auronlu: (Angst)
[personal profile] auronlu

So here we are. I apologize in advance to anyone who's recently replayed FF7 or knows it by heart: this installment isn't going to have much insightful commentary. Nor will I be trying to amuse you with snark about anime gravity, blood-absorbent katanas, 20-year-old Playstation graphics, fantasy clichés, four-foot-deep pools that fall away into the Marianas Trench, the worst gameplay/story segregation of all time (hint: Phoenix Down), or why Gandalf didn't just hop an eagle to chuck the Ring into the fire.

There's certain moments during which the images speak for themselves, and anything I could say would be intrusive.

First, however, we have to get there.

After the Temple of the Ancients fiasco, Cloud awakens in— Gongaga? with Tifa and Barret holding vigil over him. We're back to the remnants of AVALANCHE, old friends (more or less) who haven't had a scene together since the fall of Sector 7 and the rescue mission to find Aeris at Shinra HQ.

Barret: You look like you was havin' a nightmare.

The rest of the party is off searching for Aeris, who has disappeared.

A subdued Cloud reveals that she's gone to the City of the Ancients, where "only Aeris can save us from Meteor." The implication is that he's leaving the task of saving the Planet in her capable hands. Gone is the cocky, arrogant ex-SOLDIER who would go charging off after Sephiroth, Rufus or Aeris (in the aforesaid rescue mission) on his own, leaving friends to catch up.

The others, of course, are not about to let her face the peril alone.

Tifa: then we must go. What'll we do if something happens to Aeris? If Sephiroth finds her, she's in trouble.

But Cloud's thoroughly shaken, fearing Sephiroth now as much as he hero-worshiped him when he was younger. "I might lose it again. If Sephiroth comes near me, I might...."

Barret: Yeah, goddamit! It's cuz of you that Sephiroth got the Black Materia in the first place. It's your damn fault!

Barret, blunt as he is, makes no mention of Cloud's attack on Aeris, nor does Tifa bring it up. Cloud's fears suggest he knows that he hit her, but it's not clear. Cloud may only remember that he gave away the Black Materia.

Barret, of all people, dons a therapist hat and tells him to Just Deal With It.
Barret: "I know you got problems. Hell, we all do. [They certainly do.] But you don't even understand yourself. But you gotta understand that there ain't no gettin' offa this train we're on, till we get to the end of the line."

It makes a certain amount of sense that Barret is saying this, considering that he's dealt with his own grief, loss, and guilt by being aggressively proactive. He threw himself into AVALANCHE and damned the consequences. I find it interesting how Barret's relationship with Cloud has changed from mistrust and macho rivalry to tough-love empathy.

Tifa tag teams with Barret. She tries to recall Cloud to the person he's been, at least since he returned from his stint with Shinra.

Tifa: Cloud, we've come this far...Aren't you going to settle up with Sephiroth?

"No," Cloud says again. "I'm afraid. If this keeps up, I may go crazy!"

Barret goes on another tirade.
"Just a damn jackass, that's what you are... Yo, jes' think about it... How many people in this world do ya think really understand themselves? People get depressed because they don't know what's up. But, they go on living. They don't run away...Isn't that how it is?"

Barret's friend Dyne did run away, actually, but Barret still tried to talk him back from the cliff even after he'd killed a lot of people. Once Barret's decided you're a worthy friend, he's got an amazing capacity for forgiveness, even while giving you hell for screw-ups.

Tifa:'ll come with us, right? I believe in you.

It takes both guts and love for Tifa to say that. She knows better than anyone that he's not the person he once was, that there's something wrong with him, and that he may hurt friends, yet she still has faith in him. Blind faith, almost, as we've seen several times when she's suppressed her own doubts and failed to challenge him.

Left alone, Hamlet!Cloud grapples with his inner demons.

Cloud: I'm afraid to find out the truth? But why?

He doesn't really come to a decision, but player control lets you steer him outside after this.

