Monday, January 12, 2015

Let's Play Final Fantasy VII (Part 9): Not Quite Anything I Want

I really like Aeris as a character. Her portrayal is really well-executed, and is a big relief from the awful portrayal of President Shinra earlier. She's fun, intelligent, and crafty. Despite her role as "the Ancient," she never seems unbelievable or unrelatable. She's a perfect mix of mysterious and open, capable and vulnerable. She's an almost perfect icon of female ideals; a woman who is strong and independent without sacrificing femininity. She does all of this without being preachy or imposing; she simply is who she is and doesn't force that identity. My hat is really off to her writers and localizers, because they really did a fantastic job creating her.

As we look for Tifa in Wall Market, we get a pretty good idea of what the people here think of women.

Aeris contrasts well in this part, as she takes the reins to find Tifa while Cloud acts like a dunce, all while virtually everyone treats her like a piece of meat.

We hear at a local love hotel called the Honey Bee Inn that a man named Don Corneo is taking her in for an "interview." Uh-oh, Tifa. What have you gotten yourself into?

We go to the Don's mansion, and the outlook is not good. Corneo is the most powerful man in Wall Market, and Cloud doesn't want to make a scene by starting a fight.

Aeris offers to go in alone, but Cloud is not OK with that idea either. His white knight is showing, but Aeris has a plan.

Her idea is to dress up Cloud as a girl so the two of them can infiltrate the Don's mansion. Cloud protests, but Aeris insists it's the only way. Fortunately, Cloud looks just like Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII, so he should be able to pass as a girl.

Okay, I swear I'll stop talking about the future.

Thus begins a series of side quests to get Cloud an appropriately girly disguise. I'm going to skip over most of it, because the outcome I want to happen requires us to do the bare minimum. There are a number of guides out there to game the outcome you want for this scene. In hindsight, I actually should have done a little more to get Tifa to like Cloud (instead of maximizing Aeris' affection). I'll make it up to her later, though.

The main scenes I do want to highlight in this part all take place in the Honey Bee Inn, so let's go back there. We have to get a membership card, but one of the patrons in the market is kind enough to hand one over to us once we start the dress-up quest.

Aeris is a bit suspicious of our intentions, and she's technically correct; we don't have to go in here to get the minimum disguise needed. If you want to just complete the quest, you can just get a dress and a wig. However, there are a few scenes here that are worth seeing.

The first is this scene, which we can see by peeping into the keyhole of "The Queen's Room."

It becomes clear that there is a group of role-players acting out some kind of fantasy in here. I'm not sure if there's anything sexual involved, but several of the participants seem unhappy. The lead participant is a Shinra executive, and one of the actors calls him "President." They also say they are having a luncheon with President Shinra, so I'm not sure who is involved in this part. Either way, in-story plays and storytelling is one way that the medium uses to convey information, and this one is awfully specific. I'll just transcribe a brief part of the scene:

"A legend has been passed down through generations...
They sought the Promised Land... with blue eyes and a great white sword on his back will not lead us to the Promised Land..."

I'll be honest, I don't really know what to make of this scene. It seems clear that this fantasy story is alluding to Cloud, and how he will not lead "us" to the "Promised Land." If I were to hazard a guess, it would be foreshadowing that Cloud will not lead the party in the correct direction, and possibly into some kind of calamity. The part about the Queen and Satan, I have no idea.

There's another scene with an old couple. It's an easter egg, essentially. Props to those who know who the old couple are, as it takes a bit of deducing. Either way, it's not important. I will bring it up after the end of the game though, since it reveals a bit about one of the game's other (slightly more important) characters.

The next two scenes are mutually exclusive, but I'll be watching both since I can just save and reload from right outside.

This one has Cloud in a bath with a bunch of guys. I find this scene flagrantly offensive, and it was painful just to play through it.

Cloud is dragged into a tiny spa with a bunch of guys who are heavily implied to be homosexual against his will. There's further implication that there's some attempted rape in this scene, and at the very least, the guys try to force themselves onto Cloud despite repeated refusals.

This scene is intended to cause revulsion, and I find its portrayal of homosexuals to be incredibly offensive. I'm a heterosexual male, but I have no problem with things that include homosexuality. What I do have a problem with is when homosexuals are portrayed as flamboyantly gay, to the point where they try to force themselves on others who clearly aren't interested and obviously feel uncomfortable around it. Gays are normal people (everyone has quirks, gay or not) and usually live pretty normal lives. This portrayal of homosexuality is absolutely not appropriate, and reflects the Japanese societal homophobia present in the 90s.

I would have cut this scene from the game.

This scene gives us a slightly worse reward (in terms of 'girlness score' for crossdressing), but it gives us more knowledge about how screwed up in the head Cloud is.

Cloud sees a translucent version of himself sitting in the room. Cloud seem to recognize who or what this copy of him represents, and asks it what it is doing here. It asks him the same question in response, and lectures him that he can't change anything by sitting back and looking at it.

