It seems everywhere we go people are talking about a "man in a black cape" who was there right before us.
Why is that? Is there only one black cape on this entire planet?
We can only hope that's the case because following reports of a black cape has led us into some pretty hairy situations, and if the cape doesn't contain Sephiroth, it's going to be really annoying when we finally catch up with it.
It's not just Mount Corel's terrain that is hostile. The entire area is infested with evil eggs.
I'm pleased to see that every egg contains the same toy (a spinning blade), and that Kinder's tyrannical march towards rigid gender identities has not yet reached Mount Corel.
What is with with game designers simulating lens flare? I can't tell if they just don't realise it's something you can't see without a camera, or whether it has some metafictional significance.
At the top of Mount Corel is a vast Mako reactor, belching fumes into the evening sky.
I wonder if these mutant fish near the Mako reactor are a reference to Blinky? Either way, "Spiky Hell" is a pretty good name for an attack.
We traverse the most impractical railway ever built. Its state of disrepair does not bode well for whatever is on the other side.
We progress along the train tracks. While the girls run on ahead, I do some exploring.
This poor man is living in a hole near the tracks. All he has to his name are a few potions and a bulldozer, because he's been pushed out of work by the industrial might of Shinra's Mako power plant.
I listen to his tale of woe and then steal all his potions.
This rope bridge is all that connects civilisation to whatever is on the other side of this canyon, which is foreboding, at least from an economic perspective. I doubt they have decent broadband.
On the other side of the bridge is North Corel, which is by a massive stroke of narrative luck, Barret's hometown. Everyone we meet complains about how everything is Barret's fault. I decide to talk to the locals and see if I can find out why that is.
North Corel was a mining town until the construction of the Mako reactor put everyone out of business. Nevertheless, this dude is still wearing his mining helmet.
Never forget, bro, never forget.
We catch up with Barret at the rope train that leads to the Gold Saucer amusement park (which I'm guessing is the only thing keeping North Corel's pathetic economy ticking over), where he tells us why everything is indeed his fault.
Wow, check out the soldiers guarding that house! Sinister.
In the flashback, we see a town meeting whereby Barret convinces everyone that letting Shinra build a great big reactor on the other side of the mountain is a really good idea.
Thus far, Final Fantasy VII has only laid forth environmental arguments against big corporations building enormous power stations. Here, it posits an economic one as well, in a rather melodramatic fashion. Look what the Mako reactor did to this adorable mining town. Damn you, corporate fatcats!
I have to say, I think everyone in North Corel is being a bit unfair on Barret. Sure, the reactor turned out to be a poor idea, but how could he have known that? And is the decline of a one-industry town a valid argument against progress? I'm guessing there's some corporate loophole that meant the villagers couldn't retrain and get jobs at the reactor, but I don't think Barret deserved to be ostracised.
This whole story was a complete downer, so we decide to cheer ourselves up at the Gold Saucer amusement park, where several people have told us they've seen a black cape that may or may not contain a man.
After the decaying industrial settings of the Midgar Slums, Junon and North Corel, Gold Saucer's neon extravagance is an assault on the senses.
Gold Saucer is a hedonistic metropolis...
...built in the middle of the desert, accessible only by gondola.
As soon as you get inside Gold Saucer, you are only able to pay for things in GP, currency that can only be acquired and spent inside the park. Like Disney Dollars, basically. An interesting dimension is added to gameplay by charging the player 5GP to save their game, so their real-world commodity, time, is restricted by the amount of virtual GP they have allowed themselves to be fleeced into buying.
This makes the player as irritated by the GP system as Cloud is.
Aeris is ready to enjoy herself, but Barret's still out of sorts and storms off down the "Wonder Square" hole. I grab Rad XIII and follow him.
We begin looking for Barret, but run into a Cait Sith, a terrible fortune teller riding a giant soft toy. He insists on joining our party. Whatever, man.
We continue through the amusement park, which, while clearly being a despicable shrine to corporate excess and plebeian greed, is also SUPER FUN.
