I picked up Crisis Core again recently, and toward the end of the game, it catches up with some of the backstory sequences from Final Fantasy VII. I’ve only played FFVII once, a long time ago, so I decided to play it again to fill in the gaps of my hazy memory. I’ve only played the first hour or so so far, but what I wanted to remark upon was how great this opening hour is for setting up the world, plot, and a couple of the main characters of the game quickly, without sacrificing excitement.
In the opening scene of the game, our protagonist, Cloud, and a group of four people who call themselves AVALANCHE infiltrate and destroy a thing called a Mako Reactor. The group breaks codes on security doors, battles through the facility to the reactor where they face a giant scorpion robot, sets a bomb, escapes before the place explodes, and flees the area via train. Throughout all of this, we learn about:
- Cloud: The first lines of dialogue are about how Cloud used to be in a group called SOLDIER, but he quit. It’s not said why he quit, or why he has joined AVALANCHE now, but this is his first mission with them. Later on we learn that SOLDIER is a mercenary group that works for…
- Barret: The leader of AVALANCHE, and our second party member. All we learn up front is that he doesn’t trust Cloud and is trying to save the planet from…
- Shinra Power Company: We are told by Barret that Shinra owns all of the Mako Reactors that power the city of Midgar, and that the reactors pull from the very life force of the planet, slowly killing it. This is the reason AVALANCHE is attacking the reactors.
- Midgar: Jesse tells Cloud about the train system in Midgar, but more importantly, Barret explains how the structure of the city enables a deep class division–the upper class lives on a plate held up by a central spire, and the poor live in the slums below the plate, where they can’t even see the sky.
This is all communicated quickly and simply in the dialogue during the attack. The SOLDIER thing is remarked upon to an almost comical degree, but it’s a point of tension between Cloud and Barret, who doesn’t really trust him, and it’s really the only thing we find out about Cloud in this opening segment. In fact, for some time, it is Cloud’s defining feature.
In the second scene, AVALANCHE regroups at Seventh Heaven, a bar that serves as AVALANCHE’s headquarters. There, we meet…
- Marlene: Barret’s young daughter (it’s not clear how old she is, but she’s young enough to become frightened around people she doesn’t know, like Cloud). A few lines of dialogue give us insight into Barret’s motivation: he loves his daughter and wants to save the planet from Shinra so that she can have a long and safe life. Even with the goofy, blocky polygons, Barret picking up Marlene and putting her on his shoulder is a nice moment.
- Tifa, our third party character. We find out via flashback that Tifa is a childhood friend of Cloud’s. When he tells her he is going to Midgar to join SOLDIER, she makes him promise to come and rescue her if she’s ever in trouble. She uses this memory to try to convince Cloud to join AVALANCHE, but it backfires a bit: Cloud goes on a rant about how he doesn’t care about Shinra, the planet, or AVALANCHE. It was a jarring moment for me because in Crisis Core, Cloud is still an enthusiastic and naive kid, more or less, so it’s sad to see how the Nibelheim incident and the events that followed made him so jaded and apathetic.
After the brief scene at Seventh Heaven, Cloud, Barret, and Tifa head out for the next mission. FFVII has a reputation for being huge and confusing (and I certainly remember being confused a lot the first time I played it), but I found the introduction to be pretty well-done in that it conveys important information about the characters without being boring.
Over the next month or two (or possibly longer), I’m going to be replaying Final Fantasy VII and writing about it; if you’re in the mood for a replay, or if you’ve never played FFVII before, you’re very welcome to play along and join me in discussing this classic game.