Hello, and welcome back to the Final Fantasy VII playthrough. Just so you have a sense of scale, I'm now two hours into the game after playing it for five months. This is a 100-hour game, which means that at this pace, I won't be finished for another twenty years.
Because there's nothing I'd rather do with the next two decades than wander around a pretend slum, let's get down to it.
|Cloud talks to some locals.|
THAT'S MEN FOR YOU AMIRITE LADIES?
Actually, when I head inside the pipe I feel bad for making a sexist joke because the poor fellow is clearly in a bad way.
|Unlike lots of men, this guy can't even say "beer". I know this because some of my best friends are men.|
His TV is on so I can't completely rule out video game-induced catatonia, but that wouldn't explain the trophies (unless it was Starcraft or something) and his suspicious tattoo, which Aeris had to point out to me because I can't make out a darn thing at this resolution. Neither or us can make any sense of this peculiar interlude, but I presume its purpose will become clear later in the game.
Unwilling to spend any more time around him than I have to, I hop out of the pipe and back into the street/ditch. I head to an abandoned bus that someone seems to have turned into some kind of homestead.
Inside, it's actually a weapon shop. This is an example of the game's excellent "set" design. I love the katana lying on the couch, the bullet casings strewn across the table and the floor (best not to imagine how they got there) and enormous, terrifying flamethrower just sat nonchalantly in the back.
|I love how the proprietor is wearing a bow-tie.|
I decide to buy a couple of "Titan Bangles" because Aeris and Cloud aren't very well equipped. In the process I sell the bangle Aeris was wearing when we met, so I do hope she wasn't too attached to it. Whilst checking Aeris' loadout, I come across a disturbing truth...
|Her fringe is taller than her head.|
That's right people. NO ACCESSORIES. How is she meant to ward off evil and remain alluring without so much as a fancy hairslide? Seriously. First branch of Claire's we come to, I'm sorting this out.
In the meantime, I decide to barge into some more people's houses.
Having recently made my way through Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, I have a newfound respect for Final Fantasy VII's dialogue, and the way that every word illuminates the characters, the world or the plot. This is because it has been edited with extreme discipline, and while I wouldn't have it any other way, this can mean that it's a little too declaratory to sound natural, particularly when you just wander into people's houses and they stop watching TV to talk politics with you.
|Live in a shed, still have a 50-inch TV. Priorities.|
Yeah, down with President Shinra! That guy's a dick.
Oh, never mind.
I decide to get out of his house before he asks me why I have reactor dust in my hair, but (crucially) not before I've explored the rest of his house.
Wow, awkward. I sort of wish I hadn't come up here. Why is he glugging and lying on his side? Is that a dead crab on his bedside table? And, ew, what am I standing in?
Gross. That'll teach me to wander into people's bedrooms uninvited. On to the next corrugated iron shack.
She did not.
That's probably because she knew that freezers usually contain quest items and that if you can manage it, breaking into them usually yields rich rewards. Not in this case though, it's too heavily-guarded. I am pretty sure I will either have to come back later if I want to open up this freezer.
You know what I was saying about all the dialogue in this game being well-edited and relevant? I can only hope this is a clue to some hidden quest, and not some half-baked attempt at philosophy.
With all this breaking and entering, I've almost forgotten what I'm meant to be doing, and that is taking Aeris home. We head out through a tunnel and emerge by her house.
Wait, what? How come everyone else in the Midgar slums lives in decaying aluminum shells with dead crabs on the floor and Aeris gets to live here?
I'm guessing the bright blue stuff is Mako rather than water, or at least very polluted water, but all the same, that house is so darn cute that I'm beginning to think there's something a little odd about her. Other than the fact that she hangs out in an empty church planting daffodils all day. And the fact that mercenaries keep chasing her and calling her "The Ancient". And her There's Something about Mary hair.
We head inside. I mention something about wanting to get back to Tifa's bar and Aeris asks me if Tifa is my girlfriend.
It genuinely took me about five minutes to decide what to say here. This is because I haven't been playing the game for that long and I'm not sure if I really like Tifa in that way yet. This kind of question comes up in Mass Effect quite a lot but by that time I've had many hours (most of them exposition) to decide which spandex-clad alien hottie I'd rather take back to my cabin.
