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.