So how were we going to get back to land, much less the Temple of the Ancients? Well get this, because it’s so funny and so unexpected that I just have to love it: they decide to start using the crashed Bronco as a boat. It can only stay in shallow water near the coasts, which actually limits its range tremendously, but it’s a new vehicle, and you know what that means: fucking around in the wrong direction!
Since Yuffie was in the party during the crash sequence, she took this opportunity to speak up and tell us to go west. As it happened this was her way of directing us towards a selfish sidequest. That sounded right up our alley, but it’s a good thing Kyle was there to tell me it was a sidequest! Imagine if I had come to this on my own, heard Yuffie say to go west, and then avoided going west at all costs, thinking it was the right way to go to advance the main plot? Geeze, Square, don’t you know how jerks like me even play?
We didn’t go straight after Yuffie’s lead, but didn’t end up finding very much of note (besides the come-back-later town of Mideel), so we took her lead… and part of the way there, she robbed us blind. Yes: Yuffie, our most powerful party member, openly betrayed us and took all our Materia. In the middle of a battle with Shinra soldiers! Which must have been a pretty impressive pickpocketing job, considering we were wearing most of it!
We pursued Yuffie across the continent, until we eventually found ourselves in the village of Wutai, which housed all that remained of the former country from Crisis Core, and was Yuffie’s hometown, as she had loudly announced in the past.
The entire Wutai section is actually all optional (though you’re locked into it after the initial materia theft), and it’s really an impressive chunk of content. I think it must be the largest sidequest in the Final Fantasy Marathon to date, complete with an entire continent to explore (albeit a mostly empty one), a large town, and even a (small) dungeon. Even better: there’s a set of additional sidequests inside the town itself! But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s get started with a look at the town.
After spotting Yuffie inside the village, she went to hide, forcing us to go looking for her. There was a lot to find. Among the usual shops and inn (though the weapon shop refused to sell to us at the moment), we came across the Turtle Paradise, a resort that had spread fliers across the game world. There was a side quest to find all those fliers, many of which were permanently missable… and as it happened, Kyle and I hadn’t found any of them, not even by accident! It’s not like they’re hidden or anything, either: they’re fairly visible on walls and the like. We just… didn’t get any of them!
With that failure shoved in our faces by the internet, we decided to go the bar. There, we found the Turks, so drunk they didn’t even want to pay attention to us? We’ve got a weird relationship, you three. Let me buy you all another round’s worth of staying the hell away from us.
Tracking down Yuffie was a matter of locating a Materia in a chest, which Yuffie ganks from you before returning to hiding. At this point, you have to track her down around town to find several hiding places, which was a lot of fun, and even involved her trapping us in a cage. Finally, we caught up to Yuffie, but hardly because she let us: it turned out that none other than long-forgotten skeezeball Don Corneo had kidnapped her for his usual terrible reasons. Kidnapping and rape! Final Fantasy VII thinks these are traits you can assign to a comic relief character. I hope that was already clear.
Corneo headed into the nearby sacred mountains, which were carved with numerous religious figures. There, we learned that the Turks were also tracking Corneo (out of revenge for us torturing the secret out of him earlier – we’re the heroes), and that Elena had been kidnapped while they were boozing. Hey, by the way, did I mention that Corneo is also fat? For some reason, after the way the game has been treating Palmer, that seemed relevant. Corneo had strapped his victims up to the eyes of one of the carved figures. We charged up front while the Turks went for a better angle, but unfortunately Corneo had another of his monster pets on hand to attack us, despite it being invisible prior to the boss fight. This was Rapps, and naturally we had to fight him with no Materia. Of course, anyone with gaming experience knows that if you have to fight the boss with a huge penalty like this, the boss is usually pretty weak to compensate, and this was no exception.
After the battle, Corneo revealed that he had rigged Yuffie and Elena’s restraints to drop them (upside down – a minor detail that I imagine was meant to account for the fact Cloud has already survived a hundred-story fall. Look, FFVII, you dug your own hole on this one). But naturally, this is when Rude and Reno made their move. Rude sniped Corneo from behind and Reno dropped him off a cliff, finally removing this menace from the plot for good. Reno then got a convenient call telling him his next mission was to take out Cloud, but he decided to let us go as thanks for helping them out.
I have no idea how they got Elena and Yuffie off the wall.
After the fight, Yuffie returns our Materia (assigned to characters at random, which was probably a technical deficiency but one that they managed to turn it into a pretty effective joke), and it was time to explore Wutai with her in the party. Namely, this meant heading on to the next major sidequest, the Wutai Pagoda, wherein Yuffie would be challenged on her martial arts to see if she was worth of the power of Wutai’s god, Leviathan. Since Yuffie was heads and away our best party member at this point in the game, and we were still slightly over-leveled on average, we went in feeling pretty confident.
