After that, it was time for us to go to the final dungeon. Wow. Would you just look at that final dungeon! …You know what, I’m still not over this. This cave is such an awful concept for a finale. Take a look back over the series, will you?
- FFI: An Ancient Temple of Entropy and Evil
- FFII and SoR: the Palaces of Satan and God themselves
- FFLI: the top of a great Tower leading to Paradise
- FFIII: an Unimaginable Dimension of Darkness Itself
- FFLII: the Secret Scientific Heart of the Entire World
- FFA: a Hidden Paradise and Source of All Life
- FFIV: Cave.
- TAY: Cave.
- FFLIII: a Castle of Flesh, home to the Great God of Unknowable Alien Masters
- FFMQ: the top of another Tower, which at the very least is still the game’s centrepiece
- FFV: Interdimensional World Between Worlds and Source of Great Power
- FFVI: Tower built from the World’s Ruin to the Hubris of a Mad God.
- FFVII:CC: Cave.
- FFVII: …and Cave.
The Northern Crater is where Jenova struck down on the Planet 2000 years ago, but as it stands it’s just a hole in the ground that Sephiroth is hiding in like a cockroach. As you get towards the bottom of the cave, the design gets more interesting (same as the FFIV and TAY caves), but it (and indeed, they) never strays too far from their under-ambitious root. I’d even go so far as to credit the FFIV: Interlude and Legend of the Crystals with having better “final dungeons” than IV and VII, and I don’t say that lightly, because I would be very happy never letting LotC ever settle on my eyes again!
The first room has you jumping down the cave in a spiral pattern, picking up this dungeon’s most notable item in the process: a crystal you can use to create a single save point wherever you feel the need to do so. The dungeon has no other save points of its own, so choose wisely. I’d have appreciated this if the mechanic wasn’t so notoriously glitchy, but thankfully Kyle and I didn’t have any problems, and we simply held off from using the Save Crystal until nearly the end of the dungeon. This was fine by me, since had basically been my plan from the outset.
While here, you also encounter some incredibly tough enemies, as you would hope for from a final dungeon. The most notable was probably the Master Tonberry, the enemy that really made a name for its species. The Master Tonberries are so durable that unlike the FFV and VI Tonberries, you aren’t very likely to kill them before they use Knife multiple times, and in this game, Knife causes instant death!
While it’s still just a wonky cave, Northern Crater does have a gimmick: it uses multiple paths to force you to backtrack to fetch all the game’s items. This takes on a rather extreme form when you reach a major fork in the road and the party decides that they need to split up, with the player following Cloud. There are initially two roads, but it turns out the left path has another fork and, should you go that way, you have the option of splitting your diminished party a second time. The idea here is that you split the party up, receiving various items from each path, and then arguably go back yourself and get additional copies of the same items. It doesn’t make any logical sense (I can’t help but imagine that the developers originally planned to have your fellow party members empty the paths of treasure for you, without creating any copies at all) but eh, this is an interesting system either way and I’m pleased that they chose to go for it, illogical as it may be in its current form.
I unfortunately didn’t take any detailed notes on how we switched the party, but I believe we took Cloud left and then down, and made our ways to the bottom as quickly as possible. Around here, Kyle joined me on trying to rush for the end, and we didn’t bother backtracking to pick up copies of treasure that we weren’t going to use in the first place.
Finally, we descended to the bottom of the Crater, where the party reunited just above what appeared to be a stew-pot of Lifestream. We created our save point and then headed towards the game’s finale. After one last joke from the party about Cloud not being very encouraging, we were forced to split the party up by the arrival of a horde of monsters, taking just Cloud, Yuffie and Tifa into the heart of things and leaving everyone else to fight the unseen monsters. From here, it was a few hops across islands floating in the Lifestream on the way to Sephiroth. Some powerful enemies waited here, like Iron Giants from FFII, and also Zombie Dragons, infamous in FFVII for a decision – which was either an extreme glitch or pure spite – that only uses its learnable Enemy skill Pandora’s Boss once per save file, and if you don’t have an Enemy Skill materia equipped, screw you! Once at the final rock, we stopped and equipped the party with their Ultimate Weapons, since there would be no need for Materia training from this point on and it was time to rely on the best possible damage output instead.
