“The illusion which exalts us is dearer to us than ten thousand truths.” ~ Aleksandr Pushkin
In the most recent two episodes, Cloud has given Sephiroth the Black Materia, punched Aeris while possessed, nearly cut her in two while possessed, and stood there like a man frozen in corbomite while Sephiroth performed Death From Above.
Let’s pause for a moment to celebrate the hoary Final Fantasy tradition of playing into enemy hands.
- FFI: Retrieve a magical artifact for a villain masquerading as an imposter king!
- FFII: Rescue an imposter Princess Hilda and take her back to the rebel base!
- FFIII: Let an enemy steal two magical artifacts while we’re returning the one he stole earlier!
- FFIV: Steal a crystal and slaughter innocents on our imposter king’s orders! Let more crystals fall into enemy hands on purpose or via a possessed friend!
- FFV: Help possessed Dad destroy crystal for the enemy! Get captured so as to be used as hostages by enemy!
- FFVI: Open the Sealed Gate so the enemy can break in and kill/drain all the Espers and destroy the world!
But now that we’ve handed Sephiroth the Black Materia on a platter and let Aeris die, there’s no way we could screw up anything else, is there? I mean, it’s not like we could give him the Black Materia again, right? Ahahaha.
Well then. While Cloud was angsting over Aeris’ bloodless body, Sephiroth idly mentioned his upcoming journey to the Northern Crater. Naturally, we must accept this veiled invitation.
A path leads northeast from the Forgotten City. Here I bounce up and down a spiffy spiral staircase trying to get enough screencaps to stitch together a pretty photo mosaic, somewhat hampered by the high density of random monsters inhabiting this desolate canyon.
We waste another ten minutes finding the invisible pixels leading into the cliff wall behind it. Through the caves and over a snowy continent populated by wolves and killer rabbits (what?), we come to the remote village of Icicle.
Where, amazingly, the surfing contingent from Costa del Sol has managed to bypass all the obstacles we just spent the last several days traversing. They’re here to get in a little skiing.
I find it amusing that Rufus traveled all the way to Rocket Town to commandeer Cid’s wee airplane to cross the ocean, when he could’ve just booked passage with these folks. Fridge logic: Aeris must’ve done exactly that, in exchange for guiding them through the Sleeping Forest which can’t be entered without Ancient blood or a unique artifact currently residing in our Bag of Holding.
The house that Cloud’s examining in the second-to-last screencap is chock-full of backstory. Untouched for the past 22 years, it was once the home of Professor Gast, former head of Shinra’s science department who discovered Jenova in an archaeological dig, and Ifalna, Aeris’ birth-mother. Someone was kind enough to keep paying for the house’s utilities so that we can play Dr. Gast’s home movies.
The first two recordings are Ifalna spouting backstory about Jenova and about a Disc Two Boss whom we’ll be meeting shortly.
I’m a little confused about some details, but here’s the gist.
The Original Crisis began 2000 years ago when the “calamity from the sky” fell and blasted a huge crater near the oddly-named “Knowlespole,” a northern Cetra settlement occupied by current-day Icicle. (Not explained: why Ifalna was their last descendent, living in a human settlement on the same spot 2000 years later).
While the Cetra/Ancients were trying to help the Planet heal its wound, a stranger appeared in their midst. Having not read Tolkien, they fell for Jenova’s… rather spooky gifts?
“Here, let me show you your dead Mom. I’m sure that’ll make you want to take me into your community.” “Oh, yes, thank you! Welcome to our humble village!”
This embarrassing episode may explain why Ifalna never rakes Gast over the coals for misidentifying Jenova as an Ancient. Her own ancestors were just as clueless.
(Note: pronouns for Jenova are rather fluid. I’m not sure whether this “he” is a translation glitch.)
The Jenova virus drove the Ancients mad and turned them into monsters, much like the humans Sephiroth saw incubating in the Nibelheim reactor.
