Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Final Fantasy VII Playthrough: Part 18 - Over to you, Cid

Cloud is lost in the Lifestream, a giant supernatural beast is on the loose, Aeris and Sephiroth are still dead and missing respectively and a meteor is about to collide with the planet. But the party have managed to steal an airship, so I think on balance, things are looking up for Team Tifa and her merry men.

Even so, it's hard to stay relentlessly positive when staring straight up at Meteor, which is heading towards us at terrifying speed (context: Final Fantasy VII predates both Armageddon and Deep Impact by a year).

The gang fly around a bit looking for supplies and chatting to various panicked villagers, when they overhear a rumour that there's an excellent doctor residing at the backwater town of Mideel who may or may not have taken on a new patient. At a loss for anything more sensible to do, they set a course for the town.

They land, and Tifa gets out. If you're wondering why I (Mary) have suddenly started talking about the player character in third person, it's because I've been using first person to narrate the sections where I've been controlling Cloud. When I started playing the game I didn't realise that a) Cloud had a tenuous grasp on his own identity, and b) I'd ever have to stop controlling him and start controlling someone else. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I'm now regretting it; it's not doing the narrative any favours.

For that reason alone I'm hoping we catch up with Cloud soon.

Also, Mideel is a downer.

Que sera, sera, right?

Tifa didn't know being a beautiful maid and working in an accessory store full-time were mutually exclusive, and is now rethinking her post-war career plans.

We find the doctor. You can tell he's excellent because even though he's working in a shack in the middle of the jungle in the path of an oncoming meteor, he is wearing a tie.

Cloud is tripping out in a wheelchair in the next room.

The excellent doctor explains that Cloud's immersion in the Lifestream has had a profound effect and it's a wonder he survived at all. Unfortunately, it's doubtful he'll ever recover.

Barret is characteristically sensitive in his response.

Barret's bedside manner is dreadful, and his grasp of ethics aren't particularly refined either. We can only hope he isn't planning to run for office after the war is over.

Tifa's response is more compassionate, but similarly irrational. Despite being one seventh of the only resistance group who has a hope of stopping Weapon/Meteor/SHINRA/Sephiroth, she decides she'd rather mope over Clould than help save the planet.

Dismayed by her anti-utilitarian approach to decision-making, everyone else returns to the ariship. Despite the fact that we found it tied up at the SHINRA military base in Junon, the airship is called the Highwind, after Cid Highwind, our Cid, who apparently designed and build it. It was a real co-incidence we happened to run into him back in Rocket Town.

Back on the bridge, Cait Sith cheerfully offers to use his robot powers to spy on SHINRA for us.

Scarlet, who has recovered from her cat fight with Tifa, explains to Rufus that they can use the "Huge Materia" to shatter Meteor, in much the same way that Jason Isaacs proposed to Billy Bob Thornton that Bruce Willis should shatter the asteroid in Armageddon, using the analogy of grasping a lit firecracker with your fist ("your wife's gonna be opening your ketchup bottles for the rest of your life").

Discovering that the plot of Armageddon was lifted from Final Fantasy VII has not dulled my admiration for that excellent film. After all, it still contains hundreds of killer lines including "beggin' your pardon Mr. President, but it's a big-ass sky", and "my god... he's gone space crazy".

Back on the Highwind, Cid assumes control of the ship and the mission. Following Cait Sith's vision, everyone is agreed that we need to find the two remaining chunks of Huge Materia (like the nukes in Armageddon) before SHINRA get to them.

Like any good captain, he checks in on all his crew. Yuffie is vomiting into the engine, which probably isn't going to do it any good.

He then decides to upgrade everyone's weapons and stock up on supplies for the dangerous mission ahead, so the first stop is Yuffie's hometown Wutai. Unfortunately, as soon as they land, Yuffie steals all their Materia and runs off.

This is very annoying and makes everyone regret letting her come along in the first place. Of the two "secret" characters in Final Fantasy VII, Yuffie is by far the worst. Vincent has a tragic backstory interwoven with the lore of the world and can transform into a killer mutant, while Yuffie is a petulant teenage kleptomaniac weilding a frisbee.

Before anyone can suggest that hundreds of thousands of Gil's worth of Materia is a small price to pay to be rid of her, Cid leads the party into Wutai.

That's very zen, lady, but some of us like that glimmer. Where's Yuffie?

She doesn't know, but this is a video game so it's ok to burst into people's houses and interrogate them. This old man thinks that Meteor is the moon and has mistaken widespread panic for celebration.

