After a nerve-wracking few weeks that have seen Tifa and then Cid try their hand at leadership while Cloud suffered a mental breakdown, fell into the Lifestream and took a journey through his subconscious only to discover that he wasn't Cloud at all, things are finally back to normal.
"Normal", of course, being a race against time to save the planet from physical and existential destruction at the hands of Sephiroth, Meteor and Weapon.
So it's really no wonder the crew of the Highwind are a bit highly-strung. We decide that the best way to stop Sephiroth using an apocalyptically powerful Materia to destroy everything is to find a different apocalyptically powerful Materia to fight him with. Fighting fire with fire, if you will, an unsound strategy because everyone knows that in Final Fantasy, fire is best fought with ice.
We've learned that SHINRA are in possession of two pieces of "Huge Materia", so we head for their military base in Junon. I feel a bit insensitive dragging Tifa back there since it's only been couple of days since she escaped from their execution chamber, but needs must.
It turns out that the Huge Materia is being loaded into a SHINRA submarine, so we have to use all our ingenuity to find a way into the Junon Underwater Reactor.
...or just give this guy 10 gil.
For those unversed in the economics of Final Fantasy VII, 50 gil is enough to buy one health potion, which at this point in the game is roughly equivalent to an aspirin.
We ride the elevator down before SHINRA have time to rethink their recruitment policies.
The Junon military base is pretty depressing. Following Weapon's recent attack, soldiers and civilians alike are painfully despondent.
Some drown their sorrows...
...while others try and use the pervasive sense of all-consuming despair to drum up some business.
One shopkeeper explores his grief by dressing as a Sephiroth clone. I hope it helps.
I don't want to make him feel worse, so I don't tell him that he's using the word "irony" incorrectly.
We make our way through the base to get to the underwater reactor. The SHINRA guards are not much of a threat.
On the way we meet some SHINRA guards who need to be taught a lesson, namely that a woman can decide who she wants to go out with for herself, thank you very much.
I use Odin as a classroom assistant.
After the battle we head into the underwater tunnel to get to the SHINRA submarine and claim the Huge Materia.
Whoah, cool! SHINRA should be charging admission, this tunnel is the bomb.
Ok, there are fish on the inside of this tunnel. SHINRA should probably sort that out before they start taking money from the public.
Safely on the other side of the tunnel, we enter the airlock to get to the submarine docking bay.
As I like to remind you, I am from Gosport, where the premiere attraction is the submarine museum. This feels like home.
Wait, that's not the gift shop!
Desperate to purchase a SHINRA fridge magnet, we whirl around, only to see the Huge Materia being removed from a reactor...
...and loaded into the red sub.
We try boarding the sub, but run into Reno the Turk. We get ready to fight him, but instead he summons a giant robot spider to do battle in his stead.
I summon Neo Bahamut to destroy the robot spider and teach Reno not to be such a jerk.
Unfortunately, by the time we've won the battle, the red SHINRA sub has already left the docking bay. We decide to hijack the grey one in order to pursue it.
The SHINRA guards aboard the sub recognise us and panic, which makes the hijack considerably easier.
I'm not really sure why SHINRA decided to take the Huge Materia underwater (maybe I missed a dialogue box somewhere), but it's pretty sinister. Post-WWII pop culture has an interesting tradition of sending search parties to explore submarines, my favourite of course being Lara Croft's Russian adventure in Tomb Raider: Chronicles, where she races the KGB to the bottom of the ocean for a German U-Boat containing the Spear of Destiny, which has the power to make any army invincible.
Final Fantasy VII's submarine sequence is about as realistic as Tomb Raider: Chronicles'.
We bring down the SHINRA sub without too much difficulty. The sequence is no better than any other minigame in Final Fantasy VII (i.e. rubbish), but at least easy, and therefore over quickly and relatively painlessly.
At this resolution, the sub looks like Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid, which was my favourite film until I saw Flash Gordon.
Once we've stolen the first piece of the Huge Materia, we return to the SHINRA base to apprehend the second. Unfortunately, SHINRA have loaded it into a heliplane and left the base.
We are apprehended by some SHINRA guards on our way back to the Highwind. During the fight, Cid uses a new Limit, in which he lights a stick of dynamite with the cigarette he is currently smoking. This is such a profoundly terrible idea that I am frankly amazed that the party managed to survive his short leadership.
SHINRA take the remaining Huge Materia to Cid's home of Rocket Town, where they are planning to launch it into space.
The locals are intrigued, apparently.
We have a quick dust-up against Rude the Turk, who is hungover.
It all gets a bit much for him, so he has a little lie-down.
We board the rocket, which is a bit confusing because the initial flashback sequence where we are first introduced to Cid culminates in a FMV that shows the rocket appears taking off. If it had taken off, it wouldn't be here now. However, that sequence contradicts itself because the whole point is that Cid never got to go to space. I still maintain that the plot was changed after the FMV had been made, and there wasn't the budget to do it again.
Anyway, the plot of Final Fantasy VII is complicated enough without diverging timelines, so it's probably best that we assume the rocket never took off and that poor Cid has never been to space. He admonishes the SHINRA team for their technical ineptitude and boots them off the ship.
Having each of the characters in the central party represent a different philosophical view on the proceedings is a Final Fantasy staple, and a really excellent way of exploring the multiple threads of the stories.
Cloud, like most Final Fantasy protagonists, is a blank slate onto whom the player can project their own interpretation. Cid maintains that it doesn't matter what you call the force that powers the rocket, or the Materia, just as long as you use it. In this case, he is referring to the power of the rocket to destroy Meteor, and thus save the planet.
Finally, he achieves his life's ambition.
If you remember, the first time Cid attempted to go into space, his mousy admirer Shera insisted on checking some faulty oxygen tanks near the launchpad after the countdown had begun. Cid aborted the launch to prevent her being cooked, and he has resented her ever since.
"...the resolution is even higher than it was in my dreams..."
Incidentally, the name of this blog comes from my inability to enjoy any display of natural wonder, like a sunset, without joking that it's "really well-rendered".
We race to the reactor where the Huge Materia is being kept so we can steal it for use in our fight against Sephiroth.
On our way back to the bridge, we discover that Shera is aboard the rocket. How did she make it past Rude and the other guards, when we had to fight them? Anyway, it transpires that there really is a fault with the oxygen tanks, which Shera alerts us to. With the rocket angled at Meteor, she ushers us into the escape pod.
We know Cid is hung up on outer space, so we don't point out that he mentioned it five minutes ago, back on the bridge of the rocket.
This image looks like the one at the beginning of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope where R2-D2 and C-3PO escape from Tantive IV with the Death Star's plans.
It's more likely that the escape pod scene is a Star Wars reference than the above shot is a reference to the Red Dwarf closing credits, but I like to think it is.
The rocket crashes into Meteor, and is destroyed.
Unfortunately, Meteor itself remains largely intact, and still heading towards the planet at speed. However, all is not lost. We have recovered all the pieces of the Huge Materia, so there's still a chance to stop Sephiroth and save the planet...