Jenova spread its virus across the planet, wiping out most of the Cetra. Finally, the Planet decided the only thing for it was to pull a Weapon of Mass Extinction out of some orifice and start over. Creatively, this weapon was called Weapon.
Before Weapon could start exterminating, the few surviving Cetra managed to trap Jenova in a deep, dark hole, waiting to be excavated by Gast 2000 years later. With its target neutralized, Weapon shrugged and went to sleep.
Professor Gast’s “Confidential” home movie reveals that, surprise surprise, he is Aeris’ father. What is it with Shinra scientists sleeping with lab assistants and test subjects? About the time they’ve settled on the baby’s name, Hojo shows up on their doorstep like Rumplestiltskin to collect.
Ifalna offers to give herself up in exchange for letting Aeris and Gast go free. Hojo, of course, thinks this is a silly idea when he can have his guards bump off Gast and get two Ancients for the price of one ex-boss. (Not shown: Gast’s death or Aeris’ baby model, thanks to a guard shooting the camera).
Well, that’s depressing.
The rest of the town offers little of note beyond a garishly-colored snowboard provided by a helpful kid. Before we can try it out (in the time-honored Final Fantasy tradition of one vehicle for multiple characters), Elena shows up and berates Cloud for “doing in” her boss, Tseng, last seen sporting a large sword-wound at the Temple of the Ancients.
Elena won’t believe Cloud’s claim that Sephiroth was the perp.
(Note: “doing in” was changed to “messing up” Tseng in the 2012 PC port of this game, which is either a better translation or a retcon. Tseng is alive in Advent Children, but then, Rufus is alive in AC, albeit somewhat the worse for wear. AC Extended lampshades this: Rude tells Reno not to worry about Tseng’s latest scrape, since both he and Rufus have nine lives.)
I’m so busy trading dialog boxes with Elena that I fail to notice the “press a key to dodge” instruction, so she punches Cloud in the solar plexus. He comes to in Ifalna’s house — just in case we missed Gast’s home movies — but it isn’t even locked.
So, we are now free to head to the Northern Crater, via…
Wandering around a mountain maze of snowy landscapes!
Climbing wind-blown cliffs while fighting hypothermia!
Exploring icy trails with huge drop-offs!
Spelunking frozen caves and fighting giant icicles!
Bumping into a Black-Caped Dude knocked offscreen so fast by a random dragon boss that I fail to screencap him (or it)!
More mountain climbing without proper equipment!
After a couple hours of gameplay (yes, I’m slow), we come to the lip of the Northern Crater and a scenic FMV overlook.
It looks like the Planet is still trying to heal the wound in the heart of Northern Crater, two thousand years after impact (which is, after all, a blink of an eye in geological terms). There’s raw Mako fountaining from the crater and a storm of whirling winds surrounding it.
We pause halfway down the crater’s rim for a spot of exposition.
Cloud, planetary scientist, says yep. He reminds us that Sephiroth is trying to tap that energy to help him summon Meteor, which will make an even bigger wound than this one. In other words: Chicxulub.
A little further down, we find the second of many Black Capes stumbling towards the heart of the crater. It sounds much like all the creepy wobbly Black Cape Dudes we saw back in Nibelheim, still harping on The Great Sephiroth.
This one doesn’t even need a boss to mash it; it just falls over. I get the impression these whatever-they-ares aren’t very durable, but then, I don’t know how they managed to cross the ocean, let alone traverse all those glaciers and cliffs.
As we approach the maelstrom, Tifa halts and tries to force an endgame boss battle with sheer willpower. She says that she’s lost a great deal to Sephiroth, and she’s ready to rumble.
Translation: If Tifa isn’t in your battle party now, swap her in. But of course, I already had her along, because as far as I’m concerned, FF7 is the story of Cloud and Tifa. I’ve also brought Vincent, since Cloud lured him out of his coffin with promises that we’d confront his tormentor, Dr. Hojo.
Speaking of whom— SCENE CHANGE!
