Chapter 6: Deepground Strikes Back
We start this chapter in Vincent’s flashbacks, specifically back when he spoke to Lucrecia and Hojo about their conceiving a child and experimenting on it. For some reason, Hojo appears enveloped in shadow in all of these flashbacks. It’s a lot of shadow, too! If it was simply meant to make him look menacing, they went way too far. Instead, it’s as though his identity was somehow a secret, but I can’t imagine why as established fans know perfectly well who he is and new players shouldn’t be confused into thinking his identity is a mystery, which could actually cause problems and is my biggest complaint! Frankly, Hojo should be getting an introduction for new players, not be treated as a stranger!
In any event, flashback Vincent and Lucrecia get in a bit of a fight, Lucrecia seemingly upset that Vincent won’t outright say that he doesn’t approve of the project. As far as I can tell, this is an extension of her being mad that Vincent won’t confess his love to her, as expressed in other flashbacks. He won’t be upfront to her about one thing, you see, and now he won’t be upfront about another! Mind that this is at odds with FFVII, where Vincent did tell Lucrecia how he felt and she rejected him, so I may be misreading it a little, but I don’t think I am. I’m pretty sure Lucrecia’s rejection is being retconned out by these scenes. Worse, it’s presented as though Vincent’s refusal to assert manly control over Lucrecia’s pregnancy is somehow insulting to Lucrecia. How dare he mind his own business and leave us to mind our own!
We get a repeat of the flashback of Lucrecia collapsing from FFVII, implying that she was collapsing not out of pregnancy pains but because she had a vision of what Sephiroth would do later in life. Sure, DoC. You know, when I was writing the Kingdom Hearts CoM Retrospective, I made a point of complimenting CoM’s second storyline for not falling into the great prequel sin of giving characters impeccable knowledge of future events, but here DoC is draining the cliché barrel. That’s all right. I think I’ve made my peace with the fact that “quality” isn’t what you’re shooting for here.
Instead of returning to the present, we cut from the world of flashbacks to we continue the ongoing story of Vincent sulking in Lucrecia’s cave. Vincent makes a curious statement here that finally clues us in to a fact the game has been obscuring: he says that he saw Lucrecia “again” in “the place we first met,” referring to Shinra Manor. This is important, because Vincent has made it crystal clear (especially in the Lost Chapter) that he hasn’t been to Shinra Manor since the end of FFVII. This finally hints to us that these scenes in Lucrecia’s cave aren’t flash backs to before the events of the game, as you might have suspected, but are actually flash forwards, to a part of the narrative that hasn’t happened yet. In hindsight the clues are obvious and better handled than I’d expect from DoC, considering things like… the stuff in the previous paragraph. In any event, the flash forward doesn’t come to any particular end this time around, and Vincent wakes up to find himself in a Shadowfox with Yuffie.
Yuffie, the giant ham, makes a speech about saving Vincent before removing her Moogle costume and revealing her new outfit, during which she trips over and cracks her head on a computer monitor. Hey, did you know that Yuffie’s actually an adult now? She’s old enough to vote! Yuffie chastises Vincent for his lack of concern in her injury, and Steve Blum got a genuine laugh out of me with his bored response.
Yuffie draws attention to the fact that Vincent’s body somehow healed itself from the giant hole in his chest (goodness knows who replaced his clothes). After this, they make contact with Reeve, who fills them in about what he saw during the Cait Sith segment from the previous chapter, and Vincent relates the Omega report to him in turn. Since it seems that Deepground is going to keep sacrificing people to the slime pool in their basement, Reeve says that he’s going to have to launch a full assault before they can do any more.
Meanwhile, Shelke wakes up in WRO HQ in the same medical bay where Vincent was healed up previously. There, she somehow gets herself free of the healing tube (maybe that’s just something you can do if your healing tube is operated by regular doctors instead of Hojo). Better yet, her weapons are ten steps away. We learn that Shalua fell asleep while keeping her, and okay fine, but would extra guards or, god forbid, a lock on the tube just this once been out of the question? Or a gun locker for the lightsabres? I’m starting to suspect that this may not be a professional military organization.
As Shelke is breaking out from the dumbest lock-up in history, we cut to a place that’s actually being protected: the morgue. On the plus side, this is a pleasant change from video games that treat military morgues as undefended entry points for stealth missions! Unfortunately, what’s about to happen is no stealth mission. Without warning (or, for that matter, with no particular stimulus) Azul comes back to life.
Back in the lab, Shalua wakes and Shelke holds her at swordpoint, but Shalua announces that while she might have been in shock after seeing Shelke during their last encounter, she’s more than recovered her composure in the time since, and taunts Shelke to fight her. Hey, nice angle, I actually kind of like that!