We back out of the house without breaking eye contact.

Wutai's a trendy area, so they've even got a Cate Cafe. Cid stops in for some tea and snuggles.

Yuffie's trail leads us to a weapon store. I think even Cloud would have trouble wielding some of those enormous swords.

Thinking about Cloud makes everyone sad, so they go to the pub.

They're covered by a speech bubble in this image, but the Turks just happen to be drowning their sorrows in the very bar that Cid stumbles into. It turns out they're depressed about the coming apocalypse and can't even be bothered to start a fight.

Cid isn't about to give up on life as he knows it so easily, so he heads to the most exclusive part of town, where he finds Yuffie's childhood home.

She's arguing with her dad about stealing, or boys or pocket money or whatever. When she sees Cid she does a runner.

Cid, Vincent and Red XIII corner her next to the pub, and she says she'll show them where she's hidden the Materia.

Erm, in her dungeon, apparently.

Maybe if her dad hadn't given into her every whim, she wouldn't be such a little toe-rag now. "Daddy, can I have a pony?" "Daddy, all the other girls are getting shurikens, why can't I have one!" "Daddy, I'll never get a prom date if you don't build me a subterranean torture chamber!"

Cid, Vincent and Red XIII make the frankly rookie error of trusting her and find themselves trapped in a cage. By the time they've escaped, Yuffie has escaped through a panel in the wall.

They follow her through a secret passage only to run into, erm, Don Corneo (remember him? He's the pimp from Midgar), who also seems to have taken Elena the Turk captive.

Her fellow Turks Reno and Rude arouse themselves from their drunken stupor just about enough to accompany us in pursiut of Don Corneo.

He's taken them up a mountain, which looks like a cross between Mount Rushmore and a Khmer temple.

Rude is still drunk.

Cid climbs a statue, which I can only assume is of Ronnie James Dio, depicted in the midst of the development of the devil horn gesture.

For some reason, Don Corneo has tied Yuffie and Elena to the eyeballs of one of the figures. It's probably a sex thing.

Right, instead of bunking off and smoking behind the bike sheds.


Reno isn't having any of it and pushes Don Corneo off the side of the mountain.

Back at home, Yuffie returns her ill-gotten gains to her companions. They're too tired to argue with her so everyone gets back on the airship to find the first chunk of the Huge Materia.

It turns out there's a bit in Barret's home town of North Corel, but wouldn't you know it, the whole place is about to be flattened by a runaway train driven by kamikaze SHINRA goons.

Everyone has grown a bit tired of Barret by this point so decided not to bring him along on this outing, but he's always talking about trains and would have loved this.

Cid stops the train in the nick of time, and North Corel is saved.

North Corel's residents weren't paying attention during Armageddon. Bruce Willis drills for oil, he doesn't mine for coal, geez.

It wouldn't be a visit to an impoverished village if it didn't end with barging into people's houses and taking their stuff.

Once the gang have taken everything they need, they get back on the trail of the other piece of Huge Materia. It's at Fort Condor, a spartan outpost housing some grimy and underfed troops.

Oh, what a surprise, they have a chore that needs doing. Cid makes himself comfortable on the muddy floor and listens to the briefing.

Cid has to protect Fort Conder and its, erm, condor, from a herd of marauding beasts.

The next sequence is an unavoidable real-time-strategy minigame. It's actually possible to play it earlier in the game before the quest for the Huge Materia, but I didn't because it's really tedious. Basically, the little red dudes at the bottom attack your little blue dudes at the top in an automated, pared-down version of the main battle mechanic. You have to tell your soldiers where to go and whom to attack, but the controls are incredibly fiddly and you're yanked to the other end of the may every 10 seconds whenever there's an enemy encounter. Fortunately, the quickest way to get through this section is to do nothing and wait for the enemy to make their way to the top of the mountain, fighting the commander in a regular battle when they finally get there.

The Final Fantasy series' minigames do contribute to the player's sense of a wide and complex world, but too large a proportion are badly-executed filler, with this and Final Fantasy X's Blitzball being the worst culprits.

After we win the battle against the enemy commander, the condor that Cid is meant to be protecting explodes.

He climbs the mountain's peak (presumably to try and tidy up before anyone notices) but it turns out the energy from the explosion has hatched the giant condor's egg, and its chick is already learning to fly.

Good, I guess?

Cid returns downstairs to report the (apparently) good news to the occupants of the fort.