Barret has a simple plan if seeing Sephiroth causes Cloud to "go nuts again":

Barret: I'll go upside your spikey white head and bring you back to normal!!

Cloud really has very good friends.

"Cloud, it'll be all right," Tifa insists. "We're all with you."

Our destination is Bone Village on the southern coast of the northern continent. I have no idea how Aeris reached it without a boat.

bone village excavation site

Since we're not Ancients, we have to hire archaeologists to find and excavate a rare artifact, the Lunar Harp, that will open a magical path through the woods.

Then we can pass through the Sleeping Forest where Cloud saw Aeris in his vision. From this point forward, the scenery (and music) are magical, empty and eerie.

forest glade

On the far side, we get our first glimpse of the ruined City of the Ancients, aka Forgotten City or Forgotten Capital.

No pyramids or Egyptian motifs here: it's 2-story drystone or organic architecture built upon an enormous exposed reef with many types of dried corals, sea squirts, and shells ranging from saucer-sized to house-sized.

The City of the ancients

Some random monsters are marine, never mind that they're hovering in midair.

Here's the awesome mood music.

Some of the houses are built right into enormous top shells.


The paths seem to be made out of giant shell or carapace segments as well.

I was utterly entranced by the shell houses when I reached this part of FF7 on my first playthrough. They make the Forgotten City one of my favorite settings in all of Final Fantasy.

Inside shell

The netting at right is filled with Japanese glass fishing floats, at the pot at upper left has a branching staghorn coral as some kind of rack, or perhaps as a pot plant.

Several homes contain polyp-shaped Mako ports that let the Cetra commune with those in the Lifestream, or at least with whatever thoughts and memories are collected in these FFX sphere-like devices.

Cloud: This stream of consciousness. Could this be the words of the Ancients?

However, Cloud can't understand them.

All of FF7 is a tremendous leap from the 2D town / cave / worldmap sprite graphics of previous FFs, but here's where the transition to PS1 graphics must've been positively magical: organic shapes and curves, passages ducking behind pillars, vaulted galleries opening out on multiple floors, overlooks and cutaway views. Even 20 years later, Forgotten Capital is still an amazing area to explore.

more ruins

There's also simple animated water lapping far below.

The soundtrack for the Forgotten City reminds me of MYST, and I suspect that's no accident. The MYST craze was in full swing while FF7 was in development, and the environment feels very much like one of MYST's surrealist mini-worlds fusing natural and artificial structures.

We rest in one of the shell houses which has plank flooring laid across the natural foundation. Cloud awakens in the night.

Cloud: Aeris is here, and so is Sephiroth.

Vincent asks good questions: how does Cloud know this? But Tifa rightly urges them to hurry. "We've got to get to Aeris!"

Cloud: Aeris's voice...coming from there?

into the reef

heart of the city


underwater stair

descending stairs

FFVII: Landing


FFVII: The Altar

At this point the screen flashes red for a moment, and the music turns sinister. Then the player gets a first-hand experience of unwilling possession. You have control of Cloud, but he can only walk forward. If you hit cancel, he draws the Buster Sword — Zack's old sword, not that the game has revealed this yet — regardless of which weapon you've equipped.

If you try to make him leave, Cloud does a 180 and walks towards Aeris. This continues until he's planted in front of her. Once there, no matter how you try to move him, he just lurches from side to side as if his feet are stuck to the floor.

faces her

When you hit the Cancel button again, he raises his sword. This is where things get really distressing.

sword raised

*rocks joystick trying to force Cloud to move away*




One more press of "Cancel" has Cloud cock the sword back for an overhand swing. Aeris, facing him, has not moved a muscle through all this.

Tifa: Cloud! Vincent: Stop it!

Gameplay doesn't care who's in the party here, but for my own comfort, I had to bring Vincent, the long-distance sharp shooter. The voices of Cloud's friends cut through his trance.

