Having recently survived a theme park prison colony, we're all a bit tired so decide to pay a visit to Red XIII's laid-back home town of Cosmo Canyon.
Cosmo Canyon is a bit like a collection of New Mexico earthships, in that it's built out of found objects, it's in the middle of the desert and it's full of hippies.
Chief hippie is Bugenhagen, a man who doesn't need legs because he's learned to float.
If he's smart enough to overcome gravity, he could probably explain why SHINRA and Sephiroth are making such a mess, so we ask him to tell us what he knows.
Bugenhagen explains the concept of the Lifestream, effectively a kind of physical afterlife for the consciousnesses of living beings, or "Spirit Energy".
It seems that SHINRA have discovered a way of exploiting Spirit Energy in the form of Mako, and that's what's endangering the planet.
Joking aside, that's a cool concept. It's not often that fantasy and sci-fi meld spirituality, engineering and politics on this kind of scale. The Final Fantasy series is renowned for doing this, but VII's ambitious premise is probably the best example.
After the light show, we sit around the fire, planning our next move. Red XIII, or "Nanaki" (his birth name, he informs us) explains that he's still suffering from unresolved Daddy issues do to his father Seto's abandonment of him and his mother during a war with the Gi Tribe. He fears he's going to make all the same mistakes, and so resolves to stay in Cosmo Canyon rather than continue on the quest with the rest of us.
Bugenhagen urges him to go on one last expedition with us before we leave, to which he agrees.
I'm initially quite excited about this, but that's before I see the Cave of the Gi, in which the expedition takes place.
The Cave of the Gi is filled with the spirits of the Gi tribe, defeated by Red XIII's people in the very recent history. We defeat these spirits with the help of new summon Titan, who looks like a cross between a WWE wrestler and a Crash Bandicoot villain.
Is that lava? Blood? It's all a bit metal for a cave underneath the biggest hippie colony on the planet.
See? It's like a set for an Iron Maiden live show.
Also, look at Bugenhagen. He floated all the way down here and hasn't helped out with the fighting once.
I got so involved in this battle that I forgot to take any pictures of it until the very end, so if you really want to see what the monster Gi Nattak looks like, you'll have to look at its wiki page.
On a side note, that wiki page actually contains the AI script for the character, which I think is pretty wonderful for a site run by fans, for fans. It's that sort of community-spirited effort that really makes internet fandom fulfilling.
We emerge from the other side of the Cave of Gi, and see a stone animal on a Pride Rock-type structure. It looks a lot like Red XIII.
Oh, that's because it's his father, Seto! Turns out Seto was actually a hero and Red XIII doesn't have to miss out on a cool adventure in order to atone for his mistakes after all.
Alright, Simba, we've got stuff to do.
I wonder why Bugenhagen didn't just tell Red XIII the truth, why he made us all go down into that gross cave and fight all those demons instead. I guess there isn't much to do in Cosmo Canyon and he has to get his kicks somehow.
Anyway, Sephiroth's trail leads us back to Nibelheim, which is Tifa's and my home town. You may recall that I regailed the group with a story of what happened the last time I was in Nibelheim and how it culminated in the whole town being burned to the ground.
As Barret keenly deduces, Nibelheim doesn't seem to have suffered any major mishaps of late.
We talk to the locals, all of whom tell me I'm insane for suggesting that there was a fire while I lived in the town. Very strange.
Also strange is the collection of tattooed black figures moaning about Sephiroth. We take their, erm, "advice" and venture into the mansion.
Inside is a note that suggests someone is sleeping in the basement. Let's definitely explore the basement. There won't be anything bad in there.
Actually, it's ok, he's on our side. That's Ramuh, my most recent summon acquisition. Since I grew up in the Pokémon era, in which magical fighting monsters came in cheerful plastic balls wielded by petulant children in over-sized baseball caps, I feel guilty about using summons that look distinguished. When they resemble farm animals on steroids, like Ifrit does, I really have no problem flinging them at baddies. But I feel a bit awkward about asking Ramuh, who is an old man with a wicked beard, to do my bidding.
I CHOOSE YOU, GHANDI!
This baddie looks like a giant Muppet.
Sephiroth is in the basement!
Unfortunately, before anyone can find a net, he flees, leaving us alone and none the wiser about what he was doing or where he was going. We search for the sleeper, and find him floating above a coffin, which is a bit awkward but nobody says anything.
Wow, how do you know that?
