Chapter 3: Swords Crossing in the Twilight
Chapter 3 starts off at the Junon cannon. There, Reno leads a few grunts into the AVALANCHE vanguard, while Shotgun sneaks in underground, remotely directed by Tseng. A lot of responsibility for a rookie, but I suppose you’ve been doing good work!
You’re not the only one in the basement tunnel. AVALANCHE seems to have tried to get in this way as well, only to be absolutely mowed down by a trio of giant Shinra security robots called Proto Golems. Shotgun sits around complimenting the work of the robots for so long that it gradually becomes inevitable that they’d turn on her, too, but it takes weirdly long for them to jump. After a while, I was virtually expecting her to shouting like a stage actor trying to remind the stagehands to trigger a forgotten special effect, “I sure hope no robots attack me too! That sure would ruin my day!” You actually have to take out all three Proto Golems at once, even though three-on-one fights are still a relatively rare experience. It’s also surprising given the damage they caused in the buildup (you’d think we’d start with one, then gradually make our way to three), but as with a lot of things in this early playthrough, I can’t say how dangerous they really are, since Ririn kills them in one hit and only gets 1 EXP each for the trouble.
After the battle, Shotgun starts casually gloating as she often does, saying, “After all, there’s no challenge I can’t overcome.” Tseng follows this up by saying “Calm down,” even though Shotgun hasn’t warranted it. You have to assume Tseng’s response is a stock line that implies that most of the player Turks had angrier reactions to the robot attack. You know, Shotgun actually comes across as a half- interesting character, which I mean as a high compliment, because she’s fighting against the fact that that she’s just a shallow, interchangeable PC with almost no real opportunities to shine! If they did just as well with the other Turks, I can’t help but be disappointed not to be able to learn about the other ten! In any event, Tseng blames the high level of security for the robots attacking a Shinra agent, and tells her to carry on in spite.
You fight your first monsters inside the tunnels, namely Guard Hounds and their BC-exclusive recolours, Blood Tastes (ew). After a brief maze sequence, Shotgun finds herself inside of a sort of junk heap, where the security system finally finds her again and activates the room’s garbage compactor to close her in. Two Blood Tastes get in as well, and Shotgun has to battle both them and the garbage compactor to survive. Yes, you heard that right: she is fighting a garbage compactor with a shotgun, and it is amazing. I imagine this fight would be a little more engaging with a melee character, having to move back from the compactor from time to time, which once again forces me to point out that the game only launched with one!
After a checkpoint, it’s time for a brief stealth sequence where the player has to dodge spotlights and fight Proto Golems, nothing too complicated. Ririn dodges every spotlight without even a little trouble. Despite Ririn dodging every spotlight, the Proto Golems react to Shotgun’s presence when she gets near, suggesting that they aren’t part of the spotlight trap and can’t be skipped.
In the next room, Shotgun finds herself locked in as a strange device begins scanning her. It goes on for a long time too, and she just obediently stands there as multiple text boxes inform us about the scan’s progress. I get the feeling the developers weren’t confident in their ability to convey the scene with visuals alone, or only one text box, which is too bad, because I they could have got away with less. As stands, they made Shotgun stand like she’s taking a three-hour, 19th-century photo, taken by someone who wants to stab her.
The device scanning you turns out to be some kind of duplication machine, which creates a clone/robot/hologram/monster/zombie/whatever of Shotgun, which is statistically identical to her. Who even cares why it’s happening (it raises too many questions to think about), because it’s time for a mirror match and nobody involved thought about it further than that! It’s impressive that this battle was even possible, as it suggests the devs worked out enemy AI for every single playable character (and had to go back to add them for new ones!), but it’s possible these things already existed for the game’s Training mode. As a bonus, this is the first time (and the only time in the first half of the longplay), where Ririn is remotely challenged by an enemy, so that’s a bonus. Though by “challenged,” note that I mean they shoot the evil Shotgun once and then uses magic, killing her on the spot. This isn’t particularly surprising, as RPGs typically work under the assumption that the player has relatively low HP compared to baddies of the same level, so copying their HP onto a bad guy makes for a pretty shitty goon, even if this Level 54 Shotgun Clone was leagues ahead of the Level 9 grunts running around in this chapter.
The door politely opens now that the monsters are dead, Zelda-style (I think I would have appreciated an attack animation to imply she broke it open). We cut back to the streets to discover Reno is the only Shinra agents still standing against AVALANCHE’s vanguard, but that he’s also done his fair share of damage!
With that, we move into the finale of this segment, and arguably the finale of the story arc that opened our game. Shotgun finally arrives inside the Mako Cannon just as the guards announce they’re ready to fire. This leads to two battles, after which Tseng calls and gives you a countdown: a single minute to save the city! Thankfully, you don’t actually have to make to the big red “Off,” button in one minute, you just need to make it out of the hallway you’re currently in. This is good, because it will ultimately take Shotgun an extra forty seconds of cutscenes to go from the end of this timed sequence to the button in question, but I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, all you have to do is get past several enemy patrols, and if you do end up in combat, you’ll have to watch the timer tick down while you do, which I’m sure would have been a serious penalty if you were actually at the intended level. As it happens, the patrols have some stupid AI: they spawn in the process of running across the screen, and can only “spot” you and start to chase you after they reach the end of the room and turn around, like scarecrows on roombas. This can take a while! As long as you deke behind them, you’ll probably get enough headway to get past. As an added bonus, if you do end up in combat, all your pursuers are gone once the fight is over (possibly thanks to that mechanic where multiple enemy patrols seem to combine into one combat?)
