After yet another time skip, we follow up Zack’s inspiring speech to the new SOLDIERS with news that while Hollander has been arrested, Zack has been put on standby, the company is in shambles, Zack’s being spied on by the Turks, SOLDIER is utterly disrespected, and Zack has no motivation. This is probably meant to contrast the bittersweet previous scene involving a group full of happy new SOLDIERs and Zack inspiring them with the motivation he tries to live by, but it’s so much all at once that it almost contradicts the scene instead!
Zack also happens to remark that the company is treating Genesis and Angeal as though they never existed. This is apparently so effective that by the time of Dirge of Ceberus (around nine years later), nobody remembers either of these two massive celebrities. This is for good real-world reason, since DoC was created before either of these characters. DoC went out of its way to foreshadow the events of Crisis Core with a secret “report” describing Genesis in extremely vague terms and explaining that his history had been hushed-up. Angeal wasn’t mentioned at all, and probably hadn’t even been conceived as a character at that point! Ultimately, I don’t blame Square Enix for ignoring the canon of a few throwaway sentences from DoC, a game that few people played and fewer completed to 100%, but the plot hole exists nevertheless and the writers seem to be trying to address it right here in Crisis Core, so what else can I do but to acknowledge their faulty effort?
We finally catch up with Zack at the Shinra company retreat in a town called Costa del Sol, where he’s doing squats and Cissnei is taking her turn spying on him by pretending to be on vacation at the same time. Zack has so much pent up energy and frustration that he’s about to call Lazard, only for Cissnei to tell him that Lazard’s gone missing. Apparently the company wants to keelhaul him, and not just because he ran away, but because they discovered that he was the one who funded Hollander’s original research.
Since that fell through, Zack resolves to call Aerith, only for Cissnei to tell him that Aerith, too, is under watch. She reveals what FFVII players already know: Aerith is, in fact, a living Ancient. Zack says that Aerith never brought it up, and that basically ends the discussion, since it’s not particularly relevant to Crisis Core and it just seems to have been mentioned because it naturally would be?
Just then, Tseng runs onto his scene in full suit, and points to the sea. Three armed divers jump out of the water, and despite them being covered from head to toe, Zack somehow identifies them as Genesis Copies. Being unarmed, Zack snaps up a nearby beach umbrella to use as a club! This is a reference to the gag weapons of FFVII, where the Umbrella was Aerith’s gag weapon. He then fights off the copies completely unhindered (and with no apparent help from Cissnei or Tseng, might I add).
Noting that one of the Genesis Copies is now glowing with green smoke, Zack asks about them still being “around.” Tseng remarks that Genesis might still be around too. He declares that “When the soul leaves the body, it returns to the lifestream.” Zack acts like this is common information, which I suppose it is to FFVII players, but shouldn’t be to Zack! I point this out both in reference to Zack’s role as a stand-in for potential new players like me, and in reference to the fact that this wasn’t common information in FFVII! (I will grant that Tseng would be one of the people to know about the lifestream. That at least is correct). Tseng’s goofy theory is that if Genesis’ soul is in this “lifestream,” that might mean that Genesis is controlling his clones from beyond the grave. Ah-huh. Or we could go with the simpler and considerably more realistic possibility that Genesis is still alive. Or even the apparently radical idea that clones are people too and not puppets driven by mind control, and that they could be acting on their own?
Tseng then announces that the city of Junon is under attack by the copies, and that Zack is to go there on the spot. Tseng later says that “SOLDIER’s chain of command is shaky,” and Kyle and I took that to mean that Tseng was taking over. I approve, and kudos to him for making the first move! I, for one, salute our new criminal overlords, and…
All three characters arrived in Junon (which is across the ocean from Costa del Sol, by the way!). Junon is essentially a coastal fortress made up of a series of open layers facing the ocean, along with the giant cannon was saw in Sephiroth’s simulator flashback a few chapters ago. Zack casually strolled into town… a good distance in, too!… before suddenly noticing that the place was a smoking crater full of screaming citizens and clones firing guns. I will remind you that this man has superhuman senses. After an initial spar, Tseng revealed that Hollander is currently being interrogated in Junon, so this attack must be an attempt to retrieve him. Tseng ordered that Zack protect Hollander, because the president of Shinra had ordered Hollander to be priority one.
Zack actually caught up to Hollander quicker than expected… because he had broken out of prison in the ruckus and now was on the run from both sides! Zack was held back by the rapidly degrading Genesis clones, and seemed to have caught up to Hollander in a room that I suspect was meant as a loading buffer back in FFVII, as it serves no in-universe purpose and simply serves as a doorway between two open streets. Next, we’ll watch as Hollander trips over a save point!
Hollander got away, with Zack being interrupted by a rickety old tank. After that midboss battle (which ended almost instantaneously with our overpowered stats), Tseng and a group of guards (including Cloud) secured the room, and Zack was able to move on. But circumstances once again favoured Hollander: Genesis’ army was sending robots to breach the blast doors into the loading zone I had mentioned previously. This was a minigame sequence of sorts, and Kyle and I prevented them all from reaching the doors. This was incredibly tedious and not exactly challenging, since the robots stop moving whenever you enter combat. Since it’s not like you need to do anything outside of combat that might distract you, there’s no reason that anyone should miss any robots here, honestly.