Oh, right. His story's quite long, so I'll just précis: Vincent used to be a Turk (like Reno), part of SHINRA's intelligence arm. He fell in love with a research assistant called Lucretia who then dumped him for nasty scientist Hojo. She then became pregnant, and when Hojo wanted to use the foetus as a test subject, she acquiesced. Horrified, Vincent tried to stop it (even though it wasn't really his business by this point, but never mind), but Hojo had the upper hand, imprisoning him inside the basement of the SHINRA mansion and subjecting him to all kinds of experiments that gave him superhuman powers.
Superhuman powers, you say? Any chance you'd like to accompany us on our dangerous quest?
We are so good at recruitment.
The journey through Mount Nibel was long, arduous, and full of monsters, but fortunately, we've got Vincent with us.
Check out his limit! Thanks Hojo!
On the other side of Mount Nibel is Rocket Town, a town with a broken rocket sticking out of it.
The locals explain that the rocket is a relic of SHINRA's failed space programme, but not a lot else. We continue to explore.
Because this is a video game, where "explore" obviously means "break into people's houses and mess with their stuff", we end up in someone's back garden. They've left their plane unattended, so we get our sticky fingerprints all over it.
Beyond the SHINRA logo though, there aren't many clues as to what the deal is with the rocket, so we head inside to find out.
All that rusted technology is so incongruous in the middle of this little village.
Inside the rocket is a grumpy old man who seems to have been there for a while.
We dispense with the pleasantries and recruit him straight away. No background check, no conversation, just straight to the naming screen. Bureaucracy only slows things down.
Final Fantasy fans will notice that this is VII's "Cid". All Final Fantasy games have someone called Cid in them, generally an older character who is either a scientist or a mechanic. Let's learn some more about this one.
Ok, there is a lot of dialogue here so I've skipped all the speech bubbles that didn't adequately demonstrate Cid's predilection for butt-based insults.
Cid then launches (ha, "launches") into a flashback about why he never got to go into space.
Shera was his assistant, responsible for checking the oxygen tanks on the day of the rocket's launch. There's a really long scene in which she explains how important it is to be precise in order to keep him safe and ensure the launch goes smoothly, while Cid insults both her and her ass.
Cid is cheered on by SHINRA lackeys as he makes his way into the cockpit.
But wait, Shera's still checking the oxygen tanks! She and Cid have a really invovled intercom argument in which he tells her to get out because if she's still down there when the rocket blasts off, she'll be burnt to a crisp. She declares that she doesn't care and is happy to sacrifice herself for him and the success of the mission.
The countdown begins. According to Cid, the rocket either has to blast off within the next thirty seconds or they'll never get another chance.
To be honest, the whole thing seems really badly organised. Why wouldn't they run oxygen tank checks before blast off? Why didn't they know Shera was underneath the rocket? Why is this the only chance they get to launch the rocket? Quite how SHINRA got to be the all-conquering multinational that it is today is beyond me.
Cid aborts the launch to save Shera and she escapes unscathed. What I don't understand is how she manages to escape given that the thrusters actually fire, but never mind. Maybe they'd made that FMV before they'd decided why the launch had to fail, and it was too expensive to go back and remake it.
The supports around the rocket fall away (as they're supposed to), but the rocket falls back to the ground, leaving it at the permanent tilt in which we find it today.
All that aside, why is the launch site in the middle of a forest? Isn't that exceptionally dangerous? If they plan everything as badly as they did this launch, we won't have much to worry about when we have to fight them later in the game.
Back in the present day and my suspicions of SHINRA's ineptitude are confirmed when we are set upon by Palmer, the head of SHINRA's space program whom we last saw at the scene of President Shinra's murder. We're all in agreement that Palmer is not responsible for Shinra's death because he is too useless, unless of course it was an accident and Palmer somehow impaled the president by mistake. That I could believe. The above picture shows some slapstick character development as Palmer is almost minced by the Tiny Bronco's propellor, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style.
After a brief fight, we head inside Cid's house, where Shera is still bustling around, making tea, still utterly devoted to Cid. She lives with constant regret about what happened that day, as does Cid, who keeps insulting her. I find this pretty upsetting, but it is not dwelt upon. I will be happy if Shera's story has some resolution later in the game.
We all jump on the Tiny Bronco in order to escape some more SHINRA goons who show up to support Palmer.
Some more toilet humour from Cid.
The Tiny Bronco crashes into the sea. When we're confident that we're not all going to drown, we ask Cid if he wouldn't rather be at home with Shera.
Shera is probably better off without him.
We add Indiana Jones to the list of probably cultural influences (alongside Akira) and continue with our journey.