If Ririn’s playthrough can be taken literally, and the clues suggest that it might, Episode 22 part 1 and part 2 are interrupted by an update containing one of the game’s bonus episodes. As Tseng will later make reference to the bonus episode, it’s clear it was released at least before Episode 22-2, though I guess we can’t be positive that it was released after or along with 22-1. Episode Tseng is the earliest playable segment in FFVII’s timeline, occurring in “mu 1997,” the previous era, which the opening narration points out is before Kalm was shelled by Verdot’s incompetent artillery crew. As you can expect, we’ll be exploring that time when Verdot saved Tseng’s life.
We get started in Costa Del Sol, where Tseng, using the sames sprites he’s had this entire game, is investigating the curious kidnapping of an otherwise unremarkable reactor guard. The kidnappers took him onboard one of Shinra’s own cargo ships, and Tseng contacts Verdot to tell him that he’s going to look for the control room. Unlike Tseng, Verdot is not using his current sprite, but the younger one that we accidentally got during the rating sequence of Episode 19 for no adequately explained reason. Along with a few missing wrinkles, young Verdot doesn’t yet have a facial scar.
Speaking of graphics, the dungeon graphics and even some of the enemy sprites for this ep are brand new, much to my surprise, but for some reason the game relies on screen-flipping instead of having genuinely large rooms, implying that they’re re-using some of the generic hallway room to make their maze, as though they didn’t want to draw new assets. And like, even more than usual, because they’ve never had this problem before!
This level’s maze is quite large: Tseng has to find a password-locked door, and then find writing scattered about the ship that gives him the password… which is really strange, as the “writing” isn’t secret hints or anything, but rather labels naming each of the other rooms, like you’d see in ships or public buildings. It’s hard to see why Tseng is leaping on them as “hints” (though the game makes it clear to the player, in any event!). It’s a lot like attaching an electronic lock to your bedroom, and someone breaks in and tries the password “KitchenGarage.” The guards seem to be regular fights, but at one point just after this section, Tseng remarks that he can’t let the guards call for backup, so it’s possible (although unlikely) that they might have tried to escape the battlefield in exchange for giving you some kind of penalty. Like in past bonus Episodes, Tseng’s stats seem to be pre-set. He fights with a pistol, with the mechanics probably borrowed from Emma/Gun (Female).
The locked room proves to be the control room, and Tseng activates the computers, showing the player a tiny, pixel diagram of a robot that Tseng overlooks but will prove relevant later. I’d like to credit this as foreshadowing, but since Tseng later uses the computer to investigate the robot, it’s more likely that the devs only bothered to create one set of active monitor sprites. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially since it made it look like foreshadowing by mistake! After some poking around, Tseng locates the guard and even the controls for the brig’s electronic lock. Tseng rescues the guard, who tells him that the ship is filled with security robots, implying that someone in Shinra is selling them to the black market. The guard says Tseng should find the robots’ schematics most of all, to keep anyone from building their own, but Tseng ignores him and insists on rescuing him instead. This leads a bizarre text overlay that reads: “In the end, I went against common sense and compromised my orders [by rescuing the guard …] I lost sight of what it meant to be a Turk.” Okay, first off: your orders actually were to rescue the guard. Second off, is it seriously impossible for you to do both? Third – actually, hold on a second, why is a reactor guard associated with weapons tech in the first place?
Okay, actual third (and this goes double after Verdot starts railing on Tseng in the next scene): while I acknowledge that from Tseng’s perspective, the black marketeers probably will do more harm over time than they’ll do to this one guard in the next few hours, this is an incredibly contrived trolley problem. “It is the duty of a Turk to leave people to die to prevent vague weapons sales, which could also be prevented via the coast guard that you could call right now, and frankly should have been on hand during this entire mission. Also, it is the duty of a Turk to operate solo so that there is never any way for an operating team to do two things at once.”
But then Tseng gets back to base and Verdot starts to rail on him about feeling too guilty to hypothetically abandon the prisoner to do the company’s every will. How dare you show more human empathy than corporate professionalism. The game will continue to babble about this from basically here to the end credits, repeatedly saying, “Isn’t it great that we behave with professionalism, and save lives from time to time in between our mass murders, tortures and assassinations?” For what it’s worth, in this chapter it’s not clear the game actually has Verdot’s back on this, like… it could still be Tseng heading down a dark path? But as the game carries on into later chapters, it’s ugly and obvious. Remember that we were in charge of an actual terrorist organization fighting this stuff in the main FFVII and the whiplash becomes palpable. They certainly can’t argue that there’s nothing else they can do, since we literally played something else they could do!
I’d really like to understand what’s up with the writers of this game, and also the writers of Crisis Core, and their obsession with taking pride in your job (as a horrible person). Tseng is taking it as “common sense” that he should be a horrible person, and he is portrayed as being right about it. Like, pride in your job doesn’t make up for the inexcusable tasks of that job, for fuck’s sake. And let’s be clear, this is as close as the game gets to answering the question of, “Why don’t the Turks, who are now being portrayed as people with consciences, not leave or betray Shinra and stay that way during the events of FFVII.” The answer is: “Because they’re professionals, which is something you should applaud.” Stop defending these cartoon secret police in a desperate attempt to fellate blind loyalty and abusive corporate culture.
