Monday, March 6, 2023

Villains of FFVII Part 2: Deviants, Delinquents, and Dreamkillers

Here is a layered look at what makes a villain tick, with a fun contrast of what makes a villain, and who sees them as such. These three are not the bad guys around which major plot points hinge. Rather, these are unforgettable and distinct characters that we love to hate in some of the best side quests and subplots of FFVII.

Don Corneo: Irredeemable slumlord

Don Corneo is a deeply disturbing character played for laughs at his unrestrained and goofy sensuality. He is the target of an information heist undertaken at first by Tifa, who infiltrates his slum fortress disguised as a hopeful bride, ala Sheherezade from the Arabian nights folktale. Cloud and Aeris infiltrate his mansion to save Tifa after a side quest with several steps to dress Cloud in drag as yet another contestants for Don Corneo’s big night of revelry. This part of the game is meant to be a humorous break from the many heavy and dark topics FF7 brings up.

Of course the meat and potatoes of the night comes when all three party members wind up crashing the party and interrogating Don Corneo, who reveals that Shinra plans to drop the sector seven plate, crushing the slum below, and framing Avalanche for it to boot. Immediately after this reveal the Don drops them through the trap door in his room (because why not have a trapdoor in your bedroom that leads directly to the sewer? Oh yeah, you have to do something with your numerous guests you treat like cheap entertainment).

We’ll talk more later about Don Corneo’s second encounter with Avalanche, which also involves women and even kidnapping.

His place in the story is a focal point of the sort of person who thrives somewhere high up in the Midgar slums food chain. He’s crafty, indulgent, and terribly cringe, if you look at with the eyes of an adult, aware that people like him actually exist and make their living in the business of human trafficking. If Disney villains Jafar or Gaston escalated up a few parental guidance ratings by their writers, a night with Don Corneo would probably take them even deeper, headlong into the gutter. 

Yuffie Kisaragi: Mischievous Materia Girl

Yuffie, a traveling material collector and loyal citizen of Wutai, the last stronghold still resisting Shinra. Collector is actually a generous, and dishonest term for this one. She’s more than happy to pickpocket or swindle anyone carrying the shiny, magic materia orbs.

Yuffie's actions in the game are delightfully quirky. She can be found as a random battle encounter in any forest in the game. The odds you will meet her go up the farther you advance. 

This is helpful, because after the battle you are prompted with several choices of what to say. If you make even one mistake, she disappears with some of your stuff.

If you recruit her early Yuffie temporarily takes a job as a cashier/salesperson at a materia store while you pass through a beachside resort town. 

Much later, Yuffie is the central figure of not one, but two side quests in her home town of Wutai. The first is a chase sequence which involves, you guessed it, Yuffie stealing nearly all the party's materia (unless one knows the secret to reserving a select materia collection) and then leading the party on a wild goose chase across Wutai. Of course, things don't go according to Yuffie's plan. It just so happens that Elena of the Turks is vacationing in Wutai with Rude and Reno. She and Yuffie get abducted by Don Corneo's thugs, and tied up on a mountain side as revenge for Avalanche and the Turks crashing his party. Don Corneo meets an untimely end after his plan fails. And Yuffie returns all the materia, but of course replaces it at random, a final slap in the face to players who carefully arrange materia to maximize their creative potential.

Yuffie's second side quest actually provides an amazing level of satisfying action and narrative payoff. Before you climb up the mountain Wutai you can enter a five-level pagoda. Each floor contains a boss who can be battled only by Yuffie alone. The skilled player who reaches the top finds that Yuffie's Father is the final boss. After defeating him, we realize how Yuffie's obsession with materia is not only about her commitment to Wutai, but also about her need to impress her father. 

This side quest is quite a challenge, even for players who have spent a good amount of time grinding and developing strategy. Each battle requires the player to be prepared for a very different kind of attack. And of course the ability to deliver consistent damage output is very necessary for this unusual 1 v 1 battle plan.

Yuffie is lovable, if highly sketchy. There are two kinds of players of FF7, those who hate her for how inconvenient she makes your life during the recruiting process, and the Wutai sidequest, and those who love her for her moxy and unsinkable confidence.

Not to wax too long, but Yuffie can be equipped with a weapon that is the primary tool for stat farming, which saves lots of time if you happen compulsively max out your characters.

Shera: Survivor and Scientist

Finally, the space travel plot line, involving CID and Shera.

The meat here is that Shera I genuinely is an unsung hero, perhaps a victimized, abuse survivor who tragically spends years with a belligerent and vulgar... partner? Cid is played off as a Maverick with the chops to fly a plane as easily as a spaceship. But the launch planned by Shinra years earlier failed, we are told, because Shera was convinced an air tank near the ship's engine hadn't passed all safety protocols. As the countdown nears zero, CID screams at Shera that she's about to die, that the ignition of the rocket engines will burn her up.

Cid aborts the launch, saving Shera's life, but effectively killing his dream. He spends the next several years taking out his rage at her, which she tragically does nothing to avoid. She lives life stuck as the villain in the mind of Cid, who’s a more a villain himself, if you read the story like I do.

In Cid's mind, Shera is the cause of the greatest injustice of his life. However, we are amazed to find later in the game that Shinra refurbishes the rocket and is preparing to launch it once again with a payload of huge materia, hopefully big enough to obliterate a meteor hurtling toward the planet. We never find out, because Cid goes up in the rocket, steals the huge materia, and takes the capsule out the side before the rocket crashes into the meteor. We see confirmation while the rocket is in flight that the same oxygen tank Shera tested had indeed exploded after the launch and led to sufficient damage to kill everyone on board the spaceship. We couldn't have confirmed more clearly that Cid's mistreatment of Shera was unjustified.

If you know even a little bit about FF7 you have realized that I could go on like this for a while. My next post in the villains of FFVII series will be about the main villains of the game. But you may be surprised at what I have to say. Looking forward to sharing more in this multipart series!

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