Finally, we came to the final platform, where we were attacked by that final version of Jenova I mentioned earlier. You know, the one I suspected was formed from Jenova’s head? This was JENOVA-Synthesis, who seemed to be taking cues from the Cloud of Darkness from FFIII by being accompanied by two tentacles you could take out. Ultimately, she was a pushover despite being able to use Ultima. Just like that, the original menace of Jenova was finally removed from the Planet. It was time to deal with her successor.
At this point, the platform collapsed and left the party floating in the Lifestream. In a vision, Cloud saw a light he thought might be Holy, but as it cleared out, we discovered the entire party (including those we had left behind) hovering around a cocoon holding the true Sephiroth. Sephiroth held them all telekinetically and threatened to rip them apart, but the power of Holy somehow freed them to fight. The game then asked you to set up either a certain number of parties, between one and three, but the factors that determine how many parties the game asks you to form is very complicated. Put short, it’s based on average party level and how long it took us to take JENOVA-Synthesis below 15 000 HP (this number is important because it’s when she starts to use Ultima). Thanks to our level and a stellar performance against Jenova, Kyle went in with only one party. Everyone in that party made little speeches before they attacked Sephiroth, Yuffie’s being our favourite, as she refused to let virtue get the better of her and continued to brag that she was going to steal all the Materia on the Planet. There’s the spirit, kiddo!
After this, the battle began against Sephiroth’s first form, Bizarro-Sephiroth (“Rebirth Sephiroth,” the name “Bizarro” being a confused localization yet again, turning this into an unintended Superman reference). This was easily the most complicated battle in the series to date, though I don’t mean that as a compliment. I still barely understand it. You have to destroy Bizarro-Sephiroth’s Main Body, but his Core (a separate part) will heal the main body if the Core is still alive. It seems that you’re intended to destroy his arms, then the Core, and that you have to destroy the Body not just with the one party but with all available parties, switching between parties at pre-set moments in the battle. But like Absolute Steve’s guide on GameFAQs suggests, you can also just use high damage group attacks with your main party and ignore the other parties? And why wouldn’t you? It’s the easiest way to kill any multi-part boss! I though the fight was nice and simple until I went online that I realized this fight was any more complicated than it appeared that I lost all understanding of what was going on!
On top of all these confusing mechanics, Sephiroth’s forms are all made more powerful if you have characters at level 99, or if you used the ultimate Summon, Knights of the Round, against Jenova. These are ugly surprises for anyone trying to grind to beat the game, but also a nice challenge for someone who completes the game 100%. I think I like it more than I don’t.
Kyle beat Bizarro-Sephiroth, and then it was on to the final battle against Safer Sephiroth, an angelic figure with three wings, thus his famous theme song, “One-Winged Angel.” …Wait, read those numbers to me again?
“Safer Sephiroith” is obviously a mis-translation… even beyond the fact that nearly every boss for the past two dungeons has been mistranslated. While many fans have tried to translate this bosses’ name as “Seraph Sephiroth,” it seems that the years have proven this claim spurious. It now seems that the name was intended to be “Sefer Sephiroth,” a reference to the real-life concept of the sephirot.
Safer Sephiroth is essentially the game’s final boss. The battle was radically changed in the International release, and you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t discuss the Japanese original, as I haven’t exactly fought him myself! Sephiroth follows a very rigid attack pattern, but a dangerous one. The key attacks to understand are his signature attack, Super Nova, and the return of Kefka’s Heartless Angel. Both of these attacks would leave the party in a garbage state, but neither could kill in this version: Super Nova takes away almost all your HP and deals random status effects, while Heartless Angel simply drops you straight to 1 HP, as always. These effects make sure that the tension stays high in the final boss sequence, which I could appreciate if it weren’t for… other factors.
