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 lard pirates dawt cawm  §  Final Fantasy VII in a Nutshell / by Spoony Spoonicus
 
 
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 Bustin' down plots like the T pities fools.
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I don't think that even the people who played this as their first video game in 1997 and still swear 14 years later that it's the BEST GAME EVAR*(@%@!%&*%@(#&%#()&#@! can deny that there is much to be made fun of in it. So away we go!

Final Fantasy VII. What can you say? It was a groundbreaking game for its time, proving that the CD format could do things for graphical effects and cinematic style that simply couldn't be reproduced on the limited storage capacity of a cartridge. However, it also kicked off the drastic change of every single aspect of the franchise - visual style, setting, music, characterizations, gameplay - and almost all of it changed for the worse. So yeah, kind of a mixed bag.

But you're not here to read this tired rant yet again. Nor are you here to listen to me argue that Final Fantasy VI was actually where the franchise's writing and gameplay began to take a dive and that VII was actually a step back up in quality before the downward spiral began in earnest. No, you're here to watch me poke fun at the plot and various dumb nuances of the game design. So let's get into it - this is Final Fantasy VII.

---

Our game opens with an FMV of a starfield that fades to green sparks that fades to some girl (Aeris) that fades to the decaying slums of Midgar that pans out to show a gigantic city with a tower in the center. It's a decent enough establishing shot, I suppose, giving us a view of a few of the game's running themes and giving us a sense of the graphical technology the platform is capable of. Then we abruptly cut to a train pulling into a station and stopping as a scuffle occurs between a few of its riders and soldiers posted at the station. It's here we encounter our first mild letdown, in that the character models appear to be comprised of about eight polygons apiece, and they're all in a super-deformed style.

Spoony: I guess they weren't ready to let those 16-bit sprites go just yet. But really, I never saw the point of having them be relatively undetailed outside of battle, then in-battle switching to much more realistic and detailed models. Pick one style or the other, not both! Then again, I guess I shouldn't fault this game's attempt to break consistency in some fashion when this is a franchise that apparently prides itself on never, ever changing its formulaic storylines and character archetypes, no matter how flat and dated they may be.

At any rate, we establish a few characters - Cloud, the spiky-haired guy with a sword bigger than he is. Barrett, the first (and until XIII, the only) black guy in a Final Fantasy game, Jessie, and the eponymous Vicks Biggs and Wedge. We learn that they're carrying out an attack on an energy reactor, having to fight their way through countless security forces to get there.

Which leads to our second mild disappointment - an absence of challenge. Every enemy you encounter falls in a single hit and fails to ever do more than single-digit damage to you. Sadly, it never really gets much tougher than this for the rest of the game aside from a decently challenging boss here and there. Come on guys, give us some challenge!

At any rate, after a boss battle against a scorpion robot in which Barrett gives some rather shoddily translated advice (Mild Disappointment #3), Cloud sets a bomb for twenty minutes and the group is forced to flee. They escape just in the nick of time as the reactor blows, causing countless civilian casualties, leaving dozens of soldiers' families widowed or orphaned, and depriving hundreds (possibly thousands) more innocent people of electricity and other basic amenities. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen!

They evade the authorities with surprising ease and return to Seventh Heaven, a bar in the slums run by Tifa, Cloud's childhood friend. We also get some exposition about how Cloud became a first class SOLDIER working for Shinra before defecting to join Barret's terrorist group AVALANCHE.

We're also introduced to the new Materia system. Instead of each character having their own distinct jobs or ability sets, now all abilities stem from items you equip on your weapons and armor. This started off another trend I disliked about the later Final Fantasy games, that being that the characters no longer have any distinguishing abilities in combat outside of their limit breaks - their skills and stats are all completely interchangeable. You may as well just pick the team with the best limits (Hint: Cloud, Barret and Cid) and ignore the rest.

The game attempts to balance out Materia by having certain stats decrease when they're equipped - generally lowering the character's maximum HP - but these differences are so minimal that it never affects gameplay in any significant way. Even less so considering that later on you can simply buy HP Plus Materia, which more than makes up for any penalties you incur from equipping a ton of magic Materia.