Barret has run off down the "Battle" tube, so we follow him.
Moments after we arrive, this soldier collapses, stone dead. We race up the stairs after the perpetrator and discover a room full of bodies instead. The park's owner finds us at the scene of the crime.
Dio. The owner of the amusement park is called Dio. I can only assume that this man, who has achieved so much in life that he has earned the right to spend his remaining days wandering round a theme park in his underwear, is named for the late, great Ronnie James Dio.
He and his lackeys chase us through the park. When he catches up we are ejected through a hatch in the park floor leading down to the desert prison colony below.
Yes. Gold Saucer contains a chute leading directly into a "prison" colony in the middle of an impassable desert, into which the manager can fling people who displease him.
I can only assume Disneyland has one of these.
I failed to take a screencap of Cait Sith's naming screen, so here's a picture of him executing his first Limit, Dice. We were fighting a gang of bouncing heads at the time, if you're interested.
Word in the prison compound is that you can take an elevator back up to Gold Saucer if you are a good enough Chocobo Racer, but you have to get a pass from the "boss" of the prison in order to enter. This all sounds a bit convoluted (not to mention like a psychedelic version of Death Race) but it's probably best not to ask too many questions.
We catch up with Barret (and for some reason, the girls) in a dirty shack. He tells us the story of how he lost his arm.
While Barret supported the construction of the Mako reactor, his friend Dyne strongly opposed it. The two overcame their differences for the sake of their friendship, but on one fateful day...
...there was an accident at the Mako reactor. Shinra retaliated by burning North Corel to the ground, in a totally melodramatic demonstration of power.
Barret and Dyne watch their home burn to the ground, powerless to stop it. Enraged, Dyne starts running back towards the reactor in order to attack Shinra.
Unfortunately he's met by Shinra's head of weapons development, Scarlet, who, if I'm not mistaken, is wearing high heels to a building site.
She orders her men to shoot Barret and Dyne, but succeed only in knocking Dyne off a cliff. Barret reaches out to catch him just in time.
I want to know if anyone has ever had to catch another person over a cliff like this. It is probably the most commonly used dramatic denouement moment in film and games because it has such visual impact, but has it ever happened in real life?
In Barret and Dyne's case, it doesn't work out. Their arms are shot, Dyne falls down the canyon and Barret loses the use of his right arm.
If you prefer your flashbacks to be delivered in the form of excellent rap, please listen to AVALANCE by Mega Ran. The important part starts at 2:15!
Back in the present day, Barret explains that the Dyne incident is responsible for his vendetta against Shinra. He heads outside to lament, but who should show up but Dyne?
They look like a couple of action figures.
Barret wins the fight, and Dyne forgives his old friend.
He mentions that Marlene is actually his biological daughter, gives Barret his blessing to continue raising her before proceeding to then throws himself off a cliff (which didn't kill him last time, but never mind).
We return to Mr Coates, who lets us know that Dyne was in fact the "boss" and that having slaughtered him, one of our party can now take the elevator back up to Gold Saucer and have a go at the Chocobo Races. This is mightily convoluted, but I'm hot, tired, and covered in industrial waste, so I volunteer.
I go up in the elevator (why is there an elevator?) with Ester, who is some kind of Chocobo racing trainer.
I hang out with the other jockeys before the race.
I love the detail in this room, especially the disused monitor lying in the corner amongst the luggage. It's very common for video game rooms to look like show homes, with nothing incongruous disrupting cohesion. Having an abandoned piece of hardware cluttering up a corner because no-one quite wants to get rid of it makes the environments much more believable.
It takes about six tries (because it's sort of a QTE, you see), but I eventually win the Chocobo race.
After the race, Ester approaches me with a note from Dio. After I tear my eyes away from her dress, I discover that as a reward for winning, Dio has given me a buggy that allows me to cross the shifting sands of the desert that surrounds Gold Saucer, and navigate previously unpassable areas of terrain.
With the ability to cross sands and rapids, the map has opened up considerably. Where will we go next? You'll have to wait until the next part of the playthrough to find out...