Since the final developer-created “film” in the theatre was set at Level 70, we weren’t willing to risk it quite yet (though we’re probably going to play it well before Level 70 after this “Level 30” experience, let me tell you!). Instead, we moved on with the plot. First things first: replacing all the items we had wasted in the extended previous dungeon, including buying a handful of expensive Balms of Life. We then turned in 50 sweepstakes magazines, because we were so irritated at having not won already. I think it’s funny how we’re willing to spend money on 50 magazines but still haven’t even spread the rumour that opens the casino, but hey, lotteries are passive and easy! Casinos force you to pay attention!
On with the story, then, and on to Mt. Katatsumuri, which belonged to a brand new region of the map almost all its own! This dungeon begins with your party discussing how to get past the Battalion soldiers guarding the gate up the mountain. Your choice determines actually has you branching between two different dungeons: Kyle chose the “direct approach” in a flash (rather than the “sneaky approach”) when I told him it would get us more EXP than the puzzle-ridden alternate, but what a slog! Fight after fight with nothing in the rooms but enemies, not even any chests until towards the end! And we didn’t even find most of those!
Chapter 8: A Darkness too Deep for Light to Reach
Oh, pardon me, judging from that title and the one from last chapter (“Scattered Light Wrapped in Darkness”), I must have put in a Kingdom Hearts game by accident. Give me a second h—oh, it’s legit? Are you sure?
It’s now two days later (or thereabouts – Chapter 7 only showed a time stamp before Sebastian and Essai were attacked, not after Shotgun arrived on the scene), and once again the middle of the night (lest they have to redraw all these outdoor sprites). With all this dawdling, Shinra’ll be lucky if they find so much as a few abandoned lunches once they finally get to the base, but whatever. Essai, Sebastian and Shotgun arrive to join the army, and no sooner has Shotgun asked about the legendary Zack than she overhears him snoring just off-screen and mistakes it for an earthquake. God, Zack, I missed you. I just adore how Shotgun’s first word to him is just: “So.” In its own text box and everything. Zack (who seems to know Essai and Sebastian) gives a speech about teamwork, and the combined force heads out.
Kyle and I actually hung out for a few hours the next day, so Session 2 continues. We started the day by learning that Jun had ordered his lesser cultists to actually defend the town from the Last Battalion, though why, I don’t know (if this is the game’s effort to make him appear less villainous, it’s not working. He’s the one who created the rumour-Hitler in the first place, so far as I can tell!). Despite the cultists’ efforts, the Last Battalion had basically occupied the city, and that wasn’t even their primary objective! At this point, we went to the Abandoned Factory in hopes of finding another boss you could recruit after you defeat them (the same way we had encountered Sakya), but we didn’t have any luck running into them even after we finished our exploration of Room 4, and decided to go on with our day rather than wait for this forever, especially since we had checked out the Persona in the Velvet Room and weren’t all that impressed.
At this point, we were now past level 30 (by the way, we couldn’t find our characters’ levels in the main menu, and had to win a random combat just to see them!), and we decided to check out the first pre-loaded scenario in the Theatre, which was marked as Level 30. It turns out we probably should have shown up way earlier, but I’ll explain why as we go.
Chapter 7: Scattered Lights Wrapped in Darkness
We start a new arc with this one, which begins at Icicle Inn in mid-January of the next year, in the middle of the night. It seems Shinra has a base here, and if you’re wondering why we didn’t hear anything about it in FFVII… well, give it thirty seconds. Two SOLDIERS, Essai and Sebastian, have just arrived on scene on a mission to wipe out some monsters. These two are treated as relatively prominent characters for people without faces! And since they are relatively important, I should point out that they appear to be 1st Class… maaaaaaybe. You see, the picture quality is so poor that I can’t tell if they’re wearing blue or purple, and to make matters worse, the SOLDIER uniforms were changed a some point between FFVII and Crisis Core, with the matter of confusion being “at some point.” Was the switch before Before Crisis, or after? Or even during! In FFVII, SOLDIERS 3rd Class wore blue, 2nd red, and 1st purple, but by Crisis Core the colours are 3rd blue, 2nd purple, and 1st black. We’ll be meeting Zack later on in BC, which is during his 1st class days, but he won’t make things any easier: his sprite wears the same indistinct purple-blue, and his close-up portrait wears black! Since the same is true of these two, I assume that they, too, are 1st Class, even though we’ll later see that Zack is in a whole ‘nother league.
The two are discussing their mission when two of Fuhito’s black-clad troopers arrive, chuckling instead of speaking, which becomes like a signature for them in the future. Sebastian has no sooner exposited that SOLDIERS are superhuman than the black-clad troopers dash through them and knock them both out!
