Retro recollections: Final Fantasy VII challenge hour 6: That damned elf

The intrusion of other games was always going to be a challenge, but not one I expected to face quite so quickly.

For those just joining us, I’m taking on the challenge of Final Fantasy VII, simply because it’s 20 years since I last played it, and I want to see if it still holds its charm beyond nostalgia. Also because my current commitments make it tough to commit to a game for any length of time, because I’m not as young as I used to be. You should probably start at week one and work your way up from there.
See also:
Retro recollections: Can I replay Final Fantasy VII?
Time for a few quick admissions, after which you may judge me. But not harshly, because it’s been far too long a day for that kind of thing.
On the small side, the past couple of weeks of entries were legitimate, but owing to work-related travel, they were undertaken a couple of weeks prior. There wasn’t going to be practical time (or space) to play FF7 on the go, so I lined up content to keep myself and my enthusiasm going. This means that this week’s play hour is the first fresh play hour in about a month. That’s kind of odd, but encouraging in one way, because it would have been very easy to back away from the challenge.
However, this week, I also hit the problem of other games. Or to be strictly honest, one other particular game.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.

It actually came out while I was overseas, but that didn’t entirely matter, because right now, escaping that damned elf and the relentless coverage and hype is all but impossible.
It doesn’t help that in the Switch lineup, there’s Zelda, and then…. there’s everything else. And I say that as someone who owns just about every other Bomberman title and for whom the idea of not picking up a Bomberman game feels mildly sacrilegious!
What’s worse is that I’d like to dip heavily into the hype, because I generally adore Zelda games. I’ve no doubt it will live up to the hype, and I’ll enjoy it a very great deal.
Enjoying a Zelda game a very great deal is a risky prospect, however, because my own personal gaming time is seriously limited. It’s the whole point of this challenge, however, because I have to actively make time to play Final Fantasy VII.
If I pick up Zelda (and at this point I’ve been unusually strong, and I’ve not even laid eyes on a Switch in the flesh) then it’s game over, Cloud and co. Not just for the couple of weeks (at least) it would take me to make it through Zelda, but probably entirely.
If I had oodles of gaming time, this would be easy. Final Fantasy VII is a game that you can knock over in 20-30 hours or so, and if I had the kind of time I had 20 years ago, that would be a doddle. I’m certain some folks have speed run the game even faster than that, actually.

Holy crap. 2:26?
I could have finished this game at least twice ALREADY? Mind you, that’s with all sorts of warping malarkey, and I want to play FFVII properly. That will take time, which I will have to dole out in affordable chunks.
So I must be strong. No Switch for me.
Now on with the show…

Final Fantasy VII: You like climbing, right?

When I last played, the plate had fallen, things were bad and it was time to climb up to Shinra and exact some revenge. Knowing Barret, guns will be involved. Knowing Cloud, idiocy will be involved. Thankfully, Tifa is along for the run as well.

This looks totally safe.

But first… we’ve got to head back down the big climbing area, because somebody forgot some batteries. This is pure time filling, as the weapon shop keeper will sell me some batteries for 100 gil each.
I’ll take some batteries, the big sword, and any phased plasma rifles in the 40 watt range you might have.

That’s an easy price to pay, so I do, and then head back up to the twisted metal.

Man, that was a great game… but NO! I must be strong.
This bit of climbing forms some simple puzzles, thankfully without random battles to get in the way. It’s quite beautiful twisted metal actually. This doesn’t feel at all safe, but it’s fun in a rather Another World type way. Once I’ve made my way through the broken plate supports, it’s time to take on Shinra headquarters.
Yeah, this is kind of frightening. But in a good way.

I’m then faced with the choice of a direct attack, or sneaking into Shinra HQ. I’m a sucker for all things Ninja, so the choice is obvious.
Barret is all about the subtle approach.

No, Barret, the choice is obvious.

Much better.
Except that sneaking into Shinra HQ doesn’t so much involve smoke bombs and clinging to ceiling pipes. Instead, it involves stairs.
Oh joy! Stairs!

Lots and lots of stairs.
Yes. Stairs.

And some more stairs.
Hmm. Stairs.

Also stairs.

Thanks Robin. Not helping.
My god. It’s made of stairs.

After many minutes of the same stairs, over and over again, it is done. Or possibly we are.
Barret’s cardio needs some work.

A quick battle scores us the keycard needed to get to level 60. This should be a doddle, right?
Wait, we could have TAKEN A LIFT???
(Nobody tell Barret.)

Not quite. There’s a slightly annoying “stealth” game that involves shuffling past guards while they’re moving. Naturally I fail a couple of times, and then it just becomes a rote matter of movement, which isn’t particularly engaging. There’s also a hidden trick here, because you can go up stairs (more stairs! Hurrah!) to level 69.
No wonder there were so many stairs.

Which naturally only means one thing:

No, not that.
It means I don’t yet have the keycards I need to access the floors I want to get to, so I’ve got to go back down and find them. There’s a mayor who isn’t a mayor…
It was at this point that Cloud finally cottoned on to the idea that Shinra might be a touch on the evil side.

And a rather pretty map of Midgar to build…
It’s like LEGO, but people die when you collapse it.

And some random battles. Although I’m impressed. So far, FFVII has mixed up the enemies I fight, where many RPGs would choose a few stock enemies and send them to you endlessly. It keeps it interesting, and also weird.
Earthworm Jim! He’s such a groovy guy!
No, wait… this is clearly Evil Jim.

For some reason, the Shinra building is full of these huge paper worm-like things. Once again, I’m reminded that this would be easier with the team healer, but at least I stocked up on Cure Materia to keep things rolling along.
We also get to snoop in on a business meeting, which means NINJA SKILLS AT LAST! Fourteen year old me is delighted.
Also, Barret knows FIVE letter bad words. He’s just that much badder, you see.

We find the lab, and a creature (that will soon become important), as well as the mysterious Jenova. Cloud collapses, and Barret displays his finely tuned sensitivity, as well as his sense of comedy.
Also, Barret pulls out the SIX-letter F-bomb. The one used only for special occasions.

And with that, the hour of play finishes up. Yeah, I do still want to play Zelda, but this kept me going with an interesting mix of play styles, a lot of light satire about Japanese office culture and Barret’s foul mouth. Onwards and upwards. Although hopefully not up too many more stairs.
Next time: A climactic boss battle awaits!

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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