The lights are on
The best game in the Final Fantasy series is a point of contention, but almost every fan acknowledges the significance (though not necessarily the superiority) of Final Fantasy VII. With its mixture of 3D graphics, amazing cutscenes, and cool characters, Final Fantasy VII created a story that set the RPG standard for the PlayStation era. At the center of the tale was Sephiroth – and who could forget the moment that we first saw him in action?
Upon reaching the town of Kalm (shortly after escaping Midgar), Cloud takes the opportunity to explain his history with Sephiroth – a character who has only been ominously mentioned up to that point. Cloud tells the story of his fateful mission to Nibelheim, in which Sephiroth turned from elite soldier to power-hungry maniac. In the flashback, the character that had only been referenced with fear and awe suddenly takes shape as a silver-haired, sword-wielding badass. He is powerful, intelligent, and efficient – all great traits to have in an ally. But what about an enemy? Sephiroth discovers that he is essentially a living experiment, so he goes crazy and burns down Cloud's home town of Nibelheim, then begins his quest to eradicate life.
Considering the whole flashback is about 30 minutes long, maybe it doesn't technically qualify as a "moment," but the brilliance of this sequence doesn't come from any one scene. Sure, Sephiroth walking through the flames of a burning Nibelheim is awesome, but the real art of the Kalm flashback comes in the way it slowly pulls back the curtain while building on a foundation laid in the opening hours. Characters talking about Sephiroth before he is introduced creates a sense of mystery and anticipation around the character. The game essentially starts spinning Sephiroth's legend right away, leaving players to imagine the details.
The move could have backfired if Sephiroth didn't surpass expectations. However, when we had an actual character to the name, Sephiroth's actions and dialogue in Nibelheim established him as even more competent and terrifying than anyone had guessed. The tragic angle of a good guy turned bad also serves as a cool hook, and a nice change from previous and less nuanced Final Fantasy villains.
I would have been content if the significance of the flashback stopped there, but it becomes even more interesting later in the game. The story loops back to the events in Nibelheim, and some crucial information drastically changes the players' perspective on the memories that Cloud initially conveyed. Kind of like the second viewing of a movie after you've seen the twist ending, this whole section of the plot must be seen differently after you've completed the game. However, even when seen in a new light, the events surrounding Sephiroth and Cloud at Nibelheim are among the best in the whole Final Fantasy series.
If you've got some time, you should re-watch the whole flashback and relive Sephiroth's introduction and eventual breakdown.
[Credit to YouTube user Xenomic for the videos]
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