After the usual post-chapter time skip, we learned that Sephiroth locked himself away in the data room, looking up Hollander’s data. After this brief introduction, Zack was called by Aerith to come work on the flower wagon.
Of course, Kyle and I continued to be min-maxing little shits. We went looking for missing side-missions, to make sure we weren’t locked out of any by proceeding too far through the story (Kyle was insistent that, even though the Summon DMW was almost useless, we should nevertheless recruit every Summon as part of our Marathon objective to “recruit every character,” so for all we knew, being locked out of side-missions might have prevented us from doing that). We were now in Chapter 6, which is where the last of the missable side-missions is unlocked: namely, you get an order to track down Wutai spies in the Shinra company, and each one of them returns a side-mission once caught.
There were a lot more discussions and minigames we could do at this point. One involved some people in Shinra HQ arguing over the “Hottest woman in Midgar,” to which Zack could have given the amazing response: “Are you blind? Me!” Kyle chose Cissnei, for the record. You know, over Aerith. In what I choose to characterize as an attempt at apology, Kyle then started doing squat-offs against various members of SOLDIER in a mini-game to win flower cart parts. Yeah, uh, more on that later. This section also included the priceless description: “You obtain quadriceps of steel!”
One of us wanted to make note of our loadout at this point in the game, in hopes that we might make it a habit, though it didn’t and this is the only such loadout I can give you short of booting the game up again to see our endgame setup. Still, here’s what we were packing. In terms of materia, we had Hell Thundaga, Osmose, Graviga, Libra, Firaga and Curaga, which is frankly not all that distinct from our endgame setup! In terms of equipment: Diamond Gloves, Gold Armlet, Crystal Gloves, and a Dragon Armlet.
We continued our run through the delightful Yuffie missions, where she finally confessed to sending the “last two” messages while denying the others. Yuffie, you’re fantastic, you lying little brat. The mission line capped off with the surprise return of Bahamut Fury of all things. We weren’t able to beat Bahamut Fury (and claim his Summon materia) until nearly the end of the game. Honestly, Kyle’s end-game winning run against this incarnation of Bahamut Fury showed it to be harder than the game’s actual final boss, which just goes to show how disjointed the difficulty is in Crisis Core between the story and the bonus missions. Another side mission in this thread included the last of the Wutai commanders, who Zack left alive so he could feel like a good guy after killing thousands of others. Oh, Square Enix, if you ever admit your heroes commit mass slaughter, I will drop dead from shock.
We really did spend most of the day on side missions. If you read the Persona 1 Journal, this was the other side of the coin of the play session where the “most important thing” that we did that day was to watch a major bad guy die in Final Fantasy Unlimited, the TV show.
The next time Kyle and I got together to play, it was on to the next mission. Wait!, you say, wasn’t Zack meeting up with Aerith? As it happened, when Zack arrived at the church he found Tseng waiting for him, saying that Zack was needed in “Modeoheim” and that Aerith at the church to begin with (Modeoheim curiously doesn’t exist in the original FFVII, but it was probably created because the only town FFVII has up north is an “Inn”). We never do get an explanation for Aerith backing out of the date, but Tseng implies it has something to do with the reason he already knows her – although that too was left a mystery at the time. The game tries to suggest Angeal had something to do with Aeriths’ disappearance by presenting you with a white feather, but the truth behind that feather isn’t so direct as the game may have accidentally implied.
My notes have a large gap here, which suggests that I was the one playing for most of the mission. Tseng picks Zack up in a helicopter and we cut to black, only to wake up and find that the helicopter outright crashed in the snowy northern wastes. Well there’s an unusual narrative technique for Final Fantasy! It’s not explained exactly how or why the helicopter crashed, which is curious given that it could be anything from mechanical error to them being spotted, shot down and the enemy being on high alert! It’s relevant, is what I’m trying to say.
After a moment, we find Tseng and two Shinra guardsmen, and Zack seems to imply that everyone is alive, and that they’re not all that far from their destination. Tseng teases Zack that he should be used to the weather because he’s a country boy, and in the conversation that follows, Zack discovers that one of the guardsmen is a country boy, too. They compare notes and we learn that the guardsman is from the town of Nibelheim and that Zack is from the town of Gongaga. The guardsman makes fun of the name “Gongaga,” which is understandable (I mean… “Gongaga”) but still a little strange, considering that the two towns are actually fairly close together in FFVII and you might suspect they were familiar with one another. Though I suppose they are divided by some arid land…
In any event, Zack remarks that there’s a mako reactor in Nibelheim, which both he and the guardsman say is a sign that there must be “nothing else out there.” They laugh, and the guardsman introduces himself, taking off his helmet to reveal the familiar, spikey-haired head of Cloud Strife, central protagonist of FFVII, who actually does look young here where Zack and Aerith failed, even if he still doesn’t look fifteen like he’s supposed to. Cloud is added to the DMW at this point (completing the main DMW!), where Zack gets a variant of one of Cloud’s limit breaks as an DMW limit break of his own. Cloud, of course, is voiced by Steve Burton, soap opera star, who has had the role since Kingdom Hearts 1.
