Chapter 9: An Empire in Ruins
This chapter begins with Shelke reminding you about those big scary defences she was talking about earlier, and how they’re still a thing. Oh and extra bad news, because apparently none of your allies have managed to scratch the reactors. On the other side of the coin, Vincent has arrived at the Shinra building, however many hours late. Shelke tells him that the entrance to Deepground is in the building somewhere, but she doesn’t know where. Oh, it’s okay, Shelke, it’s only a secret elevator hidden in a building that’s 70 storeys tall, no big deal.
…Hey, wait, Shelke, didn’t you come out of this building just a few weeks ago? You know, through the entrance to Deepground?
Vincent briefly loses control of his transformations again while still on the phone with Shelke, and she explains what was already made repeatedly obvious: he needs the Protomateria to control his transformations. Game, Rosso already told us this in plain words, why are you repeating it? It turns out that the game is being redundant as a way to create a segue, and Shelke calls on Lucrecia’s memory and speaks in her voice, explaining that Chaos is meant to “gather together all life for Omega’s journey,” and she implies that Chaos is somehow related to Vincent’s survival after Hojo’s attack all those years ago.
However, before Shelke can go any further, she’s disconnected from her VR device, and wakes to find the airship’s alarm blaring. Cid tells her that something’s gone wrong in the engines and isn’t hearing anything from the staff, both of which are strange because they haven’t taken any hits. When Shelke arrives, she finds the irreparable engines destroyed (how is the airship even flying? Or rather, how is the airship taking so long to crash?). Shelke also finds Nero the Sable waiting for her. Shelke asks Nero why he came. Are you serious? This is the enemy command ship, Dirge of Cerberus, this is the second time you’ve asked this basic question. The plot keeps forgetting these elementary elements of warfare, it’s just baffling. Instead, Nero says he was collecting a few extra souls, as if he has some kind of quota. Yeah, I’d imagine you’d be a few souls behind, since you’ve been so absent from the plot that I think I’ve only seen you participate in one battle outside the Lost Chapter.
The game takes a moment to stare tragically at the body of yet another robotic Cait Sith of all things, as if that remotely warranted this kind of dramatic focus. Shelke then engages Nero, openly betraying him, though he doesn’t seem to be taking her seriously. The fight is soon interrupted as he gathers up an aura of darkness. We return to Vincent at the foot of the Shinra building.
The first thing we did out front of the Shinra building was to realize that Vincent had left a lot of loot just a few feet behind him, and we turned back around to fetch it. This partially recovered our ammunition, but not by much. Returning to the ever-familiar Shinra lobby, we encountered more Deepground Troopers (get it? Troopers look like SOLDIERS and this is Shinra Headqu… oh, never mind). Finally, discovered a crack in the floor and from there to an even lower level beneath the building. But don’t get excited, we’re hardly in Deepground yet.
Relying mostly on our submachine gun (for lack of better ammunition), we fought numerous monstrous insects before finally finding two robotic insects in the form of not one but two Black Widow robots. Wow, you really don’t want to let those assets go to waste, do you Square? The Black Widow TW battle (which I assume stands for “Black Widow Twin”) involved mostly fighting the bottom robot while the top one dropped explosive orbs. They would occasionally attempt to switch places to force the player to choose between switching targets or to spread out the damage between both targets. We did the latter. Luckily, the individual robots seem to have been downgraded since Shinra Manor, and it was easy enough to kill them in this small room.
From here, Vincent went in an elevator and I presume went down, though without reference shots it’s a little hard to say. We would later find ourselves in what looked like high towers with no sign of the ground, but I think those were supposed to be subterranian, or possibly just under the plate? We were then given a secondary objective to find secret Deepground files, which sounded pretty cool, only for it to turn out that they had no story-expanding text. Oh well, we found most of the silly things all the same.
