At the top of Gaea’s Cliff, we got a dramatic revelation of what was waiting for us inside: a great magical whirlwind (presumably part of the Planet’s healing efforts) in the midst of a great crater. The party descended down the crater, and began to find the cloaked figures from earlier, which were beginning to die, most of which died on the spot (by the way, no sign of the two short ones here in any version!). Part-way through this section, I learn from RickyC’s playthrough that Tifa forces her way into the party if she’s not there already, having apparently crossed the Glacier and Cliffs on her own! Jeeze, Tifa, show us some of those wilderness survival skills when you’re actually in the party! Continuing on our way, we found the Neo Bahamut Materia just lying around (you can see what I meant in the tutorial about these loose pieces of Summon materia taking the piss out of high-level spells) and finally arrived at the tornado.
At this point, the game cut away to reveal that a Shinra airship was approaching, the company having presumably been informed of our location by Elena. On board were no less than Rufus and two of his highest-ranking lieutenants, Scarlet and Heidegger, not to forget Professor Hojo. They seemed to believe they had found the Promised Land, but Hojo said that this land was simply the designated place for the Reunion the cloaked figures had been talking about.
Returning to the party, we found two more cloaked figures being thrown back by the tornado, killing them. We had to wait for the tornado to calm down, which strangely enough involves waiting for it to basically stop for a few seconds, even though it didn’t seem to stop in any previous room or viewing angle! At least the game makes the puzzle clear, though I admit that I, believing I had to jump while the tornado was still moving, kept jumping when the tornado was only partially faded instead of completely stopped. This forced us to keep fighting the same monster over and over. My bad. The next such wall had a “wave” pattern that we had to avoid, instead.
We pushed on from here and found the remainder of the cloaked figures climbing a jagged cliff, many of them falling to their dooms, others falling dead on the path. Though a fair number (at least half a dozen) of the cloaked figures appeared on the last screen of the jagged path, once we had passed a second barrier wall, there were only two left alive. We found them facing Sephiroth, who killed them directly. Hearing the party’s arrival, Sephiroth said that “this body” had served its purpose and vanished, only for a voice to speak directly to the screen (telepathically, perhaps) saying that “our” mission was to deliver the Black Materia. When Cloud asked who the word “our” was referring to, the voice replied “Those who carry Jenova’s cells,” and suddenly Sepiroth re-appeared and cut down Cloud’s party members. This was purely cosmetic, however, as they were standing just fine as we entered a battle moments later. Sephiroth turned on the party only for a battle to begin with JENOVA-Death.
JENOVA-Death was fire-aligned, and given that we hadn’t yet swapped out Cloud’s Fire Ring from ages ago, the whole fight was rather simple (plus, it meant that finally the game wasn’t able to kill the character with the Restore Materia!). After winning the battle, the party discovered the Black Materia on the ground, and Cloud seemed to have come to a revelation about what was going on, calling it “The Jenova Reunion.” But it was hard to tell what he was talking about, because Tifa responded to him as though he had said an entirely different set of lines: “Not Sephiroth?” she said. Um, Tifa, Cloud didn’t say anything about—”You mean all this time it wasn’t Sephiroth we’ve been after?” Tifa, seriously, some context is all I’m asking for! Cloud announced that “the real Sephiroth” was just ahead. I’ll talk about this in just a moment once we see what he’s talking about.
At this point, Cloud collects the Black Materia, but Tifa insists he pass it off to someone who was out of the party, causing the whole party to appear for a conference. We gave the Black Materia to Red XIII. I was in control at the time and I’ll admit that I didn’t so much “think” about this decision very much. You see, Red was standing on a ledge, next to us but away from the rest of the party, and I figured that that meant I couldn’t interact with any of the party members positioned below it. I don’t know where my mind was on that, because it wasn’t true and you can talk to everyone in the party. That said, apparently only Red and Barret will accept the Materia, everyone else having their own excuses. Oo! Ooo! I’ve got an idea. Let’s give it to the traitor cat.
