative and cosmology of the game; V's Omega and Shinryu were the true originators of the concept but were utilized in a deliberately understated and winking way. The Weapons define the last stages of VII as narratively ongoing concerns and also give literalized form to the thematics of its storytelling; a kind of "give them something to punch" encapsulation of the struggle between the Planet and those abusing it. They're also a first in the series in that all of them except for poor Sapphire are extant, visible entities on the world map, a huge presentational innovation and argument for what real-time 3D can do for the dramatic weight of such concepts. Ultimate Weapon's behaviour in its way charts back to VI's Deathgaze, but whereas the airborne ghoul came off as a sudden jumpscare in how it had to be invisibly placed somewhere in the skies, its Weapon counterpart can do more than simply startle as it occupies the same physical space the player does. Bumping into and chasing it around feels tactile in what you're asked to do, and its very death morphing and distorting the landscape in its wake feels significant for its aesthetic impact alone (while also granting non-chocobo access to the Ancient Forest). These kinds of signifiers of the Weapons' presence in the world are visible with just one's eyes: the game never calls attention to it, but the giant impact crater on Junon's outskirts where Ultimate tends to linger in is a new addition to the world's topography since the Weapons arrived that's completely closed off the land route that the player took to reach Junon much earlier. In the same way, an undersea crater lies on the ocean floor to showcase either Emerald or Sapphire's arrival. I'm particularly terrified of underwater creatures and spaces in virtual contexts, and connecting that dread with literally the strongest adversary in the game and its giant polygonal frame, prone to wandering the dark depths and appearing unannounced wherever it cares to, also leaves an unforgettable impression of VII's submarine travel just because of what's lurking in the vicinity at all times. The world of VII upon the Weapons's introduction has just reached the point where the grand world tour has ended and most of the sights have been charted to memory--the pressure and weight they impose upon those familiar spaces is what gives the rest of it opportunities to still tell new stories within those trappings.

  • Cloud's self-discovery is what the entire game in its personal focus is built around and I don't think they could've done it much better. The grand dramatism and really deliciously straightforward take on "putting back together" someone's very identity and psyche in running around in their head and sorting through their memories is just the kind of silly and earnest iconography that carries the fantastical treatment of the very real subject matter the game's exploring with scenes like this. Despite the outlandish circumstances, it's affecting just because of what's finally said by both of the primary parties involved: Tifa admitting that she's withheld many things for long, and Cloud owning up to and self-reflecting on every flaw and fault in himself that gave the opening for his pretensions to take hold after his suffered trauma. It does a lot to dismantle notions that Cloud is cool and strong because he's genetically engineered to swing a big sword real hard, and instead offers up a premise that an awkward kid who wanted to be noticed and included and lashed out at others when he wasn't only now becomes the hero he pretended to be as he stops making excuses or blaming others and adopts an attitude of humility instead of overbearing machismo. It's the heart of why this character resonates with people--I can't even imagine how many gloomy, spiteful kids have played this game and found something aspirational in Cloud's self-actualization as it's more important how he comes to terms with himself and his weaknesses and aspires to do better than whether or not he can beat up Sephiroth. A scene which is played to its utmost effect here, regardless: all throughout the final revelations of what really happened during the Nibelheim incident, the main theme of the game plays in the background, but never progressing past its build-up phase--until Cloud faces Sephiroth, is impaled, and powers through it anyway, hurling the supersoldier into the Lifestream. It's a moment of such precise aural and dramatic synchronicity that it makes one kind of question whether the main theme's use as the Sector 7 theme in the remake was premature in how it might affect those climactic thresholds to be crossed in that rendition's future--whatever the lingering questions there, here at least it's utilized with great care and emotional insight.

  • Tifa and Cloud as a romantic couple as they do eventually end up is kind of interesting. That personal dynamic is as I've talked before, with Tifa being forced to carry out much emotional labour in shielding Cloud from himself, contributing and perpetuating those misconceptions, and generally being unhappy with that status quo as it's maintained. A lot of people come out of the game with an unsure idea of who Tifa even is as a person, which I think is both a testament to the writing's intended strength in how ambiguous and tight-lipped she is, and how there's not much there if Cloud is removed from the equation. The journey into Cloud's mind is crucial for doing more than just rehabilitating him, because it allows a better lens of where these two characters stand in context of their own relationship: Cloud's own insecurities and jealousies were kept private until then, and both had consequently laboured under the assumption that their intimacy and familiarity from childhood was something else than it really was. They could never really build on that false pretense, and when it drops with both having aired their anxieties to each other, that's where the actual rapport between the two really establishes. On the eve of the final attack against Sephiroth, them choosing to spend the night with each other, and in as so much tact as the game can manage, have sex, comes off as finally something real between the two instead of the constant walking on eggshells that's occurred until then. VII, compared to its predecessors, is a more flippantly and glibly sexual game, even as those kinds of innuendos have existed in the series before on some level; its focal romances have still existed in a kind of vague and chaste storybook tonal space. The suggestion of physical intimacy in a moment of calm between the main characters is still a step in a direction of something less idealized and reflective of the characters themselves, and in this case it does come off as "earned" for where their mutual relationship has taken them.


