|Important Items in this Area|
Exit the area via the western edge of the screen to reach the slums, where Barret will run some bar rats out of their watering hole. Talk to the handful of slum-dwellers standing about if you care to, but ignore all the buildings save the one Barret is standing in front of - there’s nothing of interest to do in them right now, anyway. Instead, talk to Barret and head into the bar, where you’ll encounter a girl named Marlene, who mistakes you for her father. You’ll also be addressed by the proprietor of The 7th Heaven, who will be referred to by her default name, Tifa.
After she questions your behavior during the mission (and you name her) you’ll get a chance to give away the flower you may have bought from the flower girl you met after bombing the No. 1 Reactor. If you give the flower to Tifa, you’ll increase her disposition (Tifa +5). If you give it to Marlene, you’ll make Barret happy (Barret +5).
Talk to your fellow terrorists, then go to leave the bar, only to have Barret stomp his way inside. After scooping up Marlene he’ll call a meeting and head down to the cellar. Talk to Tifa, who has moved behind the bar and, when she asks if you want a drink say “Give me something hard” to increase her disposition towards you (Tifa +5), or “I don’t feel like it” to avoid such an outcome.
Go over to the lift Barret and his cohorts used to reach the basement, then activate the, uh, pinball machine? Whatever it is, activate it to go down. Approach Barret and he’ll ask you a question, and Cloud, being the snarky jerk that he is, ends up provoking Barret to Biggs’ misfortune. Tensions flare, and as you go to leave, Tifa will show up and unsuccessfully attempt to defuse the situation. Talk to the other members of AVALANCHE if you wish, then head back up the lift and go to leave the bar.
Tifa will stop you and play the “childhood friends” guilt card. When you get a chance to pick a response say “How can you say that!” to improve her disposition (Tifa +5), or say “…Sorry” to… well, get nothing. Either way, you’ll watch a scene from their collective past. Never make a promise to Tifa - she won’t forget it, and won’t let you, either. After name-dropping “Sephiroth” and detailing Cloud’s desire to emulate his hero in SOLDIER, Tifa will make Cloud swear to her rather selfish proposal. Damn. Looks like you’re stuck. After the memory, Barret will climb up and pay Cloud for the last mission, then, with the help of Tifa, will set the terms of the next mission. That’s becoming a very expensive promise.
Head back upstairs and talk to Tifa who will tell you that she’s joining you on the next mission. When she asks how you slept, say “Barret’s snoring kept me up…” to improve Barret’s disposition towards you (Barret +5) or say “Next to you, who wouldn’t?” to improve Tifa’s disposition (Tifa +5), you sly dog, you. Once Tifa’s done talking, Barret will ask you about Materia, which is this game’s way of setting up a Materia tutorial. You can check it out, or just use this condensed version.
Each weapon and piece of armor has a different number of slots into which Materia can be inserted. Only equipped materia can be used, either in or out of combat. Most equipment Materia slots have a normal growth rate, meaning that AP earned in combat will improve equipped Materia by the stated value, but some rare and coveted gear will have double or triple growth rate, which will boost AP gain by materia in those slots accordingly. Then again, some gear also has a null growth rate, which obviously should be avoided if you want to level up your Materia.
Equipping Materia will affect your attributes - generally increasing your Magic (magic damage) and Max MP, while reducing your Strength (attack damage) and Max HP. Despite what the game says, the effects of this are usually negligible, so don’t worry about it too much. For the most part, whether you equip your Materia into a weapon slot or armor slot doesn’t matter and in rare cases when it does, it’ll be pointed out.
As for AP, which was mentioned earlier, every time you win a battle you’ll get EXP and AP. EXP levels up your characters, while AP levels up your Materia. For the present, this isn’t much of a concern, since you won’t be getting enough AP for a while for it to matter. For long-term considerations, though, just know that when you level up Materia you’ll unlock more powerful/new spells (magic/green Materia), more uses per battle (summon/red Materia and support/blue Materia), different command (command/yellow Materia) or greater passive effects (independent/purple Materia).
When a piece of Materia reaches maximum level, it’ll no longer gain AP. It will, however, create a new version of that same Materia. For this reason, you should be incredibly wary of selling any Materia, as you can duplicate new Materia so long as you have an un-maxed version of said Materia. Materia also increases in value the more AP it has, but again, you generally shouldn’t sell any Materia you find, with one exception that will be mentioned much, much later.
