Retrospective: Unforgettable Gaming Moments – #4: Aerith’s Death

Last time around in Unforgettable Gaming Moments we took a gander at Solid Snake’s epic clash with Fox Hound’s scrawny psychic Psycho Mantis, in a battle that’s as much about putting your thinking cap on as it is unleashing lead. For our latest entry, we step away from boss battles and recall a scene that proves that gaming is just as adept at tugging on your heart strings as it is making you use the Old Grey Matter.

For this retrospective, we take a trip back to 1997 and relive one of the most memorable character deaths to hit our screens – the demise of Final Fantasy VII’s resident spell-casting flower girl, Aerith Gainsborough.

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Aerith was one of gaming’s most lovable lasses. Innocent, a bit naïve but certainly no pushover, Midgar’s pretty flower girl could handle herself in a scrap and soon became a valuable member of Cloud Strife’s party. Until THAT encounter in the depths of the City of the Ancients, that is. Yep, Miss Gainsborough had the misfortune of meeting the business end of Sephiroth’s exorbitantly-large sword, giving us an ‘OMG’ worthy moment if ever there was one.  The build-up is superb, with the Ancient City eerily quiet as Cloud makes his way to Aerith’s location, somehow sensing her call. There’s no immediate danger, no discernible threat, and yet something feels…uneasy.

Legging it down to the bowels of the city, Cloud finds Aerith in a deep state of prayer, perched on a small stone island in the middle of a sparkling, azura-blue lake. The whole area is a strike contrast to the crumbling greys of the world above, with sumptuously designed architecture illuminated by a dazzling ray of light that shines through a crack in the shell-like structure you have ventured into. The atmosphere is palpable; the stunning beauty of your surroundings juxtaposed with the knot of dread in your gut makes for quite the mishmash of emotions, and you’re not quite sure what to make of it all. Nonetheless, you press on to find out what all the fuss is about, Cloud leaving his party behind as he navigates the small stone platforms to Aerith’s location.

Just as Cloud approaches the platform however, he starts to go a bit mental, drawing his sword and seemingly ready to land the killing blow. Every time he endeavours to strike however, he just can’t do it. Then it happens, and hits you like a John Barnes free kick. Nope, not Cloud, but Sephiroth, swooping down from above and driving his iconic Masamune right through Aerith’s stomach, brutally slaying the young woman in one clean blow. What’s worse, there’s no time to think, no time to get over the utter shock of her death as the caped villain dumps another Jenova creature on the party, kicking off another boss fight.

An unforgettable moment, made all the more poignant during the events that follow the battle as Cloud and party say their goodbyes before laying Aerith to rest. An iconic scene, Aerith’s death has gone down as one of the most emotionally-charged moments in videogame history, and has contributed massively to FFVII’s continued legacy.

Stay tuned for more Unforgettable Gaming Moments here at PSU.com in the coming weeks.