Spoony: Incidentally, beginning the trend of nullifying strategy by abolishing classes and giving characters no real advantages or setbacks outside of their Limit Breaks is our (Mild Disappointment #4). Though like I hinted at earlier, I'd actually argue that that sort of thing began with VI rather than VII, where the characters' only defining characteristics were their skillsets (most of which were rendered useless by the mid-point of the game anyway). But I digress.

After a night's rest in the bar's hidden cellar, the group sets off for another mission.

However, Shinra is much better prepared this time and lays an ambush, resulting in a battle with a giant robot that explodes when defeated, destroying a large chunk of the walkway and sending Cloud plummeting to his doom.

Nope, just kidding. He fell half a mile completely unaided and crashed through someone's rooftop, but he's perfectly okay. He's found by Aeris, a a girl who tends to a church full of flowers that mysteriously grow in the barren landscape of Midgar. But because Final Fantasy games can't sit still for more than 30 seconds, some Shinra soldiers burst in and attack!

Spoony: Why did they send armed soldiers after a guy that fell half a mile off a destroyed bridge? Were they expecting him to not only survive, but be no worse off for any of it? Well, he is a genetically engineered super-soldier, I suppose...

At any rate, they escape the guards and proceed into the Sector 7 slums, where we learn that Tifa is forcibly recruited into the harem of the local kingpin named Don Corneo (how long was Cloud out, anyway? Hours? Days? Weeks?). This results in an extremely silly event where Cloud has to cross-dress in order to infiltrate the mansion.

After that bit of padding, we learn that Shinra is apparently so desperate to crush AVALANCHE - a group comprised of seven or eight people - that they're apparently planning to collapse an entire section of the slums and kill thousands of innocent people just to get rid of them.

Spoony: That's another thing that really bothers me about this series - there's absolutely no moral ambiguity. The heroes may occasionally do dumb things that get people hurt or killed, but the villains always up the ante by being fifty times worse in the next scene. It's a damned lazy way to justify your protagonists' actions, no matter how idiotic and destructive they may be. Compare that to say, Myria from the Breath of Fire series - sure, she was vengeful, manipulative and instigated genocide on several occasions, but she ultimately felt she was doing the right thing, protecting humanity and serving as its shepherd by destroying the "evils" of technology and the Dragon clans. The Shinra company, on the other hand, has all the subtlety and motive of your average James Bond villain, but with none of the charisma or lovable zaniness.

Well, despite our heroes' efforts, they succeed, bringing down the plate and killing off Biggs, Wedge and Jessie. Luckily, our heroes manage to escape by grabbing a cable and swinging hundreds of yards on it through the front door moments before the whole thing comes down on their heads. Plot convenience be thy name!

Well, this bit of foolishness proves to be just the break our heroes need, as they can now climb up a tangled mess of metal, cables and debris to reach the top of the plate and infiltrate the central Shinra building. You're given a choice of two paths - either go in the back way and climb up a sixty floor stairwell floor by floor, or just take the cowboy approach and barge in through the front door, killing everything in your path.

Either way, you reach the 61st floor, where you'd think security would be at its tightest, as we're now getting into the place where the company's top executives reside and they're running their horrible gene-splicing experiments, but nope - it's clear sailing from here on out. Well, we get to solve a few puzzles, but that doesn't really count as "resistance" on their part.

At the top, we encounter the headless body of "Jenova" as well as Professor Hojo, the company's requisite mad scientist type. We also meet the subject of one of his experiments, Red XIII, who is also our next party member. Despite looking quite cool, he doesn't contribute a lot to the overall story. Oh well.

Spoony: This is jumping ahead a bit, but it's another detail that always bothered me. If the "numbers" are meant to be attempts at recreating the "ultimate soldier" Sephiroth, then why the hell is he conducting these experiments on a WOLF?! He's not even the same species as Sephiroth!

Also: WHY THE FUCK IS HE TRYING TO MATE RED XIII AND AERIS JESUS CHRIST FUCK(*&####$FFDSDDFSFV

Anyhow, we somehow get captured despite the fact that all of their best war machines and soldiers couldn't even make a scratch on us moments earlier. But luckily for us, some maniac with a big sword infiltrates the building, messily slaughtering every single guard in his path. Not only that, he opened our cell doors for us and didn't bother to try to kill us while he was at it. Um... thanks?

