Once at the Temple of the Ancients (a giant pyramid of sorts), Aeris insists on joining the party. I don’t remember specifically why, because I was the one playing and wasn’t taking notes as a consequence, but she must have insisted, because I can’t think of any reason Kyle and I would have allowed that after spending the entire game since Midgar ignoring her and Red XIII, leaving both of them at the minimum possible level. Once at the temple gates, Aeris collapsed and seemed to begin talking to the ghosts of her ancestors. As Aeris recovered, one of the cloaked figures walked out, muttering about Black Materia, before he dissolved in a flash of light that seemed to raise him into the sky.
Inside the Temple, we immediately came to a dead end in some sort of altar room, where we found Tseng, horribly wounded and lying against the altar. He told us that Sephiroth was inside, and that he wasn’t looking for the Promised Land after all. Instead of explaining more, he offered us the Keystone and told us to look for ourselves. Aeris had an angry reaction to this, but I can’t quite say why. She said “You’re wrong. The Promised Land isn’t like what you imagined,” which is a perfectly fine bit of information, but also clearly doesn’t connect to Tseng saying “Sephiroth isn’t looking for the Promised Land,” so I can only assume that one line or both was mistranslated, leaving the scene essentially impenetrable.
After the scene, Aeris seemed to feel a little down, saying that she’s known Tseng for so long that she seems to be sorry to see this happen. Rather than heal Tseng, we decided to go on as he instructed, essentially leaving him to die despite Aeris’ grief!
The Keystone caused the strange, reflective floor in front of the altar to swallow up the party and eject them inside of a twisted maze of stairs and platforms. Dotting the maze (and subsequent areas) were a number of strange little figures in big hats, vaguely resembling a bearded, purple-toned Black Mage. These figures would interact with us in the form of shops, save points and loose advice.
The surreal Temple interior had a number of puzzles beyond the maze. First was a dexterity puzzle to get past some rolling boulders, but that was small change compared to the big puzzle. But first things first. Once past the boulders, we went back to a pool that was on one side of the room, which Aeris revealed that it was somehow connected to the consciousness of the Ancients. The pool showed us a flashback to Elena and Tseng inside another part of the temple with an Egyptian-style picture scene on the wall. Elena left to report to HQ, only for Sephiroth to manifest in the room seemingly out of spirit form. He claimed he was going to “meld” with the Planet’s spirit energy (the Lifestream). After this, he cut Tseng down, making it fairly clear that he was going to kill everyone on the Planet to make himself as powerful as possible when the melding occurs. Okay, that’s certainly as good an evil plan as any we’ve seen in this series. They’re certainly giving us more practical details about the bad guy’s plan than every previous game, at least without invoking a power-granting plot artifact (okay, okay, it’s not exactly the first game to give us practical details, but I personally have a few complaints with the explanations given in FFVI and FFLIII).
After the boulder room, we came to this dungeon’s big puzzle: the clock room. I’ll be honest: I don’t even understand this puzzle. You have to move the hands to form a bridge to one of the room’s twelve doors, and the second hand continues to move no matter what, threatening to knock you off to another room. In the original Japanese version, you have to let the Time Guardian that controls the clock move it for you, unless you get knocked off a certain number of times, at which point the game swaps to the version we know internationally. Frankly, I think I’m overthinking it and the international version of the puzzle is more of a non-puzzle and huge waste of time, though I’m not surprised the developers changed it up because the original puzzle sounds even worse than the close-to-nothing that we got!
After collecting Aeris’ ultimate weapon, the Princess Guard, from a chest nearby just to say that we had, we headed toward the final room. All of this with the help of a walkthrough, mind. After this, there was a wonky 2D room with many doors that worked like a bloody teleporter maze. After chasing down one of the purple-Black Mages through the room to get a key, we discovered the Egyptian room and found Sephiroth waiting for us. Or rather, that’s how it appeared. Sephiroth soon flew away, only to be replaced with another Sephiroth, and the game carried on like this for some time.
Aeris asked the final Sephiroth exactly how he planned to merge with the Lifestream, and like many a cliché villain he was happy to monologue about it. Apparently, after the Planet takes an “injury,” it gathers the Lifestream to heal it, so he planned on striking the Planet with a blow that would nearly kill it. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that actually answers Aeris’ original question, but it does tell us more than anything our characters actually would have asked!