The idea was that Yuffie would climb the pagoda, fighting various other students of the Wutai martial arts that she already seemed to know. You know, basically Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, the one movie this side of Journey to the West that video games apparently can’t ever get sick of adapting, even after a hundred retreads. What was strange about the pagoda was that each of your opponents felt the need to transform into a monster (often a very small, regular monster!) before fighting you. What a very 90s thing to do! It’s nothing against FFVII, but the transformations kind of feel like an artifact from a dead video game era to me. For course of several decades, we were only ever allowed to fight humans as minor enemies but weren’t allowed to fight humans as bosses unless they were resized or mutated in some manner!
The first boss was Gorky, who became “Gorkii” in battle. Somehow, he used up all his MP during the battle and essentially stopped attacking us, which wasn’t a very promising start for the legendary Wutai martial arts. Next up is Shake, who transformed into what my notes describe as a “razor penguin.” The second fight went even better than the first, and even landed Yuffie her last pre-ultimate Limit Break, the adorably named “Doom of the Living.”
Next up was Chekhov, who basically turned into an alien. The wiki notes that “She is supposed to represent magic, but does not use magic often.” Great… great job. Here, we had a stylish finish with Doom of the Living and even levelled Yuffie up to 34. The fourth fight was against Staniv. Kyle decided to start fighting seriously around here and used Yuffie’s Enemy Attack Materia to call up that Final Fantasy classic, Big Guard, and then to attack him with Aqualung for an attack.
Last of all was Wutai’s headsman and Yuffie’s father, Godo Kisaragi. Godo transformed into a multi-faced monster not unlike Asura (who does not appear in this game) and as you’d expect, each head had a different set of attacks, including Cura and Mini. As a cute touch, this head can also use Cura on Yuffie if she’s at low health! His ability to heal himself was a serious problem, but we finally finished him off in a turn after Yuffie counterattacked and then used Aqualung. Our reward was Yuffie’s All Creation ultimate limit item (which you could use to give her her Ultimate Limit if she had already unlocked her level 3s, which she had), and the Leviathan Materia.
At this point, I took over from Kyle and headed out of Wutai, eventually putting us back on track with the main plot. I found the Bronco incredibly frustrating to control because it was so slow, so once I found myself on the trail of the main plot by accident, I essentially gave up on exploring the rest of the world out of boredom. I’m not sure why the Bronco was such a snail. It’s not a technical limitation, since there are much faster vehicles. In fact, maybe it’s so slow just to make the water-walking Chocobos you can breed a more appealing grab? Just wait until you see FFVII’s other water vehicle, which is actually even slower, even though there are no Chocobos that can duplicate its functions at all!
It’s actually not possible to head directly to the Temple of the Ancients in pursuit of Sephiroth. At this point in the game, it turns out to be a dead end. While we were messing around to the north, we discovered that you need a “Keystone” to enter the Temple. Where’s the Keystone, you ask? What you’re supposed to do is to go to a small random house in the middle of nowhere to get someone to tell you its location, but I’m serious, the Tiny Bronco was pissing me off, so we just checked a walkthrough. It turned out that Dio, the owner of the Golden Saucer, had gotten his hands on it. So after forcing the Bronco’s sputtering engine back to port… locating our buggy… going back to north Corel… going up the gondola FMV and paying at the gate… we finally made our way to Dio. And just think! Now we have to walk back to gondola, back down to Corel, back onto the arrrrgggggggh!!! End! End!!
Of course, Dio didn’t want to part with his prize for free. He wanted Cloud to participle in Battle Square, one of the Saucer’s minigames. I didn’t discuss this place the last time we were here because it was locked off until we were ready to leave, so I had might as well do it now. The idea was that you have to fight through eight waves of enemies, which vary depending on your progress through the game. You get to decide between battles whether to stop fighting and take your spoils or to risk going on and losing everything. With every round after the first, the player gets a slot wheel that inflicts you with a handicap for the remaining rounds: these can be status effects (making it a good idea to wear a White Cape to become immune to them), to lock off some of your equipment, or to lock off some of your basic battle commands and Materia. The bigger the handicap, the larger the reward, making this something of a randomized experience more than a fully strategic one. The biggest prize available from Battle Square was Cloud’s ultimate limit break item, but we never got the thing. We just stuck around long enough to get the Keystone (it turns out Dio will give it to you even if you do only a single round, or even lose! Dude really does just want to be entertained!) and then we bailed.