With a few other jump-cuts, Azul breaks out of the morgue off-screen, and Deepground, presumably aware or probably even responsible for Azul’s revival, storm the place and have the building secured in only seconds. I realize that Reeve must have lost a lot of soldiers in the first attack, and in a few seconds we’re going to learn that he’s already sent out his army for the full attack on Deepground HQ that he mentioned to Vincent and Yuffie, but did you really, really just leave your HQ less defended than it was when it was attacked only days earlier? Reeve, stick with the cat-suit. You were somehow more useful on my party’s back bench than you are in the command chair of a rebuilding nation. In one final blow to Reeve’s self-esteem, Deepground has already dragged a rocket launcher straight to Reeve’s nominally secure command chamber, and they take a shot at him.
News of the attack reaches Shalua in time to delay her fight with Shelke, and she remarks, “They’re back!? But why?” Urm… because you’re an enemy military power in the middle of a war? Because you’re about to strike at their headquarters, so they very reasonably came to attack you first? Because you’re holding one of their commanders hostage, and she’s standing right in front of you, you ninny? Shalua’s “But why?” was probably supposed to make us think about Azul, but in the process the writers turned off their brains to basically everything else.
Shelke tells us that, yes, Deepground is here for Azul, and that in dying Azul has unlocked his true power somehow. I suppose we could take that as a reference to Scarmiglione from FFIV, even though, you know, blue is related to Water and not to Earth. And when it comes to the Tviets, only Azul and Shelke match the colour of the Crystals in the first place. Oh forget it, that’s what I get for trying to spice up this burnt roast of a game.
We return to Vincent and Yuffie at this point, as something causes their Shadowfox to crash, cracking Yuffie’s head against a wall and knocking her out, because god forbid this game with established teammate AI be forced to program a shuriken. Vincent jumps out and finds numerous robots waiting in ambush. Note that this chapter’s spoiler-ific title only appears now, which shows a lot more restraint than the one in Chapter 3.
After gunning down the robots, Vincent finds a jukebox just sitting around in the wild, restocks and carries on to WRO HQ, fighting FFVII monsters and Deepground camps all the way. Finally, Vincent arrives at a battle between the WRO and Deepground, including what I believe is the game’s first manned enemy turret. You can kill the gunner to take the turret for yourself after the fact. This fight was going fairly well for us, and a good thing too, given that it was tied to the secondary objective to keep our WRO allies alive, but everything went out the door when the game asked us to use the turret to destroy enemy Dragonflies that were going to bomb headquarters. For starters, because this was our first enemy turret, I didn’t recognize that we could hijack it until after the first Dragonfly made a strafing run of the arena (I had defeated the gunner with a rare cast of Fire, and the spell’s visual made me think the turret had exploded when I defeated its gunner). Secondly, the helicopters kept firing on our position seemingly no matter how quickly I destroyed them, and all the WRO soldiers were dead in the end through no honest fault of my own? While I’m here, I’d also like to complain about how the Dragonflies are not actually destroyed when killed, and instead follow their pre-defined flight path like a zombie, exploding all the way. It’s incredibly misleading and it took me a while to recognize that they were being treated as “dead” once the explosions start, and not simply “damaged.”
At the end of the assault, some Heavy Armoured Soldiers attacked our position and dropped a convenient Keycard, allowing us to carry on across the WRO supply yards. There, a number of snipers were mixed in with enemy formations to keep things interesting, but otherwise this was just some of the generic gameplay that would come to dominate over narrative in the game’s latter half. Suffice to say, we’re going to be getting a lot less Journal coverage per unit of play from this point on.
At the end of the stage, we had a midboss encounter against a second (third) Black Widow, this one fought alongside a number of guards, but lacking a ceiling or walls to crawl on. This went incredibly fast, thanks to me landing a lottery-winning number of critical hits that had Kyle in shock (Kyle being the one who nearly died to the last Black Widow). After this, we arrived in the contemptible WRO atrium, which was now only half as ruined as I’d like it to have been. Following an old route from Chapter 3, we flipped off the atrium and left immediately. There, we arrived downstairs only to find Azul in his new form: that of a Behemoth King. Shalua and Shelke arrived at the same time, and Shelke just sort of gawked at the proceedings. Shalua attempted to clobber Azul with her robotic arm after a point, only to get knocked aside. If Azul had been durable before, he was seemingly invulnerable now.