The party split up at this point, Red staying behind with the others while our party of Cloud, Tifa and one other (although I don’t remember who, specifically) headed towards the centre of the crater. Of course, Sephiroth had something waiting for them even better than the usual obstacles: he decided to mess with poor Cloud’s head. As the party headed north, they found themselves at the front gates of Nibelheim. By the way, good job on the part of the writers for setting up Sephiroth’s ability to summon illusions of himself so that his bigger and better ability to summon illusions of a whole scene would be believable! Cloud insisted that they had nothing to fear from an illusion, only for Sephiroth and the Shinra troops from Cloud’s flashback to appear just as they had in said flashback, but Cloud had been replaced by a SOLDIER with wild black hair, even more outrageous than Cloud’s own. Of course, from Crisis Core we knew this to be our good dumb puppy, Zack Fair, but I can imagine how confusing this must have been to a new player. Well done to the game on this part. As I implied in Crisis Core, I’m unimpressed with how this plot twist ultimately lands, but I can appreciate and respect that there must have had a considerable sense of surprise and mystery for a first-timer!
Flashback-Sephiroth breaks character after a moment and starts laughing, and the scene soon transitions to the fire at Nibelheim. Cloud thinks he’s already on to Sephiroth’s game, already expecting Zack to walk out of the mansion in Cloud’s place as a “game” to psyche him out. New to the scene in comparison to the Kalm flashback was a collapsed Shinra grunt, though this is easy to overlook, but important. As this is happening, Tifa suddenly becomes afraid, but Cloud insists that the vision is harmless. Even setting aside what we know is about to happen: gosh, Cloud, I can’t imagine why someone would anyone would want to avoid seeing their hometown burn down a second time. I suppose Cloud might be snapping out at Tifa because he, too, understands what’s happening deep down, but I’m frankly not in the mood to excuse this kind of shitty behaviour towards his best friend.
After Cloud shouts a little longer, Sephiroth appears and Cloud complains that he remembers being here at the destruction of Nibelheim, and how it felt, but Sephiroth insists that he’s showing Cloud the real version of events and he repeats that Cloud, being a puppet, shouldn’t have feelings. Sephiroth then starts teleporting around between plot sequences, seemingly just to mildly inconvenience everyone and make the cutscene the teeniest, tiniest bit more dynamic. Sephiroth tells Cloud that Hojo “created” Cloud using Jenova’s cells. He says this makes Cloud a “Sephiroth-clone,” who doesn’t even have “a number,” obviously referring to the cloaked figures. “Clone” is another infamous localization, considering that mutating someone’s cells doesn’t make a “clone” (and remember that we’re talking about Jenova’s cells here, not Sephiroth’s – there’s no way to say “clone of someone” in the English language that applies to the use of some unrelated person’s cells!). It’s no surprise they changed the word to “copy” in the games’ prequel: the cloaked figures were an attempt to “copy” Sephiroth, or at least what succeeded in Sephiroth. Or to put it through the lens of Crisis Core: the cloaked figures were Hojo’s attempt to do what Shinra always intended with Genesis and Angeal, but with Sephiroth’s stable genes.
Cloud starts to realize that something is up with Tifa after this discussion of clones, and he makes a big speech proclaiming that he is who he is, and besides? Doesn’t Tifa believing in him make that the truth? This was the one element of this game’s big twist I hadn’t yet been able to figure out from context in Crisis Core: how was Cloud able to misunderstand the past when Tifa was backing him up? But even I could start to guess what was going on at this point, so Cloud’s ironic speech about Tifa believing in him was less “distressing” and more, say, “rolling-the-aisles,” because I’m an awful person. No, no, Cloud! Hit it even more on the nose! Tell me about about how she’d never betray your trust!
Sephiroth, continuing his process of randomly moving around, then put a wrench in my fun by beginning the game’s sixty-tonne contrived effort to make this plot twist actually work, and unsurprisingly the first step was sci-fi gobbledygook. Hey: hint from me, the guy with the giant Kingdom Hearts Retrospective: if you can make something make sense within your universe, I will adore it. But on the other hand: if you make your universe force sense into your plot, I will be disappointed with almost anything you churn out. Are you ready now? Here we go: Jenova has the power to change form, ergo Jenova’s cells have the power to change memories, based on the memories of other people, which was never the case before and will never be relevant in any other situation.
Actually, it’s not entirely clear if we are supposed to be taking Sephiroth at his word, because he actually overshoots the real fact of the matter by several degrees? See, he implies that Cloud might not actually be Cloud of Nibelheim, but that the original Cloud died ages ago and this “Cloud” was supposedly a Jenova shapeshifter in the form of an adult Cloud, basing its memories on memories absorbed from Tifa. This is a classic bluff technique on both the part of Sephiroth and the part of the writers: bluff high with the aim of achieving something less radical than your bluff. It’s like a TV show including something deliberately controversial so that the censors will censor the bluff, overlooking something genuinely important to the plot they might have censored on any other day. FFVII is proposing something outrageous so that once you get to the simpler (if still somewhat absurd) truth of the matter, it retains its shock but comes accompanied with relief designed to help you overlook the fact that it’s still absurd. In any event, I don’t know if Sephiroth is telling the truth about Jenova absorbing memories or not, because parts of his story genuinely are bullshit.
