Our next session started with Zack and Kunsel being separated for what would prove to be the last time, only to reunite with Cloud at his briefing for the mission! Buddies! Soon, Cloud had rounded up a total of three guardsmen (including himself) to go with Zack and Sepiroth on the mission, which Sepiroth finally revealed was to the village of Nibelheim, for any FFVII fans who hadn’t already worked that out. That started Chapter 9, and Crisis Core’s recreation of the famous flashback from FFVII. And that means it’s time for us to see just how many of the flashback’s elements no longer make any damned sense when put into their “proper” context.
The Nibelheim sequence begins by skipping a battle that was in FFVII, probably because Crisis Core has no teammate mechanics and FFVII showed that Sephiroth fought in this battle as well. Entering town (with one of the three grunts, the driver, vanishing from the plot of both games), Sephiroth speaks with Cloud, asking him how it feels to be back in his hometown. He explains that he doesn’t have a hometown, and leaks some of his backstory, saying that his mother’s name is “Jenova.” You know, the name of the crazy, mutated cells that create SOLDIERS that everyone apparently knows about? Yeah, apparently Sephiroth never questioned this detail despite living in this universe where that’s public knowledge. And we’re just getting started. Zack, at least, thinks this is curious, so at least someone’s brains are on.
While the guards stayed by the gate, we spoke to some of the townspeople, learning from one of the boys that this town has “Seven Wonders,” in a reference to Kingdom Hearts 2 (one of only a very small handful of references Final Fantasy has made to KH instead of the other way around!). In KH2, all the “Seven Wonders” turned out to be nonsense, so I wonder how they’ll appear here? Collecting the Seven Wonders served as a very strict sidequest, which had to be accomplished at very specific times. This game can be a little too anal for its own good, honestly. I prefer a game that’s so polished it has no missable items, but Crisis Core seems to be doing this on purpose!
In spite of its strict timetable, the Seven Wonders quest was still a lot of fun. The first Wonder was that the town’s water was coming out red, which you’d think someone else might have investigated by now. It turned out that this was the fault of a Summon Materia (which are red), namely the one for Phoenix, which can be completely missed if you don’t follow this sidequests. The second Wonder was an honestly kind of spooky painting that seemed to change in the inn, which turned out to be some guy’s incredibly over-elaborate way of stashing gil in the wall. The third challenge, however, would have to wait (in fact, I’ve already jumped ahead a bit by going into the inn), so it’s best if I temporarily return to the plot.
At the door to the inn, Zack and Sephiroth were confronted by a local: Tifa Lockhart, another future FFVII party member who also doesn’t look as young as she’s supposed to be, but like Cloud you can see that they were trying. Tifa did not encounter them at this point in the FFVII flashback but perhaps that can be excused, since she sort of shows up from nowhere in FFVII. As in the flashback from FFVII, Tifa appears wearing a cowboy hat that looks just as out of place now as it did in 1997. You keep on being you, Tifa. Tifa is about to leave when she turns back, seems about to ask something, and then disappears. This will go essentially unexplained in Crisis Core but fits the tone of FFVII fine, despite being a new addition.
To counter that fine addition, I’ll mention that Crisis Core is missing a moderately important figure from the flashback: Tifa’s martial arts master, Zangan, who is absent from this and all later scenes! Kyle suspects that they just didn’t want to render the fabric physics on his “stupid cape” Kyle adds: “It’s a really stupid cape.”
Sephiroth says that they’ll only be heading out at dawn (oh yeah, this is definitely an urgent mission) and Sephiroth gives Cloud permission to visit friends and family. Curiously, Cloud has kept his helmet on and keeps whispering, and when Zack calls attention to it, Cloud refuses to explain. He also seemingly refuses to visit friends and family. A few minutes later, Cloud sends Zack an email about how inspiring Zack is, but he still refuses to explain his behaviour. It’s hard to see what would have him all in a twist that he’d rather send this email – which he admits he’s embarrassed about – than remove his mask, but that too is something that FFVII would have to answer.
We found Sephiroth upstairs, saying that the landscape looked strangely familiar to him, and then we essentially left him there, brooding, while we ran off and did like a solid two hours of sidequests and Wonder-hunting. The next Wonder involved us tracking down a group of Touchy Bombs (another weird thing about these Wonders is how far they ask you to go afield!), which had to be defeated without allowing them to self-destruct.
