Wall Market is basically a red light district of some sort, spotted with a number of unrelated shops. While I was playing, I tried to explore things from bottom to top, but here in the Journal it’s probably best if I cut to the chase and explain that Cloud and Aeris track Tifa to the north end of town, where they learn she was brought to meet a man named Don Corneo, who invites women to his mansion to be his “bride” (i.e., to sleep with him). His guard refused to let Cloud in, but he implied that Aeris might get in if she wanted to be the Don’s “bride” herself. This gave Aeris an idea: dress Cloud up as a woman to get them both inside the mansion together!
Now, I’m not nearly well-enough versed in drag or trans culture to comment on FFVII’s famous/infamous crossdressing sequence. Hell, it would probably be best to bring in someone from Japanese drag or trans culture rather than someone from a western culture. The short of it is: I am out of my depth, and so I’m going to stick as close as I can to the bare facts as possible, since I’m in no position to comment.
The fingerprints of Mario RPG are very evident here in Wall Market, even though that’s a very odd thing to say about a red light district. Those fingerprints had been evident at other points in the game, but they had been hard to describe: the way they arrange things in the environment, the way they hide many of their secrets and deliver jokes, but here they were much more evident in things like the swishing, a Nimbus Land-esque curtain door, or how this whole sequence was attempting to be a comedy sequence not unlike the entirety of Mario RPG.
The quest to get into Don Corneo’s mansion forces the player to retrieve at least two items from the Market: a dress and a wig. With a little nosing around, you can find a number of other items to improve your disguise even further, but once you put on the dress and wig, the gathering stage is over, which we discovered to our disappointment. Thankfully we had gathered four pieces and had just enough points to win a certain upcoming “beauty contest,” but it was pure luck, let me tell you.
Let’s start with the mandatory pieces. To get a dress, you have to speak to the beleaguered clerk at a woman’s clothing store, who begs you to find his father, the proprietor and dress-maker, who’s refused to work for several days. The dress-maker is wasting away his working hours up in one of the bars, but he’s intrigued by Cloud’s “interest” in cross-dressing, and agrees to make a custom dress to your specifications. We’ll admit to checking a walkthrough to get the ideal dress for Cloud’s outfit, but the other three items we did on our own… sort of.
The wig can be found in a nearby gym, where the body-builders challenge you to a game of squats for it. This involved repeating a pattern of button presses over and over, and thankfully included a practice round. You see, one of the buttons involved in this mini-game was the “switch” button and, urm, we had no idea what button that was supposed to be. If I’m remembering this correctly, it turned out it was Select on our controller. While I wasn’t very good at this game, FFVII was generous with me in turn and I won by a handful of squats, earning the best wig.
Why the body builders are so interested in the wig, I don’t actually know. It’s another question I’d like to ask our hypothetical Japanese expert. I suspect this stems from the uniquely-Japanese stereotyping and feminizing of body builders that’s led to such products as the Cho Aniki franchise and others, but seriously, I’m not qualified to talk about these things.
We also gained two optional items, one before we even got to Don Corneo’s (or maybe just after) and one on our way to the squats. To get the best cologne, you have to do two almost unrelated tasks: first you have to order lunch in a restaurant, winning a coupon for a free item from the pharmacy in the process, and then trade that for a digestive drug. If you had explored town ahead of time, you can work this out in reverse: it’s possible to learn about the eatery contest, and also possible to learn that some poor soul was stuck on the toilet in the bar and needed some pharmaceutical help! Unfortunately, we hadn’t scoured town by the time we had entered the restaurant and pharmacy (remember: we were searching from bottom to top!), and were only spared by Kyle’s memory of the sidequest. What rotten, 80s-adventure game style puzzle logic, punishing you for going to the wrong room in the wrong order!