  • the Northern Cave as the final dungeon is a terrific finale to set the last hours of the game in. It plays to my aesthetic preferences from the BGM on: "Judgement Day" skirts on the edge between grand pomposity and poignantly melancholic, full of anticipation for the twisting descent ahead. The initial spiral as seen above is one of my favourite bookends the game provides, calling back to the framing of the Shinra Mansion's secret basement stairway, itself the beginning of Sephiroth's downfall--now the party is here in the depths of the Planet, coming to meet him for the final time. It's also host to so many sights of what the world of VII is like, even at the eleventh hour--you can't really predict what it's going to throw at you as an explorable space and even this, the site of its oldest wound where the culprit still festers, is beautiful to take in. It's not a built fortress or stronghold or a mockery of one--just a hole in the ground where infection spreads unless it's taken action against. I am not too concerned with the debate of who's calling the shots in antagonist hierachies, Jenova or Sephiroth, as all of the game's adversarial forces compound upon each other and play into their respective motivations and causes and effects in what they're doing to the world, so establishing a reductive pecking order isn't that relevant. What I do find myself engaged with and enthralled by is that because of that very villainous overlap none of them have to cease to matter at this ultimate stage: when Jenova makes her appearance here to the tunes of "Jenova Absolute" (probably my favourite battle theme in the game), she doesn't feel immaterial to the ongoing conflict despite serving as a nominal prelude to Sephiroth. We still don't know, and will never know, just what she is, but we know what she's done, how far back her influence stretches, and how her presence has affected and mutated the danger to the Planet through corporate interests and unethical scientific research. It's all so intertwined at this moment, at the exact time it needs to be, in how all of the game's thematic throughlines synchronize into one, conveyed in the language that RPGs use.


  • it's a pretty widely known anecdote that Hironobu Sakaguchi's own experiences with loss informed his writing in games and other media deeply from then on. You can find those elements in practically every game he's been narratively involved in after that ethos took hold, and though not the only writer on VII or even the most involved on daily basis, life and death are what he wanted to incorporate into the game's story and which the rest of the staff followed through on in supporting. They're universal themes, but the way they caught on here and how audiences responded is not something that's easy to reproduce: Aerith's passing became iconic of the game and the mourning process was externalized into the desperation and pervasive nature of rumours of bringing her back from death, if only one could discover the game's deepest secrets. It's not an unbelievable thought, especially in those earlier, more decentralized days of sharing information on the Internet, and as games would allow impossibilities like this in analogous circumstances; look to Suikoden alone for examples among peers of cathartic resurrections of loved ones. It's not a sign of immaturity or thematic disingenuity to allow for that emotional release, but VII's refusal to contrive exits and outs in such a manner just underlines how it approaches grief and the processing of death in its fantasy world touched by emotional realism.

Aerith disappears from the game as an active individual and leaves the void she does in the game's menus and in the more undefined spaces, but she doesn't stop existing or mattering to the people who knew her. They carry on in her memory, reminisce about her when they can, regret not having her input and presence to lean on anymore, and cherish what they had in the time they shared together. The game is actively engaged in the process of healing and acceptance of something unavoidable that touches all of us eventually, and trying to impart upon the player that death is only the end of one stage in a person's existence and the impact and value they have on and for the world. Aerith becomes symbolic, emblematic of all that's allowing the Planet to go on, because without it none of these sentiments and feelings get to exist either; protection of the Planet is protecting each individual life on it, which carries into the game's overarching themes of environmentalism and its relationship to human existence. It was never really about the individuals involved, as well as that story can be told during the game's long hours. At the end, when the lifestream intercepts and aids Holy in repelling Meteor, it's just the place to close out the game as it's said its piece on the story told; the absence of a clearly delineated ending doesn't matter to its message. It just wants the audience to care about the cycle of living things it's portrayed so far, and care about and consider what they do with and to the Planet they call home. Rumination on the lives and deaths of its cast cannot be removed from the same sentimentality the game affords its world--in effect, they are valued to the same level, and comprise the unified dualism of where the game is going with its story and why it echoes with such authenticity no matter how many years pass, as it grips something tangible and real in everything it explores from its setting to its cast and how they all intertwine.​


~~~
It's the end! Of Final Fantasy VII! And possibly my blathering on about it. I was curious, so by my estimation this has been something like well over 20,000 words spent on it on my part, which is well and far away the most I've ever talked about any single game, at least in this rapid a succession. It was really fun to do, and can stand as some kind of tribute to what the game is, the good and the bad and the indistinct inbetween. I think it's earned its reputation, whatever that may in the end be to each individual that plays it.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Thanks a lot for your posts, Peklo. They are always very interesting and insightful, and I'm happy to have you play along, whenever you feel like doing so.

