Sunday, 17 February 2013

Final Fantasy VII Playthrough: Part 4 - Flight from the Church

It's been several weeks, a failed power supply, many pints of brandy and all the Bond films since we last saw Cloud and Aeris.

If you've only just tuned into Well-Rendered, welcome! This is how we do things here. You run a Google images search for "final fantasy aeris church screenshot" and end up here, I write reams of metafictional prose, you stick around because you're an incorrigible voyeur on a lunch break. So long as we pretend we don't know each other when we meet on the Soho streets at 3am (seriously Mum, it's like the last days of Rome out there), it's all good.

Anyway. To recap, Cloud had fallen through the roof of Aeris' church and crushed her flowers. I like how Aeris is neither too afraid of Cloud to demand he pay her for the flowers he crushed nor so overwhelmed by his good looks (I'm just assuming he's good-looking, it's hard to tell with so few pixels at play) that she just lets him off.

Before the flower scenario can get too political, some pony tailed dudes arrive and start chasing our heroes up the stairs.

Cloud and Aeris eye up a handy barrel.

Cloud and Aeris then decide to break the fourth wall and make reference to the fact they're in a video game by throwing barrels at their pursuers, like Donkey Kong throws barrels at Jumpman, later Mario, in the original 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong.

Having evaded the mysterious pony tailed thugs, the pair make their way up into the rafters of the church, from which we can see the flower bed that broke Cloud's fall after the botched AVALANCE attack on the Sector 5 reactor.

Cloud and Aeris escape the church through the hole that Cloud made when he fell through the roof.

I think this entire sequence is actually one of the best in the game, from a graphical perspective. The pre-rendered environments give the designers a huge amount of freedom in regard to how they frame the scenes enabling them to use the lighting that gives the church a sense of scale and majesty. They'd never have been able to do that with in-engine environments and despite being slightly more immersive, the entire game would have suffered.

Then again...

Now, many video game buildings are larger on the inside than they are on the outside, particularly in free-roaming games. The villages in Skyrim feature tiny cottages barely taller than their inhabitants, but enter any one of them and you'll find yourself in a palatial dwelling with a ceiling several feet above your head. This is done for pratical reasons; the interiors can't be smaller or you couldn't explore them and the exteriors couldn't be bigger or rendering the map would slow the game to a crawl. Fair play.

But this exterior shot of the church seems like a mis-step. I guess it's because they wanted to show the entire chuch in one interactive shot, and the character models would be too small if they showed them to scale. But while the last shot we had Cloud and Aeris in the rafters of a vast, ancient building, here we have them squatting on top of a technicolour Wendy house.

Never mind. Onwards!

They make their way through the Midgar slums, clambering over all manner of rubble. What buildings did those columns once support? We may never know.

Cloud stares out at the huge plate that hides the sky from everyone in the slums. This is dystopia on a really large scale.

I only hope that when we inevitably get out into the beautiful wilderness, we remember the grimy monoliths of Midgar and remember what we're fighting for.

The two of them slide down a pile of refuse at the entrance to the Secotor 7 slums. It looks like Cloud's going to take Aeris back to meet Tifa, Barret and the rest of AVALANCHE, but you're going to have to wait until next time to find out what happens. I promise it won't take another three months...


  1. FF7 is my all-time favourite game, so it's very nice to see you're doing this write-up. I'm enjoying reading it, even though I know sooner or later you're going to point out some flaw or oversight or plot hole that I hadn't noticed myself, which I then won't be able to unsee, and then I'll have to hold you accountable for Ruining My Childhood.

    BTW, I see you wrote an entry about NaNoWriMo last November. How did that go for you? I took part in it, too, for the first time last year.

    1. I think your childhood is fairly safe. That's because FFVII is a very long game, and I won't get any joy out of it if I'm only out to make fun of it or point out its flaws. In fact, the extreme likelihood is that I'll deliberately shut myself off to many of its flaws purely for the sake of enjoying it more.

      That said, it's a brilliant game by anybody's standards; the plot is philosophically rich and the gameplay is deep. There are issues (like the scale of the church in the above piece) which make it flawed, but so what? Game development is all about compromise, and those are often the things that make it interesting to write about.