This is yet another unsolved mystery. The clone of Cloud here uses bright white text rather than the darker grey subliminal text we saw in other scenes, It's the same type of text used in normal text windows, and it's also the same as when we were in the No. 1 Reactor ("This isn't just a reactor!"). Unlike the dark grey text, it talks to us in imperatives rather than reminding us of the past, so I think we can come to a conclusion: there are at least three Clouds in Cloud's head. We have the conscious Cloud (the character we control), plus the past Cloud (the grey text), and the warning/imperative Cloud (the brighter white text).

Cloud passes out and is awoken by the big, shirtless muscle guy who attempted to rape him in the other scene. Actually, Mukki (the muscle guy) wakes Cloud up on the bed, sitting on top of Cloud in yet another homoerotic scene.

What the hell, Square.

Cloud's more clueless than we are about what this all means. Either way, we end up not spending any time with any of the Honey Bee girls and we go back to our task of completing Cloud's outfit.

Outside, Aeris has made herself busy by scamming all the guys out of their money. Two guys out here bought flowers for 300 and 500 gil. Johnny (remember him from Sector 7?) got his much cheaper, for only a gil. Johnny seems to be the only character here who has open respect for women; he is unsure about whether to go into the Honey Bee Inn and berates Cloud for cheating on Tifa if Cloud tells Johnny he's going in. Clearly, Aeris thinks he's nice.

We team back up with her and head off to find a dress and a wig.

I'm going to fast-forward a little bit, but just for completedness' sake, here's all the sidequests. No item is worse than the worst items, so in our case I only got the lingerie for the Cloud exposition scene and the two mandatory items (dress and wig) because I wanted the worst result.

Get the Membership Card in the main area of Wall Market, from a man outside Honey Bee Inn, then use the Card to get in. The Group Room (offensive spa scene) gives bikini briefs, while the %^&* Room (Cloud freakout scene) gives lingerie. After either scene, Cloud can go to the dressing room and ask one of the Honey Bee girls to put makeup on him. The quality of makeup is random, but it will always improve Cloud's appearance.

Get the Pharmacy Coupon in the restaurant by ordering something, then saying "it was alright," then take it to the pharmacy to get a medicine. Then, take your medicine to the bar and give it to the woman hogging the restroom to get some perfume. Disenfectant gives the worst result, while Digestive gives the best result.

In the item shop, the owner will ask you to go to the inn and buy something from the inn's vending machine, then trade it for some jewelry in the item shop. The more expensive items give better results.

In order to get a dress, go to the clothier, then talk to the girl behind the counter. Then go to the bar and talk to the man on the far right. Picking something "clean" gives the worst result, while picking a dress that is "soft" and "shimmers" will get the best result.

After getting the dress, go to the gym to get a wig. You'll have to do a minigame. Win to get the best result, lose to get the worst result. The scene for the best result is awesome.

I ended with the worst dress, the best wig, the lingerie, and nothing else. I would have gotten the worst wig, but then my gamer instincts kicked in.

Cloud and Aeris get dressed, and Aeris' dress makes her look like a bombshell. Well... as much like a bombshell as her extremely low-poly model will allow.

Cloud looks a bit too cute, and I don't think purple is really his color. The ribbons and pigtails make him a bit too girly, in my opinion.

Either way, let's go find Tifa!

Cloud's disguise works and we get inside, upon which the guy inside tell us to wait while he talks to the Don. Of course, we use this time to go hunt for Tifa instead.

Aeris introduces herself to Tifa, and Tifa gets a bit jealous, upon which Aeris also gets a bit jealous. Both girls claim that Cloud isn't their boyfriend.

Aeris then introduces Tifa to Cloud, which is probably the most embarassing thing that Cloud has ever had to do in his life.

Tifa asks Cloud what happened after he fell, and he says that he's fine. He asks her what's going on. Tifa is hesitant to talk about terrorist activities while Aeris is here, so Aeris volunteers to plug her ears.

Tifa explains that Barret squeezed some information out of some Shinra soldiers. The info was that Don Corneo was somehow involved with leaking info to Shinra. Barret told Tifa to back off, but Tifa decided to look into it herself.

She decided to take advantage of the fact that Corneo is a giant lech and get the information out of him.

Aeris is hilarious in this scene. She keeps looking towards Cloud and Tifa while they're talking, and it's plainly obvious she's eavesdropping.

Eventually she ends the act and tells Cloud and Tifa that she overheard, and fortunately they have three girls for Don Corneo to pick from.

The Don's attendant finds us, and tells us to meet up in his office. Our three candidates line up in front of the Don, and he inspects them.

He spends a lot of time looking at Cloud. It's a very amusing and awkward scene. Honestly, all of the scenes in the mansion are pretty cute. The "cinematography" comes across much better while you're actually playing it.

