When Cloud Strife returns to Midgar, Avalanche pays him to help them destroy a MAKO reactor built by a company called Shinra. Unfortunately, Cloud’s past is starting to catch up with him. Can Avalanche save the Planet from Shinra and help Cloud face the demons from his past?
First things first, for those of you who haven’t played the game, there will be spoilers in this review. I finally beat this game and it only took me years, literally. When I was younger, I had a short attention span and I had a tendency to start the game over when it became too difficult. The only reason I returned to it is because I wanted to start the whole Kingdom Hearts series from scratch so I decided to watch the Disney movies and play the Final Fantasy games associated with each one. At first, I was just going through the scenes I’ve watched over a hundred times when I was a kid and just completing it for the sake of Kingdom Hearts. Then I got to one powerful scene and I was immediately hooked.
When we first play the game, we’re introduced to Cloud, the man who helps commit an act of terrorism for money. At first, he seems like the kind of guy we imagine ourselves to be, an ex-member of an elite army and a no-nonsense type of guy who can wield a huge sword without breaking a sweat.
Then we continue playing and we discover that Cloud can be summed up in one word, failure. When he was a kid, he bragged about how he was going to be in SOLDIER and instead was turned down because his body didn’t react well to the process. Not only that, but he’s also a clone that the scientists of Shinra labeled as a failure. While this might make Cloud out to be a liar, he actually believed everything he said. What happened was that the cloning process went wrong and his memories were fused with Zack’s, a man who is everything Cloud wanted to be. Even when Cloud and Zack escape, the Shinra guards only kill the latter and leave the former alive because he’s not important. To me, when Cloud started to question his views of reality, that was when I started playing the game not as research for Kingdom Hearts but just to see what would happen later on. Cloud went from being the person we want to be to the one that we actually are. That doesn’t mean that Cloud isn’t a heroic character because in the end he decides that none of that matters and continues to lead the group on the quest.
Two other characters are Tifa and Aeris, both possible love interests for Cloud. Tifa is the bartender with a skill for martial arts and an optimistic attitude yet has trouble admitting her feelings for Cloud. Aeris is the flirtatious flower girl with a strong spirit and the last surviving member of a race called The Ancients. When I was a kid, I was constantly getting into fights with a friend on Quizilla about who was better between Aeris and Tifa. She argued Aeris because she’s strong-willed and determined to beat Sephiroth. I argued Tifa because she can kick the bad guys’ asses. I also hated that the childhood friend was ignored while the new girl came out of nowhere. Now that I play the game, I see that it wasn’t that Cloud didn’t notice Tifa, he just wasn’t sure she liked him while Aeris he was absolutely sure about. Not to mention that while Tifa might know martial arts, she has a seriously co-dependent personality regarding Cloud. She wants him to live up to a promise he made years ago and is more concerned about his well-being than she is about the group. While Aeris does like Cloud, she puts the regard of The Planet above him and is willing to put her life on the line to save it. Though her death wasn’t very powerful for me because I had a habit of looking ahead to see spoilers and I knew it was coming.
Plus, I never really got past Disc 1 when I was a kid.
I’ve mentioned Avalanche destroying MAKO reactors that Shinra creates but I haven’t really explained why. According to Barrett, their leader, MAKO is the energy used by Shinra and it’s killing The Planet. So his group blows them up to save it. This is an act of environmental terrorism and the game admits this in the form of Cait Sith, who calls Barrett out on this at the end of the game. It turns out Barrett’s reasons were solely for revenge and saying that he’s saving The Planet was his way of justifying all the innocent lives he’s taken.
Speaking of Cait Sith, when he first appeared I’ll admit that I didn’t really like him. I thought the whole concept of a robotic cat on a stuffed moogle while the owner is safely at Shinra Headquarters was absolutely ridiculous. They even got to the scene where he has to recite the spell to turn the Ancient’s Temple into Black Materia and everyone acts like it’s some heroic sacrifice while all that’s getting crushed is a glorified cell phone that could easily be replaced. It wasn’t until he calls Barrett out on his terrorism that I actually started to see Cait Sith as part of the cast.
Another character I thought was ridiculous at first was Red XIII, though he didn’t take as long to grow on me. When we’re introduced to him, he’s a big four-legged cat and one of the Shinra scientist’s, Hojo’s, project. At first, he seems like something to show how sick Hojo is by trying to force Red XIII and Aeris to mate on the grounds that they are both endangered species. At first, they only show Aeris’s disgust but when Red XIII knocks Hojo out, he’s just as much of a victim because he doesn’t like humanoid species, well not in that way. Then we go to his hometown and discover the origin of his species. So I didn’t really think of him as a talking animal as much as I did an alien race.
Just like in every Final Fantasy game since the second one, this one also has an appearance by the famous Cid. Only in this one, he’s a playable character with his own hopes and dreams. He wants to go into space and his dream was destroyed by Shinra. He blames a worker of his for destroying his dream due to the fact that she stayed behind to continue the repairs. It’s not until near the end that he has to acknowledge that she was right.
In addition to these characters, you can also unlock two secret ones named Yuffie and Vincent. The former being a materia hunting ninja and the latter being a former member of Shinra. Both of them come with side quests that help you discover more about their pasts.
Of course, no story is complete without a great villain and this one is no exception.
The main one is not Shinra but a former member of SOLDIER named Sephiroth. At first, he seems like the standard villain but as you get deeper and deeper into the game you realize that he is another experiment of Hojo’s gone wrong. When he learned the truth behind his origins, he hates Shinra and the rest of The Planet. Some of Sephiroth’s appeal is that he has a long black cape and comes with his own theme song.
The game play is every bit as amazing as the story. You travel throughout the world going to various locations in order to complete the game. During this, you unlock random battles with a system where you can attack when the bar for each character fills up.
You can equip your characters with the best weapons and armor available for them and can also fill the slots on your equipment with materia. Materia is an item that gives you special abilities for each character, such as magic and summoning spells. As you complete each battle, you can level up your characters. There is another bar for each character that fills up depending on how much damage you take. When the bar’s full, you can use a special attack that allows you to make your battles easier. You can also visit towns in order to buy items, equipment and materia to suit your needs. Oh, and you can also rest up at an inn and save your game at the world map and at a save point. Also, the game is so long that they had to separate it into three discs.
As I said earlier, this game does come with side quests. Some help you delve further into the story, others allow you to obtain the most powerful limit breaks for your characters and the rest are just there for bragging rights. Two of my favorite side quests are the chocobo breeding and the battle square. At first, I wasn’t going to participate in the latter but I decided to get Cloud’s final limit break, which I’m glad I did.
The chocobo one I just like because of my fondness for animals and having something that could travel anywhere with no limits whatsoever seemed pretty cool.
This game is addictive and intriguing. I give it 9 out of 10; an oldie but goodie.