As you finally work your way back towards the Sector 7 slums, you’ll be interrupted. A Chocobo pulling a cart opens its way through the giant steel gates to Sector 7, containing a familiar face: Tifa.
The meeting doesn’t just kick off a reimagining of the classic Corneo meeting from FF7, but one of the best quest lines in the game by far, and a moment where Square’s gamble really pays off.
Upon arriving at Sector 6, the red light district and Golden Gai-equivalent for the sectors living under Midgar, you run into the Chocobo driver who ferried Tifa to Corneo’s audition. You don’t know it yet, but he’s one of the three most important people in the city – and, initially, he’s got better things to do than help you.
So after running around the city and discovering the wildlife of Final Fantasy 7 Remake – and easily the liveliest environment in the game’s first half – you’re finally given a proper objective. Auditionees for Don Corneo need to meet a certain standard, and there’s only three people in all of the Sector 6 slums who can approve the right type of girls for Corneo.
“Cloud … requesting permission to kill,” Aerith complains.
This is the one of the most long-awaited Final Fantasy 7 Remake missions. Cloud’s turn in a dress was one of the opening moments from the original FF7, but in the remake it doesn’t kick in until the ninth chapter, more than 15 hours after taking down the initial reactor.
The mission is straightforward: get the approval of Corneo’s bosses. Besides the grumpy chocobo driver, who leaves you with a coin, the sector’s key folk include the madam of a massage parlour and the star of the Honey Bee Inn brothel, another returning establishment from the original FF7.
There’s a three-year long wait on appointments to see Andrea Rhodea, the head of the Inn, so the last port of call is Madam M. You can’t see her before hitting the other two spots first, as the door to her parlour is closed. But after closing everything off, she’ll welcome you in.
The Madam’s not pleased about customers walking in trying to see Corneo, and she initially orders Aerith and Cloud back onto the street. But something about Cloud catches her eye, and she looks him up and down before offering him a range of services, ranging from a poor massage at 100 gil, to a luxury offering at 3,000 gil.
It’s worth noting that Madam M is very upfront about what the parlour is. Everyone entering is there for a hand massage – quite literally, your hands are being massaged.
If you pay for the luxury option, you’re treated to a scene where Cloud’s hands get a gentle rubbing, before a more rigorous workover. The whole scene ends up with Cloud making a bit of an orgasmic sound behind a curtain, with Cloud enjoying the experience so much that the game switches control to Aerith while Cloud recovers against a wall.
But as funny as the literal hand job was, Madam M has more in mind. Impressed with Cloud’s physique, she promises to help Aerith get into Corneo’s audition. There’s one catch: Cloud has to fight in an underground arena on the Madam’s behalf, and if they win, the Madam will provide a spectacular dress for Aerith.
Aerith refuses to let Cloud fight alone – they’re in this together – and so it’s into the first round of preliminaries. Your first fight is against a beastmaster and his two dogs, all of whom are fairly easy to dispatch with their ice and fire vulnerabilities.
The semi-finals pose a hilarious reunion: a rematch with Beck and his cowardly bandits from the previous chapter. Beck brings out extra bandits, so it’s a fight against 8, but none of the bandits have any real strength, so a single counter in Punisher mode is enough to immediately whittle down the numbers.
It’s also a neat chance for a bit of backstory between the trio, specifically Sam the chocobo driver and Madam M, and you get a slight look at Andrea Rhodea for the first time here as well. It’s the kind of worldbuilding fans desperately wanted when they heard Midgar was being fully fleshed out, and this is one of the instances in the first half of the game where Square nails it.
The final fight is against Cutty and Sweepy, robots from Chocobo Sam. Being mechs, they’re vulnerable to Thundara in particular. The mechs will lunge forward, but they’re not especially threatening compared to anything you’ve fought up until this point.
But the fight isn’t over. One of Corneo’s goons informs the trio that the prize can’t be collected; he’s made an executive call to extend the tournament by a single match. Cloud and Aerith have to fight a hand-picked Don Corneo fighter, but on the bright side at least the crowd is on their side for a change.
Corneo’s picked fighter, as it turns out, lives under the underground colosseum itself. It’s an actual, literal house that has its own feet, sparking off a fight and cutscene so absurd that it would only ever be in a Final Fantasy game.
The Hell House was a special fight in Final Fantasy 7, but in the remake Square has turned the House into a full, unskippable boss encounter. It’s a huge, enormous fight that can take up to 20 minutes depending on how well equipped you are. But it’s not an unfair fight at any point: it’s genuinely entertaining and challenging without being cheap or filled with constant interruptions.
