Return my mother... Tifa... and my village! I respected you... and admired you, but... You bastard!!
- —Cloud Strife to Sephiroth
The Nibelheim Incident, also referred to as the Sephiroth incident and the Nibelheim Case, is a pivotal event in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII where Sephiroth, acclaimed hero of SOLDIER, descends into madness and destroys the village of Nibelheim. The town's destruction marks the beginning of Sephiroth's villainy after he learns of his "true" origins. The incident is frequently depicted in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, and has been subject to numerous retcons, although the basic chain of events has remained the same. It has become Sephiroth's iconic scene, and is the reason that in numerous promotional materials Sephiroth is seen surrounded by flames.
The incident takes place between September 22nd and October 1st, 0002 of the Final Fantasy VII timeline.
The Nibelheim Incident is first told to the party by Cloud when the group stops at Kalm. Cloud tells that after leaving his hometown of Nibelheim he joined SOLDIER and became a 1st Class and Sephiroth's partner. The two were dispatched to Nibelheim with two guards to investigate a Mako Reactor on Mt. Nibel, where monsters had been reported appearing. During the ride Cloud was excited at the prospect of seeing some action, and mentioned he joined SOLDIER too late for the Wutai War. The truck ran into a dragon and Cloud and Sephiroth fought it, but Sephiroth was much more powerful than Cloud, who explains to his listeners Sephiroth's power surpassed any other person he has met.
The group arrived in Nibelheim and Sephiroth asked Cloud how it felt returning to his hometown, curious as he had no hometown of his own. Sephiroth, Cloud and the two infantrymen who accompanied them stayed the night at the inn even if Sephiroth asked whether Cloud wanted to stay with his family. Cloud visited his mother, but could only remember bits and pieces of the conversation. In the morning Sephiroth hired Tifa to guide them up the mountain. During the expedition a rope bridge snapped, and one of the guards was lost in the fall.
At the reactor Sephiroth and Cloud entered alone and discovered a series of tanks with makonoids — vaguely humanoid monsters — submerged in Mako. At the top of the chamber was a sealed door with the name "Jenova", the name Sephiroth had been told belonged to his mother. When Cloud wondered if the monsters were being made in a manner similar to the process of empowering SOLDIER members, Sephiroth questioned if the disconnection he had always felt from others meant he was created this way as well.
In the abandoned Shinra Mansion where Shinra Electric Power Company scientists once worked, Cloud found Sephiroth in a secret basement full of books and journals on Jenova, whom the Shinra scientists Professor Gast and Professor Hojo had discovered in Northern Cave and believed to be a Cetra. Their research had led to the Jenova Project and Sephiroth spent three days perusing the research notes, wondering why he was never told the truth. When Cloud asked if he was alright he told Cloud to leave. The next time Cloud checked on Sephiroth he discovered Sephiroth has gone insane.
Sephiroth had come to believe Jenova is a Cetra from the time their civilization was abandoned to die by normal humans during an ancient catastrophe. Sephiroth believed he was Jenova's son, artificially produced from her cells, and therefore the last Cetra. Sephiroth set the village ablaze and as Cloud and Zangan searched for survivors, Sephiroth headed off to Mt. Nibel.
Cloud pursued Sephiroth to the reactor and found Tifa outside the inner chambers, standing over her father's body with Sephiroth's Masamune stuck in his corpse. Tifa grabbed the katana and ran after Sephiroth trying to stab him, but he disarmed her and knocked her unconscious, then entered Jenova's chamber. Cloud carried the unconscious Tifa aside and followed Sephiroth who tore a mechanical effigy of Jenova from its setting, revealing Jenova herself suspended in animation in a tank. Cloud raised his Buster Sword to attack as Sephiroth turned, but is unable to remember anything beyond this moment.
After the party tracks Sephiroth down at the Whirlwind Maze he projects an illusion of the Nibelheim Incident, showing a black-haired SOLDIER in Cloud's place, telling Cloud he was never at the scene. Sephiroth tells Cloud his memories are a lie for he is nothing but a Sephiroth Clone. Sephiroth shows Cloud a picture taken of the three by a villager, showing the black-haired SOLDIER in Cloud's place, holding the Buster Sword. Cloud refuses to accept these visions, until Sephiroth notes Tifa's hesitation.
Tifa admits Sephiroth's words are true, and that Cloud was never at the town although she refuses to believe Cloud is not the true Cloud she knows from her childhood. Cloud suffers a mental breakdown and comes to believe he is just another drone to Sephiroth made in memory of a kid called Cloud Tifa used to know. Cloud hands the Black Materia to Sephiroth who uses it to call Meteor. The Weapons rouse and the party flees without Cloud who falls into the Lifestream, but surfaces at Mideel where Tifa and the others find him at a hospital suffering from Mako Poisoning. Tifa volunteers to stay with Cloud while the party leaves to deal with the Weapons. An earthquake destroys Mideel and Cloud and Tifa fall into the Lifestream and into Cloud's Subconscious.