With that done, Sephiroth explained just how he planned to deal the blow: the ultimate magic, Meteor, which was outlined on the mural. It’s nice to see the superspell from FFIV get an even bigger due here, I’ve got to say. As Cloud looked at the depiction of Meteor, he began to flash with an afterimage not unlike the multiple visions of Sephiroth, and started muttering about the Black Materia, implying that it was the Materia that could teach the spell Meteor. He also seemed to be having trouble holding on to his identity, and at the end of the sequence, he claimed to “Remember [his] way” before acting as though nothing had happened. After the party reiterated what he had said just to make sure the audience catches it, a boss fight began for basically no reason.
I honestly don’t even remember our playing through the Red Dragon fight. I suspect that it was toned down as a boss considering what happens next, making it too easy to be memorable. The Red Dragon drops the Bahamut Materia, which as I said in Crisis Core is not actually the strongest Summon in the game as it had been in previous games, though I’m not sure why FFVII chose to break with tradition like this. What they do instead smacks of poor creativity, too. Bahamut is followed up by Neo Bahamut and Bahamut ZERO, which in a game with no narrative surrounding the Summons might as well have been named “Super Bahamut” and “Super Duper Bahamut.” There’s a sense of 90s anime in it that reminds me of the various Super Saiyan forms, and speaking as a fan of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z? That’s still not a compliment.
(Speaking of a lack of backstory, the Red Dragon’s lack of plot explanation happens to be a consequence of a deleted scene. Apparently, in that scene, Sephiroth would have explained the origins of Summon Materia, implying that the Red Dragon was Bahamut to some extent, which some clever fans apparently worked out on their own. He also provides additional details, which I won’t be expanding on here. It’s not much, but it’s better than what we have, which is nothing.)
After the battle, we headed to the altar at the back of the room, which was marked “Black Materia” and had a floating pyramid block floating above it. After futzing with the block, the whole pyramid shook, so Aeris decided it might be a better idea to ask her ancestor’s ghosts what was going on here instead of messing with it any further. They gave her some incredibly curious information: the pyramid-shaped Temple of the Ancients itself was the Black Materia. Huh, I guess it makes sense that something this powerful might not be the sort of thing you can hold in your hand. But it turned out there was a way to get it that small: the floating pyramid shape in front of us was actually a model of the temple (not a complete one, I suppose, for reasons we’ll discuss in a minute) and by “solving a puzzle” you could make both the model and the real pyramid smaller and smaller. I think the implication is that the pyramid and model themselves are like a puzzle box, and that you can simply compact them into a smaller and smaller shape. Problem: you have to be at this altar to do it, and finishing the puzzle will crush you alive.
Cloud points out that all Sephiroth needs to do to take the Black Materia is to send in a disposable minion with a good understanding of puzzles. As a result, he could collect the Materia at any time, while they had no way of collecting it at all. Just then, Cloud got a phone call from Cait Sith, reminding us that he is a disposable minion! Cloud complains that he doesn’t want to hand over the Black Materia to Shinra, either, but Cait Sith points out that this is still the best possible idea, since no one has to die this way. All they lose is a robot puppet that no one cares about and in fact actively hates and would gleefully destroy at the slightest opportunity, especially if they let me do it Terminator style, and so the party agrees, even though it gives Shinra the edge.
After completing the game, I was surprised to learn that some fans consider this Cait Sith’s moment of redemption! This is odd to me both from a moral standpoint and a narrative standpoint: the narrative makes it perfectly clear, and I agree, that this is a practical solution to the problem that costs the party – and Cait Sith’s operator! – only a bunch of robot parts! Cait Sith’s operator (via the puppet) will act a little more affected in a later scene, but I’m with the practical approach of this earlier scene. It’s hard for me to pretend (especially after DoC where we learn Cait Sith has even more bodies than this!) that the operator is somehow redeemed from kidnapping and spying after he himself admits: “I’m going to spend a redundant resource so that you can get the black materia for me, not for you; benefiting me, not you.” Oh let’s definitely drop all fucking charges!
The party turns to leave the Temple through the only available exit: a door at the 6 o’clock section of the clock room. But as we were walking through… surprise! It’s an old friend who hates us. Oh what a joy these happy reunions can be.
