So this section was something of a low point. It started off right at the bottom and set about calling for jackhammers. Mt. Nibel was an utterly miserable experience. It started with me going in circles due to confusion over the dungeon’s objective: to wit, the entire walk to the reactor from Cloud’s flashback is optional and returns no rewards, but I foolishly repeated it. Next came the pipe puzzles, wherein you entered a pipe ala Turtle Rock from Link to the Past and came out the other end, except these pipes were one-way (a logical, valuable and also infuriating addition to the Turtle Rock formula), and in the end was all but completely drained by innumerable enemy groups and fucking dragons.
The boss hardly even warrants mention in comparison to the slough that was its minions, but I might as well cover it. The boss was the Materia Keeper, which was a sort of… insect?… with an intriguing name that implies narrative. Which is weird, because the game certainly didn’t provide any narrative to match that name, or, for that matter, any Materia for the boss to keep! Not even as a Steal! The bosses’ strategy is to use the powerful Trine spell as well as to use Cura to keep itself alive once reduced to low health, but I don’t recall either making much of an impact, and I think I remember complaining to Kyle that, hit points aside, the boss hardly seemed stronger than the local dragons. In hindsight, I think my getting lost in the dungeon yanked out the old keystone and brought down the whole Final Fantasy arch yet again: by getting lost, I may have overlevelled and removed all challenge. Let’s see how long that lasts this time, huh? Most of the time this happens, the answer is “the entire game.” So let’s hope for less than that, eh?
We wouldn’t be getting much immediate feedback, since the next section has a lot of narrative but not exactly a lot of combat. North of Mt. Nibel you discover the isolated town of… urm… “Rocket Town.” The town was dominated by the somewhat tragic, somewhat comical sight of a rusted old space rocket that was still standing, but remained tipped over about twenty degrees. The locals would only say that this had happened after an “accident.” While searching town, we discovered that one of the residents owned a propeller plane, the “Tiny Bronco.” The Bronco would obviously be required to move on through the game, since we had run out of land to explore (although I suppose the game could have dropped us somewhere on the map manually if it had really wanted to). Goodness knows where Sephiroth had gone, considering even he needed a ship the last time he crossed the ocean. Unfortunately, while our characters agreed that a Shinra plane was fair game for hijacking, we were spotted by one of the owners on our way to steal it.
The party covered up their aborted theft pretty well, and the first owner introduced herself as Shera. Shera explained that she and the other owner, “The Captain,” were on edge because apparently Rufus Shinra was coming later that day, and they were hoping he was coming to re-open the space program. You’ll recall that the space program is in the hands of Shinra’s incompetent court jester, Palmer, so that doesn’t sound particularly likely. But if not the space program, we’re left with the question of why they really are coming…
By the way, I’m pretty sure that Shera and the Captain are in a relationship at this point in the story, but the game is never explicit except to say that they’re not married, so it’s also possible that Shera might be the Captain’s live-in assistant.
Deciding to head to the broken-down rocket to speak to “The Captain,” we discovered he was this game’s Cid: Cid Highwind, already well known to me from Kingdom Hearts. We had a chat with Cid about the old space program, in which he blamed Shera for the “accident’ that ruined the rocket and ended the space program and ruining his hopes and dreams, and continued to be basically abusive in all their interactions together. By the way, did we mention that Shera and Cid are living together? Again, it’s not clear if they’re in a romantic relationship or not, but in either event, Cid is more than a little… awful, to be generous.
After this, we dropped in on Shera again, only for Cid to follow us in and start shouting at her (see what I mean?), and Shera explained that yes, she was the one who caused the “accident,” in a manner of speaking. We flashed back to the day of the incident, and saw the interior of ship in basically the same garbage condition it was in the present, because it wasn’t worth the effort to recreate the pre-rendered background. Preparations are complete! The rusty pipes are ready and looking just as ancient as they will twenty years from now somehow!
