To pick up where we left off, things are just like Barret said: mako energy is bad. Barret explained why he knew this in the following scene, saying that AVALANCHE had been founded in Cosmo Canyon, but you’d need a translation of Before Crisis to learn more about that. Aeris also remarked on learning about her heritage as an Ancient somewhere off-screen during her stay. Despite Aeris’ stronger sense of identity, everyone was pretty bummed, but no one more so than Red “That’s Not My Real Name, You’re Making Me More Depressed” XIII. He explained that this whole trip had renewed his dislike for his cowardly father, who had ran away from a battle against Cosmo Canyon in the past, which Red sees as a horrible betrayal. Bugenhagen, however, says that Nanaki has to come see something, and to bring Cloud and one other other person to round out the party.
So… Nanaki’s father didn’t betray the tribe and Bugenhagen is going to prove it, right? I guess there’s something to be said about walking him through it now that we’re at this point, but so long as you’re not in Red’s shoes, a six year old could guess this plot. So the question becomes: why does Red think otherwise? I can only assume someone either told him a lie and no one corrected it, or that Red’s dreamt up his father’s betrayal wholesale and, once again, nobody corrected him about the hero of the town, his father. In something short of forty years! It seems like doing this led to a lifetime of malaise, so someone’s been a real jackass to the poor guy for a long time. Were they just that put off by his bad mood and didn’t want to hurt him further? For forty years?
I don’t like this upcoming dungeon much, in hindsight. I think it’s because, while it’s technically ancient ruins, it looks exactly like a plain old cave, and I hate caves in RPGs. Tunnels especially. The plain cave is the “giant rat” of dungeon aesthetics: put it at the beginning or preferably not at all, because it’s well-past overdone as a concept. Considering that most dungeons are already underground, the cave is like a dungeon with exposed drywall. Of course, I probably shouldn’t be talking to FFVII about this, considering this is a game that for some reason thought that a cave makes for a perfectly acceptable final dungeon, and if you’ll think back to Crisis Core, they did it not just once but more-or-less twice in the same sub-series, so I don’t think I’m going to make any progress by making the complaint here in the middle of the game!
I don’t care if that was a spoiler about FFVII’s final dungeon. Using a cave for the final dungeon is the laziest and most uninspired ending that any game could have and I’m not about to or going to be able to restrict my complaints to the last few posts. It’s just so dull. I should do a little exposé on the history of caves in this franchise some day, maybe outline what I think separates a boring dungeon from an interesting one.
Anyways, time for this dungeon. After descending down some ropes, it was cave time all the time. As we went, Bugenhagen explained that this cave connected Cosmo Canyon and its occupants to the lands of the Gi tribe, but the Gi tribe were now all wiped out, and he seemed to imply that the monsters in the cave were supposed to be their ghosts! As we went, he continued to string along his Important Life Lesson™ for Nanaki, one preschooler clue after another. “Hoooo boy, kiddo, the Gi tribe tooootally would have wiped us out if they had used this tunnel to get to us. Good thing your fathe—I mean, good thing they didn’t, for no particular reason!” On one hand, maybe this is justified, but it’s only because they’ve spent most of the last forty years lying to him, so I don’t feel particularly sympathetic to the people of Cosmo Canyon.
At the end of the dungeon, we fought an actual, definite Gi ghost, Gi Nattak. Gi Nattak could have be instantly killed by an X-Potion or Elixir, since it was undead, but that didn’t occur to us. Besides! What happened instead was far more entertaining. You see, Gi Nattak was accompanied by two “Soul Fires,” which would possess party members and then cast Fira on them from the inside, only leaving if they died, which made for an interesting twist on the Wrexsoul battle in FFVI. Not a bad plan in theory, but in practice, one of the Soul Fires kept possessing Cloud, who was wearing a Fire Ring that made him immune to Fire, so the whole battle lucked itself into looking like more like a comedy act than a challenge.