I'm done as well. So, here is my last report, before I'll write my final post(s).

--------------------------------------

After Cloud is whole again, for the first time...ever, I guess, we meet on the Highwind.

Ok, one second for that part. This is the first time, that Cloud is really and fully whole, isn't it? Before the horrible incident at Nibelheim, he was a guy, plagued by selfdoubt, and the urge to have friends. As a kid, he was a loner, who couldn't really deal with others. Then, he became a soldier, but failed his goals. And then, Sephiroth hurt his psyche.

Considering how young he was, and how awkward he was as a child, his relationship to his mother might have been strained, I guess? It's hard to say, as we basically don't see anything, except for a bit of made-up memory.

Now, he finally has a family and a home, a place where he belongs, and where he is accepted, as dorky as he is. Someone might make a joke on his expense, but he knows that said person still cares for him. So, he can finally be himself.

He shows this immeditately, when you talk to Yuffie, who is always feeling ill, while flying. He tells her, how to stop being sick, or at least tries to, and tells her some nonsense about how she should move around, maybe by doing situps. And, of course, don't read. It's an adorable, nice scene, and the first time we see Cloud honest, while close to someone. It's really sweet.

For the next Huge Materia, we go to Junon, where there is one in the underwater reactor. On the way, we meet a captain and his troops, who he wants to charge at us. Except, that they charge in the other direction. Hehe, I like how they know that we are basically a three-man army by now.

There is a beautiful shot, of an underwater way surrounded by ocean water, including fishes and a dolphin. It looks amazing, and reminds me a lot of the very first screen of Ecco, the Dolphin, where you just swim around in a bit of beautiful water, just having fun.

As always, we are a bit too late, though. The Huge Materia is taken via a crane, and put into a submarine. We decide to follow, by taking the other submarine. Here, we meet Reno again, who sends a robot against us, another boss fight.

In my last playthroughs, I'm always caught off-guard by this one. The bosses at this point were not particularly dangerous, anymore, and then this guy appears, and kills me. He didn't do so this time, and I don't really know why. I remember having problems, because he took away two party members, but it worked out, this time.

Afterwards, we enter the second submarine, and fight our way through, to the bridge. Where we meet the very captain and his two grunts, who taught us how to walk in formation, or tried to. The grunts even to the gun-spinning, we showed them. Thankfully, the game offers us the possibility to take them prisoner, I would have hated to kill them.

Which sounds really bad. I know why I only care about these guys, but not about all the others, but still. I get why we kill the monsters that are created by the reactors, but these soldiers are all victims of Shinra, like Cloud, Sephiroth and basically everyone else on the planet. Probably people, who joined like Cloud, when they were 14, not even knowing what they were doing, and made into killers by this horrible company.

I know, this isn't the game for this - problems are mainly solved by cutting and punching things and people to death. I'm really glad, that we have games like Undertale now, that actually deal with this stuff.

We play another minigame here, the submarine one, and I guess I was lucky, to have the enemy ship right in front of me. Didn't take long to get destroyed. I remember either losing it, or having to look for it from the start, last time, which was very irritating. I didn't want to lose.

After that, with the sub sunk, we get a call from other Shinra guys, who don't know that we are their enemies. They order us to the airport, where another Huge Materia is transported away. And, again, we are too late, and the airship starts, right as we reach it. Well, on to Rocket Town, I guess.

Here, I did a detour, and actually got the Huge Materia from the sub. It just takes a minute. Also, I remembered that the game offered a video, that would show Clouds and Zacks flight to Midgar. I have never watched that one.

As the notes in the lab imply, Zack knocks out the guy who wants to feed us, frees Cloud, and carries him away. He gives Cloud, who seems too traumatized to talk, some clothes of his, and they get a ride.

You know, it always horrified me, how Cloud and Zack kind-of defeated Sephiroth, made it through that incident alive, and then become prisoners of Shinra. Just...there was no goodness in this world, every bit of hope turned to ashes. You make it through something horrible, so you win and can live nicely, afterwards. Except that this world, ruined through Shinra, doesn't work the way video games normally do. Horror follows horror, if you are caught up in it, you won't get out.

The ride is pretty nice, with Zack moving around (probably inspiring Cloud, on how to not get sick?) and talking about his plans. He knows someone in Midgar, except, no, that won't work. He asks the driver, who doesn't care much, but is ignored anyway by Zack. Who decides, that they will become mercenaries.

It's a really fun and charming scene, and it's nice to actually see Zacks personality play out. He might be a soldier, but he is just as much of a dork as Cloud.

