Chapter 2: The Assassin Smiles in the Bright Daylight
Chapter 2 brings us to Junon later that same day, 1pm. If you’re wondering how long it takes to get from Midgar to Junon with reliable transportation, it seems it’s somewhere around eleven hours, minus the time it took to finish Chapter 1. It makes Zack’s rush trip from Costa del Sol to Genesis’ siege of Junon in Crisis Core seem even more preposterous than I implied at the time.
Reno and Shotgun arrive at a hotel where they’re ordered to head in to meet the President. Mere moments later, AVALANCHE arrives outside and takes out the guards on street level, all without them sounding any sort of alarm? I get that this isn’t a government building, but was the FOMA900i so expensive that they could only buy enough cell phones for the Turks? Speaking of expense, outside of the President’s suite, this is a seriously utilitarian hotel, since they just re-used the “metallic military building” tileset that we’ll be seeing across the game. It’s really weird to be in a gradually developed social game and yet see these early missions be filled with assets probably designed for later missions instead of the other way around, but somehow we’ve done this twice now! I’ll give the game this: it must have been very thoroughly planned!
It seems the Turks are here to be the President’s bodyguards during this terrorist attack, with Verdot giving your orders directly this time around instead of Tseng. But you’re barely there for five seconds before a dying guard limps in and tells them that AVALANCHE has arrived! An AVALANCHE trooper bursts in seconds later, so things are going pretty badly! Thankfully, the Trooper only found the President by accident, and Shotgun kills them before they can inform any others (“thankfully,” I mean, in the sense that you’re playing a bad guy and it’s good when the second-most evil man on the planet survives and succeeds). Verdot appears on the President’s screen at that point to advise him to give up on the speech he’s here to deliver and go hide, but the President refuses to give in to terrorists to even that degree. Unfortunately, AVALANCHE has already secured the hotel, but Shinra tries to turn things around by surrounding the building. Reno, the experienced Turk, is left behind to guard the President (and presumably clean up the corpses you’ve stacked in front of the door) while Shotgun searches the hotel for terrorists. By the way, this sequence allows you to talk to NPCs during a mission for the first time. Some games aren’t so generous, so it’s nice to see it what must have been a relatively low-budget game!
Ironically, AVALANCHE has sent most of their troops past the president, who is actually roomed near the front of the hotel. This part of the mission is a simple hunt for encounters. Search the hotel, enter essentially every room, shoot anyone you find (as you do), and you win. I don’t mean to be reductive about this, since I actually like missions where you have to track down as many baddies as possible (especially when it’s a game-wide concept like in Illusion of Gaia), but the appeal is seriously lost when there’s only one kind of enemy to fight! They’re all identical, one-trooper formations to boot!
Oh, and before we go any further, I’m going to try to restrict myself to using “grunt” to refer to Shinra troops and “trooper” to refer to AVALANCHE, since those are the terms used in the game. Great? Great.
After clearing the hotel, the President decides he’s still willing to go deliver his speech. You and Reno will be joining his escort of four Shinra grunts, but you’ve barely gone a few steps when an AVALANCHE trooper chucks a bomb out of the window that damages Junon’s layer-cake platform-street and separates the escort. Reno and two grunts are left behind, with Shotgun, the president and two other grunts on the near side. Reno declares that he’s going to go after the trooper who just threw the bomb, which seems like misplaced priorities. I mean, sure, arrest the guy if you can, but he doesn’t seem to have any more bombs or even a gun, and aren’t you the inexplicably powerful spy trying to protect the President? Send your two goons to do it and find a way around!
In any event, joy-of-joys, it’s time for an escort mission! The President has a health bar that decreases if he touches an overworld enemy, but honestly, this first segment seems kind of hard to fail, since all the troopers are clearly telegraphed. The Shinra grunts don’t play any role in the battle: they pretend to battle enemies on the overworld, but you engage the troopers alone.
Once you reach the second screen, an AVALANCHE sniper takes out one of your grunts and the President takes cover with the survivor while you sneak into the building. There’s nothing to this but a single battle, so you won’t be surprised that the President is ambushed while you’re away, costing you the second grunt. By the way, this is the first of many times where the game looks silly for not allowing Shotgun to attacking at a distance with her shotgun, since the game can’t guarantee your character has a gun. It seems like she should be able to pelt AVALANCHE from on high using their own sniper position, but nope!