The last item we gained before mistakenly putting on the wig was a tiara, earned by talking to a lazy man and getting a request to go to the inn and check their… vending machine. This segment was quite counter-intuitive, as you had to stay in the inn (a second time, in our case, making it even less intuitive) to examine the machine, though nothing indicates that this is the case. We only worked out what to do (and I imagine this might have been the case for others) because if you can’t use it directly… well what else can you do in an inn but sleep there? The best guess I have for this unusual interface is that the game is trying to imply the vending machine sells something embarrassing and so Cloud is only willing to buy it during the night. Buying condoms, for example, would make a lot of sense in the middle of the night. Don’t worry about Tifa while you’re napping, team! But the game just doesn’t go far enough to explain its own joke, much less its interface! Of course, the punchline is that the vending machine is selling some random crap instead of naughty stuff, and the guy who ordered this quest is spying on his competition’s vendables, but you get a tiara for your trouble. Naturally we bought the best item from the vending machine and so got the best tiara, but it nearly bankrupted us at this point!
The items we missed were both inside the strip club(/brothel) in the southeast. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go there during our first attempt thanks to the early costume change incident. Yes, we very nearly didn’t go to the famous Honey Bee Inn! Determined to make up for this, we watched it on YouTube, as we had already sadly saved and couldn’t get back! It’s not our fault! The Honey Bee Inn has two more parts for your costume: underwear and makeup. Unfortunately, the makeup is randomized and the underwear has no value in the final contest (this may be a glitch or oversight, or may be a last-minute change, it’s impossible to say) so we didn’t actually have to go in the first place!
(I suppose you could simply argue that underwear doesn’t count in the rating because it’s not visible during the contest, which would be logical, but logic doesn’t always have a place in video games. The issue is that, as-stands, the contest rating is basically impossible to “win” unless you got all perfect scores in the other four categories, or got near-perfect scores in every category plus a very lucky makeup application. It would make far more sense if there was supposed to be a fifth category, and the underwear is all we have beyond inadequate math to suggest one. What a mess!)
You probably want me to comment on the stuff in the Honey Bee Inn, but it honestly just seemed like weirdness for weirdness’ sake at best (plus one scene that could be described as foreshadowing) and at worst… well, like I said, I shouldn’t be the one to talk about this. I will say that the sequence seems to have been designed to provoke little thirteen year-olds to giggle at the idea of “sex” more than anything else. As an adult, there was basically nothing particularly edgy, funny or even intriguing about it, surrealism and foreshadowing inclusive. It certainly wasn’t erotic, but that clearly wasn’t what they were going for so I won’t hold that against them, at least.
As for the idea I’ve seen in some parts of the internet that this mocking, sensationalist-at-best depiction of sex is somehow ground-breaking… I think better acceptance of sexuality in games would have come with or without Final Fantasy VII, given the significant headway sexual matters were making on PCs. If I personally was going to hold up an example of a mold-breaker, it would probably be a PC game, in fact: The Sims, which, like or not, was far more popular than even FFVII, had influence in far wider audience distribution, happily allowed same-gender relationships instead of sniggering behind their hand, and had a generally positive portrayal of sex starting in the Living Large pack, even if it can get a little surreal and giggly in the sequels. While I don’t think FFVII as bad as some other poor examples, I still think I’d personally hold FFVII’s juvenile approach to sexuality alongside other embarrassing 90s missteps that used sex in petty and sensationalist ways, like the 3DO softcore porn scene, if for entirely different reasons.
Once you’re all dressed up (Aeris, too), it’s time to go to the skeevy mansion, where the party meets up with Tifa. Tifa explains that she came here to get information from Corneo, whose name came up during an impromptu interrogation Barret conducted on his way out of the reactor. Unfortunately, only one of the trio can actually get to “marry” the Don and so win the chance to interrogate him in private, and that decision is up to the Don himself. Because it’s the only variable the game really has on-hand, the winner of the beauty contest is decided entirely based on Cloud’s appearance… which is really odd if you think about it, because it means that the more attractive Cloud is, the more likely the Don is to prefer Aeris to Tifa! Don’t think too hard about it.
