May 23, 2019

Final Fantasy VII: Weapon-Stomping Edition

So I beat Emerald Weapon for the first time in my life (and a good 22 years after other gamers had long since succeeded).  Might as well use this time to talk about Final Fantasy 7 to celebrate.

Not like there’s anything else related to the game going on right now.

It took some doing for me to finally clear the Emerald Weapon fight (via the recently-released Switch port of FF7).  It’s probably not a necessity, but I went ahead and raised my team’s level all the way up to the max.  Mastered some Materia, went in fully-loaded with a stock of Megalixirs, jacked up the party stats with some targeted Source farming, et cetera, et cetera.  Nothing out of the ordinary.

I mean, I did tweak my setup and strategy beforehand (more on that in a minute).  I pretty much had to.  Emerald Weapon more or less has a full-party instant kill based on your Materia count, so you need at least one game-breaking combo -- in my case, Final Attack + Phoenix -- to survive.  Plus he’s an absolute unit with 1,000,000 HP, spawns extra units to sap your HP and MP, hits with full-party counterattacks, and is just a generally unpleasant guy.  Also you fight him underwater, which means that if you don’t have the Underwater Materia, you’re stuck with a strict 20-minute time limit before it’s game over.

Turns out I didn’t need that.  Among other things.

I know that there are some broken strats you can use to curb-stomp Emerald Weapon.  I once saw a video where a solo Cloud crushed the undersea robeast by hitting 8 Omnislashes in one turn.  I didn’t opt for that, though.  No Knights of the Round, either.  No Mime shenanigans.  Not even the Underwater Materia.  Just a straight-up, drag-out slugfest.  It’s probably not the most optimal setup, given that I cleared the fight with literally 22 seconds left on the clock.  But I’m proud of it.  My sense of ownership -- pride in the setup that I’d refined and used to carry me through most of the game -- made me refuse some of the top-tier strategies.  And because of it, I felt a massive sense of accomplishment when I finally made Emerald Weapon turn bright red and fade into a distant memory.

Now the question is whether or not I’m a bad enough dude to take on the Ruby Weapon…and the answer right now is “nawwwwwwwwwww.”  Near as I can tell, Emerald is tough but fair.  Ruby is not.  For starters, you have to go in with two party members dead or it’ll automatically, irrevocably remove one from the party -- and can then do so anyway at random throughout the fight.  It’s got tendrils that snipe you from behind, sapping HP, MP, and hitting your crew with a multitude of status effects.  Ruby itself can smack you with Ultima whenever it feels like it, on top of a beam attack that confuses you if you’re not wearing a Ribbon.  Props to those who have crushed him before, but I’m not in the mood to bang my head against the wall much more than I already have.  So we’ll see what happens.

On the plus side?  My party is strong enough to absolutely dunk on Sephiroth.

So I have what I call the “7th Circle”.

Here’s how it works.  My main (and only) party is Cloud, Tifa, and Barret.  Cloud at a base level has janky stats, in the sense that even if you load him up with magic like I did -- and thus made him physically weaker -- he can still keep up with the physical damage output of the others.  Doesn’t matter, though; armed with W-Magic and Magic Plus, he can dish out the damage as well as heal and buff -- often with two spells at once.

It took me a while to figure out what niche Barret would fill, but I found more use for him besides “the backup” or “all-rounder”.  If Cloud was all about that magic life, Barret would amp it up with his speed.  Thanks to some Source farming and loading him up with Speed Plus Materia, his Dexterity is locked at the max of 255 -- meaning that he’s faster by default than the others are with Haste.  Essentially, his damage output is higher by virtue of swarming foes with his ludicrous speed -- which is 100% a possibility thanks to Slash-All letting him hit everything on the field for 7K-9999 damage.  Not bad, Mr. T.

But the real clincher for 7th Circle is Tifa. Oh, Tifa.  If Cloud is the mage and Barret the speedster, Tifa is the power of the group.  The tank.  The QUEEN BEE.  She has no green Materia sapping her physical stats, for starters.  HP Plus buffs her, but at her current level she probably doesn’t need those anymore.  Strength and Vitality are at the max, as is her Luck stat.  In a battle, the party gets crazy.