      As for NaNoWriMo... I got several thousand words into it and then stopped. I discovered through writing that I didn't believe in that particular project and saw no point continuing. Of course, if I'd done NaNoWriMo properly I would have ignored my "inner critic" (oh, what a ghastly term) and carried on, but I didn't. She told me that despite some merit, the project had no worth, and that the rest of November would be better spent baking muffins.

      She was right, the muffins were amazing.

      I wouldn't have discovered that that project had no worth (it really didn't, I'm fine with that) if I hadn't written so much of it, so I'm very glad I did what I did. I learned something.

      Thanks for asking!

      How did it go for you?

    2. I hope you're not planning to be too gentle about the game. After all, your humorous observations are part of why Well-Rendered is fun to read.

      While I'm barely qualified to make a statement about the themes of the game and whether or not they're explored well, I do believe that there's a hell of a lot of effective storytelling going on. The gameplay is great, too. I watched a bit of a livestream (or should I say LIFESTREAM? Ahem.) shortly after the game was rereleased on PC, and was quite surprised at how much thought had been put into it all, what with the ludicrous amount of things to do and collect and experience, the impressively complex battle system, the soundtrack (still makes me sentimental, listening to it)... I should really play it again myself, sometime.

      I do think it's a series where a game suspension of disbelief will take you a long, long way.

      It's a huge shame that you came to feel that way about your novel. I don't think any writer (or any sort of artist) is safe from the inner critic. It sucks when a project ends up having to die because of it, even if the inner critic does happen to be right, and even if muffins are a by-product.

      I managed to push my novel to completion, but it wasn't without its fair share of problems. I knew early on that it was terrible, and decided two thirds of the way that I probably wouldn't rewrite it. But I had decided at the start that for me personally, it would be better to write a bad first draft than to second guess myself and end up not writing anything at all. I wrote a bit about it in my blog.

      Are you writing anything these days, fiction-wise?

    3. I will make fun of it when I think of something funny to say. Also when I can't. I really like the sound of my own voice... the sound of my fingers on my keys... the thought of my words flying willy-nilly all over the internet... What I mean is that I seek to make something funny and readable, if it means I have to make fun of one of the best games ever made to do so, then I will.

      It is not a shame I feel that way about my abandoned novel. The world didn't need it, I didn't need it. It was a useful activity and a productive exercise that did me a lot of good but does not need to be shared with anyone else. Hopefully it means that whatever I'm working on now will be better and more valuable as a result.

      I am a bit annoyed the inner critic returned though, I will have to book her in for a cruise and take her phone so she can't bother me next time.

      I read your blog post. I am impressed that you finished your draft despite being open about the reservations you have with it. That probably leaves you in a better position than I am with mine because you probably know more about the process than I do...

  2. Go nuts. Just make sure you avoid the obvious "heheheh this game has spiky hair and huge swords and that's funny because it's Japanese and weird!!!" path.

    It's good that you got something out of your novel despite how you felt about it. I wouldn't say I'm in a better position with my first draft, (or in any position at all, unless that position is the one you take when you're about to throw something into an incinerator). It's not something I'd like to be remembered by. I hope that should I meet an untimely end, nobody will think to look on my computer or any of my USB sticks. Still glad I wrote it, though.

    Good call on sending your inner critic away. I ought to do the same with mine – they haven't forgiven me for ignoring them during NaNoWriMo and now it seems they're trying to redouble their efforts in making sure I write nothing else (and blast it, they're sort of succeeding a bit right now).

    1. Well, I'm pretty sure spiky hair and swords came about for the same reasons as Lara Croft's (or "LC" as the Hills fan in me will now refer to her) boobs came about, and that is that polygons weren't always as plentiful as they are now, and how else were you meant to tell characters apart?

      Japanese RPG conventions are frequently mocked, but they are no sillier than Western RPG conventions. I love these just as much, but cuirasses, dragonhide gauntlets, tavern wenches and various elves are as amusing as Cloud's hair.

      I will try and publish some more FFVII things this week, thank you for sticking around and good luck with the writing.