At the far end of the cave, we discovered that Nanaki’s father, Seto, had fought to hold the canyon until he had died a hero via petrification. …Wait, what? They’re… too cheap to use a Soft on him? It’s another FFIV mistake reborn in FFVII, this time the twin’s sacrifice: petrification does not work this way, ergo someone must be acting maliciously. And remember that in a few years, TAY would spit on FFIV’s mistake and I suspect it would FFVII’s as well! Would it kill the writers of either game to add the words “If someone stays petrified for too long, it can never be reversed!” Of course, FFVII is unfortunately famous for an upcoming scene that defies game mechanics to create drama, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by a second.
Bugenhagen then asks for some time alone with Nanaki, and admits that he doesn’t think the Planet can be saved even if Sephiroth dies, because it’s just too drained or possibly polluted (oh hey! They didn’t completely forget about the environmentalism plot! Or at least, not yet). But, he adds, isn’t it better to try to save the Planet? Well, I don’t know. Sure, get rid of Sephiroth before he kills people, but if the death of the Planet is inevitable, after a certain point it’s arguably more important to accept the situation is out of control and to direct resources in an effort to optimize the bad situation or do whatever is necessary to create a new situation, rather than trying to fix a perpetually broken, harmful or doomed situation. For example, you could work with Shinra to complete their space program that we’re going to learn about later and hope to migrate to a new Planet, or devise a new means of survival and consumption in an environment apocalypse that you now feel to be inevitable, or—oh, sorry, what was that? Constant optimism is more important than acknowledging the truth of negative situations? Deviating from your current course of action even when it’s going to cost lives is the purest form of evil? Oh, well, my mistake.
In short, Bugehagen wants Nanaki to stay with the party, surprising exactly no one but Nanaki himself apparently. Nanaki doesn’t want to go, partially because Bugenhagen hints that he (Bugenhagen, that is) might be dying, but Nanaki is ultimately convinced and rejoined the party for the all-important role of standing in the reserves and never contributing to anything we do in any way whatsoever. We’re the heroes, and so is he.
Now that our vehicle was repaired, Kyle and I took stock of the party: we had Cloud at Level 27, Yuffie at 27 and Barret at 24. We ended up swapping in Tifa for Barret at this point. We were only intending to put Tifa into the party temporarily, because Kyle knew where we were going next, but poor Barret very nearly never got into the party again. I also made a note at this point describing how Kyle and I kept losing track of our Materia across our multiple party members, and for this stretch of the game we kept lazily equipping people with whatever low-grade garbage we still had on hand rather than dig through the menus to find the truly valuable stuff. We’re experts, don’t try any of this at home.
The next spot on the map was Cloud’s home town of Nibelheim, conveniently placed in one of those video game canyons that force you to visit the location even if you don’t want to. You know, like are so popular with city planners these days? To everyone’s surprise (but not ours, coming from Crisis Core), the town was fully intact despite Cloud’s story of its destruction in that extended flashback. Cloud doesn’t honestly seem all that put out about it, and in fact he seems angrier that his teammates might think he was lying to them than he is upset by this terrifying insult to a personal tragedy! Ed. In hindsight, there’s a metaphor in this…
A lot of the people in town had an optional set of dialogue we could use to ask them about their lives and the town, and they all claimed to have lived there all their lives despite Cloud and Tifa not recognizing them (Tifa had less to say, considering her presence in the party was optional). Clearly they were just actors set up by Shinra to cover up the truth… that is, except for all the cloaked figures.
You see, when we headed into the nearest building, we found a figure in a cloak, this one tattooed “6.” Naturally, we robbed this poor, non-communicative beggar, like heroes. We then we discovered more cloaked figures with numbers, and we robbed every single one of them, like superheroes! The cloaked people kept talking about reunion and having to meet Sephiroth, one saying that they would “become one with Sephiroth.”
(The PC version makes an odd change to two NPCs that you could find in a specific room. In the PSX version, these are both smaller than the other cloaked figures, while on the PC, only one is small. This actually isn’t the PC version’s only 3D model scale change, but this one actually disrupts the plot a little, as the game intends to imply that these two cloaked figures are actually two children who stood in this very room in Nibelheim during Cloud’s flashback, and their dialogue supports it.
