When Zack recovers, it’s only enough to open his eyes to see Hojo carrying Cloud off on a stretcher, saying that “He’ll make a fine test subject!” Next thing we know, we’re in the next chapter, where Zack is having a vision of Angeal scolding him. As the vision ends, Zack discovers he’s in some sort of tube, like Jenova’s, except his is in the Shinra manor basement laboratory. After a dreamlike CG wherein Zack remarks that he now wants wings like Angeal’s, Zack wakes to find the tube shattered. Zack shakes off the butterflies despite glowing green, and punches out a research assistant. As you do. He then finds Cloud in a neighbouring tube and lets him out, but Cloud does not wake. Now that Zack has let Cloud out of this tube without checking on him or his medical charts, I’d like to tell you some fun trivia! In Dirge of Cerberus, which was made before this game, we see one of these tubes being used because the guy inside has a big hole in his chest and they were trying to heal it! Or he’d die! A big hole, just like Cloud had in the previous scene! Neat, huh? Just thought I’d bring that up.
After a quick time skip, we discover that the researches politely left all of Zack’s materia and equipment lying around where he could find them, including his Buster Sword. Reading nearby papers, Zack discovers that Hojo tried to inject the two of them with Jenova cells, but Zack’s SOLDIER conditioning made him resistant, and Cloud meanwhile suffered from toxicosis and Hojo suspects there will be no recovery. He declares both subjects to be failures.
Zack then has to fight his way through the catacombs, where he starts receiving emails. But their contents are curious. First off, they report both Sephiroth and Zack as KIA, along with “two infantrymen,” but we’ve seen that kind of email from Shinra before so it isn’t very surprising (fun fact: in early drafts of FFVII itself, the Shinra driver who vanished before arriving in Nibelheim vanished because he was killed by the dragon, but Crisis Core has basically just rejected that by declaring only two infantrymen dead!). This raises our first of many questions, namely: why did Shinra “kill” Zack? What on earth do they gain from doing so? Did he know too much by being aware of Jenova, or maybe by knowing about Sephiroth’s massacre? Or did Hojo just steal him away before company management even knew about it, and declared Zack “totally dead, saw him myself, very tragic, cremated him on the spot.” I suspect the former, but it still seems a little silly that the game never attempts to provide an answer.
One of the most important emails you get at this point only shows up if you saved the boy’s mother during the fire. If you do so, he’ll send you another email, promising a Seventh Wonder after all: basically a second prize for completing the whole set and saving his mother. This turns out to be a Wall materia that he left hidden by a fence. Nice kid. Too bad he’s probably dead now.
Discovering a save point, Kyle and I naturally couldn’t resist the opportunity to run a few missions for the company that had betrayed us, all while Cloud bleeds out. We’re the heroes. One of the strangest missions was brand new, and I had been wondering about it from the beginning of the game: you see, all this time, the Basic Training section has been missing not just one but several side-missions. “What are these?” I had asked Kyle, too curious to care about spoilers as we reached the 70% mark and still hadn’t unlocked the majority of “Basic Training!” “Do we have to learn the controls to a vehicle or another character or something at the ass-end of the game?” It turned out that Kyle didn’t remember what the side-missions were either, and we only discovered what this “Basic Training” was supposed to be at this point in the game, when it was unlocked: mass, simulated battles against basic Shinra grunts. Not entirely sure why they were only unlocked now when they probably could have been unlocked one or two of them earlier in the game with no consequence.
Continuing to have the peripheral vision of a blind cyclops, Zack drags Cloud down to the centre of Nibelheim only to discover well after arriving that the town is completely intact! Zack points out that this is impossible, but before he can come to terms with it, a bunch of Shinra grunts charge in, saying that “the professor’s test samples are escaping!” Okay, so all of these grunts know these two by sight or something? And yet they don’t know Zack as a major Shinra celebrity?
At this point, Zack enters into open rebellion against the company, slaughtering a number of relatively innocent footsoldiers. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably keep having to say it from here till the franchise ends, but Square Enix just doesn’t think of minor enemies as people. One of the guards starts dragging Cloud away, and you for whatever reason aren’t allowed to attack this person. Instead, you have to break up the fight, then approach the grunt, then break up another fight, then approach the grunt again… Also, while I can’t be certain thanks to a misplaced note, I think this was the fight where Tseng showed up on the DMW and he essentially helped us to betray the company with his DMW helicopter attack. This game is just full of systems you just aren’t supposed to question.