Hey, look, Heidegger’s airship is fully operational. Let’s hijack it.
Rufus boasts that he’s the one who will attain the Promised Land, not his father. “Sorry, old man.”
Hojo starts cackling at the back of the bridge, saying that no one can own the Promised Land. Is he going all anti-imperialist on us? Heck no, he’s just being an exposition asshole.
(Invisible Reno is invisible. No, really, his model is right there, but someone forgot to turn it on.)
Hojo hopes Sephiroth will put in an appearance. Like so many fictional mad scientists, he doesn’t give a damn what the boss-man hired him to do; he’s just poking the anthill
for kicks FOR SCIENCE!
Lacking a magically impervious airship, our party must push through the fierce storms surrounding the crater’s heart in the old fashioned way, on foot.
Actually, no, we just hit a battle with some wind critters and have to try again. FF7 gravity does not allow PCs to fall from great heights unless there’s a church or something to catch them.
Those dark gray blobs in front of Cloud and Vincent are more Black Capes. There’s a regular conga line of them on the far side, filing up the rocky slopes.
Reunion is in progress. Reunion of WHAT isn’t quite clear yet: I’m thinking Black Rider Peeps. As they wobble along like maggots, a Black Cape will occasionally lose its footing (!) and tumble from sight.
Through another more intense wind barrier, we spot a familiar figure mowing down Black Capes like the no-name npcs they are.
“Sephiroth!” Cloud shouts for the gazillionth time.
“This is the end!” Vincent says. Uh, Vince, it sounds more impressive when you’re not parroting the villain.
“You’re right,” Sephiroth says. “This is the end of this body’s usefulness.” The lighting turns dark purplish-red, never a good sign, and the figure of Sephiroth morphs into a taller Black-Caped figure, then vanishes in a puff of purple smoke. WTF? Someone should’ve left the crack back in the Gold Saucer along with those inedible pillow-mints.
The smoke continues to pulse upwards in time to an audible heartbeat to add to the weirdness. Cloud gets an earful from the other Black Capes (?) speaking into his mind.
“Our…?” Cloud wonders aloud.
“Those who carry Jenova’s cells,” Mysterious Voice answers.
“Master…?!” Cloud says.
“Of course… Sephiroth. Heh, heh, heh…”
The heartbeat sound quickens. Sephiroth appears from above and behind us, hurtling down like a comet, sword raised in the same gesture that took out Aeris. But he’s late for an appointment, so he just knocks everyone down and brushes past them.
“Just passing through… oh yeah, and have another Jenova Boss to play with. With the Jenova boss music, in case you were missing the awesome.”
Sephiroth, is that any way to treat your Mom, foisting her off on strangers all the time?
Oh, well. I wanted to show off one of Vincent’s
overdrives Limit Breaks, anyhoo.
BEHOLD VINCENT THE MINI FFX BEHEMOTH! He’s purple and magenta, and shoots fireballs.
He’s so cute and cuddly.
Too bad two of Vinnie’s four overdrive forms are “Frankenstein’s Monster” and “Jason sans hockey mask.” Yawn. I hope I can grind enough to see his final form. Oh, dear, I think I’m becoming Hojo.
“Jenova’s cells,” Cloud says, picking up the Cryptic BS baton that Sephiroth dropped along with Jenova and the Black Materia. (He dropped that? Why?) “…hmm. So that’s what it’s all about. The Jenova Reunion.”
No, it was a plot device wearing a Sephiroth suit. Or possibly Jenova shapeshifting. Or Sephiroth remote-controlling one of his own clones. Or a space whale with long silver hair. Or, most likely, all of the above.
At any rate, Cloud insists the real, honest-to-gosh Sephiroth is here, too, exuding malevolence “from deep within the planet’s wound.”
Tifa, who still has a few wits about her, stops Cloud from sticking the Black Materia in his pocket.
Cait Sith is so contrite that he refuses to take it.