With her maxed-out Cover Materia, Tifa has a 100% chance to block any physical attack an enemy does to party members.  If it hits, then she’ll take less damage (and the squishy mage Cloud can heal her back up anyway).  But because her Luck stat is so high, she has at least a 63% chance to dodge the hit anyway, thus negating the attack.  But assuming it does for whatever reason, Tifa’s maxed-out Counter Attack Materia gives her a 100% chance to strike back…and thus hit the opponent for 9,999 damage instantly.

But wait, there’s more!

Unlike FF10, as far as I know there’s no way to break the damage cap…at least on a base, by-the-book level.  But Tifa has a leveled-up Double Cut Materia on, meaning that her basic attack turns one hit into four.  So if and when she gets her turn, she can do 39,996 damage in one shot.  With her Limit Break, it’s possible she can get in up to 69,993 damage in one shot (assuming every reel of her slot machine lands).  There’s very little that could, potentially, stand up to her.  Probably just the endgame bosses -- to a point -- and Tonberry, who hits with the Everyone’s Grudge counterattack if you don’t land a finishing blow on him.

Probably the only legitimate way to survive Tifa’s offensive onslaught is to fight her right after she uses her Limit Break, i.e. when her limit gauge is otherwise empty.  Her ultimate weapon has a secret damage-calculating equation where she hits harder when she has more meter, and doesn’t when it’s at zero (though her Luck stat means critical hits are practically guaranteed).  It’d be a problem if not for Cover ensuring that Tifa takes damage eventually -- though even without it, magic can still hit her -- and at this stage she barely needs an eighth of a bar to get back to 9,999 damage.  

So I’ve got Cloud healing and buffing while avoiding virtually all damage, Barret supporting and chipping away at foes a thousand times over, and Tifa safely, harmlessly absorbing damage so she can obliterate anything in her path, after punishing foes for so much as breathing in her direction.

Welcome to Hell.

I’d wondered for ages what it was like to break FF7, having done a basic, vanilla run back when I first cleared it.  And by extension, I’d always lamented not gaming the system as others so gleefully and skillfully did -- which, by extension of that, means I regretted not beating the Weapons.  (There was a time when Kid Voltech would have his wee baby heart thump whenever he had to use the sub, for fear of running into Emerald.)  

Now I know how it feels.  I have my strat, my build, my setup, and I couldn’t be happier.  Having the freedom to bend and exploit the game to my heart’s content has been an experience just as good, if not better, than the famous story delivered unto us more than 20 years ago.  Granted I’m no stranger to breaking games -- Kid Voltech crushed the much-maligned FF8 back in the day -- but it feels good to do it again here, with a game so horrifically popular.

So here’s the question that’s been on my mind recently: how is the FF7 remake going to match the original in terms of that game-breaking potential?

It’s been a solid four years since the remake’s announcement, and there’s still so much up in the air.  I’m relieved that…well, I’m glad that…er…I’m aware that more info is coming soon, but the fact that there’s been nothing so direct and substantive to allay gamers’ fears without obsessively watching trailers frame-by-frame doesn’t come off as the sort of thing that will help us sleep at night.  I mean, FF7 isn’t even my favorite game, but I’m nervous.  I can only imagine how much more nervous the actual, diehard lovers really are -- and how awful it’d be if the remake was a crushing disappointment.

The amount of work that needs to be done to revive and rebuild the original game for the HD/4K generation cannot possibly be understated.  Squeenix is probably learning that the hard way as I type this, though that would require them to actively learn lessons from past mistakes.  And learn in general.  In case it wasn’t obvious, I don’t have a lot of faith in their ability to pull this off.  Because even if they do import the story wholesale with minimal changes and/or updates that preserve the spirit of the original, they still have to design new gameplay and combat systems after dropping the ATB element.  And I remember what happened the last time Squeenix put out an action RPG.