With both grunts dead, that means it’s time for another, riskier escort mission, as the President mutters about murdering everyone. I’m not kidding, this is not a nice man! Like I was saying, this section is much harder than the last, since it’s impossible to tell which of the overworld troopers will reach the president first, and Ririn even flubs and the president take a hit here! Ririn almost never screws up! But it’s soon over, as you arrive at the branch office where the president is to give his speech.
Despite Verdot urging caution, Shotgun and the President follow the first two Shinra grunts they meet at the door, and are split up. Luckily, Shotgun walks into a room with a number of unconscious grunts and realizes that the two they met at the doors were actually AVALANCHE troopers in disguise, and rushes off to protect the president. The player cuts away to the assassination attempt already in progress, where the AVALANCHE troopers with the president posts guard to protect their ongoing assassination, which is really good redundancy even though it should take them only seconds to kill the president, but their guards are all… wearing AVALANCHE uniforms? In a Shinra company building? Seriously?
Shotgun arrives in time to save the President (how are these people so catastrophically bad at killing an unarmed man? If they’re supposed to be hesitating, show it!), but rescuing him might be tricky, since these are actually new enemies, despite having the same name in Grimoire’s translation. These red-clothed troopers use magic to attack you, namely Quake spells that attack an area. Despite being introduced so early in the game’s lifecycle, there aren’t many dedicated enemy spellcasters in Before Crisis. Maybe the devs decided it was too hard to dodge, since their attack basically shows up on the screen instantaneously after the cast animation? Seems like an easy fix (unless they’re just borrowing the spells from the player, which is possible, as naturally the player’s version would be instant), but oh well!
Reno arrives after the rescue, with no sign of the rest of the president’s bodyguards. At this point, the President announces that, “The Junon army is the people’s army. They’re here to ensure the safety of the city.” This is the game’s awkward, indirect way to tell you that the army has secured the city. But the line is more than a little odd to see for a few other reasons. For starters, it almost implies that he really believes what he’s saying, that he really believes his villainous actions are protecting people, which is leagues better writing than the cartoon villain from FFVII, and almost seems nuanced – I’d argue it would be nuanced if it were conveying the proper information! As we’re going to see, Before Crisis is basically a revolution in the portrayal of President No-Name (yes, a revolution in his portrayal even though he still doesn’t get a name), so get used to it, and decide for yourself whether he really does believe in “protecting the people” despite everything that’s canon from FFVII, or if he’s just towing the company line even in front of his secret police!
The other thing that makes this line weird is that we’ll be hearing more about the Junon army later in the game, and the writers seem to have had something of a change in opinion about them between this mission and the later one I’m hinting at? So keep this line in mind.
But despite the army’s control and the president’s boast, there’s a sudden blackout. It seems AVALANCHE has more control than Shinra expected, and Shotgun is once again sent out to do the footwork. Unfortunately, it seems that all those FOMA 900is cost the Turks the flashlights you’d expect them to have, so Shotgun is doing her best to see in the dark, represented by a very, very small circle of light around your character. Unfortunately, you even have to fight in the dark, which I’d imagine gives missile characters like Shotgun a huge advantage. You fight your first level 5 Troopers in this segment, which makes things even worse. Thankfully, Verdot guides you through the building, although I am disappointed how the game uses “right” and “left” without specifying if they mean from the player or player character’s perspective. I don’t know if there are any treasures to be found if you avoid him, as Ririn follows Verdot’s instructions to the letter. Shotgun soon finds the fuse box, which is apparently all AVALANCHE actually did to turn off the lights. I had wondered if they had seized the underwater reactor!
Except whoops, they also sent someone to assassinate the President during the blackout. Naturally. It’s time for Shrina to meet Fuhito, the previously-unnamed AVALANCHE commander we met at the end of Mission 1. Not long after his introduction, he gives a laugh: “Fuhuhuhu.” Normally I wouldn’t comment on a character’s laugh, but Japanese games tend to use specific laughs to get across a lot of character. I bring it across here because, “Fuhuhu” is a traditional villain’s laugh, and Japanese players get even more at-a-glance once you realize Fuhito’s name is apparently Japanese for “non-human.” Oh, and he’s a scientist, the #2 most evil JRPG career you could have, right after “priest.” I don’t mean to be so pressing on this point, but I went through nearly the entire playthrough without knowing about the meaning of his name, and I took Fuhito as a calm, restrained antagonist with an unfortunate laugh until the third act! Japanese gamers would have never got that impression. At this point, it would be more culturally appropriate for a Western audience if he had been localized as “Damian Satana,” if his laugh had been, “Bwha-ha-ha-ha-ha, BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HAA!” and if he’d have a twirly moustache just to put the nail in it. After all, that’s basically how the Japanese audience would have seen him! It’s honestly disappointing to learn!