Then again, his own dead body is crushed inside it, unless Cait Mark One did not in fact die and is trapped inside the miniaturized Temple of the Ancients forever, trying to solve his way out of Rubik’s Tesseract.
I choose Barret as the guardian. The other option is Nanaki, but I figure Nanaki is less likely to jump on Barret than the reverse if anything goes wrong.
We have to pass one last wind barrier — or rather, bang our heads against it repeatedly like my great-aunt’s deranged dachshund — fighting random battles until we find a gap and push through.
On the far side, we run smack dab into the White Screen of Mind Screw.
You could say that again. Welcome to…
… your past.
“Why…is it an illusion?” Vincent says. Aww, Vinnie, I brought you along in case we encounter Hojo. It slipped my mind that he killed you here 30 years ago. I can be so forgetful.
Cloud says that it’s an illusion created by Sephiroth to confuse us. This is his line and he’s sticking to it. He will repeat variants of it at least a dozen times before the end of the Mind Screw.
And it won’t help. 🙁
Remember how I said that Tifa, as a bartender, is the closest thing we’ve got to a therapist? Well, Sephiroth is the Therapist From Hell. He finds your psychological hangups and makes them worse.
So. The Nibelheim flashback starts to unfold as before, with one crucial difference. (Compare with screencap from Cloud’s earlier recollection.)
Well, it looks a lot like Sonic the Hedgehog from this angle, but…um… *sniffle*
…maybe Cloud’s dark secret is that, like Tidus, he bleaches?
Tifa senses the oncoming trainwreck and starts shaking her head. “Stop…. Sephiroth.” She tells Cloud it’s an illusion. He says that he knows it’s an illusion, and she doesn’t need to worry. Vincent may be wondering if he should stick his fingers in his ears and sing La La La to fit in.
The scene blinks out in a flash of audible static. “What’s next?” Cloud wonders.
Oh, you know. The second most iconic event in FF7.
“This is what actually happened five years ago,” Cloud says, “but it’s probably not me that’s going to come out of the Shinra mansion.” Oh, really? That is an odd and strangely specific prediction, Mr. Cheesebrain. “He’s going to try and show us another stupid illusion.”
Apart from a stranger in his place, everything else is exactly like Cloud told us, with Tifa’s mentor Zangan calling, “You’re still sane, aren’t you?” (loaded question) and asking him to help search for survivors.
Tifa, who’s kept her composure pretty well until now, starts to fray around the edges.
The truth is hiding here in plain view. Sneaky sneaky game designers.
The screen flashes with another burst of static and a slight POV change. Current-Cloud calls Sephiroth out for screwing up the reboot.
“…That I wasn’t in Nibelheim five years ago. That’s it, isn’t it?”
Cue the Bells of Doomy Doom. There’s another white flash of static, and Sephiroth appears. A text box smacks him in the face.
Cloud tells Sephiroth that he’s not fooled by this mockumentary; he remembers his pain and anguish. Sephiroth retorts that a puppet cannot feel pain and has no heart. (We’ll be taking up that theme again with Vivi in FFIX.)
More speechifying. Sephiroth says that he wants to take Cloud back to his
uke “real self,” the one that handed over the Black Materia.
“Hojo would die if he knew.” Sephiroth, you lie a lie. Hojo would pretend he meant to do it all along and alter his lab notes.
Cloud wants to know what the heck Hojo has to do with him. Sure, give Sephiroth an opening, why don’t you?
Sephiroth is only too happy to pounce. Five years ago, he says, Cloud was “constructed by Hojo, piece by piece, right after Nibelheim burnt.” Presumably because Hojo’s other lab rats were dead or snoozing in coffins, and he was bored. “A puppet made up of vibrant Jenova cells, her knowledge, and the power of the Mako.”
That’s…a pretty far-fetched story. Why would Hojo do that? Then again, why did he turn Vincent into a goth shapeshifter and stick him in a coffin?
