Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Let's Play Final Fantasy VII (Part 4): Things go wrong

One thing I failed to mention in the last update (mostly due to its length) is that the game blatantly tells me that I'll be leaving Midgar in the tutorials.

Also, I really like how the game has integrated my party members thus far. It spends a great deal of time characterizing Cloud, Barret, and Tifa.

Cloud is a cold and professional mercenary, but he's not completely heartless and has complex motivations. Barret is a simple guy with a direct approach to problems and believes that Shinra is destroying the planet. Tifa we don't know a lot about yet, but we do know that she has good domestic skills, that she grew up with Cloud, and she also believes that the planet is dying. All of these characters are given time to develop, giving us feelings for each of them.

A few citizens in Sector 7 claim that they saw Cloud and Tifa talking together in the bar, and that they appear to be more than "childhood friends." I don't know about that, considering Cloud and Tifa never touch in the scene. It's possible that they meant that they slept together (though clearly without having sex) since Cloud can mention that sleeping next to Tifa caused him to sleep soundly.

Shinra soldiers near the pillar comment that Midgar is under martial law due to the bombing. We also overhear that AVALANCHE has threatened to carry out more bombings. It's understandable that the other members of AVALANCHE aren't shown, because they want to build empathy for Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie. However, none one mentions additional AVALANCHE membership. It's possible that Jessie made the threats on the internet, but that doesn't explain the posters/graffiti/whatever. It's a bit of a plot hole. Still, it seems unlikely that the five AVALANCHE members we have met plus Cloud are acting alone.

Also, Biggs has had a bit of a beef with Barret in earlier scenes, which sort of suggests that Barret isn't so much the leader as he is just the strongest personality among this group.

Either way, these soldiers also state that it's been a while since SOLDIER was mobilized. At this point they really feel like Marines or Rangers; elite infantry units. It's not too unheard of for elite infantry units to be deployed in cases of domestic terrorism, especially when the attack is as significant as the No. 1 Reactor bombing was.

We board the train and Barret tells the team to split up. He picks a bit of a fight with a Shinra salaryman on board the train. There is a bit more worldbuilding here. This guy is some sort of government employee, and he's actually named "Shinra Manager." He doesn't seem like a typical government employee in that he behaves and acts like a normal businessperson (who is really upset by Barret's loud and brash nature).

The picture is starting to come together a bit. Perhaps we're looking at more of a communist government, perhaps Stalin-like, where the government controls business and industry?

It would make a lot of sense to think of President Shinra as Kruschchev and SOLDIER more like a cross between Spetznaz and the US Army Rangers. It's also fairly appropriate, since the Cold War ended only a few years before FFVII was released (and probably around the same time that the game began development).

The plan is that the team's fake IDs are no longer good, so they must jump off the train before the train reaches an ID check point. Once in the train tunnels, the team will travel on foot the rest of the way through Sector 5 and attack the reactor.

That doesn't work out though, because for some reason Shinra has set up an ID check point further up. The team goes into an emergency panic mode, and races up the train as the train systems scan each individual car. Of course, this makes no sense, but it's an excuse for some gameplay.

While we're racing up the train, one of the people we met in Sector 7, Johnny (who told us about the pillar), pickpockets us for some gil. We make it to the front of the train, and since it's still moving we get close enough to our target destination to jump out.

Barret drops another metaphorical line on us as we get ready to leave. He instructs us to jump first, and that "A leader always stays until the end." Again, I'm sure that will be a thing later on.

Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie will remain on the car, disguised as either legitimate passengers or train operational personnel. I'm not sure how their IDs work but ours do not, but whatever.

Now I'd have to say that any reasonable espionage agency would abort the mission. There's really no reason to continue. The authorities knows that there were suspicious people on the train car, and they will have a good idea of where those people might be. At this point, I would probably abort and relocate everyone, as there are eyewitnesses that saw us board the train in the Sector 7 slums. Continuing the mission is probably going to be suicide and there will probably be Shinra officers combing Sector 7 for us when we get back.

The best option is at this point to rendezvous somewhere on the Plate in a safe house and skip town at the earliest opportunity. Because the Plate is only 50 meters up, it's reasonable to say that we could find a way to rappel down and get the hell out of town.

Of course, we're not going to do that because terrorists do not have reasonable operational protocols or fallback plans.

There's actual enemies here in the tunnel, and we explore a bit since there's no chance of getting hit by trains. The enemies are pretty easy, though they can take a lot more damage than the enemies guarding the No. 1 Reactor.

We find that Tifa is more of a frontline fighter, as she attacks with punches and kicks. Still, her lower level and weaker weapon means that she is nowhere near as effective as Cloud or Barret.

Speaking of Barret, the Lightning + All materia combo works really well here. It's not necessary at all, and mainly serves as a way to save time. We could easily just use attack commands, which would probably be better since we'd get more limit breaks (from taking damage) and save a lot on MP.

