After leaving Midgar, we decide to head for the town of Kalm. On the way, Red XIII, Tifa and myself are accosted by a bike gang. These guys are on choppers, so we can assume that in pop-cultural terms they're Butch to Cloud's earlier Kaneda.
Speaking of Akira references, I watched the film again this week and spotted another potential reference: this slide that Cloud and Aeris sit on to discuss his past closely resembles the one in [SPOILERS] Tetsuo's flashback to his childhood at the orphanage with Kaneda.
Kalm is one of many towns in Japanese fantasy manga and video games that resembles a disorientating amalgamation of Tudor stately homes and Central European Christmas markets.
We're supposed to meet at the inn, but one of the first rule of video games is that you pay attention to the direction the video game tells you to go, then go in the other direction for loot and optional quests.
I gather some political perspectives from the locals. It seems Shinra's influence reaches beyond Midgar.
This game understands children.
I visit the Materia shop, which is beautiful.
Eager to continue my excellent shopping experience, I go to the pub. The proprietor is identical to one of the wholesome townspeople I met back in the Midgar slums. Either he escaped the dropping of the plate and made a new life in Kalm, or this is just the more fortunate twin.
That doesn't sound good.
It turns out I joined SOLDIER to be just like Sephiroth.
Who has never had motion sickness.
Sephiroth becomes a playable character in this flashback, which is just as well because as a newbie SOLDIER recruit, I am rubbish.
Despite having the most impractical hair we've seen yet, Sephiroth takes down the dragon in a couple of hits.
The story continues. It turns out Sephiroth and I were on the way to Nibelhein, site of a vast Mako reactor and hometown to Tifa and myself.
Yeah. Blame the Mako.
Now I'm in SOLDIER, the locals are all up in my face.
I explore Nibelheim a bit... in the past.
It turns out I am something of an unreliable narrator. Which, considering that Tifa just asked me whether I snuck into her teenage bedroom, is understandable.
When I enter my own house (which we have visited in flashback before), the narrative gets fractured, and the story falters. It seems there are things I'm not willing - or not able - to talk about.
This is Tifa's martial arts teacher, which may or may not explain why she has such weird taste in men.
Tifa, Sephiroth, some SOLDIER goons and I plan to climb Mt. Nibel, site of Shinra's Mako reactor.
Check out Tifa's outfit. She looks like an even more adorable version of Jessie from Toy Story 2.
Oh, alright. Nothing is that adorable.
Could Mt. Nibel look any more menacing?
What genius decided to put a reactor here? And what is with that bridge?
See? That was an accident waiting to happen.
We lose a couple of redshirts, but all the characters with names are fine, so we press on.
Sephiroth uses a rockfall to crush a bug.
We enter a cave illuminated by a strange green light, and Sephiroth explains that it's caused my Materia, which Mt. Nibel is filled with. I guess that goes some way to explain why there's a Mako reactor here.
Oh, really? I guess that makes sense.
I'm glad Mako, in the form of Materia, is actually a core gameplay element. It means the player gets a first-hand understanding of one of Mako's core applications, and the fact that it's so vital to completing the quest means your relationship to it is complex. It's like Yuna's adherence to Yevon in Final Fantasy X, which is the means by which she summons aeons, even though [SPOILERS] Yevon emerges as the main antagonist about two-thirds in.
Who'd have thought a man with such impractical hair could be so rational?
Also check out Tifa's little hat. She's so cute. I want to stick her on my dashboard.
You think that if it was full of industrial secrets, Shinra would guard it a little more effectively.
Being a member of SOLDIER, I am authorised to follow Sephiroth inside. I take a peek inside one of the creepy pods they have inside the "Mako Reactor".
Sephiroth explains that not only are the monsters created through high-level exposure to Mako, which makes them not dissimilar from either of us. You see, SOLDIER members are just humans who have been showered with a little Mako, hence the glowing blue eyes.
I'm not surprised Sephiroth's a little disturbed. I'm going to think twice about the next time I stick a bit of Materia in my hairclip.
While we're angsting...
That doesn't look good.
Unfortunately we don't get to find out what happens to the monster because Sephiroth left with a swish of his cape and ran back down the mountain to the mansion at Nibelheim.
I follow him.
I find a secret trapdoor and head down a creepy passage to a hidden library. Why is there a hidden library under a mansion at Nibelheim? Was it put there by the same genius who put the Mako reactor on top of Mt. Nibel?
Sephiroth discovers that the first Mako reactor was approved for use on the same day that the "Jenova project" was approved. This information is just there. In a book. Under a mansion.
He also explains that his mother's name was Jenova. Is this a co-incidence?
I don't really understand the appeal of Twilight, but if it gets the kids reading, what's the harm, you know?
Like the ones in Independence Day, right.
I can understand that. Space travel is by all accounts, tiring.
Come on, they blew up the White House!
I see where this is going.
I feel that on some level that qualifying Gast as a "genius" given how disturbed he is about the experiment is not healthy.
Is that a look of shock? I can't tell.
I guess so. Sephiroth proceeds to burn Nibelheim to the ground.
Pause for effect.
Ok, what kind of corporate lab is this, seriously?
Sephiroth kneels in front of Jenova's tank and proposes the two of them take back the planet and go to the promised land.
He expresses the belief that Jenova is destined to rule the planet, and that the humans are stealing it from her.
After some reassuring words, Norman Bates decides to leave, and take Jenova with him.
Unfortunately, unplugging her turns out to be a little more challenging than he anticipated.
The camera lingers on her head.
We are reminded of the headless body we found in a tank back at Shinra HQ.
Cloud hits Sephiroth with some righteous anger.
It is unclear whether Sephiroth has indeed received orders, or whether his shock at discovering his history has unhinged him.
Despite all the evidence we've received to the contrary, Tifa points out that Sephiroth is officially dead.
Final Fantasy VII came out in 1997, the same year as Fierce Creatures and Tomorrow Never Dies, both of which are about the evil power of the Murdoch empire. Given the eternal relevance of a less-than-free press, this is probably a co-incidence, but it's an interesting nugget nonetheless.
The five of us go to bed, thus restoring all our HP and Magic guages. Tomorrow, we'll head out into the wilderness to follow Sephiroth's trail. On the way we'll explore, chat to locals and kills monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.