Tifa’s protests reach such an extreme that she tells Cloud to stop thinking, and Sephiroth decides to prove his point by going to a nearby dead body, which turned out to be the photographer from the flashback, aiming to collect his photo from earlier (or “one” of his photos, from Crisis Core’s perspective). Even Cloud pointed out what was wrong with this plan: the photograph is just as much of an illusory as anything, so who cares? Sure enough, the pictures depicts Zack with Tifa and Sephiroth instead of Cloud.
Cloud then recounts the events of the flashback to prove that he really was there, before he suddenly realizes he has no memory of joining SOLDIER, much less reaching 1st Class. The way he phrases it, I initially couldn’t help but suspect from his phrasing that he was realizing just how silly it was that he believed that a sixteen-year-old like himself was able to hit SOLDIER 1st Class so young. Buuuuuuut then I remembered that Zack was 15 even in Crisis Core and I just ended up just scowling.
(Fun fact – or at least it’s fun to me: inside the data, the vision of the fire really is a new room, an in-data copy, just like how this vision is a copy made by Sephiroth. But the visions of the gates of Nibelheim are actually the real gates of Nibelheim! In fact, so are the gates seen in Cloud’s flashback in Kalm! The player is simply picked up out of the game and plopped down on the other side of the planet, in the real Nibelheim, if only for that one room!)
Outside the vision, Rufus and his entourage have arrived somewhere in the crater. It’s not immediately clear where they are, but we soon learn they’re directly under the party, as they all start looking straight up. As they do, we finally get a good look at the centre of the tornado, and the game reveals a tree structure cradling an ovoid block of Materia, all among a huge crystalline structure that Scarlet claimed to also be Materia. Just then, the area started trembling, and Hojo calmly announced that this must be “Weapon.” Rufus revealed that Hojo has never told him a thing about “Weapon,” but this was where the scene ended.
Meanwhile, we returned to the members of the party we had left in reserves earlier in the crater. There, Red XIII was pulled into a vision of his own (honestly, it was a good move to hold off the full span of Sephiroth’s illusion powers until just minutes ago, even if it does make them come out of nowhere, since the party surely wouldn’t have handed off the Black Materia to Red or Barret if they knew Sephiroth would just trick that person into giving it up! They hit just the right balance between introducing the full of it and yet also hinting at it earlier). Sephiroth’s illusion caused the other reserve party members to vanish and “Tifa” called Red XIII ahead, basically the one thing he wasn’t supposed to do under any circumstances.
Now, come sit over here and I’m going to tell you a little something about how this Journal was written. As I said earlier, Kyle wrote some of the notes for this section, and I didn’t get a chance to read them until I sat down to write this first draft. When I got started, I skimmed his section of notes, and one line in particular caught my eye: it was a short, blunt description that Kyle had jotted down without any context. I do the same thing from time to time and Kyle’s presumably seen it, and so I know just what Kyle was thinking: this is a scene that can be described in just one sentence of commentary and so doesn’t need any context to explain what it was describing besides its position in the document. A scene I would be able to 100% identify when I got to it. And once I got back to this scene, when Red XIII did the very last thing he was supposed to do under any circumstances, and I became positive that this is what Kyle was referring to when he wrote: “Our group is full of idiots.”
Back with Shinra, the executives were getting ready to return to their airship when the party suddenly appeared at their location. Cloud casually turned around and asked the executives to leave the area and leave things to them, and then Red XIII arrived. Cloud, fighting his urges only temporarily, approached Red XIII, who handed over the Black Materia even as Tifa called out for them to not. Presumably he couldn’t hear her? Lastly, Cloud apologized to everyone and began to act like he believed Sephiroth’s lies about him being a false Cloud.