Tifa is convinced Sephiroth was lying about Cloud being made after her memories of a kid called Cloud she knew from her childhood, and attempts to repair the damage caused by Cloud's mental complexes, leading into a retelling of the Nibelheim Incident. The incident as remembered by Tifa involves the black-haired SOLDIER, Zack, in Cloud's place, but otherwise proceeds as Cloud told it until Tifa was attacked by Sephiroth and knocked unconscious.
Cloud's true memories surface and he reveals he was at the town when it was destroyed — he was a Shinra guard who accompanied Zack and Sephiroth, and was the lone guard to survive the climb up Mt. Nibel. As he had pledged to join SOLDIER upon leaving town, Cloud concealed his face by his helmet and asked Zack not to mention him by name, ashamed to face the town with his failure. With Cloud's true memories restored, he tells Tifa what happened from his perspective.
Zack and Sephiroth, accompanied by Cloud and another guard, arrived at the town and visited the reactor, and Sephiroth returned to read the research notes in the library as Cloud originally remembered. After Sephiroth razed the town, Cloud regained consciousness to see Zack chase Sephiroth up the mountain. At the reactor Zack confronted Sephiroth in Jenova's chamber, but was defeated and tossed out. Cloud arrived and picked up Zack's Buster Sword, attacked Sephiroth off his guard and stabbed him through his lower back.
Sephiroth was greatly weakened, and Cloud returned to move Tifa's unconscious body aside. Sephiroth stumbled from Jenova's chamber carrying her severed head, and Cloud followed him to the reactor entrance, a catwalk over a pool of Mako. Cloud attacked Sephiroth again but Sephiroth impaled Cloud on the Masamune. Cloud summoned unknown strength and used the sword as a lever, throwing Sephiroth through into the Mako where he was consumed by the Lifestream.
Weakened by the confrontation, Zack, Tifa and Cloud lied unconscious within the reactor. Zangan found the three and took Tifa away but Shinra had already arrived when he attempted to return for Cloud and Zack. Professor Hojo learned of Sephiroth's deeds and put his "Jenova Reunion Theory" into action, injecting the town survivors, including Zack and Cloud, with Sephiroth's cells, turning them into Sephiroth Clones. The town was rebuilt to cover up the incident with Shinra employees hired to play the part of the townspeople. Shinra sealed Sephiroth's records and he was declared missing in action, but many assume him dead.
Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- retells the Nibelheim Incident through Zack Fair's eyes. The journey to the reactor with Tifa, Cloud, Zack and Sephiroth is the same as the true events told in Final Fantasy VII, until Zack and Sephiroth arrive at the door to Jenova's chamber and Genesis Rhapsodos appears. Genesis goads Sephiroth into a break-down by telling him the Jenova Project had two branches, G and S, and that Angeal Hewley and Sephiroth are the two "monsters" created by the project. Genesis wants Sephiroth's help in curing his degradation as Sephiroth is immune to the effect, but Sephiroth rejects the offer. In Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Genesis's revelations directly inspire Sephiroth to read up on the Jenova Project to discover whether he was told the truth.
In Final Fantasy VII Cloud said Sephiroth spent three days reading in the library, but in Crisis Core and subsequent creation materials it is said he spent a week. While Zack was quickly defeated and ejected from Jenova's chamber in Final Fantasy VII, in Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Sephiroth first knocks him to a lower platform where the two have an extended duel before Zack is tossed out of the chamber. Cloud's impalement and Sephiroth's plunge into the Lifestream also occur in Jenova's chamber instead of the reactor entrance.
Episodes 12 to 13 are a retelling of the Nibelheim Incident from the point of view of the Player Turk who is sent to Nibelheim to investigate a problem at the reactor. Called in due to reports of the staff manning the Nibelheim Reactor disappearing, Tseng pilots the Player Turk to the Nibelheim mountains where they were supposed to parachute to the reactor, but a rogue wind sends them off course. Forced to traverse the mountainside to reach the reactor, the Player Turk comes across Tifa chasing after her cat.
Following the discovery of multiple dragons massing around the reactor, the Player Turk is ordered to fall back to Nibelheim to await further instructions. Taking Tifa with her/him, the ropeway back to town is destroyed by a dragon, forcing the pair to traverse the rest of the way on foot. When Sephiroth and his company are sent in to deal with the monsters, the Player Turk recruits Tifa to guide them up the mountain as the ropeway was destroyed.
