Chapter 13 – The Scar of Calm’s Destruction
We pick up exactly where we left off. Shotgun is holing out in the reactor with Zack and Cloud’s bodies, waiting for the incoming “medical team,” cough cough, that is definitely not going to be headed by a mad scientist. Unfortunately, a whack of Grand Horn monsters arrive (in waves of two, three and three) attempting to kidnap Cloud and Zack before Hojo can! How dare! These two are company property! During these fights, Ririn uses Bio twice, wiping them out fast but leaving Shotgun on virtually half MP for the rest of the mission! Yeah, starting to figure that’s Bioga, not just regular Bio.
Hojo and Tseng both arrive on-scene, Shotgun pointing out that Hojo shouldn’t even be here. Tseng responds that, “the president has issued a top-secret order.” Shotgun shouts, “Top-secret order?!” Yes, Shotgun, that’s what they call things I can’t tell you. Nevertheless, Tseng promises to brief her later? Right in front of Hojo??
For the time being, Shotgun is sent back to the village to meet up with Reno and Rude and “rescue survivors.” Definitely not “shove them into crates the size of breadboxes and dump them in the bottom of the ocean where they’ll never breathe a word of this to anyone.” Definitely not that second thing!
Hojo orders Tseng to prepare the mansion lab for operation, and he ends up rescinding his original orders to Shotgun so that she can do that instead. She’s not happy about it, but Tseng refuses to budge and she does what she’s told. I like how the game has to remind the player how to open doors at this point, since they presumably haven’t done so in a while. Since like, Chapter 2, or possibly that secret door I wasn’t all that sure about in Chapter 9?
Ririn goes straight to the hidden lab, it’s unclear if there are even monsters in this section, but when he tries to go down the stairs, he just finds himself back at the entrance. It’s a ghostly loop! And geeze, Ririn does this like three and a half times before they finally stop, and I don’t doubt they’re taking the most efficient route like they normally do. I would have stopped for sure after two repetitions, this is kind of bullshit.
At this point, Tseng calls in with new orders from Hojo to burn some reports that are currently stored in the upper levels, conveniently for you. Great security, by the way. Shotgun complains about the duplicity. You know, for somebody who was kidnapping and irradiating civilians nearly a dozen missions ago, you’ve sure got your hackles up about burning a few stacks of confidential paper. Tseng adds to kill any “abnormalities” found in the mansion (monsters), which Ririn does, though I suspect this is just a mission rating thing rather than a mandatory one. Speaking of “abnormalities:” Shotgun encounters her first ghost, a moving ball of spirit fire, and flees from them instead of staying to fight. Shotgun losing her composure after all this time is actually kind of amusing, which is mean of me. Unfortunately, she only finds more of them in the next room!
After locating a light switch, Shotgun discovers the “ghosts” are actually the Dorky Face pumpkin doll monsters from the original FFVII. Those are your mechanics for the rest of this section: dodge the ghost flames, turn on the lights, and then kill the real monsters. You know, I like this gameplay loop, and I’m surprised the series hasn’t had a ghost house this puzzle-like and effective in the past, given the way Mario has standardized ghost houses as action-puzzlers way back in 1990 (the FFVII version of this very dungeon was more of a standard treasure hunt than a Ghost House, especially in how nothing spooky happened until the flesh monster showed up at the end!). Sure, there are only so many things a traditional RPG could do in this vein, but if an early 2000s cell phone game can do it, well, lesson fopr the entire industry! These mechanics make this chapter one of my my favourite parts of the BC from a viewer perspective, and some of the sequences we get later on are pretty great, too!
During one section of this, Shotgun turns on a light switch on the far side of a room, but can’t cross to the other side because of rubbish. Ironically, once she gets to the other side, she simply has to search the bed, which she should be perfectly capable of reaching from where she is… except there’s a line of stools in the way? They’re really tiny too. Just walk past them!