Apparently, Shera had been checking an oxygen tank in the rocket when Cid was due to take off, and was so worried that it would go faulty that she was still there during the launch. Unfortunately, her investigation was nearabouts going to be fatal, because apparently the whole area was about to be overheated during the launch. Uh… what? You’re going to overheat a section of the ship used to store volatile oxygen? And they make it very clear: this is where the oxygen is stored, not where it’s supposed to be ignited. I think I would have believed any other cover story than this. I… I don’t even know what to say. You picked the one element I wouldn’t have believed, the one bit of science I understand well enough to notice the problem! Also, note that the engines eventually do turn on, if only briefly, and Shera is not turned into a chicken nugget. I can’t help but think the original explanation was supposed to be more complicated, like maybe the game wanted to imply was that Shera was in a part of the ship that would be dropped off in high orbit and burn up, but it was too hard to convey in a few text boxes? Long story short: Cid aborted the launch, but ignition went off briefly and the ship ended up skewed into its current angle.
After the flashback, who should arrive at the door but Palmer? Luckily, he didn’t seem to recognize us from the time we, the terrorists, forcibly held him down in an office with a dead body and a murderer on the loose. No big deal. Cid returned to the room so they could talk, and Palmer directed him outside to talk to Rufus. While this was happening, Palmer started asking Shera for tea with lard in it. Okay, look here FFVII. I’ve been trying to downplay your fat jokes with Palmer, but I can’t do it any longer. Buffoonery? Fine. Fat jokes? No. Implying buffoonery and his weight are intertwined? Up yours. We are only one game away from the time I called Persona 1 the Worst Game in the Marathon partially for this exact bullshit. To make matters worse, I’m just plain not in the mood for you piling it on like this. You’re trying to make me swallow an capital-A Abusive relationship with Cid and Shera as “not ideal, but not so bad that Cid can’t be a trusted party member, right?” and I am not in a good mood about that. I realize I’m not in the right cultural position to comment on your behaviour, like I said in Wall Market, but you have stacked it up, and up, and up, and there’s only so far I can go! I’m not about to exclude you from similar criticism just because of your reputation.
And yeah, I’m genuinely angry about the abusive relationship thing. Kyle and I had some laughs during FFIV whenever the characters would mistreat one another, but that wasn’t laughter at the abuse itself but at the game’s sheer obliviousness to its own behaviour. It was funny in the way campy things can be funny, because the creators of campy things don’t always realize how silly they come off? If you don’t agree with our assessment and think that the behaviour in FFIV’s treatment of its child characters was terrible and we’re terrible for laughing, that’s fine. But FFVII is paying attention and is perfectly aware that Cid is abusive to and that that is a bad thing, but it critically miscalculates that I will 1) want to so much as look at Cid’s slimy face at any point for the rest of the game, especially right away, and 2) will accept the upcoming redemption arc in any way. On the Palmer side of things, the fat jokes are deliberately mean-spirited and can’t count on obliviousness for their defence.
For fuck’s sake, FFVI’s Japanese version literally suggested that Edgar would sexually assault a ten year old and thought that was funny. The only reason we were spared that detail is because we had Ted Woolsey instead of a chaotic jumble translation like the original IV and VII. What is wrong with these two games? What defence does VII have to offer? That it we only see Cid’s abuse briefly, even while it implies it’s been going on for years? That’s not a fucking excuse.
Real human drama, the maturity of the medium! Take us seriously! Oh I will, Final Fantasy. I will.
So after a brief scene where Rufus asks Cid for the Tiny Bronco (because apparently he doesn’t have enough gargantuan airships), you get in fight with Palmer as he dances around and slaps his ass.
…………………I don’t even know how to respond to this. Not even within the context of what I was just saying!
