Let’s go on to things that were definitely in our final session. We decided to go back to the Yuffie plotline and finish off Bahamut Fury to complete our set of summons and acquire “all characters” as per our Marathon goal. As it happened, we rolled a Summon on the DMW during the battle, prompting one of us to shout: “Help me, Bahamut!” We rolled Ifrit instead. Such a disappointment. In return for getting all of the DMW entries, we were also rewarded with the Fury Ring, a ring that allowed counterattacks.
At this point, let’s rejoin the story (which, depending on our cut-off point, might involve rewinding a bit). The party, such as it was, arrived in Banora, which was now a crater. And I mean that even more than you’d expect from an aerial bombardment: it seems much of the area had collapsed in the air strike, revealing a series of underground tunnels. Strangely, we’ll soon learn that these tunnels were part of a Shinra facility, so it’s surprising they didn’t send in a team to finish the demolition! Zack headed towards a glow in the distance and entered the tunnels. There, he discovered a small desk that seemed to have belonged to Genesis or his family, containing a few of Genesis’ childhood prizes. This included an incredibly goofy book that was probably supposed to be sentimental, but instead talked about how only Genesis was the only one in all Banoran apple-farming history smart enough to create apple juice. Yeah, I haven’t mentioned it, but fans tend to complain about Genesis being something of a “creator’s pet.” This example is honestly the worst of it in my mind, despite it being so mundane.
Zack wondered if there was anything he could do to save Genesis, which is awfully optimistic of him because I sure as hell didn’t share the sentiment.
From here, Zack proceeded down some stairs into the deep caverns, namely to the “Depths of Judgment.” Ah, I see that Genesis hired Xemnas from Kingdom Hearts 2 to name all his rooms, isn’t that nice? It’s good for a retired video game character to still find work from time to time. One thing that was particularly special about this room was a great frozen figure, which neither Kyle nor I could identify (me because I had never seen it before, and Kyle because it honestly wasn’t that visible!). It turns out it’s actually Emerald Weapon, a superboss that was added to FFVII’s international release. Ironically, Emerald Weapon is used to explain the existence of this underground final dungeon in the game’s Japan-only guide (Shinra was trying to excavate the Weapon and built the compound to staff the operation), which is yet another plot point that really should have been explained in-game, but wasn’t.
Also in this room, we encountered probably the goofiest of Crisis Core’s carry-over enemies, the Grangalan. This was a matryoshka doll shaped like an egg, and was a perfectly serviceable enemy borrowed from FFVII, where it appeared near sunny, tourist trap Costa del Sol. It looks quite a bit sillier here here in the final dungeon, deep underground and deprived of all light.
Because we were either at the start of our session or only an hour or two into it, Kyle and I approached the Banora Underground with a sense of zeal we didn’t typically have in Final Fantasy final dungeons. Normally, we approach the final dungeon was so much boredom and weight that we cut half the corners and invoke our deepest, dirtiest tricks just to see the game done and behind us. But today we were energized, and completed nearly everything the Banora Underground had to offer us! And there was quite a bit of optional stuff to find! I remarked during my Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories Retrospective that I don’t like overlong final dungeons in RPGs. I particularly don’t like them in Action-RPGs (and even less so in pure Action games!), because the only reason overlong final dungeons even exist is for the sake of the oldest of the old, dustiest of the dusty, attrition-based RPGs, and I don’t even like them there (then again, I don’t like those games in general!). This was a lesson I basically learned from Square themselves, who created complicated but ultimately compact final dungeons in KH1 and 2 that worked perfectly for my tastes. Crisis Core, however, goes in a different direction by making a huge dungeon but making most of it optional. It’s an interesting approach! Though… granted, one that Crisis Core did in the dullest way imaginable.
The only mandatory objectives in this section is to find seven special pieces of materia used as a key, which in turn require you to read several plaques describing the plot of LOVELESS (groan). By installing the seven materia, you can open the final gate. But why stop there? The dungeon’s optional areas were full of cages, implying that some of Shinra’s awful experiments took place here, and we fought a number of “Makonoids” (the monsters from the Nibelheim reactor) named after the rivers of hell in Dante’s Inferno. Some documents in the dungeon talked about the experiments that went on there, and some prisoners left notes of their own, but apparently I didn’t keep very close track of them, and I sadly can’t find a source on the Internet that records them, either. I suppose my biggest problem with this section is that after you get into the cages, the level is just nothing but cages and flat walls in the form of a maze, a minimalist degree of level design normally reserved for Wolfenstein 3D.