We make our way to the top floor unimpeded, where we find the president dead with a sword in his back, but his killer is nowhere to be seen. But by the power of plot convenience, his son appears via helicopter at just that moment to carry on in his stead, unloading such comedic lines as "It's time for a new reign - of fear!"

Spoony: I haven't seen a villain this richly nuanced since I watched "Highlander II: The Quickening". Hell, he's even disquietingly similar to that film's villain - an overacting, cartoonish stereotype who keeps the world under militaristic oppression for his own personal gain. Plus, holy fuck, his name is RUFUS SHINRA. Am I really supposed to take this guy seriously? Because I don't even know who Faceless Swordkilling Psychopath is yet, but he's already proven himself to be a far more threatening villain!

At any rate, the heat begins to close in, so Cloud stays behind to confront Rufus while the rest of the party flees down the tower, another giant war machine in pursuit. Amazingly, Rufus is able to hold his own where several hundred of his elite soldiers failed, fighting Cloud to a standstill. (And no, they never really explain how he can do this.) The party then piles into a truck to escape, with Cloud pursuing on a motorcycle and fending off attacking Shinra soldiers, dovetailing into our first mini-game.

Spoony: Actually, this is a very cool sequence, and probably exemplifies better than any other the "action movie" motif they were attempting with this game. If only they could have shown more restraint with the over-the-top action and visual effects in later games, this may have actually made for a pretty good trend! As is, they're mostly just overdone and glittery to the point of absurdity, like they're trying to distract you from the dumb stories rather than immerse you in the world they're creating.

After yet another battle sequence with a gigantic robot guard, we finally manage to break out of the dreary slums of Shinra and can explore the countryside a bit. We make our way to the town of Kalm, where we engage in a lengthy expositional flashback to Cloud's days in SOLDIER. And before you ask, yes, this is easily the best sequence in the game, exemplifying better than any other what a writing talent they had in Masato Kato. The same writer who also worked on Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, the NInja Gaiden trilogy for NES, and... Chrono Cross. Well, nobody's perfect, I guess.

Anyhow, this scene shows Cloud and his SOLDIER unit going to Nibelheim to check on the Mako reactor there, and they were accompanied by Sephiroth, Shinra's most powerful SOLDIER with near-godlike abilities, which are demonstrated when he wipes out all resistance in only one or two hits. We also recruit Tifa (we had to shoehorn her in somehow, I guess), get a brief lesson on the origins of Materia and Mako energy, and finally make our way to the reactor, where we learn of Shinra's monster-creating experiments via the extracted Mako energy and Jenova's cells.

Seph goes apeshit over this, being told all his life that he was the son of Jenova, and shuts himself in the Shinra mansion for days reading about their illicit experiments. Eventually he comes to the conclusion that Jenova is the rightful heir to the planet, that Shinra (and by extension, all humans) are evildoers who enslaved her for sinister means, and sets out to recover her body, torching Nibelheim in the process.

Spoony: Sephiroth is my favorite villain in the entire franchise, bar none. He had an actual back story, a motive, some actual history with the main characters of the game, and was genuinely a well defined and interesting character who you sympathized with as he took his plummet into genocidal madness (because, as has been said many times, good villains do not think of themselves as villains!). He also felt genuinely threatening - you witnessed his almost god-like powers in the flashback scene, and had the horror of seeing them turned on your home village with that awesomely chilling theme song. It was also nice to see that they didn't turn him into the typical "get beaten, run away to power up a bit, then come back 4 hours later" boss that removes any feeling of him being a legitimate threat - they showed some tact and left the climactic battle for the end, where both of you fought at your full strength. I may have a lot of complaints about the game's design and writing, but to me, the dynamic between Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth was what held it all together and made it into something truly memorable. Which is more than I can say for most of the games in the franchise and their stories in particular. Too bad they had to ruin it all with that stupid movie...

But I digress.

Sephiroth continues his rampage, cutting through everyone in his path (including Tifa) as he makes his way back to the reactor and liberates Jenova's body. Cloud charges in to confront him and the flashback abruptly ends before we see the results of the showdown.