Hojo seems to understand what happened, and declares his experiment a success. But when Cloud reveals that he’s not one of Hojo’s tattooed “clones” and is, in fact, a “failed” escapee from Nibelheim, he went quiet. Cloud, having lost his identity as “Cloud” and thinking he’s just a clone, begged Hojo to give him a number / new identity, but even in the face of ultimate success, Hojo refused. Cloud was then lifted up to the egg-like Materia by magic and Hojo explained much of what was going on with the Sephiroth clones to Rufus, as well as to the audience if they haven’t figured out a detail or two. Hojo then explained “the Reunion,” which was a theory of his that if Jenova’s body was divided, it would attempt to pull itself back together, even if the part that was separated was only a few cells. On top of that explanation, Hojo adds that Sephiroth was originally killed five years ago, the same time as Cloud’s flashbacks to Nibelheim. The first big revelation here is that your actions in driving Cloud to this point were not so much the player’s attempt to stop Sephiroth as the player’s attempt to unwittingly complete Cloud’s Reunion as a piece of Jenova. But if that’s the case, why did Jenova reunite here, in the desolate ass-end of the tundra?
We got the answer to that in a pre-rendered sequence, as the egg-like Materia descends towards the ground and reveals that Sephiroth is encased inside. Indeed, Sephiroth has been here since not long after Nibelheim It seems that the events of Crisis Core were just as fatal as you’d expect them to be, and Sephiroth came here to be healed along with the Planet’s wound. The big twist is that the “Sephiroth” we’ve been seeing all throughout the game hasn’t been Sephiroth, but the escaped main body of Jenova from Shinra HQ, and that it’s been dropping body parts behind it to serve as the Jenova boss battles. In attempting to chase this fake Sephiroth, Cloud was actually attempting to fulfill the Jenova Reunion all along. Ironically, this means that many of the famous incidents accredited to Sephiroth in the story, including his massacre at Shinra HQ and even his killing of Aeris, were actually the fault of Jenova all along. Or, at least they are depending on your personal theory on how much control Sephiroth had over Jenova herself? It seems like that level of control is considerable, since Sephiroth is the reason the Reunion happened at the north pole in the first place, but I still think it’s a little curious how rarely people mention that Jenova was the one who really killed Aeris? It’s hardly a problem, I just think it’s a little odd?
Let me explain what I mean. For much of FFIV, Golbez is under Zemus’ mind control and Kain is under Golbez’s mind control. At one point late in the game, poor, mind-controlled Kain takes a Dark Crystal from his buddy Cecil. I know this isn’t remotely as famous a scene as Aerith’s death in FFVII, but it’s not as though cultural osmosis of FFIV has given Golbez or Zemus credit for literally, physically yanking the the Dark Crystal out of Cecil’s hands, you know? I just think it’s a strange thing for culture to have confused over the past twenty years, just because of a little disguise!
Of course, after killing JENOVA-Death, the body of Jenova has been destroyed, yes? Major villain killed! Well, yes and no. Remember: anything killed returns to the Lifestream, and Sephiroth is absorbing the Lifestream, which is why he was letting his cloaked copies die once they got to the whirlwind. Secondly, there’s also the curious matter of Jenova’s head. You might recall that Jenova was headless when she was found in Shinra HQ, despite having a head in the flashback, and Crisis Core players will remember Sephiroth making off with the head during the Nibelheim incident, which FFVII will later confirm. Oddly enough, FFVII leaves this something of a plot hole! While Advent Children makes reference to the head, a plot point that I think would have been perfectly satisfactory on its own, the staff of the movie have gone out of their way to say that the movie isn’t literally discussing the missing head, but something else! With no choice but to explain the plot hole myself, my theory is this: there’s actually one last Jenova battle to come in FFVII, and I believe it could be seen as a battle against the missing head in a monstrous form, or at least using the head as a focal point.
On ground level, Rufus revealed himself to be a marginally, distantly okay guy after all, offering the party a ride on the airship, if only because he wanted to hear the full story. He rationalized that there was nothing else they could do at this point but to flee the scene, and he was probably right. The party made one last attempt to convince Cloud not to give Sephiroth the Black Materia (which was suddenly spherical), but no dice: he passed it into the Materia chrysalis and the whole structure collapsed. As it did, the Weapons rose from the crater in a cutscene that had been revised for the game’s remakes to account for the fact that there were now five… and while we’re at it, why not add a few more details, eh team? Crafty devs. The three Weapons from the original game were clearly seen during this cutscene, but the new two are only seen for a moment to preserve the surprise for players of the Japanese original. Why the Weapons didn’t attack Sephiroth was unclear to me, but I personally consider the Weapons to be more like white blood cells for the Planet… and not much more intelligent. They shot off to different parts of the Planet to protect the world, and what with Shinra sucking the Lifestream out of the Planet with their reactors, which would mean virtually everyone was in danger.