It’s now the next day, and apparently Tseng rescued the guard, and nobody went back to the ship. God they strained this narrative, what a fucking mess. After needlessly recapping the events of a few seconds ago (I have a theory as to why, which I’ll explain below), we cut to President Shinra, who orders this leak shut, and now. He acts like this is the first such breach in company history, which is pretty silly, since this sort of thing is almost impossible to stop in the real world.
Tseng and Verdot go to have a long chat in front of the terrorist boat, which was raided just yesterday and must now have doubled guard. Oh my god, this mission, stop making me use italics! They start this half of the mission teamed up. Verdot uses a gun in this flashback, rather than his magitek arm. After a while, they split up: Verdot will destroy the robots, and Tseng the schematics. The player actually gets to decide who to follow, and will stick with them for the rest of the mission! If you want to see the other side of the story, you have to start the entire mission over again! That’s why I figure there was a recap of “just a few seconds ago” in the middle of the chapter: perhaps it was possible to start the mission at the mid-point, for easier access to this branching path? Ririn recorded both versions, thankfully. We follow Tseng first.
Tseng goes back to the control room. He sets to work deleting the files, which by all signs takes a matter of seconds, but then discovers the bad guys made a backup that he overlooked. Three bad guys come in behind him at this point and somehow steal the backup from him (I guess it’s on a disk or flash drive). After a delay, Tseng is forced to track them down using the security cameras. Wow, I dunno Scoob, maybe they ran off the ship and away from you?
In checking the cameras, Tseng discovers that Verdot has found the robots, but that they’ve been activated and are now surrounding him. Tseng tries to tell Verdot that he’s coming to help him, but Verdot insists he finish his side of the job, first. Pride in your job as a Turk, etc etc. This time, I do happen to agree with him, but it’s partially because of the X-Men problem that Verdot is basically superhuman and is extremely unlikely to die here. Hell, in Chapter 21, we saw take a cannon and not one but two separate rounds of machine gun spray within five minutes of each other, and all that in his declining years?
Tseng does as he’s told and spots the men who took the backup, somehow catching up to them in time despite their considerable lead. Tseng then claims his mission is complete, even though he can’t have deleted the data in the middle of a hallway and doesn’t even seem to destroy it in any fashion? Whatever, I suppose that is the least important detail in the story right now.
At this point, Tseng goes to help Verdot and you fight a series of robots. You both, uh, know that putting holes in robots doesn’t destroy them entirely, right? Your mission was to destroy them so that they couldn’t be reverse-engineered. Putting a few holes in them just… ugh, whatever. At this point, all they have to do is find the traitor, which leads to a weird line where the two of them act like they have info on the traitor already. This is actually true if you play as Verdot, but the game forgets to convey it to Tseng players! Unfortunately, a surviving terrorist activates the self-destruct mechanism on the ship (planting a bomb to destroy the robots would have worked well here!). You have 30 seconds to get out, and a series of rubble sprites fall down the screen as you go. These don’t seem to cause you any damage, but do foreshadow Tseng getting caught by one as part of a scripted sequence towards the end of the chase. Tseng urges Verdot to take the information about the traitor off the ship in line with the mission objectives, but Verdot insists the true meaning of Turkmas is complicated, you know? Yes, being proud of being evil can involve a lot of ass-pulls Verdot, funny you should say that!
Long story short, Verdot rescues Tseng off-screen, but is injured in the process, leading to his present-day, scarred face. Verdot claims it was a-okay to rescue Tseng because the mission was already complete, but this is bullshit, because the mission shouldn’t rightly have been complete until the information on the traitor reached company hands! But whatever, I already talked about hypocritical ass-pulls. Verdot then reveals that the traitor is hiding out near Kalm, implying that this led to the shelling that would eventually hit the town (I guess whoever it is has a base or something). BC is a “tentacles in everything” prologue, and apparently that guideline applies to events within the game itself, too!
At this point, you get your prize for completing the episode, a Full-Cure materia. I doubt you get a copy if you replay as the other character, but this scene exists on every replay no matter what.
Oh, speaking of Verdot’s scenario, you can probably guess how it goes: Verdot fights some guys, he finds information on the traitor literally lying on the floor after murdering some randos, and then the robots attack him. I’m afraid to say that it doesn’t get any more exciting than that outline, it truly is the less engaging of the two scenarios. During this sequence, you can see Ririn using a Thunder spell on some robots, which causes them to flash yellow – presumably a status effect like Kingdom Hearts’ Jolt. The robots don’t seem to attack while Jolted, but the effect is so short that I can’t be certain what’s going on. Tseng then rescues Verdot way too fast (geeze, no wonder Verdot thought Tseng ignored his orders when he shows up in the robot room, considering Tseng shows up seconds later instead of minutes like in his version of events), and then you do the 30 second escape sequence. At least playing as him sounds a little interesting, but this largely seems like a waste of time in comparison to Tseng’s more mechanically interesting version.
Probably an okay chapter to play, but the narrative is almost the bare heart of the game’s moral problems.
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.