"Ugh, what are you making me do?" Cloud says, recoiling.

Cue FMV.

aeris praying

looks up

Cloud's face

aeris prays

aeris smiling


Sephiroth FMV

Sephiroth Descends

Sephiroth stabs aerith

Aeris killed

Sephiroth Looms over Aeris

Sephiroth smirk fmv

Sephiroth masamune fmv

aerith's ribbon fmv

holy materia

Holy materia descends

Holy materia falls from sight

Ouch. Have Aerith's theme to set the mood; it plays for the rest of this scene.

Cloud: Aeris

This is the point when many people cried for the first time while playing a video game.

Cloud: This can't be real!

Not much to say, although this is the first time I've spotted Sephiroth's cat eyes in the original game graphics. (They feature dramatically in some of the spin-offs). Also, Aeris' hair ribbon comes loose and her braid unravels as the as-yet-unidentified materia falls away from her and plummets into water. Was she holding the materia, or did her sacrifice create it?

Sephiroth: Do not worry. Soon the girl will become part of the Planet's energy.

Sephiroth starts in on another tiresome speech about his plans.

Sephiroth: there, I will become a new being by uniting with the planet. As will this girl... Cloud: SHUT UP.

("New being" is the hidden phrase. Sephiroth inadvertently lets slip a greater truth than he knows: "As will this girl...")
Cloud: "The cycle of nature and your stupid plan don't mean a thing. Aeris is gone. Aeris will no longer talk, no longer laugh, no longer cry... or get angry. What about us...what are WE supposed to do? What about my pain?!"

I think we can forgive the violation of "show, don't tell," as graphics limited the ability to "show," plus it was still relatively recent for video game characters to be expressing much emotion or character development.

Sephiroth: What are you saying? Are you trying to tell me you have feelings too?

One might assume that Sephiroth is just the most narcissistic, self-absorbed bastard in all of FF, and that could well be true, but there's another factor at work here. Namely:

Cloud: Of course! Who do you think I am!?

"Ha ha ha," Sephiroth scoffs. "Stop acting as if you were sad. There's no need to act as if you're angry either."

Sephiroth: Because, Cloud. You are...

...Sephiroth says, and because no one can EVER complete a sentence when it matters, he drops a boss on Cloud. Another Jenova chunk. Eerily, Aerith's theme keeps playing throughout the battle.

Jenova in Forgotten Capital

This whole cathedral area is a glassed-in vault underwater, I think: the sea level has fallen below the ancient reef, but is still visible in the lower levels. I'm sure there are parts of Japan's sea coast like this. Also, the staghorn coral shape of Jenova's boss-form makes slightly more sense here.

At the end of the battle, Jenova (ack!) completes Sephiroth's statement.

Jenova: Because, you are...a puppet.

"I'm...a puppet?" Cloud says.

And this is where my mind was blown in the original game. At the time, I didn't register how much Sephiroth is Jenova's puppet. (In fact, who was controlling whom during this entire sequence?)

Back on the altar, Vincent and Tifa have joined Cloud. This is where I teared up: Tifa walks over and kneels, strokes Aeris' hair and touches her cheek.

Tifa touches Aeris

Then Tifa covers her face and flees down the steps, crying. Taking her place, Vincent steps forward to stand at Aeris' feet, gazing down at her. He turns to face Cloud with another long look, then walks away.

Cloud picks her up and carries her to the pool outside, in front of the lovely Murex-shell house that concealed the staircase down to this place.

Cloud's farewell to Aeris

And another FMV.

Aeris funeral fmv

Cloud puts aeris in pool fmv

sinking in pool

Aerith RIP

FFVII: Last Glimpse of Aeris


If this were a later game, the party members would be standing around so that Cloud could talk to them one by one and hear their reactions. In some ways, this is better, letting the FMV carry the emotion instead of trying to cram it into text boxes.