Exploring the Slums
Anyway, that’s all there is to know about Materia for now. There’s stuff to buy and loot in the slums before you head to your next target. Leave the bar and head north-east to find that one of the resident drunks Barret kicked out of his bar - a redheaded guy named “Johnny” - is finally flying the nest.
Head to the multi-story building complex across from the bar and enter the lowest level via the south-western side of the building. Once inside, talk to the man behind the counter and he’ll try to strong-arm you into buying from him. Buy three Iron Bangles from him and equip them to increase your Defense and the number of available Materia slots you have. Talk to the man annoyingly firing a gun and he’ll tell you about “his friend on the second floor” who has stuff to teach you. The kid shooting somewhat less annoyingly will try to rent out his house on the third floor for the low price of 10 Gil.
Go upstairs and enter the next level, then turn south-east and grab a chunk of All Materia , then open the treasure chest that drops to score an Ether . Activate the chest again to get a thoroughly unnecessary tutorial on chests. Talk to the man standing by the dog and you’ll get an exhaustive array of mostly pointless tutorials you can suffer through. Talk to the three flexing goons on the boxes to get more tutorial options, all of which don’t need to be covered, have been covered, or will be covered later when they’re more relevant. The two kids, however, will introduce you to limit breaks, which are more interesting, and overdue for some explanation.
All Materia is a type of Materia known as Support Materia. On its own, it’s useless, but when paired with another chunk of Materia, it passes its effects onto that Materia when cast. Take All Materia, for example; normally Fire Materia casts Fire on one target. If you have All Materia paired with it in the same weapon or armor (done by putting it next to another piece of Materia in a joined Materia socket) you will be able to cast Fire on all enemies. This is a little advanced for now, since it’ll be a while before you get the Materia to do this, but you can stack Support Materia on a single spell but equipping duplicates of the Materia you want to empower. For example, if you equip two Fire Materia on the same character, then put different Support Materia in a joined socket next to each piece of Fire Materia, the Fire spell you cast in combat would be affected by both Support Materia. Something to keep in mind for later. Don’t worry, you’ll be reminded when you start getting a more diverse collection of Materia.
Limit Breaks are special attacks you can perform by charging your Limit gauge, which is done by the ignominious method of taking damage in combat. Each character has a different charge rate that changes by the level of the Limit they have active, but it’s really not worth going into the minutiae, save by saying that the higher the level of the Limit you have equipped, the longer (more damage) it’ll take to charge.
In general characters have four Limit levels, with two different Limit Breaks per level save the fourth level, where they have only one - their ultimate limit. You gain access to new Limit Breaks by using the first Limit in a level, and by killing foes. For example, Cloud’s first two Limit Breaks are Braver and Cross-Slash. Using Braver a number of times will unlock Cross-Slash, and killing a certain number of foes will unlock his first level two Limit Break - Blade Beam, and so on. To unlock each character’s ultimate Limit Break you must know all the lesser ones and obtain a unique item that allows them to learn it.
So, simply put, the more you use a character, the more likely they are to learn new Limits. Let foes beat up each character to charge their Limit gauge, and kill weaklings en masse to learn new Limits. Just be warned that if a character is knocked out during a fight, they’ll lose whatever charge their Limit gauge had. Using an item like a Hyper will increase the rate at which a character’s Limit gauge charges.
Exploring the Slums - Continued
Now talk to the lady next to the Save Point to get one more useless tutorial where you’ll get the honor of having a conversation with the fabled Save Point… and a [Treasure Chest].
Leave the room and head back downstairs, ultimately leaving the building complex and heading north-west to find a shop selling Materia and medicine. It seems like a silly place to sell high-value items like Materia, and the merchant’s comments seem to back that up. Anyway, consider purchasing two pieces of Restore Materia and two pieces of Lightning Materia - you’ll be fighting lots of mechanical foes, which are weak to lightning damage, and Restore Materia will be your primary means of healing for quite a while.
How to fund this shopping spree? Sell Ethers (each one is worth 750 Gil) or head to the train station, then exit the screen to the east to reach the northern part of the train graveyard, where you can fight some low-quality foes who will drop you Ethers once in a while, or small amounts of Gil every battle. This is an unnecessary bit of grinding, but it will boost your number of Limit Break uses and kill counts. If you want to go above and beyond, you can also grind until you can afford three units of Fire Materia, which will be useful later on. If you get beat up, head to the third floor of the building complex where you obtained the All Materia and pay the kid 10 Gil to rest and fully replenish your HP and MP.