Still, the All + Lightning combo makes these enemies easy and we still have plenty of MP. Even if Barret ran low, I could just swap over to Cloud or Tifa.

Each party member is kind of interchangable at this point, though Cloud is a bit stronger overall, and Barret has a gun so he can attack at full power from the back row. It's sort of a drawback with the Materia system; characters are more differentiated by their weapons and limit breaks, rather than Job abilities. Even FFVI had unique abilities for each character (even though they could all use the same magic and relics), which gave characters a bit of uniqueness. In FFVII there doesn't seem to be any difference between Cloud and Tifa except that Cloud is better.

We meet the rest of our team in the ducts near the reactor, and Jessie admits to making a mistake with the IDs that allowed Shinra to find us early. They head out though, leaving us to take out the reactor.

What a sec, what? Why did we send all six people if they weren't even going to do anything on the operation? All they did was get on the train, tell us where to go, then leave?

What happened to decoding the doors at the reactor?


Monday, December 29, 2014

Let's Play Final Fantasy VII (Part 3): Seventh Heaven

I have to apologize for the last update. It has a massive 21 images in it, and it takes forever to load. I probably should have split it up into two parts, ending the first at the explosion. If you're reading this on a mobile device, I apologize.

In my defense though, these posts encompass only a few minutes of gameplay. I get to a minor stopping point, start writing, and end up with a post that is enormous. It's honestly going to be a while before that changes, too.

The team gets off the train, and Barret gives us a little pep talk.

Yay yay, let's bomb them civillian targets!

There's a couple in the left part of this screen that are making out. It's really cute. They talk about how the only place nearby where they can be alone is the "spooky" train graveyard, which sucks for them. It's pretty clear that there's going to be some sex in their near future. The minor NPCs in this game are so much better than in previous games, and they make you feel like there's a living world out there. There's so much more detail in the little things that you miss if you're not going at a snail's pace (like this LP, lol).

We find a guy just by the save point who is looking at the support structure for the plate.

This statement is frightening. To me, this guy is telling us that if we continue our bombings, we could not only cause collateral damage up by the reactors, but we could destroy the support structures and drop the entire plate, killing everyone both on top and on bottom. Does anyone here still think these bombings are a good idea?

We also see a size comparison for the pillar. 50 meters is a lot, but it still seems a lot higher. Just based on eyeballing, it looks like more than 50 meters. Also, it really gives the feel that Midgar is small. It's nowhere near the size of real-life NYC or Los Angeles, and every perspective shot we see seems to confirm that.

As we move into Sector 7, Barret and the rest of AVALANCHE race ahead of us. Barret runs into a nearby building and then we hear gunfire. What the hell, Barret? However, it looks like he was just kicking people out. Still, he's being a little excessive, don't you think?

Some of the nearby bystanders comment on the recent explosion. A kid thinks that AVALANCHE is cool, while his mom seems to disagree. Many innocents were killed, and the bombing seems to have inflicted over a billion gil in property damage. We're also told that taking out the power would shut the city's power down, shutting down communications and electricity for the entire city. I'm so not sold on anything we've done thus far. All this reactor bombing has done is hurt a lot of people.

One thing that is really noticable about the reworked visuals is that the characters are re-rendered, but the backgrounds aren't (because they're static images). The net result is characters that look really crisp (even if they're low poly) on a grainy background.

We meet a new character. What's more, she seems to know Cloud. I can guess that she's the reason Cloud is working with AVALANCHE. They seem to be childhood friends. I'm not sure what to make of this. We get to name her. She's Tifa Lockheart.

We also get to see Barret's little daughter, Marlene. She's a bit shy and seems to not like Cloud very much. I can't really blame her. He's been sort of a jerk to everyone thus far.

Cloud gives Tifa the flower he bought from the flower girl, and she gets all girly on him. Like Cloud, she also mentions that flowers in Midgar are rare.

The other members of AVALANCHE talk about how Tifa is a good cook and is good at mixing drinks. Wedge claims that his girth is largely due to the quality of Tifa's cooking.

Barret calls AVALANCHE to a meeting, and the crew activates the secret elevator built into the pinball machine. However, Cloud stops to chat with Tifa a bit before he heads down.

She's happy he made it back, although Cloud says that it was no big deal. Being a jerk, Cloud says that he's taking off as soon as he gets paid. Honestly, I would too if I was being paid to conduct terrorist bombings, but that isn't why Cloud seems to want to leave.

Then Tifa asks him out of the blue if he's feeling OK. It's a bit of an odd question because there hasn't been any indication that he wouldn't be. Cloud responds as such, wondering why Tifa would ask. She says that he just seemed tired or something.

It's pretty obvious at this point that Tifa just wants him to stay, and probably also that she has a crush on him. Unfortunately, since Tifa is a party member (since we named her and all), I think that means Jessie's chances with Cloud are about zero. It's obvious that she's upset with him wanting to leave, but she doesn't know how to say it.