Ririn finally finds the key to the records vault (on the aforementioned bed). Tseng goes to ask Hojo where the vault itself is, but instructs Shotgun to search on her own in the interim. And he doesn’t even call back, by the way – you actually have to locate a second key all on your own, first! At this point, Hojo calls in with the number of the report to burn, and directs her to the old archives. Shotgun remarks on how remarkable it is that he remembers the number. I imagine he might have looked up the report he wanted burned before coming here, and honestly it’s silly that Shotgun didn’t expect he’d have the number on hand after giving her the order to burn the report in the first place. How else did you want it identified? I’m reminded of an old, everyday librarian’s anecdote that sometimes a patron will come in asking for a specific book that they can’t remember beyond it being “green.” In comparison, Hojo is like an ideal patron… burning the books aside.
Shotgun finally finds the record, and you’re given the choice of whether or not to read it, even though you were ordered not to. Ririn does so, and discovers a record of victims (victims of what she can’t say – the word in question is either censored or damaged) being used as guinea pigs for some experiment, this time to see if it’s possible to merge humans with materia! Unfortunately, Shotgun isn’t able to read it all, save to say that the experiments failed and the scientist in charge – presumably Hojo – concluded that it’s impossible to just plug materia into people, unless they had an artificial limb or something. Shotgun concludes that this is just Hojo trying to cover up his failure, not even thinking about the fact that this is an atrocity. A company woman, this.
Rather than incinerate the report on the spot, Hojo orders Shotgun to track down the mansion’s fucking fireplace and to do it there. Hojo is a fire safety enthusiast? Hojo, “let’s breed humans with dogs”-Hojo? “Locks people up in a basement for four years”-Hojo? “Murdered a man and then literally cackled for five minutes”-Hojo?
Tseng and “I tried to assassinate the very person I’m talking to using a dragon earlier in this game”-Hojo are now in the ruins of Nibelheim, where they have a surprise encounter with Verdot, back from his only once mentioned, supposedly-mysterious absence during the previous chapter. Hojo makes a point of egging Verdot about how strange it is that he’s been missing, but Verdot doesn’t bite. When he doesn’t bite – and this went straight past me during my first watch – Hojo remarks on how “familiar” the ruined town looks, and this time does get a rise out of Verdot. Hojo gets more and more explicit, saying that it “reminds me of the day I bestowed the blessings of my research on you.” It’s a very stilted translation, which lets you know that Grimoire Valentine was doing his best to carefully convey the hints in Hojo’s cryptic line.
Long story short, Verdot is distressed to learn Shotgun is inside the mansion. After Shotgun has burned the report, she runs straight into him, coming to check on her personally! He asks her if anything weird has happened, and basically admits the facility is haunted. The two of them travel together to the magically looping lab stairs, and this time they’re able to get through without any trouble. Strangely, there are no signs of the catacombs section (where Vincent lives) in this chapter, but they’ll snap back into reality in a later one!
Verdot gives the room an almost insultingly cursory glance, and then insists that they leave. It’s clear he’s uncomfortable here, and for a man of his professionalism, this is surprising. He leaves before Shotgun, and suddenly gives a cry of alarm, and she rushes to his side, only to find them both standing in… Midgar Sector 8?
Verdot checks the way they came, finding no way back, when suddenly Tseng calls and starts repeating his dialogue from Chapter 1, which Grimoire Valentine puts in yellow-green text. Verdot advises that they explore the area, and sure enough, here are the AVALANCHE troopers all over again. The Troopers are levelled up in comparison, but this first fight is entirely scripted, something we haven’t seen since that janky scripted combat against Sears in the tutorial. It plays out like this: Verdot remarks that these aren’t normal humans, and he casts a fireball at the Trooper, and it collapses to reveal that it’s just a Dorky Face, which dies. Shotgun is impressed with the spell, but wonders how he cast it, and he reveals that he has a prosthetic arm equipped with materia just like Hojo predicted could be made! Great setup! Verdot joins your party at this point, using the Fire spell exclusively for his attacks.
After we repeat the second fight from the tutorial (an actual battle this time), Shotgun confirms that Tseng is just a ghost voice and can’t respond to her, so the two of them push on through history together. Tseng even repeats some of the tutorial dialogue, which is honestly a a misstep in my eyes. It’s just too boring (and too close to the fourth wall) to justify repeating in the name of verisimilitude.