After clearing the hallway, Shotgun turns a corner only to discover a hell of a sight: a crater of structural damage and bloody AVALANCHE corpses in the middle of the hall, way out of Final Fantasy’s usual norms for gore! Not long past, she finds the main controls only to discover they’ve already been turned off! Tseng doesn’t know what’s going on any more than you do, and the two of you chat about possibilities, soon suggesting that Sephiroth is responsible. As you can imagine, it really was Sephiroth, and the bloody room was there to remind you that he’s a superpowered villain. This bloody room was truly impressive and effective for its purposes, but I want to point out that Square Enix is once again going through the “Banon problem“: Oh, look at the destruction caused by this bloodthirsty villain! So excessive, messy and incompatible with everything else that we, the virtuous and right-doing players, accomplish on a daily basis! Yeah, sure, game, I’m watching the player-character charge through this game with a 12-gauge, I’m sure that leaves no gore. Definitely not after all those times Shotgun has tried to interrogate her opponents in Chapter 1 and canonically only left corpses!
At this point, we cut back to the bloody hall. There, a new musical track begins to play, which is always notable in a resource-sparse mobile game. As it happens, we’re hearing a character theme, as the character it belongs to appears in the middle of the screen… but you might only learn that in hindsight, as the room is so chaotic and the graphics so low-res that you can barely tell there’s a new figure on the scene! Thankfully, she speaks, and heads out of the clutter to find Shotgun fiddling at the control panel. Thinking Shotgun’s responsible for the bodies in the hallway, the new character announces herself as AVALANCHE and attacks you, but there’s nothing you can do: she’s invincible to your attacks. She doesn’t even put in much effort, walking casually and using only a single attack with her sword. This means it takes her a long time to take out Level 52 Ririn, which inadvertently makes this new character look weaker than Sears, who one-shotted you in Mission 1. I suppose they wanted to make sure you saw that she was invincible before she took you out, since it’s important to the plot. Shotgun even mentions the invincibility at the end of the fight!
Shotgun flees the room, and ends up well outside the Cannon, all while the woman walk-chases her like a slasher film villain. At this point, Sephiroth finally decides to make his appearance, and he takes a swing at the woman. Remarkably, she parries and successfully withstands Sephiroth’s attack, even though the force of the blow causes a Dragon Ball Z-style crater in the ground. Sephiroth is impressed and asks her name, and she introduces herself as “Elfe,” or more properly “Elfé.” It appears Grimoire Valentine didn’t want to go to the trouble of using the accent on the second “e.” I’m of mixed minds as to whether or not the developers were trying to make her name sound like t”el fey” / “the fairy,” so I’ll just the possibility into this post and ignore it from here on out.
Elfé also announces that she’s the leader of this incarnation of AVALANCHE, and then decides to go all ideological on Sephiroth, asking him why he fights. You might recall me criticizing the over-use of this question in DoC, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a common author to blame. In any event, he doesn’t have an answer (you’ll recall from Crisis Core that Sephiroth later realizes he doesn’t have any reason to work for Shinra, so this is consistent), and Elfé announces that since she does have a reason to fight, she also has a reason to survive, and she uses this to excuse a tactical retreat. I’d argue it’s easier to retreat if you don’t waste time speechifying about why you’re doing it first, but don’t mind me! Because this scene is shot in side-view instead of top-down view, the game then makes the mistake of having Elfé run straight past Shotgun to the left… meaning she runs straight into the fucking ocean, but I guess we should forgive that. Sephiroth tells Shotgun to inform the chain of command that just because Elfé ran away from him doesn’t make her less of a threat to the company, and says they should be wary of her.
Back on the street, Reno realizes he’s the only one still standing. Yup, that’s right, he doesn’t end up playing a role in the plot, and the whole setup about him and Shinra’s grunts battling in the streets just there so nitpickers like me wouldn’t ask why Shinra avoided attacking AVALANCHE via the streets! Am I satisfied? Well? Am I, punk?
After debriefing and a time skip, we’re introduced to a Before Crisis standard: the final scene of a chapter is usually a preview of the upcoming mission, which would have come out weeks later for people playing at launch time. Today, we learn that, in order to deal with the AVALANCHE threat, the Turks are going to be impressing new members into SOLDIER. It probably doesn’t help that, once you adjust for later canon from Crisis Core, Genesis deserted around half a year ago and took half the SOLDIER corps with him! If you’re not familiar with the term “impress” in this context, it’s not a friendly one. Get ready to shake off any delusions you had that SOLDIER was a voluntary force, just because Zack and Cloud signed up of their own free will! It’s time for that bizarre and seemingly inaccurate throwaway line from FFVII about the Turks being recruiters instead of spies to finally bear fruit!
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.