The next and most obnoxious Wonder involved the exploration of the mansion up on the hill: the ancestral home of the Shinra family. Inside was a safe we had to unlock by painstakingly investigating the mansion for clues, including peering through keyholes for a randomized number of hidden props. Certainly not a bad set of puzzles, but much harder than it sounds due to a number of factors, like small items to count, ghost-like monsters to count that fade in and out, and books to count that aren’t even fully visible and don’t all count but with an incomplete explanation of which ones do, just to be spiteful. By the time we had solved the puzzle, we didn’t even care, because the reward was a boring old materia!
You see, while we’re not sure why, the game had long ago stopped levelling up our materia (remember: materia level-ups are fully random), and it was hard to get excited about the stuff any more, knowing they would be left at level 1 forever. I’ll admit, I’m probably unintentionally misrepresenting the situation in some manner, but the key point here is that even if I am misinterpreting the situation, I don’t know how I’m doing it, because this game explains so little and relies on luck so much! Maybe we just had the worst luck in the world, but the idea of levelling up our materia seemed pointless now, and we had hardly ever even used the fusion feature. Our materia set was mostly locked for the last few chapters of the game, and I honestly do blame the devs for these consequences, since they put in the randomized materia levels ups in the first place!
That’s as far as you can get with the Wonders for today, so come the morning, the entire group gathered outside the Shinra Manor, where they met up with Tifa, whom Sephiroth had hired as their guide. A photographer was also there, and he wanted to take a shot of the mission, which you can see attached to the paragraph below. Tifa then led us up the mountain, the photographer taking pictures as went went. This was mostly to avoid forcing FFVII players to replay this section of the game, and also to cut out an extended section of FFVII gameplay wherein… well, I guess you’ll just have to wait for the FFVII Journal to see, but it honestly was kind of pointless and it hardly hurt Crisis Core to pretend it never happened. Be excited!
The party arrives at the Nibelheim reactor, short one guardsman (lacking an explanation from Crisis Core, I’m forced to rely on the original FFVII for an explanation, which shows us that he was actually killed en route. Nice respect for the dead, Crisis Core!). Tifa tries to get inside the reactor, but Sephiroth insists that it’s a top secret location and that she can’t be allowed in. Ah yes! A top secret location, with its door unlocked! Sephiroth orders the remaining masked guardsman (Cloud) to watch Tifa and make sure she doesn’t get in. He does this soundlessly, still trying to hide his identity.
Inside the reactor, Zack and Sephiroth discover rows of strange pods, and Zack discovered that the locked door on the back was marked “JENOVA.” He reflected calmly on the door (a rephrasing of the FFVII dialogue) before suddenly coming to life with a new Crisis Core addition where he startles and says: “Jenova??” My notes at this point quote one of the two of us (me or Kyle) shouting: “You dumb rock!” The game makes another change here in that Sephiroth doesn’t check the JENOVA door as he does in the FFVII flashback, because again, it would just make him look stupid not to make the connection. Just as stupid as it… honestly kind of did in the FFVII flashback, to be honest!
Sephiroth, meanwhile, is examining the pod. He says the malfunction comes from here, and has you seal a valve to solve the problem. Well, mission complete then! Let’s all go home and not incontrovertibly trigger the events of a mainline Final Fantasy game.
Sephiroth took to looking in another pod, and Zack’s curiosity overcame him and he took a look himself, discovering a monstrous, humanoid, crystalline being. Zack asked what it was, and Sephiroth explained that members of SOLDIER are, as Zack presumably knows, infused by mako. In contrast to Chapter 3 (though in line with the flashback), Sephiroth says that average SOLDIERs are enhanced but “still human.” He says that the things in the tube are also mako-enhanced, but now they’re something else, and he defines all monsters as creatures created by mako experimentation, and pins the blame for these creatures on Professor Hojo.
