Sunday, 4 November 2012

Final Fantasy VII Playthrough: Part 2 - AVALANCHE and the Slums

Having blown up a Mako reactor, it's up to Cloud, Barret, Wedge, Biggs and Jessie to escape the explosion, and anyone who might be coming after them.

Cloud is propelled out of the exploding Mako reactor.

As soon as they emerge, Cloud asks Barret for his payment, exhibiting his mercenary tendencies. What childhood trauma left you so cold, Cloud? Don't you know the fate of the planet is at stake, and that Avalanche is trying to stop Shinra Electric Power Company from polluting it further?

Barret mumbles something about returning home before he and the rest of Avalanche vanish, leaving Cloud to his flight through the Midgar city streets.

Midgar streets.

Running through the dilapidated streets, Cloud encounters the nameless girl from the intro sequence. In the midst of this dirty yellow rusting city, she's selling beautiful fresh flowers, and offers Cloud one for 1 Gil. Cloud might be a ruthless mercenary, but I'm not, so I buy a flower.

The flower seller reminds me of the Alfonso CuarĂ³n film adaptation of A Little Princess. *Sniff*

As Cloud leaves, flower in hand, he is accosted by Shinra guards and chased through the streets. At one point, it seems like he's cornered, but fortunately he's right above a rail bridge when this happens. He leaps from the bridge onto the speeding train, leaving the guards behind.

James Bond just did this exact thing in Skyfall.
The train happens to be the one that the other members of Avalanche are on, which sort of begs the question of why Cloud didn't just leave with them in the first place, especially considering he still wants their money. Let's not worry about that.

Hey, it's Portsmouth!

The train weaves its way through the crumbling Midgar infrastructure in an FMV sequence. I love the way the opening to this game establishes a sense of place. There's something majestic about old industrial buildings, and these ones have a sinister edge because of what they're doing to the planet. Or at least because of what Barret's told us they're doing to the planet. Are they really doing that? Can we trust him yet? Let's hold our judgement a while longer.

The Sector 7 station. Could do with a lick of paint.

The party disembarks at Midgar station. I used to go to university in New Cross and for some reason I can't put my finger on, I am reminded of that little corner of South East London at this moment.

The warning about ghosts, by the way, does not put me off. I wander around the train station by myself and have to fight a bunch of ghosts. A bunch. In the "making of" documentary for Monty Python's Life of Brian, Graham Chapman is talking about Terry Gilliam, and says something like "Terry is an American. He says 'bunch' a lot. When we were coming here, he looked out of the aeroplane window and said 'hey, you guys, look, a whole bunch of water...' ugh..."

I watched that documentary in 2003, and "bunch" has been my favourite collective noun ever since.

Oh dear...

That odd little question mark there is a save point, in case you were wondering.

Now we've returned to Sector 7, it's time for the reality of my actions back at the reactor to sink in. That's why this dude is telling my why it would be a bad thing if some "pillar" falls down.

I think.

Sure, buddy.

Not here, there's rubble everywhere, geez.

Oh, the pillar? Right.

The pillar over Sector 7.

That is a pretty big pillar. That's just the top, mind you. It would take about three screenshots to show you the whole thing, and I'm trying to be a good editor, so enjoy the top.

Awed by the pillar, I decide to explore Sector 7.

Shinra guards. Spoilsports.

Huh. Looks like I'm not going that way. I spoke to the fellow to the left. He was a n00b and thus very polite about telling me I couldn't pass. The guy on the right was far less polite, even calling me "scum".

Avalanche gathers.

I return back the way I came and stumble upon the rest of Avalanche outside their base. See how they're all wearing adorably mis-matched clothes? They're definitely the good guys. I'm feeling pretty tired and hungry by this point, maybe I'll head inside.

Marlene greets Barret, adoringly.

Two new characters! First we have the foxy brunette, guess we'll find out more about her in a minute. For now, lets focus on the adorable moppet in pink. She just leapt up onto Barret's shoulders, calling him "Papa!". That's Barret's daughter, Marlene. Yet more emotional evidence, in the absence of anything tangible, that Avalanche are the good guys. They have children on their side. Did Palpatine's Empire have children? Sauron's Orcs? I rest my case.