After another room full of snow and monsters, Cloud takes the opportunity to ask Zack what life is like in SOLDIER, since it seems he aspires to be one, himself. Zack encourages him, but they’re interrupted when they realize they’ve arrived at the target zone: a mako excavation “test site,” whatever that means. Zack goes to check the place out, and unfortunately, Tseng announces that this will be a stealth mission. Ugh, geeze, are you serious, Tseng? This game’s camera is awful for stealth! While the stealth sequence itself is complicated enough, it’s made all the worse by dangling chests in front of you while you skulk around. It’s a Marathon guideline that we pass the controller off to the other person whenever we lose, and while succeeding in the stealth mission is optional, I must have passed off to Kyle and refused to take it back in frustration, because this is where my notes temporarily return. I remember Kyle being stuck here for a very, very long time trying to get 100%.
Once inside the facility, stealth was apparently no longer a concern as you openly battle Genesis clones in this area. After a little futzing around with switches, we discovered that Genesis had turned on Hollander, having apparently decided that Hojo was right about Hollander being unable to stop the degradation. Indeed, Genesis was now strangely whitened, with effectively done white-red hair but somewhat less effective “dusting” effect applied to his… clothes? As though someone had dumped flour on him. Whichever artist was in charge of this scene decided that Genesis’ degradation meant that his clothes were also degrading? The best I can guess is that these are supposed to be loose skin cells sticking to his coat, but I dunno…
Genesis muttered something about “the Jenova cells,” but Zack rushed in to stop him from threatening Hollander before it was too late. In a lucky break, Cloud appeared moments later and restrained Hollander, making it look like, for the first time in the entire game, Zack might actually accomplish one of the objectives he came out to accomplish! Hah! What a lovely dream. Hollander knocked out Cloud, but Zack caught him, if only in an effort to stay between him and Genesis. Hollander protested that no one knows where the Jenova cells are being “stored,” which sounded dubious if they’re used in the production of SOLDIERS like Kunsel insisted earlier on, doesn’t it? I’m afraid that both sides of the story are true, in another plot hole that, granted, was loosely created by the original FFVII, but was absolutely exasperated by Crisis Core.
Genesis decides that if he’s going to die, he’ll kill everyone in the process. Ah, I see the writers have given in and embraced the exact stock villain plot Angeal was mocking earlier, that’s nice. Now, I should probably point out that up until this point in the game, Genesis has been largely ignoring or mocking Zack, but Zack refuses to give him the luxury any longer, and you finally battle the game’s antagonist. Unfortunately, as with every other battle in the entire game, we were still overpowered and the idea that Genesis was the game’s central antagonist became kind of laughable. I won’t deny that this is our fault for doing all those side missions, so I won’t hold that against the game, but I will laugh at it.
After the battle, Genesis discovers that he’s too weak to fly away, and Zack once again chastises Genesis about losing his honour. Rather than respond, Genesis begins to inch backwards in a sequence almost as pathetic as the legendary Golbez’s arm scene in FFIV. Zack just sits back and watches as Genesis takes an “apparent” suicide dive. I say “apparent” because, believe it or not, the narrative actually acts like Genesis is truly dead at this point. Ah yes. The flying man. Died from a fall. That you let him take entirely under his control. In the middle of his plot. In a video game. After which he gets added to the DMW. The very suggestion that Genesis was dead was so incredulous that I think I had to set down the PSP to hold my head a little while Kyle said: “Yup. …Yup.”
And yes, Genesis is added to the DMW, even though there are no silhouettes left for him to fill. As it happens, the spinners will occasionally change into “Genesis Mode,” leading to a powerful group attack, after which Genesis will appear on the spinners for the rest of the encounter. Despite the ominous way the game treats this mode, it doesn’t seem to have any negative effects and is almost welcome in comparison to, say, Tseng’s outdated group attack.
After Genesis was cough cough hack hack “defeated,” Zack emerges from the structure and discovers that Tseng blew his way through a tunnel in a nearby wall. It’s only here that the game finally makes it clear that the building you’ve been in all along isn’t actually Modeoheim, and that you’re only now going to proceed to Modeoheim.
