FFVII Before Crisis – The cat came back

Chapter 12: Awakening Tears the Calm Apart

It’s September 21st, the day before Sephiroth, Zack and Cloud will ultimately be sent to Nibelheim, and Shotgun is attempting to helicopter her way directly to the Nibelheim reactor as a preliminary investigator. We haven’t checked in on her long before we suddenly cut to an unrelated section of Nibelheim mountainside, where we discover young Tifa Lockheart chasing a white cat with a Shu Takumi-style bandana around its neck.

Shotgun jumps from the helicopter (presumably with a parachute, although they never bothered to draw one) and the split second after she jumps, the wind picks up and she ends up landing on the peak of Mt. Nibel by accident. She calls Tseng and resolves to walk the rest of the way, but hasn’t gone far when she runs into a bird that attacks a Kimara Bug with some sloppily applied scaling effects, as though “flying out of the distance.” Judging from Ririn’s behaviour, you have to dodge the Mode 7 birds or be knocked off the bridges that line this span of the mountain. Ririn then takes a hidden path that loops behind a piece of foreground decoration, and seems to skip part of the map.

At this point, Shotgun runs into Tifa, as was inevitable. Shotgun saves Tifa and her cat from a group of Kimara Bugs (you won’t be surprised to learn that Ririn brought water-aligned bullets to this mission to help fight the bugs). The two of them take to talking and Tifa explains herself. Shotgun asks her about the mountains in a “don’t you know where the hell you are” sort of way, and Tifa remarks that, “They say no one crosses these mountains and survives.” Come to think of it, they said that in FFVII as well, but it was children who were speaking so I figured it was an urban legend. Now she’s saying it as a teenager, so it seems more like a fact. So, um… who works at the reactor? Clearly not anyone from Nibelheim, as Tifa says no one crosses and she doesn’t seem upset by the disappearances. Are the employees people from Rocket Town going the other direction, past the Materia Keeper’s dungeon? The pipes in that area might suggest it was once used for something before being taken over by monsters… maybe it was transportation from Rocket Town to the reactor? Huh! I didn’t expect to come out of that paragraph with a plausible theory.

Shotgun asks Tifa to wait where they currently are. She’s still planning to investigate the reactor, but insists on escorting Tifa back to town right afterwards. It turns out we’re right next to the giant bridge that collapses during Sephiroth’s investigation, with the reactor on the opposite side. But no sooner has Shotgun crossed the bridge than she encounters no less than three dragons waiting for her! She retreats to the bridge and calls Tseng, who says the investigation will have to be suspended – to me, this implies that Sephiroth was put on the mission soley because they confirmed the monsters were super-powerful dragons. Indeed, BC set this up by having Sephiroth fight the dragon in Chapter 10! This explains why Sephiroth was called in on such a seemingly mundane job like the Nibelheim incident! Ironically, the Compilation of FFVII has become a victim of Sephiroth’s own reputation, and BC in particular, as there was nothing unusual about Sephiroth going to Nibelheim in FFVII, where it was the only job we ever saw him on and might as well have set the standard. But by 2004, Sephiroth was too big and too exclusive, to the point where by the time we reach CC, Sephiroth was ready to quit the company because the Nibelheim mission was so far from his interests! But congrats to BC, which did all the footwork and set up his appearance! Good job, prologue team! Okay, maybe it doesn’t explain why Shinra would send Sephiroth basically to his mother’s doorstep, but still.

During her conversation with Tseng, Shotgun remarks that Verdot is away, but Tseng says he’ll push a message through. In the meantime, you’re going to have to walk Tifa back down the mountain. Shotgun directs her to the ropeway (if you aren’t familiar with them – like, say, my spellchecker – ropeways are sort of like a cable car) that the employees apparently used to use to access the reactor, hidden behind one of the cliffs. Holy shit, I was close to 100% on that guess! Who’d have thought it!