I enjoy breaking JRPGs with the tools I’ve been given.  With that said, there’s a good approach and a bad approach -- one that’s cathartic, and one that’s cringeworthy.  Octopath Traveler is a good example of the former, in the sense that it’s simple enough to build a broken character/party, but you have to be willing to put in the time and/or have the ingenuity to see those possibilities…wherein the end results are absolutely hilarious.  The bad example would be Kingdom Hearts III; it takes no effort to go uber, there’s no spectacle to be had, and no (major) foes to test your amped-up build against.

I guess that part of what I’m asking here is “How will we get to customize our characters?”  If the game really is going to be episodic, then there’s a hard limit on what we’ll get in the first episode (whenever that comes out), meaning that if it follows the original game we’’l just barely get a taste of Red XIII.  Not to mention that the party’s pretty fixed in the early goings (no Barret past the 2nd reactor, and not until you stop the pillar explosion).  So that’s going to be hard to overcome right out of the gate.

How is Materia going to work in this game?  We may have a problem if it follows the examples set by KH3 or FF15; the former overly streamlined magic and its applications into “shoot the ball at the guy”, while the latter actively punished you for using magic (while simultaneously cranking up the damage and AOE) by turning it into grenades that would wreck your party if they drew too close.  I would assume that importing the original system is the plan, albeit with tweaks (how will Cover work when there’s physical distance that needs to be covered by the player or AI?), so we’ll see.

Okay, so let’s say that -- by virtue of the remake’s first episode seemingly focused on Midgar only -- there’s a cap on how broken you can get…or, more appropriately, how much you can mix up your build based on the original making Materia acquisition tied to story progression.  That probably won’t be true for the full product, but we’ll see what happens.  Anyway, with this hypothetical situation, the bigger issue here is an obvious one: is the game going to play well?  Will it feel good?  Will it be responsive and promote active thought?  I mean, it really doesn’t say good things when the last good action game Squeenix put out was NieR: Automata, a game they passed off to a completely different developer.

I can forgive the remake going down the action route as long as said action is satisfying.  But remember, we live in a world where the genre has changed and evolved -- where the approach to action in any given game, RPG or otherwise, has led to various answers to the question of “How do you be good?”  NieR, the Tales series, Devil May Cry, Spider-Man, the Yakuza series, God of War -- they’ve all offered their solutions.  Now it’s up to the remake to give one, but the company’s poor track record makes me wonder if they can even grasp the basics.  IT’s not going to be fun breaking the game if the base itself is shoddy.

What’s it going to take for the game to have that je ne sais quoi?  Squeezing in the party’s Limit Breaks is a start, but that’s not enough.  Will they get new moves?  Will they get special arts to use alongside normal attacks and magic?  Will those skills be ripe for upgrading?  And beyond that, how are they going to portray every move from the original?  Tifa had suplexes built into her tool kit, which is going to be a sight if and when she has to land that grapple on killer robots, mutants, dragons, the odd kaiju, and a murderous house.

Reminder: this game has more weird stuff in it besides the cross-dressing scene.  Don’t forget it, and don’t let Squeenix forget it either -- because they will if you let them.

There’s not enough information to go on right now, which is a problem in and of itself.  So in a lot of ways, making snap judgments and assumptions about a game that’s months or years down the line is the height of folly.  With that said, I think we can all agree that there are ways for the remake to go right…and far, far, far more ways for it to go wrong.

You know me by now, I hope.  I’m the guy who values the writing and storytelling of the games he plays, and FF7 -- remake, original, and everything in between -- is no exception.  Even if that’s true, replaying the original game has reminded me that you can’t forget about the potential and weight behind a solid gameplay system and loop.  And from here on out, I’m praying that Squeenix hasn’t forgotten either.

Then again, I feel like part of the reason they’re keeping their cards so close to the chest is because they’re expecting backlash over remake Tifa’s design (whether it features more beefcake, more cheesecake, or simply plain white bread)…which would explain why we’ve seen nothing of her besides her name in a few seconds of the trailer, even during events she was present for.  Can’t imagine why.


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