The death of Aeris Gainsborough in Final Fantasy VII remains one of the most chilling moments in gaming history. While players were affected- the Quality Assurance testers and localization personnel playing the game before it was released in the United States were absolutely affected as well. Over 25 years since the game’s release, that moment is still an important one.
“The QA department was a quiet setting, headphones and the gentle noise of buttons being mashed. As I poured over the documents on my PC, there was a silence that came over the room, almost as if something tragic had happened” Squaresoft QA Team Leader Jonathan Williams said. “I could hear the low murmur of voices mumbling and what appeared to be comforting words being shared to one or two testers. My attention was no longer on documents, but rather the room. Each QA station had stopped button-mashing and beautiful music was filling the air coming from each. First one, then another and another, a soft melody that almost lulled you, beckoning you to take a great pause from all else and to listen. I remember turning and saying, ‘That’s nice,’ to one of the testers who hesitated to look at me.
“I asked, ‘What’s wrong?’
“He raised his head and I could see tears forming. As he started to relay to me what had just happened, the gentle melody of Aries theme still playing around the QA department, another tester who had his headphones on dropped his controller on his desk and exclaimed, ‘What the hell!’
“We all looked at him as he exclaimed, ‘Sephiroth just killed Aries!! And I spent ages leveling her up and even gave her my best Materia!!’
“And it was true, Cloud had found Aeris, praying at an altar in the Forgotten City. She looked up and smiled, her hands clasped in prayer when out of nowhere Sephiroth appeared coming down from above and stabbing Aeris through the torso with ‘Masamune,’ a famed katana. She lunges forward as we see an evil smile come over his face. Her eyes close and she is gone.
“Another tester reached the same part of the game and we all crowd around his station and watch the events again. There was such a profound sadness that gripped us, it was such a shock. I looked at everyone, some still trying to hold back tears, and said, ‘Ok, let’s all take a break and meet back in 10.’
“This was by far the greatest death scene I had ever witnessed in a video game, it moved us to tears and I knew at that stage that we had a game before us that was going to make history, I knew that this game was special, that we were going to be taken on a journey together. I was excited but could also feel the weight of the responsibility.”
The death of Aeris is an event still spoken about by gamers to this day. According to former Squaresoft Localization Manager David Bamberger, this moment defined the game. “I feel Final Fantasy VII is one of the first games to artistically base a story on death and grief,” Bamberger said. “The death of Aeris, how it’s treated and centered into the story is an achievement in game storytelling and helped to legitimize gaming as a narrative form.”
Did you weep the first time you saw Aeris fall victim to Sephiroth’s wrath? Comment below and let us know!