In the end, Don chooses Tifa. If Cloud has made some effort to be pretty, Don will choose Aeris.

If Cloud has gone all-out to make himself look more girly, he'll choose Cloud, and the next scene will be much different. The girl that Don does not choose gets a minor dialogue choice that will improve Cloud's affection with her. If Corneo chooses Cloud, he'll instead get a dialogue option that will improve Barret's affection instead.

I really like how there's actual choices involved in the affection mechanics in this game, and it is neither the "everyone likes me unless I tell them no" system present in games like Mass Effect, nor is it "I can buy my way to your heart" like many other dating sims and the Dragon age series. You don't know what the affection scores are (you can't see them in game), but I know mine are currently:

Tifa: 52
Aeris: 58
Barret: 7

Aeris' start value is very high, but Tifa has a huge number of options early to make her like Cloud more, all of which I picked (as long as it didn't conflict with an Aeris choice). I want Aeris to be the highest, but I also want Tifa to like me too. Hopefully we can keep that up.

Next time, we'll find out just what Don Corneo knows.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Let's Play Final Fantasy VII (Part 8): Boyfriends and Girlfriends

Let's get something out of the way really quick before we get on with the game. A bit later in the update, we get a Cover materia. When I first played through the game I thought this was Aeris' mom's materia, partly because well, we meet her mom this update. This is further compounded by the fact that Cover doesn't do anything unless you have teammates.

However, this is not the case and Aeris' mom's materia is a plot item that isn't listed in your key items menu. I'm not sure if this is an intentional misdirection or if the game just threw the Cover materia in because it thought Aeris might need protection (she does join at level 6, and Cloud is level 11 with no grinding).

Speaking of Aeris, here's a shot of her basic attack. I should have included it last update, but like I said, she never got to attack.

The amusing part is that even after this big, awkward jump, she doesn't actually transfer all of the jump energy downwards into her swing. Instead, she stops her staff about stomach-height. If you've ever seen someone who is kind of squeamish about using force swing a sledgehammer, that's kind of what it reminds me of.

Yeah, martial artist she is not.

We make it into the main area of the slums, and we hear about Wall Market, a place in Sector 6 with everything one could ever want for sale.

I am pretty sure that's untrue. I want a bracelet with eight linked materia slots! No, not four pairs, I mean eight slots that are all linked!

It would be cool if something like that was in Wall Market, for some ridiculous price (1,048,576 gil or something) similar to how really expensive items were in Medina Village in Chrono Trigger. I think those items were actually more expensive than the gold cap, but it's been a really long time since I played CT and I honestly don't remember.


"This guy" that she's referring to is groaning or otherwise ill. Cloud claims that he's not a doctor, and thus can't help the guy.

He also has a tattoo with the number 2 on it. This sounds kind of like a collectible sidequest. Find all the numbered guys and get some items! They don't seem to be in order, though, or else we missed #1.

We see another news broadcast about the bombings. Apparently, AVALANCHE's second bombing caused some power outages, and the mayor of Midgar, Domino, spoke out publicly against the terrorist group. In Sector 5, we see a lot less sympathy for the AVALANCHE cause, but people seem to still hate Shinra more. Wow.

There's more little bits of exposition here about Midgar, and specifically about how some young kids idealize the upper city.

We get to Aeris' house, which you can see the outside of in the screenshot above where I got the Cover materia. It's really pretty, with lots of green and flowers. The whole area around her house is roughly half the size of the Sector 5 market area (at least, the area we can explore), which is pretty large. Aeris is pretty rich, I guess.

And here we see that Aeris' mom is still alive, which is a bit odd from the previous scene where she talks about her mom's materia. It isn't actually that odd, though. After all, lots of girls get jewelry or other trinkets from their mothers in their teen years.

Aeris' mom is named Elmyra, who seems aware that the Turks are chasing after Aeris. She thanks Cloud for protecting her. She also recognizes Cloud's SOLDIER background from his eyes. In official material, SOLDIER are supposed to be some sort of secret, but that's pretty much out the window, clearly. Everyone knows about the Mako eyes!

Cloud explains that he needs to get to Tifa's bar in Sector 7, and Aeris gets slightly jealous. She asks Cloud if Tifa is his girlfriend, and we reply in the negative -- both because it's true, and because we like Aeris. She's surprised and happy by our response, and offers to take Cloud to Sector 7.

Elmyra pulls Cloud aside later and asks him to leave in the night, without telling Aeris. She claims that SOLDIER is bad news and that she does not want Aeris to get hurt again. So Aeris knows about SOLDIER from some incident in the past, and that her mom also met whichever SOLDIER was involved. Hmm.

The entire interaction in Aeris' house is really cute, and it's a bit of injection of normalcy into a game that will shortly have me fighting demonic houses that attack by shooting rockets and crashing into me.