We went to the Alaya Shrine, where Lisa talked about a rumour of a ghost of a teen girl that haunts the place. Their conversation was cut off by Philemon (asshole probably lives here), who also said nothing about evil Maia, and instead complimented the party (read: Lisa and Michel) for working as much as they had about their forgotten pasts. He directed us to go to the cavern behind the shrine – you know, the one that was the way to the land of the dead in P1? No big deal!
Chapter 6: Tonight in Our Innocent World
Big time skip here, as we jump all the way to freaking December, five months after the last mission. It’s three days until Christmas in Midgar, if you can believe it (like in the real world, Christmas is on the 25th of December), which makes me suspect this huge in-game time skip may have happened because it was Christmas in the real world, too, and they wanted to do a special episode (the game launched in September 2004, so Chapter 6 launching around December is hardly out of the question). Don’t expect the Turks to be very holly jolly. In fact, Verdot is going to put you knee-deep in literal shit before this is over, but we all celebrate our holidays in our own putrid ways.
Reno, Rude and Shotgun have gone to the Sector 8 residences after a mission (or perhaps one of those free-play activities you can do between story missions). You know, one thing I do like about Before Crisis is how rapidly the player Turk integrates with the veteran Turks. A lot of similar “novice joins the group” narratives have a way of treating the novice as a novice for the entire run, even as a bit of an endearing joke, or just don’t effectively integrate them as a professional somehow as an intangible matter of writing. I’m not just talking about Kingdom Hearts Days when I say that, but I can’t deny it comes instantly to mind. But Before Crisis doesn’t do that! You feel like your character is really an equal!
There was no third riddle: this time, King Leo simply wrote a letter challenging us to go to the city’s aerospace museum for a real showdown. No new sidequests this time, either! We summoned a few new Personas and we went to the aerospace museum straight away! Thankfully, we had checked the walkthrough (to look for sidequests), which got us a warning that the next dungeon wouldn’t allow us to save, and for good reason!
There was bad news right from the off: the party discovered the aerospace museum was hosting an elementary school field trip, so the place was crawling with kids. Bad news #2: Tamaki and Tadashi from the detective agency are here, Tadashi dressed and armed like Zorro, and Tamaki as a Japanese film character from the time, complete with cat ears (did I mention that Tadashi is actually a self-insert character of a member of the dev team, who had redesigned Tamaki for P2IS after a real-world actress, and was using her as fetish fuel, so the fans called him out and Tadashi was removed from EP? Yeah, I probably should have mentioned that). They dramatically declared that the party is working for “the Fuhrer.” Naturally, the two of them had been contacted by the only other person who had used the name “the Fuhrer,” Ms. Ideal, who had hired them to look into “the Fuhrer,” and also to stop us, “the spies.” Thankfully, Tamaki didn’t believe Ms. Ideal (even though she still went through with her dramatic reveal with Tadashi…), which was good, because she was able to convince Tadashi to help us when King Leo revealed his plan: he was going to burn down the building with us in it, starting with the exits.
Chapter 5: The Dream of a Nameless Soldier
The chapter starts in AVALANCHE HQ, nearly two and a half months since the Turks went shopping for kidnapping victims (two months since Episode Reno). Here, the player learns that Shinra has a mole who’s leaking information to Fuhito. It seems a certain Dr. Rayleigh, Shinra company scientist, will be carrying secret data that could allow AVALANCE “the strength to fight SOLDIER face to face.” Fuhito now knows what train she’ll be on, and plans to ambush him with some sort of personal detachment. Of course, it wouldn’t be a game if Shotgun weren’t Rayleigh’s Turk bodyguard. The game doesn’t make a secret of what she’s carrying: virtually all of Shinra’s data about the SOLDIER program. I can’t imagine what ludicrous situation required this kind of transfer, but ours is not to reason why about our cartoon villain overlords. Shotguh isn’t Rayleigh’s only bodyguard: we’ve got three grunts here too, and one of them is the actual intended draw for this chapter, Cloud Strife himself!
AVALANCHE attacks before you even leave the station (“Four guards, that’s pretty poor security,” says a trooper in a group of two). Cloud steps forward to help you in this first fight, as he’ll do in much of the chapter. Note that, as a grunt, Cloud uses a pistol. After a quick introduction, Ririn makes mincemeat out of the troopers. At the end of this chapter’s LP, Ririn includes an alternate playthrough that shows that if you let Cloud die, you get a Game Over. This suggests to me that this isn’t true of most allies, or it wouldn’t have worth noting!