The secret boss at the end of the cave was a Behemoth King (and not much of a secret, considering you can see it well ahead of time from the other side of the room). By the way, this encounter takes place in a prison room that is for no reason whatsoever called the “Howling Fang.” I personally think it’s Xemnas’ best work?
After finally unlocking the final door, we were attacked by one last miniboss, G Regicide (a recolour of the clone that ate Zack’s hair – don’t think too hard about that), which was followed up by saving and the final charge against Genesis. In the final boss chamber, Genesis was speaking to a statue of the Goddess from LOVELESS. Genesis had degraded considerably by now, to the point where his hair and even his wing was now entirely white. Not that it seems to be impeding him in any way, god forbid. Genesis acknowledged Zack, but only to say that Zack “carried” a part of Angeal and Sephiroth with him, meaning that Genesis was now reunited with his friends and it was time to re-enact his stupid, stupid play. Zack told him to shut up about LOVELESS, but Genesis ignored him and continued his monologue. At the end of said monologue, a huge stone that was above the Goddess statue began to glow. Genesis identifies the stone as the Gift of the Goddess, although the wiki (possibly pulling from that Japanese-only guide) identifies it as a giant materia. Zack complained about Genesis’ inconsistencies on the part of the Gift of the Goddess, but Genesis wasn’t listening to shit, and drew on the power of the materia to transform into a new form, Genesis Avatar. This giant version of Genesis was not unlike a Darkside, a signature boss from Kingdom Hearts, in that it could summon lesser monsters and you had to attack a part of it that only moved down during attacks (the glowing pommel on Genesis’s sword). Honestly, the fight was so slow that it was outright boring, and I was happy to see it move on. That’s what you get when you take another series’ first boss and try to turn it into a penultimate boss!
After the battle ended, the giant materia was gone, and Genesis was restored to human form… in perfect health, with no sign of the degredation. Genesis staggers about, quoting LOVELESS, which for some reason prompts Zack to remark “From the beginning, you knew?” What, he knew that the materia would restore him? It’s entirely unclear, and I’m afraid that this time, neither Silent Tweak’s translation nor the wiki makes it any clearer. Genesis tries to engage Zack, even going so far as to use his name, which he had barely done up to this point. Zack let out a cry of frustration and said: “Why is everyone always pushing things on me?” Well, it’s because you’re a pushover, Zack! Okay, okay, this isn’t really Zack’s fault, but the writers. Zack’s plot isn’t really “his” plot, you see. It’s just Genesis’ plot, being forced on an ultimately passive viewpoint character, the fault of many a writer. And sure enough, Zack arms on the spot to continue Genesis’ plot even though he doesn’t want to.
Genesis has only 99 999 HP compared to his previous form’s 600 000 (in Hard Mode, he gets a huge boost up to 650 000, while Genesis Avatar only gets a boost to 950 000), but that HP gap has more to do with Genesis Avatar being terribly designed and needing more HP to compensate than it does anything else. The final fight was fairly decent, even given our OP status, but no more challenging than I would have expected from an everyday boss in an action-RPG, definitely not a final boss! Like I’ve already said: we have no one but ourselves to blame for the grinding. Oh well. On the other hand, even RickyC’s longplay doesn’t seem to have much trouble with Genesis, so maybe he’s just not that great a final boss? Kyle tells me that the first time he fought Genesis, he had the game’s ultimate attack (Costly Punch), plus and a full set of Genji Equipment! That must have been straight-up humiliating for the guy in red.
Though it’s worth noting that, in the end, the game’s superboss isn’t that complicated a fight either, once again relying on stats than techniques. Sadly Kyle and I couldn’t get to fight the superboss since it would have required too many tedious side-missions, even after all the work we had done – enough work to otherwise break the game over our knee through overlevelling! She just has really high stats. Like, incredibly high. Boringly high.
