Proceeding out of the room to reunite with the others, the party was interrupted when Cait Sith called over Cloud’s cell phone. Reeve revealed that he had located the missing Junon cannon: Rufus had moved it to Midgar, somehow assembling it with such speed that Reeve had only now noticed it, even though it’s the size of a highway. Apparently, the cannon used to use the Junon Huge Materia for power, but would now have to rely on the eight Midgar reactors. Rufus’ target? Sephiroth himself. And you know what? Rufus was introduced as a scum-sucker, but I’m really starting to like him. Say what you will about his opening speech about ruling with fear, but besides trying to execute the party, he’s done almost nothing but good for the Planet since being appointed president, even if it was just a matter of extreme circumstance! I’m hardly about to call him a good person, but he’s got an exceptional track record!
Unfortunately for… well, for everyone, another of the Weapons rose up at this point. This was Diamond Weapon, and it started walking, kaiju-style, from the North Pole down towards Midgar. Hearing this news through Cait Sith, there was a brief discussion on the airship that brought up the subject of Marlene, which led to Cait Sith getting into a fight with Barret over the deaths caused in the initial reactor bombing. Hey Reeve? Not. The. Time. And Reeve? Once it is time, here’s something to keep in mind: okay, maybe you feel mass murder isn’t justified in the face of the extinction of the entire human race. I promise you will be allowed to make that case. But after you’ve done that, please tell us how kidnapping is justified in the face of giving a man who promised to rule through fear the power to cause environmental extinction at an even faster rate, because one doesn’t nullify the other.
(I have to note that the authors seem to have outright forgotten that they had Reeve kidnap Marlene, considering they talk about her as though she were still with Aeris’ mother.)
At this point, Cloud resolves to fight Diamond Weapon himself if he must, as he’s unsure if the Sister Ray could handle it, what with it being untested. This fight with Diamond is a new addition to the International release, though I’m not 100% certain how the sequence functioned in the Japanese original. The only reference I’ve seen to the Japanese original implies that Diamond Weapon still walks up to Midgar on the overworld all slow-like, even though the player can’t do anything about it? It seems likely to me that Square had always planned on a boss fight with Diamond Weapon in the Japanese original and just didn’t make it in time. A piece of evidence supporting this is that Diamond Weapon famously holds a weapon for Yuffie, ripe for the stealing, which exists in the Japanese original game’s code, but is inaccessible since there’s no fight to steal it in!
Long story short, once international players plant themselves on the ground and Diamond lumbers up to them, it’s time for a fight. Yes, that implies that this twenty storey hyper-beast is willing to stop its rampage for any three humans with baseball bats that stand between it and its target. Diamond Weapon’s fight is actually fairly complicated for FFVII, showing its pedigree as a later addition to the game, made after the development rush was off. The boss is immune to regular attacks until you’ve used a certain number of spells or Limit Breaks, which are the only things that can harm it (unfortunately, I can only find partial data on how many Limit Breaks are required and nothing at all about how many spells, Summons, or combinations of the three). After taking a number of attacks, the Weapon will open up its armour to use a powerful attack called Diamond Flash, which takes away 7/8ths your current health. That’s certainly nasty, but it can’t kill you. During this stage, the Weapon becomes vulnerable to regular attacks until it closes its armour again. Not that you need to rely on regular attacks if you don’t want to. Ultima and Limit Breaks are still better than punching it in the shin!
After the battle, Diamond Weapon survives and basically decides to ignore you (after all, the game needs to proceed with an upcoming pre-rendered cinematic that was created for the original Japanese version, where you didn’t attack Diamond at all!). Cait Sith makes a call saying to get the hell out of the way, and sure enough, Rufus fires the Sister Ray. Powered by Midgar’s reactors, the Ray was able to fire, but it suffers severe structural damage in the process, thanks to its hastily prepared supports. Diamond Weapon, sensing trouble, opens fire on Midgar at a distance using a number of beam attacks, but could not intercept the Sister Ray’s powerful blast. The Ray not only destroys Diamond Weapon in a single blow like Sapphire, but continued on its way to Sephiroth unimpeded! And sure enough, the Ray’s powerful blast destroys the shield protecting Northern Crater, scoring two points for Shinra in a single shot! Wow, and considering that it was a group of (ex-)Shinra employees who defeated Jade Weapon in Before Crisis, I say that makes three weapons for Shinra, and zero for the good guys. Great going, Team Cloud!