“Cloud, don’t listen to him,” Tifa urges. “Close your ears! Close your eyes!” She reminds Cloud that they have shared memories and childhoods, so he can’t have been created five years ago.
Sephiroth butts in and laughs. “Ha, ha, ha, Tifa.”
The game usually focuses on the Cloud-Sephiroth rivalry, but the fact is, Tifa’s one of two(?) people to take a sword to Mr. S. I think Sephiroth enjoys tormenting her almost as much as he does Cloud. It’s a twisted sign of respect, really — or possibly insecurity.
Sephiroth toys with Tifa a little longer, remarking that she looks like she’s not feeling well. Then he vanishes to let his poisonous words sink in.
Cloud admits that he’s confused, and his memories are a bit muddled, but still, he’ll never believe Sephiroth. Tifa’s faith in him is his security blanket.
No pressure, Tifa: Cloud’s sanity depends on you.
Tifa doesn’t quite know how to respond. She says she needs a little more time.
“Cloud, don’t blame Tifa,” Sephiroth says, popping in again. Did I say Therapist From Hell? Correction: demolitions expert.
Sephiroth: “Inside of you, Jenova has merged with Tifa’s memories, creating you. A boy named Cloud might’ve just been a part of them.”
Tifa: “Cloud… Please…don’t think right now.”
Sephiroth: “Ha, ha, ha. Think, Cloud!”
Sephiroth reminds them of the bloke who snapped a picture of Sephiroth, Cloud(?) and Tifa before they headed to the Nibelheim Reactor. The photographer’s body happens to be lying nearby. As is the photo. But Cloud isn’t in it.
Cloud insists that it’s another of Sephiroth’s lies designed to confuse them.
“Five years ago, I came back to Nibelheim to inspect the reactor. I was sixteen…” Flailing, Cloud launches into a lengthy recitation of everything he remembers from the Nibelheim incident, right down to his rifling Tifa’s bedroom. It all hangs together until—
“SOLDIER? When did I enter SOLDIER?
How did I join SOLDIER?
End of flashback, signaled by Black Screen.
“….Cloud?” Tifa says.
“Tifa, let’s go. I’m… I’m all right.” But he totally isn’t.
And through it all, Vincent looms and watches Hojo’s handiwork unfold, practicing for his Silent Protagonist roll in Dirge of Cerberus.
SCENE CHANGE. President Hair Flip, Hojo, and Scarlet have reached the crystalline heart of the Northern Crater.
They look up.
Eh? It looks like it’s at least one-third tree roots, but what do I know?
When Rufus calls this Mako motherlode “The Promised Land,” Hojo scoffs at the name as an old wives tale. Rufus scoffs right back.
BURN. I almost like this Rufus kid.
Screenshake! For a split second, a green eye is peering at them from the back wall, but it winks out too quick for me to screencap.
“Then it really does exist,” Hojo muses. “I didn’t believe it.” At Rufus’ prodding, Hojo explains about Weapon, the Planet’s self-defense system.
“You keep a lot of things to yourself,” Rufus understates.
Another scene change, this time showing the rest of Cloud’s party waiting and worrying about their friends. Barret is suddenly yanked through a wall of dark green, swirly plot device to find…
“Tifa” tells him that Cloud’s in trouble. Barret, Mr. Gullible, dashes off to help.
…this isn’t going to be pretty.
Back in Mako Central, Scarlet and Rufus are preparing to return to the airship when Cloud and friends materialize in a flash.
President Hair Flip isn’t about to take orders, and wants to know what’s going on. Maybe Cloud will tell him more than Hojo. Or not…
Reunion? I don’t see the rest of the class, do you? Oh, wait, here’s somebody…
Cloud claps his hands over his ears and starts shaking his head, staggering towards Barret. This is another one of those distressing possession-sequences in which every button push steps Cloud forward on a path you don’t want him to take.
Cloud asks about the Black Materia.
Barret asks if he’s okay, but gives him the Black Materia anyway, while Tifa and I scream, “NOOOOOOO!”