And then, of course, desaster strikes. Right before Midgar, soldiers find and shoot them. Zack is killed, and they leave Cloud to die, as he seems nearly dead anyway. But at this point, he takes on Zacks personality, by grabbing his sword. And, somehow, makes it into Midgar, to the train station, where Tifa finds him.

I would like to say something here, but I would only repeat myself. It's another sad scene, where hopes are crushed.

We move to Rocket Town, where people are wondering what Rufus wants to do with the rocket. We fight our way inside, on the way destroying Rude. We find the mechanics, who actually like Rufus' plan, which I can actually get behind. Cid agrees, takes over and sends them away. Just one more sign, that Cid doesn't really care too much about Shinra, except that he just wants to piss them off, for what they did. But this, flying into space, is more important to him.

Palmer, in one last act of being obnoxious, tells us that he started the rocket. And so, we make it into Outer Space. Considering that we are on the way to crush into Meteor, we should get off, but that is no problem. Cid attached an escape pod, which we can simply use. But first, we need to get the Huge Materia, which is done by yet one more minigame, where we have to guess a sequence of button presses, by more and more hints from Cid. It's fun.

As we run to the escape pod, we run aside tank 8, the one Shera thought was malfunctioning. It was, and is, and explodes, making Cid stuck under some debris. Thankfully, Shera stayed on the rocket, and can help us. And this concludes Cid being the worst to Shera, as he finally starts to treat her with some decency.

This doesn't excuse anything, he was a horrible monster to her.

We see the rocket exploding on Meteor, and doing some damage. But it's not nearly enough, and it keeps coming down. And with that, we are out of ideas.

Red suggests, that we visit Bugenhagen, which is a good idea. If anyone knows what to do, it's him. He asks us, to remember, if there is something there. And there is - Aerith had a plan. So, we go together back to the City of Ancients, while leaving the Huge Materia in Cids lab, getting the final Bahamut Materia from one of them. It is pretty awesome, and reminds me of Bahamut from FF IV, with him coming from the moon.

In the City of Ancients, we find out about Holy, and how it can make Meteor and the Weapons disappear. But, also, maybe ourselves too. It is then up for the planet, to decide if we are worth keeping alive, or if it's better to make us vanish from the planet.

Honestly, this game seems pretty pessimistic with regards to humans. Maybe not on an individual level, but it clearly argues that the planet might be better off, if we wouldn't exist. Which, yeah, seems sensible. It is also really interesting, especially together with the unclear ending. JRPGs normally offer happy ends for the heroes, and the world. Here, these are two different factions, and a win for the planet might be a loss for us.

To summon Holy, we need the White Materia, which is a problem. Aerith had it, and we saw it fall into the water, as she died. Bugenhagen, though, just seems amused. He is an interesting character, and probably too connected with the Universe, to still fear death. He doesn't seem to mind, that the world might end soon.

He does find some glyphs on the ground, and finds a few of them translated (by Gast?). About a key, at a place where even sunlight won't reach. We don't really have anything else to go on, so we might as well try to find that key.

I always assume, it is talking about Midgar, considering that the lower parts seem to not get any sunlight. But, no, it is just in a cave underwater.

Last time, after getting the key, I realized that Emerald Weapon was behind me. That was probably the scariest moment in my experience with the whole series. Just the pure terror of this monster, which would have destroyed me, blocking me, at the only place where I couldn't get away, simply by rising to the surface.

I somehow made it out. Probably by waiting for it to go back.

With the key, we create some kind of Cetra TV. I don't know how to call it elsewise, they used water to project images and videos. Here, we see that the White Materia is actually growing. Aerith had already prayed for Holy, when she was still alive. So, the spell is active, but blocked. Likely by Sephiroth, which, finally, gives us a good reason to kill him.

But there is still the barrier. Cait Sith lets us listen in, to another meeting of Shirnas top people. The big canon was moved to Midgar, to shoot a hole into the barrier. The reason for the move was, that it used Huge Materia, but as there aren't any left, Shinra decided to use all the reactors of Midgar. Well, that helps us too.

When getting back to the airship, the ground is shaking, and another Weapon is rising out of the ocean, moving slowly towards Midgar.

We get an interesting argument here, where Barret is scared first, as attacking Midgar would endanger Marlene. Cait Sith promises, that she and Elmyra are at a save place. Which makes it seem, like Barret has no problem with it, anymore.

This, makes Reeve really angry. Barret doesn't care, if Midgar is destroyed, as long as Marlene is save. He reminds him of the beginning, where Barret was responsible for blowing up the reactor, killing many people in the process. Barret gets defensive, arguing that it just costs lives to save the planet.

