Chapter 4: An Existence Proved Through Scars
We begin Chapter 4 in medias res, going straight into the SOLDIER candidate hunt. It’s half a month after the AVALANCHE attack on Junon, and Shotgun has just broken into a fight club, where the reigning champion, “King,” is defending his title. With little more than a how-do-you-do, Shotgun blows the head clean off of the door guard. Okay, okay, the game doesn’t actually imply that he’s dead. In fact, her brazen murder is followed up by someone shouting: “She took him out with one blow!?” Yes, you idiots! That’s what guns do! This is one of many times where it seems the writers only had Rod (Male) in mind when writing these scenes, which is bizarre, because there are three gunners in the launch lineup, three of only four characters available when this episode was released!
King decides that beating up someone with a firearm sounds pretty interesting (I mean, that’s not what he means to say, but it’s what he’s essentially saying all the same), and asks who Shotgun is. She replies by announcing that she’s going to impress every single person in the crowded club, single-handed, into SOLDIER. Shit, historical press gangs would bribe or kidnap a small group of people, but Shinra’s here to tell those press gangs that they were playing for small change! Obviously all you need is one spy with a baton and you can pick up about fifty assholes a stop, and nobody will even ask questions!
We cut to the outside, where we learn this should-have-been-an-international-incident mass kidnapping is taking place in Costa del Sol, about half a month after the previous missions. Hrm, in my imagination, Costa del Sol is something of a small town, which would make the kidnapping more of a spectacle if the game were hovering anywhere close to the real world. But if Square says it’s otherwise, what can I do? We cut to Reno and Rude, who are on board a ship and have apparently done a lot of kidnapping themselves. As they chat, we learn that Rude thinks of Shotgun going into the fight club alone is just part of their job. I want to say something about the Turks not really being superhuman, but FFVII canon seems confused on that point, so instead I’ll ask… why was this fight club so poorly guarded, if the Turks are regularly popping in on people with combat potential, grabbing dozens to irradiate them with mako, killing most of them and mutating the others? Shotgun walked right past several rows of men, dressed in a Turk suit and carrying a firearm, and she only got stopped when she tried to outright enter the arena!
I do like how this mission is being portrayed as an unambiguously evil act. A lot of the time in these “play as the regular antagonist in an established series” games seem to pull their punches on matters like this by having you end up doing the good work that even an evil organization would have to do (for example, see the entirety of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days; and yes, we’ll be seeing more on that later in this game too… like a lot), or by having you fight a greater evil (Crisis Core from Chapter 2 on; arguably here against the extremist incarnation of AVALANCHE, or at least that’s what Square is going for). I guess that’s going a long way to say I’m really surprised by Before Crisis breaking away from its “The player bad guys fight extremists, who are also arguably bad guys” main plot, just to say: “The player bad guys throw civilians into an irradiated stew pot for a few hours, and then separate the ‘dead’ from the ‘mutant,’ like irradiated wheat from the cancerous chaff.”
Reno and Rude talk briefly about the other candidates they’ve kidnapped, and we see that some of them are being held in a single group cell in the brig, where they whispering about one particular big guy in their number. More on that later. For now, we cut back to Shotgun, as all the guards she apparently on her way into the fight club finally clue in that they should maybe do something about her. King becomes to boast about how he’s the boss here, and Shotgun decides to beat him so that she’ll be in charge! Oh yeah, I’m sure the entire fight club will act like cartoon lemmings if they get a new boss, won’t they? Why aren’t these people ganging up on her yet, twenty-to-one? Is it the gun? Because we’ve established that they’re not aware of the gun! One of the fighters remarks that you have to beat the four strongest people in the club to become the new King, and Shotgun boasts back that she can take all four of them at once. “That’s impossible!” says one of the thugs. I mean it’s literally impossible, we can’t have more than three AIs in the combat engine at one time. And sure enough, she has to fight them one at a time!
Long story short, Shotgun fights her way through the tiers of contenders until King agrees to fight her, and he’s ultimately defeated. The rest of the rabble concedes after that, just like I’ve been joking they would.