Zack has picked up on a peculiarity of Sephiroth’s phrasing, realizing that Sephiroth excluded himself from the definition of “average SOLDIER.” Suddenly, Sephiroth starts laughing and then starts holding his head and knocks Zack away. Sephiroth announces his fear that he was created the same way as these monsters. This emotional switch-over is very abrupt, and I’m not the only one to say so. It’s been said that Sephiroth’s transformation from SOLDIER hero to supervillain was abrupt in the original game, but the people I’ve seen discussing this scene all saw the abrupt transition as a necessity of the relatively short flashback in which it occurred. But now that they and we have seen Sephiroth as a pleasant human being for an extended period of time during Crisis Core, his quantum leap to evil seems even more arbitrary. Frankly, as someone coming into this for the first time, this whole chapter of Crisis Core feels like it’s ignoring Crisis Core to establish FFVII, which is just another way of saying that Crisis Core wasn’t written as a satisfactory prequel to FFVII in the first place, even if this one scene was trying. If nothing else, Crisis Core should have fixed the problems with FFVII, and certainly not highlighted them.
Sephiroth quotes a few more lines from the original FFVII flashback, saying he always thought of himself as special (this is something else that Crisis Core contradicted, by making Sephiroth appear humble for most of the game’s length and to not seem to mind that much when his friends complained that he was the “only hero”). Keeping to the FFVII script, one of the containers in another part of the room falls open and the crystalline monster inside dies on the spot… except Crisis Core does not provide an explanation for this happening (there was a power surge in FFVII) and doesn’t even bother animating the creature falling out and dying, so it just looks strange. Corner cutting, corner cutting, oh don’t worry! It’s only one of the scenes that this entire prologue story was based on!
At this point in the flashback, FFVII does a time skip, so Crisis Core takes this opportunity to start making big changes, namely by inserting Genesis to the scene. Genesis hilariously hits Zack off-screen with a fire spell, and Zack comes tumbling into frame while Kyle and I kill ourselves laughing. Zack (still off-screen) remarks that Genesis is still alive, and Genesis reaches up to his hair and says “If you can call this living.” I’m dusty, Zack, with frosted tips, it’s just unworkable.
Genesis tells Sephiroth that he was created by the “Jenova Project,” the umbrella project that included Project G. He explains that Sephiroth was the third child born from the project, and we learn from other sources that Sephiroth was the only one injected with Jenova’s cells as a fetus rather than the roundabout ways Genesis and Angeal were mutated. And who was Jenova? Genesis explains that she was a 2000 year old monster, found in a rock layer. A bit of a simplification from the FFVII facts, but it’ll suffice for Crisis Core’s purposes.
Genesis explains that Sephiroth is the only Jenova Project child who can’t create copies, but that also means that he’s the only one that’s stable. Genesis asks Sephiroth to share his cells to help stop the degradation process. By the way, I haven’t commented on it, but I hope it’s clear that the FFVII games are using some incredibly pathetic bunk science that thinks that injecting cells into someone causes them to mutate and take on the traits of those cells, right? Like that time Stan Lee was writing for DC Comics, and he somewhat-satirically reinvented The Flash as a young woman who had a vial full of green hummingbird blood pumped into her arm, as a salute to goofy Silver Age science? Yeah, like that. Except dead serious.
Genesis starts quoting LOVELESS again, and I really wish Oliver Quinn would put on a more Shakespearean voice when he’s doing this, because if I watch his face instead of the captions (which italicize quotes from LOVELESS), I have no idea when he’s quoting nonsense from LOVELESS and when he’s just saying nonsense about cell injection. Sephiroth, however, is looking towards the JENOVA sign on the wall, and sees some sort of vision. He rejects Genesis’ offer, and tells him that Genesis will rot, choosing to leave Genesis to degrade rather than to kill him on the spot.
Zack finally gets up and charges out, only to find Cloud getting creamed by a G Deleter clone just outside the front door. Zack runs in before the clones can kill Cloud or Tifa, and he proceeds to escort Tifa (who is carrying Cloud on her shoulder) back to town, and they make it there with no sign of Sephiroth. Zack takes Cloud to the inn, which apparently is just as good at healing injuries in a cutscene as it is in regular gameplay, because Cloud’s back on his feet in no time flat. Cloud laments that he’s not a SOLDIER or he could have stood up to the clones, but Zack cautions him against going to SOLDIER this time, having apparently become disillusioned by the events in the reactor. Cloud realizes that something is wrong with his friend, but Zack isn’t able to put concerns thoughts into words. Instead, he asks Cloud about Tifa, but Cloud isn’t willing to talk about that, either.