Of course, the most notable aspect of this fight is that, in all versions after the Japanese original, the attack animation for Super Nova was changed from an approximately twenty second animation to a two minute animation. While I’ll admit this isn’t exactly cutting-edge criticism, I’d like to join the mass of critics from the past twenty years in saying that overlong, unskippable summon and attack animations were a terrible mistake from the beginning and taught Square all the wrong lessons. Combined with our party’s own Summons, one of the biggest threats in this fight was that we might get too bored by the repeat animations to pay attention to what was happening and make a mistake – which actually happened!
To continue the thread of 20-year-old criticism that may be old but is certainly on point: Super Nova’s new animation is also kind of… silly. I mean, it depicts the Super Nova spells destroying numerous real-world planets, including what seemed to be earth (or possibly the Planet of FFVII) each time the attack performs, which as Kyle noted isn’t just goofy, but also doesn’t make sense as an attack: after all, wouldn’t destroying all those other planets weaken the attack?
Kyle had a bad time in this fight. At first it seemed okay: Yuffie was able to use DeBarrier on Sephiroth, which we were worried wouldn’t even work (sometimes Final Bosses have exceptions to debuffs like this, like Xagor in FFLIII). Unfortunately, Safer-Sephiroth killed Cloud before we could use Big Guard to protect him, and it was downhill from there. Ultimately, Kyle was defeated when Sephiroth Confused his party to death thanks to Super Nova’s ability to deal random status effects. We almost thought Kyle had the fight when Tifa, seemingly unkillable, managed to get someone else on their feet, only for the next Super Nova to confuse the entire party all over again! I don’t know why we unequipped our Ribbons, and I’m not sure why we didn’t equip them during the next attempt, either! This is basic stuff, why didn’t that occur to us?
It was my turn for the second attempt, and I’ll admit I started with a bit of anxiety, and for a pretty silly reason: I was worried I’d miss learning Pandora’s Box for some reason, as though I had cared about Enemy Skills/Blue Magic at any other point in the game, and you can’t save anything you learn in the final gauntlet anyways! Nevertheless, I got it and doing so calmed my nerves. Unfortunately, my poorer performance in the Jenova battle led to us taking on Bizarro-Sephiroth with a two party formation, but like I said above, we simply used brute force to get past and never even switched to the second party!
Finally, I got to Safer Sephiroth and, long story short, won the game, thanks to the game only confusing us once this time around (although I was ready to cure Confusion should it ever happen, Remedy in hand). So yes, that’s right: luck won the final battle, not tactics or player skill. We, the team that tried to beat Persona 1’s Snow Queen Quest in automatic combat, happily accepted this default victory.
With Safer Sephiroth defeated, the party found themselves revived in the game’s final room safe and sound, Cloud saying that that’s all they can do at this point is to hope that Holy does the rest of the heavy lifting, though there was no visible sign of Holy taking any action at all. Most of the party left to return to the surface, but Tifa and Cloud lagged behind for a moment, only for Cloud to start sensing that Sephiroth was still alive. A transparent image of Cloud separated from the physical Cloud as it had in the past, and was pulled away from Cloud to some ethereal battlefield, where Cloud fought the spirit of Sephiroth for the whole pile of chips.
As dramatic as this is however, the fight is rigged, and with some serious quality control redundancy, too! I’m actually more impressed by the good programming work than I am with the high drama! If you attack, you get a free Limit Break, and it’s always Cloud’s ultimate Limit Break, Omnislash (this, by the way, is the reason the Steam achievements for this game have such a high earn rate for Omnislash, even though Omnislash is incredibly hard to earn for real). But even if you try to lose, Sephiroth can’t kill you. Sephiroth’s final attack (if you allow it to play out) is secretly a magic attack to prevent it from critting, and it always does 31/32s your health, close enough to be dramatic, but irregular enough to avoid looking scripted at a glance! At this point, Cloud automatically counter-attacks and wins the game. It’s kind of disappointing to see Cloud doing small counter-attack damage to end the game, but I agree with Square that it was better than nothing and they probably couldn’t force him to counter with Omnislash with the game’s scripting limitations.