Shotgun moves “Ex-King” onto the boat (the game really calls him that for the rest of his appearances, great stuff) and into the common cell with the prisoners we saw earlier, warning them that their cage is electrified. Shotgun goes on to talk about how fun it was to kidnap all these people. Boy, you’re just built for this job, aren’t you, you fucking demon. Just then, the Turks hear shouting from below-decks, and Shotgun goes to check on her own, only to find that the “big guy” the prisoners were discussing earlier has thrashed everyone in the cell. She arrives just in time to see the man in question knock out the Ex-King. He tries to barrel into her next. It’s only now that we get a look at the man’s dialogue portrait, and he’s immediately familiar: it’s Azul, the soon-to-be-Cerulean, from Dirge of Cerberus.
Azul starts shouting about how he only respects people who can best him in battle, and pulls you into one. This battle takes place in an arena surrounded by cell bars, which makes me suspect that they’d electrocute you if you touch them, although Ririn never does so (Azul never gets knocked into them either, for that matter). Ririn wins the initial round, but this is followed by a scripted sequence where Shotgun and Azul appear to hit one another at the same time, as though they reached some sort of draw (again, very strange-looking when one of them has a gun). At this point, Rude arrives and tackles Azul, subduing him. Azul even remarks on Rude having captured him in the first place, in case you were wondering about that, too!
The two Turks leave and return to the deck of the ship. Shotgun argues with Rude that she has “principles” she refuses to violate. From context, it’s clear that her “principles” insist she clobber anyone who annoys her, even if it means beating up a defenceless prisoner, with buckshot. At this point, Tseng calls in with bad news: AVALANCHE has shown up at the dock, presumably here to stop this openly criminal and outright evil act. Urm, I mean, to slow Shinra from reinforcing its supersoldiers, the terrorist fiends.
Rude orders you to defend one side of the ship while he handles another. Unfortunately, Reno went for a “nap” a few scenes ago, and won’t be able to help. Worse still, Sears is in the attacking party, and while Shotgun has levelled up a bit, we already know Sears can tackle two of the three of the Turks on the ship. But first waves first. You have to intercept the AVALANCHE troopers manually before they board the ship via three different routes. Ririn actually screws up here and allows a few Troopers onboard. You can probably the poor blame visibility of the cell phone screen for this section’s challenge!
At this point, Rude finds you and announces that AVALANCHE have already boarded the ship. It’s unclear to me if this is in response to the two Troopers that got past Ririn or not, but whatever it is raises the question of what Rude is even doing down here, off the ship? Shouldn’t you be defending the rest of the ship, from the Troopers you just said are on the ship? At this point, more Troopers show up and surround the two Turks, and you enter a battle with Rude as an ally! Wow, I wouldn’t have thought the game was even capable of partner AI! Rude attacks by punching the ground of all things, causing a shockwave. If this wave hits a target (and by the look of things, I say “good luck” because the attack is particularly thin, though luckily Ririn got it on camera), it explodes into an upward column that can damage other enemies, and knocks the initial target to the ground. The game then carries on for three fights in a row, with no differences between them, which is a bit of a chore but at least gives you a chance to mess around with Rude.
After the battle, Shotgun notes that Sears isn’t among the dead, and we cut to the ship to reveal that he’s trying to coax the SOLDIER candidates out of the brig, and perhaps to recruit them while he’s at it. If you look closely during this scene, you might spot a small scripting error: the candidates all leave the room via the southern stairs, but just before they disappear, they turn and face to the east!
Most of the candidates bolt for freedom, going straight past Shotgun and Rude while they’re at it. The two of them are a little distracted, as Sears is standing right in front of them! Rude orders Shotgun to go after the candidates while he holds Sears, and Shotgun argues that Rude won’t be able to do any better against Sears than Reno did in Chapter 1. She tries to go for Reno himself, but Rude says the candidates are more important, which I can understand, but it’s phrased in such a silly way. He says, “Just let [Reno] sleep,” as though Rude were really more concerned about Reno’s beauty nap than anything else! And given the weird ways the Turks have been written in the past, you might believe that he is!