After going a quick rant, Zack has to calm down by repeating Angeal’s prayer gesture with the Buster Sword. This brings Zack down to earth, and seems to renew his sense of purpose, utterly annihilating any rebellious thoughts he might have had about Shinra. Great… great job Angeal. Great work on this kid.
The next morning, Zack goes out into town to see if there was any word about Sephiroth, which is where we rejoin the flashback from FFVII. He wakes to find emails from Cloud and Tifa, Cloud inviting Zack to dinner at his mom’s place and Tifa wanting to ask a question about SOLDIER. But when Zack meets Tifa later on, she’s too distracted by news about Sephiroth being at the Shinra manor. Zack is briefly interrupted along the way by a phone call from Aerith, the significance of which is only obvious in hindsight. Zack is also bombarded by emails on the way to Shinra manor, including one from Tifa which she must have sent while she was walking…? I understand what the game is doing (even though I won’t elaborate) but the double and later triple messages from Tifa was honestly mistimed. During the course of these emails, Tifa lets slip that she’s been asking about a blonde member of SOLDIER, but that’s the last we’ll see of that plot thread before FFVII.
Cloud and Zack head up to the Shinra manor, where Zack has to find an honestly not-very-well hidden secret door on the second storey. It’s not very well hidden in FFVII, either, which might have been developer generosity, but may have just as easily been the fault of the original game using pre-rendered environments, meaning they couldn’t easily change a hidden secret door to an obvious open one? The secret door leads straight past the first storey to the a series of catacombs under the manor. There, you can solve the Fifth Wonder by killing some Sahagins for some “Coffin Keys” and start unlocking random graves like a real hero. Inside one of the coffins, you discover someone sleeping in a coffin, which prompts Zack to just… shut the coffin again. Probably the ideal reaction. This won’t be explained until FFVII, but does count as your Wonder. The game then forces you to run allllllll the way back to the kid in town to report on your success, and you have to do it right now, before the next story cutscene just a room away, or else miss the sixth and seventh wonders entirely!
At the end of the catacombs, Zack finds a hidden laboratory full of books, where Sephiroth is reading the notes of one Professor Gast, discussing the initial discovery of Jenova, which he believed to be an Ancient at the time of discovery (remember: Hojo has since suggested that this is wrong, but Sephiroth wasn’t there to hear it). Sephiroth talks about Professor Gast as though he knew him, but he also suggests that Gast has since died. When Zack approaches, Sephiroth asks to be alone and Zack honours the request, describing the next few days in a time skip. Later, a new memory appears for Sephiroth on the DMW where Sephiroth talks to Zack about some of his discoveries made while reading the books in the basement non-stop. Unfortunately, I don’t have a transcript for that bit, which is too bad because if it had been put into the main story it might have made Sephiroth’s next actions make a bit more sense. As stands… those actions are a little extreme.
(Unfortunately, this time skip means that we skip what must have been an very embarrassing and entertaining dinner with Cloud’s mom.)
Zack wakes up a week later to discover the entire town of Nibelheim on fire. Cloud makes it out alive, though he collapses on the street, whispering about Sephiroth. You can also find the Wonders boy here, who tells you that his mother is trapped in their fiery house. The boy doesn’t show up unless you found the other five Wonders, darkly implying that your laziness somehow caused him and his mother to burn to death! Though I’m… not entirely sure how? You only have a minute to save the boy’s mother, which you have to do while the camera stays locked on the outside of the building as a substitute to rendering a lot of obscuring smoke the PSP honestly couldn’t handle and wouldn’t have been very entertaining. This was probably for the best, and is honestly a clever way of dealing with this unusual situation. After saving the woman, the boy declares nuts to the Wonders (which is a nice surprise ending to that sidequest) and gives you a prize.
At the edge of town, you see a recreation of the legendary scene of Sephiroth standing amidst the fire of Nibelheim he just created, after which he walks off into the mountains. This causes Zack’s DMW to be tweaked, as often happens in the game, although in this case it ironically makes it more likely for Zack to use Sephiroth’s attacks! Feel the inspiration! You follow the path up the mountain to the reactor. The game basically erases a room from the reactor in both previous sequences and now, which means it also skips what happens in that room in FFVII: you find Tifa mourning over the body of her father, and declaring that Shinra is to blame for all of this, after which she picks up Sephiroth’s sword, the Masamune, and charges after him. These are pretty serious changes (which continue below), and I can’t decide if they were cut to cut down the scenes for narrative reasons… or if they were just trying to avoid rendering Tifa’s father.