Following the investigation party's return Sephiroth locks himself away for several days until coming out and massacring the town. The Player Turk pursues Sephiroth to the reactor clearing the path along the way for the incoming Shinra forces. After confronting Sephiroth, the Player Turk is knocked unconscious, coming to when Cloud arrives. As Cloud pursues Sephiroth deeper into the reactor, the Player Turk looks over Tifa until Zangan arrives to take her away. He/she witnesses Cloud's stand and Sephiroth jumping into the Mako pit and informs Tseng of the events.
When the Shinra clean-up crew arrives the Player Turk is instructed to help look for survivors but upon reaching the town he/she is given new orders by Tseng to enter and check on the laboratory equipment in the basement of the Nibelheim Mansion for Professor Hojo. Entering the mansion, the Player Turk is ordered to liquidate certain documents, after which ghosts and monsters start appearing.
Clearing the mansion of monsters, the Player Turk finds the documents and attempts to read them only to become confused. Veld arrives and leads the way into the laboratory where they are trapped in an illusion of the Player Turk's first encounter with AVALANCHE in Sector 8 during their first day on the job, conjured by Lost Number. When that proves ineffective, Lost Number changes the illusion to that of Kalm's destruction where Veld's wife and daughter were thought to have been killed and Veld was responsible for the incident's coverup. Lost Number paralyzes Veld with guilt, but is defeated by the Player Turk and his illusion vanishes, freeing Veld. As the Nibelheim survivors are gathered up they are to be shipped to Hojo's laboratory. The Turks are indecisive over the morality of it and are allowed to leave while Veld handles the operation.
The OVA Last Order -Final Fantasy VII- retells the Nibelheim Incident after Sephiroth's attack on the town in flashbacks as Zack Fair and Cloud Strife flee Shinra militia. The OVA was released as a bonus feature with the film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, but was not dubbed in English for its Western release, only subtitled.
The incident's depiction in Last Order -Final Fantasy VII- takes many liberties with the story; various characters interact in different places and new scenes are present, for example, Cloud and Zack arrive at the town during its destruction and Cloud volunteers to find survivors while Zack follows Sephiroth and Tifa, and Tifa finds and mourns her father outside the reactor instead of inside, also she regains consciousness and speaks to both Zack and Cloud at the reactor. Similar to Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII-, Zack and Sephiroth have a longer battle than originally shown, but it takes place inside Jenova's chamber instead of beneath it. Cloud gets impaled by Sephiroth twice in this version instead of once, also as Sephiroth holds Cloud up with the Masamune impaled in his body, he holds him over a ledge, in which Cloud has to pull himself forward in order to use the Masamune as a lever in order to hold Sephiroth up and throw him. Instead of being thrown into the Mako pool, Sephiroth leaps into it willingly, also as Sephiroth leaps into the Mako pool he does not have the Masamune with him as it is still within an impaled Cloud.
According to the Final Fantasy VII Ultimania Omega, during the development of Final Fantasy VII, there were plans to have a non-player character in Nibelheim tell a fabricated version of the Nibelheim incident so as to explain the event to the general public. According to an NPC in the town, Shinra built the Mako Reactor at Mt. Nibel twenty-five years before the start of the game, and five years ago the townspeople ran Shinra out of town and took control of the reactor for themselves. President Shinra dispatched Sephiroth to the town to put down the uprising, and according to official records, he was killed. There would have been an option, however, to tell the NPC the events are not true, although he would not have listened. Another cutscene involved Tifa telling Aeris the true events of the town's destruction, and Aeris agreeing to help Tifa keep them secret from Cloud.
While Nibelheim's destruction was revised for Last Order -Final Fantasy VII-, the staff of Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- decided not to follow in the same lines. Producer of Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII-, Hideki Imaizumi, said this regarding the decision: "When we made that feature, we changed the presentation of that event from the original Final Fantasy VII. And the fan response was — well, there was considerable negative feedback in regard to changing a part of the story that they considered integral to the whole lore. So we listened to that and learned from that. And in fact the Nibelheim incident is presented again in Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII-, and we were careful not to make the same decisions that we did in Last Order -Final Fantasy VII-."
Unused text for a different truck flashback exists in the Final Fantasy VII game data as dummied content. It is part of the story Cloud relays to his friends in the Kalm inn, and in it, Sephiroth's personality is more emphatic than in the final game. In the unused scene, Sephiroth worries over the Shinra infantryman's motion sickness and advices him to look out the window to distract himself. Cloud asks how Materia is made, and Sephiroth explains it is usually made by the Planet in a process that takes a long time, but that lately Materia has been produced by Shinra. Cloud would marvel at how great their company is, which Sephiroth would not appear to agree on, and ask if Cloud has ever thought about quitting.
