Content Warning: Suicide.
Back to the present. One odd feature in New Corel was a gondola that led up to the high-in-the-sky casino and gaming place, the Gold Saucer. For some reason, despite being almost literally coated with gold, the Gold Saucer couldn’t be arsed to tidy up its front gate in Corel Town, which I think was an artistic shame as a jazzed up gondola station right next to a ruin of a town would have really shown how bad the town looked by contrast and what dicks the people in the Saucer were for ignoring them. In any event, the Saucer was our next destination, so we rode the gondola and paid its exorbitant entry fee and gained access to its many, many, many many many services.
Boy, what a place. If I were giving FFVII Retrospective-format coverage instead of Journal-format, we might be here forever, but as it stands, Kyle and I barely spent any time in the Gold Saucer and what little we did spend there was overwhelmed and quite confused. The Gold Saucer was full of minigames, and I mean full, one of the most centralized and frankly crowded assemblage of mini-games in RPG history. Most of the games returned GP (Gold Points, not gold pieces like in D&D. If the translation were more on-the-ball I might assume the allusion was deliberate!), which you used to buy prizes, and there was also a coliseum to do battles in, though it wasn’t open at the moment. I really hate to undercut the Gold Saucer segment by not covering its dozen-plus minigames, but I was in over my head and don’t quite understand many of the systems there to this day.
Let’s stick to the main path. While at the Gold Saucer, you learn that Sephiroth was there a while ago, asking about a “black Materia.” You also encounter a very strange person: a cat riding a giant white… thing… that’s supposed to be a giant Moogle but doesn’t resemble past depictions of Moogles in the slightest (although this would hardly be the last time Square would do that). This duo is basically treated as an individual, with the cat doing all the talking. This is Cait Sith, a stupid, awful, terrible, useless, unwelcome, ungracious, wretched, HORRIBLE BRAT… ahem… named after the recurring Final Fantasy monster, which in turn is named after the unpronounceable Gaelic/Irish fairy. For the record, the pronunciation should be something to the effect of “ket-shi” or “ket-see.” The FFVII Debug Room refers to Cait Sith as “Ketsy,” which suggests they were aware of the actual pronunciations, so score one for them!
All compliments aside, Cait Sith is the worst thing ever. Well, okay, that’s mostly an exaggeration. Mostly. I suppose. …No, I’m going to stick with it. The worst thing ever. And I’m not referring to any plot elements, either! …Well, okay, I don’t like him for those either, but a lot of my complaints come from the fact that he’s just straight-up useless! Cait Sith was a Gambler like Setzer, which meant that his limit breaks were ineffective, unreliable trash, and Limit Breaks are all you have to distinguish characters in this game! Cait Sith also came with the Manipulate Materia in an effort to make them part Beastmaster, but I can’t say the impression sticks around after we unequipped the Materia at the first realistic opportunity. Honestly Kyle and I couldn’t wait to be rid of them and it only took a few rounds of combat to convince us that Kyle’s memories of his uselessness weren’t even slightly exaggerated, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Long story full of minigames short, we discovered a group of dead Shinra soldiers in the Saucer, all murdered by “the man with the gun arm.” Everyone kept referring to the culprit in that particular fashion, which made it almost certain that it wasn’t Barret. I know what I was saying about focused narratives a few entries ago, but I wish writers would realize that if you make a clue too obvious, it begins to smell like red herring. Since we were associates of Barret, the active party (including Cait Sith) was arrested and thrown into the “Gateway to Heaven,” a chute that led to a prison work camp far below the Saucer. There, we reunited with Barret and the rest of the party, and learned the true identity of the attacker: Barret’s old friend Dyne from Old Corel. How did two friends both lose their arm and get a gun to replace it? Well I don’t know how on earth they both ended up getting a gun arm, that’s just peculiar, but as for losing their arms, their arms were shot by some of Scarlet’s men during the massacre of Corel. We got to see this in flashback, and Kyle and I discussed just how much the low-res 3D models and animation was hurting FFVII’s dramatic sequences. For example: Barret losing his arm and Dyne fakeout-dying in the flashback should have been tragic and sad, but it had been undercut seconds earlier by Barret doing a little jig to dodge bullets straight out of a Three Stooges act. Tonal consistency, FFVII!
As for our current situation, we were trapped in the work camp unless we could make our way out by appeasing Dio, the braggart in charge of the Gold Saucer. He liked to put his prisoners in the Gold Saucer’s Chocobo races as jockeys, and if you could win, you would win your freedom. Unfortunately, Dyne was in command of the work camp and wasn’t about to let us apply to be jockeys, so we had to change his mind, even though that would be dangerous given his recent murderous turn. I was at the controls here, so my notes are sparse, but I remember getting lost in the wretched desert around town for a while, which was a nice mechanic but a little irritating for me personally, since I had been well-warned about the desert and hadn’t intended to enter it in the first place! I think I “slipped” through the wrong door, if that makes any sense? Ah, who am I kidding, it probably was my fault, but without my notes I don’t remember the specifics!