We skip another FFVII scene where Sephiroth retrieves his sword and cuts Tifa, simply having Zack arrive on scene and finding Tifa unconscious. And oh no! Sephiroth destroyed her magnificent hat! Tifa, seething at her hatred for Shinra (now presumably caused by the destruction of town?), pulls away from Zack and starts ranting about her hatred after the fact, which I suppose is better than nothing. Furious, Zack makes the rational conclusion that Sephiroth is in the JENOVA room and breaks down the door with his Buster Sword. The game gets a giggle out of me here by subtly implying there’s a hallway between the two rooms that was never there in FFVII (the two rooms were directly connected, as far as I can tell). Why add this new hallway? Because no one slashed down the door down in FFVII, and this new hallway was the only way Crisis Core could explain Sephiroth not fucking hearing that.
Sephiroth is having a conversation with a figure at the far end of the room, whom he addresses as “Mother,” saying “Let’s take back the planet together.” It turns out that Sephiroth is speaking to a strange, metallic figure that’s positioned in front of a tube at the back of the room. This metallic figure is never, ever even remotely explained, as it turns out that Jenova is in the tube, and has nothing to do with the figure at all. Zack starts shouting at Sephiroth, and Sephiroth just starts chuckling to himself, saying “Mother, they’re here again.” He says that Jenova should have ruled the planet in the past, but “they came” and took over the planet. He then tears down the strange figurehead and reveals the real Jenova: a blue-skinned, female form with huge alien growths coming out of her in multiple places. She does not seem to be complete somehow.
In another big break from the film, Sephiroth knocks Zack off of a platform when he accosts him, wholly so that he can make this a boss battle. I have to say, Sephiroth did put up a better fight than most of the previous bosses, but we still weren’t in any huge danger. After the first phase of the battle, Sephiroth declares himself the “chosen one” and destroys part of the floor, leaving both combatants on a thin causeway as “One Winged Angel” played. The game threatened that Zack could be pushed off the causeway for an instant Game Over here by being pushed back to the edge, but frankly our OP status made this completely inconsequential, and any sense of threat I might have sensed in the first half of the fight seemed to have vanished. Maybe I just wasn’t on my game during the first phase.
Curiously, when Sephiroth uses his special attacks in this battle, he addressed Zack as a “traitor.” This is a little odd, given that in FFVII, we learn that his big beef with Zack, Nibelheim… frankly everybody… is the fact that they’re humans. It’s not like Zack, say, “became a human later on” or something. Nitpicking, I know.
Sephiroth knocks Zack back into the original room with the monster-filled pods, and then turns his back to go fetch Jenova, even though, for all he knows, Zack is still alive back there. Sure enough, someone comes up behind him, but it’s not Zack like you might expect, but Cloud, who collects the Buster Sword and runs Sephiroth through. Which is kind of impressive, because that is not a stabbing sword! Sephiroth just sort of turns around after Cloud removes the blade, as though he didn’t have a giant Buster Sword-shaped hole in his chest, but finally collapses after an exaggerated pause. Cloud then also turns his back on Sephiroth, without checking to make sure he’s dead. Or as I put in my notes: “Crisis Core: Where everyone is stupid.” Naturally, Sephiroth arrives in the next room carrying Jenova’s head, a rather garish decision but I suppose one that makes a certain degree of twisted sense, given that he probably can’t carry her whole body in his condition.
Zack, too injured to stand, urges Cloud to finish Sephiroth, and Cloud launches into one of his signature Bravers, his first Limit Break, only for Sephiroth to impale him. But somehow, Cloud finds the strength to turn this around and life Sephiroth up himself, even though the sword is in his chest. Sephiroth apparently goes along with this, even though you’d think getting down would be as simple as letting go of the sword, and Cloud tosses him off a ledge, where I’m sure he’s dead and will never hurt anyone ever again, just like Genesis.
Cloud manages to limp back to the other room, where both he and Zack collapse.