With Sephiroth defeated, the Lifestream arrives and gives Cloud a way back to his body, and a hand (presumably Aeris’) reaches out to catch him, only for Cloud to wake up back in the real world to find the cave collapsing and Tifa reaching out to him. Nobody shows up to help Cloud or Tifa during this entire sequence, by the way. They’re just sitting around, watching you nearly die. Some group of friends. (Famously, Yuffie and Vincent are absent from the remainder of the game, since they were optional and the devs naturally didn’t want to create four versions of the ending cutscenes to account for every possible party combination!) Finally Cloud makes it to relatively safe ground. Red XIII announces that the crater was probably about to collapse thanks to Holy, and basically no one even moves to run away, even though Cid sort of acts like they should. CGI sure is expensive to animate, isn’t it Square? Luckily for everyone, the crater collapses just enough to let the Highwind fall through, and it somehow lands in perfect repair and helps the party escape just as Holy comes rushing past. I can credit the Lifestream for this contrivance, so I don’t mind it as much as some of the game’s other deus ex amateur solutions. Even with the arguable help of the Lifestream, the party barely escapes.
Meanwhile in the town of Kalm, we surprisingly cut to Barret’s daughter Marlene, who hears Aeris’ voice and sees the light of Holy coming to challenge the Meteor, which is now so close to the Planet that the very idea that it hasn’t destroyed humanity through tidal force alone is laughable. Just to underline that they don’t care about real science, Square then has the Meteor summon tornadoes to destroy Midgar. I truly cannot argue with that. I can’t even imagine how I would begin. Holy rushes out to stop Meteor, but to everyone’s surprise, it’s still not enough.
We cut to the party in the Highwind, and Reeve talks to them through Cait Sith, saying that he somehow got everyone in Midgar to take refuge in the slums, simultaneously implying that he got out of prison somehow (and is apparently a very good multi-tasker, considering he very well might have been fighting Sephiroth remotely at the time of the evacuation!). Ah yes, Reeve, our fully redeemed hero, who saved the day at virtually no personal cost, with no recompense or even apology to his victims, his crimes utterly forgotten, and with no personal reflection whatsoever. Let’s make him President of the fucking Planet.
Red XIII remarks that “Holy is having the opposite effect,” though it’s not fully clear what he means. That the spell is doing damage of its own, which is just making things worse? This is the impression I get from the short stories created to promote Advent Children, for what it’s worth. Not going very well for our heroes.
But just then, the Lifestream itself begins to rise from the Planet to assist Holy, which means to my great shock that they actually remembered their environmentalism plot at the 11th hour. Yes, that’s right: the Planet is going to save itself, Gaia Theory With A Knife or something. Wait, does that mean it doesn’t matter if we save the Planet from pollution, because it will actively turn on external threats with magical light? I think we just exchanged the “aliens and evil trees will kill us” environmentalism message for something equally spurious.
In any event, we see Aeris’ face and the credits abruptly roll. I suppose that’s a satisfying ending in its own right, but it’s followed by a bizarre post-ending sequence that has never been fully explained. During this scene, Red XIII leads two cubs of his species to the ruins of Midgar 500 years later. The city is overgrown with plant life, but not nearly as consumed by it as you’d expect from 500 year’s decay, to be honest. With that, the game abruptly ends for a second time. Is the game trying to imply that everyone died in the final Lifestream attack? Well don’t bother guessing about the fate of the world, because the game got direct sequels that will answer your question, but if you want to analyze FFVII on its own merits, based on this non sequiter flash forward ending, feel free to be a doomsayer for all I care.
That’s it! The end of Final Fantasy VII! Or is it? In breaking with Journal tradition, Kyle and I ended up with a lot of final thoughts on FFVII, which I’ll be posting as our next Journal update before moving on to Advent Children.
But since this is the end of the gameplay, I’ll edit in our final time: 30h 50m. Hey, wait a second! That’s the exact same time as Crisis Core, once the numbers are rounded to the nearest five minutes! As you may know from FFI or FFV, these playtimes were only collected after the fact during our playthrough of FFIX, and when I saw the two times next to one another, I thought I had jotted down the same number by mistake, but it’s true! I double-checked! How appropriate: Cloud mimics Zack even in the length of his adventure!