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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.