Once Shotgun is gone, however, Rude reveals that he’s not so concerned about the candidates or even Reno so much as trying to challenge Sears one-on-one, presumably to see how he fares after Reno’s failure. Sears calls Rude, “the strongest of the Turks,” and is able to take Rude out just like he did Reno, the fastest of the Turks. The fight wakes Reno from his nap, but he arrives only after Sears has left. He gets the rundown from Rude, who’s barely conscious, but Rude refuses to tell Reno about Sears.
Meanwhile on the dock, Azul stops running as he realizes he still has something to do here. Naturally, he’s referring to finishing his fight with Shotgun, just like she was chomping at the bit to kick his ass. Unfortunately, she’s still on the trail of the candidates, and Ririn has to search the town to find the candidates and thrash them, one by one. I can’t help but note that despite the conceit that you fought your way to the top of the fight club earlier in the scenario, these SOLDIER candidates are actually higher-level than most of the people you fought in the club itself, but maybe these are all Reno and Rude’s captives?
This “hunt sequence” is actually quite short if you know what you’re doing, like Ririn. It ends when Shotgun spots a candidate stupid enough to go for a drink at the bar, and she beats him up, finally getting someone to give her information instead of leaving a corpse. Ironically, this involves fighting him twice, which I’ve never seen a video game do to represent torture. Hell, you rarely see a game have you fight someone twice in a row ever, at least not without something changing between fights! The thug tells you what the player may have suspected, but Shotgun never overheard: the remaining candidates listened to Sears and have decided to join AVALANCHE by boarding one of their ships, so they’re not even in town!
Shotgun bolts to the docks, where she discovers three of the candidates, who have gotten themselves lost. This includes the former King. They all engage you at once, and after they lose, Rude gives you a call, ordering you to return to the Shinra vessel. To my surprise, Shotgun agrees and does so, rather than tell him about the AVALANCHE ship, and you have to reunite with him before Tseng calls in to tell you about the AVALANCHE ship! Something screwy’s going on with the script here… maybe they changed something?
At this point, Rude surprises by clocking Shotgun over the head, knocking her out. He says that he also has his own principles, and they’re telling him to go fight Sears one-on-one. He also says that “We’re not here to fight,” by which I presume he means, “We’re not supposed to engage the AVALANCHE ship,” since we’ll avoid doing so later on, even though Tseng technically said nothing of the sort? As it happens, he runs into Reno along the way, waiting for him against a wall. This reminds me of the famous scene from Kingdom Hearts 2 where Reno’s counterpart, Axel, was waiting for his friend Roxas. Unlike the KH2 scene I’m referencing, these friends team up to go together.
At this point, we return to Shotgun as she recovers from Rude’s attack, mumbling to herself that Rude did it in such a way that she wouldn’t be seriously hurt. She’s lucky she got up when she did, as Azul arrives on the scene moments later. He gives her a strange little speech, implying that he had literally never heard about SOLDIER before now, and has been asking around and now thinks it would be a great idea to become a SOLDIER! This guy. Unfortunately, he insists on finishing his fight with Shotgun first, and ends up serving as the chapter’s boss. He’s got so much HP that Level 54 Ririn actually has to shoot him twice! Yeah, a whole two times!
Meanwhile on the beach where the AVALANCHE ship is docked, Reno and Rude run into Sears. Sears initially lands a few blows without taking any in return, but the two Turks are eventually able to corner him. They then… basically let him go, perhaps because they’re not in great shape themselves, but it’s still kind of pathetic to see Sears just jog past Reno like nothing happened. Reno and Rude then talk about how they knew they’d be there to help one another, and we stare off into the sunset. Definitely not romantic! Not even a little!
In the final scene of the mission, we once again foreshadow the following mission by revealing that none other than Shinra grunt Cloud Strife will be making an early appearance! But before we get there, we have to interrupt the story chapters with one of the game’s bonus chapters, which takes place at around this point in the timeline.
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.