At the meeting, a news briefing informs us that Shinra is a person, since it's the name of the president. Is the government named after him? The Republic of Shinra? More likely, it seems like Shinra regime might have usurped a previous government. I'm not sure.

Either way, AVALANCHE has claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Jessie is a bit upset that the explosion turned out the way it did. Perhaps the bomb was not supposed to blow out the top of the reactor? She apparently learned how to build the bomb online, which is probably a bad thing, because it means that the NSA could potentially ID her by her IP address (okay, I don't think that is very likely).

President Shinra also claims that he's going to mobilize SOLDIER to combat AVALANCHE. Uh-oh. Good thing that AVALANCHE has their own... oh, I guess he's leaving, huh.

Barret asks Cloud if anyone from SOLDIER was at the reactor bombing. Of course, Cloud is pretty nonchalant about his response.

Barret gets pissed of course, before admitting that Cloud is a powerhouse. However, he tells Cloud that he's working for AVALANCHE now, and not to get any funny ideas about going back to Shinra.

Cloud gets pissed off, and an argument breaks out. He tells Barret that there's no way he would go back to working for Shinra. Guess the severance package wasn't that good, then.

Cloud doesn't explain why he's mad at Shinra, but he also explains that he doesn't care about the Planet either. He even bothers to capitalize it, meaning that "the Planet" is their proper noun for the world they live on.

Tifa shows up but it doesn't help, and Cloud says he's going upstairs and he wants to talk about his money.

Everyone seems pretty miffed about the outburst. Wedge seems to be able to get a bit of a rise out of Cloud, claiming that Cloud talked to him, so he must really have some kind of emotions. Cloud tells him to blow off, which he uses to confirm his suspicions.

Upstairs, Tifa asks Cloud to stay with AVALANCHE, but he refuses. She begins spouting her pro-environmental message, but when that doesn't work she starts guilting him for walking out on a childhood friend.

I have to hand it to Tifa. She uses her feminine wiles well. She claims that he forgot a promise that the two of them made long ago.

A flashback begins where we see Cloud and Tifa in their hometown. Flashback Cloud asked Tifa to come see him at the well in their town, and tells her of his aspirations to join SOLDIER.

He wants to become strong, like another SOLDIER member named Sephiroth. This reveals a bit about SOLDIER. In the real world, special operations guys don't generally get individual recognition, but this Sephiroth is such a big deal that Tifa even calls him "The Great Sephiroth." Perhaps SOLDIERs are less like SEALs and more like Marines? Perhaps this Sephiroth is the FFVII universe equivalent of Chesty Puller?

Flashback Tifa asks Cloud to make her a promise that if he's ever famous, he'll come and help her if she's ever in a bind.

It's clear that even in the flashback Tifa had feelings for Cloud, and he seemed to have feelings for her too.

Jessie has no chance against this tactic, I think.

Back in the present, Cloud tells her that he's not a hero and he's not famous, so he can't keep his promise. Tifa tells him that even if he's not famous, he achieved his dream of joining SOLDIER, so he has to keep his promise to her.

Before Cloud can respond, Barret rides the lift up and tells Cloud, "A promise is a promise!" before giving Cloud his pay: a hefty 1500 gil. Not bad!

He didn't overhear the conversation, so his statement of "a promise is a promise" was coincidental. However, this seems to move Cloud. He says that that isn't enough, and if Barret has the next job lined up, he'll do it for 3000.

Barret is a bit miffed by this, but Tifa whispers to him that they're hurting for help and could really use Cloud's strength. Barret says that the money is for Marlene's education, but agrees they could use the help. After all, Shinra is mobilizing SOLDIER against them, and most likely they'll need Cloud to stand a fighting chance. He counter-offers 2000 gil, and takes the lift back down to the hideout. Tifa thanks Cloud for agreeing to stay on the team.

Hey wait a minute, I didn't agree to anything! I said 3000 gil!

The next morning, Barret tells us that the mission will be at the Sector 5 Mako Reactor (although Wedge actually told us at the meeting -- how about you display some OPSEC, Wedge). Also, Tifa will be coming along, which isn't really a surprise.

The game also gives us the tutorial on how to use Materia. As it turns out, Cloud's magic spells are because he is wielding two Materia; an Ice and a Lightning Materia. The tutorial is fairly simple; we just need to equip Materia into slots on our equipment to access its powers. The Assault Gun that was dropped from the scorpion boss has two linked materia slots, and so does Cloud's Buster Sword. Tifa's Leather Glove only has a single slot.

We shuffle materia around; Cloud gets the Restore materia, since he has the most MP. I give Barret the Lightning materia, since he has the second-most, and Tifa can carry the Ice materia. She's only level 6, while Cloud and Barret are level 8, so perhaps we'll switch things around if she happens to be more of a caster type.