This part of the stage mostly involved weaving through office buildings and fights with presumably downgraded jetpackers on a causeway. Remembering how the Gallian Beast’s homing shots had taken down Rosso, I put it to use here to track down the jetpackers. After passing through a Materia museum, we reached a causeway where Vincent picked up the phone, then did nothing with it, and then hung up. Maybe he was trying to contact Shelke, but would it kill you to say? Then the phone actually rang (god, the scripting in this scene) and he answered it, discovering Tifa, Barret and Cloud on the other end of the line. Aside from some eager greetings after so long apart, they informed Vincent that they had lost contact with the Shera. Tifa then sent Vincent a map of the building including the route to Deepground, which was going to involve numerous elevators. Again, I estimate that Vincent is simply below the plate at this point, but the game never outright says. In any event, he’s got a long way to go to reach the end of the board.
Sure enough, the first of several elevator rides was just ahead of us. Each of these elevators was set on an open platform and accompanied by a mini-game-esque secondary objective to detonate “Surveillance Mines,” which were little helicopter drones that would explode when shot. This mission was easy enough when I first attempted it with the pistol, but I became wary of losing ammunition, so I switched guns and lost every attempt that followed.
At the bottom of the first elevator was a jukebox, the first in the game that sold Elixirs. We had been finding Elixirs throughout the game, but the ability to purchase them was nice. You can carry only 1 of these at a time and they cost 3000 gil.
Near the end of the level we kept encountering numerous drones and Armoured Soldiers, all very routine and boring. Suffice to say, we were ready for the game to end, in that usual late-game Final Fantasy malaise that I’ve talked about in the past, but we had no idea how much longer the game would run! It’s not like action games are guaranteed a clearly defined “final dungeon,” you know? Sometimes you get Bowser’s Castle, and sometimes you get a siege on Midgar lasting 45% of the game! Finding ourselves with a lot of money and even ammo after these interminable attacks, we decided to choose an upgrade path for our favourite gun, the Cerberus. The P Cerberus line improves stopping power and accuracy in exchange for a reduced firing rate and capacity. The S Cerberus line improves the fire rate and the vague and unexplained weight stat. I assume that weight determines your movement speed, which was hardly a concern for single player and so the S Cerberues went instantly off the docket. Last of all was the M Cerberus, the all-rounder, with additional magazine size to boot. We were torn between the P and M Cerberus, but once again went with the all-rounder in the end. This time we didn’t regret it.
Azul was waiting for us at the next elevator. “So, Rosso didn’t survive.” Well, we didn’t confirm that, per se, but let’s pretend! Square Enix, having apparently learned nothing from a certain Kingdom Hearts CoM fiasco, has Azul remark: “Looks like something inside you wants out. Its stench is so very familiar.” He then started laughing at his own fart joke. I mean, I suppose he was supposed to be referring to Chaos, but come on.
The first phase of the battle against Azul (“Neo Azul”) had no sign of his barrier, and was simply a good old-fashioned gunfight. While I can’t say it went smoothly, it did go rather quickly, and we were on to the battle against the Behemoth form, “Arch Azul.” We… did not understand how to do this fight. Being low on HP at the time, we used a Limit Breaker to heal and attempted to battle him as the Gallian Beast. Now, any good walkthrough will tell you that this is actually the best way to fight Arch Azul, since you can stunlock him with the Gallian Beast’s close range attacks and basically kill him on the spot. But they overlook a key detail for unlucky bastards: you can’t do that if Azul stunlocks you first, which is exactly what he did. As a consequence, we gave up on the idea of Limit Break close range attacks for the rest of the fight and inadvertently abandoned the internet’s best strategy for the battle. Once we reverted to Vincent, we then discovered that Azul could not be harmed.
Specifically, Arch Azul can only be hurt by magic and Limit Breaks, the two tools we had abandoned at the start of the game. The game made this relatively clear by having Azul stomp over some battlefield features, break them and reveal a mako point (remember that Limit Breaks were MP-based in Japan). We, expecting the game to show the player basic modern courtesy, assumed that these mako points would refill during the battle. They did not. This meant that as the fight went on, there was a very serious possibility that we might lose the entire battle simply for lack of resources, and there’s a point in our recording where you can actually see me getting ready to reload the game because I thought we were trapped. Still, Kyle encouraged that we continue, and even though it came down to our last MP restoring item, an Elixir, we were victorious.