Back in the present, we move across a swamp occupied by the Midgar Zolom and encounter the Turks, who all but admit seconds into their first appearance that they're the game's requisite recurring bosses who are there just to get on your nerves and pad the game out with more fights. Wow, I've only known them for a few seconds and I hate them already.

We make our way through the cave and find ourselves on a long path to Junon, another occupied Shinra territory. If you're lucky enough on the way there, you might just encounter the inexplicably popular Yuffie, who fights you and steals money from you if you don't give the right answers in the following cutscene. Actually, just feel free to skip her - she contributes pretty much nothing to the overall plotline and her limit breaks are garbage.

Spoony: Why do they even allow Yuffie to come along, anyway? She has no real reason to do so, and in fact she attacks you alongside monsters and steals money from you even after you defeat her. Sounds like a trustworthy character to me!

At any rate, we infiltrate Junon through a series of increasingly silly minigames and make our way aboard a ship. Sephiroth appears once again, laying waste to everyone aboard (with the conspicuous exception of our party, Rufus and his right-hand man, all people who pose the biggest threat to his plans) and we're forced to fight a spawn of Jenova. It's a laughably easy fight for a spawn of an alien monster that once threatened the entire planet, but at least it has some catchy music.

After that, we move on to Costa del Sol, where we encounter Hojo on the beach. But nothing much really comes of it, so I have to question why they even wrote it in.

After that pointless scene, we depart town and come to the mountains of Nibelheim, fight our way through, and end up in the town of Nibelheim, which is mysteriously not destroyed (but is inhabited by creepy, lethargic dudes with numbered tattoos and black robes). In the basement of Shinra Mansion we encounter Sephiroth, who has a few cryptic words to say about some manner of "Gathering" and tosses a pretty powerful Materia at you as he flies out the door like Superman. Okay...

If you follow a short sidequest in this area, you can also find another party member in Vincent, a character garbed out in a red trenchcoat who carries a rifle. He's another pretty boring character with little relevance to the overall story, but he's worth using just because his limit breaks are so ridiculous. Hell, one has him turn into a slam-dunking Frankenstein monster!

Next up is the Gold Saucer, where we meet a robotic cat-moogle thing named Cait Sith. Shortly thereafter, we're told that a guy with a gun-arm went rampaging through the park shooting everyone he met, and we're left to assume it's Barret - however, before we can find out for sure, we're apprehended and tossed into the prison below the park. Yeah, there's a prison below the world's premier amusement park. That's also silly; imagine if they built Alcatraz below Disneyworld Florida...

Here we discover that this was not the work of Barret, but it was in fact his friend Dyne, who had a similar operation where hereplaced his shot-off arm with a rifle. He's also gone quite batshit insane, as we've already seen. Cue fight scene, followed by a convenient way to earn a full pardon for the crimes we were accused of by winning the Chocobo Races.

Spoony: I would have expected something more along the lines of "the Running Man" with the monolithic evil megacorporation Shinra running the show, but hey, this works too.

We then move on once more to Rocket Town, where we meet the eponymous Cid, who is being menaced by Rufus and his goons into giving up his airplane. However, because he's an awesome, trash-talking, cigarette-chomping air pirate, he tells them to fuck right off, in almost those words.

Spoony: I don't care what anyone says, Cid is always the best character in Final Fantasy games. ...Well, except for 8.

One of Rufus' goons is a fat doofus called "Palmer" who continuously demands lard in his tea, fights the party with an ice-shooting gun, and then promptly gets run over by a truck. Yeah. Square villains are almost always too goofy to take seriously, but this guy goes above and beyond and becomes sillier than most 60's batman villains.

Spoony: So Square fanboys - who allegedly identify themselves as such for the company's "dark and mature" storytelling - bash on me for enjoying Disgaea, a series that openly flaunts its silliness. Yet every time Square shoehorns in hammy characters like this guy, homicidal Cindy Brady with a killer yarn ball, and Jar Jar Binks the bartender (all to the detriment of the overall game), they just look the other way. Ah, hypocrisy...