Oh wow, we can stay here? In the fort? Er, thanks.

Before our new friends at Fort Condor ask him to stay for dinner, Cid makes a hasty exit and heads for the hospital where Tifa is still watching over Cloud, who has made no progress since their last meeting.

Fortunately, before they can have a depressing conversation about Cloud's needs, there's an enormous earthquake.

It's caused by the Lifestream, now dangerously volatile due to the proximity of Meteor.

For some reason Weapon shows up. It looks a lot less scary at this resolution than it did in the FMVs.

It lands for a quick scuffle but takes off before we can get any good hits in.

Another earthquake is about to hit, so the genius engineer, the musclebound cat-wizard and the undead superhero run off leaving Tifa, the doctor and a wheelchair-bound Cloud to fend for themselves.


Fortunately for Cloud, Tifa actually is heroic, and she pushes him out of the hospital before it collapses into the lifestream.

Cloud's hair is so enormous at this resolution. No wonder Tifa looks so panicky.

Unfortunately, the wheelchair falls off a cliff, depositing Cloud and Tifa into the Lifestream.

Rather than killing them, this deposits them into Cloud's subconscious. Tifa feels a bit awkward about being there, but if this interlude is going to make Cloud useful again, the juice is probably worth the squeeze.

First stop on this tour of Cloud's memories is his trip to Nibelheim five years previously. Or not. According to Tifa, the Cloud she grew up with never visited Nibelheim with Sephiroth, and she kept quiet the whole time he was telling that story, which was probably quite a smart move on her part but makes Cloud feel super awkward.

Cloud recalls feeling inadequate as a child. Since we're in his subconscious, his avatar takes on the form of him as a child to reflect his feelings.

More awkward.

Child-Cloud and Tifa gaze through a window into Tifa's childhood bedroom. Awkward and inappropriate.

Cloud explains how he was always envious of Tifa's group of friends, who all wore baseball caps, apparently.

To impress Tifa and gain a sense of self-worth, he decided to sign up for SOLDIER and be like the great Sephiroth. Unfortunately, he failed the rigourous testing and was only successful in becoming a regular SHINRA guard. He did come to Nibelheim all those years ago, but as a helmetted drone, not as the strong, dashing member of SOLDIER he told everyone he was.

Mind. Blown. While Cloud sits on the left thinking about how little his dorky uniform is going to impress Tifa, the dashing character in the foreground shows off his hard-earned SHINRA uniform. His name is Zack, and he represents everything Cloud wants to be.

Tifa remembers the masked SHINRA guard alongside Zack on that fateful trip to Nibelheim, and now realises that it was Cloud all along, and that Zack was the one who went to confront Sephiroth inside the Mako reactor...

...but it doesn't end well for him.

His spine presumably shattered, Zack tells Cloud to go after Sephiroth.

Cloud confronts Sephiroth, but he's no match for his adversary and is thrown into the Lifestream, from which Hojo later retrieves him in order to perform the experiments that will eventually turn him into the surley mercenary who joined AVALANCHE at the beginning of the story.
Because the original Cloud's psyche was shattered in the accident, his mind was rebuilt using fragments of Zack and Tifa's memories.

That explains EVERYTHING. Right?

Er, right.

With the mystery of his identity solved, Cloud takes Tifa by the hand and they float up through the Lifestream...

...and back to the ruins of Mideel.

If this was a South Park episode, Tifa would have opened with "You know, I learned something today."

Someone in the Square QA department clearly decided that the Lifestream-subconscious episode was too confusing and that further exposition is needed, so we're treated to a re-cap from Cloud.

He explains that the process Hojo used to create him was similar to the process used to create Sephiroth, and other members of SOLDIER.

In contrast to his manner up until now, Cloud seems remarkably humble. I wonder if this change is permanent.

Hmm, I guess not.

Cloud's lifelong friend and potential love interest Tifa offers her support.

Guys. Stop it with the trains.

Anyway, Cloud is back in charge now (which means I can revert to narrating this in first person again, phew!), so he asserts his authority up on deck.

He starts with a debrief from one-time leader Cid, who reassures him that there are no hard feelings because he never wanted to be in command anyway.

Oh, metafiction. Cute.

We might have regained our leader, but Weapon's still out there, Meteor's still on a fast track to collision with the planet and it's up to us to save the world.

1 comment:

  1. Just found your blog (was looking for a specific FF7 pic which brought me here). Really great. I hope you keep at it.