Before Crisis is divided into 24 story Chapters, although two of them were released in two “parts” (i.e. across two separate updates), making for a more accurate total of 26. On top of that, there are also numerous bonus chapters, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s get started with Chapter 1. But when does Chapter 1 occur in the FFVII timeline? Early in these Marathon Journals, I implied that Before Crisis was out-and-out the earliest game in the FFVII chronology, but it turns out I had misunderstood! Before Crisis does feature chapters that took place years before Crisis Core, but those are flashbacks! Chapter 1 starts after Crisis Core, specifically after Zack’s first trip Banora village. So, to place Chapter 1 on the timeline: Tseng and Zack have just met, and shared that classic male bonding experience of carpet bombing a civilian village. Everybody grounded? Fantastic.
Chapter 1, “Those Who Lurk in the Night,” begins in Sector 8, topside. According to the timestamp, it’s 2:15 in the morning of February 30th (yes, “February 30th“) of the year 0001. Uh… look, FFVII’s year system is complicated, all you need to know is that it’s year 1 of the current era, and if you want some Crisis Core reference points, both of Zack’s previous missions in Crisis Core took place in year 0. Gathering in the sewers below Sector 8 are a number of people in brown uniforms and dehumanizing goggles meant to assure you that they’re cannon fodder. Their leader, who actually does have a face, tells them that they’re here to begin the fight against the Shinra Company, and they all give a weird salute (which doubles as their attack animation, go figure) and shout “Down with the Shinra!” Oh, we’re still doing this, translator? The whole “the Shinra” thing? We’re just going to treat it as a weird Midgardian regionalism on the planet? Okay, fine, fine.
At the start of the Crisis Core Journal, you might remember me saying that covering the Compilation of FFVII would be difficult because the first game of the compilation had never been released in English, even though “it’s plugged into the ass of all the other Compilation games despite most of the world never seeing it.” I was referring to Before Crisis – Final Fantasy VII –, originally released in 2004. But despite that game never being released internationally, a video of its story missions did reach the English web, and that video has been translated – multiple times, in fact! While I can’t play the game myself, I think doing a writeup of the playthrough could also be helpful, since very few fans seem to have actually watched those translated videos (hit counts start off in the tens of thousands but eventually trickle as low as 500 in some series!), so I imagine that most Final Fantasy fans have only experienced the story in part or in the brief wiki summaries. It could be helpful and fun!
Persona 2’s got a funny release history. Since Atlus beat Square to the punch by releasing Persona 1 to the PSX well before FFVII, they already had the infrastructure in place to capitalize when Square happened to strike platinum and made PSX RPGs an international boom (they also had Devil Summoner on the Saturn, giving them the infrastructure to capitalize on the fad for RPGs on two platforms! Sure, the Saturn didn’t amount to much, but they must have felt like they were riding high!). Atlus would ultimately release four SMT spinoffs on the PSX, for some reason putting their flagship Shin Megami Tensei series on hold for an entire console generation. Those games include Persona 1, Devil Summoner 2: Soul Hackers, and not one but two distinct “Persona 2″s, two halves of a common story. The first half was called Sin, and the second half, Punishment. Get it?
So, unfortunate fun fact: Atlus USA just doesn’t credit its voice actors. Scum. This is a company- (industry-) wide problem and we’ll be dealing with it across the Persona Journal. Thankfully, now that Kyle and I are playing Persona 2: Innocent Sin, I’ve been on the hunt for its voice credits, and stumbled across an unofficial list of P1’s voice credits while I was at it. Well, some of P1’s voice credits, anyways. Behind The Voice Actors has gathered credits for most of the playable characters and one voiced NPC, though two playable characters are still unaccounted for: Reiji and Ayase (technically, BTVA credits the Japanese voice actors in these roles. While it’s possible that the English version re-used the Japanese voice actors’ quotes, BTVA tends to do this when there are gaps in a localized cast, so I’m going to set them aside). Now that I have a nearly-full list, I can do credit write-ups for everyone that’s on it, which is better than the “nothing” I originally had!
Ultimecia dies, only for the party to hit that snag I mentioned earlier: no one has any idea how to get back to the present because they didn’t plan for shit. Rinoa talks about meeting up at the orphanage, only she refers to it exclusively as “that place Squall and I promised to meet,” instead of saying “the orphanage.” This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a Japanese game do this, referring to something exclusively through inferences and nearabout kennings when they could just use the word in question. I have a feeling that, like kennings, this must be a linguistic or cultural nuance that isn’t localizing very well.
The scene comes to focus on Squall, only to discover he ended up at the orphanage in his own past, where he runs into a younger Edea. Unfortunately, he’s not alone. Ultimecia appears, determined to pass on her powers to someone. Wait, is this the incident Edea mentioned where she gained her sorceress’ powers? No, apparently Edea already has those. So is this a time loop that shows when Ultimecia possessed Edea in the first place? Or is the past being changed even though that shouldn’t be possible? I have no idea what’s going on or why it’s worth including as part of the story?
Once again: this is the start of Session 6, which runs – however briefly! – until the end of the game.
Time to deal with the bosses we were supposed to have fought at the start of the dungeon, and boy does it show. The first boss we fought was called Tri-Point, a jet-like, Lati@s-looking monster that retaliates against all attacks with group electric attacks. The safest way to fight it would be to junction electric resistance to your whole party, but assuming you’re doing this on the fly, it still only poses so much of a challenge. Unlike most bosses with variable weaknesses, Tri-Point oscillates predictably between these two weaknesses every time it takes a shot from one of them, so it’s just a matter of careful coordination. Orrrr… you could come here at the end of your dungeon run and power through it without a second thought. Without a first thought! We used this boss to restore our Limit Break powers, and basically every other power we unlocked after that was a formality. Saving was nice, I guess, we did that second-last. Tri-Point was the alternate draw point for Siren, otherwise from way back at the raid on Dollet.
The world distorts and we get a genuinely impressive, prerendered CG where the room melts and the characters fall out the floor into a liquid world full of visions of the past, not unlike an visual representation of what Crystal Blue was supposed to be in Enix’s Terranigma a few years earlier (in practice, Crystal Blue only showed up as bubbles with no details, and had to be described in text. I just want to give Enix credit for the idea even if Square is doing it way better in this instance). The party promises to meet up at Edea’s orphanage once inside time compression, similar to Squall and Rinoa’s promise in the real world and probably based on it. Luckily (and I must impress: luckily), the party is not instantly killed as per Ultimecia’s plan, and end up in Edea’s prep room in Deling City. There, a save point appears and suddenly multiplies into over a dozen save points, as though compressed there through time. Heh, that’s clever. Then they go through the door only to end up in the same room! But don’t get attached to this weirdness, because unfortunately this is the last of it (except some special effects in the next battle), which is a damned shame. In the second prep room, they see Edea surrounded by after-images like Rinoa from before, only for her to split into multiple Sorceresses that attack you in turn. Kyle’s impression of this scene was that they represented Sorceress of the past, but mine was that they were more of an abstract, representing the idea of Sorceresses, or even some sort of panto. As you will!