However, that means the regrouping/strategy session that follows feels a little selfish and hollow, as if everyone's in too much shock to talk about their feelings for Aeris.

Cloud: Everyone, listen to me.

It doesn't help that there's only room on screen for the battle party, resulting in too many character combinations to code for complex conversation. Instead, Cloud tackles the other bombshell of the scene, Sephiroth/Jenova's claim that he is a puppet. He reasserts self-identity, after being told he has none.

Cloud: I'm Cloud, ex-SOLDIER, born in Nibelheim.

"...I came to settle up with Sephiroth," he continues, quoting Tifa's words from earlier.

Nearly every third-character's response to this is some sort of "Huh?" or "What are you going on about?" line. Either they're puzzled at his stating the obvious, or they're wondering why he's talking about himself instead of Aeris' murder (although, to be fair, he just had his agonized monologue about Aeris in front of Sephiroth, and then there was the more understated but poignant funeral). Vincent, however, gives him the answer he's groping for: "You're right."

But Cloud knows better. "I came here by my own free will. Or so I thought.
...To tell the truth, I'm afraid of myself."

He owns up to the fact that he's under some kind of compulsion. "If you hadn't stopped me, Aeris might've been..." Of course, she's dead either way, but at least not by his hand.

Cloud: There's something inside of me. A person who is not really me.

Yep. Of course there's also a person buried inside him that is the real him, trying to fight the alien part.

Cloud says he ought to stop the journey here and now before he "do[es] something terrible." But, as Tifa and Barret urged him before they left Gongaga, he's not going to.

He destroyed my hometown five years ago, killed Aeris, and is now trying to destory the Planet. I will never forgive Sephiroth.

He asks them, as a favor, to come with him in order to "save me from doing something terrible." They don't actually answer, but they came to the Ancient City with that in mind already, so there's really not much more to say.

Except: they also came to fight Sephiroth, save the Planet, exact revenge against Shinra, or all sorts of other reasons, which are somewhat eclipsed by Cloud's mental issues and relationship with Sephiroth taking center stage. (Trivia note: Cloud's Sephiroth-obsession and mental instabilities were originally introduced way back at the beginning of the game, still present in dummied text; the tendency of this plot thread to overshadow the rest of the party may explain why it was toned down or hidden until later in the story).

Cloud adds that he doesn't know what Aeris was trying to do to stop Meteor, but there's still a chance to stop Sephiroth by getting the Black Materia back before he uses it.

And...that's the end of Disc One. I know Disc Two goes by much faster, as a lot of it is trek trek trek minigame minigame, and Disc 3 is basically the closing battle and FMV, but still. This story is huge compared to the games that came before.

Finally, here's a haunting fan montage. Advent Children included a few poignant FF7 flashbacks recreated in modern CGI, including gorgeous renders of the pool outside the shell-house.

It also includes a few moments in Advent Children when someone sees or senses Aeris' spirit still hanging about. She's often represented by water and rain, a reference to her "Great Gospel" healing limit break.

Date: 2013-10-23 02:57 am (UTC)
mintywolf: (sad lucy)
From: [personal profile] mintywolf
Augh!! I knew this was coming but I didn't know it was so soon, or in this context. That means that the last time Cloud saw Aeris in the real world he attacked her. :( And then in the dream she smiled and waved at him and said she'd be coming back. Nooooooooo. :( :( :(

But yeah I agree what really got me was Tifa mourning her. Hroooo. I wish we got to know more about their friendship. (If you have different party members, do they react in different ways? Or does the scene always pull in Vincent and Tifa?)

*big sigh*

Date: 2013-10-26 03:28 pm (UTC)
knockyoualldown: (Default)
From: [personal profile] knockyoualldown
hmm watching that reactions video, I don't think Barret is angry? It looks to me like he has his hand on Cloud's shoulder... trying to console him.

Date: 2013-10-23 01:18 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Tifa was the moment when my throat closed up, because, despite the polygons, the body language was captured so beautifully.

