The Temple of the Ancients in Final Fantasy VII was where the plot really started to pick up, and you got a heavy dose of story from the game. Upon entering, it turned out that Sephiroth had already arrived. No big surprise there, as he was always one step ahead it seems. On account of Caith Sith, Tseng was also there, though he had been injured by Sephiroth.
Aeris told Tseng that there never was a chance of Shinra winning, which only echoed the fact that you knew your side would prevail at the end of the game. That, I don't think anyone ever questions in any Final Fantasy game, with the formula rarely diverging from the standard good-prevails-over-evil scenario. Back in possession of the Keystone, I made my way into the temple. It was a maze-like structure heavily reminiscent of an M.C. Escher drawing with stairs going every which way. Although it was not nearly as complicated to navigate as it first appeared. Several obstacles were presented which provided a little challenge, though not that much really, and the characters eventually caught up with their fate. That is to say, they found Sephiroth in one of the chambers where he predictably divulged his plan for world domination. Given his power however, it wasn't exactly out of character.
One boss fight later, it just so happened that the temple had to be shrunk, as it itself was the Black Materia required to move the story forward. This was where Cait Sith had his moment of redemption, and the melody playing along with his sacrifice managed to create sympathy for the character after all. Your party escaped the structure, and in its place remained a sizable crater. Things were going rather well, but it wouldn't have been FFVII if Sephiroth didn't reappear to spoil the fun. His control over Cloud yielded him the Black Materia, and he disappeared just as suddenly as he appeared in the first place.
Cloud was aghast at the knowledge of his actions. He suddenly lost it again, and assaulted poor Aeris as your third party member jumped in to break things up. So many things happened all at once, that it was all in effect a little hard to take in. Right then, Cait Sith came out of nowhere (or more precisely Cait Sith 2), in his usual nonchalant manner.
I found myself feeling multiple conflicting emotions at the sight of such unpredictable turns of events. Fortunately, the game changed pace right then. A dream, or vision, was presented in the Sleeping Forest which served as respite from the hectic plot twists of the last section. I would say that this was perhaps to the game's discredit—that the story moved at such a sporadic pace. You would go through long stretches of monotony with little plot, only to be thrust into a barrage of events. It was rather inconsistent, to be sure, and not simply because of my choice to pursue side quests.
Nevertheless, the Sleeping Forest scene was a rather pleasant change, and served to provide some perspective on the recent happenings. Cloud apologized for his loss of control, but Aeris wasn't too concerned about it and let him know that she planned on stopping Sephiroth on her own. She sprinted away in a classic dreamlike moment of the dreamer, Cloud, running slowly in place. As she vanished into the distance, Cloud was visited by Sephiroth even here. Though the encounter was still rather amicable, with Sephiroth's tone suggestive of his old friendship with Cloud, his parting words are “we must stop that girl soon.”
The obvious foreshadow here was that Cloud would be yet again forced to do something against his will. But right then, he simply woke up having lost all his courage. Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, his little breakdown was soon diminished by the support of Tifa and Barrett with a the-show-must-go-on moment. Clearly there was no time to loose, and so your party made its way to the actual Sleeping Forest and the City of the Ancients beyond it.
I found the atmosphere in the City of the Ancients, also known as the Forgotten Capital, to be appropriately eerie. The music had an ethereal mood, and the whole place was naturally deserted. The city's design was rather interesting, a cross between Anasazi cliff-dwellings, giant fantasy shell houses, and classic European inspired fantasy architecture. A strange mix, to be sure. Nevertheless, it seemed to work, though a little more consistency there might have been nice too. After exploring the deserted city, it was time to go down to into its bowels, where one of the most iconic scenes of video gaming history would take place.
My guess is that there are few people out there who don't know what was about to happen next. I suppose I'm going to explain anyway. As cloud went up to Aeris, he lost control of himself again. In an interesting plot device, the player was given limited control over Cloud. You could only move his upper body, and even that only in limited ways. It was one of those moments where I wasn't sure at first if I was doing something wrong, but then realized that I was gradually loosing control over Cloud. Finally his sword went up and, against his better judgement, he was about strike at Aeris. Your party members saved him from committing that fatal mistake, but to no avail.
Sephiroth descended from above as an angel of death and impaled Aeris upon his sword. I daresay that this iconic scene had gamers across the world in shock. I admit that I wasn't sure how I was going to receive this moment with having witnessed it already a few years ago. But I confess that it lost none of its strength and touched me deeply. This was probably helped by the fact that I spent so much time with Aeris in my party, and as intended did become more attached to her as a result. Seeing her die at the rival's hands was powerfully emotional, and as I watched Cloud release her body into the pool, finishing the last moments of Disc 1 was all I could do. I found myself needing to break from the game and sort out my thoughts.
In a way, as most people initial reactions, a part of me wanted to ask the question “why.” A simple reaction, and perhaps the first thing we think of when a character dies in a story. It seemes rather senseless at the time, and the purpose of it eludes us. Another part of me realized how involving a characters death is for those experiencing a story, and how few games use such a plot device these days. So few games choose to kill one of the central figures in a game, and even fewer do so in a way that doesn't seem gimmicky. Which begs the question whether Final Fantasy VII did so as a gimmick or not. My answer would be that Aeris dying changed a lot for the remaining characters, and seemed to serves as a major point of change for Cloud.
Speaking of Cloud, I found the question of his fate was also critical to the story of FFVII. His identity remained a mystery for much of the game, and the fact that he was a puppet, continually playing into the hand of Sephiroth also generated sympathy for his character in my case. Even when success in the quest as a whole seemed to be forthcoming, as I battled tougher and tougher bosses, nothing we did appeared to be of particularly great consequence against the machine which Sephiroth had devised.