Which is very cynical, and feels reminiscent of people like President Shinra, and other rich assholes. As long as my people are good, the rest of the world can burn down. It also feels wrong - Barret learned already, that what he did there wasn't ok. But that is probably the way he reacts, when he gets attacked.

And Reeve...he should realize, by now, that he isn't someone who should judge others, about how people are treated, because of your plans. Even as the morally best person at the top of the company, he is still responsible for a lot of awful things. There is more than enough blood on his hands, too.

Both are in no position, to judge each other. But soon, Cloud tells them to stop, anyway. He wants to save the people at Midgar, and to, therefore, fight the Weapon himself.

I wonder, if anything happens, if you let it reach Midgar. It is way too slow, for us not to make it. The fight isn't hard, and at some point, it moves away. Probably feels the Sister Ray being fired. There is another great cutscene, where we see all reactors running on full power, the gun shooting its enormous laser, and everything going dark, afterwards.

The Weapon, still far away, shoots a ton of "small" lasershots in Midgars direction. And then, it is hit by Shinras laser. Which shoots right throug hit, leaving it dead. And the barrier, too, is destroyed.

With this, I adopt Peklos read of the Weapons, that they just aren't able to deal with Shinras technological advancements. I just assumed that there was a reason, why Sapphire freed Tifa, but, yeah, it probably was just a coincidence. Here, we certainly see how technology caught up with something, that probably once would have been enormously powerful. Even more so than now. I think I made a comparison with Ultima, from FF II, and how things that were incredibly powerful at one point, might not be able to keep up, after enough time has passed. It feels similar here.

But the Weapon still did one good thing. While most of its shots go over Midgar, some hit the highest point of the city - the top of the HQ, with Rufus inside. I vaguely recall, that other FF VII stuff argues that Rufus survived, but I think it's pretty clear, that he is supposed to die here.

Honestly, I wished we had gotten a bit more from Rufus. But maybe there wasn't much to tell - we learn at the start, that he was always emotionally cold. And, in the end, Shinra is mainly part of the setting, especially after the prologue of the game, that is set in Midgar. Shinra is the background, that made the world the way it is. It is the monster, that is always there. And we don't fight it, when outside of Midgar, we fight Sephiroth. Shinra is horrible, painful background noise.

With the barrier gone, we can finally attack Sephiroth. On the way there, I find the Chocobo Sage, which is a nice bit of levity, seeing this weird, old ghost trying to remember information, about how to breed Chocobos. I never knew, how much information of that kind there was in the game itself. The first time, I probably talked with him once, and then never again, not knowing that he would give up more and more information as time went on. I got a Golden Chocobo by defeating one of the Weapons, and getting it from a guy somewhere.

As we are trying to enter the crater, we get, a last time, infos from Reeve, another meeting. Heidegger can't reach the President, and somehow, this moves to the gun not stopping, as Hojo is still charging it. Which might destroy the gun, and also be bad for Midgar. Dunno, the translation seems to be a bit lacking here, but it certainly isn't good for the city. As I understand it, it would overcharge the reactors, which would make them explode.

The controls have been switched, and Hojo holds them. He wants Sephiroth go "beyond the power of science".

Only here does Barret realize, together with Scarlett and Heidegger, that Reeve controls Cait Sith. I seriously don't remember, but I guess it is supposed to be a surprise. Except that, as mentioned, Reeve is the only halfway decent person at the top of Shinra. Heidegger and Scarlett would never work. Or maybe they would? Would be a nice twist, but they are just waaay too horrible.

So, there is one last thing to do: Stop Hojo. We parachute into Midgar, as the way through the slums would be to strongly guarded, with Heidegger looking for us. Also, the city is under martial law.

You know, in times like this, a dictator is probably more efficient than a democracy. And Rufus seems at least capable, he did destroy the barrier, after all. Not an endorsement, at best it would call for something like in Ancient Rome, where a dictator could be elected for a fixed amount of time, to deal with a crisis.

We go to the underground, where we meet the Turks, one last time. Elena, like always, wants to fight, and we can accept, or decline. I chose the latter, because there just is no point. Reno and Rude seem to agree - Shinra is basically done for, and so their job is over. And with that, they are finally gone.

When out of the underground, we meet Scarlett and Heidegger, who ride a giant robot, trying to destroy us. This robot is another sign of Shinra being too much for the Weapons. Because this thing, while not as gigantic, is pretty powerful, and could give the weapons a good fight. Not that it has a chance. It survives for a surprisingly long time, but finally dies.

Afterwards, we do some climbing, and reach Hojo. He still sees Cloud as a failure, but questions himself, as this means that only a failure has made it this far. Cloud doesn't care for this nonsense. He just wants Hojo to stop.

And here, we learn that Hojo is actually Sephiroths biological father. So, Sephiroth was, at one point, a regular child. He was just injected with Jenova cells. I had the impression, that he was artificially created.