Eventually we tracked down Dyne, and Barret tried to calm him down from his murderous rage with the knowledge that his biological daughter – Barret’s adopted daughter Marlene – was still alive. But Dyne wasn’t listening and we had to fight him one-on-one with Barret. This wasn’t so hard (what one-on-one battle in a game where you might not have used the party member at all is ever hard?), and after a quick battle, Dyne gave Barret a pendant that used to belong to Marlene’s mother, and he asked Barret to give it to Marlene. Before Barret could stop him, he then jumped off a cliff, too filled with rage to live on.
Unfortunately, just because the boss was gone didn’t mean we were free. We still had to complete that mini-game, after which Dio, thanked us for *cough* taking Dyne off his hands, and rewarded us with not just our freedom but a buggy for getting across rivers. Oh wait, did I say a buggy? I meant a “buggy,” always referred to with the quote marks around it. Yeah, remember earlier when I said AVALANCHE and SOLDIER were probably capitalized for emphasis and colour text might have served a similar purpose? I would have preferred either to what the game was trying to do now, because now the game is trying to use quote marks for emphasis, making it look like people are being sarcastic about the existence of things like “buggies,” “rivers” and “deserts”
We returned to the world map, where we quickly got into a fight with a “Harpy,” another of this game’s mistranslations, because it was a Chimera. I know it’s a Chimera, not just because it clearly is, but because it lives in a desert and has this game’s version of Aquabreath, in reference to the Dorne Chimera of FFV. This game desperately needs a “tidying up” translation. Even with my issues with the plot, there’s a bigger part of me that wants someone to go through it to fix 1) the controls, and 2) all the obvious inconsistencies with the rest of the series, and finally 3) simply incorrect information. Fundamental stuff like that.
At this point in the playthrough, Kyle took over and decided to return to Fort Condor to do another battle, despite the long walk. Along the way, he fought Beachplugs, a monster that had the Big Guard ability for us to capture with our Enemy Skill Materia, which we would not have missed for the Planet.
The process of getting back to Fort Condor was a hell of a walk, and also involved us smuggling across the sea with a 100 gil bribe to a Shinra grunt. And, urm, considering the way Final Fantasy treats gil as though it has the purchasing power of the Japanese yen, sounds like we just bribed a Shinra soldier to betray his loyalties and risk both his career and life, not to mention paying him to use up a whole whack of smuggling space to accommodate our party and the “buggy”… for a dollar. I suppose that’s better than the guard in Junon, who will now let you into the upper levels for a bribe of 10 gil, aka about a dime. Shinra just isn’t paying these people.
Returning to the main path, we soon entered the town of Gongaga, where we were fruitlessly attacked by the Turks as Rude and Reno stood around romantically shipping the cast together (no, really). Funnily enough, you can skip this and come back much later, but the Turks don’t adjust to your level/story progress, meaning they might be considerably downgraded from when you last saw them! What were the Turks hiding in town? It turned out Scarlet was here, examining the ruins of a mako plant that exploded ages ago, well before the events of Crisis Core, as I discussed in the Crisis Core Journals. She claimed to be looking for a “big, large, huge Materia,” and that they’d need it to make “the ultimate weapon,” but she didn’t have any luck finding the thing.
While in town, we also learned about Aeris’ SOLDIER ex-boyfriend, Zack, and how he used to make his home here. What a blast from the past! Strangely, Cloud said he’d never heard of Zack (obviously untrue from our perspective after Crisis Core, but like I said I’m going to let him continue like this until the end of this specific plot), but Tifa had heard of Zack, and Aeris said that he went missing five years back. I think this is our first confirmation that FFVII takes place around a year after the final chapters of Crisis Core – or that the final chapters of Crisis Core took most of a year in their own right!
After Gongaga, we quickly encountered another enemy with a questionable naming scheme. This time it was the Bagrisk, aka a Basilisk, which was especially confusing because the game already had a petrification-causing item called a “Vagyrisk Claw.” They couldn’t even be bothered to translate the same word the same way! To make matters worse, it’s a real English word, named for a creature from real-world-myth, which has been in Final Fantasy since the beginning (in fact, the FFVII incarnation is designed after the Basilisk from FFI and FFVI!). And you know what? Of the previous Final Fantasy games released in English? Most called the monster “Basilisk.” FFIV called them Basilisks. Mystic Quest: Basilisks. FFLI and LII, both Basilisks. Various internet sources consistently identify a certain FFA monster as a Basilisk, though I’m not sure what English source that comes from (it’s not the manual. Strategy guide?). Granted, FFI calls it “Sauria” (possibly thanks to character limitations) and for some reason FFVI calls it “Geckorex” (Ted Woolsey doing his thing), but those are both conscious renames to something else. “Bagrisk” and “Vagyrisk” sound like someone coughed or sneezed in the middle of the word, respectively. How FFVII mess this up not just once but twice? I realize this game was translated by a Japanese team, but look at your own series! For goodness sakes, even the unreleased English FFII beta calls them Basilisks!