………………………in any event………………………
The fight with Palmer really underlined how Final Fantasy’s dynamic camera system, while revolutionary at the time, honestly comes at a cost to the game at large. For example, Palmer keeps trying to slap his ass at you, but the game keeps facing the camera in entirely different directions, undermining its joke. I legitimately couldn’t get a good screenshot of the ass-slap from RickyC’s playthrough because of the dynamic camera! Throughout the rest of the game, you’re often looking at extreme close-ups of flat polygons at the back of large, detailed enemies and other such mess because of the silly camera.
As for the Palmer boss fight itself, it’s a joke and so isn’t exactly intended to be challenging. I think it’s clever how they give him a Materia-powered pistol, which is something I can imagine Shinra actually doing for its execs. Still: Palmer’s HP was honestly too much. I think it would have been fine if he had survived a round or three just to get the jokes across, but he almost has as much HP as Lost Number! It’s just another one of the ways RPG mechanics don’t honestly match up with the story they’re trying to tell, and how weird a development it was that game developers attached narrative so thoroughly to RPGs in the first place (probably because of its historical connection to D&D), considering it’s a genre that doesn’t honestly agree seem to agree with narrative? Ludonarrative dissonance, and all that. Even weirder, FFVII later will downgrade a boss for story reasons. In Rocket Town!
In any event, at the end of the fight, Palmer gets hit by a truck, which is genuinely hilarious half because of the unshakeable cartoon element put up by these early PSX models, and also because it undercuts what you expect of an RPG battle. Stranger still, he apparently survives! Maybe that has something to do with the fact that both he and the truck are erased by the time you leave the battle screen and returned to the overworld. I don’t honestly know what to think about that, but I’m going to cluster all the parts that don’t make sense into one big gob, if nobody minds.
So uh… where’d the truck go? Where did it even come from, funny as it may have been? It seems like a minor, even petty complaint, but I feelt it goes deeper into the problem FFVII, like FFVI, has connecting it events together. You know: the “quilt” problem that I mentioned over and over during FFVI. Both games seem to think that they can do whatever they want without bordering events with a reasonable degree of context or follow-up. While the things the author wants to do are often high quality, the connections are often poor or nonexistent. The author says so, so stop thinking about it. It’s unfortunately something of a Square Enix signature, appearing in at least these two games and, as most of my readers know by now, Kingdom Hearts 2 as well. That tells me that the problem persists, at the very least, for an entire decade of Square Enix’s history, from FFVI to KH2, and it’s not making me feel very optimistic for the rest of Square’s so-called Golden Age of titles spanning that exact same decade. Unfortunately, now that FFVI helped me identified my problem with this style of writing, I can’t stop noticing it whenever it occurs, so these next few games might not go down quite as smoothly as FFVI did, even if they end up committing the exact same writing sin!
After the battle with Palmer, the party discovers that Palmer somehow managed to start the plane in such a fashion that it was going to take off, ohhhhh… after exactly however many minutes it would take to fight him. Left with a choice between trying their luck with the rogue Bronco and giving up with no plane at all, the party attempt to board the plane. Unfortunately, it somehow performs a perfect takeoff all on its own as the party clings for their lives to the fuselage and do a death-dive over Rufus, causing his guards to shoot at the plane. On the plus side, Cid managed to catch the edge of the Bronco’s tail and join our cartoon escape plan. On the minus side, we were shot down and ended up crashing into the ocean.
Luckily, the Bronco managed to stay afloat, and the party started to discuss their options with Cid. Cid agreed to join the party (as a fairly typical Dragoon, with Jump as his Limit Break), but the question remained of where on earth they were supposed to go. Cid conveyed that Rufus was going to the “Temple of the Ancients,” but he doesn’t know where that is. Or rather… he has a guess, but he conveys it by saying “it’s off this way,” without bothering to point or suggest a location on the map. I swear, this game’s minor technical deficiencies manage to disappoint me in a brand new way almost every two or three dungeons. I don’t know how they’re still doing it after all this time, but it’s as though they had a mission to stack up faults one at a time, like they had to spread them out!