Cloud goes to bed, and we get another black screened internal dialogue. The dark grey text appears again, and again it recalls Cloud to previous memories.

Cloud appears to actually remember this time, although I'm a bit suspect because he tends to only remember things when he's prompted (such as Tifa's promise). I'm not sure how much of this is the voice in his head recalling events and how much is Cloud recalling events. Either way, the voice in Cloud's head is clearly Cloud from the past.

We jump to a flashback. Cloud's wearing his SOLDIER uniform (remember that flashback Tifa had a different outfit, and in the promise flashback, Cloud has a different model, so this isn't a tech limitation), and talking to a lady who seems to know him.

She claims that the girls probably never leave Cloud alone, to which Cloud responds in the negative. She then says he should find an older girlfriend who will take care of him. We can safely say that this woman is either Cloud's mom or some other relative, and based on her hair color, I think his mom is the most likely option. She isn't named in this scene, though. Either way, Cloud tells the woman that he's not interested in an older girlfriend, and then he wakes up.

This scene is obviously referring to Aeris, who is older than Cloud. It's a coincidence, but coincidences are meaningful in this game even if this woman probably could not have predicted Aeris meeting Cloud (well, probably).

The real take-home part of this is that at some point after joining SOLDIER, Cloud returned home. I'd further a guess that Cloud actually was at the scene where Tifa swears vengeance on Sephiroth, and that scene at the No. 5 Reactor was a flashback and not some psychic viewing of Tifa's memories.

Either way, Cloud sneaks out of Aeris' house and makes his way out of Sector 5.

Well, we thought he snuck out, anyway. Aeris must have been working on that physical training, because she beats Cloud out of Sector 5 and meets him at the entrance to Sector 6 before he can get there.

Maybe she did one of those really awkward jumps from her basic attack to leap halfway across the sector.

Cloud pulls the white knight card again, telling her that it'll be dangerous, and Aeris pulls the female empowerment card and asks him if he's done talking, then tells us that we'll need to go through Wall Market to get to Sector 7.

We arrive at an abandoned playground, and Cloud asks Aeris if she'll be alright getting home. She openly mocks his white knight attitude (seriously, I love her), and he agrees to let her tag along with him to Sector 7.

This scene is so adorable.

Aeris asks Cloud what rank he was in SOLDIER, and here comes another scene that screenshots cannot properly do justice.

Cloud hesitates for a bit, scratching his head, then the camera flashes white. When it finishes, Cloud is no longer in his confused state, and answers "First Class."

This implies that the current Cloud does not actually remember much about being in SOLDIER, but the grey voice in his head was able to answer the question. What the heck is up with this guy?

Aeris leaves us with the big reveal: she used to date a SOLDIER First Class. This explains a lot, actually; she used to date a SOLDIER, and knows about the Mako eyes because of her ex-boyfriend. Her mom knew, because her mom had met the ex-boyfriend. This almost makes you forget about all of that Ancient business (we haven't forgotten, by the way).

Cloud asks his name (since he might have known the ex), and Aeris dodges the question by saying it doesn't matter. Well of course it matters!

This part is really clever because it alludes to Aeris being Sephiroth's ex-girlfriend. We don't yet know whether that's true, but it makes a lot of sense. We only know about two members of SOLDIER, and Sephiroth has to have been the highest rank in SOLDIER, which presumably was First Class.

On top of that, Sephiroth was famous, which gives Aeris a very real reason to evade the question. And to tie it all together, Sephiroth was involved in a tragedy in Cloud's hometown, and because Cloud and Tifa are both alive, it seems safe to suggest that Sephiroth might not even be alive. He disappeared some number of years ago, and Aeris probably never got a chance to say goodbye.

This explanation fits so cleanly into our understanding of the game at this point. It's actually pretty scary how easily we can deduce this based on the things we know.

A carriage pulls out of the gate behind Cloud and Aeris, and Cloud spots a familiar face (or at least a familiar chest) sporting a purple dress.

This scene kind of annoys me because we do not really get to see the girl on the carriage in any way that lets us identify her as Tifa. She's wearing a different outfit, we can't see her dolphin hairstyle, and the only girl we've seen that isn't outrageously busty is Aeris.

I think it would have been better to show Tifa in her default outfit in this scene just to give more visual clarity.

Cloud can recognize her though, and Aeris runs ahead.

I wonder what she means when she says that this place is "especially scary for a girl" though?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Let's Play Final Fantasy VII (Part 7): A Completely Expected Meeting

With that said though, let's get on with it. Last time, Cloud fell from the dizzying height of 50 meters out of the No. 5 Reactor into what would presumably be the Sector 5 slums. As I mentioned last week, a fall like that has a high likelihood of lethality, but since Cloud is more than just a mere human, he's probably going to be OK.