We fight him, and he changes forms two times, which is possible through him being infused with Jenova cells, too. The first one is a zombie-like one, where he summons other monsters to help him. The second is a weird, mutant-like thing, and the last one seems very alien, already kind-of Jenova like.

The fight isn't too hard, but it has the interesting dilemma, that you need to save your summons for later. Using them at the weak, first form, means you can't access them later on.

But this is it, finally. Everyone at the top of Shinra is either dead, or converted. Only Sephiroth is left. With the knowledge, that there are seven days left for Meteor to hit, Cloud tells everyone to search for a reason to fight. This feels reminiscent of FF VI, where everyone knew their reason already, but repeated it to Kefka.

It is also pretty nice, just to see acknowledged that "saving the world" isn't enough. You need a personal reason, people you want to protect.

Also, there is this disconnect for people, between there being a time limit, before Meteor crushes into the planet, and how there are all these sidequests, that one can waste time with. I feel like this works, though. In the end, if we spend five days, just enjoying a few days of peace, it doesn't matter. We need to meet the deadline, if we do it now, or in three days, doesn't matter.

Cloud tells everyone to do something important. Certainly, something that is just for the person. They would be free, to spend their time in the Gold Saucer, playing minigames, if they felt like it. So, this feels a bit like an invitation to the player, too. It's ok to kill some time, and enjoy yourself. One or two more days, don't matter.

Also interesting is, that it is ok for someone not to come back. Cloud makes that explicitely clear. Which is huge - the planet is in danger, everyone should help. But, as always in this game, personal life is important and essential. There is no point in saving a group, if the group eats up your life. Like, don't work yourself to death. Work for your life, don't live for your work.

Cloud and Tifa, though, have no one, but themselves. Well, they probably have the make-do family of their team, but they are gone, for the moment. So they just spend the rest of the day with each other.

I never realised, that they had sex during the night. Or that they spent a quasi-romantic time with each other. Stuff like this just flies over my head, in many cases. If I can, at all, read friendship into a romantic relationship, I do. Not intentionally, it just happens. Friendships are just more interesting to me, probably because romance is so well explored in all kinds of stories.

Also, this is the end of Disc 2. It is way shorter than disc 1, probably due to the giant amount of cutscenes that one gets to see here. I wonder, if the idea to have more cutscenes near the end was always there, or if they were added for another reason. It just seems a bit random, to have so many more cutscenes near the end, than for the first two-thirds of the game.

And now, we can finally descend into the crater. As Peklo mentioned, there are great sights to be seen, visually. But one will also find old enemies, who reappear, like the King Tonberry, or Ariman (with another name), who still knows Roulette, which is still a Blue Spell.

At this point, I started doing sidequests, and got Omnislash. But then, I decided to check out how tough the final battle would be, without being completely overpowered (I should have left Omnislash, I guess). So I decided to do the sidequests after the final battle, if I was still motivated.

There is also the interesting idea of the save crystal - a save point, that we can place ourselves, wherever we want. It's an interesting concept, but probably not more than a neat idea, for this kind of game.

We also find a split way, where we can decide who goes which way. It doesn't really matter, I think, you can probably go both ways. But, when you meet up afterwards, you get an item from everyone, who went the other way. Everyone just gives up their item, except for Yuffie, who must be motivated by Red, I think. It's a neat, funny bit, a small bit more character work from Yuffie.

"Alright, everyone. Let's mosey!"

That's the real Cloud. I love him. Also, Cid makes fun of him. It's neat.

As always, we get an excuse, why only three will descend further. They see a ton of monsters approaching from above, and everyone but Cloud chosen party members will stay back, and stop them. I choose Tifa and Barret, which just seems fitting, being the first two party members. I use them for the rest of the dungeon, and the bosses.

At the center of the planet (I guess), we encounter Jenova, one last time. It didn't do much, here, as, like always, I used Haste and Slow, which already trivializes so many fights. Then, I summoned all kinds of Bahamuts, used Ultima, and so on. There was no challenge.

By the way, it actually worked out, so that Cloud and Barret unlocked, back in Rocket Town, their level three limit breaks. I got Clouds final one, with Barret, it didn't work out. But Clouds Omnislash is more than enough, anyway.

Next, we fall into the void, and reappear near Holy, which is stopped by Sephiroth. Who, without a problem, manipulates our bodies. It feels very reminiscent of Kekfa, how he could just throw around everyone. Except that Kefka talked to us, mocked us, and was emotionally a bit vulnerable.

It's very different with Sephiroth, whose power we overcome by resolve, but there is no talk about how he is right, and the world should die, or whatever. Honestly, after Kefka, this feels a bit disappointing. There isn't much interaction with Sephiroth, if any. But he always was cold, and, working together with an alien, makes him all the more unapproachable, I guess. It doesn't really matter, if he or Jenova is the leading entity. Personally, I just assume that they became very much one, and Sephiroth isn't really human anymore.