Once Zack had arrived in town, he explored a broken down old bathhouse, where he found a number of mechanical parts used in an upcoming puzzle. While there, Zack encountered another Angeal monster, an A-Griffon. This isn’t particularly surprising, since the game is pretending Genesis is “dead” and we’re otherwise out of people to talk to or battle. Proceeding down the hall, Zack found Cloud and Tseng wounded, with no sign of Hollander or, for that matter, the other Shinra guard, who has apparently slipped into the ether. Tseng warned Zack that Angeal was waiting for him, but ordered him to go anyways, since Zack still had to stop Hollander. Zack, still an optimistic puppy, apparently doesn’t read this warning as a warning, since he’ll act perfectly friendly to Angeal in just a moment. But hold that thought.
Before we could move on, it was time to solve an optional puzzle to get past a vent of steam. This involved inserting a wheel into a socket, which the game did with Zack’s bare hand because it didn’t want to replace the animation. That’s right Zack. Just stick your hand right in there.
Zack headed to the upper levels of the bath house, where he discovered Angeal. Angeal apparently already knows about Genesis, and suddenly turns on Zack, even going so far as to use the Buster Sword. When Zack tries to avoid fighting a second time, Angeal reveals that he knows about Aerith (thus his feather appearing at the church earlier) and that she’s “waiting” for Zack, so Zack can’t go dying on her. Zack draws his sword, and the two are locked in combat when Hollander arrives and starts talking to Angeal about “our family’s suffering.” I should probably note that Hollander spends this entire game dressed in labcoat and what looks like some random shirt from home, so he looks more like a slob than a serious threat, even now.
Angeal insists that his father is dead, so Hollander turns the subject to Angeal’s mother, which is where Angeal reveals that he didn’t kill his mother: she killed herself because of her “shame.” Hollander says that she should have been proud, and reveals that “Project G” wasn’t actually named after Genesis (or vice versa), but was actually named “Project Gillian” after Angeal’s mother. She had been implanted with “Jenova’s cells” and her cells had, in turn, been injected into Genesis while he was still a zygote or fetus (it’s not clear why they had to go through this roundabout method, at least not until you consider the fact that they were trying to avoid stepping on FFVII’s much more straightforward toes for reasons that will be clear later on). Meanwhile, Hollander revealed that Angeal had been born to Gillian naturally, after the injection, which explains why he too was able to create copies despite Tseng implying that only Genesis could use the copy technology. Since Angeal did not degrade, Hollander suggested that he was “perfect” (though we later learn that the copies themselves degrade). Hollander also remarks that Angeal’s ability to produce copies is a “two-way conduit,” which is going to be relevant in a moment. And incredibly arbitrary.
By the way, the reason Genesis “could not” kill Gillian was because he was hoping to convince her to research a cure for his degradation. This was a detail that, again, was only revealed in a Japanese-only guide.
Angeal implies that he has to be destroyed, and summons a number of his copy monsters to show Zack. The copies rush past Zack and merge with Angeal, creating a massive, combined monster: Angeal Penance, which if you ask me is designed to resemble FFVII’s incarnation of Ultima Weapon. Zack still initially refuses to fight, so Angeal Penance stabs out with its trident and scars Zack’s cheek, forcing Zack to engage him.
This fight did last a bit longer than the fight against Genesis, but not so much. At the end of the battle, Angeal’s wing has been cut off, and he returns to human form only to appear degraded (yes, including his clothes). Zack’s scar is noticeably missing in this shot, but that’s just a minor oversight. Angeal then offered Zack his Buster Sword, which Zack took while fighting tears. After one last lecture about honour, Angeal died. Oh, and then rain begins to fall from a visibly clear sky. We fade to black and find Zack in Aerith’s church, where she comforts him.
After this, we get a cutscene where Zack takes on a permanent costume change, including his new scar and a new hairstyle that I honestly didn’t notice in my first viewing. He is now wielding the Buster Sword, and he goes out of his way to greet both Cloud and, later, a new wave of SOLDIER recruits (not including Cloud). He gives the SOLDIER recruits a speech about embracing their dreams and protecting their honour. On top of this, he adds his own element to Angeal’s speech, which is: “We’re all coming back here alive, you hear me?” Ah yes, keep the oppression strong and well-staffed, Zack. That’s a good kid.
All-in-all, a wonderfully effective set of scenes. And while I know I’ve told this joke before, I unfortunately find that each time I use it, I come to mean it, more and more? And that joke is: “this means it’s all downhill from here.” And it really, really is. As of this point, most of Zack’s unique story elements are done. Zack’s starting arc is fulfilled and it’s time for him to start a new arc that leads him to the beginning of FFVII, and it’s an arc full of strange decisions in both gameplay, story, and rotten, leftover elements of FFVII that cause the game to plummet further and further from chapter to chapter.
This will be a delight.