Zack and Angeal make it out of the fortress just fine, though it seems like they shouldn’t have had to worry, because no explosion ever actually occurs! I’m not entirely sure why a game that already has stock explosion effects and sounds would pass up on an opportunity like this, but there you go. Just then, Director Lazard showed up, jogging around in the middle of enemy territory. He tries to explain that he’s just trying to take a hands-on approach to the war, which is something… I don’t know, resembling a nice character moment, if you ignore the fact that there are dozens of other ways he could be doing this, like from a helicopter, or with guards, or with guards in a helicopter? Let’s just say that I don’t think you’re going to be all that surprised when I tell you that this is just a setup for him to be put in danger.
Sure enough, the three of them are ambushed by blade-wielding, masked warriors. After an initial scrum that leaves two of the attackers dead, a second ambush forces the party to separate, Angeal holding off the attackers while Zack is ordered to escort Lazard to safety. Once Zack got the director to Shinra lines, he ran back to reunite with Angeal. There, he found the corpses of the original attackers but with with no sign of Angeal or second wave. Presumably because the adrenaline was wearing off, Zack suddenly noticed that the dead men weren’t Wutai soldiers. C’mon Zack, haven’t you heard? 95% of Wutai’s population are factory-produced recolours. The human rights violations are immense.
Just then, Zack was confronted by a floating red orb: a Summon Materia, which summoned Ifrit for Kyle to fight as a boss. This fight was intense for a while, at least until Kyle murdered Ifrit by stunlocking him with Blizzard. Zack once again celebrated, turned his back on Ifirit, and got attacked again. That’s twice in a row, my dumb buddy. This time, he had to be saved by Sephiroth, who had been mentioned as being in the area, and definitely didn’t summon Ifrit to begin with.
…Oh, wait, so it turns out that Sephiroth actually didn’t summon Ifrit? Shit! But you can see where I was coming from with that, right?
Sephiroth went over to the dead attackers and removed his mask, revealing them to be – wait for it – clones of the lead defector from earlier, Genesis. Based on this paltry set of evidence, Sephiroth automatically concluded that Angeal had betrayed Shrina to join Genesis. I have to impress that Sephiroth doesn’t seem to have so much as checked the perimeter during this sequence. You can just imagine Angeal walking in as Sephiroth is making his accusation, and then awkwardly walking back into the forest.
Unfortunately, after a time-skip and a return to Midgar, it seems as though Sephiroth may be right. It had been over a month, and inter-SOLDIER gossip shows that no one is sure what Angeal had done, save that he’s gone. In the midst of this babble, Zack was called into the director’s office by a stranger over the phone. Zack immediately asked about Angeal, and the director revealed that they had nothing, and that Angeal hadn’t so much as contacted his family. Clearly, Shinra had been spying. As it happened, Lazard’s new assignment for Zack had a similar theme: Lazard had been trying to spy on Genesis’ family as well, but suddenly his spies had gone missing. Zack was being sent in to investigate, and he would be accompanied by the stranger on the phone: Tseng of the Turks, voiced by Ryan Yu, another actor known primarily for video game bit parts. The Turks were essentially Shinra spies, if you excuse a throwaway but adamant line of dialogue from FFVII that implies the Turk’s mission statement is to “find recruits for SOLDIER.” Uh-huh, uh-huh. And to be spies. And yes: even in FFVII. So odd.
Tseng gets added to the DMW at this point. His special attack on the DMW is to call in a helicopter airstrike as Zack protests, saying “I’m trying, I’m trying!” over his phone. Tseng obviously ignores him, what with the missiles that hit the battlefield moments later. The best part of this DMW is that Tseng will even call in airstrikes inside of buildings, or thousands of feet underground in mines.
Of course, the game didn’t force you to go on the next story mission right away. As a matter of fact, I remember ignoring the poor bastard and his dead co-workers for a long, long time. Kyle went after some side missions, winning, among other things, a poison blade. We’re a hero! Poison blade! Kyle did Missions concerned with wiping out the remnants of the Wutei, who were soon driven literally underground, while I chased down missions focused on rare items. I did at least one mission with nothing but spin attacks and Tseng’s helicopter. Whirling my sword about like a blender, going: “Wooo, I’m a SOLDIER! Woooooo!”