The party attempts to escape on Cid's plane, but it takes a hit and crash lands into the ocean, forcing them to convert it into an ad-hoc boat to get around. Our next plane of attack is to make our way south to the temple of the Ancients, wherein we try to acquire the Black Materia so that Sephiroth can't use it for his mad scheme, which is apparently to blow a big hole in the planet with Meteor and then absorb the Mako energy that gathers to repair the damage, making himself into a god. Yeah, it's silly as hell, but at least it makes more sense than Kefka solving a Resident Evil statue-shoving puzzle and becoming the devil incarnate.

The Temple of the Ancients is, as you might expect, a large series of puzzles and confusing pathways, mostly because it's built to resemble an MC Escher painting and pulls a lot of annoying tricks with perspective to make it look like you can go down certain paths (but you can't) and that one obscured by a foreground object is the way you actually need to go.

After finally reaching the central chamber, we figure out that the Black Materia is booby trapped - solving the final safeguard and removing the Materia causes the whole temple to collapse inward, crushing anyone who happens to be inside it. Cait Sith, being robotic, volunteers to stay behind and solve the puzzle so that nobody has to die. Sure enough, the temple collapses and the party collects the Black Materia, with his replacement appearing in a matter of seconds. Convenient!

But our victory is short-lived, as Sephiroth pops up moments later, using his influence over Cloud's Jenova cells (I guess?) to wrest the Black Materia from his grasp. Wonderful!

Spoony: There's another thing I never really liked about JRPGs - you always, ALWAYS end up playing right into the villain's hands and allowing him to accomplish his grand scheme, no matter how hard you try not to. It always seems like if you just left the big Macguffin where it was instead of trying to take it away to "prevent the bad guy from getting it", he'd be up shit creek! Like a handful of teenagers with no money and resources are really a better safeguard than an magical temple designed to kill anyone who enters it in search of the forbidden treasure. Besides, who was he going to send in there to fight off all of the monsters and retrieve the materia? His shaky, useless tattooed clones? I don't think so.

Anyway, we now learn that Sephiroth has gone north, with Aeris in pursuit. So we follow them up there to an abandoned city of the Ancients (after another bout of padding mini-gaming, of course), and find Aeris attempting to summon Holy to wipe out Meteor. But it's not to be, as Sephiroth swoops down from the ceiling and kills her with a sword through the belly as our party fights another fragment of Jenova. Cue the tragic music and funeral scene that pulled so many heartstrings despite Aeris having almost no character depth or emotional attachment from anyone in the game!

Spoony: I never really got the attachment people felt for Aeris, to be perfectly honest - all in all, she's pretty forgettable as a character. Hell, Even Cloud doesn't seem to care all that much despite much of the first disc implying that they were to be an item. She's barely even mentioned throughout the entire rest of the game, and what little mention there is is never initiated by either Cloud OR Tifa. The game's manual alleged that Final Fantasy VII contains a "love triangle" between Cloud, Tifa and Aeris, but there really isn't much evidence to support that in the actual game. Hell, Cloud has more of a character connection with Yuffie, since in one side-quest you go out of your way to save her even though she consistently betrays and steals from you!

Disc 2 opens with us continuing the pursuit to the Northern Crater, where Sephiroth currently awaits. Through the magic of several filler quests and a snowboarding mini-game, we make our way there in record time, confronting another Jenova spawn which happens to be carrying the Black Materia. Why Sephiroth would entrust the pivotal object in his plans to some shitty monster that Cloud and his friends have already felled several of is a mystery that will forever battle me, but hey, at least we got it back.

Cloud (quite wisely) thinks that Sephiroth may pull the same stunt again and entrusts the Materia to one of his party members before moving on to the center of the Crater. But it proves to be all for naught, as Sephiroth appears in the guise of Tifa and tricks your appointed guardian into handing it over anyway. Which is silly, but again, it's another facet of the character I actually kind of like - he's truly devious, deceptive and underhanded instead of just some cackling buffoon with superpowers.

He and Hojo also take the opportunity to torment Cloud, stating that his memories are false, that he was not present at the events we saw in a flashback earlier (proven with a photograph showing someone we don't recognize in his place) and that he was a failed clone of Sephiroth, not even given a number (implying that his memories of Nibelheim are fake).

