The lights are on
Characters in the Final Fantasy series are almost always in do-or-die situations. The actions of these chosen few affect the entire world. Generally, the job of stopping a madman or an earth-scorching apocalypse rests on the shoulders of these adventurers. Cloud, Aeris, Tifa, and the rest of the gang in Final Fantasy VII are no exception. The ragtag group could’ve just made a beeline through the glitzy, enchanting amusement park that is the Gold Saucer, but do you blame them for taking their time in this wonderful place?
Riding the cable car up to the giant golden wonderland is akin to seeing the spires of the Magic Kingdom in the distance on a family road trip to Disney World. The comparison doesn’t end there, as the Gold Saucer even features its own currency, just like Mickey’s amusement park. After shilling out the gil for a pass, players can visit a plethora of awesome attractions.
Chocobo Racing is available to race everyone’s favorite oversized chickens. You can visit a spooky haunted house. A battle arena is also available for you to test your mettle against a series of tough foes and earn prizes. My favorite area is the arcade, which includes Final Fantasy VII’s quirky minigames like snowboarding and submarine piloting. The best minigame is the odd adventure game where you guide a little Mog through a virtual world. The centerpiece of the arcade is a big holographic fighting game, which is cool but simple.
Distractions aside, some great story moments take place among the bright lights, infectious looping music, and golden décor. Cloud goes on a date with either Tifa or Aeris. If you choose the latter (I did) it's a fuzzy little bit of romance that helps set up the story’s dramatic twist later on. Cait Sith, a gigantic robotic Mog with a cat riding it joins up, too. The robotic party member even reads Cloud’s fortune, revealing "What you pursue will be yours. But you will lose something dear."
The fun ends when Barret is mistaken for another man with a gun-arm who killed several Shinra guards. While the story leads Cloud and the gang out of the enchanting playground, players are welcome to return to The Gold Saucer later in the game to play and race painstakingly raised Chocobos. The entire experience might be gaudy and corny by today’s standards, but I adored The Gold Saucer and it stands as the be-all and end-all of video game theme parks.