Unfortunately, Diamond Weapon’s projectiles were still on route, and Rufus watched as a number of projectiles struck his office, enveloping it in a huge explosion. Rufus is not seen again in the game. So falls the only capable person in this entire plot.
The party, who had been screaming about Diamond Weapon firing on Midgar moments earlier, decides not to check out Midgar at this point and to go to the Northern Crater instead! When they get there, they discovers that the barrier is down for good, and it’s only now that Reeve calls them via Cait Sith about the damage to Midgar. Funnily enough, the game doesn’t force the player to go straight to Northern Crater after the death of Diamond. You could gone been any number of places in the interim without any news about the damage in Midgar – you could even have gone to Midgar!
Shinra’s three surviving executives (I’m telling you, Palmer is dead on a slate somewhere) are in a panic at this point, having no lucky contacting the President. During this sequence, Reeve is meant to give himself away to the player as being the person driving Cait Sith, but the localizers messed it up in English. You see, Cait Sith is supposed to have an accent that Reeve does not share: Kansai in Japanese, supposedly Scottish in English. In this scene, Reeve speaks in that accent and the player is supposed to realize that he’s Cait Sith. Unfortunately, not only did the English localization forget that Cait Sith had a Scottish accent something like nine times out of ten, they also forgot to have Reeve speak with a Scottish accent it in this critical scene, messing up the whole trick!
The other execs notice Reeve’s supposedly strange accent, but he shakes it off and reveals that the city’s reactors are starting to overload (remember, Reeve has been in charge of the reactors since the beginning of the game). One of Reeve’s subordinates contacts him, telling him that someone has set the reactors to overload deliberately, and Reeve discovers that Professor Hojo is responsible. We cut to Hojo in an unfamiliar location, and he says that he’s planning on giving Sephiroth all of Midgar’s mako energy. His treachery is clearly intentional, but something is strange: he’s not speaking clearly and he keeps twitching.
At this point, Reeve is supposed to use his normal voice through Cait Sith (the reverse of before), but of course that doesn’t come across in English. Thanks to this… uh… non-fuck-up, Barret recognizes Cait Sith as Reeve. Reeve confesses, and tells the party about the reactors. He says that it’s easy enough to stop the reactors, it’s not like they don’t have failsafes, but between the Sister Ray and Hojo, they’ll explode if Shinra tries to use the failsafes, and Reeve seems to be afraid that what’s left of the Sister Ray is going to explode one way or another! This is a great setup, and I like it a lot! Wh-what’s going to ruin it?
Unfortunately, it’s time for the cartoonishly evil aspect of Shinra to return from the first act, where we thought it was dead and buried. Reeve has been talking to the party right in front of Heidegger and Scarlet, because this is an emergency and he figured they’d understand. He was mistaken. Heidegger declares himself the new President, uses his control over the military to have Reeve arrested as a traitor for working with Cloud, and he and Scarlet decide it would be more fun to try to stop Cloud from getting to Hojo than it would be to Not. Explode. Ugh, every time FFVII comes close to my good graces it just reverts back to an amateurish mess!
Naturally, the party has no choice but to turn back and save Midgar from two villains who have to drive their ego to work with a forklift. I suppose we could have brought Vincent to share in this attack on his hated Professor Hojo but… eh. Thus begins the famous Raid on Midgar event, an event that’s definitely a big deal, but I’d argue it’s maybe even more famous for your ability to skip through it entirely with the help of a glitch. We didn’t do that, but you can’t deny it would have been funny.
You know, looking back on it now during the editing stage of this Journal, I feel kind of ambiguous about Midgar. In the end, it feels like it was the setting of an important prologue, but still just a prologue? It’s like some cousin of KH2’s infamous 3-hour tutorial in Twilight Town, except bigger, definitely better, but only slightly more important? When Diamond Weapon attacked Midgar, I think my reaction was supposed to be “Yes! We’re finally returning to the heart of the campaign, home sweet home!” Instead my reaction was more like: “Huh? …Oh! Right! That place!” Compare my forgetful reaction to Midgar to my shocked reaction to the destruction of Altair in FFII, which served as the party’s home base and was returned to time after time. Bear in mind: Altair was abandoned when it was destroyed! Do you know what town I actually feel attached to in FFVII itself? Junon. We’ve been there multiple times, come back to it after long times away, and hell I’ve flown or Bronco’d my way past it multiple times, which I can’t even say about Midgar. Poor Midgar was located so far away from the rest of the world that I, honest-to-goodness, couldn’t even locate it when it came time to fly back for Diamond Weapon! All they needed to do was to have the party return to Midgar from time to time, but they didn’t, and here we are.