Reunited with her ally, Shelke struck an honestly badass pose with Azul behind her, only for Azul to ruin it by inexplicably attacking her. At first, Kyle and I assumed he was simply berserk. Shelke held him off by using the orange Materia you might remember her collecting chapters and chapters ago, explaining that it was a “Shield Materia.” For whatever reason, this caused Azul to transform back to his regular self, and he asked Shelke why he was getting in his way. Uh… because you were attacking her, dude, and you’ve trapped her in a hallway with nowhere to run. It seems Azul really didn’t know what he was doing as a Behemoth King, but once he’s heard that he attacked Shelke, he acts as though this is a sign of some sort, and he begins to try to attack Shelke deliberately. He explains that Shelke isn’t built to be a warrior, and her only skill is “collecting data from inside a virtual reality.” He claims Weiss no longer needs her, since they have the galaxy Materia from Vincent and that was all they ever needed Shelke for. By the way, the galaxy Materia is finally identified as the Protomateria during this scene, not that that was particularly surprising. Azul then says that Shelke has “the doctor’s” data in her “neural network” (just say “brain,” Azul, don’t be that guy) and Azul aims to destroy it lest the WRO get its hands on that information. It probably would have been better not to say that where Shelke or the WRO could hear it, but I suppose an explanation is an explanation. How or why Azul attacking Shelke when he was a Behemoth is a sign that Weiss gave him the go-ahead is never explained.
Now, I’d like to roll back the plot a bit to remind you of our second scene with Shelke and Azul, wherein they attacked Vincent, thanks to Shelke’s data. Azul retreated from the scene because Shelke mysteriously collapsed, and Azul had to protect her. But… why? I realize that Weiss hadn’t given the kill order, but was Shelke’s ability to find Vincent really that important after you had Vincent right in front of your eyes? And with no explosive barrels in sight? Apparently it was, which either makes Weiss the most cautious and wise villains we’ve seen to date, or one of the dumbest. It’s hard to say where to draw that line.
Shelke uses the shield Materia to paralyze Azul again, and Shalua drags her and Vincent to a nearby set of blast doors, which turns out to be for an elevator. But for some reason, Shelke resists right all the way up to the door, and one immediately has to ask why. It’s already clear that she’s not so obedient to Weiss that she’s willing to throw herself under Azul’s boot (which undermines any point or theme the game may be trying to make about blindly following orders, by the way) and surely she’s intelligent enough to see that if everyone else is running from the invincible, unkillable man, she probably should too. At first, this seems like it’s a big excuse for Shalua to make a speech about they have so much to catch up on, but all of a sudden this contrived situation becomes immeasurably worse because the door begins to close. I want you to bear in mind that everything that is about to happen only happens because Shelke needlessly resisted what she was already doing (trying not to be killed by Azul), and I want you to hold that up as we consider the scene that follows.
The elevator door starts to close, and as there is apparently no “door open” button in this particular elevator, Shalua shoves her prosthetic, metal arm into the gap, which barely holds the door open. Shalua pushes Shelke through the gap, saying she’s sorry she wasn’t a “better sister” and wasn’t able to save Shelke from her years at Deepground. She promises that she’ll always love Shelke, and the door crashes shut on her arm just as Azul approaches. After this, there’s a sickening crash on the other side of the door, and a pool of… something… seeps in under the door. I don’t know what this is supposed to be. Is it blood? I tried finding a Japanese playthrough to see if it was censored, but as I implied at the start of this Journal, I didn’t have any luck. The fluid’s kind of clear but also off-yellow? Is it supposed to be (generously) oil from her arm? Did she loose her bowels when she died, and the game decided to show it?
In any event, Shalua appears to have died (but more on that in a moment), and it only happened thanks to several layers of poor narrative setup, starting with Shalua’s speech about catching up, then throwing in the question of why they couldn’t open the door, why Shalua can’t remove her prosthetic from the rest of her arm and leave the prosthetic behind as a wedge, and so on. Congratulations, writers! To prove what a high bar we’re trying to set here, Shelke begins to recite Stock Plot #53, “the villain confronts the idea that there is more to the world than violence and hate.” In the background, Kingdom Hearts 2 and Dirge of Cerberus begin to infight, because Xemnas was already using that script since 2004 and he won’t be done with it until the release of KH2:FM+ in 2007, you jerks. “Do we steal your plots?” he asks. “Oh, wait – our entire franchise is basically a reimagining of concepts from Final Fantasy III, nevermind, please continue.”
If you haven’t been reading the Kingdom Hearts Retrospectives, I found Xemnas’ speeches on this issue to be boring as fuck even on my first playthrough back in the mid-2000s. I was a little upset that Shalua died, but the fact that it was a) yet another in the Infinite Hallways of Dead Disabled Characters, and b) left us with Shelke and Baby’s First Moral Introspection was not exactly the kind of development I was hoping this would have. Vincent then grabs Shelke’s hand and runs off to the end of stage.
Kyle and I landed a C Rank for this mission, which probably has a lot to do with me totally bombing the “don’t let your WRO allies die” secondary objective.