Speaking of the superboss, after the battle, Genesis finds himself immersed in glowing waves of light, and he sees that an item carried by the Goddess Statue is the source of the light. As he approaches the statue, we cut to pre-rendered CG as the statue transforms into a real, armoured goddess, which just so happens to be the game’s superboss: Minerva. Beyond her questionable relationship to the Goddess in the play, Minerva is not elaborated on in Final Fantasy canon, and her only real story role is right here, with her appearance as superboss being almost narrative-free. Genesis approaches Minerva, arms outstretched, but she looks away in rejection, and summons a wall of flame between them and Genessis descends into the glowing threads of light, which seemingly tear him apart. Back in the real world, the Goddess statue suddenly crumbles, and Genesis collapses to the ground.
Returning to the surface with Genesis’ body, where he finds that Lazard has politely set Cloud up in a nice wooden chair. Lazard explains that Shinra attacked while Zack was gone, but that they were saved by the Angeal copy that we met in Aerith’s church, which sadly died in the process. Zack starts to cry, only to realize too late the Lazard has slipped into death as well.
Noting that Lazard has fallen next to Cloud, and having already set Genesis down on Cloud’s opposite side, Zack prepares a little ceremony. After all, Lazard represents Angeal, and Cloud represents Sephiroth. As a way of farewell, Zack gives each of them a dumbapple and takes one himself, apologizing that it’s not “the real thing.” Suddenly, Genesis reveals that he’s still alive, if barely. He asks if “it” is as good as he expected, and Zack asks if he means the apple, but Genesis shakes his head and says no more, implying that Genesis believes that Zack received the Gift of the Goddess, whatever it was. Yes, it was Zack who got the Gift, the one player in the story that Genesis had always ignored. Nice touch, in spite of everything. Instead, Genesis says: “Angeal, the dream came true.” After this, Lazard and the Angeal Copy both fade away.
After the Angeal Copy fades, Zack discovers a letter that was attached to it. The letter is from Aerith, who reveals that Zack went missing four years ago? Yeah: it turns out that Zack was actually in that tube for a much longer time than expected: just short of four years. The game has been entirely misleading about this, feeding you emails that must have been delivered four years ago gradually over time instead of in one big clump, which is what should have happened the moment Zack got an internet connection. For fuck’s sake, that’s not even the top of the pile! Does Zack’s cell phone have an internet connection but not having a working clock and calendar? Okay, maybe it was damaged after four years in liquid (in an incredibly specific way that didn’t damage any of its other functions?), but what about email time stamps, which are sent by the server? I’m honestly pissed off about this. There’s misdirecting the player on one level, and then there’s lying to the player, and this is the latter. Where do the authors think they get off?
Is it possible (although still a major flaw) that the four years thing was just overlooked by the developers by accident? I don’t know how that’s possible, but it would explain why the emails are still parcelled, as though being sent at different times when they should rightly have been stuck in Zack’s inbox for four years, and why Cissnei isn’t surprised to see your zombie ass four years after your death, and why Cissnei reported (in a line I didn’t mention) that Zack’s parents didn’t seem all that concerned with his wellbeing. And why Genesis hadn’t collapsed in a pile of dust after four years of degradation! Or is it just more likely that the game is a lying trash basket?
(That no one mentions the time skip is reasonable, since they probably assumed Zack was awake and in hiding for four years, and so naturally he would have already known. But that’s about the only element that I feel makes sense.)
Zack, upset about this news and even more so by Aerith describing this as her last attempt to reach him, rushes over to collect Cloud so they can hurry to Midgar. Just… gonna leave Genesis there, knowing he’s alive, Zack? That’s polite. Notice that this means that Zack, once again, doesn’t finish his job nor his promise to Angeal. At least he’s consistent.
After Zack leaves, Genesis is collected by two unknown SOLDIERS with white hair who arrive in a Shinra helicopter, remarking that “apparently the subject will become our brother,” though they’re not sure if he’ll cooperate. Despite this small role, these two characters are from a later part of FFVII canon and are actually voiced by their official voice actors: David Boat and Mike Rock. David Boat had already worked with Square Enix in the past in Kingdom Hearts, where he plays the role of Lexeaus. Rock, meanwhile, went on to become a live actor and, in an interesting break with the usual voice actor CV, a sports commentator for NFL Replay.
After the two cameos leave, a page of LOVELESS drifts in on the wind. Suddenly, the rays of light from before sweep by and add a few additional lines to the play… not that they honestly conclude anything.