Avanlanche's secret base.
I use the pinball machine to activate a secret lift and head downstairs to the Avalanche base. The television is showing a Shinra broadcast. It looks like Avalanche's attack has had effects I hadn't anticipated, namely the loss of revenue and thus jobs for thousands of innocent civilians. Was it meant to do that? I ask Jessie.

Jessie in the Avalanche HQ.

Guess not. Still, it's not like I care. I'm Cloud! Cloud doesn't care about anything. Time to ask that no good Barret for my cut.

Barret cannot be a bad guy.

Oh, c'mon, really? You can't give my my hard earned money because you want to use it to pay for your kid's school? For heavens' sake, can't the moral ambiguity last an hour, at least?

Irritated, I head outside to chat to the locals.

Like... the millennium?

That's more like it. In Star Wars, you never hear about the poor blue-collar workers in the Death Star (or the builders in Return of the Jedi) who are just trying to make an honest day's living when Luke and his mop-haired buddies rock up to slaughter them. There is no moral ambiguity there. Rebels good, Empire bad, so let's just have a nice big explosion and head home.


And who's going to foot the bill for that, eh? Shinra? Or their employees?

Some locals.

Feeling a bit guilty, I make my excuses and wander round the shacks in the Sector 7 slums. Sector 7 is mostly populated by salt-of-the-earth types with some tragic story to tell about their missing son/brother/husband/father. It's all a bit heavy for me, so I decide to spend some of Marlene's schoolin' money on some drugs and weapons.

"I'm sorry, I thought this was Waitrose." (a middle-class British joke, ladies and gentlemen.)

Ok, even the shop assistants are making me feel guilty. Screw this, I'm heading back to Avalanche. Maybe the brunette's still around.

"Childhood friend?"

She is, and she's well versed in the ancient Japanese art of exposition, it seems. Turns out we're childhood friends. She asks if I remember a promise I made a long time ago. Guess it's flashback time.

Tifa and Cloud as children.
Tifa recalls an occasion long, long ago, when she was just a teenager in the kind of foxy turquoise dress and matching heels it's probably really easy to come by in a slum. Apparently I once promised her that I'd rescue her if she was ever in a bind.

I say "I", but really Cloud did. I've been inconsistent across this entire playthrough, between first and third person. It's a video game, so maybe it's in first person. But it's also a third person game, and you control other characters during fights. I'm really not sure what the established academic convention is for talking about games in this way. I'm sticking with first person for now, and I won't be correcting earlier text because, you know, it's less authentic if I do that.

There is such a fine line between authenticity and unprofessionalism.

Just another Friday night at the Bricklayer's Arms.

I disappoint poor Tifa. Though whether it's because my humanity has been beaten out of me by Soldier or because I don't care for her remains to be seen.

I should say here that there are dialogue options that let you choose what you say to certain characters. Thus far, my cheerful state of mind has led me to be nice to everyone even though I'm not sure that's what Cloud would do, but that could get me in trouble later if Tifa and the flower girl know I've been being nice to both of them. Girls can be funny like that.

Anyway, Avalanche throw caution to the wind and decide to blow up the Mako reactor in Sector 5, so it's back on the train for us.

It's the District Line!

We get back on the train, and Barret gets into an argument with a besuited Shinra employee. He says only a truly dedicated worker would turn up the day after a terrorist attack and Barret takes it personally, which is a bit suspicious. Tifa, who's along for the ride this time, intervenes before things get too out of hand.

Red alert on the train.

Now Shinra, in true police-state fashion, have set up these automated I.D. checkpoints which scan the identification of all passengers. Remember what I said last week about civil liberties, or a lack thereof? Yeah.

Time for us to go!

Goin' underground...

Tifa, Barret and I jump off the train in time to avoid an I.D. check that might get in the way of our freedom fighting. Where will this tunnel take us? Will the attack on the Sector 5 reactor go according to plan? Will I ever meet the flower girl again? Will Barret turn out to be a bad guy even though he's got an adorable munchkin daughter who just wants to go to school?

Find out next time on the Well-Rendered Final Fantasy VII playthrough!


  1. Really nicely written! I finished that game at least 3 times and reading your playthrough gives a new great way to see things! Thank you, that is, like many people, my favorite game of all time and this makes me want to play it again!

    1. Thanks Loums. 3 times is pretty impressive, it is an enormous game. I am really enjoying the new version on PC, the graphics look really good considering how old it is.

      A new piece will be up as soon as my computer is fixed :D