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!

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