Or rather… we tried to bail. It turned out that the tram, which had been a Chekhov’s Gun from the outset, had broken down and we were now stuck in the Saucer overnight. This led to one of the game’s most famous sequences, wherein one of your party members shows up at night and asks you on a date. As I’ve already alluded, your potential dates include Barret, Tifa, Aeris and the fourth date option that I wasn’t able to name earlier in the game, Yuffie. Your first three party options make sense: they’re your first three party members and you’ve had a lot of time with them. Yuffie, on the other hand, just seems to be here out some sense of challenge, considering she’s a secret character and all (either that or she’s there out of heterosexual completeness, but I’m trying to give the game the benefit of the doubt here!). Of course, Barret’s the actual hardest one to date, since he starts the game openly hating you and all.
How does the game determine which character you date? Mostly, it’s based on dialogue options spread about the game, but there are signs that it was supposed to be boosted by in-combat actions as well, like perhaps healing, and there’s definitely evidence for the Cover Materia being involved. The biggest piece of evidence for there being more frequent chances to raise affection is a scene in Gongaga that is basically never used by the game, because it only triggers if you have an impossible 120 love points with Tifa or Aeris (though Tifa is technically possible, due to the glitch I was teasing about during your stay in Shinra’s prison). This change in scale might explain why getting Yuffie or Barret to date you is quite as hard as it is. For starters, it would have been easy to date them if you were using combat stuff. But moreover, as things stand, you not only have to carefully manipulate all your dialogue options, but you very nearly have to sabotage your relationship with Tifa and Aeris in the process, since they start with higher values by default, and they’re in more of the game to boot. It only makes sense that there was originally going to be an easier way to move the numbers but at some point in design they must have decided to go with the dialogue tree puzzle instead, turning the Barret and Yuffie dates into nearabouts Easter Eggs in comparison to Aeris and Tifa!
We didn’t manipulate the date mechanics in any serious way during our playthrough (although Kyle had made me aware that they existed years ago, which I don’t doubt adjusted many of my choices), instead picking whatever dialogue choices felt natural for the two of us at the time. In the end we ended up on a date with Tifa. RickyC, our longplayer, ended up on a date with Aeris, as you can see in the screenshots for this section.
The first stage in the date is a play in the Saucer’s theatre, where, as the 100th couple today, you get cast as the leads and get to fuck with the play’s progression. (Unfortunately, for whatever combination of awful reasons I’m sure you can imagine and that I’ve been trying to downplay, you don’t get to do this with Barret.) After this, the famous scene where the couple goes on an intimate gondola ride around the Saucer.
Unfortunately all was not well. After leaving the gondola, we discovered Cait Sith. Oh hey, remember Cait Sith? Because I haven’t mentioned him in 9000 words, and it was deliberate. We discovered that he was making off with the Keystone. After a brief chase, he passed it off to Tseng, who flew away. Hey, game industry: I know this is impossible to predict, but please don’t waste your time betraying me with a character I never actually wanted the person in my party in the first place, and have done everything in my power to erase since he joined. I’m not exactly feeling all that awful at the moment, just saying.
Cornered, Cait Sith admitted that he was a spy sent by Shinra, but strangely said that his body was actually a robot puppet (which certainly explains why the Moogle half of the duo has been so silent all this time!). He was actually just a Shinra employee operating the puppet remotely. Ah… huh. Okay. After Cloud and his date naturally refuse to let him back in the party, he decides to reveal that he’s holding Marlene hostage. Oh hey, in an unrelated note: Dirge of Cerberus will try to make Cait Sith’s controller out to be a hero for his actions in FFVII itself. You know, between Don Corneo’s hilarious kidnapping and sex slavery ring, the fat jokes, the abusive relationship being treated as a minor transgression, the unequal treatment of Barret as a date that fringes on “comedy,” and the upcoming “redemption” of Cait Sith for kidnapping a terrified little girl, I have this… how do I put this… this strange impression in my heart that the writers of FFVII and I just don’t have the same… values, you know? But you know how darned controversial it is when you debate the forgivability of kidnapping children. Hey, FFVII, you crossed the line hours ago and every tiny misstep from the point on is only going to drive you deeper!
In the morning, we don’t see Cloud telling anyone about the betrayal or about Marlene’s kidnapping, which frankly probably has more to do with the fact that they had no way of guaranteeing who would or wouldn’t already know, what with the date and all. We headed out of the Golden Saucer and made our way (sloooowly) to the Tiny Bronco, and from there (slooooooooooowly) to the Temple of the Ancients, praying the Turks would leave the door open for us.