Disc 2 starts exactly where Disc 1 ended, outside the inn in the Cetra ruins. Through his connection to Sephiroth, Cloud deduces that Sephiroth left the ruins to the northeast. After leaving town, you have to navigate a nasty, over-complicated room and then a room where you climb inside cracks in the wall to find your way to the top of a cliff. We complained to one another that the game only allowed you to come at each section from one direction, but otherwise it wasn’t that bad.
During this section, Cloud got hit by a Mini spell, and then a monster ate him. We rescued him by pummelling and shooting the creature. That’s how it works right? You free a swallowed comrade by filling them with holes?
At the top of the cliff, we entered the snowy overworld of the Planet’s Arctic Circle. Not far from this virtually unreachable series of tunnels, cliffs and hostile Sleeping Forests that would surely eat any humans that got past the previous list of obstacles, you somehow find yourself outside of a whole town! The game offers basically no explanation for this, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. RPGs have been moving NPCs to places you can’t reach for ages, though I am surprised there’s a whole tourist industry involved this time around. What, specifically, was preventing us from getting to the ruins of the Cetra from this side, considering people seem to have a direct route to this tourist trap? I guess I just expected a little better after ten years of the JRPG genre.
Nominally, this “town” was just a resort known as Icicle Inn, but a little exploration found us an abandoned research station here, which had apparently not fallen apart in what we’d soon learn was two decades of neglect and snow. Inside the lab, we found a machine with three recordings, which we discovered were made by the late, famous Professor Gast, who it seems had been interviewing Aeris’ birth mother, Ifalna.
In the first video, Ifalna explained that the Cetra came to the North Pole in an effort to heal a wound dealt to the Planet near a place called North Cave, inflicted by a source that Ifalna doesn’t necessarily identify. While the Cetra were there, they were attacked by “the crisis from the sky,” presumably Jenova (possibly the cause of the planet’s injury), and were infected with a virus that turned them into monsters. This implies that not all monsters on the Planet are, in fact, Hojo’s experiments and Gi ghosts, which were the only explanations we had prior to this. Without the Cetra, the Planet was left to heal the polar wound on its own. Even after 2000 years, it has yet to finish.
In the second video, Ifalna explains that the Planet tried to fight Jenova by creating “Weapon.” The word is almost always singularized, which is strange because there are at least three things going by the name “Weapon” in the original Japanese release, and five in the international, and the game continues to singularize the term even after you start to see them in person? Fortunately for the Planet, the Cetra sealed Jenova away before (the) Weapon(s) were needed, so they were put away somewhere as well.
The last file was marked “Confidential” and actually contained two videos instead of just one. These files were both marked “Daughter’s Record,” one marked 10 days and one 20 days after birth. The first file had no video feed, only audio, implying the cap was left on the camera. This video revealed that Gast and Ifalna had a child together, who was, naturally, Aeris. Fantastic professionalism, Gast. Strangely, despite the file being labelled “10 days after birth,” a later line says: “If it’s a girl, then it’ll be Aeris.” Have they… not checked? Far be it from me to accuse Final Fantasy “What are you, retarded?” VII of being anything less than progressive, but it does strike me as the kind of game to stick to traditional gender norms instead of waiting for Aeris to decide for herself. I’m curious what the original Japanese line/context was supposed to be.
I’m also a little curious as to the real-world reason why there was no video in this “record.” I suppose it’s because the devs didn’t want to model a baby?
The second video showed Professor Hojo breaking into the lab with two grunts to capture both Ifalna and Aeris. Ifalna offered to go with Shinra if they would leave Aeris alone, but it was unclear what happened next. Hojo ordered his guard to shoot the camera, but in a clever bit of technological awareness that surpasses the majority of Hollywood, the camera’s microphone continued to function, and we heard what seemed to be Gast getting shot and Ifalna and Aeris failing to escape in time (not very surprising, given that the house has only one entrance and the fact that Aeris seemed to have been kept in the basement). Hojo then found the other videos we had previously seen, gaining a lot of knowledge we honestly wouldn’t want him to have.
It’s strange to say, but as important as all these scenes were to the overall narrative, they were also optional! The only thing you need to do to progress the plot in this town is to… leave, heading north. When you do this, the game makes an unusual use of one of its graphical tools. At several points in the game (in hindsight, most of them towards the beginning), characters have appeared at the bottom of the screen in close-up. This is usually done when looking at a nearby object. (Examination of the game’s cut content suggests that the devs considered using high-res busts of the characters when this happens, but in the final game they do not). But here at Icicle Inn, pictured below, Elena and two guards appeared in close up even though the camera was at a high angle with nowhere for them to stand, so they were essentially appearing in the foreground for no good reason. I guess it was a joke (I mean, we laughed?), but it was all very strange.
Elena tried to arrest us, and in the PSX version, she voices a famous mistranslation that implies that Tseng has died, while in reality he really did make it out of the pyramid and the PC version makes that clear (although TheLifestream.net notes that Elena was probably supposed to think Tseng was dead even though he wasn’t – it was just ultimately too confusing). Elena blames you for Tseng’s injuries and Cloud is pretty calm about all this. You ended up playing a brief mini-game to dodge Elena’s punch, and if you do it, she tumbles down the nearby hill. Boy, it really would be strange if this scene were as comedic as it is if Elena was trying to get revenge for her boss’ death, huh?
…Yeah, I missed and she slugged me in the face. We woke up in the lab and, if I’m remembering right, she’s gone when you get out.