We head to the weapon shop first and equip our team with new Iron Bangles that each have an additional materia slot. We also grab a Fire materia from the item vendor and an All materia upstairs. There's a bunch of tutorials up there for how to play in the ATB system, how elementals work, and all that stuff. It's really not hard. When your turn comes up, hit confirm a bunch of times.

The All materia is the most tricky new part of the materia system. While other materia can just be equipped and used, support materia like All have to be linked to another materia. For example, linking All and a magic materia will let me use my spells on all of the enemies (or allies, in the case of the Restore materia) a number of times each battle.

I'll put the All materia on Barret's gun, linking it with Lightning for use on all enemies. I could use it for Restore, but battles haven't really been that hard yet so I don't really need group healing. I should be fine healing out of combat.

Either way, we're off to go bomb another power plant. I cannot contain my excitement.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Let's Play Final Fantasy VII (Part 2): Dropping the bomb

There is a lot of exposition in the early game. You really have to enjoy this kind of JRPG storytelling in order to enjoy the game. There's tons of dialogue and not a lot of interactivity. For the most part, JRPGs would be better as films or TV series, and FFVII is honestly no exception. The gameplay isn't bad, but it isn't really meaningful. Thus far, the game's been pretty easy. I could just mash the confirm button over and over in battles and not have to worry about getting hurt.

That being said, let's continue. We enter the bowels of the reactor, where big pipes seem to be drawing out some kind of liquid. Is this Mako? The liquid is dark, but the place where the pipes meet it is producing this blue-white light. Some kind of chemical reaction? I have no idea.

We arrive at what appears to be the core of the reactor, and we find an odd green object in the middle of the path. We have to pick it up to advance. It's a "Restore" Materia, and the game must punctuate the fact that I picked it up with an exclamation point. Honestly it did the same with a phoenix down I found earlier, so maybe this Materia isn't so exciting.

However, I can't seem to use it for anything. It doesn't appear in my inventory, so I'm not sure what it is for. I just have to pick it up and continue on. It's kind of dumb that the game gives me an item and then doesn't show me how to use it or what it is for. If this Materia thing has some special use, it should at least give me a tutorial to show me how to use it.

We go to set us up the bomb, and Barret shows that he still doesn't trust Cloud. After all, a former member of SOLDIER might be...

Okay, seriously, Barret? If Cloud wanted to, he probably could have just chucked you in the Mako by now.

If he's actually a mercenary, he's less likely to betray you than any one of your other teammates. He's a professional, and he's in this to get paid. So let's get paid!

Of course, this is when Cloud decides to prove me wrong.

He grabs his head, the screen goes red. A voice in his head tells him, "Watch out! This isn't just a reactor!!"

At this point, my gut feeling says that the voice in his head is the girl in the pink dress. We know she's nearby, and maybe there's some thing that makes this reactor special. Maybe these Mako Reactors actually help the planet somehow, and AVALANCHE has the wrong idea?

I'll be honest, I'm sure AVALANCHE has the wrong idea. We're blowing up a reactor instead of shutting it down. At this point I'm not sure whether the guys I'm fighting are military or civilian authorities either. I could be killing cops!

They are using submachine guns, though...

Anyway, Barret notices that Cloud is tripping out and tells him to hurry his white ass up. He can snort some coke later. Cloud sets the bomb, and we get on our way.

Actually, we're attacked by a giant robot scorpion as soon as Cloud sets the bomb. He warns Barret that it's incoming, and we get to fighting.

Although the game's visuals are dated by modern standards, the re-rendering helped the game a lot. This boss actually looks pretty good.

Its attacks are a lot stronger. His tail attacks are doing 50+ points of damage, which is pretty painful. Fortunately, Cloud's Bolt spell can strike back for 90 or so damage. Barret's basic attacks only hit for about 35, but Big Shot manages to deal about 100 and he gets another one this fight. I also get Cloud's first limit break in this battle, but the huge boss managed to completely block Cloud while he used it.

We get pretty beat up, so I use some Potions to heal. They restore a pretty hefty 100 HP. I've been getting a few here and there from regular encounters, and they offset the boss' damage pretty nicely.

It would really be nice if I could use a "Restore" Materia or something to heal me, but I still have no idea how it works. It might heal abnormal statuses or something instead of HP. Previous games' healing spells are called "Cure," so I have no idea what this Restore thing is.

Then the boss pulls out the big guns. He raises up his tail, and Cloud tells Barret that if he attacks, the boss will counter-attack with its laser. This is a scene that I feel isn't translated well; it comes across like Cloud is being sarcastic, but I'm fairly certain that it was supposed to be interpreted as a warning.

Either way, Barret already had an attack queued when the boss raised its tail, so I eat laser to the face. It does a lot of damage to both characters.

We keep fighing, and the boss goes down. Both Cloud and Barret get another full limit gauge by the end of the fight.