(Oh, and to puncture that story, we also had extra Limit Breaker left over, but it sure sounds more dramatic the other way, doesn’t it?)
Azul recovers from his defeat, unfortunately, and knocks Vincent over in cinematic, only for Vincent to rush him and place his hand on Arch Azul’s chest. In a flash of light, Azul explodes, reverting to his regular self, and Vincent transforms into Chaos. And then, in the most transparently “edgy” moment in the entire game, Chaos picks up Azul’s chaingun and impales him with it before blowing him off the elevator. This game.
Nero watches as this happens and decides to leave Vincent be, however he (unintentionally? intentionally?) dropped Shelke’s cell phone on the boss platform, and left Vincent to do what Vincent does best: recede into another flashback! Here, we returned to Lucrecia watching Vincent in the healing tube after he was shot by Hojo. Lucrecia collapses again, apparently not at all concerned that her collapses might be due to her pregnancy or even being implanted with Jenova cells! Although, I can understand why her pregnancy might not occur to her as a cause, because she doesn’t appear to be pregnant in any way (even though she’s actually closer to her due date than she isn’t) and the game will never attempt to depict her as pregnant at any later point, either.
Hojo came into the room, demanding to know why she had his “failed experiment,” Vincent. Reading Lucrecia’s overlarge computer monitors, he worked out the nature of her project from a distance. Hojo’s performance here was about as over-the-top as he could ever be, and Kyle and I were both killing ourselves laughing at his cartoonish portrayal throughout the scene. It is cranked up to 12. Hojo decides that Lucrecia’s end goal with Vincent was funny enough to leave it be, and he walks out cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Vincent woke up and now seems to realize what Kyle and I had worked out hours ago: Lucrecia had turned him into Chaos to study Chaos… or maybe to save his life, one or the other. The game leaves this up in the air, but I don’t want to give them credit for ambiguity, because it really does seem like an accident. The way the game keeps repeating the basic information makes it hard to tell what the advanced information is supposed to be, or for that matter what is or isn’t new information.
Vincent then noticed Shelke’s cell phone, just in time for the elevator to come to a stop. Finally, he arrives at the entrance of Deepground, calling it “Shinra’s dark secret.” Well, it’s other-other dark secret. Like, maybe #3.
A-rank for us in Mission 9.
Beyond the door to Deepground, Vincent got his first look at the place, and it was simply unbelievable. Kyle and I were aghast: the devs were trying to insinuate that Deepground was a city, larger than Midgar, held in an impossibly large cave under Midgar, all while we continue the assumption that no one knew about this but the President. This narrative… is so… I… I…! Sir, I know Professor Hershel Layton. Hershel Layton is a friend of mine. And you sir, though you may have preceded him, are no Hershel Layton!
The first part of the stage involved a series of platforms overlooking the city of Deepground, while fighting a number of FFVII Gargoyles. The terrible gargoyle AI kept getting them trapped on the terrain, leading to a serious delay at one point while we tried to find the exact angle to hit one of them as it flew into a distant wall, forever. We weren’t allowed to proceed until this was done. As you can see, the game was making one great impression after another.
After nearly running out to pistol ammo during our first few encounters, Kyle and I finally had the brainwave that would carry us through the remaining game… in as stupid a manner as possible. We took out our rifle, which had been fully loaded for about half the game, and started to shoot it from the hip in virtually every combat we encountered. We didn’t even customize it to be better at middle or short range combat, since we didn’t want to lose our sniper rifle! We just kept firing our sniper rifle as a machine gun, almost always from the hip, laughing all the way to the end of the game. I think it was just too funny to correct! Oh, run-and-gun sniper rifle, you make our dreams come true. In this case “our dreams” are not running out of pistol ammo.
