Unexpected and utterly heartbreaking are probably the best ways to describe what is perhaps one of the most memorable death scenes in all of gaming. Having a character die is nothing new, especially in the ‘Final Fantasy’ universe, but Aerith’s death represents a unique moment for games.
The death of Aerith is quite likely one of the first times gamers could understand having a resonating emotional response to a game: Creating a new standard for the medium. There was no indication that her life would be at risk; in fact, there was every indication that her character was important to both the plot and the function of the game mechanically.
While no characters in ‘Final Fantasy VII’ have specific classes, Aerith’s function in the party was the closest to a healing class. Her limit breaks undoubtedly saved players more than a few times, especially during harder battles. It would seem logical that the progression of the mechanics of her character would be one that plays a vital role in keeping the party alive: Hence, the need to keep her alive.
Also, the conflicted quasi-love triangle between Cloud, Tifa and Aerith was one that seemed like it needed to be resolved at some point, and certainly not with one of the characters dying.
The death and destruction that runs in this world, the frailness of life, is brought immediately to the player with Aerith’s death.