Which explains why, while Kefka always embrased the darkest parts of his humanity, Sephiroth ignores them. Kefka became a god, but only in the sense of enormous power. He could destroy everything and everyone, but, in the end, that was still very human, like a petulant, overly powerful child.

Sephiroth, though, feels gone. He plays god in a different way, becoming as cold and alien as possible.

The fight against Bizarro Sephiroth confused me, last time. I remember having multiple groups, then, and not understanding how the fight worked. Thankfully, I only had one group fight, this time. It mirrors FF VI here too, in how you might order your team members in different parties, even if the details differ.

With only one group, the fight isn't difficult. Just throw all your Bahamuts at him, your Betas and Ultimas, and he will die soon enough. Honestly, this game gives you such an incredible power, you can throw out so much damage, it's absurd. In a good way, I think, it is pretty fun to become demigods over the game, but I understand how people might miss challenge here.

And then, we fight the last form, which looks very similar to Kefkas last form, who also was a winged, angel-like form of himself. Except that Sephiroth seems to have a bit more HP. Without Omnislash, this battle would have been somewhat difficult, actually. I had way too few healing items, and only Cloud had a ribbon, so I could only heal Barret one time, when he became a frog, and probably other things too. Tifa and Barret even died, during the fight, and I had to reapply Haste.

But then, Sephiroth would use his angel attack (which he straight-up stole from Kefka), and reduced everyones HP to one. Which also filled up their Limit Break bars. Which gave way for Cloud, to use Omnislash. Which did...I think around 3000 per hit, over 15 hits, making this one attack deal around 45000 HP of damage. It's completely overpowered, for a fight of the regular story. Sephiroth wasn't quite dead, but it took only one or two more attacks. And with that, we beat the game.

But as everyone goes home, we see Sephiroth trying one last time to take control of Cloud. But now, Cloud can defend himself, his psyche isn't as vulnerable anymore. And so, we fight a last time against Sephiroth. I guess, it is how Cloud sees both of them. Cloud, fully connected with himself, and ready to be done with this loser, just fills up his Limit Break bar. I always liked that, no matter if you unlocked it, here, in Clouds mind, with him at full strength, he can use his full power, and attack Sephiroth with Omnislash. When playing this game the first time, I hadn't unlocked it, and was blown away, by how much damage it did.

Cloud is finally free of Sephiroth, who still looks menacing and strong, but Cloud knows now, that he is stronger. And so, the jerk is finally defeated.

And so, we see Holy defend the world against Meteor. Which isn't enough, though. Only when the Lifestream itself fights alongside Holy, does the Meteor get defeated. I always assumed, that Aerith would be there, knowingly. That it is her influence, that makes the Lifestream fight. But maybe that is just me reading into things, more than I should. Aerith is there, of course, but probably only as part of the Lifestream, like so many others too.

We see the people of Kalm watch this battle. Especially the children.

And then, we end. The same way we started - by seeing Aerith' face, surrounded by green light, the same shot as in the beginning. And then, credits roll.

Waiting for them to end, we see a scene from 500 years later, as Red, or his descendent, with two children of them, are running around. And we get a shot of Midgar, as it is reconquered by nature, with birds flying over it. It's a really great, last shot.

And then, we end how we started - by watching the stars. Only this time, there is no disturbing, horrifying noise. It is just the calm of space.

----------------------------------------

Well, that was FF VII. I still want to do a few of the sidequests, or have already done some. I'll probably write about them in my final posts. And then, as always, I'll take a break, before starting with FF VIII.

I'll go a bit more into detail, but one thing already: FF VII is amazing, and looking at it from a point of trying to understand the development of the series, makes it even more special. I love this game, and it's clearly among my favourite games of the series, right alongside III and V.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Now, he finally has a family and a home, a place where he belongs, and where he is accepted, as dorky as he is. Someone might make a joke on his expense, but he knows that said person still cares for him. So, he can finally be himself.

One of my favourite recurring bits of writing in the game is how the party gradually just stop putting on airs about Cloud the supersoldier and instead turn to this affectionate needling toward him. It's there when he's gone and Tifa mentions wishing she could see him "stand that cocky little way he did", while one of Cid's better moments is this monologue where he reflects on how everything about Cloud was a little off, from his cadence to his body language, but that he still liked him, and that whenever you thought he was cool and strong, he'd do something really stupid and foolish instead. Post-lifestream with Cloud baring out everything about himself to the party in a moment of some real vulnerability, Tifa caps the scene off with "you're sure messed up, Cloud!" It feels like people starting to relate to him as a person who they can actually talk to and rib with instead of constantly being on guard about setting off something.

