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Watching Nibelheim Burn

Final Fantasy VII is one of the most influential video games of all time. For years I’ve seen its characters and scenarios reimagined through movies, OVAs, other games, fanart, and cosplay. I feel very acquainted with the characters and in touch with the story, but am still on the outside looking in. While playing the Remake in April, I relished the chance to be introduced to this great game in its original context…and then realized that this wasn’t the original context at all. In order to really know FFVII, I would have to play the actual game— the original— and that is exactly what I’m doing now. Committed to the project, I am now streaming my FFVII experience on Twitch and being enthusiastically pulled through every thematic loop. And recently, I got to see something I always wanted to see.

I watched Nibelheim burn.

I have seen the quaint, quiet town get razed many times before, twice in Crisis Core (FFVII Prequel) and twice in The Last Order (2005 anime OVA which is an extra on the Advent Children DVD). Most importantly, I’ve seen the famous scene of Sephiroth disappearing in the flames over and over and over again. It’s one of the most iconic scenes in video games and has been remade, remastered, and meme-ified for reasons; going in, I knew this was an intense scene. But I never truly understood its impact until after I saw it in context.

Firstly (and comically) I cannot believe Sephiroth destroyed Nibelheim so fast. He runs out of the mansion, I (Cloud/Zack) chase him, and suddenly everyone is dead and burning. The shock factor is there. I knew this was coming so I didn’t expect to be surprised, but I was. Sephiroth destroyed Nibelheim in the blink of an eye, proving how monstrously powerful he truly is.

And I not excited to fight him.

I can’t save my mom, which is a bummer, and then I look up to see him there. Sephiroth, killing civilians as he turns, glares at me and vanishes into the flames as the eerie sound of grinding metal screeches in the background. While I was streaming the week before my climb up the Shinra building, my audience was telling me that the big scene of that part—Sephiroth stealing Jenova and killing everyone— was the creepiest part of the game. I think they’re wrong. This rightly takes that spot for me. The staging of each scene leading up to this, the music, the dialogue, everything about it is thematically on point. Even the low scale graphics worked in its favor, making everything seem unfamiliar and unfathomable.

I don’t know if it is because this scene has been hyped for me for ten years (I’m obviously not being objective here), but I was truly engaged by the entire sequence, from beginning to the painstaking cliffhanger at the end.

FFVII's writing has been surprisingly...good. The franchise is known for its weird plot twists and convoluted writing, but right now— fourteen hours in— I'm happy to say I'm following the story very well. That can totally change, of course, but I still look forward to discovering the secrets of the Planet and of Cloud's memory. And I hope I get the chance to share more awesome video games moments with complete strangers online. It's pretty fun!


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