Since she’s talking to a Shinra employee and has so few opportunities to do so, Tifa asks Shotgun if she’s met Cloud, which you’ll remember she has. Tifa fills Shotgun in on Cloud’s desire to become a SOLDIER, including a seemingly unique CG of the two of them on the water tower. Shotgun points out that her “Cloud” might be someone with the same name, but the conversation is interrupted when suddenly one of the dragons starts ramming the ropeway’s support on the mountain side of the track. The two of them are dropped towards the ground, and Shotgun and Tifa have to jump to survive, landing on an apparent dead-end cliff side with a bridge connected to it for no reason? During the next part of the chapter, Ririn will reveal that this isn’t a dead end and actually has a secret passage behind the back of the cliff. I wonder what happens if you try to take it now?

This mission features our only looks at the equipment screen!

Thankfully, Shotgunk and Tifa are fine, but there’s no sign of the cat, and to make things worse, a dragon has even followed them to the area and is just across the bridge. Not realizing there’s a secret exit just around the corner (or whatever), the two of them figure they’ll be trapped if the dragon tries to cross the bridge, so Shotgun races across to the other side to battle the monster. Ririn opens the battle by switching away from water bullets, as apparently they aren’t necessary any longer. The dragon is capable of breathing fire in such a way that it causes a vertical pillar of fire across the entire battlefield, but the poor thing doesn’t last long against Shotgun’s overpowered level, and is wiped out in only a few hits.

At this point, the cat shows up again (I can’t imagine why it was missing, as it adds no serious tension, and there can’t have been tech problems around such a tiny sprite, considering they had three dragons on screen earlier with no stutter or slowdown), and Shotgun and Tifa decide to go on foot. Shotgun informs Tseng of the change in situation, and he tells her even bigger news: Sephiroth has already been called in, as Tseng was unable to get ahold of Verdot to calm President Shinra down. You know, I get that maybe only the president can order Sephiroth to do anything, but it’s becoming a running joke that he jumps to Sephiroth the way Heidegger jumps to the army. Then again, I guess it only makes sense to see Sephiroth in the kind of extreme situations created by a video game plot.

Tseng asks Shotgun to find a guide for Sephiroth and the others, and since Tifa made most of the trip herself, Shotgun decides to draft her, contradicting FFVII (and later CC) where Sephiroth hired Tifa. Buckle in, we’re just getting started. Tifa is enthused to work with Sephiroth, and everything is fine, besides the part where you’re still stranded on a fucking mountain. Shocking me however, Shotgun walks off screen and we find ourselves immediately in Nibelheim! (Later in the mission, we confirm that this room really was just… right next to Nibelheim!) Not just that, but Sephiroth, Zack and Cloud are here, too!

Naturally, you didn’t run into a Turk while in Nibelheim in either FFVII or Crisis Core (CC could have easily substituted Cissnei to keep in line with BC, and sure enough, they did exactly that with a later scene!), so we’ve basically entered a stretch of blatantly de-canonized plot. It’s hard to say where we start treating things as canon again, though I personally discount everything from here to the end of the episode. The start of the next episode is acceptable if you change the setup, but if you wanted to toss it out wholesale with the rest, you wouldn’t hear me object. We return to probable canon around the time Shotgun returns to Nibelheim’s ruins in the next chapter. Honestly, I’m not all that upset at the Nibelheim incident in BC being decanonized, considering it was far too crowded to begin with. But no, the Nibelheim Incident was apparently too important and every character in every game had to be jammed in one by fucking one. It practically needs a guest list! They’re not the only franchise to do so, there’s basically a parade of people walking into all sorts of major franchise events. I’m pretty sure Bruce Wayne’s parents have died in front of an audience of thousands, most of them time-travellers. But that doesn’t make it any less irritating.

Shotgun, Zack and Cloud say hello, and Shotgun remarks on Cloud’s helmet (god, I just wrote “Squall”). Sephiroth (who does not acknowledge any history with Shotgun) pulls Zack away, but not before Zack makes a remark that allows Shotgun to confirm that Cloud is indeed Tifa’s childhood friend. Cloud asks her to keep things a secret, since he hasn’t made the grade as SOLDIER yet, and she agrees.