After finally killing the gargoyles and getting lost for a while, we located another Omega Report, which finally revealed the name of the original author: “Doctor Valentine.” This entry, however, seemed to have been written by Lucrecia, and she discussed a particular mako spring, highly implying she was referred to the cave that would become her tomb. She seemed to believe it would be the place that Chaos would one day be born.
After finally making our way off the platforms, we discovered a new type of enemy in another room: soldiers equipped with Protect spells. Misreading their introductory cutscene, we initially assumed that a specially marked “commander” enemy was generating these barriers (ala the Bookmaster from Kingdom Hearts Days), but gradually learned that this was not that case, and that you’re supposed to bypass each soldier’s Protect spell either with magic or by getting in close and using melee attacks… even though that often meant us standing over their crumpled body, stamping them to death one weak melee attack at a time, like heroes. I’m basically describing the last few hours of gameplay here, by the way. Bosses aside, the game has no more surprises after these Protect-users. Considering we’re in the last few hours, that’s probably fine in its own right, but considering the shallow variety up to this point, it’s still kind of a problem.
The next room featured a silly puzzle that shouldn’t honestly have been in a game trying to be this gritty: tiny boxes with full-sized enemies inside, one of them carrying a keycard. It was like something straight out of a Mario game. Past that room, we came across an open-top transport, basically a traditional video game minecart segment without a mine. After a long automated tour of Deepground on the Walt Shinra World tram car. After getting off, we found ourselves exploring the rooftops of Deepground City, where we found a carefully hidden G Report. Like the first, this one doesn’t require any repeating for players familiar with Crisis Core, but we’re getting there.
After a long, long walk through the streets, we also encountered one of the game’s gimmick gun frames: the Blast Machine Gun, which had the special power to knock down regular enemies in exchange for not being remotely good in any other fashion. We missed the game’s gimmick rifle, the Bayonet Rifle, somewhere else in the stage. We did, however, encounter a gimmick long barrel later in the game, but apparently missed several other gimmick barrels, one as early as Stage 6!
After a while, we found ourselves at a jukebox, wondering if we should pick out our now-overused Hydra rifle stock’s branched upgrade or if we should upgrade the M Griffon to M Griffon Beta. We eventually agreed to a different plan entirely: to focus our efforts on building the ultimate Cerberus pistol instead. We saved our money and carried on to a silly turret sequence where all the soldiers lined up to be gunned down in front of us in a narrow ledge. Don’t you people have any way to get behind us? My entire right flank is exposed, you know. A while after this combat, we were able to upgrade to the M Cerberus Gamma, only to learn that there was an upcoming upgrade to Quantum Cerberus. Of course we wanted this, but decided to upgrade the Cerberus’ barrel for the time being.
Further down the road of this boring, boring, gray stage, we came to a bridge that was, impressively, equipped for both the Japanese and international versions to use a Limit Break: it featured a Limit Break item for western players, and had and numerous mako points left over from the Japanese version. We refused and simply gunned down the enemies that came after us one at a time.
After the bridge, we came to encounter Nero, who ambushed us by trying to drown Vincent in darkness, as Square Enix villains are apt to do, hoping to drag Chaos out into the open again. After a few moments of apparent success, someone’s voice came to Vincent (Lucrecia?) and he not only recovered but walked out of the darkness unharmed. Nero made himself scarce before he could be spotted. Meanwhile, we cut to Shelke, whom you’ll recall we haven’t seen since the attack on the airship. She was now trapped in a dimension of darkness and was using her Shield Materia to keep the dark energy away from her, though she said her magic would dry up any time now.
With nothing else to do, Shelke then uncovers another of Lucrecia’s memories, and we find her standing there with none other than the mysterious Dr. Valentine, identified in the captions as “Grimoire Valentine.” Pfffft. Sure, buddy. Almanac here is voiced by Bob Joles. Joles has appeared on a number of TV shows, including Naruto, Spongebob or My Life as a Teenaged Robot. Of course, while not his most prominent role, Disney and Kingdom Hearts fans might also know him as the official voice of Sneezy the Dwarf, and he would go on to voice Emperor Iedolas Aldercapt in FFXV (the game, not Kingsglaive).