Thankfully, Kyle and I had gotten all the best items that mattered, and that meant we won the “contest.” Whoopie. As a matter of fact, the only tangible thing this beauty contest affects is that, if you lose, you have to fight the Don’s guards to break into his apartment. There’s also a Trophy for winning in the PS4 version of the PC release. Oh, and you can more easily pick up a Hyper in the Don’s bedroom if you win (get it??), or if you lose, you can more easily pick up a Phoenix Down in one of the adjacent rooms. You can eventually grab both should you return to Wall Market in your own time, so these are more like oversights than prizes.
The results also give you a chance to fiddle with some of the game’s for-fun relationship values. Long story short: the game tracks Cloud’s relationship with Tifa, Aeris, Barret and a fourth character that joins up later in the game. By losing, you get the chance to impact your relationship with Tifa or Aeris. By winning, you get the chance to affect your relationship with Barret. A strong relationship with Barret can also get you a PS4 Trophy, but otherwise the relationship system is all just for fun.
One way or another, soon the entire party has gathered in the Don’s bedroom to threaten him, namely to threaten his genitals. Threats of torture and genital mutilation! FFVII thinks this is comic relief. The Don admits to knowing a few things about Shinra: namely that Shinra has worked out that AVALANCHE is based in the Sector 7 slums, but nothing specific, so instead they’re going to drop the entire Sector 7 plate on top of them. Naturally, everyone tries to run out, but Don Corneo has a backup plan and drops them a… trapdoor carpet? I don’t know how villains manage to arrange to use their trapdoors like this, but he pulled it off one way or another!
After this sequence, the game cuts suddenly into Shinra HQ in the centre of the plate, where we’re introduced to two high-ranking executives in conversation with the President. First is Heidegger, the one responsible for the “crush Sector 7” plan. The other is Reeve, in charge of Urban Development, who is against this plan, both from a moral standpoint and because it’s the opposite of urban development. Shinra tells Reeve to be quiet and orders the plan to go through, because he and Heidegger are cackling, cartoon villains with no depth whatsoever. We do at least learn that Midgar has a mayor that’s just a figurehead in front of Shinra, and we learn the three of them plan on blaming AVALANCHE for the collapse of the plate and taking advantage of the good PR of the aftermath, but this scene isn’t giving me very high hopes about our antagonists so far.
After all that messing around in Wall Market, we were overdue for a boss, lack of enemy encounters notwithstanding. The game provided. Cloud and the other found themselves in a sewer under Sector 6, where they were attacked by Aps, a minotaur-like monster that attacked the party primarily with “Sewer Tsunami.” This was a gross take on Leviathan’s signature “Tsunami,” except this attack hurt Aps as well, making him a very odd boss indeed. It would even do extra damage to Aps depending on the direction of the wave, which you’d think Aps would… stop… doing? Luckily for Aps, we never realized that he was weak to Fire, though I’m not sure why we didn’t try… I think I thought he’d be strong against it because he was in the water, but I forgot that Square Enix is under the decades-long misunderstanding that ice and water are identical.
One interesting thing about Aps was its introduction of the Sadness status effect: this new status effect slows the rate of Limit growth, but increases your defence. It’s the inverse of Fury, which we could have triggered with that Hyper we picked up in Corneo’s sex closet. Kyle says he’s a fan of deliberately triggering Hyper, while other players are fans of deliberately triggering Sadness. In the end, we didn’t do either, not even during Kyle’s turn, though Kyle never did cure Fury if it ever came up.
After the fight with Aps, we fought our way through the sewer and then carried on, without break, into the Train Graveyard that bordered the Sector 7 train station. Boring dungeon, overall. We fought a group of obnoxious Ghosts that could turn invisible and invincible at will, and basically nothing else of note actually happened. Once that was done, we entered Sector 7 proper, only to find the place already in chaos.