Back to what’s left of Zack’s storyline, we cut to somewhere else (Junon?), where Tseng is ordering Cissnei to find Zack and take him alive before the army does, Tseng implying that he’s been collecting Aerith’s letters for Zack and that he actually wants to deliver them. It is kind of nice to see all of Zack’s connections looking out for him and even one another like this. Another scene shows us Reno and Rude trying to find Zack. Zack, meanwhile, is in the back of a truck with Cloud, being driven by some stranger. This scene is also in FFVII, though frankly it wasn’t of particularly high importance, which is probably why Crisis Core chops off about half of it and leaves the rest to FFVII. Fans new to the franchise however, like me, will probably be confused by one teensy little detail from FFVII’s flashback that isn’t explained in Crisis Core. Just a tiny thing, you know, no big deal. Specifically, I’m wondering why Zack gets off the truck and marches out to face the entire Shinra army. Just… like that. FFVII fans knew this scene was inevitable, but all I’m asking is the smallest degree of context… okay maybe a large degree of context, just this once. Just… something, okay? As it stands, I’ll have to hold the explanation for the FFVII Journal, because what did I know at the time I was playing Crisis Core?
After giving the Buster Sword another Angeal-prayer, Zack charged into the Shinra army. This included a mass of incredibly poorly animated, 2D background troops arranged like a the audience in a late nineties sports game. Awful effect. Kyle was playing here, and pointed out that as you kill grunts, some of the soldiers begin to disappear from the background as if implying that they were the ones who came to fight you. Thankfully these background soldiers couldn’t shoot you, although background helicopters were able to launch a rocket or two.
Unfortunately, this fight goes on forever, a forced loss. As the fight began to turn against Zack, even the DMW started to fail him: first Sephiroth, Tseng and Cissnei were removed from the DMW, and then Angeal, Cloud and seemingly Aerith, though Aerith stuck in at the last second, Zack clinging to the memory of her as he began to lose.
You can really hold out in this semi-final battle if you’re good at the game or high-levelled, though I have to say a few things about that fact even though that would have normally been a compliment. Final Fantasy VII fans knew going into this game that it was going to end with Zack’s showdown against the Shinra army in the wasteland. This was the inevitable loss to end all inevitable losses. And I think they did a good job with it, what with the collapse of the DMW allowing gameplay to tell part of the narrative. But there’s one thing that really messed this up for the two of us, one critical mistake they made that ruined the whole experience: the 1000 soldier training mission. Kyle and I knew that we should have been able to not just survive this fight against the Shinra Army, but win it, just like the 1000 soldier battle. When you give the player control, but no power to actually affect changes, you can’t help but expect a certain degree of frustration, and that’s what Square Enix did to the two of us. As nice as the DMW sequence was, I think I would have almost preferred the battle be a cinematic with the DMW superimposed over it rather than for the developers to remove my control the way that they did.
Finally, the game cut to a new scene, this one an exact recreation of an FFVII flashback, which means they basically tossed out most of the previous battle against the soldiers in order to match up with FFVII. The scene now takes place on a cliff overlooking Midgar, against only three final grunts. Who knows what happened in between, but narratively, it doesn’t really matter. You play out the fight against these last three grunts. Zack can’t die here, not even at 1 HP, but the guards don’t die either. The DMW continues to call on Aerith, only for it to fail every time. Finally, Zack is shot down and the sequence ends with a cinematic of him being riddled with bullets, and a soldier walks up and shoots him in the face. In the end, the DMW tries one last time to call on Aerith, and fails. The grunts then shoot him full of even more bullets and explosives, because they’re the only fictional people I’ve ever met who realize how important that kind over overkill can be against a superhuman enemy. I know I’m supposed to be sad, but I almost respect that kind of overreaction and felt more proud of the nameless NPCs than upset at them!
Meanwhile in Midgar, Aerith, now in her FFVII costume, seems to sense Zack’s death, and we cut back to Zack with blood dripping down his face and a pool of the same, all in a game that otherwise has no gore! And here’s where we discover that Zack’s still not actually not dead, despite the grunts’ deliberate overkill, and the surety that they would check his body after the fact, seeing as how they’re so smart. I… I don’t even know what to say. The power of a dying speech is apparently of such importance to the writers that they’ve plunged into absurdity. I could somewhat comedically respect the Shinra guard’s knowledge of fantasy tropes, but I don’t think I can honestly respect this kind of kowtowing to cliches! The man has more metal in him than a cruise liner!