This scene actually was interesting because I thought Cloud would dust himself off and keep moving. Getting a black screen where he can barely move is surprising. Admittedly his fall was a bit panicked and uncontrolled, but I was honestly expecting a guy who could shrug off bullets to laugh at mere 13 story fall.

This part really ripped the life out of me. There is an extensive scene here where Cloud has a dialogue in this black screen. He's talking with someone and trying to recover from his fall.

The problem with this scene is that it's a million screenshots of black screens and text, and what's worse is that all of it seems important.

We see three voices in this scene. They're all displayed differently so we can see clearly who is talking. The first voice is the darker-colored, unlabeled voice. The second is Cloud himself, which is the brighter white text and has Cloud's name listed.

The third is normal blue-windowed speech text that is used throughout the game (it uses whatever the window settings are, so if you set it differently, it'll appear different here). This window gives us enough context to identify what is going on in this conversation.

The darker-colored voice is something in Cloud's head. Remember that red-screened "this is not a reactor?" This is also a voice in Cloud's head, and it might be the same one. This voice talks about "back then," suggesting something in the past.

The Cloud part of this scene is also not heard by the third person, who is someone outside observing Cloud's fallen body. In fact, this blue text is there precisely to show that this conversation between Cloud and the voice in his head is in fact happening in his head. Unfortunately, this conversation is long and meaningful. I'll transcribe it. "Voice" refers to the second voice in his head, while "Outsider" refers to the person trying to rouse Cloud in the real world.

Voice: You all right? Can you hear me?
Cloud: ...Yeah...
Voice: Back then... I only got scraped knees.
Cloud: What do you mean by "back then?"
Voice: What about now? Can you get up?
Cloud: What do you mean by "back then?" What about now?
Voice: Don't worry about me. Worry about yourself now.
Cloud: I'll try.
Voice: How about that?
Outsider: Oh! It moved!
Voice: Take it slow now, little by little.
Outsider: Hello, hello?
Cloud: I know.
Cloud: Hey, who are you?

Then, Cloud wakes up. There's a lot of stuff to cover here. Cloud has an official voice in his head. This voice in his head is him. It has his memories. It can move his body if his conscious "Cloud" persona isn't in control. Cloud is also missing the memories that this other voice has. But if this other voice is Cloud's memories... who is Cloud?

This just got real.

Finally, no more black screen!

To no one's surprise, the person on the outside is the flower girl in the pink dress. The game put so much effort trying to show us she's important that we knew we'd be seeing her again. She's the first thing we see in the game after the starfield. Yeah, she's important.

We find out that we're in the Sector 5 Slums, which makes sense, since we were in the No. 5 Reactor, we fell down below the plate, the sectors are numbered, the part below the plate is called the slums... oh and we're in a church. That seems obvious too. Apparently, flowers and grass can grow here, because this is a sacred place, and she really likes it here. I'm really not at all surprised by this, considering way back in part 1, I talked about her apparent connection with nature based on the brief scene that we saw. She's some kind of cleric or druid type of character, and she's the first character that we've met to have any kind of "sacred" connection. Her design even radiates a sort of purity, like a Virgin Mary type of character. However, this game has a clear environmental message, so I think she'd be more of a druid.

She remembers seeing Cloud in Sector 8, and in a surprising moment where he doesn't have the memory of a goldfish, Cloud can remember her too. She thanks him for buying her flowers.

Then she does a completely random topic change for no reason to ask Cloud about materia. I don't understand this topic change at all. It's abrupt and silly. She asks if he has any, and he says he does. She says she has some, and that it's special because it doesn't do anything.

Cloud suggests that maybe she doesn't know how to use it, but she says that she does, but it's good for absolutely nothing, but it belonged to her mother and thus made her feel safe.

OK, so she has a useless materia. That random tangent won't be important later, so I'm totally not going to screenshot a line out of the conversation that is especially pertinent and might be referenced again later.

Seriously though, this part pisses me off. The tangent is so random that it catches you by surprise, and it makes no sense. It's like, why would you even say this now? You don't know anything about me and then you ask me about my materia? Are you going to rob me... oh, your mother's materia, it's special because it's useless. Really? Whoever was directing this part of the game should get punched in the face. Here's another transcription:

Director: We need to give some more valuable plot exposition about things that will happen later in the game.
Director: Put President Shinra here so that we make this boss here more meaningful. Make him talk about Sephiroth a bunch.
Director: Then have the flower girl bring up her mom's materia so that it doesn't come out of nowhere when she uses it later.
Writer: But sir, that doesn't make any sense, and it would hurt the narrative flow of...

We name the flower girl. Her default name is Aeris Gainsborough. I realize she has a different canon name, but I'm choosing the default one because I like the sound of it better. We'll talk more about her name (and the canon spelling) later.