After this series of fights is over, Zack remarks how he’s feeling weak, even having trouble against “these guys.” Ah yes, let’s top this all off by insulting the dead, that’s the ticket. Zack decides that he needs to regroup at the mansion, which means he essentially has to drag Cloud all the way back that he already come. After this, Zack decides that Cloud isn’t going to get any better if he’s wearing “mako infused clothes” and goes off into the mansion to find some (Zack does nothing for his own clothes. Mind that while Hojo said that Zack’s immune, he’s still carrying Cloud from place to place). “New clothes are important, buddy! First priority stuff! After dragging you there and back, that is. Anyway I’m off to the crypt full of dead things.”
Ugh, this section goes on far too long, is this really so important that we had to play it out? Zack locates a SOLDIER first class uniform that’s lying around and decides to put Cloud in it. And while I can’t really elaborate, given the level of spoilers, I will say this: I was familiar enough with the opening hours of FFVII from cultural osmosis to have started to work out just what exact bullshit Crisis Core was trying to pull in front of our eyes. I still can’t believe this is the real plot, even editing this after completing the Compilation. And it’s not just the way they’re doing a contrived setup for FFVII, there are other levels of silliness to this that are immediately relevant as well! As Kyle pointed out, for example, this plan is even stupider because Zack thinks it’s a good idea to do this while Cloud is under mental duress, while they’re wanted by the state, and he’s putting on their rare, highly unique yet definitely identifiable uniforms…
After changing Cloud’s clothes, Zack discovers Aerith’s list of wishes in his pocket, somehow not destroyed by travel, combats, or his time in the tube full of fluid. He looks at it, and discovers that it’s actually a note saying that she condensed her many wishes down into one: “I want to spend more time with you.” That’s super sweet, and it’s not particularly surprising that Zack develops an urge to go back to Midgar to see his girlfriend. What is surprised is when he starts talking to Cloud, asking him if he wants to go to Midgar too. “Hey comatose best buddy friend, want to go to the place that’s hunting us down?” Kyle and I had to keep taking pauses because we were laughing so hard. This is fucking Weekend at Bernie’s!
After walking back to to town, Zack is once again attacked by guards who very politely waited for him to come out before charging in. Kunsel sends another email asking you if you’re still in Nibelheim, which is just hilarious because he’s the only one who seems to realize that Zack is too stupid to have fled the town at the first opportunity. A true best friend.
Once outside of town, Zack discovered the area was being patrolled by larger versions of the tanks that were patrolling outside the church in Midgar. With luck only a video game star could have, Zack discovered one of those tank-killer sniper rifles just lying on the ground (these sort of rifles really do exist, even if not exactly as depicted), which he used to take them out. This makes for a fairly (and perhaps needlessly) expanded segment where tanks that got away punished your prizes and tanks you killed help you to upgrade your sniper rifle. I did absolutely terrible at this but it was more of a laugh than a letdown. Famously, two of the tanks in this section are named after Biggs and Wedge from FFVI, which is admittedly a little odd, since Biggs and Wedge are already characters in the Compilation of FFVII, and they don’t work for Shinra!
Having made his way to the beach, Zack suddenly runs into Cissnei, who he can apparently recognize by the sound of her footsteps on sand? Did you spend all your time pacing at Costa de Sol, or something? Cissnei doesn’t seem as surprised to find Zack as she should be (more on that in a bit), but she insists that it’s her job to take him in. Zack opens his heart to her, admitting to her that he’s not sure he can outrun the Turks like he’s been outrunning the army, but she attacks all the same. Zack deflects her shuriken and the two of them have an awkward standoff, neither wanting to attack again, which ultimately allows Zack to escape. Geeze, did the Turks also not realize the subject they were hunting was Zack, or were they just too out-of-the-loop to realize that Cissnei would be emotionally compromised by hunting Zack?
Cissnei follows Zack up the hill, where she spots Cloud and realizes that Zack can’t possibly escape without aid. She calls in to Tseng and pretends that she lost the trail of her subject, and then hands Zack a set of keys, which turns out to be for a convenient tandem bike she’s parked nearby.