Just like in the past, Shotgun (and now Verdot) gets overwhelmed by enemies outside the Mako reactor. Flasbhack Reno shows up, but this time, he attacks them! Unfortunately, the flashback Reno transforms into a Dorky Face at the start of the fight instead of actually fighting you as Reno and only transforming during his death animation. It’s a shame they didn’t program him to be some sort of midboss, since it doesn’t seem like it would have been that hard. I mean, evil Reno would only need one attack at most, and they must have the AI for it, probably in Training Mode, if not lying around for when Rod (Male) fought his clone in Chapter 3!
After the battle, a voice speaks out of nowhere, and the dialogue is initially quite generic, making me wonder if the flashback’s “recording” was still playing even though Reno had been “deleted,” which would be a cool take! But no, it’s not lines from Chapter 1 after all. Instead, a second Verdot appears, distinguished only by the yellow-green text. This new Verdot seems conversant and aware, and even knows that the real Verdot is head of the Turks, quite a contrast to the “flashback” characters. The new Verdot leads the pair into the Mako reactor door of the past, and they follow, only for the world to change into the town of Kalm. There’s no sign of the new Verdot, but there is a “flashback” version of Verdot that can’t see the time travellers. Suddenly, the town of Kalm explodes!
There’s fire everywhere, and even the flashback version of Verdot catches fire for a second, although that rapidly disappears (they really should have had him acknowledge it, stomp it out in a text box or something). Past-Verdot starts to ask: “Why did they bomb Kalm…? What about my home!?” The real Verdot acknowledges that this really happened, and follows his past self as he goes off screen. But the devs only had this one screen worth of of Kalm, and are forced to keep Shotgun on the screen by putting her in a boss fight against Lost Number of all things. She only fights the boss’ original form, by the way, not one of the latter forms.
After the battle, everything in Kalm seems to have snapped back to the way it was just after Shotgun and Verdot arrived. Kalm is no longer on fire, the past Verdot is standing where he was, and the present Verdot has even returned to his original place. Inside of a few seconds however, we cut away to a CG outside of town, where two Shinra grunts are waiting by a military truck. This group is taking orders from past-Verdot (the very same past-Verdot who is otherwise in front of the player), who appears to order them to bombard Kalm. The grunt on the phone says that that’s not what they were originally told to do, and attempts to get Verdot back on the line with no luck. He passes on word to his annoyed buddy, who says that Verdot lives in Kalm so the orders make no sense. The two decide that Verdot must have evacuated his family, or might even be willing to sacrifice them for “the mission.” Having cyclically reinforced their own fear of the Turks, the two decide to bomb Kalm without further questions. And yeah, this scene is pretty stupid. You’re so afraid of the Turks that you follow their orders without question, but you’re not so afraid of the Turks that you’re not afraid to make sure you got the right orders and might be about to murder their families, especially when the orders seem to have changed and you have heavy static? Hell, even orders to firebomb Kalm should have been too vague for them to follow. Bomb Kalm where?
But bomb they did, setting fire to Kalm and blowing off Verdot’s arm in the process. Shinra – or more specifically, Verdot – had it all hushed up, and he had the survivors “sent to Nibelheim.” At this point, two more copies of Lost Number show up! The implication seems to be that the survivors weren’t sent to Nibelheim to live, but to Shinra Manor, where Hojo and possibly Lucretia experimented on them, maybe even creating the real Lost Number out of their amalgam bodies. And while I understand the dream-symbolism, but this game’s weird asset reuse is getting to me. It’s a bit like Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories on the GBA. The assets are entirely new, but they spent all their time recreating old shit. And don’t get me wrong: I’m actually okay with an explanation for Lost Number’s origins, but then they repeat what they’ve already repeated within the same game, refighting Lost Number over and over again, and that’s something else! The GBA version of CoM was similar in that regard. Roughly contemporary games, too. I wonder who it was that thought this was such a good idea that they did it twice?