After a basically inconsequential scene between Atlas Grimoire and Lucrecia in the mako spring, we return to Lucrecia’s lab to find that she’s somehow encaged an entity of black smoke in the medical tube in the middle of the lab. All of a sudden it comes to life and attacks, and Encyclopedia pushes her aside just as the smoke bursts out and strikes his arm. She rises to find Novella’s arm infected with darkness. Neither of them, by the way, make any effort to contain the entity as it lingers in place in the middle of the shattered tube.
We then cut to presumably some time later, in which Splatbook Valentine is dying from his infection. He fades into the lifestream, leaving Lucrecia guilty enough to go to extremes when it comes to saving the life of the next Valentine she comes across. You know, pretty cut and dry character development for the situation.
The present-day Shelke appears in the flashback, and says that Lucrecia shouldn’t cry, because Strategy Guide has simply “returned to the planet.” But when she says this, she remembers a time that Shalua told her the same thing after the death of their mother, and how little comforting that was for her. Now, I should probably note that throughout the game, the narrative has been making an attempt to compare and contrast Dr. Rui and Crescent, and this is probably their most hands-on attempt. I’d have probably mentioned it sooner, but I personally don’t think it amounts to very much, and also it just sort of fades away as the narrative clock strikes midnight?
In any event, young Shalua (whom I can only assume was also voiced by Kim Mai Guest just like grown-up Shalua, for lack of an additional voice credit) tells Shelke that their mother will return someday, which Shelke thankfully doesn’t seem to have taken literally. I mean, resurrection through the Lifestream is literal in the world of FFVII, but it would take a while, and she’d come back as another person at best, and that’s only at best! Lifestream seems to be divisible, after all. She’s more likely to come back as like, two trees born five years apart, five thousand blades of grass, and maybe a cockroach. Back in Lucrecia’s original memory, Shelke sees a vision of Shalua out in the darkness, and Shalua asks Shelke if it’s all right with her if she return to the planet, and to her surprise, Shelke says, “No. Not yet.” Shalua tells her that “It’s okay,” and Shelke wakes to find herself crying.
Back in the improbable, subterranean hell-city (are these nested narratives and cuts to different settings getting to you yet?), Vincent continues along with the game and entered an odd structure of segmented rooms arranged like pie slices taken out of a circle. A comparison to Midgar should probably be made, but if that’s the case, I’m not sure what they were going for. You only walk along a gantry on the outside of the circle, and pass through doors between each shooting gallery of enemies. It also involves a strange-looking sequence where explosive barrels were tossed eternally over the edge, like a Donkey Kong Country obstacle that got lost on its way to publication and woke up in 2006. And then… we came to The Room.
The Room was an optional objective – and I’m glad I checked to learn it was optional or I might have lost my poor little temper. The game put Vincent in a room and asked him to kill 100 full-strength soldiers, three at a time. Kyle did this. I couldn’t stand to, and in fact I wanted to leave immediately. It took him most of our items and Twenty. Whole. Minutes.
And this, this was the moment where the game’s attempt to do anything more sophisticated than a basic slaughter plot collapsed. I might have also nominated moments like the turret sequence earlier in the stage, but this topped the pile. If this game was ever trying to make a social statement about the evils of child soldiers, military training, or blind adherence to orders from above, it lost its chance when it had you invade their homes, gun them down, aim to destroy their power supply, and as the cherry on top, murder one hundred of them in an arcade segment that did absolutely nothing to further your goal. Your reward? Money – specifically, a “Golden Moogle” object that served as vendor trash. I hope you’re happy, Vincent. By the way, if the Planet wasn’t concerned about the end of life on the surface before, it sure as hell is now!