The next sequence is timed, and the clock counts down even when the game is in Wait time or in the menu.

Either way, here's a scene of Cloud's first limit break, Braver. It's stronger than Big Shot, probably mostly because Cloud hits harder than Barret does naturally.

It's a panicked run out of the reactor, where Wedge is hopefully waiting at the escape point.

Along the way, we find Jessie, who has gotten herself stuck. It isn't really surprising, considering these girders and pathways we are walking on are an enormous safety hazard. Has anyone ever heard of railings? Or maybe even solid floors where your feet can't get stuck in them?

Cloud helps her out, and Jessie is surprised. However, Cloud is a true white knight, so he has to help a lady when she's in distress.


The crew all make it out safely, and we're treated to a FMV of the fruits of our labor.

Did I mention that we're terrorists?

That explosion is pretty odd, to be honest. Our characters took an elevator down into the reactor from the ground level, and set the bomb well below the city. Then the reactor blows up from the top!

A totally reasonable justification is that the explosion blew out some key control equipment, and the reactor is designed to overload and vent overloaded power and/or fuel upwards in the event of control failure. At least, that's the best explanation I have. It does mean that, in spite of the huge explosion, the civilians in the area are probably safe. It would be amusing if we killed the pink girl and then her spirit followed us around and haunted us for what we did, though.

After Jessie's big rescue, it seems like the other AVALANCHE members have gained a lot of respect for Cloud. Jessie even seems to have a crush on him. Also, she seems to have her mouth open in every scene.

Either way, the team is ordered to split up and find their way to the Sector 8 train station.

Cloud tries to stop Barret to ask him a question, but Barret just stops him and says it can wait until they're back if it's about his money. What Cloud actually wanted to say is anybody's guess. He's been pretty quiet about stuff that has nothing to do with getting the job done. Perhaps he wanted to apologize for his cold attitude?

Traveling into what appears to be Sector 8 (west of of the North Mako Reactor, at any rate), we see that the area has not been untouched. We see most of the skyline that we saw in this area earlier, except that the explosion has caused a large amount of property damage. Unfortunately, that probably means we killed innocent people.

Cloud meets the flower girl in person, and she seems unhurt by the explosion.

She was selling flowers when the bomb went off, and while she was knocked down, she wasn't seriously hurt. Cloud tells her that it's strange that she has flowers, and she says that she's selling them for a gil each. We have a few hundred, so we can afford to buy one. She's pretty happy about that, but then Cloud takes off to meet up with his crew.

Although most of the people are panicking, at least one person notices some graffiti or a poster or something. It's some anti-Shinra, pro-AVALANCHE propaganda.

It seems like AVALANCHE is far-reaching. Back in the reactor, Jessie mentioned that many people within AVALANCHE risked their lives to get the access codes to enter the reactor. 

It's clear that the people Cloud is working with are just the operational arm of AVALANCHE. This actually is disturbingly similar to many eco-terrorist groups that exist in the real world. They have a "clean" front that participates in protests and community outreach, and other elements that participate in direct action. I'm not suggesting that real-world Greenpeace specifically did anything like blowing up a power station, of course, but they do protest real-world nuclear power.

Cloud is discovered by a group of Shinra soldiers. Judging by the quick response time, I think it's safe to say that these guys are actually civil authorities and not military.

Cloud fights them, but they get too numerous.

We actually get to fight a new kind of battle here, where soldiers attack us from both front and rear. If you get hit in the back, it does a fair bit of extra damage; I took a hit in the back for about 17HP instead of the usual single digits.

Oddly, Cloud also fully healed from the battles in the reactor, so he was full on both HP and MP for the fights with the cops.

The cops finally surround Cloud despite him killing like 10 of them, so he leaps off the bridge and onto the train below. 

Clearly this was his train, but I don't see why he was pinned down at all by these cops. Their guns deal pitiful damage, and we still have a lot of potions. We could have done this all night.

We did need to catch this train, though. It's the last one out of town, and we need to get paid.

Back on the train, the other members of AVALANCHE are wondering what happened to Cloud.

Biggs suggests that Cloud might have been killed, which Barret flat-out rejects. Jessie seems upset at that prospect, too (it's pretty obvious that she's hot for him). 

The next part is oddly translated. It seems to read as though Biggs is asking whether they think that Cloud will stick with AVALANCHE, but then Barret blames the rest of his team randomly. When I read it the first time, it seemed as though Biggs was suggesting that Cloud would fight to the bitter end for AVALANCHE's cause, just due to the context of what other characters were saying. It's clear that this part wasn't translated together, as the lines don't mesh up well.

Oh you, Cloud.

The team is surprised and happy to see him, in spite of his callousness. Barret is pissed and threatens to take it out of Cloud's pay, but it's pretty clear he's happy to see that Cloud is OK. Even though the dialogue is all text, the scene is well-scripted, so the intent of the lines is easy to see.