I have to apologize here because a lot of the screenshots I took here are not very good, due to where Cloud is standing while talking Aeris. I could go back and replay this whole scene again, but wouldn't you know it, the last save point was just before setting the bomb in the No. 5 Reactor. I don't want to scroll through all that President Shinra dialogue and Cloud internal monologue again. I wish I had save states.

We also see some other guy here. Aeris asks Cloud if he's ever been a bodyguard. He tells her it will cost her, but she's got an idea for how to pay.

He seems OK with this. I'm not, though.

Private security services are a pretty expensive service. You need both skills and physical fitness to do the job. What's more, Cloud is an enhanced human, and can command a pretty high price. He charged Barret 3000 gil to go bomb a reactor (the cost of 5 magic materia, 30 potions, or a year's rent in the inn in Sector 7), but he's willing to provide security to this girl for a date without the promise of sex? Tifa's in trouble, I think. Jessie just better roll over and die.

The game starts to get a bit more blatant. Cloud claims at first to not know the man, but then inner Cloud says otherwise. And inner Cloud knows best!

Cloud calls him a Shinra spy, and his uniform (which is just a dress suit) tips him off. Wearing a blue suit is a uniform? His name is Reno, and he thinks Cloud is weird. He calls some Shinra soldiers in and Cloud and Aeris fall back to avoid fighting on the flowers.

White Knight Cloud confirmed.

Reno walks on the flowers, and then tells his men not to, showing he's fond of the fedora too. He also identifies that Cloud has Mako eyes and is thus a former SOLDIER.

There's some random encounters in the next area for no reason, and we get to see Aeris fight. Or at least we should but I end up actually killing all the enemies with All + Lightning before she gets to attack.

She has a pretty girlish attack animation where she leaps at the enemy and bops it with her staff. While she could have used it like a martial artist, she's definitely not Tifa, who does a few jabs and a shin kick with her basic attack.

This next scene is just annoying to me. There's this stupid part where Cloud has to drop barrels on bad guys and it only serves as a way to raise Aeris' affection for him if you get it right. The entire scene serves no real purpose other than to deliver us the screenshot on the left.

The good news is that these bad guys are here for her and not trying to capture Cloud for the bombing. The bad news is that the game just dropped yet another plot bomb on us. What the hell is an Ancient? I'm just gonna go out on a limb and say that she's 65 million years old (she Ayla's cousin) and knows all about the secret plans of the space alien monster that will destroy the world, and they want to capture her because she has the secret weapon that can thwart it: her mom's materia!

Oh come on, what else could an Ancient be?

Finally we're out of that scene.

Aeris points out that this isn't the first time they've come after her. So men in suits chasing after you is a chronic problem, Aeris?

Cloud identifies Reno as a member of the Turks, a Shinra organization whose primary function is scouting for SOLDIER candidates.

Well, then what would they be doing here?

Cloud... I don't really understand you. These guys are obviously an analog for the KGB or CIA. He outright states that they are involved in spying and assassinations. They're spies that happen to also scout for SOLDIER candidates, rather than the other way around.

Of course, Aeris uses this to cheerfully suggest that they might be trying to scout her for SOLDIER. OK, Aeris, sure. I'm pretty sure I was there when I heard "The Ancient is getting away!" but you can use that excuse if you want.

As it turns out, Cloud doesn't exactly buy the scouting excuse, but he also doesn't repeat the Ancient line, which any reasonable person would. Of course, Cloud has the memory of a goldfish, so maybe he forgot.

Let's pause for a minute and explain exactly why he doesn't repeat the line. It's much more plausible that he didn't hear it, although the game does take place from Cloud's perspective and we tend to not see or hear things unless he does.

That line is a teaser. It's a hint. It means something, but it's not supposed to be overt about what it reveals. In the chaos of the barrel-pushing minigame, you're actually supposed to forget that he said it (and a lot of us probably did). Like a lot of things in FFVII, it's giving clues as to what's going on before they're actually relevant, so that when you play through a second or third time, you realize that there was a mention of some thing like the fact that Aeris is the Ancient (whatever that means), or that her mom's materia is special. Since we're playing in ultra-slow motion though, we don't miss it and get to make theories.

Aeris asks Cloud if he was in SOLDIER, and he says that he used to be. He asks how she knows about the Mako eyes, but she is evasive.

When we first met her, she seemed fairly normal, a character with potential. There was a bombing and she doesn't suspect Cloud, and maintains her cheerful demeanor. An optimist.

Now, it's clear she knows things. She knows a lot of things, and she's hiding a lot. She's proud of her mom's materia, but is she really ignorant of its use? Maybe she knows what it does, but is intentionally misleading? How does she know the tell-tale signs of a SOLDIER?

Also, is she really going to stick with "they're scouting me for SOLDIER" as an excuse? She needs to go on a diet and do a few more three-mile runs.