Now that Sephiroth has the Materia again, this also causes all hell to break loose, unleashing the five Weapons (the "guardians" who defend the planet in its hour of utmost danger) and forcing the party to flee.

We then cut to Junon, where we've been captured by the Shinra, are convicted of unleashing the catastrophe in a mock trial, and sentenced to death to appease the masses. But luckily for us, one of the Weapons attacks, giving the party time to escape in the confusion while Shinra mounts their counteroffensive. We make our way to the Highwind - that big airship we saw on our first journey here - and escape.

We also find out rather abruptly that Cloud is still alive, albeit left catatonic from exposure to undiluted Mako, and that he somehow made his way from the north pole of the planet all the way to an island near the south pole. Which is, like many things in this game, quite silly and doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

But there's no time to ponder that mystery, as we now learn that Shinra is attempting to destroy the Meteor by using the four Huge Materias they've created. But I guess we simply can't let them have their way, even if their goal is to try and save the planet, as our next objective is to recover the four Huge Materias via a series of minigames and events. And yes, it does smell suspiciously like padding!

Spoony: Final Fantasy games are a lot like Steven Seagal movies - nobody is allowed to upstage the hero for any reason, not ever!

After recovering two of them, we return to Mideel to check up on Cloud, only to find that Ultima Weapon has arrived to cause some havoc. They fight him off, but not before he causes an earthquake that causes the whole village to crumble apart, sending Tifa and Cloud plummeting into the Mako stream once again.

This proves to be a rather metaphysical experience for both of them, as they end up within Cloud's mind, attempting to patch up the holes in his memories. It turns out Cloud was not actually a First-class SOLDIER - merely a recruit - that the spiky-haired swordsman from the flashback was really Zack (who you probably don't remember since the only sign of him before this was an EXTREMELY brief mention in one of the earlier towns of Disc 1), that Cloud WAS in fact present at the events of the past (he was the masked soldier who tried to prevent Tifa from entering the reactor), and finally, that his confrontation with Sephiroth ended with him and Sephiroth stabbing one another, with the latter being tossed into the Mako stream. He's also not a "clone" in the literal sense - he was injected with Mako and Jenova cells in a failed experiment to recreate Sephiroth like all of the other "Numbers" that had gathered in Nibelheim; he was just never actually given a number himself.

Spoony: So he invented this false persona and lied to himself and others - to the point where even HE couldn't distinguish fantasy from reality anymore - just so he wouldn't have to face his childhood friend. That's... kind of touching, in a really pitiful sort of way. It also makes his entire dynamic with Aeris mostly pointless, since we now know that his character is defined entirely around Tifa.

Also, quick question: Cloud seems to be the only member of this experiment who came out relatively okay (aside from Red XIII, maybe - it's never really stated how far into the process he was), so why was CLOUD rejected as a failure while all the ones who were given numbers were lethargic and useless?

Plot hole aside, it's another pretty interesting scene and serves to set this game apart from its predecessors and successors by giving a legitimate and interesting arc for the main character. But now that we have Cloud back, so it's time to continue our mission of collecting the two remaining Huge Materia - one from a submarine base in Junon, and the other loaded aboard Cid's rocket in Rocket Town, which is set on a collision course with the Meteor. Both result in some pretty cool scenes (including a bit of character building for Cid) and a mini-game or two.

But now that we've recovered the last two Huge Materia, we find that Shinra is mounting an attack against the North Crater using Junon's massive laser cannon. However, Diamond Weapon emerges from the sea and attacks, firing a beam that engulfs Rufus' office in flame and kills everyone within. Or at least it did, until that stupid movie came in and retconned it to Rufus getting away with only a broken arm. Did I mention Advent Children sucks?

Anyhow, we confront Diamond Weapon and actually do quite well against him, until the ray gun fires and completely decimates the beast. Apparently someone's still around operating it, so we make a daring parachute insertion into Midgar to go and take them out.

We encounter the Turks for one last time (though you're thankfully given the option of just telling them to fuck off so you can skip a pointless battle), Shinra unleashes their new giant robot toy Proud Clod, which takes a lot of damage to bring down but isn't particularly hard, and we climb up a long series of stairs to confront Hojo. But first, more exposition!