Our side mission fun was almost put to a stop by another Vajradhara during the Wutai missions, which kept using its unavoidable “Mace Boomerang” attack and the damage picked up across the board. Kyle pushed on all the same, fighting another block of those enemies and earning Gravity, a spell that cut enemy health in half. As Kingdom Hearts has shown, Gravity is always far more useful in action RPGs than in Final Fantasy itself. Now overpowered with Gravity, Kyle carried on to final mission in the train, where he fought the Wutai’s leaders, the Five Saints, to end the war (though another series of side missions would later have you tracking down the survivors). The Five Saints actually had Curaga, so we shouldn’t rightly have been able to kill them at all at this point in the game. Luckily for us, the Five Saints were too busy being shitty Wutai footsoldier recolours to avoid getting easily stunlocked. Clearing this questline opened the Secret Wutai Shop, which we could buy from via our cell phone, a nifty little feature. Kyle spent most of our money on Quake.
You have to wonder what Shrina thinks about our Zack doing sidequests while ignoring their orders to go to Wutai, and then what they think about him ignoring his next storyline orders so that he can do sidequests… in Wutai.
In another sidequest, we refought Ifrit and earned the Ifrit Summon Materia for ourselves. The mechanics behind Summons are just another extension of the DMW, and an even worse one. Once the DMW makes a match, there is an additional, entirely random chance that the DMW might change to the Summon DMW and cycle again, hoping to land on a specific Summon combination, minding that at the moment we only have one such Summon and most other possible results will result in nothing. Once summoned, the Summon plays an animation and does group damage, same as most DMWs. This game is infuriating.
Speaking of things that aren’t fair, are completely out of your control, and take up too much time when they finally do happen, forcing you to skip them… I’m referring, of course, to Zack’s memories, which will pop up occasionally (and again: fully at random) when you make a match on the regular DMW. Essentially, you see a scene featuring both Zack and the character you just matched on the DMW. These memories are usually unique, but can include scenes you’ve already seen, which was probably included for the sake of characters like Tseng who have been added to the DMW early but haven’t done anything yet. The rest of the memories are brand new to the player, even though many of them explain things missing from the plot itself, but were apparently deemed not important enough to show in the main story? Who… who decided the best way to convey narrative was through lottery? Some examples of memories we saw early in the game included Sephiroth talking about Angeal’s apparent defection (important), and an earlier memory of Angeal refusing to use his sword to fend off an ambush including FFVII’s incarnation of Death Claws (unimportant). The more I learned about Crisis Core, the less I fundamentally liked it as a narrative product.
Continuing our sidequests (and speaking of Crisis Core’s failing as a narrative product…), we went into town to unlock a few more. Namely, we unlocked a hilarious series of missions wherein Shrina Security Forces challenged Zack to a few mock combats and ended up blowing their annual budget while trying to beat us. At least we got a few good laughs from these missions from time to time. We also learned a bit of Shinra history, and how they went from vehicle creator to world dominating entry company, and watched some scientists in the Materia creation room stress over their job creating materia out of mako to the tune of… boss music? Well at least they’re enjoying themselves!
Probably the most important information we got during our tour – as little as Kyle might want to admit it – was information on a play that serves a central role to Crisis Core’s plot: LOVELESS. You learn more and more about LOVELESS as the game goes on, but I can summarize a few key points to get us through right here at the outset. For starters: LOVELESS was originally introduced in FFVII as some vague product being advertised in Midgar, though note that the ad in question was actually was just a copy of a poster by a real-world Irish band called My Bloody Valentine. Crisis Core’s insistence on turning it into a theatrical, narrative work of art from what seems to be hundreds of years before the game is set is really… really weird, especially considering the words “My Bloody Valentine” are still attached to like some kind of popcorn horror flick.
As to the play itself, you never see it yourself, but do pick up scraps of details throughout the plot. It essentially concerns three men who seem to have initially been friends but soon end up searching for and battling over the “Gift of the Goddess.” There’s also a female character, but her role in the story is unclear, which is really odd because she’s not only on the poster, but people in town are talking about how the play was recently performed in Midgar with an alternate perspective focusing on the female lead, but we still somehow know nothing about her! This is partially the fault of the game’s writers taking a poster of a woman and writing a story that had nothing to do with a woman, but even if I gave the game the benefit of the doubt, things don’t exactly improve. You see, even if we pretend that the play does have an important female lead, almost everything we learn about LOVELESS comes from a man who is only concerned about the male characters, and has dedicated his life to this fractured, sexist and incomplete understanding of the play, and I’m not even going to open my mouth about that, because I think it speaks for itself just as well as the game’s writers ignoring the female lead in the first place!