I'm trying to make out like I'm all cool about it, but I'm really not. What I say here could have a huge impact on what happens later and it's not a decision I want to take lightly.
Eventually, I decide to say "No way!" although that sounds a little harsh on poor Tifa and I wish there was some other option, like "we're just friends" or "I care about her a lot" or "dude seriously what is with your hair".
So anyway, I tell Aeris this, and she laughs in my face.
That'll teach me to share my feelings. On the plus side, this dialogue box is smaller than the last one, which means I can see more of Aeris' ridiculously nice house.
Then Aeris' mum comes downstairs, sees Aeris has a handsome (again, just guessing here) gentleman caller and thus instructs her to go and make up the guest bed. Aeris does that, leaving me alone with her mother, whose name is Elmyra.
Initially, I am glad of the change of perspective that allows me to see the pattern on their fancy rug, but I have to stop gawping because Elmyra notices that I have SOLDIER's telltale sparkly eyes.
She asks me to leave without telling Aeris because "the last thing Aeris needs is to get hurt again". I'm guessing I'll find out more about the first time shoe got hurt at some other point. I thought about leaving right then because she seemed like a nice lady who only had Aeris' best interests at heart, but my desire to go upstairs and nose around her house was too strong.
|Where did Aeris get a rug like that? Is that a standard room shape in Midgar?|
I head upstairs, where Aeris has just finished making up the bed. It's pretty cosy, so I fall into a deep sleep. The Final Fantasy sleep jingle doesn't play, which means it's flashback time!
No, the girls never leave me alone. They hang around in my room watching me sleep.
Geez. It's no wonder I ran off with SOLDIER.
I wake from this unpleasant dream and decide to escape quickly, as Elmyra asked me to. I ran out of my room, but this woke Aeris up.
I went back to bed, waited, and then walked quietly down the stairs and out of the house. I hope Aeris knows I didn't just abandon her, and that I left (probably) for her own good.
I'm about to leave through the exit to the Sector 6 slum when...
Um, ok. I decide not to think too hard about a) how she got there before me and b) whether she's stalking me and decide that another pair of hands wielding a pointy stick will probably be useful where we're going.
That's some pretty disturbing debris.
While I'm wondering what that enormous hand was attached to, we get attacked.
Ok, this is just a house. I think this must have something to do with the aged graphics. In Final Fantasy XIII, which has probably my favourite monster design of the whole series, there's a huge variation between even similar kinds of monsters because the graphics allow for great detail. Final Fantasy VII, not so much. In order to make the monsters distinctive, they have to be completely different from each other. And as any schoolchild knows, the opposite of "robot ninja" is "barn".
The house casts "Hell Bomber" on us, and we take some damage. If only there was some way of restoring loads of health without using up any mana or potions...
Oh, that's useful. Aeris' limit is a magical fart that heals wounds. I wish mine did that.
We meet a few more houses and Aeris casts "Healing Wind" a few more times. I must remember to buy beans the next time I raid someone's fridge. We emerge outside a dilapidated playground.
Because everything's such a mess in this part of the world, it's hard to tell whether this playground is still in use of whether it's been abandoned.
We hang out in the playground for a while and Aeris starts talking to me about my time in SOLDIER. She mentions that her first boyfriend was also in SOLDIER, and though they weren't serious, she did really like him. I think about asking her about him when...
A cart that strongly resembles the Childcatcher's wagon from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang trundles past. I thought that was a shop mannequin on the back because IT DOESN'T HAVE A FACE but Cloud somehow recognises it as Tifa in a sexy dress.
Aeris? It is not cool to say your rival looks "kind of odd" before you've even been introduced. I'm the man, I will be the judge of that. It's not her fault she doesn't have a face.
We follow her because the Womancatcher wagon probably isn't taking her anywhere good, and she probably needs rescuing. We end up in a lurid district of the slums, which Aeris points out is not safe for girls.
We have to move fast.
Where did Tifa go? Who was she with? WHY DIDN'T SHE HAVE A FACE?
The answers to these and possibly more questions will be found in the next episode of the Final Fantasy VII playthrough, published at some point between now and Christmas.