Wedge thinks Cloud did a great job back in the reactor, and Biggs is happy to have Cloud back on the team. Jessie wipes some of the soot off Cloud's face (probably from the explosion) and thanks him for saving her in the reactor. Everyone heads into the main part of the train, which I find kind of odd. Shouldn't they be hiding out?

We find out that the train is headed for its last stop, the Sector 7 Train Graveyard. Actually, I'm not sure whether the Train Graveyard in Sector 7 is the last stop, or if Sector 7 is simply called the Train Graveyard. Either way, we're on our way there. Also, we learn that the city we're in is called Midgar.

Jessie offers to show us the map of the rail system, which is a convenient way to give exposition on the city itself. Cloud, as a former member of SOLDIER, probably knows all of this already.

The name Midgar is an obvious reference to Midgard, which is the name of the world of men (our world) in Norse mythology.

We can draw some symbolic conclusions from this, too. Midgar might be the entirety of the game world from the perspective of the player, meaning that we might never leave the city, but I don't think this is the case, mostly due to the starfield panorama we saw in the game's introduction. It might be that Midgar covers the entire planet, but this also seems unlikely based on the information we get in this scene. It might be the only place on this planet where humans dwell, or perhaps it's supposed to be symbolic, the only part of the world that actually matters, so to speak.

There's a lot of expository dialogue here, so I'll summarize. Midgar's actually a pretty small city. The upper city, called the Plate (which appears to be a slang term), is raised about 50 meters above the ground. There's a city below that, considered to be the slums. Based on the 50 meters up statement, Midgar seems really, really small. I don't think it's more than a few square kilometers.
There are eight Mako Reactors, one in each sector of the city. When we blew up the No. 1 reactor, we escaped to Sector 8 in the west, so we can assume that Sector 1 was to our east. At some point, the towns used to have names, but people just refer to them by numbers now.

There's an ID check device at each rail checkpoint, When a train passes through a checkpoint, a bunch of red lights turn on and scan everyone in the train. Fortunately, our team is using fake IDs to avoid suspicion. The red lights effect looks identical to the red screen we had earlier, when a voice in our head warned us that "This isn't just a reactor!!" I blame the game's VFX budget.

Cloud and Barret have a talk about the people of Midgar, and how the people in the slums suffer because of the city on the Plate. Apparently, Barret feels strongly about this.

The upper city seems to pollute the lower city, and only artificial light is available in the lower city, since the plate blocks out the sky. It's a pretty bleak existence, and even Cloud says as such. He asks why people don't just move onto the Plate, and Barret suggests that, while it might be because their poverty prevents it, it might also be because the people love their homes, even if they are polluted.

Cloud replies with a rather profound statement. One rule of literature: if someone says something metaphorical, it's usually important to the work.

It's a long ride back to Sector 7.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Let's Play Final Fantasy VII (Part 1): The Beginning

First, we're treated to SquareEnix's ridiculous DRM. Irritating. I should have just played the PSX version on emulator. I have no idea what the controller mappings are, so I will probably have to mess with them during the game. I'm using an XBox 360 controller to play the game. I could borrow a PSX controller adapter for the true 'authentic' feel, but it's not that big of a deal.

We're treated to a view of a field of stars. At this point, we have no context for what this means. It could just be pretty imagery, but it could mean that the game will have a galactic scope, or perhaps it will involve looking beyond our world. Generally in film, if the work has any sort of "greater meaning," these early abstractions mean something. We'll hopefully find the context later.

Next, we're shown an image of a girl. There are little green fireflies sparking all around her, or perhaps they are some kind of magical energy. The music and the tone of the scene leads me to think that there is some kind of spiritual connection here.

The odd part is that she isn't part of the group we'll be meeting first, which means that, along with her simple introduction (she's clearly not an evil mastermind), she's important to the story.

If I were to guess at her value to the plot, I suspect that she's a plot device, or a damsel in distress type of character.

The camera zooms out and we see that the girl is actually looking at some sort of mechanical device that is producing sparks. The sparkles in the scene with the girl's face are a bit too gentle to be electricity, though, and my guess is that they are magical. Perhaps this world's technology is based on magic?

Next the world zooms out more and we see more of the city; a theater, a bar, cars and motorcycles zooming by, and this girl in pink is carrying a flower basket as she walks across the street.

This imagery is almost certainly a duality meant to show contrast. We have a girl dressed in pink and red amidst the gloomy city colors. We have the modern nature of the city, with its lights and loudness contrasted with the soft click of this girl's heels as she walks on the pavement. Her flowers represent a connection with nature, meant to contrast with the decidedly urban feel of the environment she is in. The way she walks and her facial expressions seem confident and natural, as though she's used to this place. I would guess that she's an advocate for the natural world amidst the industrial sprawl of the city. Perhaps those sparkles she saw earlier (and her clasped-together hands) were some sort of nature spirit she was praying to? Regardless, I can say with almost 100% certainty that this girl is meant to oppose the city's nature.