We cut ahead to Zack later on, on a highway somewhere, where it seems he’s been found by an unlikely third party: Genesis and his clones. Two of the clones pin Zack down and one yanks out some of his hair. Genesis reveals that he hopes that Zack’s cells will stop the degradation, and orders the clone to eat the hair, which is even goofier than my hummingbird blood example (which was at least an injection!), but will apparently be enough for what Genesis is shooting for? Genesis then addresses Zack as a “monster” and says that Zack’s sample has been extracted, Zack can now be killed. Uh… G, you had your goon eat the sample. Don’t you still need it? Genesis also doesn’t stay to watch the results, and sure enough, Zack’s mutated cells only cause the Genesis copy to mutate into a multi-armed G Eliminator.
We killed this midboss and Zack drove on, apparently coming to his hometown of Gongaga. Curiously, the town was a wreck but Zack didn’t seem particularly surprised by the mess. Why? You see: in FFVII we learn that the reactor exploded ages ago, and so naturally Zack is familiar with it being a wreck. The game saw no reason to clarify this for new players whatsoever. (Ed. My mistake! It turns out that, canonically, the reactor blew up while Zack was in hibernation, and Zack’s lack-of-reaction is a mistake. Honestly, I think my explanation makes more sense. It’s not like the timing of the explosion is tied in to any other FFVII product (no, not even BC), so it could have easily been moved.) In any event, Zack, the perennial tactician, decided to march straight into town to check on his parents even though it’s the first place one would be expected to go.
An optional section on the way to town included some debris you could smash for treasure at the cost of damage and monsters (a normal Griffin, which once again is stronger than the A-Griffin you fought earlier). On our way up the hill, we received more emails: one from Kunsel, who suspected that Zack was one of the escapees from Nibelheim, but another about an Angeal sighting by Angeal’s former fanclub. Now, earlier in the game this same group mistook the dog-like Angeal copy at Aerith’s church as being Angeal (which is ridiculous, because its Angeal face is obscured on its body and it shares no other elements with him, but I suppose this was written before the designs were finalized), but this sighting appears to be different. Apparently, this Angeal had been seen being mauled by some real-world, domestic dogs, a very curious situation for a hero or a monster clone! But even more curious than that was an email from Genesis’ fanclub, which announced that their “annual Genesis Resurrection Fest” was being held, despite their email about the founding Genesis Resurrection Fest having occurred when we woke up in the mansion…
Inside Gongaga, Cissnei appeared from nowhere to chastise Zack on the same things I was saying above, and just rubbing his face in it was apparently enough to get him to change his mind on the spot. But Cissnei had more for Zack than simple lectures: she told him that the army was buzzing about the area with news that Angeal had been spotted there. Zack seems to believe his vision of Angeal in the basement of Shinra manor was, in fact, reality, and that Angeal helped him escape the tube. Cissnei helped calm Zack’s concern by telling him that his parents were fine, and Zack politely asked about her parents, only to learn that she was raised by the company. Awkwaaaard.
Cissnei told Zack to leave, for real this time, but as she walked away, it was Zack’s turn to spot Angeal in the distance. Ignoring Cissnei’s warning that she’d send the Turks after him, Zack ran off after Angeal, eventually getting a close look… revealing that it wasn’t really Angeal. But even though Kyle and I noticed this, Zack didn’t seem to, and “Angeal” got away before Zack could notice. At this point, Zack was ambushed by more Genesis copies, who seem to have realized that Zack’s cells were no good and were now openly looking for Sephiroth’s “S-cells” cells instead. After the initial battle, Hollander and Genesis suddenly arrived, and we discovered that Hollander was now also degrading and had a black wing of his own. It didn’t take much imagination to guess that someone had injected Hollander with Genesis’ cells. Personally, I imagined that Genesis had done it, to force the scientist to actually do the work he had been promising to do. Turns out I was wrong: the game soon explained that Hollander had done it to himself to save his life after Genesis had attacked him at some point since we saw him last, which is a little confusing because why wouldn’t Genesis just finish the job?
Hollander declared what we already knew: Zack’s cells wouldn’t work and the clones are brainless morons who were conflating Zack and the S-cells for reasons that will be explained in a moment. Genesis was now openly addressing “S-cells” as “the Gift of the Goddess,” though this is quickly ignored, and the game goes back to having him refer to the Gift of the Goddess as being something else almost immediately. Bad localization? Since Hollander and Genesis both believe that Sephiroth is dead, they reveal that they’re not actually looking for Zack… but for Cloud, whose body wouldn’t have corrupted the Jenova cells the way that Zack’s cartoonishly irradiated body already had. Genesis somehow managed to distract Zack from rushing to Cloud’s side by quoting LOVELESS at him. Goodness’ sake, Zack, I know you were trained by the bad guys, but monologuing isn’t this sacred.
