I'm actually not sure why Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie don't go into the reactor with us here. I was thinking that it was a "because plot" sort of thing where they aren't present because some plot contrivance can't happen if they're present, or at least their presence makes a plot point inconvenient. However, this doesn't seem to be the case. Either way, at least they're safely out and we only have to worry about ourselves.
Even more troubling, the enemies are also starting to survive All + Lightning. That's not so good.
I actually used All + Restore here to heal my party, and it heals so much HP, it's ridiculous. Wow healing magic is overpowered in this game. A single cast of Cure heals my party for over two potions worth of HP. Again, it's optimal to use All + Restore here, but the enemies are still easy and All + Lightning makes fights go a lot faster.
As we go to set the bomb, Cloud has another breakdown. This surprises no one, but instead of getting a creepy voice in his head, Cloud witnesses what is either a flashback or an alternate universe.
Although Cloud is in this scene, it's not clear whether he's actually in the scene or he's an outside observer, astrally projecting into some alternative reality. However, because this scene gives us a large insight into Tifa's motivations for joining AVALANCHE, I'm guessing this scene happened in the past. This scene is probably in Cloud and Tifa's hometown, and she is inside some kind of Shinra factory. The architecture has a very "Mako Reactor" vibe and Tifa mentions that she hates Mako Reactors in the scene (along with everything else about Shinra), but the layout is different from the Midgar Mako Reactors we've been visiting. Because the No. 1 and No. 5 Reactors have nearly identical layouts, the imagery here is misleading. Again, Tifa's dialogue does suggest she's in a reactor.
Cloud's presence here is odd, since this is his hometown. We know that Sephiroth is also here, so it's possible that Cloud and Sephiroth were deployed here on some Shinra mission, and that either Sephiroth was under orders by Shinra to kill Tifa's father or he flew off the handle. Cloud is on his knees as well in this scene, so it's possible that he has also recently fought with Sephiroth and is wounded. It's also possible that Cloud isn't in the scene at all, and he is somehow telepathically linked to Tifa.
Cloud's behavior afterwards though suggests that this is not his memory. This is really odd.
Either way, we get moving and set up the bomb. No further red-screened voice comes in to tell us not to set up the bomb. Barret also makes it clear if Cloud talks to him during this scene that he still doesn't trust Cloud. Also, there's no timed section as we leave, so we're free to kill enemies to farm if we want. Obviously, I'm just moving ahead. We do get some nice item drops like antidotes and deadly wastes, though.
I land it on Hits and it does really poor damage, roughly as much as her normal attack. I also don't get to pick the target for her attack. Maybe if I land Yeahs she'll hit all enemies or something.
So far, Tifa's been pretty underwhelming. She has a weapon with no linked slots (thus can't use All), and only has two slots total. Her limit break is garbage and weak, and she isn't even long-ranged like Barret is. Still, she's a character and again, there's not much difference between characters in this game. If I had a choice though, I'd much rather have another character than her.
Barret runs a bit low on MP, so I swap All + Lightning over to Cloud. However, more enemies are fighting in smaller groups of two or three, so I'm using more regular attacks.
Barret, after an operation is compromised, one does not simply continue with the operation. Yes, it sucks that you have to avoid killing hundreds of innocent people to save the planet, but maybe if you actually conducted your missions in a way that wasn't completely seat-of-the-pants, this would not have happened.
Also, I'm not sure what the difference between the red-uniformed soldiers and the blue-uniformed soldiers are. The red ones are not SOLDIER, since we see one in Sector 7 say that he failed the entrance exam. It's possible that the blue-uniformed soldiers are police and the red ones are military, but that also seems unlikely due to the red-uniformed pair and the red-uniformed train conductors. It could be the other way around. More likely, the developers haven't got a clue and picked whichever sprite didn't feel overused.
Then, behind us, a completely unexpected person comes out from inside the reactor.
Thus far, I've been pretty critical of AVALANCHE. I tend to assume that they're bungling idiot terrorists who will get what is coming to them. However, President Shinra's appearance here puts him on the all-time biggest retard of the game. I don't actually care about anything that comes after this. There cannot possibly be something that is dumber than putting your most important VIP in danger like this. In this scene, Cloud has a completely unobstructed path to kill him, and the only thing standing in Cloud's way are a bunch of soldiers off to the side taking shots at him with weapons he has shown on multiple occasions will not even slow him down.
There is nothing stopping Barret from shooting the President here, and even if we somehow assume that AVALANCHE doesn't use guns (and there are undoubtedly a number of fired bullet cases at the No. 1 Reactor scene from Barret's arm), they have materia! They could just blast him with spells! There's no Secret Service agents near him to take the shots for him or get him to safety either.
President Shinra must be the biggest grade-A moron in the history of this game world. Seriously.
In fact, the only reason why the President can identify Cloud at all is that Cloud has strange eyes. Apparently all members of SOLDIER are exposed to Mako, and it has an outward physical effect on the eyes. Also, this means that SOLDIER is a program to produce Magitek Knights. The correlation with Celes gets deeper!
Also we learn that Sephiroth "was brilliant, perhaps too brilliant." It seems likely that whatever happened in the Tifa flashback likely also resulted in him deserting Shinra as well.
It's at this point that I want to talk about FFVII's translation. President Shinra labels Airbuster as a techno-soldier, and Tifa asks if Airbuster is a part of SOLDIER. Of course, she can't see the capital letters, but what allows her to hear "soldiers" and not hear SOLDIERs?
Because Final Fantasy VII was originally written in Japanese, they use the Japanese word for "soldier" (probably the word "bunjin" or "heishi" -- I don't have a Japanese copy of the game, so I don't know) to refer to normal soldiers. When referring to SOLDIER, they use the katakana "sorujaa" or literally, "soldier." When President Shinra refers to Airbuster as a techno-soldier, he probably literally says "tekuno sorujaa," which obviously causes Tifa to get confused over the term.
Personally, I would have called the SOLDIER unit RANGER or RAIDER for the English translation, which would have caused a lot less problems. If they wanted a more Final Fantasy feel, they could have just called it FIGHTER. Sticking with the word SOLDIER makes it very hard to discuss other members of the Shinra military outside of text.
The bad news for him is that the party surrounds him during the fight, forcing Airbuster to either face Cloud or Barret and Tifa. Facing Cloud leaves him open to attacks from Cloud's allies, and facing Barret and Tifa exposes him to the enormous threat that is Cloud. The trick to this battle is to rotate your attacks, allowing Airbuster to get hit in the back. If you're stuck with him facing you on your turn, it's probably best to wait or use healing to get back on your feet.
Barret proves to be the MVP of this battle. Airbuster shows its back to Barret after a strike from Cloud, and he unleashes a devastating Big Shot, dealing over 600 HP in one shot and ending the fight.
It's possible she wants to discuss the time in her flashback, but there's no way to tell.
Cloud begins to lose his grip and tells Barret to take care of Tifa. He also says that there's no way he will die, and that they need to stop talking like he will. Then he falls.
In other words, this fall would kill most people unless they had a pretty lucky landing. However, this is Cloud we're talking about. We've just recently learned that members of SOLDIER are not just well-trained, they are also bioengineered superhumans.
I'm sure he'll be fine.