My brother has been playing through Final Fantasy VI (the Playstation FF: Anthology version) recently. He has just played through the Opera scene, one of the most renowned and celebrated sequences in console RPG history. Over the years, many other scenes in other games have been compared to it. In particular, I remember reading reviews of Final Fantasy VIII that compared the Dance scene from that game to the FF VI Opera scene. In my opinion however, there are very few scenes that actually do compare to the Opera scene. Thanks to brilliant directing, the Final Fantasy VI Opera scene is a nearly peerless work of art.
To start with, the Final Fantasy VI Opera sequence was a simply beautiful sequence that took advantage of everything the original SNES hardware had to offer. It had the same gorgeous background and sprite art that was everywhere in Final Fantasy VI taken to a new level with the detailed and animated crowd and band placed alongside a shifting main stage. However, the most extraordinary part of the sequence is its use of sound and music. Back in the days before voice acting was possible, Final Fantasy VI managed to create the illusion that the characters were actually singing by syncing sound effects that emulated the pitch and pacing of the singers' voices to the game text.
Another important part of the success of the Opera scene was how it masterfully wove together several different plot threads into a fluid whole. On one level, the entire thing was a crazy plot concocted by the heroes to meet Setzer, who himself was planning on kidnapping the leading actress. In addition to that, there were the attempts of Ultros (the game's recurring comedic villain) to thwart the whole Opera in order to spite the good guys, a significant amount of development in the romance between two of the central characters, and the poor plight of Impresario, who was simply trying to put on a decent performance and keep his job. This complexity lent a lot of drama to the scene as a whole and cemented it as an important scene in the game.
Just as important as the rest of these elements is the way that the Opera sequence fluidly flowed between cut scenes the player watched and sections where the player had control. When the curtain is raised, the Opera flows automatically, while the characters watch on from their balcony seats. However, the opera itself is pushed into the background while the player takes control over Locke and the focus shifts to the relationship between him and Celes. However, as soon as Celes steps out onto the stage, the game places the success or failure of the Opera in the player's hands. After Celes finishes her big scene, the game flips back and forth between watched cutscenes and player control until the countdown timer to stop Ultros begins, and the whole sequence comes to its climax with a desperate rush to stop Ultros and a dramatic boss battle on the main stage. The entire sequence is a masterful intertwining of big beautiful cut scenes and exciting gameplay, that never gets distracted by unnecessary material.
The reason I don't think that the Final Fantasy VIII dance sequence really compares to the Opera scene is that it is just a straightforward FMV sequence. The isn't any complicated editing or integration of any gameplay elements into it. Furthermore, the scene itself is simply a way to further the Squall-Rinoa romance, with little drama in of itself. However, there is one sequence in the game that does come close to the FF VI Opera scene in FF VIII: the massive battle between Balamb Garden and Galbadia Garden at the end of the second disc. In that sequence, there is a lot of really effective splicing of beautiful FMV clips, intense gameplay, and a well-executed intertwining of various plot threads. The whole thing comes together at its climix when Squall is engaged in a fist-fight minigame with a Galbadia soldier in order to steal a flying craft so he can rescue Rinoa, while dangling mid-air from said flying craft, while an epic FMV battle sequence goes on in the background. I consider the whole sequence the climax of FF VIII.
There are a few more such scenes across the Final Fantasy series; the WEAPON attack on Junon in Final Fantasy VII, and the opening sequence of Final Fantasy IX both incorporate many of the elements that made the FF VI Opera scene so great, and in turn are some of the most memorable sequences in their respective games. So, I think that there are a lot of good lessons to be learned from studying the Opera sequence.