This scale of things seems off, though. We just saw a starfield earlier, hinting at a galactic scope of a game (rather than the typical planetary scale of a Final Fantasy game). This apparent conflict between this girl and the city might be symbolic rather than literal, or it might be meant to show that the urban development might be a form of nature, and she (as the representative of nature in this city) has learned to live and commune even in this place which seems to have no natural connection at all.

We get a full zoom-out of the city, followed by the game's title screen. The city seems to be surrounded by a ring of factories on the outside, with greenish-white smoke spewing out. These factories appear to be connected to a massive, bright central tower.

If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that those connecting beams are probably related to power or electricity, and connect the central structure to the outer factories. Either the central structure is a power distribution center and the "factories" are actually power plants, or the central structure is a power plant, which provides power to the "factories." I would actually guess the former (which we'll see is the more correct answer) just because I would suspect that a city with this kind of urban sprawl actually would have factories and production elsewhere. At this point though, we can't really be sure that the city design is all that important - it's actually more important to say that it's clearly industrial or modern age technology, and that this city (which is all we know of at this point) is far beyond the technology of any Final Fantasy we've seen thus far. It feels like a mashup of industrial and modern styles, but is very different from any sort of technology that we know. Since when do factories produce bright white-green smoke?

The camera does a really neat trick here. When we first see the girl in pink and then have the zoom out to the city view and the title, the camera zooms out from the left side of the huge tower in the middle. When it zooms back in to show this scene, it zooms around the right side of the tower, showing the image on the right: a train zooming up just a small distance from where we first saw the girl.

A man and a woman jump out of the train and attack the two station attendants before they can react. Another three characters leap out of the train afterwards: a fat guy with a red hat, a large, oversized black man who is probably missing a hand (but has a metal-looking box on his missing right hand), and a "newcomer" with spiky blonde hair.

This "newcomer" is obviously our character. The camera, which has remained fixed the entire scene, suddenly locks to the newcomer as he leaps out of the train.

Accessing the menu screen, we see that his name is listed as Ex-SOLDIER. That's clearly his occupation; a former soldier of some government or another. In this context, being an ex-soldier is clearly relevant. He has some kind of miltary training, and is tougher than average. The guess would be that since he's an ex-soldier, he is probably a member of a revolution, and that he was only recently separated from military service. The concept of a former military member joining a rebellion is so common that even real life uses the trope, so I'm making that guess now.

Why would I jump to that conclusion? Well, in Final Fantasy IV, Cecil discovers that he is working for an awful government, and deserts, forming a revolution to fight back. In Final Fantasy VI, Celes deserts the Empire to join the Returners, a revolutionary group. What else should we expect from a title of "ex-soldier?"

We get into our first battle and it's mostly a laugh. Oddly, the two enemy soldiers run past the big black guy and attack us instead. This is probably because the game doesn't expect us to know how to "run" yet, so the big guy was supposed to be off screen when we were attacked.

Ex-SOLDIER is barely even damaged by the enemy attacks, and he defeats them with a single hit.

His huge sword is more than a match for these guys, even though they are armed with "machine guns."

Clearly this guy is no ordinary soldier. He uses a sword, they use assault rifles (or submachine guns), and yet his sword is much, much more powerful and he is nigh-invulnerable, only taking 3 HP from their guns when he has 302 HP. This is definitely still a Final Fantasy game.

The first guy to exit the train, Biggs (who looks a bit like a pirate or a guerilla with his bright red Rambo headband and olive drab tanktop) comments on our hero's exceptional fighting prowess.

Jessie, the lady opening the door, mentions that people in SOLDIER are the enemy. It's also here where we get that our main character's job is not merely "soldier" in the traditional sense, but rather that he is a former member of SOLDIER, which is probably an elite military unit.

We also find out our character's name (or rather, we get to name him). His name is Cloud Strife, and now we know a little more about him. He's the equivalent of a former SEAL (more or less), and that he used to be aligned with the people we are now fighting. As both a newcomer and a former enemy, his team seems to be torn on whether or not to trust him. For his part, he doesn't seem to care about any of his teammates.

At this point, we're clear now on who he is. The people he is working with (AVALANCHE) are the revolutionaries, while he is a paid mercenary.

I feel like the distrust is not warranted; in real life, a mercenary is far more reliable than people fighting for a cause. Mercenaries depend on good reputations, so if he is paid to do a job, he isn't going to be a danger to operational security. He's going to do the job, and the only way he would fail is if he becomes unable to complete the mission due to complications (including injury or death). However, these guys seem to be typical rebels, and don't know how mercenaries really operate. We also get to name the big guy, Barret Wallace. He tells us that our target is the North Mako Reactor. In the earlier scene where we saw the train drive up, we saw one of those big "factories" from the intro right in front, with a big "01" painted on the side. Somehow I think that's our North Mako Reactor. So it is a power plant of some kind. The camera pulls down to show the reactor as we run towards it.