…Then again, if that is the case, I guess we have to question why they haven’t grown in the PSX version, don’t we? In any event, the one-or-two “child” figures never appear again in either version, or at least not as children!)
Following the… uh… advice of one of the cloaked figures, we headed into the Shinra mansion at the north end of Nibelheim, the ancestral home of the Shinra family. According to the cloaked figure, Sephiroth was inside. Contradicting the cloaked figure was the behaviour of the cloaked figures at large, who wanted nothing more than to be reunited with Sephiroth but didn’t seem interested in the manor in the slightest. But whatever, plot hooks are plot hooks.
Your actual objective in the Shinra Manor is to re-discover a secret passage from Cloud’s flashback, and then to head to the basement laboratory. But there’s a lot you can do before you head to the basement! For starters, you could try to find the combination to the safe, similar to but unique from the quest in Crisis Core. The safe has four numbers. One is hidden behind (and specifically behind) a piano, one of them involves finding a creaky floor, another involves searching the lid of an opened chest, and the fourth is only available by checking a list of hints explaining the locations of the other clues for an invisible menu option, which would be unfair if they hadn’t made sure the menu box had a conspicuous blank spot. But the strangest bit is how you have to enter the combination into the safe in only twenty seconds, manually spinning the dials and everything, which just seems spiteful. Why… do that? Up to this point, this has been a clever riddle one (one which I admittedly couldn’t have solved), but the timer on the dial is just there to throw sand in your eyes!
Kyle was so annoyed with this puzzle from past experience, in fact, that he insisted we skip it and go directly to the safe with an answer from a walkthrough, saying that we were probably going to have to check a walkthrough in the end no matter what. I’m not proud to admit it, but he’s probably right. I personally think the “lid of the chest” thing would have caught me, and maybe the piano too, though since we had learned from Shinra HQ bookcase riddle by this point, who could say? Unfortunately, in skipping the puzzle we missed a small patch of story explaining something that’s about to happen, which frankly just came off as nonsense without the context, and we only have ourselves to blame. Essentially: you find a document in the manor explaining the four clues, and also saying that the author was trying to evade a Turk who was dogging his “research.” The author ultimately captured the Turk, somehow modified his body, and put him in the basement.
Unlocking the safe, three things came out: a Summon Materia, a key, and oh right, a giant flesh monster. This was Lost Number, implying that it was another of Hojo’s creations and, simultaneously, that Hojo was the author of the note from earlier. But enough about that, this is no time for plot! Unlike Gi Nattak, the Lost Number actually put up a serious fight (internally, the Gi Nattak and Lost Number are graded at 6 levels apart despite being virtually next to one another in terms of gameplay, presumably as a way of making Lost Number more challenging but not insurmountable as a way to defend the optional rewards from the safe). Lost Number’s big gimmick is that once it’s reduced to half health, it transforms into either a magically-aligned or physically-aligned combatant, depending on what attack you used to reduce it past half health. Our biggest asset in this fight was Yuffie. Yuffie has somehow gotten to her third set of limits inside the manor, which happened really early after her second set! Moreover, she had a Bolt Ring, so when Lost Number transformed into its magic form, it could barely hurt her.
The prizes for solving the safe and defeating Lost Number were extensive: the key I mentioned earlier, what turned out to be the Odin Materia, and even the item for Red XIII’s ultimate limit break, which was dropped by the boss itself.
I made a few more notes in this section that I suspect took place during the Lost Number battle as well. It was certainly an eventful fight. My first note was: dammit, Final Fantasy VII, stop killing the one party member who has the Revive Materia! It doesn’t seem to matter who it is, either! If we force it to swap hands, that person starts dying instead! Granted, the Revive Materia does drop your HP by 5%, but that doesn’t explain how time and time again we’d watch monsters drop the healer and leave the others standing at high health.
