Retro recollections: Final Fantasy VII challenge hour five: The ups and the downs

In which the tedium of the train lines is left far behind, with significant upticks in both gameplay and narrative.

My journey continues through Squaresoft’s classic Final Fantasy VII. I’ve challenged myself to make my way through the game, writing it up weekly in one hour chunks. You should start the journey here for the full explanation.

When I last played, it was tough. Not in terms of being hard, but being very grind-centric, with a lot of random battles that I could have avoided if the game had slightly better signposting. Or maybe I’m just old and cranky.

Still, that’s behind us, right? Cloud and friends are at the base of the Plate that Shinra is threatening to drop on Sector 7. My friends have rushed ahead, but all will be fine now that the gang’s all here, right?

Well, nearly all the gang. Aeris is left behind because Cloud is an idiot. Never leave the healer behind when going into battle, fool! Why would you even do that?

Oh yeah, because Cloud is an idiot.

Along the way, the stakes are very much set high, as inbetween tough random battles we find our compatriots already being beaten back with ease.

“I’m fine, but don’t ask about Porkins.”
“I’m fine, but don’t ask about Porkins.”

Time to ascend the tower of terror. I’m definitely getting used to the clash between the polygon graphics (high res, for their time) and the pre-rendered backgrounds.

I don’t particularly like heights to begin with.

I’m also left wondering if M.C Escher was employed as a tower designer by Shinra at any time.

I never even knew William Shatner was part of our crew. Why did nobody tell me? I would have at least asked for an autograph before he died!
I never even knew William Shatner was part of our crew. Why did nobody tell me? I would have at least asked for an autograph before he died!

 

Some jokes are too obvious, even for me.
Some jokes are too obvious, even for me.

Just when it seems as though victory is in our grasp, Reno shows up to set off a bomb. Naturally, we stand by and let him… no, wait… TO BATTLE!

Reno would later go on to success under his real name, George W Bush.
Reno would later go on to success under his real name, George W Bush.

For the first time in this entire play session, I’m faced with a tough battle where I really do have to manage my resources, limit breaks and especially healing. Again, Cloud, WHY DID YOU LEAVE AERIS BEHIND WHEN WE REALLY COULD HAVE USED HER?

Why would we need the team healer? It’s not like there’s any time for battles, what with all the… battles.

Ahem. Maybe I should have just ground out a few more levels back in the train yards.

Eventually, Reno grows weary of toying with us… and runs away. But we still can’t stop that bomb.

And hey, let’s make things worse. Cloud, you know how you decided that Aeris could stay behind?

Bad move. Now she’s the damsel in distress. This is why Tifa should be in charge.
Bad move. Now she’s the damsel in distress. This is why Tifa should be in charge.

And we can’t stop the bomb at all anyway. It was all for naught.

And so, the bomb goes off, and the plate drops, as do our heroes.

YAAAARGH!
YAAAARGH!

We must be tough, because we survived that fall, which isn’t all that shocking unless FF7 was meant to be markedly shorter than I recall.

Tifa has, and I CANNOT stress this enough, FACEPLANTED RIGHT ONTO SOLID METAL. And somehow, she lives.
Tifa has, and I CANNOT stress this enough, FACEPLANTED RIGHT ONTO SOLID METAL. And somehow, she lives.

So what do you actually do after an apocalyptic battle? If you’re our heroes, you bicker about who’s dead, that’s what. Barrett is upset about his daughter, and once again I’m rather struck by how my perspective now, as a parent, differs from how I read this scene when I originally played it.

OK, how about we think of them as people who now resemble flat, red pancakes that don't manage much conversation instead?
OK, how about we think of them as people who now resemble flat, red pancakes with poor conversation skills instead?

But the real gut punch is about to come. Aeris has been kidnapped, and that means we’ve got to go see her mum.

"Yes, well, you see, Cloud here is an idiot, and..." "'Nuff said, dear."
“Yes, well, you see, Cloud here is an idiot, and…”
“‘Nuff said, dear.”

I’ll admit I had a lump in my throat before going into that conversation. That means that FF7 is still having an effect on me, despite the by-modern-standards primitive visuals. That’s a good thing, if that’s not clear.

Elmyra wastes no time, because she’s also smart. Or at least smarter than Cloud, and that’s not a high bar to leap over. But what follows is a great piece of exposition that uses the house backdrop to explain how Elmyra’s not actually Aeris’ mother, but effectively just her guardian.

It’s emotional, gripping and beautifully paced. Naturally, the music helps too. However, it’s so gripping that I play through it without ever once picking up the camera to take my wobbly FF7 stills, so you’re just going to have to imagine it. Sorry about that.

Having resolved that plot issue, the only thing to do is to get after her, and that means ascending out of the slums.

This looks perfectly safe.
This looks perfectly safe.

And it’s here that my hour expires, and with it this week’s entry. I was genuinely concerned that the grind of hour four would pass over into hour five, simply because it was tough and not particularly fun going.

Thankfully the balance in this hour was superb, with a great and challenging boss battle and some excellent story telling to go with it. I feel like I’m back into getting to grips with Final Fantasy VII. Which naturally means that something terrible is going to happen (again), right?

Next time Batteries not included.

Retro recollections are just random musings on retro subjects, usually whatever I’m playing at the moment.

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