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The story of Final Fantasy VII is a long and convoluted one, and several parts were either cut or altered for audiences in North America and Europe. The following article is an attempt to construct for the reader the story of Final Fantasy VII based on a timeline of events.
The story effectively starts when an alien creature, called JENOVA, impacts the planet around two-thousand years before the events of the game itself. JENVOA is a parasitic organism that consumes the life-force of a planet before moving on to the next one, and is a life-form that is capable of reorganizing its DNA; this means that JENOVA has the ability to shape-shift. JENVOA's impact with the planet creates what becomes known as the Northern Crater, creating a "great wound" that the planet attempts to heal. The Cetra, also called the "Ancients", stop JENOVA before she can complete her ultimate goal, the destruction of the planet. However, they cannot kill her, and when the Shinra Electric Power Company discovers her some two-thousand years later, she is effectively in a state of suspended animation. Shinra recovers JENOVA, where a scientist named Professor Hojo becomes obsessed with a theory regarding her.
Hojo's theory is based on observations that the different "pieces" of JENOVA seem to be drawn to a particular destination. Hojo concludes that the different pieces of JENOVA will attempt to unify into a complete, singular being. Hojo's initial experiments of injecting test subjects with JENOVA's cells prove a dead end, as the test subjects invariably suffer extreme mental trauma, caused by JENOVA's ability to exert a form of mind control over subjects that have been injected with her cells. Using a different approach, Hojo then injected a large amount of JENOVA's cells into an as-of-yet unborn fetus that would later be named "Sephiroth". Hojo sold this project to Shinra under the guise of creating "Super-Soldiers", leading to the name "SOLDIER" being coined; this method of enhancing humans with JENOVA's cells was later rolled out to a greater number of test subjects, the most physically and mentally fit of what humanity had to offer. The presence of JENOVA's cells gave these soldiers the ability to process Mako energy, enhancing their abilities.
Around this time, Cloud Strife leaves his childhood town of Nibelheim for Midgar after promising his childhood friend, Tifa Lockhart, that he would become a member of SOLDIER. His application for SOLDIER is ultimately turned down, and Cloud instead becomes a regular member of the military police, causing him both shame and embarrassment at not being able to achieve his childhood dream. Cloud meets Zack Fair, a man who successfully applied to SOLDIER, and who was showered with Mako. Cloud idolizes him, and sees Zack as everything that he wanted to be. They are both sent to Nibelheim on a mission alongside Sephiroth. JENOVA, now stored at Mt. Nibel's Mako Reactor for Hojo's super-soldier project, senses the approach of Sephiroth. Due to their close proximity, JENOVA now begins to exert mental control over Sephiroth due to the presence of her cells within him; she implants in his mind the idea of going through the records of what he and JENOVA are, buried deep in the basement of the Shinra Mansion in Nibelheim. During the course of a single night, JENOVA crafts Sephiroth into a tool using mental manipulation of his emotions and thoughts, with the singular purpose of using him to deliver her to the Northern Crater to finish what she started: the destruction of the planet. Sephiroth is found by Cloud and Zack in the basement after they go looking for him; in the ensuing conversation, Sephiroth accuses them of being "traitors", and asserts that JENOVA is an Ancient, stating that he knows that he was infused with her cells before he was born, as part of an experiment carried out by Professor Hojo. He claims that JENOVA is the rightful heir to the planet, and starts referring to her as "Mother".
Sephiroth makes his way to the Mako Reactor at Mt. Nibel, where Cloud and Zack confront him. Sephiroth frees JENOVA; shortly after, Cloud stabs Sephiroth in the back, and decapitates JENOVA. Both Sephiroth and the head of JENOVA fall into the lifestream, where they drift to the Northern Crater; along the way, JENOVA attaches itself to Sephiroth like a parasite, using him to sustain itself. Because of this parasitical relationship, the lifestream is unable to absorb Sephiroth's life force. Shinra captures both Cloud and Zack, and sends the headless remains of JENOVA to the Shinra Building in Midgar. Cloud and Zack are both given large doses of JENOVA's cells; Zack eventually dies from this procedure, but Cloud survives, albeit with his mind and mental state completely shattered by the procedure. By the time that Cloud meets up with Tifa Lockhart in Sector 7, Cloud's mind has attempted to heal itself, but instead of using his own memories, his brain creates false ones centered around Zack's experiences and memories. Cloud now believes that he was in SOLDIER, and achieved First Class. Cloud is then recruited as a mercenary by AVALANCHE, and agrees to undertake his first mission with them to bomb the Sectoe 1 Mako Reactor, accompanied by AVALANCHE members Biggs, Wedge, Jessie and Barrett Wallace, the leader of the group. Cloud successfully guides the group, and at Tifa's insistence, agrees to team up with AVALANCHE for a second mission to bomb the Sector 5 Mako Reactor.