Past Vagybrisk territory was the town of Cosmo Canyon, home of forgotten party member Red XIII. This is how this part of the game is structured, by the way, one character section after another. Our “buggy” broke down here, preventing us from going any further without repairs, though this event is famously easy to sequence break by simply parking the “buggy” a short distance away and then walking by! Inside the canyon we met Red XIII’s human family, the people of Cosmo Canyon, and learned his actual name, Nanaki. We also learned that the townspeople had voted to live without mako and to live with nature. But not to live without Materia! Buy now!
While in tow we were directed to their elder, Bugenhagen, aka Nanaki’s Grandpa, a strange man who floats about on a green orb (a materia?). Bugenhagen is here today to fulfill the role of Frogfucious from Mario RPG: the quirky, sage-like grandfather of a very young, party member of an entirely different species. Oh, and you visit both of them exactly twice despite most NPCs never being visited more than even once. It’s honestly so specifically identical that I think they could have just re-used Frogfucious’ assets without changing anything else about him. Also, I just really think Bugenhagen would enjoy a cricket pie. (Ed. It later occurred to me that an old man floating around on a magic rock and dispensing advice also applies to the old man from FFMQ!)
Bugenhagen opens our discussion by “spoiling” the fact that Red XIII is actually just sixteen years old by his species’ reckoning (forty in human years), and that was supposed to be a surprise because he acts so mature. Not for me, though, I had basically assumed he was in his teens. It wasn’t because of his dialogue, though! No, I just assumed he was sixteen because this was a Square game from the nineties. Cloud, the veteran first class SOLDIER, is twenty-one. Zack, even more impressive first class SOLDIER, was sixteen. Celes, world famous, atrocity-committing imperial general, was eighteen. Palom and Porom, magical prodigies sent along with a supposedly murderous dark knight who had already murdered dozens: five. And as I’ve already discussed, if we don’t get Krile back to the flux capacitor before it’s too late, she might de-age out of existence in front of our very eyes.
Bugenhagen teases his grandson for a while, before getting down to business by saying that the Planet is dying. I’d accuse him of having a tonal problem, but honestly I think he adding the whiplash of his own free will, just for a laugh! Nanaki suggests they use Bugenhagen’s “device” to examine the problem, and we packed into the tiny room to get down to SCIENCE. The device seemed to be a sort of magical planetarium, showing the solar system, which in a moment of strained credulity implied that FFVII was set on Earth! I’m not sure I care to comment on that, it feels like a pages-long digression that I don’t personally care about, myself. We’ve got enough to cover in this particular sitting, I think.
Bugenhagen goes on to explain most of the Compilation’s mythology. When living things die in the FFVII universe, their “spirit energy” is absorbed by the Planet in a great mass called the “Lifestream.” The Lifestream then recycles the energy in a system of resurrection. Bugenhagen then said “What happens if the Spirit energy were to disappear?” and he began to draw up the life-energy hologram as though with his hand. And just as Kyle and I were about to crack jokes about him destroying the world himself… the game crashed. You couldn’t ask for a better metaphor!
After loading our save and getting back to where we left off, Bugenhagen explained that losing the spirit energy would destroy the world. Cloud put two and two together and realized that the Mako reactors around the world were actually draining away from the Lifestream! What an interesting mix of magic and technology! Though not particularly a surprise, per se, since it’s basically a literal version of what Barret’s been saying all along, and good for the game on that… mostly. This weird combination of a unique idea being presented as a repeat of an earlier idea left me both ultimately impressed but also… sort of bored, since we were already so familiar with it?
Also I do feel this is nice mythology, I feel this also subtracts from the game’s environmentalist message? In short, it’s replacing the FFV Evil Tree Ghost on the “punishment” side with the Benevolent Actual Ghosts on the “environment” side, and leaves us with the problematic fact that fantasy concerns are gradually overtaking genuine real-world concerns, like in many broken fantasy and sci-fi narratives. It’s basically the X-Men Problem: your metaphor is too far removed from the real world situation it is trying to represent. A story about mutants as stand-ins for real-life minority groups and the issues they face is eventually going to be overtaken by the problem that fictional issues, i.e. “concussive lasers that shoot out of your eyes”-issues, are very different concerns! In one way, I suppose it’s fine that FFVII is going in this new direction, but as someone who was weakly hoping against hope that FFVII might correct the mistakes of FFV, I can’t help but feel just a little disappointed.