Now drop and give me twenty!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Let's Play Final Fantasy VII (Part 6): Post-Bombing Analysis

Warning: This episode contains spoilers for Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IV, and Final Fantasy VI. It's also covers no new material and is purely analysis of what has already happened. If you don't want to be spoiled, go play these games because they're really good. Or at least IV and VI. They're really good.

I was planning to include small points as an aside like I normally do as an intro. However, it quickly escalated to the point where I wanted to talk about so many little points that they ended up getting their own part.

By the way, what ever happened to these soldiers? Did they run off when Airbuster came out? They weren't given any orders to fall back, and it seems like they would at least provide some fire support for Airbuster during the fight. Who knows. They aren't shown in the next scene with the reactor exploding... oh, I guess I should get into that.

In the previous update I did not show this, but as Cloud falls down to the slums below, the No. 5 Reactor blows up.

I know what you're saying. Of course it does, because we set the bomb! Yes, that would make sense, except there's no reason to believe that it would.

In the previous scene with Airbuster we see President Shinra exiting the reactor. He was inside the reactor and came out to greet us and dump a bunch of exposition. Yes, that scene is so stupid that it gets a follow-up explaining how much more stupid it is. Great job, President Shinra.

What is established in this scene is that Shinra knew there would be another attack by AVALANCHE today. It's pretty obvious that there would be one, and the mishap on the train gives them an opportunity to attack. They even have a good idea for where the attack might be if they look at a network of the train tunnels and cross-reference that with where the tunnels exit. One side of the tunnel is guarded and the other is blocked by lasers, and that could probably narrow down the targets quite a bit. Either way, they predicted correctly enough to not only deploy Airbuster but also the President to the reactor. We had to have run past wherever the President was located inside the reactor, and he came out to greet us.

So far, that makes sense. What doesn't make sense is why a bomb disposal team isn't already in place inside the reactor near wherever the President was, ready to react. Ice materia exists, so they could just freeze the bomb and dispose of it. We know there are personnel inside the reactor, and since there is internet it's really not a stretch to say that there are probably radios who could notify the appropriate people to disable the bomb or at least do a controlled shutdown of the reactor to limit the damage.

Why does Shinra allow the bomb to go off? If their plan is to label AVALANCHE as irredeemable villains, they already have the No. 1 Reactor incident. Furthermore, I think they would invest more effort into, I dunno, ordering the soldiers blocking our escape to actually shoot us during our battle with Airbuster. This scene is so freaking stupid that I could probably write for months about it.

Let's get away from that though. Let's discuss the main characters and what has been revealed thus far.

Barret is the first character I'll talk about. He's a simple, emotional guy and the leader of this cell of AVALANCHE. In fact, about 80% of Barret as a character is tied up in the identity of AVALANCHE itself. AVALANCHE is a group of environmental terrorists that are trying to stop a government from destroying the world by sucking out its life energy. Despite being the good guys, AVALANCHE is willing to put innocent people at risk for the greater good. Barret seems to immediately demonize anyone who takes advantage of Midgar's prosperity, including the Shinra salaryman we see on the train. He identifies the upper city as being entirely responsible for the suffering of the people below, despite the fact that he has the money to hire an expensive mercenary to fight his battles. I don't want to demonize Barret here, though. He's an idealist, and he believes strongly enough in his ideals (which, as we'll discuss, are probably right) that he is blinded to the atrocities he's committed. I would be very surprised if the game didn't give him some kind of atonement later on.

We know a few other things about Barret. He has a gun for an arm, and given the number of other people we've seen who have visible cybernetic upgrades (none, including supersoldier Cloud), that his arm is probably special. It's likely that there's a story about that arm and we're likely to hear it. It's fairly certain that he hasn't ever worked with Shinra (or else we would have probably heard about it), so we have no good idea as to the arm's origins.

Barret also has a daughter, and his daughter is white. Marlene's skin color isn't an accident, narratively speaking. If she was his actual daughter, she would be black, even if her mom was white. I don't think the game's developers were that ignorant of genetics, and since FFVII's engine can handle way more than 256 colors, they definitely had the technology to make her look like a mulatto girl. No, Barret's daughter is definitely not his daughter. She might be a war orphan or a cousin or niece. We don't know yet, but we'll find out before the game is over.

Barret's probably the least storied main character we've met. Cloud, on the other hand, is complicated. He's a bioengineered supersoldier. He wasn't created in a lab, though. Instead, there's an entire division of the Shinra armed forces devoted to infusing volunteers who meet screening requirements with Mako energy -- the same energy that is the planet's life force.

As a result, Cloud is superhuman and it shows in his overconfidence. He regularly puts himself above others, stating that an ordinary member of SOLDIER could have single-handedly stopped AVALANCHE during their first attack. Other than that, though, there isn't a whole lot we know about Cloud. We know that there was an incident that led to his desertion, and while we have suspicions, we don't know if the incident in Tifa's past where Sephiroth killed her father is the same incident that caused Cloud to desert.