I’m referring to our old friend the Demon Wall from the three FFIV games, here called the Demons Gate [sic]. Unlike the Demon Wall in IV, this fight actually isn’t a race to kill the Gate before it crushes you against the opposite wall (though I thought that it was, leading to a very confused battle!). Instead, it uses Demon Rush two turns after you take it below 3/4, 1/2 and 1/4 health, respectively, which simply causes high damage. By “simply,” mind that the wall has 50% more attack points than the Red Dragon, so the damage from Demon Rush is considerable, but at the same time… at least it’s not instant and unavoidable death. The wall also has an incredibly high amount of magic defence, and worse still, if the player knows what else is about to happen and are following certain out-of-the-box strategies, one of your party members might be, urm… ill-equipped. As I’ve said earlier, I don’t have any notes for this section, but I remember the fight being fairly hectic and costing us a lot of Phoenix Downs, so I guess that’s a point to the Demons Gate and the power of typos.
After the battle, Cait Sith arrived and tried to endear himself to us with more fortune telling, this time to test Aeris and Cloud’s romantic compatibility, which he said was very high. After that he headed in to sacrifice himself, and Kyle and I just scowled at his backside.
Cait Sith solved the puzzle, converting the Black Materia to a smaller size, and creating a great, pyramid-shaped pit in the process. Based on the shape of the pocket-sized Black Materia, it seems the Temple wasn’t pyramid-shaped after all, but roughly cubical and set at an angle so that only half of it was visible. This, by the way, is why I was so confused by the pyramid-shaped model inside the temple itself.
Wait did they take Tseng out of the pyramid? Or is he…
Aeris and Cloud descended into the pit to collect the Materia, as the third party member stayed up top (in our case, as in RickyC’s, this was Cid, and he was taking a smoke. Cigarettes will kill you, Cid! Or they’ll kill somebody, in any event…). Aeris told Cloud that no, no he can’t go off using Meteor, and I’m darkly delighted that he felt the need to ask. She explained that even casting Meteor would require Sephiroth to start in a place already filled with the Planet’s energy, which from my perspective means that even if he did get his hands on it, we’d probably be able to find out where he went with it. Aeris suggested this place might be the Promised Land, but Cloud figured he’d never find it. Sephiroth himself arrived to disagree.
Sephiroth ranted for a bit about the Promised Land, and Aeris said that she would stop him, prompting him to laugh and say “I wonder?” He then shouted “wake up!” which – perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, but there’s a reason for it – caused Cloud to collapse into unconsciousness. The player, however, retained control of a younger version of Cloud that could walk around but not interact with anyone, which was a clever way of accomplishing this particular effect. Cloud’s body then go up and went to Sephiroth of its own volition, giving him the Black Materia.
After this sequence, Cloud collapsed to the ground again, unsure what he had just done, all while the third party member ran around ineffectively up top. Suddenly, Cloud lost control of himself a second time and gave Aeris a shove before – I think, it’s hard to tell at this wide zoom and that’s probably intentional – starting to pummel her. To distract from this ugly violence, Cait Sith’s replacement body arrived at just this moment, only to be ignored by everyone, which was right up our alley as far as humour goes, even if I suspect that wasn’t the intended joke. The third party member then finally remembers that they can just jump down like Cloud and Aeris did in the first place, and pries Cloud off of her. At this point, Cloud passed out.
In a dream, Cloud then had a dream of Aeris in a strange forest, where she said that she was going to go off and handle Sephiroth herself. Aeris said that this was the Sleeping Forest, which led to the City of the Ancients, both locations that Kyle and I had already identified while we were searching for the Keystone (and just before we gave up searching for the Keystone). She said that she was going to do something to stop Meteor that only she, as an Ancient, could do, and there was nothing Cloud could do to stop her. At the end of the dream, Sephiroth appeared and said to Cloud that “we” must do something about her.
Honestly, separating Cloud and Aeris at this point was a great idea. Cloud just did something awful to her, fantasy mind control notwithstanding, and to have kept them together right after it happened would have been to essentially ignore the impact of the event. It shows the kind of move they should have done with Cait Sith, but they apparently didn’t choose to do.