Genesis revealed that he thinks the Gift of the Goddess has something to do with the “lifestream” that Tseng mentioned earlier, and then he flies off. Zack ran back to the broken-down reactor (which is only now being referred to as a reactor, thanks to the fact that the game doesn’t display room names when you spawn in them). Thankfully, there’s only one way through this corridor-style map in the first place, so it wasn’t like I could get lost. Zack discovered Hollander and his clone thugs approaching Cloud, though they were attacked by the “Angeal” he had seen earlier, who was still clearly not Angeal but rather a degraded copy – a human copy this time! Unfortunately, thanks to Angeal’s face, we still couldn’t identify this person. About the only thing you could use to identify this person is his dusty, degraded clothes and his haircut, which he apparently kept in perfect shape!
Hollander tried to run off from the attack, and Zack ran him down, starting a boss battle. Hollander was something of a weird part-creepy, part joke battle, not unlike two battles against Shinra high-rankers in FFVII itself. He pulls various items from his bag, including monsters and a number of potions, even a giant oversized rocket! And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the vomiting attack, you can’t forget that! Yeah, it almost goes without saying that, yet again, this wasn’t that hard of a boss, certainly not for our overpowered selves.
After the battle, we reunited with “Angeal,” whom Zack clearly thought to be Angeal himself at first. The stranger revealed that he was an Angeal copy, and then identified himself as someone I had nearly forgotten from earlier in the story: Director Lazard. Lazard revealed that he had, indeed, betrayed Shinra to help Genesis, if only towards the end. Specifically, he had freed Hollander from prison in Junon during the attack, and had then gone over to Genesis, and at some point and for some reason had been turned into an Angeal copy. I guess they had some of Angeal’s cells shoved in the back of a garage somewhere?
I suppose I might as well reveal the truth now: Angeal really is dead. Personally, I didn’t believe it! I had initially assumed that, like Genesis, Angeal’s death in Chapter 6 was just a psyche-out. I assumed that the Angeal who had died as “Angeal Penance” was just one of Angeal’s human copies (while, in reality, Lazard was the only such human copy that we encounter), and that the real Angeal would make a later appearance. Among other things, I couldn’t believe that the game would end without giving you a one-on-one fight with Angeal in human form. But nope, Chapter 6 was the end of Zack’s beloved mentor, and Zack presumably escaped from the tube in the Shinra Manor under his own power, while half-conscious!
Lazard wasn’t clear on why he was seeking revenge against Shinra. I can’t even find a clue on the wiki, though the wiki does note that careful examination of a few clues suggests that he’s actually President Shinra’s illegitimate son – clues that Kyle and I found, but didn’t piece together. Lazard says that he no longer feels a lust for revenge but instead wants to help Zack and to defeat Genesis. After a brief discussion of the “Gift of the Goddess” (including a hilarious line where Zack complains about Genesis’ constant quote-ramblings), Zack and Lazard reiterate their initial exchange from Chapter 2 where Lazard asks Zack about his impossible dream to be a hero. Gotta underline that theme right before the end, eh game? After this exchange, Zack realizes that he’s been futzing around with Genesis’ dumbapple prop for the past few scenes, and remembers that dumbapples only grow in Banora. Together, Lazard, Zack and Cloud’s vibrant personality go on a ride back to the ruins of Genesis and Angeal’s home town.
One problem that arises when I’m playing in the Marathon is that I don’t often take detailed notes after I hand the controller back to Kyle, and many a time I don’t take any notes at all, which was the case for this play session. As a result, I’m not actually sure when we broke off for the night: either we ended our session at this point, or we ended it at the end of the Shinra Manor sequence, and the events in Gongaga were the start of a new session. I can tell you that whenever we did close for the night, Kyle took to playing those bonus training missions with innumerable soldiers that I mentioned earlier in the post. The first pits Zack against 50 soldiers, child’s play.
The last has 1000.
This took nearly an hour of multiple attempts, as Kyle tried to fight off fugue and I grinded in Persona. The prize at the end of the challenge was the Mug materia (the upgraded version of Steal that debuted in FFV and actually causes damage, meaning you can steal as a practical attack). Or as my notes put it: “I killed 1000 Shinra soldiers and all I got was this lousy Mug.”
Thank you, thank you, I’m here every week.