At this point, Before Crisis fast-forwards to the end of the investigation. Cloud is still on his feet in this version, which isn’t surprising considering it predates Crisis Core’s changes. Nothing particularly notable happens during the period that follows, when Sephiroth was locked up in Gast’s old study. This is surprising, because it’s such an obvious gap to fill with new plot, yet none of the game’s sequels or prequels bothered to fill it! I’d call it “restraint” but I’m not sure that’s the right word. The next thing you know, it’s a week later and the village is on fire. God, why is Shotgun even still in town?

Shotgun gets out into town square right after Sephiroth, and even has time to make a phone call. Tseng asks her to tail Sephiroth, and announces that reinforcements are en route. Ririn makes their way up the mountain, using numerous shortcuts (and switching back to water bullets for the Kimara Bugs). The mission is capped off with one last fight against a dragon, which isn’t even notable because Ririn fought an optional one on the way there! (Although, if you’re in this for the small details, you might want to watch the mandatory dragon fight anyways, since it features a very rare instance of Ririn using a healing item.) Cutting back to the village, we learn that Tifa and Zack have only now started their own runs up the mountain, so the player Turk is actually in the lead, which doesn’t make sense, because Zack very famously followed Sephiroth directly away from town!

As fits the change in marching order, Shotgun is the first to confront Sephiroth in this apocryphal continuity, and he stuns her with a single blow, ranting about his destiny and his alien mother, nothing we haven’t heard before. Shotgun gets up with some rage about the senseless slaughter in town, but Sephiroth does a major DBZ power-up, shattering the floor, raising rocks in the air, and knocking her out through power alone. Cloud arrives a few minutes later, initially unidentified, but acting so calm that I couldn’t imagine it was him – I figured it was Zack! Tifa and Zack didn’t bother to talk to you, apparently.

Shotgun recovers a few minutes later and rushes after Cloud, knowing he can’t beat Sephiroth. There, she hears Tifa’s cat off screen, and discovers Tifa, badly wounded. You know, at times, it seems like the player Turk legitimately can’t see beyond the edges of the screen, like here where she hears the cat before she sees even Tifa. I should clarify that the edges of the screen are only a few feet in any given direction, so that is extremely nearsighted. Having called for help, the cat retreats from the scene. Shotgun tries to revive Tifa, telling her that Cloud saved her “just like he promised,” when all of a sudden the cat returns, apparently having gone into hyperspeed to fetch Zangan, here presented by a unique portrait but a generic, bald, male sprite. Even BC didn’t want to render his stupid cape!

Zangan gets ready to take Tifa with him, and Shotgun goes further in, finding Zack thrown to one side in the room with the Makonids, unable to stand. While Shotgun doesn’t get there in time, the player gets to see Cloud impaled on Sephiroth’s sword in Jenova’s chamber (the impalement haphazardly scrapbooked together using existing sprites). Cloud throws Sephiroth aside, but in this version of events, Sephiroth doesn’t fall into a pit, and we soon learn that he hasn’t even taken Jenova’s head yet! Geeze, this revision is all over the place! Sepiroth goes to Jenova’s tube, presumably grabs some of her, and then falls into the lifestream below the tube… despite the fact that there’s nothing below the tube but solid ground because nobody fell anywhere in this room during the original FFVII. God, I’m glad I don’t have to contend with these fixes in any detail now that they’re non-canon.

This is where Sephiroth “falls.”

Shotgun calls in to Tseng and reports Sephiroth as KIA, not believing he could be anything else at this point. I’ll give the game credit: this one point does make a lot more sense than the original version, where Sephiroth was reported dead but the only witnesses were locked away in a tube for five years before they could say a word. I doubt the place has cameras, but this still helps. Of course, Sephiroth is actually fine, and we even cut to him for a bit as he floats away and out of the story.

Prev: FFVII Before Crisis – Stay off the grass
Next: FFVII Before Crisis – Awkward Conversations with the Boss

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.