Cid arranges for the party to parachute into Midgar from the Highwind, and Cait Sith led the party underground to stay away from whatever Heidegger and Scarlet were planning. This led us into a familiar, opening-chapter-style dungeon, but with a few extra maze-like elements. Oh, and Behemoths, you don’t want to forget about that. You know, I’m starting to think Behemoths would show up in the eleventh hour of Final Fantasy games even if they were in an utterly inappropriate location? Like, Final Fantasy XXIX’s penultimate dungeon could be a cliché, fifties, American suburb straight out of I Love Lucy, and I’d still expect to see Behemoths once every five or six random encounters.
After navigating the ladder maze of the main dungeon, we entered into an old subway track, where you’re supposed to find the valuable (and incredibly glitchy) W-Item Materia that lets you use two items in one turn, but you know… eh. We weren’t planning on using the duplication glitch, and without the duplication glitch, who uses items?
We turned onto the proper path and found ourselves accosted by the three Turks. Elena voiced concerns about fighting us, given the end of the world and Heidegger’s orders. However, since we had cleared the Wutai and helped rescue Elena from Don Corneo, the Turks considered us something like friends, and actually gave us the option to turn down the fight! Kyle and I considered it, but eh, free EXP is free EXP. We agreed to the fight… and ended up back-attacking the Turks somehow. Well, I mean, I do know how, it’s just very silly: it’s because FFVII can’t enforce the rules of a boss fight (like “no back attacks”) unless the developers flagged the entire room as a “boss room,” leading to at least two rooms that feature both bosses and regular encounters and so have to feature boss encounters that can be ambushed or can even ambush you. But c’mon, we were just having a face-to-face chat in a narrow corridor!
After the battle, which was largely inconsequential, the Turks left the scene and we continued on our way, arriving back at the front doors of Shinra HQ. You’re supposed to use this opportunity to go and grab some items that couldn’t be retrieved the first time around, including Cait Sith’s ultimate weapon, but fuck Cait Sith. Unfortunately, after making our way out of the subway, we found ourselves straight in the path of Scarlet’s new weapon, a giant mech suit piloted by both her and Heidegger. Which for whatever reason engaged us on a really tiny ledge between wall and pit?
Anyway, the mech suit was called the… the… *sigh.* The “Proud Clod.” And believe me, the mistakes are going to get worse from here on out. The localization team must have hit their deadline. The Japanese name is actually a transliteration of the English words “Proud Clad,” which should have been localized into something like “Proud Armour,” but even “Proud Clad” is better than “Proud Clod!” I was later happy to learn that “Proud Clad” was re-used properly in a later FF game, though I avoided finding out which to preserve the surprise. In any event, the Clod was made up of two parts: the main body and the Jamar Armour (*sigghhhhhh*… that should be “Jammer Armor”), which was used to cast Reflect on the party so that we couldn’t take advantage of our own defensive and curative spells. We were able to sneak a few spells past its defences thanks to the particulars of FFVII’s version of Reflect, since Reflect expires after four uses, so all we needed was good timing. After destroying the Jamar, we engaged in a long, long, very boring fight against the Proud Clod’s absurd defence stat, and its eventual transition to a charge attack…
Ugh, whatever, I’m so bored by this tedious fight, and these cartoonish villains, and I’m So. Bored. Of course, that’s not really surprising, is it? It’s the old, familiar Final Dungeon Tedium that sets in at the end of every game we’ve played in the Marathon so far. It’s just a little early for FFVII! If we had split up the game over a longer period of time, I probably wouldn’t be so sour, but that’s not an option given that Kyle and I only get to see each other so often. But with most Marathon games, Final Dungeon Tedium hits both of us around the same time. Not this time! This time it was just me. Kyle was actually raring to go all the way to the end of the game, even hoping to even give the superbosses a shot (if only to be humiliated). Thankfully, we brought our play session to an end not long from now, and that helped me pull together enough interest to chase down a few narrative sidequests at the start of our next play session. Unfortunately, the old boredom returned not long after that and I was eager to see the end of the game as soon as possible, so I told Kyle how I was feeling and we streamlined our efforts to reach the end of the game. There’s a reason beyond coincidence that FFVII is one of the few games we cleared relatively early in a play session rather than late.
