President Shinra had everyone brought to his office, save Aeris, who was once again taken away. He then explained to us that Aeris was, as previously mentioned, the last surviving Ancient, adding that the Ancients were properly called the “Cetra,” a name that meant something to Red XIII. The President explained (I’d question why he does this, but then I remember that he’s a cliché and cliché villains monologue for no reason) that his aim was to get Aeris to somehow reveal the location of the “Promised Land” that she would somehow/presumably know about and that the Promised Land would presumably contain a lot of mako. Two “somehows” and a two “presumablies.” Well, I’ll give Square this: President Shinra is at least internally consistent with his stupid plans that make no sense.
The party was then dragged to the research cells on Floor 67. Aeris was in one cell alone while Cloud and Tifa were housed next door and Barret and Red in the cell after that. The player then got to “think about” your party members to see sequences involving them them (including Aeris saying she wasn’t sure about the Promised Land), and you could talk to Tifa over and over again to cheese the game’s relationship mechanics if you were in the mood for that, too.
Finally, Cloud catches some sleep and wakes to find his door open and the guard ripped to pieces! He silently frees the others and they follow a trail of blood back to the Jenova containment unit, which had been destroyed in the night. That must be some killer soundproofing around those cells, let me tell you. Criticisms aside, this scene is so jarringly violent that for a while it almost seems like Cloud must be dreaming it, and I can only think of one or two other games with similar impact. Finding no choice but to move forward, the party followed more blood all the way to President Shinra’s office, where they found the man himself murdered with an oversized katana. Cloud announced that the sword belonged to the mysterious Sephiroth.
While trying to work out what had happened, the party ran into the comical Palmer, who claimed to have seen the murder and to have seen Sephiroth with his own eyes. While everyone was surprised that Sephiroth was alive (the game hadn’t suggested that he was dead prior to this, if I’m not mistaken!) and acting this way, Cloud said there was no chance that Sephiroth was working towards positive ends, though he didn’t have a chance to explain himself before a helicopter arrived on the scene. Palmer made a break for the balcony to join the helicopter.
Barret took one apparently very observant glance at the helicopter and identified one of its occupants as the vice-president, Rufus Shinra, the late president’s son. At the time, I was annoyed by his arriving at the scene so soon, as though the writers dropped him into existence right outside the tower the split second his dad’s heart stopped beating. Barret – and for that matter, Crisis Core – implies that Rufus was far away, as in cross-continent, and there’s only so much I’m willing to stretch my suspension of disbelief. It’s since occurred to me since that more time may have passed while Cloud was “asleep” than might have I expected (possibly drugged) and that Palmer may have been cowering in the office for fear that Sephiroth might be elsewhere in the building, so in the end I’m willing to give FFVII a pass, even if this is still awfully convenient.
Meanwhile, Barret had been shouting that Shinra was doomed a second ago but was now swearing that he had forgotten about the VP, or the very idea of chain-of-command. Great job Barret, great understanding of how organizations work for someone who considers himself in charge of an organization.
The party went out to meet the new president, and announced themselves one-by-one as though we were doing the FFVI endgame roll call. Rufus responded with a speech, saying that while things had been working for his father, he was going to rule Shinra openly with fear. Oh good, he’s promising he’ll be an even bigger cliché than his father. Not only are things looking up, but he has such high ambitions!
The funny thing is… the game doesn’t really give Rufus the opportunity to be as nasty as he promised from this point on, so the speech is mostly here for the same reason Sector 7 was destroyed: dog-kicking. President Shinra blew up the dog to show how bad he was, Sephiroth worfed Shinra to show how bad he was, and Rufus is outright saying he’ll be more villainous than his father just so he can keep up with Sephiroth! Constant escalation! But as the game plays out, Rufus ultimately fills an entirely different role!
Cloud shouts that the rest of the party should run while he is left alone with Rufus, though he refuses to explain why except to say that it’s dearly important they do so. As it happens, it’s mostly so the game can handle the fact that it has to account for multiple party members but has a series-low party size cap of three, so basically had to split them up. Later in the game it will just let the party be three and damn the excess, but apparently this really matters to the developers at the moment. Tifa stays behind to wait for Cloud, leaving Aeris in charge of Red and Barret. They finally got on the elevator from before, only for Shinra to send a tank after them on the neighbouring elevator. That’s a hell of a security procedure!
