So Cloud and company arrive at the Temple of the Ancients, and it becomes clear why Aerith has forced us to bring her along. This place is crawling with the spirits of Cetra who’ve resisted returning to the Lifestream in order to provide guidance to future generations of Cetra who come to this place. Since Aerith’s the only surviving Cetra, that means she’s necessary in order to decipher what the little old man spirits in the funny hats are trying to say.
Of course, what they’re saying is essentially, “Don’t come here!” and “Watch out for Sephiroth!” so maybe Aerith wasn’t really that necessary after all. Still, she’s with us, so we’ll make the best of it.
Deep inside the temple, the party reaches a room with a series of paintings that resemble Egyptian hieroglyphs depicting the Cetra worshiping what I’m guessing is the planet at their temple, then a bright star appearing in the sky which comes closer and turns out to be a meteor (or rather Meteor, because there’s only one in all of space, apparently). The last panel shows the Cetra burning alive after the impact of Meteor.
So clearly, this Meteor thing is bad. Also, apparently, it’s part of Sephiroth’s master plan to submerge himself in the Lifestream and become a god, because if the planet gets hit by a cataclysmic rock from space (with magical planet-seeking properties) then it’ll divert a bunch of Lifestream energy to the impact site in order to heal it.
Because, y’know, a planet fixes itself in the same way humans heal cuts and bruises.
From a scientific perspective, this is all really silly stuff, because a lot of what’s explained here is simply posited to be run on magic. That’s not necessarily a problem, but Final Fantasy VII was notable at the time for having a more sci-fi flavor than previous incarnations, and all these revelations basically took the game’s phlebotinum of Lifestream energy and said it could do pretty much whatever the writers wanted it to do. We just departed from a very loose science fiction setting a la Star Wars and went full on urban fantasy with these plot developments (keep in mind, of course, that this game has “Fantasy” in the title).
Of course, knowing Sephiroth’s plan doesn’t really help the party out a whole lot, since we discover at pretty much the same time that the key to summoning Meteor is something called the Black Materia (color coded for your convenience), which it turns out is actually the physical building that the party’s been traversing.
Cait Sith makes his noble sacrifice by activating the trigger that will cause the temple to shrink and turn into the Black Materia so that Cloud can get it for safekeeping, but then he promptly flips out and we also discover that Cloud’s a complete and utter lune.
Just before the party leaves the temple so they can claim the Black Materia, Cloud has something akin to a seizure, which freaks everyone out, including me because I’m supposed to be in control of this guy. During what strikes me as a schizophrenic episode, he babbles to someone that no one else can see about getting the Black Materia and summoning Meteor while also reassuring himself that he is, in fact, Cloud. After the madness stops, Cloud calmly turns to Aerith and asks what’s wrong, to which she responds that everything’s fine in the way that people who are accustomed to dealing with crazy usually do.
I’m sure it’s at this point that Aerith, if she were sensible, would be rethinking that crush she has on Cloud.
Anyway, once everyone gets outside and Cait Sith sacrifices his little broken body to shrink the temple, Cloud gets the Black Materia and then turns it over to Sephiroth.
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
This is another freaky scene because as Cloud hands the materia over, the player gets the opportunity to control a ghostly child version of Cloud who can only beg and plead with his adult self not to do what he’s doing. It’s a pretty effective device to communicate that something very disturbing is going on with our protagonist, and even he isn’t sure what’s happening.
Following Cloud’s utter botching of safeguarding the Black Materia, he then goes crazy and attacks Aerith when she tries to snap him out of it. Fortunately, the replacement Cait Sith shows up in time to help pull Cloud off of her, and then we black out.
Cloud dreams about Aerith going off to stop Sephiroth in a way that only she can because she’s a Cetra, which explains absolutely nothing about what she plans to do. After this really trippy fever dream, Cloud wakes in Gongaga, a small rural village that we passed through a ways back; it’s only notable for its exploded Mako Reactor and an elderly couple who ask Cloud if he ever met their son Zack in SOLDIER.
Barret and Tifa are waiting by Cloud’s bedside to reassure him that his friends still love him despite his apparent insanity, and also to tell him that he needs to get with the program because they have to follow Aerith, who really has gone off on her own in order to stop Sephiroth from summoning Meteor, and Barret’s gonna bash Cloud’s skull in if he loses his mind again (for Cloud’s own good, naturally).
From a plot standpoint, this is where the stakes get raised considerably. Where before we were chasing Sephiroth down just because we figured he must be up to something sinister, we now know exactly what his plan is, and we’ve just helped him complete the first step by getting him the Black Materia. Also, it’s been revealed that our hero is mentally unstable (something that’s been vaguely hinted at before this point) and he really can’t be trusted when he’s in Sephiroth’s presence, although we still don’t know exactly why that is. This is where things are going to get way more compelling (in my opinion), because the story’s opening itself up to some very interesting psychodrama revolving around Cloud and Sephiroth; we knew before that Cloud had a beef with this madman, but now there appears to be something deeper going on beyond the simple need for revenge. Cloud’s starting to be revealed as severely damaged by his experiences with Sephiroth, and from here on out there’s going to be a lot more story exploring exactly what happened in his past that’s left him in this fragile state that we’re just now noticing.
Of course, instead of moving on with that, I could just go play some more mini games at the Gold Saucer.