Just then, Cloud arrives on the scene, apparently having pulled together well enough to deliberately crawl from one place to another and to even say “Zack?” Zack recognizes Cloud and instructs Cloud that he’s going to live for the both of them now. “You’ll be my living legacy,” he says to Cloud, hugging him, with the game pointing out the irony by getting Cloud’s face covered in blood in the process. Nicely done. Zack then says that his honour and dreams are Cloud’s now, passing him the Buster Sword. “My honour, my dreams.” Do not sell them in the first town you get to, Cloud! Fourth or fifth town at least!
With this, Zack dies, and Cloud then lets out a cry of despair that’s rather abruptly interrupted by “Why” by J-Pop star Ayaka, the game’s theme. Cloud begins to see flashbacks to all the times Zack was taking care of him in his stupefied state, and he hears Zack repeating Angeal’s line about needing to have dreams. Cloud then says “Thank you. I won’t forget,” and yeah, yeah, that’s one way to put it Cloud. That’s… one way to put it. Cloud then tells Zack goodbye, and poor mentally, physically and radioactively damaged Cloud then has to drag off a sword that weighs more than him, and to do it through enemy territory. Have fun, buddy!
We then cut to Zack’s point-of-view. Oh, for goodness’ sake Zack, just die already! He seems to see Angeal coming to collect him, and he reaches up to take his hand. And then, like this was some sort of Return of the King shit in miniature, Zack continues to have different final lines. All in all, the scene is effective, but I won’t deny its problems. The first final line is: “Those wings, I want them too.” Which, for the record, I think is the best of these Return of the King final lines. Then it’s: “It feels good.” Then it’s: “If you see Aerith, say hi for me.” Last of all, before you pull your hair out, the true final line of the game is: “Hey, would you say I became a hero?” Despite the numerous stop-and-starts, it’s a touching, bittersweet finale that openly asks the player to question Zack’s role in the world of FFVII before the final fade to black.
My answer to Zack’s final question, as it happens, is “no.”
Zack is very nearly ancillary to his own adventure. He needn’t have been there and he very nearly wasn’t. Kyle seemed to expect me to go down these lines so I may as well use his words to get started: What has Zack even done? Kyle personally takes issue with the fact that this game’s plot had basically nothing to do with FFVII, which I’ve tried to voice in these Journals, though I personally don’t think I would have minded the Genesis plot if they had just been able to correct the jagged seams that run between Crisis Core and FFVII.
So what has Zack even done to “be a hero”? He was responsible for stopping Genesis, this is true. Unfortunately, not only was his participation in the plot almost accidental, but Genesis’ story arc was so disproportionately self-fulfilling at the cost of others’ storylines that I can’t help but suspect that if Zack hadn’t shown up, Genesis would have duelled thin air, lost, and then dragged himself to a chair on a hill under his own dying power! Furthermore, since I consider Zack’s redemption arc to be incomplete and accidental, I don’t really consider him redeemed from his career as a horrible, horrible, monstrous tool of an inhuman corporate war machine that eventually did what inhuman war machines always do when it consumed Zack as well. As Kyle put it when I discussed it with him after the fact, all Zack managed to prove was that organizations like Shinra need people just to “do,” and not to “think,” for them to commit their atrocities, and Zack was the perfect person for that. He’s one of the biggest reasons Shinra got away with what they did. He is no hero to me.
I like Crisis Core, and I also quite happen to like Zack. The sack of rocks. The game was certainly more remarkable than it wasn’t, and that’s remarkable in-and-of-itself, because I consider almost all of its 300 side-missions to be complete, redundant dreck, and they easily took up more of our playtime than the storyline itself. In spite of that dead weight, Crisis Core shone through, and there were even several times where I wanted to play my own save folder even after Kyle had I had had parted after a day full of Marathon playtime. That virtually never happens, certainly not in Final Fantasy (Mega Man, no. Kingdom Hearts, yes. Trauma Centre, definitely). Like almost every other game in these Journals, I have yet to return to Crisis Core for a full playthrough at the time of these Journals’ publication, but who knows? The gap between Crisis Core’s Marathon run and the Journal’s release is smaller than any other game to date (a gap that’s only going to get smaller from here on out). I’ve returned to several other Final Fantasy games after their journals were published – Crisis Core might very well set the record as the smallest gap between the Marathon run and the game finally being replayed.
In a final post-credit scene, Crisis Core recreates the opening animation of FFVII itself, as though the game itself were about to begin…