This tank was the Hundred Gunner, fought to the regular battle theme instead of a boss theme for reasons that are lost on me. As you’d expect from a robot, it was weak against Thunder, which was good because it couldn’t be hit by melee attacks! Only Barret could attack it by default, and by poor bad luck we had given our only robot-killing Thunder Materia to Barret before the fight, limiting our options considerably! This was a good concept for a boss fight in my eyes, our tactical mistake notwithstanding (although, for the record, the fight is absolutely infuriating in Final Fantasy Record Keeper). The boss went through three phases before being destroyed, at which point a new boss came in to replace it. I’m not sure why, as it was essentially just a fourth form and didn’t add much to the battle, feeling more like an afterthought than a highlight.
Back on the top of the roof, Cloud reached into the party’s magic TAY-style shared inventory to get the good Materia, and faced off against Rufus. Rufus announced that Sephiroth himself was an Ancient, just like Aeris, and Cloud replied that he didn’t want Cloud or Shinra to get the Promised Land. This led to a fight between the two of them, plus Rufus’ guard dog. While this involved the dog casting protective spells on Rufus, this fight was relatively straightforward, which is unsurprising given that all we had was a single party member. We took out the dog quickly and spent the rest of the battle lazily trading blows with Rufus and his shotgun. Rufus retreated to his helicopter and Cloud to the previous floor, where he met up with Tifa. From there, we rejoined the original party in a pre-rendered cinematic where Tifa and Cloud stole a motorcycle from a display of early automotive vehicles created by Shinra, which are apparently kept fuelled and well-maintained. The rest of the party getting into an old truck, they all jumped a ramp out of the building and past the Shinra blockade outside.
Of course, Shinra wasn’t going down that easily. A minigame segment followed, featuring an extended chase sequence, where Cloud tried to fight off pursuers with his gigantic sword. I was at the controls for this one and did incredibly poorly, but still didn’t come close to losing. I think the real aim of this game from the developer’s point of view was to deplete the hit points of your party before the final boss of the segment, rather than to cause you to lose outright, which I think was incredibly clever. This minigame was eventually spun off into the short-lived, Japanese-only FFVII: G-Bike for smartphones, and frankly I’m not going to miss G-Bike, but the minigame made for a memorable sequence in FFVII itself, and I think that’s worth something.
At the end of the road it was time for the next boss battle, the Motor Ball. Like most of Shinra’s robot bosses, this one was weak against Thunder, which was more of a joke now that we were given a chance to properly equip our Materia! The fight wasn’t all that particularly difficult as a consequence, which is understandable after the minigame – my notes don’t even mention it!
After the battle, which was fought at the end of a broken highway, the party looked out into the world beyond and considered the fact that they were about to leave Midgar to get away. Don’t… nobody worry about more soldiers coming after you. In fact, I don’t know why Shinra abandons you at the road here. Maybe Rufus called them off? I can’t help but compare them to the Armed Forces from the classic, satirical tabletop RPG, Paranoia. Despite the Armed Force’s bravado and supposed assignment to the world outside the city where Paranoia is set, the Armed Forces are actually full of shit, have never been outside, and have no idea how to operate there. Food for thought.
The party rallied outside the city, deciding to rally at the nearby town of Kalm. You pick your party here despite the incredibly short walk, and that’s it for the game’s first major arc! Goodbye Midgar and strictly linear gameplay, hello world map! One thing I want to mention about FFVII is something that took me by surprise. Final Fantasy fans have been very, very vocal about the linearity of FFXIII in the past few years, but to my surprise, FFVII – the darling of the franchise – has well and away the single most linear opening sequence in the franchise since Final Fantasy Adventure (a game whose opening hours were so linear for so long that I outright mistook it for a stage-based game). I wouldn’t be surprised if some poor exec in charge of FFXIII ordered the development of an FFVII-like game only to be hit by a surprise backlash from fans who had forgotten the linearity of the 1997 classic. If that’s the case, it’s a very Twilight Princess-esque situation, with Nintendo emulating Ocarina of Time in Twilight Princess and then being lambasted for exactly that, among other problems. I wonder: did Final Fantasy fans simply forget what they loved as children in FFVII, or is FFXIII’s linearity worse than VII’s by magnitudes?
Don’t actually answer that, by the way. We’ll get to FFXIII in our own time, at which point the answers will presumably present themselves.
This has probably been said before, but if you’d be so kind, give me a chance to say it too: there are probably a lot of other people out here who would have preferred a game set entirely in Midgar, right? Not a linear game, of course, nothing about being in Midgar necessarily forced them to make its segments linear like they did. I’m talking about a game set entirely in a huge city, without the miles of empty space between wooden towns that typify fantasy games. I get that it’s important to show how Mako facilitated Midgar’s rapid growth compared to the rest of the world, and that you’d have a crummy environmentalist message if you never get to see the environment, but I can’t help but feel that there was a misstep here. Maybe the rest of the game will convince me otherwise.