Shotgun runs back to the president, and it seems Fuhito and Reno have already been fighting. Shotgun’s arrival helps Reno and the president slip through the back door, and… wait a minute, there was a back door this entire time? That the President didn’t use when he was cornered by the troopers? Or right now when Reno has Fuhito pinned down, and that no one covered at any point?
…In any event, Shotgun engages Fuhito, and is clearly supposed to lose. Oh, Ririn wins the fight, but Shotgun collapses all the same! Fuhito attacks with a pistol and with some kind of direct-damage spell that Fuhito might be… throwing?… at you? The sprites in this game are quite small, it’s hard to say what they’re doing. Of course, Ririn wins in a single hit, so we don’t see much more.
Fuhito runs after the President, but not before saying something about “fireworks.” Shotgun gets an explanation for this shortly, as Verdot phones in and explains that AVALANCHE has taken control of Junon’s famous coastal cannon. By the way, since the player Turk’s only “using the phone” animation has them standing, there are a few situations like this where they snap to their feet in spite of their injuries, just because the game has no other way to get them to answer the phone!
It’s here where we discover Fuhito’s real plan: to fire the coastal cannon on Midgar itself. That sounds really clever for all of three seconds, until you remember one key problem: Junon’s cannon literally cannot be turned to face Midgar. It’s a coastal canon! It faces! The coast! You don’t even have to look at it to know that, although yes, even a casual glance at the thing in FFVII or Crisis Core will tell you that the damn thing can’t rotate more than ten degrees in either direction. What I really mean is that Junon itself is between the cannon and Midgar, not to forget a mountain range that the FFVII party had to risk life and limb against a giant snake just to crawl under. Sure, AVALANCHE might not care about blowing a hole through Junon, but the people who designed the cannon would never have allowed it! And nevermind that the cannon is the size of a highway (once it was moved to Midgar in FFVII it spanned from the centre to the edge of the city!), so even if it could turn around (again, it can’t) it would probably take hours to do it. So unless AVALANCHE is hoping to fire around the globe… through one or even two other continents… it’s not gonna happen!
But okay, let’s pretend Fuhito can really get away with his plan, if only so the plot can keep moving. Off to the cannon! Or maybe not quite, as we cut back to the President as he gets a call from none other than vice president Rufus Shinra, his son, who claims to have been watching this whole mess via “the company’s surveillance system,” which is actually going to be a little more important than it sounds at the moment. He compliments Shotgun’s performance, and says that he’ll be watching her before hanging up. He honestly never alludes to this again and seems to have forgotten her by their next encounter, but I suppose he could be bullshitting to give a good first impression. Finally, Verdot calls in with news about the cannon, and the President sends Reno off to deal with it, only for Fuhito to storm in. Curiously , Fuhito announces that, “There’s no reason to fear death. Your soul will just return to the planet,” which used to be privileged information! Okay, okay, Square Enix screwed that up by having Tseng know about it in Crisis Core, but in 2004 this should still have raised some eyebrows. Fuhito then shoots the President with no additional fuss, which makes Fuhito the most competent man in his entire organization. He then walks off without checking to see if his target is dead. The most competent man in his entire organization.
Long story short, Verdot finds the President, presumably using the aforementioned company surveillance system, and he’s still alive. But naturally he’s furious, and orders Sephiroth sent in at once. We cut to the man with the silver hair off in the wilderness somewhere, where he’s apparently piledriven a Behemoth into the rock. His phone rings, and this ends Chapter 2.
Screenshots in this Journal come from a subtitled video playthrough of Before Crisis (believed to be a playthrough of the DoCoMo release), originally played by Ririn and subtitled by Grimoire Valentine. The playthrough is available on YouTube.