After finishing the defence mission, Kyle and I completed an important side-scene, whose only purpose was to start a meaningless but ego-inflating subplot: Zack’s fanclub. In short, it involves Zack getting into an optional fight alongside Cissnei and then having a chat. You might wonder what this has to do with Zack’s fanclub, but the game will later hint that Cissnei is the one feeding the fans harmless but intriguing information, building up their base. It’s cute. A bit annoying that it’s triggered by an optional scene in the middle of a mission like this, though! Almost all the missables to date have been in the Shinra HQ hub!
Reaching the top of the city (we were so tired of fights after the defence mission that we kept hugging the walls in hopes of avoiding enemy spawn zones), Zack is somehow ambushed by a giant robot, the Guard Scorpion. As Kyle remarked: “Can’t hear the sneaking tank.” This is the chapter’s major boss, which is a bit of a letdown after Angeal Penance, but I suppose anything would be. But to me, the new player, it was actually something of a letdown after nearly everything before it? Bosses of Crisis Core sound off! Behemoth; Ifrit; Bahamut; some random robots that, while lacking in most criteria, were at the very least redesigns of Warmech; Bahamut Fury; and Angeal Penance. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered exactly why this robot was a big deal: it’s the first boss of FFVII itself! Okay, okay, that’s more than acceptable I don’t know how it got powered down so much between games that it went from mid-game boss to tutorial boss, but hey.
Anyways, Kyle and I had just spent the entire mission vaporizing robots, so I can either assume that we had Hell Thundaga or were just really bored at this point, because either possibility would have left me taking the same amount of notes about the boss fight: none. After the battle, Hollander ran out to the coastal edge of Junon and was picked up by two flying Genesis clones. Just then, Sephiroth arrived after several months to chastised Zack for failing his mission. You think he’d be used to it by now, considering Zack is running something like a 4- or 5-mission failure record, depending on what you count. Sephiroth informed Zack that the Genesis copies were sighted around the world, and Zack insisted that they had wiped them out, which makes me ask… when, Zack? When, exactly, did you do that? Now that you’ve had a chance to think about it: is the answer “never?” That’s what I thought. Sephiroth even goes so far as to be the only one in the game world with his head screwed on tight, as he recognizes that Genesis is actually alive, and judging from earlier dialogue, Sephiroth was just about to go to Modeoheim to confirm that exact suspicion. Yes, apparently in a giant megacorporation with who knows how many human assets, only Sephiroth, months after the fact, is willing to actually look for Genesis’ body.
Sephiroth then told Zack that the copies had been sighted in Midgar, including the slums. You know: where Aerith lives. Rick Gomez’s delivery here is really off, and the animation doesn’t help either, as Zack doesn’t seem to recognize exactly what Sephiroth is saying, even after Sephiroth gives him permission to go back. Zack even goes so far as to stop and ask Sephiroth what prompted him to go to Modeoheim, as though he were bored and in no hurry at all. Sephiroth says that one of the cloning machines were stolen. Zack seems awkward for a moment that this might be the last time he sees Sepiroth, given what happened to Angeal (which is a nice emotional touch), but Sepiroth promises that he’ll survive.
At this point, we cut to Genesis, still alive and using a dumbapple as a prop as he quotes LOVELESS on the subject of the Gift of the Goddess. This closes out the chapter.
The next chapter starts with Zack running up to Aerith’s church, where Zack senses someone spying on him. He then runs inside, only to reveal that once again, a tank has snuck up on him. Zack, you’re a bunch of rocks stuffed in a human suit, I swear. Once inside the church, Zack discovered that Aeirth was not alone: a degrading Angeal copy-monster was there with her, some kind of winged dog. Just then, the tank from before broke in and the Angeal copy destroyed it, implying the copy was on their side. Zack wondered if Angeal, too, might still be alive, or possibly active in the lifestream. I grant that it would be clever of the game to have Tseng introduce the possibility of Genesis guiding clones from the lifestream only for it to be wrong for Genesis but true for Angeal, but even if that was the intent, it was still done in the worst possible way (and is never confirmed, besides).
All of a sudden, Aerith whiplashes from one mood to another before announcing that she and Zack should build the flower wagon like they originally planned. Geeze, lady. Zack and Aerith discuss the possibility that she might take the flower wagon above the plate in the future, even though it means facing the sky, though the topic is approached a bit more respectively this time around. With that established, Zack decides to go off and gather flower wagon parts, completely ignoring the fact that Aerith was nearly attacked a moment ago. I guess he’s either relying on the Angeal copy to protect her, or, more likely, Square Enix forgot that minor enemies exist yet again, moments after one was of immediate relevance, and moments before they are relevant again.
