At this point, you actually get to keep the submarine as a vehicle, ala FFV. Fun fact: if you lose in the submarine minigame, you do lose the Huge Materia, but you can get a nifty red submarine instead of the grey one! As I complained earlier, they’re both slower than drifting along with the current.
After the battle, we got a message from Shinra themselves, mistaking us for a legitimate submarine and apparently having received no news about the recently sunk submarine. They told us to report to the Junon airport, and Cloud said that we should do so immediately, even if it meant leaving the Huge Materia behind. Kyle and I ignored him, fetching the stuff on the spot (and I see RickyC does the same!). We also went to visit another area that you could only access with the submarine. This was the ruins of a “Gelnika,” and yes, the proper phrasing does seem to be “a Gelnika,” not “the Gelnika,” as “Gelnika” is a class of airplane (airship?). This Gelnika served as a hidden area and bonus dungeon. There, we were promptly mauled to death by a Poodler.
After my almost immediate death, Kyle tried again and got far enough into the dungeon to discover Reno and Rude, who offer about the only plot we’re going to get about this bonus dungeon. This encounter with the Turks is really easy to miss, by the way, as they leave after a point! Apparently the Gelnika was transporting Weapon-fighting, urm, weapons from one continent to another, and we were going to have to fight the Turks if we wanted them. Unusually for us, Kyle actually put the Steal command to work to steal a Ziedrich arm band from Rude, which is one of the best armours in the game. After beating the Turks fair and square, Kyle spent the rest of the dungeon outright running from every remaining battle in the dungeon, like cowards. What can I say? The monsters here outclassed us by degrees. Most of the monsters were “Unknowns” inspired by the similar horror monsters from FFV, sporting some lovely gross designs. Getting past the monsters won us the Hades Materia and Yuffie’s ultimate weapon, the Conformer.
Arriving back in Junon, we discovered that we had missed all the fuss, and learned that Shinra had just shipped their one remaining Huge Materia off to its final destination, Rocket Town. …Wait, hold on. We’re talking about the Huge Materia that Shinra already had in its position from Nibelheim, right? The other side of the planet? i.e. They took it from the other side of the planet to here, and are now moving it back to the other side of the planet now? Ugh, whatever, off to Rocket Town. Once we arrived, we learned that the Shinra troops had gone to the rocket, and a few murders later, we ran into Rude, who was much easier than the fight in the Gelnika – shockingly so, and it’s not just a matter of the Gelnika battle being a bonus dungeon. You can tell the game is trying to rush you along again, and they’re doing it well, since Rude has only 9000 HP, while the mandatory battle against the Carry Armour had 24 000.
Inside the cockpit of the rocket, Cid discovered some of his staff, and learned that the rocket had been acquired by Shinra to turn it into the missile that would hold the Materia bomb that would be sent to Meteor via an auto-pilot. Unfortunately, a key component (the same oxygen tank from before!) was still being repaired by Shera. Cid then gave the party that speech I mentioned earlier: you know, the one about the importance of saving the Huge Materia to preserve the legacy of the Ancients or something like that? Nevertheless, he ultimately decided to back Shinra’s plan, if only to see his precious rocket take off.
Unfortunately, everything went to shit thanks to the help of Palmer, who decided to launch the rocket early with the party on board. Palmer vanishes from the game after this, not even appearing in DoC, and I can’t help but suspect Rufus may have had him shot. Cid declares that the rocket still has its escape pod, but the Huge Materia is still a concern (again, this being the one from Nibelheim. None of the others appear here even if Shinra got away with them earlier in the game. If they were here, that would raise the possibility of you getting the chance to steal them again, so I can understand why the devs removed them even if it doesn’t make any narrative sense. I dunno, maybe there’s in another part of the rocket). You’re supposed to go to a vault and enter random passwords into it. You get 3 minutes to do so (after the first attempt, which is free) and Cid will give you hints after your second attempt, but darned if I know what his clues are like. Is it a game of high and low? Are there math clues? I can’t find a source listing of his clues online, since everyone who goes to the effort of checking the internet would rather just jump straight to the answer. Kyle and I also used a walkthrough, because we panicked, but that doesn’t mean I’m not curious. I guess I’ll have to check the next time I replay the game?
On our way out of the ship, the oxygen tank Shera had been trying to fix exploded, just as she had predicted years ago, and Cid was pinned by shrapnel. He’s lucky he wasn’t cut in half or blown apart, frankly. But as we had been told, Shera was still on the ship, and she was able to help the party lift the piece of metal and lead everyone to the pod. Cid even complimented Shera on inspecting the escape pod, and then spent the rest of the trip watching the stars. Years of abuse definitely redeemed, oh for sure. Meanwhile, the rocket crashed into Meteor with a trifling “psh,” just like you’d expect from a giant metal arrow with no payload. Okay, okay, I lied. It actually explodes in a huge bright light, despite having nothing in it more volatile than its remaining fuel. Maybe they packed it with traditional explosives as well as the Huge Materia? Unfortunately, no matter how much Huge Materia you let Shinra collect, the explosion is the same and so are the results: the Meteor reassembles itself via its magic, and everyone is still doomed. I’m still a little angry at the party when they have the gall to act disappointed that the rocket doesn’t destroy Meteor even though they sabotaged the mission at every step!