From the spoils of battle alone (cash dropped by the 100 dead enemies) we now had 51 000 gil, or rather 45 000 after restocking our ammunition and items. We upgraded the Cerberus to the Quantum Cerberus right away, and upgraded its barrel as an additional bonus. That reduced us to 5500, but after selling the Gold Moogle we were back at 40k, and finally considered upgrading our Hydra rifle. Remember, we were using our Hydra almost full time at this point, shooting constantly from the hip. We had a long discussion about our options, both in terms of making the Hydra a better sniper rifle and in terms of making it a better faux submachine gun. Our options were as follows: the P Hydra, which made for an ideal sniper rifle by increasing power at the cost of firing speed and ammo capacity. Its “upgrades” eventually degrade its magazine to a single shot per clip! Obviously, this would be useless for our firing from the hip. Next, the S Hydra, improving the weight, accuracy, and ammo capacity, but at the cost of firepower, which would have been weaker than even our current Hydra III. Last, the M Hydra, bearing in mind that the M-line had been the winner with both other models. All-around improvements with no particular specialty. Even the ammo capacity went up, which would be great for a faux submachine gun, but were we willing to compromise the Hydra’s specialty as a sniper rifle in favour of our ammo-preserving hack job?
We upgraded the Cerberus’ barrel instead.
After leaving the Room of Mass Murder, we come to the last room in the game that I clearly remember playing, weirdly enough. The sequence involved us opening a door only to find a turret staring us in the face. We backed off and realized there was a nearby sniper position, and we made use of it while bullet after bullet kept missing. Kyle and I were divided on whether or not this was the fault of the wall having an overlarge hitbox or if our un-upgraded sniper rifle was just garbage at making a straight shot. Beyond, we came to a sewer and found a room full of optional prizes that made up a secondary objective, but having already bought our super-pistol, we weren’t exactly concerned and moved on without most of them.
At the top of the hill outside the sewer, we finally came across Nero, who told us that he insisted on protecting his “brother.” It seemed Weiss is his biological brother, and Nero added that Weiss was “the only person who ever loved me, and the only person I will ever love.” But he said that that didn’t matter, because, “in a matter of moments, everything will change.”
Vincent changed the subject. Having read the script during our last bathroom break, he was aware that Nero was the one who dropped Shelke’s cell phone for him to find, and so was the one responsible for her disappearance. Given the evidence, I’d have assumed Azul was somehow responsible, but whatever you say. Nero said that Shelke was lost “inside me” (gross), and Vincent drew his gun. The first phase of the battle against Nero was quite easy, especially once we drew the Quantum Cerberus. Nero split himself into a number of duplicates, but we never learned the mechanics this since we found the real one by accident straight away and the Quantum Cerberus put an end to him even at long range. We only used a single Mega Potion to heal.
One odd thing I noticed during the fight with Nero, after he pulled some guns on us: since basically everyone in this game has firearms, it makes everyone who doesn’t use guns look very out-of-place. Cloud, Yuffie, even Shelke. They feel like remnants of some older, less firearm-centric game design, which I suppose is true considering that two of the characters I just listed are from a 1997 RPG.
Unlike the last two Tsviets, Nero did not proceed to his second phase immediately. Instead, he once again tried to absorb Vincent in darkness, having not paid any attention the last time he tried this. Vincent, naturally, used this as an opportunity to find Shelke, and soon they’re both in the real world, where Shelke promptly collapses from exhaustion. Nero seems about ready to engage us again when suddenly, Yuffie arrives on scene to save the day. Vincent and Nero just sort of stare at one another in confusion, as she makes a bombastic speech, which is great stuff. Yuffie is our one light in this great, smudgy darkness. Once she’s finished, Nero just announces that “my brother calls” and he turns and leaves. Classic.
Vincent has no questions for Yuffie about how she got here or anything, and instead tends to Shelke, which is fair. Yuffie, meanwhile, falls off a building and nearly dies. Our favourite.
A-rank for this level. Since we already had our super-weapon, we spent almost all our between-level funds on bullets.