I wish we'd had Yuffie in the party -- she IS sweet (viewing the animations link in Auronlu's comment), and it reminds one of just how young she is. But we had Barret, and it's clear he's probably crying too.

Date: 2013-10-23 03:57 am (UTC)
flonnebonne: (Default)
From: [personal profile] flonnebonne
I'd forgotten that Square made the player control crazy-Cloud when he nearly killed Aeris. Gah.

I find it very appropriate that the first thing Cloud says is "This can't be real!" That's what I was thinking too. I really didn't expect Aeris' death to stick. I'd grown up on FF4 after all. But I think the FMVs really drove it home: this was real, out of all the unreal things happening in FF7.

Date: 2013-10-23 06:44 am (UTC)
flonnebonne: (Default)
From: [personal profile] flonnebonne
I keep wanting to say "poor Cloud," but maybe I should be saying "poor player"! We really have to go through a lot being in this guy's shoes.

Date: 2013-10-23 09:45 pm (UTC)
akycha: (Default)
From: [personal profile] akycha
It's really vivid and it's an excellent way for the narrative to take advantage of the medium.

Date: 2013-10-23 05:32 am (UTC)
zen_monk: (Put the Monkey Down!)
From: [personal profile] zen_monk
Sometimes I wonder why no one's brought up the notion to divide into teams to find Aerith in the Forgotten City; because i had always thought that because they were able to pass through the Sleeping Forest that Sephiroth/Jenova was able to get to the Forgotten City. Though, it could also be one of those "you gotta resolve this face-to-face so you can face your responsibilities" like Barret was saying, or if it wouldn't have mattered anyway because it might not have prevented her death.

One of the things that I felt were regrettable about Aerith's final moments were that we don't see enough of Aerith having formed side-conversations or moments with other characters like how in FFIX there were side scenes for the player to look at; like Vivi going through Lindblum or Garnet interacting with the locals. I thought it would have given the death scene more of an impact by having all these other interactions padded into it, rather than the drama of the scene carrying it; and it skirts on being super hollywood romanticized too close for my comfort, personally.

The Forgotten City is really impressive, too. The entire setting is like, you get the impression the whole thing was underwater, but there are shell houses, as though the Ancients were there after waters had receded or that, possibly, they had lived in an environment where it's like... This speculative headcanon for me, and it's a stretch, but I had imagined the Forgotten City to be so close to the Lifestream that they were living in it and that the underwater-theme was just what the environment was like at a time when the Planet was so fertile that people live in its current. And that it's just over time that the Lifestream is just too much for people to interact with it directly without negative side effects.

Date: 2013-10-23 12:18 pm (UTC)
samuraiter: (Default)
From: [personal profile] samuraiter
(In fact, who was controlling whom during this entire sequence?)

And this is where the Ultimania book pisses me off. The impression that the game always gave me was that Jenova was controlling Sephiroth, or always appearing as Sephiroth to Cloud, since looking like the dead is her schtick (i.e. looking like people to whom her prey had a strong emotional connection), though she reverts to herself in boss battles.

Ultimania is the complete 180 of this: Seph controls Jenova, and has since the events of the Nibelheim flashback. WTF? How? Why? Almost all of these events are Jenova's fault; why can't she be the villain? She's already extinguished an entire race (save for one), and the game shows her to be a manipulator par excellence.

But the part that really gets me is that Ultimania makes a point of stating that Aerith had no idea what she was doing, exactly. She just knew she had to do something.

Bullshit. In extremis.

The whole sequence, from the Sleeping Forest all the way on down into the City of the Ancients, gave me the impression that, while she may not have anticipated the full result of using the White Materia (which was on a pendant she got from her mum, IIRC), she knew what was likely to happen, and that initial dream sequence that Cloud had of seeing her go into the Sleeping Forest was her way of saying goodbye.