The Proud Clod exploded after the fight, and by all signs it took Scarlet and Heidegger with them. Good riddance. Cloud and the others didn’t even care to have a wrap-up text after the battle, though that had been the case with the Turks as well so it seems like the developers were trying to convey a sense of rush. From here, it was a long climb up a number of stairs to confront Hojo atop some kind of maintenance scaffold. RickyC fights some interesting war machines here that Kyle and I missed (including a few goofy battles against giant tanks that somehow attacked RickyC on tiny emergency stairs), but Kyle spent almost every other random encounter in the area battling the legendary SOLDIERs 1st Class, who used Silence and Quadra-Cut to deal multiple hits and serious damage. Thanks for finally living up to your reputation, assholes. Zack says hi.
In the final room, we came across Hojo working a big console in the open rain. Hojo explained that he was going to give Sephiroth all the city’s energy, calling Sephiroth his son. Hojo told us that he really was Sephiroth’s biological father, though Sephiroth doesn’t know it. Finally, Hojo announced that he had injected himself with Jenova’s cells, and a multi-staged battle began.
The first battle against Hojo was similar to (and no doubt inspired) the cartoonish battle against Hollander in Crisis Core: Hojo kept pulling monsters out of his pants and (unlike Hollander, sadly) performs no notable attacks. The second phase of the battle had Hojo transforming into the Helletic Hojo (that should be “Heretic Hojo”), a twisted, stretched, multi-part boss-horror. Helletic Hojo used its arms to summon various status effect attacks, so we simply hit him with group attacks to level him without much additional subtlety. I was in control here, and will also admit to mistaking Helletic Hojo for the bosses’ final form, so I may have gone too hard too soon. The real last form, the third, was significantly more dangerous. This was Lifeform-Hojo N, which resembled a sort of alien being in a space suit. Hojo kept up with the status effects, but unfortunately for him, two of the three party members were wearing Ribbons (I’m afraid I can’t remember who was in the party at the time). It’s a good thing those party members were wearing Ribbons, too, because the third party member was rendered useless for the entire fight.
After the battle, the party waited for a long time, as though expecting Hojo to take on a fourth form, which I honestly thought was pretty clever! Since Hojo didn’t make an additional appearance, they returned to the airship victorious, and Cait Sith remarked that Shinra was “finished.”
Since this meant that there was nothing left to do but confront Sephiroth for the grand finale, Cloud took this opportunity to give a speech, offering everyone an opportunity to visit their loved ones before the final attack. I appreciate this in theory, though I think I’d personally be concerned about saving the world as soon as possible and giving Holy as much time as you can to do its work. Maybe I’m just too ruthless here. Cloud says that he has a personal feud with Sephiroth, but he acknowledges that that’s not true for most of the others, and so he urges them to make sure of their personal reasons for fighting Sephiroth before committing to the final charge. Cloud’s a good guy, I like him a lot in the end. Most of the party leaves until only Cloud and Tifa remain, as neither of them have anyone else to go home to.
Cloud and Tifa wait for the others together, talking about the possibility that the others might choose not to come back at all. They also talk plainly about the fact that they weren’t honestly very close before Cloud went off to join SOLDIER, which I appreciate. Eventually, they attempt to talk about their feelings for one another, and Tifa says that “Words aren’t the only thing that tell people what you’re thinking…” and then the game fades to black, and I feel I probably shouldn’t say anything else about that, lest a ship war run past and leave with my throat.
Cloud and Tifa fall asleep sitting next to one another on a rock, and when they wake up, they find themselves alone, assuming that no one came back with them, only to find the whole party waiting for them on the airship. Even Cait Sith was there, Reeve saying he wanted to come in person but, you know… jail. Cloud also gives a moment for everyone to think about Aeris, and then Cid pulls out some totally unnecessary rocket engines just so they can jet away dramatically. Just as they were reaching North Crater, the crew of the Highwind appeared out of the hold to join us, with us to the end like everyone else.
…So wait, did someone fly the Highwind around the world to pick everyone up without waking Cloud and Tifa, or did they all walk back, or…?