We go to the underground, where we meet the Turks, one last time. Elena, like always, wants to fight, and we can accept, or decline. I chose the latter, because there just is no point.

I always fight them because it's the only opportunity to see Elena in a context other than the rookie comic relief (and they all have good equipment to steal, as much as that matters in a game like this). I don't think numerical stats in an RPG are always so carefully considered that you can make salient reads as far as characterization based on them, but in this case it does communicate well enough that she's not just an incapable hang-around pestering her seniors or anything--she even has the most HP out of the three, for whatever that's worth.

When out of the underground, we meet Scarlett and Heidegger, who ride a giant robot, trying to destroy us. This robot is another sign of Shinra being too much for the Weapons. Because this thing, while not as gigantic, is pretty powerful, and could give the weapons a good fight. Not that it has a chance. It survives for a surprisingly long time, but finally dies.

Their mech is called "Proud Clod" by the game, a name that was much less funnier to me as a young kid, because "clod" probably wasn't even in my vocabulary yet. I do remember wondering if they meant "Cloud", and whatever connection there might be there--it wasn't until some personal maturing and the boss being referenced in others series games with keener localizations (such as XIII) that it became clear that the intended moniker was "Proudclad" all along.

And here, we learn that Hojo is actually Sephiroths biological father. So, Sephiroth was, at one point, a regular child. He was just injected with Jenova cells. I had the impression, that he was artificially created.

Vincent's backstory and motivations are all about the circumstances around Sephiroth's birth and parentage, the Jenova Project, and the torrid drama around himself, Lucrecia and Hojo. I think it's easy to see Vincent as a kind of successor to the role Shadow played in VI: a relatively minor and technically optional "dark" cool-guy character with significant but low-key interpersonal ties to someone else in the game's cast, whose presence is entirely defined by atonement and self-loathing for their personal failures. These generational connections are de-emphasized and obfuscated by the game enough that it's not really very often acknowledged in one's mind that the professional and personal strife between Gast and Hojo also plays out through their children in Aerith and Sephiroth--with both respective pairs ending up murdering their counterparts. It's the irony of it all in how Sephiroth mocks and dislikes Hojo on a personal level, with him saying as much, and in these ways he's so very much like his father.

I never realised, that they had sex during the night. Or that they spent a quasi-romantic time with each other. Stuff like this just flies over my head, in many cases. If I can, at all, read friendship into a romantic relationship, I do. Not intentionally, it just happens. Friendships are just more interesting to me, probably because romance is so well explored in all kinds of stories.

The dialogue during the scene differs depending on Tifa's affection rate from those early-game decisions leading up to the date, but I don't think it needs to be very high for the more intimate version to manifest. The framing of the scene, some particular lines ("words aren't the only way to show people how you feel, Cloud..." going into a fade to black) and particularly Tifa's reaction (sinking to the floor in utter disbelief and embarrassment) when she learns much of the party had already returned to the Highwind docked above and witnessed whatever happened between her and Cloud in supposed privacy... it's difficult for me to interpret it otherwise. I think it also factors in that on the scale of FF protagonists, Cloud and Tifa are on the "older" side at 21 and 20, so young adults instead of teenagers featuring in a scene with this kind of subject matter feels more likely as a directorial choice.

It's very different with Sephiroth, whose power we overcome by resolve, but there is no talk about how he is right, and the world should die, or whatever. Honestly, after Kefka, this feels a bit disappointing. There isn't much interaction with Sephiroth, if any. But he always was cold, and, working together with an alien, makes him all the more unapproachable, I guess.

It is actually very interesting how the final confrontation plays out in complete silence on his part. The last words Sephiroth says are in leading up to Cloud's breakdown at the Northern Crater, as part of his gambit to break down his adversary psychologically (and we know this is also Jenova's M.O., so more of that fusion and ambiguity between the two) and finally acquire the Black Materia. He never has an opportunity to say anything else for the rest of the game, which I think says a lot about how much sheer imagery and precedent can carry the rest of the story at that point--he doesn't need to elaborate on his motivations anymore. If we're really going with technicalities, Sephiroth as a written character could be construed as entirely posthumous, with all the agents of his will via the Jenova clones being something else and his eventual resurrection never opening up to anyone, with his "real" persona only heard in flashback. He just becomes this boogeyman to overcome and put to rest.

Cloud is finally free of Sephiroth, who still looks menacing and strong, but Cloud knows now, that he is stronger. And so, the jerk is finally defeated.

The final duel between the two is also notable in that it has the highest polygonal detail models for characters in the game, used only for this sequence. I really do love how many disparate proportional and fidelity levels there are in portraying VII's cast.

~~~
I'm glad you finished! These are such a good window to explore even such well-covered material, so I'm always happy you're taking the time to continue with them. I will continue to participate whenever I can.
 
Top