Shinra deploys the latest creation of their weapons division against the party, called Airbuster; after it is disabled, the machine explodes, taking with it a portion of the catwalk. This causes Cloud to loose his footing, and he is left hanging. The Mako Reactor then explodes, with the shockwave causinh Cloud to accidentally fall into a church in the Sector 5 Slums, where he meets Aerith Gainsborough, a local flower girl. Reno, a member of the Turks, enters the church along with members of the Shinra police. Aerith then asks Cloud to be her bodyguard, and asks him to escort her back to her home in Sector 5. When they reach her house, Aerith agrees to help Cloud get back to Sector 7. Aerith's mother, in private, asks Cloud to leave the next morning without telling Aerith, fearing that Cloud would only put Aerith's life in jeopardy. Cloud agrees, but Aerith disregards her mother's instructions to Cloud, and is waiting for him at the entrance to Sector 6. While in a playground near Sector 6's Wall Market, Cloud and Aerith spot Tifa on the back of a chocobo-driven wagon heading to Wall Market. After asking around, it appears that a man named Don Corneo is in the market for a bride, and that Tifa is currently having an "interview" at his mansion to the north. By passing Cloud off as a woman, Cloud and Aerith eventually meet up with Tifa in Don Corneo's mansion, where they confront Don Corneo himself over Shinra's plans, from whom they learn that the Shinra is planning to bring the Sector 7 Plate crashing down into the slums below by collapsing the plate's support column, in order to wipe out AVALANCHE. Don Corneo then triggers a trap, and the party falls into the sewers below.
After making their way to Sector 7 via the Train Graveyard, they find that the Sector 7 Plate Support Column is still intact. Gunfire can be seen from the pillar, and Wedge suddenly falls from the top of the staircase to the ground below, gravely injuring him. As Cloud runs over to him, Wedge expresses regret for not being able to help, asking them to help Barrett. Cloud mentions to Aerith that there is a little girl named Marlene at the 7th Heaven bar, and asks Aerith to keep her safe, to which Aerith agrees. Tifa then asks everyone around them to evacuate Sector 7. The party begins to ascend the staircase of the support column; they encounter Biggs near the bottom of the staircase, severely wounded, followed by Jessie further up, who also appears to be wounded; Biggs asks party to help Barrett, while Jessie appears to accept that these events are their punishment for the damage they have caused. As the party reaches the top, they find Barrett attempting to return fire to a helicopter that's attacking them. Reno, a member of the Turks, jumps from the helicopter, and manages to activate the Emergency Plate Release System. Reno then attempts to stop the party, but he is ultimately defeated, and retreats, jumping off the platform. The party turns their attention to the timer; Barrett recognizes it as a time bomb, and both he and Tifa find it difficult to disarm the timer mechanism. Cloud concurs, confirming that it's not a normal time bomb. Tseng, another member of the Turks, taunts the party via helicopter, and explains that the timer is designed to go off if someone other than a Shinra Executive attempts to disarm it. Tseng then reveals that the Turks have captured Aerith, who confirms that Marlene is safe, and shouts out for the party to escape. As the plate support column begins to disintegrate, Barrett, Tifa and Cloud attempt to find a way out, eventually finding a support wire. As the party swings away, the support column collapses, causing the plate to slam into the slums below, with many fatalities. The scene transitions to President Shinra, who is watching the devastation unfold below from his office, with classical music playing in the background to muffle to screams coming from below.
The scene that greets the party is one of collateral devastation to the Sector 6 slums, with the smouldering wreckage of the Sector 7 plate clearly visible through an access door that has been wedged open. Barrett collapses, and in a fit of grief and rage, fires his gun into the Sector 7 wreckage, utterly distraught at the loss of Marlene, his adopted daughter. Tifa consoles Barrett by letting him know that she asked Aerith to take care of Marlene. When they arrive at her house, Aerith's mother confirms that Aerith is, in fact, the last surviving member of the Cetra, and that the Shinra have been after her since she was a small child, explaining that she found Aerith's real mother, Ifalna, with her at a train station many years ago. She further explains that Ifalna's last words were for Aerith to be taken somewhere safe, so she adopted Aerith. Aerith's adoptive mother further explains that Aerith willingly went with the Shinra in exchange for Marlene's safety. She shames Barrett for putting her in danger; Barrett explains that he has to fight for the planet, and while he hates leaving Marlene alone and wants to be with her always, he has to fight for the planet. Barrett then heads upstairs to see Marlene, Cloud following soon after, with Barrett asking Cloud to help him fight the Shinra to rescue Aerith, to thank her for saving Marlene. Cloud confers with Tifa, and together they agree to go to the Shinra Headquarters in the center of Midgar.
During the ascent of the Shinra Tower, the party learns that Shinra will not be rebuilding Sector 7, but is instead restarting the "Neo-Midgar Plan", a project that aims to locate the Promised Land, a Mako-rich area of the world as described by the Cetra, upon which a new city, Neo Midgar, is to be built. Shinra aims to enlist the help of Aerith, with an insinuation of forcefully breeding her to continue the Cetra bloodline, as the research is described as needing to take longer than Aerith's remaining lifespan. Cloud later makes visual confirmation that JENOVA is in Professor Hojo's lab, shortly before the group stumbles upon a trap set by Hojo, during which a sapient research specimen by the name of Red XIII comes to the aid of the party. Shortly after, the party is captured by the Turks, and after being paraded in front of President Shinra, the party is confined to a number of prison cells.
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