By the way, Shotgun responds to the two Lost Numbers by trying to shoo them. Fucking legendary.
Kalm is back to normal after the fight, and this time we get to see Verdot’s side of things: he ordered the bombing 50km north of Kalm. Which is still too vague to make a shot, by the way – in fact, I think it’s even worse – but moreover, it’s kind of preposterous that the grunts heard that much of a sentence cropped by static and still said: “Welp, he must have told us to bomb Kalm!” I dunno, maybe it makes more sense in Japanese. The present-day Vedot confesses that he feels responsible for the bombing to this day, especially for the loss of his wife and daughter, who died after being sent to Shinra Manor in Nibelheim.
This time, after the bombing, the past-Verdot becomes the conscious “new-Vedot” from the Sector 8 flashback, and starts speaking to you again, taunting the real Verdot about feeding the survivors to Hojo as a means of covering up the crime. New Verdot transforms into a Lost Number and petrifies present Verdot, which is strange, because Lost Number doesn’t have that power in FFVII (I can’t vouch for BC, since Ririn never takes a hit from the Lost Numbers, but it’s still very odd). Shotgun charges in and fights off three Lost Numbers this time.
You know, in spite of everything – in spite of a not-exactly-believable misunderstanding, a criminally lax pair of bombardiers, and superfluous asset reuse – I still mostly feel this scene. The game eased in the supernatural elements across the chapter until we were suddenly looking at Verdot’s guilty past. The multiple Lost Numbers coming to haunt Verdot probably represent the multiple voices coming from the one amalgam, even if I don’t care for the repeat fights. And “a misunderstanding within an already cruel organization that leads to further tragedy” certainly ranges way closer to believability than some of the things passed off in the original FFVII. And the bit about sending the refugees to Hojo is probably just as presented: a mix of genuine attempt at medical care with the lingering knowledge that Hojo is pure evil and will probably mop up for you, the way an organization like the Turks already operates. If I’m being honest, this is probably one of my favourite Final Fantasy tragedies.
…That was a horrible thing to say.
After the battle, Verdot and Shotgun wake up in the basement lab in the manor, no worse for wear. Verdot muses on how it’s more important for Turks to do their horrible jobs than to live happily with their families, and for a brief moment it almost sounds like he’s lying to himself, like you’d expect from a story like this. Too bad it won’t last through to the end of the game, but I’m getting well ahead of myself. Shotgun claims to understand (impossible), and they return to the surface.
On the surface, Reno and Rude report that the people of Nibelheim have been gathered up to be mutilated, though Reno and Rude don’t seem to realize what Hojo is planning to do, even if Tseng does. They catch on after Shotgun and Verdot shows up and Shotgun shows signs of concern – good intelligence from these two empathy voids. Hojo walks off and the Turks voice their complaints. “I simply can’t do it.” Geeze Reno, what changed between here and dropping the Sector 7 plate? The white-washing of the Turks begins in earnest. Verdot decides to take the weight off their shoulders by leading the people of Nibelheim to the slaughter alone, thinking about how he’s made himself a drone for Shinra to avoid facing his own pain.
On her own, Shotgun muses: “Is this what it means to be a Turk”? But Shotgun! Just a few seconds ago you said you understood how Verdot was feeling! And you were irradiating strangers just a few months before that! Jesus Christ, authors. Shotgun picks at an open wound by reminding herself that she could have easily rescued Zack and Cloud, and ends up concluding the chapter by confirming that Tifa’s cat is safe, and that she’ll bury any evidence that Zangan and Tifa got away so that no one will find them. So it turns out our favourite Monk owes her survival to some interchangable Shinra spy! Her heart would probably stop to hear it.
Sometime later in Shinra HQ, we learn where Verdot went when he was mysteriously absent during the previous chapter when he reports to President Shinra. It seems he’s located AVALANCHE headquarters, and it’s in Wutai, the worst place it could possibly be, considering everyone there still hates Shinra for the war you might remember us having during Crisis Core. Even more than that, Verdot seems to have identified the traitor, although the game cuts to black before the player can learn who it is.
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.