It turns out that HE is Sephiroth's real father, and that Seph's real mother was Lucretia, a woman on the Jenova project who I think goes unmentioned until this point. And because he's a total nutjob, he wants Sephiroth to usher in a new world and therefore fights you himself! He actually puts up a pretty good fight, mutating into several monstrous forms due to being given an overdose of Mako and Jenova cells (one of which is more than a little reminiscent of John Carpenter's "The Thing"), but with a little creative use of Materia he can be beaten without too much trouble.

Now that Shinra's been eliminated and the path to Sephiroth is clear, it's finally time to move on to Disc 3. There's really not any plot left at this point outside of the final dungeon, so this is just your chance to backtrack and clear up any sidequests you hadn't already finished - collecting Materia and weapons, finishing minigames, fighting Ruby and Emerald weapons for some fun prizes, and so on.

Once prepared, we head down into North Crater, where we confront Sephiroth, who as, as with all other things Jenova-infused, turned himself into a gigantic monstrosity that you have to split into multiple parties to fight. Actually, you don't, really - allegedly there's a mechanic at work here where you'd need to swap between both parties to disable his defenses or something, but I found this never comes into play - I just attacked him with one party and took him out without much trouble.

Cue the awesome orchestral score as we move on to his second form, Safer Sephiroth (what?). Here, Sephiroth casts the most comically over-the-top spell in the game, and arguably even the whole franchise, Supernova. It causes an asteroid to crash through and destroy several planets before colliding with the sun, causing it to erupt into a supernova that engulfs Mercury, Venus, and even within a hair's breadth of the Earth, causing colossal damage to everyone in the party. The whole animation takes well over a minute to play out, and it's all so wonderfully absurd that it's worth drawing out the battle just to see it happen at least once.

Spoony: Jeez-us. Forget Meteor coming down and wiping out all life on the planet - I'm amazed the Earth is still around at all after that fucking catastrophe!

Unfortunately for him, it also deals enough damage to fill up everyone's Limit gauge pretty much instantly, allowing you to unload on him with Omnislash, Highwind and Catastrophe for absurd amounts of damage and bring the battle to a quick end.

But the fight's not over just yet - now we have Cloud confront him one-on-one in some sort of metaphysical plane. This is sure to be an epic final showdown, right? Well... no. You just hit him with one Omnislash and he dies. So much for that.

Spoony: I kid, but I actually like this idea. It gives Cloud some closure to his long-standing hatred of Sephiroth, doing so without even one single line of dialog. The music and tone of the scene in itself is enough to make it a pretty poignant image when Cloud strikes him down in a flurry of violent slashes and puts an end to him once and for all. Shame then, that the movie... okay, enough about the movie.

But wait, the story's not done just yet. Even though we've stopped Sephiroth, Meteor still comes down and unleashes chaos and destruction upon the earth. Oh wait, it's fine - defeating Sephiroth has apparently allowed the spirits of the Ancients within the Mako stream (Aeris included) to be freed from his control, allowing them to cast Holy and repel it. Hooray!

Cut ahead to five hundred years in the future, where we see Red XIII and two wolf cubs (huh? I thought he was the last of his race!) at the foot of a cliff overlooking the destroyed Midgar, now overgrown with plants. Um... deep?

---

Spoony: So that's Final Fantasy VII, the game that made Square a runaway success overnight and put the Sony Playstation on the forefront of the gaming consciousness. However, while there are elements of it I do genuinely like, they're kind of few and far between. The whole dynamic between Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth was really interesting and quite well written, but that just amounts to a handful of scenes peppered between bouts of the usual, archetypal Final Fantasy silliness. Unexplained boss monsters! Cartoony physics and unexplained happenings! Lots of silly (albeit relatively fun for the most part) minigames! Impractical designs for practically everything! It makes it pretty difficult to take the good parts seriously when the rest of it is cartoonish and dopey, and honestly, that's probably my biggest problem with the franchise - it can't decide whether it wants to be somber and serious or irreverent and jokey, so it tries to jackhammer both in and just ends up feeling like a bit of a mess.