More battles occur and we explore Cloud's magic spells. They're even more powerful than his attacks, and destroy enemies in a single hit. He has two spells available.

The first one shown here is Bolt, which is especially good against mechanical foes. Against some of the more powerful robots we'll see later, it deals well over 100 damage.

We also have a second spell, Ice. It's not as good as Bolt, but it's still plenty strong and it still one-shots most foes. Then again, so does Cloud's sword; although it sometimes falls a bit short and takes two hits instead of one.

We get to the bridge in front of the reactor where Barret told us to meet up, and we learn the name of our fourth AVALANCHE member, Of course, because we knew the Rambo-wannabe was Biggs, that had to mean that chubby red-hatted guy has to be Wedge. Also, I think his red hat is actually a bandanna.

Also, he states that our objective is to blow up the reactor.

Wait a minute.

We just saw the flower girl in the intro scene. She was in the vicinity of where we are right now. We saw bars and theaters and stuff. There is no way that this city is a military base, and even this part of the city isn't a military base. We're blowing up a civilian power station.

So we're fucking terrorists. I'm working with terrorists. I'm not working for the FARC, I'm working for Al-Qaeda. No wonder Cloud doesn't care about these guys. I would even wager a guess at this point that Cloud might be infiltrating the terrorists and that he isn't actually an "ex-SOLDIER." However, the game spoiled that for me because Barret is a character that I get to name. I'm probably going to end up believing in this terrorist message.

It's a pretty novel thing, really. Remember that this game came out in 1997. We're basically the Final Fantasy equivalent of Unabombers right now. Playing as an actual terrorist, targeting civilian infrastructure? That's pretty crazy from a video game made in the '90s. It doesn't even matter if this act is justified in some way. We're blowing up a civilian power plant. It's not justified but makes for a really interesting twist. Hopefully the game covers the ethics of this in a realistic way.

Barret asks Cloud if he's ever been in a reactor, and Cloud hesitates before saying that of course he has, as he used to work for Shinra. Shinra could be a person or a government, most likely the latter. Shinra runs the reactors and has a military force, including a special operations unit, called SOLDIER.

Barret also explains to Cloud that the reactors are powered by Mako, which he claims is the life's blood of the planet. He further claims that the use of Mako is killing the planet; thus justifying to him the destruction of the reactor.

Let me just say that this doesn't make perfect sense. In real life, power doesn't "go away" when it is used. Living beings consume food as a sort of fuel, and the leftover energy is given off as waste heat. Even if people stopped using fossil fuels and other fuel sources, the planet would eventually die without an influx of energy from the sun to feed plant life.

I'm sure that this Mako power is a thing, but isn't life solar powered anyway? Or is the planet's energy the actual source of life, and things like the sun and kinetic energy have nothing to do with the natural life cycle? Barret isn't a scientist, and I don't see any reason to believe his simplistic reasoning any more than I have to believe that "sustainable" businesses actually help sustain the environment.

Also, I'm not working for Al-Qaeda, I'm working for Greenpeace now.

Fortunately, Cloud doesn't give a shit about the issues with the environment. Also, as shown in this screenshot, Jessie has a pretty big chest.

Barret joins up with Cloud after he shows his dismissive attitude in order to keep an eye on this cold-blooded mercenary.

Also we see that Barret's block arm is actually a gun. A minigun at that.

This of course doesn't make any sense, as Barret's gun arm has no ammo container, feed tray, or anything else that a minigun might need to actually load rounds into the gun. The rate of fire also seems more consistent with an automatic rifle; I'd guess that he is shooting maybe 300-400 rpm, which begs the question as to why he would need multiple barrels.

Yeah, I know, because it's cool. I'm just saying, it makes no sense. Barret also doesn't have any magic. I'm guessing that's because as a terrorist leader he never learned how, or maybe it's a special training for members of SOLDIER (as it was with Celes). Barret is also a bit more fragile than Cloud despite having more HP. He gets banged up pretty bad, but there is an upside.

When a character takes damage, the Limit gauge fills up, and when the gauge reaches maximum, he can use a powerful special attack, called a Limit Break. Barret's limit break is called Big Shot, and it attacks a single enemy with about the damage of a magic spell. You can see in this image, Cloud's limit gauge is only about 3/4ths full even though he's fought several battles on his own. He's definitely made of tougher stuff than Barret is, but the difference isn't as big as the difference between either Cloud or Barret and one of these enemy soldiers. And since taking more damage means getting more limit breaks, it's not so bad as long as the damage isn't that dangerous.

Either way, we get to our first save point, so I'm going to stop for now. That was a lot of exposition, and a lot of speculating on stuff. Next time, we'll head into the reactor and hopefully end the mission.