Zack woke up in the next chapter, thinking he was hearing the voice of his mother. This one line does, in fact, seem to be voiced by a unique character for a single line of dialogue, but I’m afraid I can’t find a credit for the actress! The whole scene starts becoming really Freudian when Zack wakes up and meets Aerith Gainsborough, one of the future party members of FFVII, and immediately gets a crush on her. Aerith is just a year younger than Zack, though it’s hard to say exactly how old, considering Crisis Core spans a fair chunk of time and it’s never clear exactly how much of it has passed at any given moment (although a look at the timeline suggests that Zack and Aerith are both 16 and 15, respectively. Yeah, sure). While I can’t place the voice of “Zack’s mother,” Aerith is voiced by Andrea Bowen, my favourite actor in the role. Bowen would go on to cameo in the role in Dissida 012 and actually appears in an unrelated bit part in Advent Children. Besides voice acting, Bowen is also known for live acting and music, and since I’m so used to doing Aerith’s voice actor credits for Kingdom Hearts, I’d feel left out if I didn’t point out that she voiced Faline in Bambi II.
Aerith explains that Zack fell through the roof, which is plainly impossible. Remember when I said that Zack was referencing a fall taken in FFVII? Well that also takes place at the Sector 5 reactor and that also lands through this particular roof, despite them falling from different locations, Zack from inside the reactor and the character from VII from outside. What am I going to do with you, Crisis Core? Zack discovers that he’s inside of a derelict old church, and that his fall was somehow impossibly broken by a bed of flowers, same as in FFVII. Aerith says that the flowers only grow here in Midgar, and you know its true because Zack steps on them, being genuinely unfamiliar with the care and keeping of flowers, which is a nice detail.
Zack suggests to Aerith that maybe she should sell the flowers, both to beautify the city and to make some money, an idea that she seems to like. No, don’t call back to your partner or employers about your situation or anything Zack, just keep flirting why don’t you? Aerith is added to the DMW at this point, leaving only one silhouette unfilled. Aerith’s Limit Break is Healing Wave, her starter Limit Break from FFVII. Healing Wave can shoot your resource stats – HP, MP and TP – well beyond their natural limits. A few lucky spins of Healing Wave (say, when Aerith has boosted odds of appearing, like right now) can leave you with such high and frequently refilled HP, MP and TP that it’s easy to forget that those are resources you can, uh, exhaust. What I think I’m trying to say is that there are times in this game where I basically forgot I was supposed to heal. Accidents happened.
Just because Zack didn’t want to return to business doesn’t mean that we didn’t. Oh, not the big attack on Midgar thing, of course. The moment we got our feet on a save point, we returned to our side-missions. This is especially funny as you’re later going to discover that Zack is trapped in his current story location, and shouldn’t rightly be able to fly cross-continent to fight bird monsters in canyons. I appreciate the gameplay freedom on principle, but this is honestly a little silly. In any event, we began to pick up some accessory expanding equipment from the sidequests, and completed Yuffie’s first batch of missions, after which she introduced herself properly and repeated that she would one day rob Zack blind, while he… criticized her thieving technique. Their dynamic is so great and awful. Yuffie seemed to learn from that, however, as she sent him an email next pretending to be not a treasure hunter but a loyalist tipster trying to preserve Shinra’s interests. Zack continued to send it to spam.
This is the point where my original notes file for Crisis Core comes to a stop, and I remember that Kyle and I took a fairly lengthy break from the game at this point, though I don’t entirely remember why. Maybe we were focused on Persona 1 for a while before taking Crisis Core out for grinding, or maybe this was the day we took off from the usual Marathons to play Heroes of Might and Magic VI or Birth by Sleep. Unfortunately, once we got back to Crisis Core, I was taking inadequate notes again, which just means more trouble for me. One of these days, I tell you. One of these days…
Aerith leads Zack out of the church, explaining that he was in the Sector 5 slums, a town built underneath the “plate” of Midgar. It turns out that Midgar is actually on a raised plate above the ground (which one of FFVII’s cast will famously refer to as a “pizza”), and people have taken to living below it. There are great visuals of the plate above during this sequence. Unfortunately, the slums were also infested with monsters who would occasionally show up while we were walking around. Wow, I know we’re playing this game out of order, but I think this is the first time that Final Fantasy has had wandering monsters in an inhabited area not because they’re guards, but because the place is just a colossal shithole! (With the arguable exception of Saronia in FFIII.) You’d expect that this chapter would be the start of Zack’s realization that Shinra isn’t a very nice company, but funnily enough, it’s not: Zack experience of the life of the poor first hand, in the cliché holier-than -thou redeemer story, and doesn’t change his tune one note! At least he’s polite enough not to make an ass of himself about it.
Arriving in the main body of town, Aerith explains that Zack can get above the plate here. They end up discussing the sky and how you can’t really see it from down here, and Aerith remarks that she doesn’t want to: she’s afraid of it (this probably isn’t agoraphobia in the traditional fashion, but rather a reference to the central plot of FFVII). Showing a complete disregard for human decency, Zack immediately threatens to expose her to the sky even though she’s terrified of it! Oh, sorry, I meant “cutely offers to help her overcome her fear with a romantic date.” Right. Funny how either I or the game designers got that mixed up.
Heading through the slums, Zack gets sidetracked when suddenly a boy picks his pocket. Aerith realizes what happened, and insists: “He would never normally do something like this!” Which is why I suspected him of doing it immediately! This whole pickpocketing incident is a little ridiculous, considering Kyle and I had done so many side-missions and had bought so little that Zack’s wallet must have weighed more than the slums.
