Well, Aeris is dead.
I realise I should probably be more emotional about this, but I think the fact that I knew it was coming dampened the impact a little. I can imagine that for Jim, playing this game when it first came out at the ripe old age of 8 (what kind of sick mind does that to an eight-year-old? Hell, what kind of sick mind does that to my eight-year-old best friend?), it was probably a pretty nasty shock.
What happens, in short, is that Cloud and the others arrive at the City of the Ancients (which seems to have a very pronounced marine theme for some reason; I didn’t think the Cetra were an aquatic race…) and find Aeris praying alone in an underwater sanctuary. Apparently under Sephiroth’s influence, Cloud draws his sword and, slowly but surely, struggling every step of the way, raises it over his head, ready to slice Aeris in two. This, I think, is about as close as I got to the shock someone playing this game sans spoilers would have experienced because, although I’ve known from the start that Aeris’ life had a use-by date, I didn’t think the game would be cruel enough to make the player push the button. That was… well, honestly a little sickening. I briefly contemplated just turning the game off. In the end, though, Cloud snaps out of it, and instead Sephiroth drops out of nowhere and skewers her. As I said, probably quite a nasty shock for someone who doesn’t know it’s coming, especially after Cloud has just come to his senses and you think it’s safe.
After Aeris’ death, Cloud vows revenge, and the party continues following Sephiroth north, past another town (where we learn some interesting things about Aeris’ mother, Ifalna) and eventually to a crater in the middle of an ancient glacier where Sephiroth’s black-robed mind-slaves are gathering for the ’re-union.’ Cloud fights Sephiroth again and takes back the Black Materia, gives it to Barrett for safe keeping, and heads further in to settle things once and for all. Meanwhile, Rufus Shinra arrives at the head of the Turkish air force, believing that the materia-rich crater is the ‘Promised Land’ he has been searching for this whole time. This… is where things start to get a little bit screwy.
Backing up a bit. Ifalna left a few video recordings behind – interviews between her and a scientist studying the history of the Cetra. This man is Professor Gast, the former Turkish head of science, and apparently Aeris’ father (!!), who sacrificed himself to help Ifalna escape the Turkish police with their daughter. The substance of what she says is as follows: two thousand years ago, the planet was struck by an object falling from the sky (the last time Meteor was cast…?) – the impact crater is where we are now. The local Cetra clan attempted to help the planet heal itself, but they were deceived by the thing that fell from the sky: Jenova, who approached them in the guise of a Cetra and infected them with some kind of plague that drove them mad. Jenova destroyed all the Cetra clans in the same way, though a few survivors eventually defeated her. The planet itself had also been concocting some way of fighting back – a huge, powerful monster called simply ‘Weapon’ – but by the time it was grown, Jenova had already been subdued, so Weapon now sleeps in the impact crater along with Jenova’s remains… and Sephiroth.
Yeah, Sephiroth’s been here the whole time. In fact, as far as I can make out, he’s been here ever since he was supposedly killed five years ago. The Sephiroth we’ve been seeing, and chasing, and fighting, who killed Aeris, is… I guess a figment of Cloud’s overly active imagination? The real one is sealed in some kind of crystal at the centre of the crater. However, after he ‘died,’ Hojo tried to clone him, with mixed results – hence all the black-robed men with numbers tattooed on their faces… and hence Cloud. Yeah, Cloud is actually a clone of Sephiroth… somehow. Apparently the boy Tifa grew up with, who came back home five years ago and fought Sephiroth then, is a completely different person. Cloud, being a clone of Sephiroth, who is a clone of Jenova, was able to insert himself into her memories, without even realising it himself (kind of like how Jenova was able to appear to the ancient Cetra as members of their families). He, and all of the other clones, are drawn to “reunion” at the crater – they all contain cells from Jenova, who wants to reassemble herself. How exactly this fits into Sephiroth’s whole “nuke the planet so I can take control of the lifestream” plan, I have no idea. In fact, in the midst of all these revelations, I still don’t think we know what Jenova actually wants, or even whether ‘want’ is an applicable verb here, for that matter. Is it just in her nature to destroy things?
Anyway, while Cloud and Tifa are learning all these things, an image of Tifa, another of Sephiroth’s illusions, appears to Barrett outside, telling him Cloud is in trouble and he needs to come and help right away. Once Barrett arrives, Cloud asks him for the Black Materia, which he obligingly hands over, and Cloud promptly gives it to the real Sephiroth, suspended in his stasis crystal thingy. All hell breaks loose. Sephiroth brings down the whole structure of the crater, forcing everyone except Cloud to evacuate on Rufus’ airship, creates a magical barrier around his sanctum, and begins casting Meteor. The monster Weapon wakes up (Ifalna only mentioned one of these things, but I think I counted at least four leaving the crater – only one seems to be relevant right now, though) and, apparently heedless of its function to destroy Jenova, starts destroying everything but Jenova. This is where we stand now: Rufus Shinra, the evil power company, and the Turkish air force are trying to save the world from Weapon; Barrett and Tifa are prisoners on his airship, and are about to be executed as scapegoats for the whole ‘end of the world’ thing… oh, yeah, and Sephiroth is bringing an enormous flaming hunk of rock down upon the planet.
In short: it’s time to put on your war face, b!tches.
To be totally honest, the whole Cloud/Sephiroth thing is still making my head spin a little, but I think it may have some very worrying implications. If Sephiroth’s been up north in the Jenova crater the whole time, it seems like the Sephiroth we’ve been seeing is basically in Cloud’s head – only everyone else can see him too. Of course… as a descendent of Jenova, Cloud can alter people’s perceptions, without even necessarily realising that he’s doing it. He caused Tifa to recognise him as her childhood friend (who looked completely different, by the way), and inserted himself into all her memories. So maybe everything ‘Sephiroth’ has been doing this whole time is the work of the shuffling, mumbling clones… along with Cloud himself. What I’m getting at here is that it’s possible Cloud never actually gave the Black Materia to Sephiroth at the Temple of the Ancients at all, but was just subconsciously creating a narrative that would justify his drive to travel north so he could bring the Black Materia to the real Sephiroth at the crater. And, even worse… I think it’s possible Cloud actually did kill Aeris.