And yes, I did just say “relevant again”: Zack heads out of the church and into a group of three tanks. He then runs into Tseng, who explains that the tanks actually aren’t from Genesis. They’re automated Shinra tanks, sent out to attack any monsters they can discover. This also picks up a forgotten thread from Chapter 3, the bit about SOLDIERs being the same as monsters, as they attack Zack on sight. Zack doesn’t remark on this fact however, which is awfully strange after how loudly he complained in the past, but I guess we’re supposed to leave the big reveals to FFVII.
During the conversation, a boy (presumably the pickpocket from earlier) arrives to explain how to make a flower wagon, and also to humiliate Zack a little. My little idol. He explains that the wagon would need wood, tires, plans, and tools. As it happens, the process is a little more complicated than that. The player can actually assemble multiple flower wagons, each one better than the last, but each requires its own version of the four items listed above. Yes, that does mean that each wagon somehow has its own unique set of “tools,” whatever that implies. You also have to complete all three wagons in order, which is pretty arbitrary, but it would have spoiled things to let you just jump to the end, so I understand.
To make the basic wagon, Zack has to search through some junk and do a few rudimentary sidequests in town. This includes discussing a major location from FFVII, and also potentially encountering a discarded camera that used to belong to Tseng, where the game jokes about how hard it is for a westerner to read the name by revealing that Zack can’t connect the written “Tseng” to the spoken “Tseng” at all! I can’t imagine what the original language joke was! The same? The second flower wagon involves clearing several side-mission lines and finding all the Wutai spies I mentioned earlier. The third is earned entirely through the squats minigame. There’s no in-game reward for any of this. Like your last date with Aerith, it mostly just results in her being happy.
After completing the first cart (the only one that’s mandatory to proceed through the game), Aerith remarks that she has a number of “wishes” in life, and she writes them down at Zack’s request. As she’s doing so (rather quickly, might I say, but it turns out there’s a reason for this) Zack is called by Sephiroth with a terse order to head to headquarters. Reminder that this is when Zack can stick around and assemble two other flower carts! Once you finally do show up, Sephiroth reveals that there’s been a huge monster outbreak in a frontier town, centred on its reactor. FFVII fans will recognize this as a major event in the game’s history, but even to me as a new player, I realized this had to be a major event from FFVII’s history because it clearly has nothing to do with the plot of Crisis Core. It so clearly has nothing to do with the main plot, in fact, that Zack outright complains about it, and Sephiroth soon voices his own complaints. Still, Sephiroth can goad Zack along a little: he says that there are signs that Lazard and Hollander might be in the area, which makes them suspect that Genesis might be there as well. But Sephiroth reiterates that they’re supposed to be investigating the reactor, not the missing key figures in the Genesis insurrection, which only goes to show how forcibly this section from FFVII has been crammed into Crisis Core. Sephiroth goes so far as to say that he might soon quit Shinra if they’re going to send him on crapsack missions like this instead of tending to the things that matter to him.
I’ve already talked about how you shouldn’t make characters complain about a problem when you could much more efficiently fix the problem. That advice obviously applies here. But the bigger problem in this scene is that the important event from FFVII – one of I’d say maybe two scenes that had to be reproduced in full for this game to be a successful prologue – is being treated like an unwelcome guest in a game that should have embraced it. This is the sort of scene that arguably would have made people want to see Crisis Core in the first place, and it’s being treated like junk! This is disappointing behaviour from Square, but not particularly surprising to me due to peripherally related blog reasons that some of you can probably guess at. Still, there might be a reason the upcoming FFVII sequence is being treated like junk, even if it’s not a very good reason: in the original FFVII sequence, everyone involved acts like this is a routine mission. Maybe Square went overboard trying to make sure everyone on screen was bored, and instead made it look like everyone was angry and indignant that they were abandoning Crisis Core’s plot for FFVII’s? It’s still an awful job, in any event.
Zack waited for some subordinates to come for the mission, and Kunsel came in, saying that he had orders to inspect the reactor at “Fort Condor,” the company presumably worried that it might do the same thing as the other town’s. Kunsel remarked that Zack should go see Aerith while he still can. This reveals the true purpose of this chapter, Chapter 8: it exists purely as a “last chance” to explore the main town before you’re cut off from it forever by the major events in the next mission. This means losing your chance to build flower carts, and also time away from your real true love, the potion lady in the foyer. Once you leave for the next mission, you lose your access to her healing and auto-raise capabilities for the rest of the game.
Another thing you can do here in Chapter 8 before heading out is to help out a lost boy by reuniting him with his mother, boosting your end-game fan club numbers. No, this does not help the player except to boost their ego. Hey, what can I say? I’m a people pleaser.
As for side missions, the highlight of this batch of missions is the “Fun in the Sun!” line, where Zack is allowed to go on vacation, but no matter what he does he seems to keep ending up in battles on the beach. The company eventually gives up and refuses to let him ever have a vacation again. Another surprise (just before the “Fun in the Sun!” line) is the introduction of the Carrier map, the first new side-mission map in ages… and if I’m not mistaken, the last. This game is so boring and repetitive, and yet we just kept playing it in its full, shallow depth!
That ended my second set of notes and presumably another play session, but once we got back for another session, it was time to take the ominous step over the point of no return.