The last thing you need to know about LOVELESS is that it’s famously incomplete, perhaps echoing such other incomplete, real-world classics as Dream of the Red Chamber. Unfortunately for fans of LOVELESS, this means that the nature of the Gift of the Goddess goes unexplained within the play, forcing fans to guess at it from context clues. Remember what I was saying about the guy who worships an already fractured understanding of the play? Yeah. That.
Once we finally got around to going to the mission, Tseng informed us of just how dangerous the next story mission would be: supposedly it had been assigned to no less than Sephiroth, but the famous SOLDIER had refused the mission, which is apparently something he can get away with. While Zack didn’t know why Sephiroth had refused, this did paint a nice picture of how respected Zack had become in SOLDIER, even if it was only thanks to the advantageous disappearance of Genesis and Angeal, to be the second choice after Sephiroth.
After a helicopter trip, Zack and Tseng arrived in Banora, which turned out to be both Genesis and Angeal’s hometown, and also home of the dumbapple. Someone probably could have clarified that to us ahead of time! Unfortunately, it seems that Genesis’ defectors and clones had outright occupied the town, and we were forced into a slog right at the outset. This ended with a climb up a hill to a robot called a Guard Spider, which Zack outright slashed in half after the miniboss battle. This felt really appropriate, considering that Kyle’s run through the Five Saints sidequest had left us overpowered as all hell. I’m not sure how I would have felt about that kind of excess, otherwise.
After destroying the tank, Zack discovered that the pilot was also a Genesis Copy. Saying this out loud, Tseng asked where Zack had heard the term “copy” (from Sephiroth at the end of chapter 1, as it happens), as the word was apparently top secret and distinct from “clone.” Since Zack was now in the know, Tseng decided to tell him that Genesis had stolen technology that he was using to write his own experiences onto a SOLDIER or a monster, which suggests that many of the Genesis copies were, in fact, the SOLDIERs. that defected with Genesis. Curiously: Tseng goes out of his way to say that the machine copies Genesis’ experiences onto others, implying that it doesn’t necessarily work with anyone else’s experiences and that it was probably designed to work with Genesis to begin with. But what’s the purpose of such a machine? Zack was surprised to hear Tseng declare that SOLDIERs and monsters were “the same,” but Tseng does not elaborate.
Tseng then noted that the townspeople were gone, which briefly seemed to imply that they were used for experiments or cloning or something, but since they’re not SOLDIERs or monsters, what gives?
Heading up the hill, we found a large house, and Tseng announces that the house was Genesis’ childhood home, complete with the famous dumbapple tree owned by a “rich boy” that Angeal had mentioned in the previous mission, revealing that Angeal and Genesis were childhood friends. Tseng explained that this childhood connection was partially why Sephiroth suspected Angeal had defected to join Genesis. At the house, Tseng spotted two recent graves and said he would “check” them, giving Zack the jibbles when he realized what Tseng meant. Tseng ordered Zack to check out Angeal’s house, but didn’t say which it was, so Zack had to track it down. This involved searching every house in town, returning monsters every time you found the wrong door. Oh well aren’t you nice!
I somehow managed to find Angeal’s house on my second try. There, Zack found Angeal’s mother, a frail old woman who knew Zack as “the puppy, with zero attention span.” She’s voiced by Takayo Fischer, whom some will recognize from Pirates of the Caribbean 3 as one of the Pirate Kings, while others will recognize her as both of Azula’s twin aides from Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’d also like to point out that she had a minor recurring role in Batman Beyond, if only because Square Enix’s localization team seems to like pulling talent from there. She said Genesis came a month ago and killed a number of people, and Angeal came back very recently, dropped off his sword (apparently the sword represents his “family’s honour”) and then he simply left. Zack promised to get Angeal back, and then robbed her (5 gil! We’re the heroes!). As he left, Zack said that she should hide, but she cryptically said that Genesis “cannot” harm her.