Mildly annoyed by our temporary loss of money, Kyle and I tromped off to do more side-missions. Mostly, we followed the second line of Yuffie missions, which resulted in this classic exchange:
Kyle: [sings along with victory tune] Hero!
Me: You made a little girl cry.
Kyle: I made Yuffie cry, I don’t care about that.
This was followed by Yuffie sending us an anonymous message saying: “I’m not the sender of the last anonymous message.” Art.
Returning to the main plot resulted in a whole lot of running around, with Aerith and Zack splitting up to find the pickpocket, and Zack not having a lot of luck, what with him being a uniformed agent of the oppressor. This led to him being repeatedly conned and let down by the people of the slums, though he and Aerith eventually cornered the boy in the end. The boy confessed that his own wallet had been “eaten by a monster,” but he needed the money to buy medicine for someone in his family. We offered to kill the monster to get it back, and ran off to gut some worms in a single battle, Zack remarking that the kid has even more money than him. The kid reiterated the same, saying that Zack was outright poor. Hahaha. Ha ha. Ha. This makes no numerical sense.
The conversation with the boy brings back the subject of Aerith selling flowers, and Zack comes up with the idea of them building a flower cart together for her to sell them from. After this, we were able to go around town doing various mini-games, none of them really of any particular note. Counting kids, running around grabbing materia… we eventually got bored enough to check what all this was for, and it turned out it just affects some of Aerith’s dialogue to Zack depending on how much she likes him. I don’t remember which results we got. Normally in situations like this, we aim for the best possible results, but I just straight-up don’t remember, so can’t rightly claim one way or another.
Zack and Aerith went for a quick date in a playground just outside the main slums, where Aerith learned that Zack was a SOLDIER. Apparently the uniform and giant sword weren’t enough. She wasn’t comfortable with his line of work but apologized for saying so. Zack, showing similar regard for Aerith’s fears as before, decided to basically force his SOLDIER nature on her by emphasizing his radiation-infused bright blue eyes. This is supposed to be cute but it’s honestly kind of creepy, can you two tone it down a little? Zack asks Aerith about her day, but the conversation doesn’t go far before he gets a call from Sephiroth, saying that Genesis has renewed his attack on the building. Oh, right, the whole “open invasion” thing. Sorry, Sephiroth, but I was with a really cute girl. You understand, right?
The next story mission began with Zack above the plate, but apparently unable to catch a cab, as he was running on foot down the highway. As he went, the game threw enemies at him one type at a time, Zack even commenting on this with words like “Next up, it’s mechs.” It’s like the game was trying to introduce all of them to us in a fashion runway! After a fight with a demonic Genesis Copy called a G Warrior, Zack was surprisingly reunited with Angeal, and the two of them tried to have a talk. Angeal admitted that he wasn’t really sure of his own motives, and he said that he was simply trying to stick to his principle of honour. Despite this less-than-stirring speech, Angeal tried to recruit Zack to his aimless cause, and to my surprise Zack actually agreed, but it turns out this wasn’t the big defection we might have been expecting.
Angeal flew Zack up to the Shinra building to reunite with Sephiroth, and Angeal revealed that he suspects Hollander of being the real brains of the Genesis organization right now, since Hollander controls Genesis’ medical treatment and all. Angeal suspects that Genesis was sent to the Shinra building to attack Professor Hojo of all people, who was the source of Hollander’s ire. The three of them split up: Angeal to fight off the invaders outside, Sephiroth to deal with those in the building below, and Zack at the centre of it all, with orders to find and protect Hojo.
Naturally, we took this opportunity to go do side missions. The centrepiece of this diversion was a mission to rescue (murder??) a Shinra executive’s pet Cactaur and Tonberry. Boy you’ve got to wonder what kind of goofy missions Sephiroth gets for his work time. These missions activated the Cactaur and Tonberry on the DMW, where they appear in “Chocobo Mode” alongside a number of other animal-like characters.
Once we finally caught up with Hojo (in a key room from FFVII), we found him laughing off Genesis’ attack. When we asked why, he blamed Genesis’ degradation, and suggested that Genesis might not be an “Ancient” hybrid at all, but mixed with something else: “Jenova, the calamity that fell from the sky.” Zack had no idea what he was talking about.
Apparently we missed a few neat sidequests available in this room, including a “protoype materia” simulation and a time trial to kill some monsters for some items. Not realizing this stuff was here, we advanced the plot in ignorance. Genesis broke into the lab while Zack was staring in the opposite direction, posturing. Hojo suggested that Hollander didn’t really have the power to stop Genesis’ degradation, and Angeal also arrived on scene. Genesis started quoting a scene LOVELESS to Angeal, a scene about a duel, and this is where we learned that LOVELESS is incomplete. Genesis started talking about the play and, in the middle of his explanation, destroyed one of Hojo’s samples and bailed without really putting Hojo in danger. And no, the sample he destroyed wasn’t relevant in the slightest, so that wasn’t what’s going on, either! Genesis then Summoned the another Bahamut, this one exclusive to Crisis Core: Bahamut Fury. With Zack distracted by Bahamut Fury, Angeal duelled Genesis in the sky. There was a brief sequence before the boss battle where Zack nonchalantly and politely turned down a phone call from Aerith, and then the fight was on… and swiftly over. Again: our being overpowered rendered the main story almost harmless. Unfortunately, Genesis and Angeal had vanished, and we experienced another time skip, learning that they hadn’t been seen since.