When the truck encounters a monster there is an unused piece of dialogue where Sephiroth notes the driver is dead. The script is not explicit on whether the driver died from the collision with the dragon, or if the monster killed him directly. This event may explain a possible continuity error in the final game, as three infantrymen are seen in the truck, but only two arrive at the Nibelheim gates. Interestingly, Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- repeats this with three infantrymen assembling in the Shinra Headquarters, Cloud included, but at the arrival in Nibelheim only Cloud and another infantryman are seen.
The context of Cloud revealing his birthplace is different in the unused scene at the truck. In the unused scene the revelation comes when Cloud takes the lead after the driver's death and Sephiroth asks if he knows where they are going. In the final game Cloud says he is from Nibelheim when Sephiroth mentions the location of the malfunctioning reactor. The unused scene is not explicit on whether Cloud would take the driver's seat, or if they would have to walk to Nibelheim. The pointer for the battle also says "Battle: Sephiroth VS Monster", which notably does not include Cloud, who may have been added later to illustrate the gap in power between Sephiroth and him. Although the battle pointer is the last text entry, the dialogue is casual considering a dragon would be waiting outside, making it ambiguous whether the battle would have taken place before they spot the driver's death, or after Cloud reveals he is from Nibelheim.
More unused text salvaged from the game suggests that Cloud's mother would have been found on the town square where she would have given Cloud a "Homemade Potion" item. In the final game Cloud's mother can only be met inside her house.
In another unused scene the innkeeper would have marveled at how Cloud has moved up in the world and is working with Sephiroth. Afterward the player would have got to pick from three dialogue choices, same as in the final game; ask where Sephiroth is, ask for a room, or inquire about the town's situation. One interesting bit that wasn't used in the final game is that when asking about the town's situation, the innkeeper would have revealed Shinra is not popular in Nibelheim, expecting Cloud to understand as he is from the town himself. In the final game it is never implied Cloud would have heard negative things about Shinra when growing up. When sleeping in the inn the screen fades to black at which point Cloud would have confirmed with Tifa it was the next morning when they left to inspect the reactor, and Tifa would have given a hesitating response. This bit of foreshadowing does not appear in the final game.
During the scene where the town is burning Cloud runs out of the Shinra Manor, Zangan tries to help the townspeople and the lone Shinra infantryman is lying on the ground. This grunt is actually Cloud, and unused text from the game would have given him a line where he calls out to his mother. This early hint was not included in the final game.
"FINAL FANTASY VII Symphony in Three Movements" is a symphony arranged and orchestrated by Jonne Valtonen for the Final Symphony concert series. The first movement of the symphony, titled "Nibelheim Incident", is based on Sephiroth. The 3-note motif of Sephiroth is used throughout the first movement as an element of structural integrity. In the final phase "The One-Winged Angel" emerges before gradually distorting as all of the earlier themes are gradually built on top of each other. This distortion is a reflection of Sephiroth's internal chaos as he becomes aware of his past. In the end of the movement things slow down. As Sephiroth is reborn, the familiar pulse is heard "in almost spiritual context".
The Nibelheim incident is alluded to in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children: Sephiroth standing among the fires of Nibelheim, and the destruction of the angelic effigy and Jenova's containment inside the reactor, are just a few of the many scenes from the game that are recreated.
In Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete, Sephiroth stabs Cloud with the Masamune and lifts him into the air, paralleling the ending of their battle at the reactor.
In the first revealed trailer for Dissidia Final Fantasy a plume of fire bursts from the ground and Sephiroth emerges from it preparing to battle the Warrior of Light. The scene is reminiscent of Sephiroth standing among the flames of Nibelheim. This allusion is continued in the game’s intro FMV where the entire villain cast is standing among the fire alongside Sephiroth.
In Sephiroth's EX Burst, Supernova, his opponent is consumed in a wave of fire from an exploding star. As the animation for the attack ends, the camera pans out to reveal Sephiroth standing in front of the fire, similar to his pose in the flames of Nibelheim.
- During Cloud's telling of the incident from his perspective in Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth is a temporary party member. He cannot take damage, acts of his own accord in battle, and his equipment cannot be removed.
- While the incident remains hidden to the general public due to the cover-up, a reporter wrote an article — which Zack receives via email in Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- — regarding an unknown incident at the location, and also reported the sudden lack of the local spoken accent among the town's inhabitants, which was previously native to the village and region.
- In Final Fantasy VII the game code calls the two infantrymen during Cloud's telling of the Nibelheim Incident, "Zax" and "Zako"; "Zax" is what Zack is called in Japanese and "Zako" is a vulgar Japanese word that refers to someone as worthless cannon fodder. "Zako" would be the infantryman who goes missing after the bridge falls, meaning "Zax" is actually Cloud, a play on their role reversal in Cloud's faulty telling of the events.
- There are only two FMVs in the incident in both Final Fantasy VII and Crisis Core: The scene where Sephiroth is shown standing in front of the flames, and the scene where he removes the Jenova Doll from in front of Jenova's tank.