We do know that Cloud is a fairly cynical person, and that he does not openly care about anyone or anything other than money. We're not even sure that he cares that much about money. It seems as though he's a bit more warm-hearted than he lets on and his tough guy veneer is just a shield for what appears to be a nice guy on the inside.

Tifa is Cloud's childhood friend, and she and Cloud seem to have some romantic history. She clearly has strong feelings for him, and while his flame has seemed to burn out, it hasn't been extinguished completely.

Tifa hates Shinra, and most of her hatred seems to stem back to an incident in her past where Sephiroth, a member of SOLDIER, seemingly went rogue and killed her father. It's seems that other elements within Shinra were involved, likely as a catalyst. While it's possible that this is not the time when Sephiroth went rogue and that he was acting under orders, it is much more likely that these events are all connected.

Tifa, like Barret, seems OK with the terrorist acts committed by AVALANCHE, but considering that she is primarily motivated by vengeance, this seems understandable.

So let's get on the real topic I wanted to discuss, and that's the game's ending. "Wait, but we're less than two hours in and you want to talk about the ending?" Even though we've only been at the game for a little bit, we actually know a lot about how the game will end. This is a Final Fantasy game after all, and that gives us a huge amount of knowledge about how the game will play out.

First, we know that Shinra aren't the main villains of the game, but they are connected. In Final Fantasy VI, the Empire serves as a sort of catalyst that allows Kefka to rise to power. In Final Fantasy IV, the country of Baron commits atrocities under the control of Golbez, who in turn is a pawn of Zemus, who is in turn is possessed by Zeromus. In Final Fantasy, Garland is killed, sent back in time a thousand years, and puts into motion a plot to suck the power out of the pillars of the world.

In every Final Fantasy up to this point, the early parts of the game are always relevant in the ending, and because this game is not Final Fantasy XII (oops! let's not talk about the future anymore), I don't see any reason why that would be different here.

One key element in the relevance of Shinra in the finale will be the use of Mako Reactors. Mako is the planet's life energy, and it's being sucked out by these reactors. The protagonists are engaged in actively stopping these reactors by destroying them. What this tells us is that the evil mastermind's plot involves draining the power of the planet away, weakening it to achieve some other goal.

There are two ideas that pop into mind right away. The first is that there's some kind of evil entity trapped by the planet, and its plan is to manipulate humans in some way (either through agents or mind control) to weaken the planet so it can be freed.

If the plot proceeds in this way, there will likely be a major cataclysmic event that causes this entity to be freed, leading to a situation where the heroes must scramble to gather enough strength to fight the final battle. This ending prediction (including specific events) is mostly taken because a narrative needs to reach a dramatic climax and thus the bad guys need to be on the verge of winning.

The other thought that comes to mind is a malevolent planet-destroying creature who simply wants to end the world. In that case, Shinra are pawns, weakening the planet again so that the creature will have an easier time of things.

If this storyline turns out to be true, there will probably be some kind of WMD (likely using Shinra to develop it, due to the story's anti-technology message) that allows our planet-destroyer to speed things up, it will get activated, and our heroes will stop it at the last second. Alternatively, the WMD will work but not completely destroy the world, and our heroes will fight for their near-dead planet, much like in FFVI. Again, the bad guys need to nearly succeed, and the bad guys also need a more insidious method than "slowly working." There needs to be a climax.

I think this is actually more likely... due to the starfield panorama we saw in the intro. I know that I keep coming back to that, but significant imagery is put into a game for reasons, and one possible explanation is that Lavos or Giygas or some other space alien monster thing came from other worlds and wants to eat this one.

So a third possibility is Sephiroth. Let's talk about that elephant in the room. He's a great war hero who apparently went rogue, killed someone close to Tifa, and President Shinra considers him "brilliant." It's possible, though unlikely, that the entire point of the early game was to tell us about Mako and how it was used to make SOLDIER, and thus make the game's supervillain.

The game will then follow his ascension to power (much of which likely happened in flashbacks that we will piece together), and how he somehow finds the key to becoming godlike and eventually does become godlike. He then gets killed by the protagonists, because well, normal people can kill gods because it's a Final Fantasy game. The problem with that theory is that story already happened last game (hi Kefka), and it completely discounts the game's environmental message. Not super likely.

Sephiroth is important though. I'm inclined to believe that he is an agent of the super godlike planet devouring/destroying entity of either option 1 or 2 (most likely 2), and he went rogue because the entity saw a big opportunity and could not pass up on it. I'm even willing to state that he's probably the chief agent of the real mastermind, and is likely to be a major antagonist later in the game.

There's another thing that I could mention that has been pretty heavily foreshadowed. Unfortunately, it has only one reasonable interpretation, and it basically confirms the actual plot of the game, so I'm not going to include it. I will, however, re-show you the screenshot that allows me to make these conclusions so you can come to them yourself.