I don’t understand how Sephiroth (or Jenova?) turned Tifa into Cassandra of Troy. Why can’t anyone hear her?
TheLifestream.net notes that Cloud’s language changes here from casual to formal Japanese, indicating a personality shift.
Cloud apologizes to Barret and both party members in turn. “Especially you, Tifa. I’m really sorry. I don’t know what to say… You’ve been so good to me. I never lived up to being ‘Cloud.'”
Tifa shakes her head and collapses to her knees. For Tifa, this moment is as devastating as witnessing Aeris’ death was for Cloud. Cloud’s body is still alive, but the person she knows just died in front of her eyes, thanks to Sephiroth’s mind screw.
Hojo, of course, is delighted.
He crows that his experiment was a complete success and wants to know Cloud’s tattoo number. Cloud says Hojo never gave him one, because Hojo considered him a failed experiment.
DOUBLE AUGH. Cloud, once so proud of being an ex-SOLDIER, reduced to begging for a mere number to call his own? The angst goblet brimmeth over.
Hojo is angry that the most successful member of the “Reunion” turns out to be a failed lab experiment. “Shut up, miserable failure.”
Cloud slumps, then rises into the air with another split-second flash of Sephiroth’s face in the foreground. Once again, the laws of gravity don’t really apply to PCs.
Rufus, taking the weirdness in stride, inquires who Cloud really was.
Hojo: “He’s a Sephiroth-clone I created after the real Sephiroth died five years ago. Jenova cells and Mako, with my knowledge and skills, have been combined with science and nature to bring him to life. I’m not mad about the failure part, but the Jenova Reunion theory has now been proven. Blah blah blah blah [lots more exposition that I won’t recap]”
Note: “clones” are called “remnants” in more recent FF7 spinoffs; they’re not necessarily exact genetic copies, but constructs that incorporate Sephiroth’s genetic material.
Meanwhile, Cloud listens passively, stuck to the ceiling like the Hanged Man. He calls to his nemesis when Hojo finally shuts up.
Below, Vincent runs over to Tifa and helps her up. At first I thought he was charging Hojo, but alas no. There just isn’t time to deal with his vendetta against Hojo right now (or, for that matter, Barret’s beef with Scarlet).
“Sephiroth,” Cloud says in his mind. “So we finally meet again.”
Dust and Mako begin to rain down. I am vaguely reminded of FFV’s Evil Tree villain.
Cloud tumbles head-over-heels in midair as the huge egg of Mako plummets in slow motion.
Oh, here come the Bells of Doomy Doom again. What’s in the congealed Mako?
How the heck did he get in there? And exactly what did Hojo mean, that Sephiroth died five years ago? He looks to be in pretty good shape, apart from being starkers.
It’s raaaining men… er, sorry.
Hojo is a proud papa. Vincent is still not picking up on the opportunity to confront his nemesis. Grrr.
Rufus is at least a little chagrinned at his company’s role in bringing Sephiroth to life and … doing… whatever was done to Cloud.
Rufus says he wants them to come with him to explain everything. Good idea: Hojo certainly won’t. Hesitating, Barret and Tifa call to Cloud, but he’s busy communing with his fan crush.
The Black Materia has gone from a black polyhedron to a blue/purple sphere in FMV mode. Oops, game designers.
This is all still taking place up on the ceiling, although we saw the Mako-bubble containing Sephiroth beginning to descend a moment ago.
Screenshake! The party starts to run. As they flee, a baleful green eye opens in the glassy wall behind them.
Hello, Weapon! You have a silly name.
The ceiling begins to fall in earnest now.
I don’t know how Rufus managed to park the Highwind airship in the middle of that maelstrom, but we’ll take it.
From the heart of the crater, a pillar of Mako energy bursts skyward and expands.
Just in case ever-regenerating bits of Sephiroth and Jenova weren’t enough…
…we now have one more boss…
…to worry about…
Running away now.
…but at least we have our
phallic symbol airship.