Of course, it doesn't help that the game hasn't aged particularly well, if only because it became far too popular far too quickly - it seems like almost every game, anime, manga, comic book, movie, etc. of the next decade had lifted ideas from it (and many still are), and frankly, there are only so many spiky-haired antiheroes with giant swords, dark backstories and bizarre psychoses who fight against thinly veiled Biblical allegories that I can take. Plus, as I've already mentioned countless times, its success has caused Square's creativity to cease and their style to stagnate, giving in to endless fan demand to see the exact same characters and scenarios in every game they release*. The only thing that seems to improve are the visuals, and watching bullet time and shiny aurora effects is only amusing for so long when the gameplay beneath is so damned shallow. Seriously, name me one Final Fantasy game created in the last twenty years where you can't win 99% of all battles by spamming normal attacks and limit breaks. You can't!

*For those who think I'm exaggerating on this point, I have two words for you: Kingdom Hearts. An entire FRANCHISE built around nothing but characters and storylines recycled from other franchises.

So while FFVII was a standout game for its time, and even a few of its copycats were pretty good (see the first two Shadow Hearts games), there's definitely something to be said for popularity and originality being double-edged swords - sure, you'll make a game that everyone will remember for years to come, but you'll also get eighty bazillion copycats desperately trying to rip it off, which can cause the whole thing to become trite and cliched and quickly ruin any appeal it once held. The other moral here is, of course, to always keep in mind what made your franchise a fan favorite to begin with, rather than abandoning it all as soon as you get your first million-seller royalty check.

Oh, and if you're currently in the middle of typing up a five-plus page rant about how I missed some minute plot detail in a game I haven't played through in over ten years, that its plot elements and characters being carbon copied time and time again was the best thing to ever happen to the creative medium, or that I have no right to level criticism toward Final Fantasy VII until I've sat through and extensively researched every single iteration of the entire media franchise it's spawned*, remember to keep it to yourself because I don't care. Thanks in advance!

---

* This is such a red herring argument anyway. I can't be fair about my criticism of a game because I haven't played all of its sequels and prequels? Really? So I can't point out its gameplay faults until I've played several other completely different games and sat through two animated features? I can't critique the forgettable characters, story holes and cliched plot points without playing games they barely feature in, assuming they even show up at all?

I hate to make a broad sweeping statement again, but most of the people who make this argument to me just seem to have an axe to grind about... well, nothing in particular, really.

"Dude you cant make fun of FFVII until you've seen all of it you're being unfair"

"Okay. Say, I recommended the Ultima series to you..."

"THAT SERIES SUCKS THE GRAPHICS ARE AWFUL I QUIT AFTER 20 MINUTES"

"How about Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door? That game's pretty good."

"My buddy says its a bad ripoff of Super Mario RPG so I didn't even bother"

"Notwithstanding how idiotic that statement is (given that Super Mario RPG was a collaborative effort between Nintendo and Square, and Nintendo is therefore just as entitled to utilize its scenario and gameplay mechanics as Square is), you're passing final judgment on two entire franchises you've either barely played or never played, yet when I critique a single same I've played start to finish three times, I'm the one being "unfair.""

"YES AND YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED"

Yeesh.
 
 
 rawks  §  rad comments, dogg.
 ~Azul Rojo  §  at 11:52pm 04/17/11
 
Sephiroth was a pretty decent villain. He looked scary, he had a reason for going batshit bonkers, and he actually killed one of your party members who tried to fuck him over. Just...wow. Totally fucking awesome. Then we go to this...

FF8's Ultimecia: TIME KOMPRESSION! WHY?! BECOZ I AM A BITCH.

FF9's Necron: I'm Zeromus, or...something. I wasn't mentioned until now. Wait, what am I doing here?

FF10's Seymour: I HAVE GIRLY HAIR AND GIRLY CLOTHING. I'M GOING TO...uh...what the fuck am I doing?

FF11's ???: ?????????? MONTHLY FEES. PAY US. PAY US. ONLINE IS FUN.

Then FF12 came along and had another decent villain (and characters in general): a power-hungry son of a bitch who wants to rule the empire. He looked scary, terrified people, and had a damned motive. Guess where it went after that? FF13 and 14. Fuck.
 
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