I really like Aeris as a character. Her portrayal is really well-executed, and is a big relief from the awful portrayal of President Shinra earlier. She's fun, intelligent, and crafty. Despite her role as "the Ancient," she never seems unbelievable or unrelatable. She's a perfect mix of mysterious and open, capable and vulnerable. She's an almost perfect icon of female ideals; a woman who is strong and independent without sacrificing femininity. She does all of this without being preachy or imposing; she simply is who she is and doesn't force that identity. My hat is really off to her writers and localizers, because they really did a fantastic job creating her.
Aeris contrasts well in this part, as she takes the reins to find Tifa while Cloud acts like a dunce, all while virtually everyone treats her like a piece of meat.
We hear at a local love hotel called the Honey Bee Inn that a man named Don Corneo is taking her in for an "interview." Uh-oh, Tifa. What have you gotten yourself into?
Aeris offers to go in alone, but Cloud is not OK with that idea either. His white knight is showing, but Aeris has a plan.
Her idea is to dress up Cloud as a girl so the two of them can infiltrate the Don's mansion. Cloud protests, but Aeris insists it's the only way. Fortunately, Cloud looks just like Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII, so he should be able to pass as a girl.
Okay, I swear I'll stop talking about the future.
Aeris is a bit suspicious of our intentions, and she's technically correct; we don't have to go in here to get the minimum disguise needed. If you want to just complete the quest, you can just get a dress and a wig. However, there are a few scenes here that are worth seeing.
It becomes clear that there is a group of role-players acting out some kind of fantasy in here. I'm not sure if there's anything sexual involved, but several of the participants seem unhappy. The lead participant is a Shinra executive, and one of the actors calls him "President." They also say they are having a luncheon with President Shinra, so I'm not sure who is involved in this part. Either way, in-story plays and storytelling is one way that the medium uses to convey information, and this one is awfully specific. I'll just transcribe a brief part of the scene:
"A legend has been passed down through generations...
They sought the Promised Land...
...one with blue eyes and a great white sword on his back will not lead us to the Promised Land..."
I'll be honest, I don't really know what to make of this scene. It seems clear that this fantasy story is alluding to Cloud, and how he will not lead "us" to the "Promised Land." If I were to hazard a guess, it would be foreshadowing that Cloud will not lead the party in the correct direction, and possibly into some kind of calamity. The part about the Queen and Satan, I have no idea.
The next two scenes are mutually exclusive, but I'll be watching both since I can just save and reload from right outside.
Cloud is dragged into a tiny spa with a bunch of guys who are heavily implied to be homosexual against his will. There's further implication that there's some attempted rape in this scene, and at the very least, the guys try to force themselves onto Cloud despite repeated refusals.
This scene is intended to cause revulsion, and I find its portrayal of homosexuals to be incredibly offensive. I'm a heterosexual male, but I have no problem with things that include homosexuality. What I do have a problem with is when homosexuals are portrayed as flamboyantly gay, to the point where they try to force themselves on others who clearly aren't interested and obviously feel uncomfortable around it. Gays are normal people (everyone has quirks, gay or not) and usually live pretty normal lives. This portrayal of homosexuality is absolutely not appropriate, and reflects the Japanese societal homophobia present in the 90s.
I would have cut this scene from the game.
Cloud sees a translucent version of himself sitting in the room. Cloud seem to recognize who or what this copy of him represents, and asks it what it is doing here. It asks him the same question in response, and lectures him that he can't change anything by sitting back and looking at it.
This is yet another unsolved mystery. The clone of Cloud here uses bright white text rather than the darker grey subliminal text we saw in other scenes, It's the same type of text used in normal text windows, and it's also the same as when we were in the No. 1 Reactor ("This isn't just a reactor!"). Unlike the dark grey text, it talks to us in imperatives rather than reminding us of the past, so I think we can come to a conclusion: there are at least three Clouds in Cloud's head. We have the conscious Cloud (the character we control), plus the past Cloud (the grey text), and the warning/imperative Cloud (the brighter white text).
What the hell, Square.
Cloud's more clueless than we are about what this all means. Either way, we end up not spending any time with any of the Honey Bee girls and we go back to our task of completing Cloud's outfit.
We team back up with her and head off to find a dress and a wig.
Get the Membership Card in the main area of Wall Market, from a man outside Honey Bee Inn, then use the Card to get in. The Group Room (offensive spa scene) gives bikini briefs, while the %^&* Room (Cloud freakout scene) gives lingerie. After either scene, Cloud can go to the dressing room and ask one of the Honey Bee girls to put makeup on him. The quality of makeup is random, but it will always improve Cloud's appearance.
In the item shop, the owner will ask you to go to the inn and buy something from the inn's vending machine, then trade it for some jewelry in the item shop. The more expensive items give better results.
After getting the dress, go to the gym to get a wig. You'll have to do a minigame. Win to get the best result, lose to get the worst result. The scene for the best result is awesome.
I ended with the worst dress, the best wig, the lingerie, and nothing else. I would have gotten the worst wig, but then my gamer instincts kicked in.
Cloud looks a bit too cute, and I don't think purple is really his color. The ribbons and pigtails make him a bit too girly, in my opinion.
Either way, let's go find Tifa!
Aeris introduces herself to Tifa, and Tifa gets a bit jealous, upon which Aeris also gets a bit jealous. Both girls claim that Cloud isn't their boyfriend.
Aeris then introduces Tifa to Cloud, which is probably the most embarassing thing that Cloud has ever had to do in his life.
Tifa explains that Barret squeezed some information out of some Shinra soldiers. The info was that Don Corneo was somehow involved with leaking info to Shinra. Barret told Tifa to back off, but Tifa decided to look into it herself.
Aeris is hilarious in this scene. She keeps looking towards Cloud and Tifa while they're talking, and it's plainly obvious she's eavesdropping.
Eventually she ends the act and tells Cloud and Tifa that she overheard, and fortunately they have three girls for Don Corneo to pick from.
He spends a lot of time looking at Cloud. It's a very amusing and awkward scene. Honestly, all of the scenes in the mansion are pretty cute. The "cinematography" comes across much better while you're actually playing it.
In the end, Don chooses Tifa. If Cloud has made some effort to be pretty, Don will choose Aeris.
If Cloud has gone all-out to make himself look more girly, he'll choose Cloud, and the next scene will be much different. The girl that Don does not choose gets a minor dialogue choice that will improve Cloud's affection with her. If Corneo chooses Cloud, he'll instead get a dialogue option that will improve Barret's affection instead.
I really like how there's actual choices involved in the affection mechanics in this game, and it is neither the "everyone likes me unless I tell them no" system present in games like Mass Effect, nor is it "I can buy my way to your heart" like many other dating sims and the Dragon age series. You don't know what the affection scores are (you can't see them in game), but I know mine are currently:
Aeris' start value is very high, but Tifa has a huge number of options early to make her like Cloud more, all of which I picked (as long as it didn't conflict with an Aeris choice). I want Aeris to be the highest, but I also want Tifa to like me too. Hopefully we can keep that up.
Next time, we'll find out just what Don Corneo knows.