I honestly can't interpret it any other way. She knew she was going to die, and she made her peace with it, even though she surely knew that the others might not make it to her in time, and that she might die alone and in great pain. That's a strong female character.

Ultimania goes out of its way to remove agency – not a word that I get to use often – from both Jenova and Aerith. Absolutely reeks.

Date: 2013-10-23 01:02 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
The FFs I've played seem to have two archetypes for female villains:
- "alien female villains" who have no personality to speak of and who puppet people to carry out their alien will (eg, Ultimecia)
- campy hateful bungling secondary villains who are puppets of more competent male villains (eg, Queen Brahne, and maybe LeBlanc in X-2, but I never finished the game and can't remember the story right now)

Clearly the Ultimania writers were attempting to combine the two with Jenova!

I think Dead!Jenova and Dead!Sephiroth mushed together into one completely crazy and stupidly powerful ghost after Jenova possessed Sephiroth to try to get him to walk out of the reactor with her brain/head. (We just hit that scene! Augh! Things we didn't remember!) Possibly her consciousness wasn't even dead until that scene, but in some sort of suspended animation.

(Wouldn't it have been telling if the body Sephiroth was growing in the North Crater was female instead of male?)

But I concur, Aeris absolutely knew what she was doing, walking into certain death, and that part of the Ultimania guide sounds like it was written by asshats who need their kneecaps taken out.

Date: 2013-10-23 01:14 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Aha! I suspected that by now SOMEONE must have shot a live-action cosplay version. Alas that this one is so murky and darkly-shot.
Edited Date: 2013-10-23 01:14 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-10-24 12:52 am (UTC)
cumuluscastle: (sad kitty)
From: [personal profile] cumuluscastle
Aerith talks to Cloud about her special materia at the very beginning of the game, right after he falls on top of her flowers.

Here's the conversation:
Flower Girl Say, do you have any materia?
Cloud Yes, some. Nowadays you can find materia anywhere.
Flower Girl But mine is special. It's good for absolutely nothing.
Cloud Good for nothing? You probably just don't know how to use it.
Flower Girl No, I do . . . it just doesn't do anything. I feel safe just having it. It was my mother's . . . Say, I feel like talking. Do you feel up to it? After all, here we are meeting again, right?

This gives the materia a bit more meaning, I think. She has had it for a long time and tried to use it because it belonged to someone she loved, so she really wanted it to be special, but it seems to her that it doesn't. That has to be a big let-down.

I always wonder what Aerith was trying to do in the City of the Ancients. Did she have to use the white materia there to make it work? Is Tifa right? Was she actually unaware of Sephiroth's plans for her?

I think she had figured out how the white materia worked at last. It's glowing, after all, when it drops into the water. I wonder what she had to do to make it work? How did she suddenly discover the secret? Was it in any way linked to her death?

When I first played the game I remembered the white materia and I was sure that we needed it to save the planet. I kept trying to go back to The City of the Ancients to retrieve it. I was always so disappointed by that holographic fish.
Edited Date: 2013-10-24 12:53 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-10-25 02:40 am (UTC)
lassarina: I'm not coming out until the stupid people have gone away.  ....I can wait all day. (Default)
From: [personal profile] lassarina
When I played this for Moogle U, this scene really kicked me in the teeth, unlike my previous two trips through (I had been spoiled before the first time.)

I'm so glad you had Vincent here; I sort of awkwardly unrequitedly ship him with Aeris, in a Hades-and-Persephone kind of way.

Date: 2013-10-26 03:26 pm (UTC)
knockyoualldown: (Default)
From: [personal profile] knockyoualldown
"If this were a later game, the party members would be standing around so that Cloud could talk to them one by one and hear their reactions. In some ways, this is better, letting the FMV carry the emotion instead of trying to cram it into text boxes."

I agree completely. I really miss stuff like this. In my opinion, it is so much more powerful to just let the scene speak for itself. I mean, it's not bad to hear character thoughts directly from them, but... I just really love this.

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