The first phase of the fight is fairly straightforward, with a basic elemental vulnerability that you can exploit until the house is staggered. In the second phase, the house adopts a barrier that swaps its elemental vulnerabilities with each use. The robotic left and right arms deflect physical attacks as well, and they’ll retract occasionally when the house moves around. The house will launch itself forward from time to time, and it has a couple of AOE attacks for Cloud you try to attack from behind too much. The real kicker attack is a vortex that kicks off whenever the house opens its front door, which you can avoid as long as you stay on either side. If you do get caught, however, just know that you can heal (or use Aerith’s Healing Wave limit break) to help whoever’s trapped inside.
You’ll be able to stagger the house another time, but it’ll immediately transition into the third phase of the fight. There’s not much that’s structurally different in the third phase, but it’s still one of the more mechanically entertaining in the game so far. It takes a good amount of aggro juggling to avoid the more damaging attacks.
Even then it’s a long fight. If you’re not efficient at dealing with the arms when they come out, and you don’t make judicious use of the right spells and tools like Focused Thrust – and you didn’t equip ATB boosting materia beforehand – you’ll need a restart or two. But it never feels unfair at any point, and the craziness is a perfect fit for the seedy underbelly of the arena, and life under the ring.
The best part of this? The quest still isn’t over. After returning to the Madam’s parlour to get Aerith prepped for the audition, Cloud’s given the chance to hit the town and relax a little until things unwind. That opens up the opportunity for seeing some of the Sector that wasn’t really open before, including a squat-off at the local gym and a run around the bend with the hyperactive Johnny.
But it’s not over yet. After seeing Aerith in a stunning, full-length red dress with gown, she informs Cloud that she won’t be attending the audition alone. It’s not just Cloud’s rugged hands that have caught someone’s attention.
“You’ve caught the eye of a certain fabulous someone, and they’d like to meet in person,” Aerith says.
With that, it’s off to the Honeybee Inn’s Andrea Rhodea, who you couldn’t meet before. And there’s a bonus: not only will you get to meet him in person, but Cloud’s up for a full makeover.
It’s not simply a matter of just walking into a room and getting changed. The dress scene in Final Fantasy 7 was one of the game’s most famous early moments, but in the remake, Square has taken the pixelated brothel and transformed it into a full Moulin Rouge cabaret show.
What’s really spectacular here is the long, sweeping motions of the camera and the Yakuza-esque flair of the cutscene. Its interactive as well, with the player having to hit button prompts in time with the music. Getting the timing right isn’t especially difficult, as you’ll see below, but quicktime events or not, the whole scene is, in every sense of the word, fabulous.
Making the original vision of the Honeybee Inn brothel work in 2020 was always going to be challenging, but Square’s recreation for Final Fantasy 7 Remake is well done. There’s a small speech from Andrea about gender fluidity and sexuality, which is a nice concession, but ultimately the scene is just a great bit of choreography with a visual and aural flourish completely befitting Sector 6.
I was recording the above while playing, and as soon as the scene finished I yelled out to my partner and started restreaming the scene back to our living room so she could watch. It’s a scene that shows the difference between just remastering something for modern systems, and what it’s like to reimagine the context of something a few decades later.
What’s so good about this whole sequence is that it’s largely unbroken by irrelevant fetch tasks in between the best moments. It flows with a pulse and an unbroken beat that’s a huge refreshing tonic from the horrendous grind of some of the other chapters, especially that awful trip to the second reactor.
Wall Market isn’t a great fight, or a hilarious cutscene, or a fun location to explore. It’s all of these things, all at once. It’s an area I wish I could explore more of, rather than being an area I’m simply mining for experience points and side quests. It looks like an area with some great bars my partner and I would love to grab a drink at, particularly the small locales a level or two above, ones with no quests or NPCs that you can talk to. It’s alive, alive in a way the original game couldn’t have ever envisioned, and alive in a way the Sector 7 and 5 slums aren’t. It’s a treat to discover and explore, and I was quietly disappointed a few chapters later when the game returned to Wall Market that I couldn’t hang out further, talk to more NPCs, or grab another massage.
If this was how well Wall Market could be transformed, what’s the Gold Saucer going to look like with Square exercising this level of confidence? How will chocobo racing be reimagined? What’s Kalm and the world outside of Midgar going to look like? And how’s Square going to revitalise Rufus Shinra’s classic crowning ceremony?
Wall Market isn’t the only excellent scene or moment in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, to be fair. There’s beautiful moments and branching cutscenes, some superb boss fights to come, and a wonderfully sombre shot with Tifa and Barret as they overlook the wreckage caused by Shinra. But it’s the reimagining of Wall Market that’s probably the game’s most successful moment, top to bottom, and the one that gets me really excited to see what Square does next. It’s not just enough to remake the rest of Final Fantasy 7 in pristine 3D. The bar is much higher.