Cid makes a brief speech about how his space trip has motivated him to help fight Sephiroth. At this point, Red XIII says that he hears the Planet screaming, and suggests they go to Cosmo Canyon for advice. (Thanks to a scrap of code left behind from a deleted scene, Cloud spins 360 degrees like a ballerina during this sequence for no reason!) When the party came to Bugenhagen to ask him how to proceed, Bugenhagen urged the party to remember something they had forgotten, and Cloud remembered Aeris and her attempt to stop Meteor in some way of her own. Bugenhagen asked the party to take him to the Ancient’s City to investigate what Aeris was trying to do.
After that was done, Cloud asked Bugenhagen to take the Huge Materia off their hands for safe keeping, and Bugenhagen agreed to store them in his observatory. There, they floated around as huge Crystals, deliberately referencing the elemental Crystals of previous games. The four Huge Materia had special own powers to benefit the player, though three of them were similar. You might wonder which Crystal is unlocked by which sidequest, but the game doesn’t actually work like that! Instead, the first Huge Materia you earn is always the yellow Air Crystal, then the green Earth, then the red Fire, and only if you get all four Huge Materia do you earn the blue Water Crystal. The Earth, Air and Fire Crystals allow you to create “Master Materia” by going through the unbelievably tedious tasks of mastering every single regular Materia that belongs to the corresponding sets: the green Magic Materias, the yellow Command Materias and the red Summon Materias. This totals every single materia in the game. My god. No. No, you can’t make me. I refuse to even try. I can’t decide whether this or FFII’s Ultima was a worse… urm… “Ultima.” Meanwhile, the Water Materia just straight-up gives you the Bahamut ZERO Summon. Funnily enough, you don’t even need to get the fourth Huge Materia to get Bahamut ZERO, as the game politely moves Bahamut ZERO to Bone Village if you miss it, even though it’s happy to let some of the games’ easier missables go rot in lost corners of the game! Why reward the player’s failure to do a huge quest but punish the player’s minor oversights? Who knows!
Bugenhagen boarded the airship at this point, and we flew to the north and… ugh… walked back through the Sleeping Forest to get back to the Ancient’s Village. Apparently you can go straight there with the right Chocobo? I refuse to go to the hassle, but feel free to take my complaints with a grain of salt, since it’s my fault we avoided the ostriches in the first place.
In a certain room that had been suspicious during our first trip to the Ancient’s City, Bugenhagen learned something from some sort of Ancient device. This told him about Holy, the ultimate White Magic. Nicely done with the franchise references once again! Bugenhagen said that Holy would wipe out Meteor and even the Weapons, but cautioned that might go even further to wipe out other dangers to the planet, like humanity: “It is up to the Planet to decide.” Well, like I was saying when I was advocating for Shinra’s Huge Materia bomb: better than nothing, right?
Bugenhagen revealed that, naturally, the White Materia was required to cast Holy, and Cloud pointed out that it was lost when she died. Bugenhagen just laughed at that (though because he laughs at everything, the game had to repeat his laughter three times just to make it clear that this was unusual). He pointed out a hidden message written by “a scientist” (Gast, perhaps?) saying to use a key in a music box elsewhere in the city. Okay, Kyle and I already knew where to find the music box. But where is the key?
Sadly, I don’t remember the hints for the Ancient’s Key and aren’t able to find them in the games’ script, but I do remember that they exist, even if they weren’t enough to help the two of us find the silly thing. Unfortunately, you have to get on board your turtle of a submarine and find a hidden underwater cave located towards the north. It’s an obnoxious search, given the sub’s slow movement rate and the way the cave is hidden from view, but with the reassuring support of a walkthrough, you can find the right scratch in the ocean floor and return to the Ancient’s City.
Once we had returned to the music box, we discovered the “key” to be some sort of a large stick. I’m sure glad Bugenhagen has to solve this part of the puzzle, because it doesn’t make any sense to me! By putting the stick into the music box, a mechanism was activated. Ultimately, this caused a waterfall to cascade down over a platform in the centre of the room, and by going inside the waterfall, Cloud could see a vision of the Holy Materia, showing that while it may be lost, it was also active: Aeris had succeeded in her mission at the very end of her life, ala Aria in FFIII. The excess of water going on here makes me wonder if that reference is deliberate.
This, however, raised an important question: if Holy had been cast, why wasn’t it working? Of course, it was the usual video game excuse: kill the monster to open the door. Sephiroth was blocking the magic of Holy and we’d have to defeat him so that Holy could stop Meteor. As I said in the Mystic Quest Journal: “I’m starting to feel like these RPGs wouldn’t let me buy groceries without at least one count of murder before I hit the checkout line.”