This time last week I was only halfway through disc 1. Now I’m well and truly into disc 2. If I can have another weekend as productive as this last one, I may just finish Final Fantasy VII on time by next Wednesday.
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It’s truly amazing just how fast you can get through the game when you’re sticking strictly to the story and not busy exploring the rest of the world. Better still, it has been incredibly refreshing to know exactly where I’m going, so I’ve wasted much less time than I did with the last six games, frequently having to revisit many previous towns to get a hint as to my next location. Still, I only know where I’m going because I’ve played Final Fantasy VII so many times in the past. As it so happens, I just encountered a spot in the game that, had I been playing for the first time, may very well have tripped me up for a while.
A couple hours into disc 2 you lose Cloud as a party member for a while, after he gives the Black Materia to Sephiroth and effectively brings him back to life. A downtrodden Tifa is left as the interim party leader, and you must begin your worldwide search for her spiky-haired companion. The good news: you’ve just obtained your airship for the game, the Highwind! The bad news: you’ve been given absolutely no clues or indication as to where he may be. I’m not sure if there are residents around the world that would mention Mideel or seeing some blond guy there, but I suppose eventually you’re just supposed to stumble upon him. As I said, this is an unfortunate trend in the series, generally happening once or twice in each game. I suppose that’s a proper point to the severe linearity of Final Fantasy XIII.
Anyway, I have ended this week with Cid as the NEW new party leader (having not even met him at the end of last week), after immediately dropping Tifa off in Mideel to tend to Cloud. My next objective is to start collecting the Huge Materia ahead of Shinra. The story really feels more involving to me than past iterations, and I honestly think it’s because I have a difficult time really immersing myself into 8 or 16 or 32-bit worlds. They are still quality titles, to be certain, but this is just the kind of style I prefer. Have I mentioned how excited I am to finally be in the PlayStation era of Final Fantasy?
So last week I mentioned the character interactions, but I never elaborated on it. That’s actually a good thing, because there’s so much more regarding that topic that I can touch on now, having played so much more. Final Fantasy through Final Fantasy V make sure you’ve got specific characters in your party at all times to make sure the story plays out properly. When your party changes, it is always due to necessity. Maybe your team split up or got separated somehow. Whatever the case, you always had to have THIS specific party at THIS specific location at THIS specific point in time. Final Fantasy VI, with its massive cast, allowed you to build your team however you wanted once you gathered more characters than your 4-member party limit allowed. There were certain events that would not play out unless you had the proper character in your party, and you could easily miss many events just by having the “wrong” team in place.
Final Fantasy VII takes the idea of an FFVI’s interchangeable party (save for the mandatory leader) and makes it better. No matter who you’ve got in your party, most events are going to unfold regardless. The fun of replaying comes from playing with different teams to see different reactions to various situations. Like, if you put Barret and Red XIII in your party when you leave Midgar, Tifa and Aeris make a comment about how surprising it is that Cloud didn’t choose either of the girls. Alternatively, choosing Tifa and Aeris prompts a “go figure” kind of reply from Barret.
Another example of this is on the railway to Barret’s hometown of Corel. You hear some birds chirping and can climb up to see a nest of newly hatched chicks lying atop a cache of items. You can choose to leave them be and ignore the items, or grab them and fight the mama bird. If Barret’s in your party he comments on how cute the chicks are (I know, right?) and urges you to leave the items, while Yuffie would strongly encourage you to snatch the treasure no matter the cost. The random banter and choices are often fun, and it’s neat seeing what the others have to say in different situations.
Of course veterans of the game know that every decision that has to do with Tifa, Aeris, Barret, or Yuffie on disc 1 plays a part in the background, deciding which of them will come to ask Cloud on a date at the Gold Saucer the night before the team heads to the Temple of the Ancients. The choices don’t end there, however, and the rest of the game continues the variety of responses and reactions, party member-dependent. I love it.
Potentially more noteworthy is that even the optional characters of Yuffie and Vincent have proper storylines that add to the Final Fantasy VII experience without feeling tacked on. FFVI’s Mog, Umaro, and Gogo each have nifty and exclusive abilities, but they have absolutely zero character development. The only reason to seek them out is to have three full parties of four for the final dungeon of the game. They don’t add to the story, and are completely superfluous. Vincent, meanwhile, is a former Turk and love interest to Lucrecia, who birthed Sephiroth. Yuffie is slightly less vital, but her spunky, upbeat attitude is a welcome contrast to the serious nature of so many other members of the party. Plus making the trip to Wutai brings back the skeezy Don Corneo, and shows you that the current Turks aren’t really bad guys; they’re just doing their job.
Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got for this week. I feel like I’m almost obligated to discuss the infamous death of Aeris, which took place over the weekend, but honestly I don’t have much to say on it. On one hand, I could hearken back to my Final Fantasy IV woes and praise her death for being substantial, important, and NOT a complete sham, but ultimately Aeris has never been a big deal to me. Sure, she’s arguably one of the most important characters in the game, but I never got overly emotional over her death. I was more choked up when Cyan’s family rode the Phantom Train to the other side in FFVI, and I didn’t have any connection to any of those characters. Still, rest in piece I suppose.