Once you’re ready to leave town (though you should really speak to a man in one of the lodge buildings to learn about an upcoming obstacle), you learn that route to the north is all downhill, as Elena may have just helpfully demonstrated. The people in town recommend you take the slope on something practical, something reliable and safe. Like, I’d say they should pack a pair of snowshoes for later and, as for the hill, skis, which have been used in snowy regions for essentially the entire history of human habitation of snowy regions, going back as far as 6300 BC—hahaha, I’m just screwing with you: you take a snowboard, this was the 90s.
This mini-game was apparently so popular that Square remade it on certain LG, Audiovox and Samsung phones in the 2000s. It was only released outside of Japan at launch, appearing in Canada and the US in 2005, and it was only three and a half years later when it finally hit its home country, when it must have looked like a godforsaken relic. Be aware that the iPhone, while not initially popular in Japan, did hit Japan in July 2008, around four months before Final Fantasy VII: Snowboarding, so that should at least give you a measure of available technology. Yeah, this must have looked like rotten meat. But that’s enough about an obsolete cell phone game that I’ve never played. Let’s instead talk about how I was in control on the way down the hill, and hit basically every obstacle on the way down, including several adorable snow Moogles.
Thankfully, your performance doesn’t really matter and you end up at the bottom of the hill with or without working limbs. In fact, no matter how well you perform, you end up shooting off a cliff at the end and find yourself wiped out in the snow below.
We were now in a region called the Great Glacier, which I hesitate to call a “dungeon” in any traditional sense, though I suppose the word applies as much here as it ever did to my beloved Shinra HQ. It’s just… the area is governed by such strict mechanics that it almost feels like a hybrid minigame? The Great Glacier is so cold that you can only stay there for 544 steps of movement (which covers a different amount of ground depending on whether you’re playing NTSC or PAL!), after which you collapse and get dragged to a nearby cabin by an infinitely patient hermit. Did we think to bring winter clothing, or at least a blanket? No, of course not, don’t be silly. This means the best way to navigate the area and find its treasures – in some cases the only way – is to plan a route after some initial trial and error. Thankfully, the dungeon is optional in the sense that running out of steps will bring you straight to the exit if you want to use it, so you can skip the dungeon almost entirely if you’re bored. Kyle and I were in the middle: we checked the item list and realized we didn’t care for most of them, but we did want some.
Here are some of ones we skipped: first was a Mind Source that would have permanently boosted our stats, but as much as we may play dirty for the sake of the Marathon from time to time, we decided that it would hardly have boosted our stats high enough to justify going to get it. Next was the Safety Bit, a nice item from FFVI that prevents Instant Death, but was nothing we were going to exchange our preferred accessories to ever use. Also on our personal lower tiers: an All Materia that we weren’t going to use, but it was on our route so we grabbed it all the same.
More important to us was the Added Cut Materia, which allows you to do a free attack whenever you use the Materia that is attached to Added Cut, and the Alexander Summon, since we were obliged by Marathon rules to get all the summons not guarded by unreasonable challenges (*cough*). To show off – if only to ourselves – we decided to plot a route to get both items in one sweep, which involved warming up at a hot spring part-way along the path (this hot spring is required to get Added Cut, as I understand it). The most notable events in this trip included crossing an indistinct field of snow with a set of flags, and of course the event directly guarding Alexander, wherein you battle a midboss called Snow (pictured above). Surprising no one, she was melted by Fire and wasn’t really a concern. After collecting Added Cut, we prompted collapsed from cold exposure as conquering heroes.
Probably the most significant obstacle we skipped was the one guarding the Safety Bit: a series of icebergs, some raised and some sunken. You could jump on the raised icebergs, but that would cause all adjacent icebergs to toggle their state. An interesting little puzzle, although a little much, considering the comparably petty prize at the end.
The final obstacle of the Glacier was one we had been repeatedly warned about: Gaea’s Cliff, a great crest of ice that had been formed partially when the Planet’s great wound was inflicted 2000 years ago (the earth part under the ice), and partially by the Planet in its attempts to heal the wound at the pole (the ice part). Or at least that’s how I understand it. The Cliff was essentially a dungeon in-and-of itself, and consisted of climbing up the exposed wall of the cliff and then weaving through brief, traditional dungeon spaces inside. Thankfully, the invisible step counter from the Glacier was gone, but there would be an all-new environmental challenge on the Cliff.
On the cliff, you had to watch Cloud’s body temperature, which was done by warming yourself up on ledges and making the climb up the cliff when you felt you were suitably warm. The temperature gauge drops faster once you fall below a certain temperature, so there’s not as much time as you might initially think. But despite nearly every NPCs’ warnings, this section actually seemed quite easy to me, and it turned out that it was for a good reason: the international version had been significantly toned down in comparison to the Japanese original. Specifically, Cloud was better at raising his body temperature in the international versions. The Japanese version forced you to mash the button at a faster rate for the same results (specifically, it required you to hit the button 13 times per degree of warmth instead of 6 internationally, more than double!). Inside the cliff, the dungeons had you “battling” icicles (and their bat defenders) to knock them down and form platforms.
The boss of this region (not to diminish the impact of the Blue Dragons that lurked there) appeared after the surprise appearance of one of the cloaked figures from Nibelheim, whom the boss had just killed. The boss was called Schizo, a two-headed lizard. And yes, they named the two-headed monster “Schizo,” as in, “schizophrenia,” which even the wiki points out is incorrect at best, and I will point out is offensive and dangerous whether it’s best or worst. This was the localizers being assholes rather than the original game, as the original monster’s name was a transliteration of the English words “Twin Head.” Whatever, nuts to this fucking game. You could kill the heads one-by-one but it hardly mattered because we had a team full of Summoners and Comet-casters. Kyle was taking some pretty detailed notes for me during this section and even he didn’t see anything worth noting about it. Next!