Speaking of Materia that make you die, the Cover Materia doesn’t work like Cover in previous Final Fantasy games. In the SNES trilogy, Cover only triggers if a fellow party member will die from an incoming attack, and over a decade later in TAY, they went so far as to assure that Cecil wouldn’t use Cover if it meant that he was also likely to die! Very tidy and refined (though bear in mind that TAY is a much more modern game than IV and VII). This made Cover a technique we came to rely on in FFIV, TAY and to a lesser degree FFV, due to its reliability and consistency! …Yeah, it turns out that in FFVII, Cover is fully randomized. This meant Tifa kept using Cover to hurl her dying self in front of Yuffie, over and over again, desperate to save Yuffie from attacks that weren’t going to hurt her overlevelled ass much in the first place. We, urm, started leaving Cover behind not long after this dungeon.
Eventually, we made our way to the basement, all of which was dutifully recreated in Crisis Core, making it relatively easy to find our way around. Among other things down there, we discovered a group of coffins, including one that we could unlock with the key from the safe. Inside, we found a person all right: Vincent Valentine, ex-Turk, whom Kyle has been addressing for the past twenty years as a “vampire.” I was disappointed to discover that Vincent was not, by any familiar definition, a vampire, but he was supernatural after his suffering at the hands of Hojo. He survived his long nap in the coffin for starters, and seemed to be able to fly and use telekinesis (traits that didn’t survive into the game’s sequels). More importantly, he was about to join the party. He fights with guns, sure, but he’s also able to use his Limit Breaks to transform into powerful but Berserked monsters. The developers apparently conceived Vincent as having the ability to transform into classic movie monsters, but that didn’t quite survive the development process, as it’s only really evident from two of his four Limit Break in the finished game: one a vaguely Frankenstein-esque monster, and another a chainsaw wielding Jason Voorhees type. His other Limit Breaks were turned into Final Fantasy references instead: the “Galian Beast” being a Behemoth and Chaos being… well, Chaos. Unfortunately, those FF references upset the theme of the original monster references, but if I may, the horror movie references were kind of tacky? Unfortunately, the fact that Vincent’s transformations were all Berserked put a wrench in his appeal as an optional party member, and we soon shelved him.
But I’m getting well ahead of myself, as Vincent has yet to even join the party! At the time, Vincent kept complaining about needing to “atone,” without giving us any specifics as to what he had to atone for. And in all fairness, we were strangers! But after we told him about Sephiroth, Vincent suddenly became interested, and he seemed to know about the Jenova project and the Promised Land. While he tried to set his curiosity aside so that he could ignore us, Vincent asked us if we knew “Lucrecia.” He explained that Lucrecia used to be the assistant of the late Professor Gast, and moreover was Sephiroth’s human mother. Vincent said that Sephiroth was the product of a human experiment somehow involving Jenova, and he blames himself for Lucrecia going through with the experiment, even though he loved her. And then Hojo cut him open and stuck him in a box, I guess? Vincent doesn’t really elaborate on that part, but he does seem interested in “meeting up” with Hojo when he finally joins the party on our way out of the dungeon.
Inside the hidden laboratory and library, we finally caught up with Sephiroth again. Sephiroth asked us if we were here for the “Reunion,” like the cloaked figures, and he explained that “Jenova will rejoin the Reunion, becoming a calamity from the skies.” Cloud takes Sephiroth’s wording as literally as the choppy localization allows, deciding that if Jenova is going to… urm…. become a calamity from the skies, which means she’s not an Ancient. If you say so, Cloud. No, really! If you want to give us insight that this scattershot English won’t allow, that’s fine by me! Seeing as how Cloud doesn’t understand the entirety of what he’s saying, Sephiroth says to go past Mt. Nibel to the north, as if we had a geographic choice in the matter. He then hilariously pelts Cloud with a Destruct Materia and flies off through the air like a torpedo. Psheeeeewwwww!
While exploring the library, we found a laboratory behind where we found several reports talking about two “escapees,” perhaps related to two human-sized tubes of fluid we found in the laboratory. The reports said that one had been shot, but the other was still at large, though dying. Of course, from Crisis Core we already knew what this was all about (indeed, these reports largely match up with the medical reports we found in the lab in Crisis Core). Interestingly, the notes suggested that one of the captured subjects had shown a reaction to Jenova. Oh, and also the pods included messages in them as though their prisoners were communicating in writing on the walls of the tube, which was obviously retconned away by Crisis Core.