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Sephiroths name comes from the Jewish mystical text, the Kaballa. Sephiroths goal in the game is his Jenova influenced desire to converge with the Planet and become a God. The murder of Aeris manipulates the player into hating Sephiroth, thus diverting our attention from the fact that he is really just a tragic character who is being manipulated by Jenova. Note the look of horror on his face as he dies. Seph- iroth obviously wasn’t afraid of dying. It was his goal to kill his body and become a new life form. His fear at the end of the game seems to imply a terrifying revelation, as if he has suddenly realized what was being done to him and the terrible actions it caused him to perform. Personally, I like to think that Sephiroths life energy visits his real mother, Lucretia, to say good-bye and then returns to the planet.
The Sefirot of the Kabbalah represent the ten branches of the Tree of Life which are interconnected by twenty-two paths. The first nine branches are symbolized in the game by its 9 heroes. The tenth branch is called Malkut and is characterized by Harry Gersh in his work, „The Sacred Book of the Jews,“ like this, „Malkut has no special attributes but is a kind of funnel through which the qualities of the upper nine sefirot are transmitted to the physical world. It is therefore also called Shechinah, the Spirit of God.“ Malkut, the tenth branch, is portrayed in the game by the White Materia (Remember what Aeris first says about the White Materia, „…but mine is special. It is good for absolutely nothing.“
This quote from George Sassoon and Rodney Dale in their work, „The Mana Machine,“ illustrates Sephiroth and his fate perfectly, „To the Babylonians, it [the Tree of Life]was a tree with magical fruit, which could only be picked from the gods.Dire consequences befell any mortal who dared to pluck from its branches.“
The Kaballah also speaks of an eleventh, hidden branch. This branch is called Da’ath and is represented in the game by the Lifestream. This quote from Rebecca Salem describes the Da‘ ath, „Here is the highest point of the human mind: the home of the brainstorm or creative energy that is brought into manifestation on the earthly plain.“
In Celtic Mythology, the development of which was highly influenced by the mystical ideas found in the Kaballah, magic is a process of altering the structure of the physical reality through the sheer force of ones own will. The use of magic requires one to gain mastery over the five elements, Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Spirit and use them in the construction of spells. Note how this parallels the magical system of Final Fantasy (and almost every other RPG in existence), which features magical spells based on all these elements. As Bugenhagen puts it when he first meets Cloud, „Spirit energy is a word you should never forget.“
Celtic Mythology often uses numbers to symbolize mystical ideas. Three and all multiples of three are the fund- amental numbers which were believed to have magical power. Nine was considered the most important of these multiples for its ability to return to itself. If you multiply nine by any single digit number and then add the two numbers you get as your answer, their sum will always be nine (Example: 2×9=18, 1+8=9/ 6×9=54, 5+4=9).
In Final Fantasy VII, the number 3 and all its multiples are employed in a strange repitition. (Just before the final battle, Barrett says, „Look at the number.“) Here is a list of some examples.
- There are three characters in the players party at any one time.
- There are nine characters in the game total (Note that Sephiroth is in your party briefly during Clouds flashback bringing the number to 10, the same number as the branches found on the tree of life. This is another way of symbolizing that Sephiroth is a victim, not a villain.)
- There are three incarnations of Jenova fought during the game (Jenova Birth, Life, and Death)
- There are six primary characters which lead the Shinra at the beginning of the game (President Shinra, Hojo, Scarlet, Heidegger, Palmer, and Reeve) When President Shinra dies, Rufus immediately shows up, stabilizing the number.
- On the world map, there are a total of thirty locations which can be entered (I counted these up by looking at the world map in the official strategy guide. There were actually 36 locations, but six of them were just chocobo tracks, although this still comes to another multiple of three.)
- Each character has 6 Limit Break attacks which come naturally to them (except Cait Sith, who only has two, which is one third of six, and is not a real character, but rather Reeve of Shinra.) The seventh limit break can only come through mastery of the fist six.
- Aeris, the true hero, is the third character we meet in the game (after Cloud and Barrett). Note that we don’t learn Aeris‘ name until after we meet Tifa, making her seem to be character number four (another contrast between the ‚apparent‘ and ‚hidden‘ realities of the story.)
- In the games final battle we fight four different monsters. Yet each of these four monsters represent 3 diff- erent forms of both Sephiroth and Jenova. Numerically, the pattern can be illustrated like this, with the left side representing Jenova and the right side, Sephiroth: 1-2/3-3/2-1. If you add these numbers up (1+2+3+2+3+1) you will get 12, another multiple of 3. Note that 4 (the number of battles) times 3(the number of forms of Jenova and Seph- iroth) also equals 12. If you add only the center numbers of the conversion up (2+3+2+3) you will get 10, the number of spheres on the Tree of Life, which represents the state of immortality that Sephiroth/Jenova are trying to attain.
- There are 69 floors in the Shinra headquarters. ’69‘ is a numerical symbol for convergence (as well as being…well, you know ). Shinra translates as meaning ‚God.‘ If you put these to words into a sentence summarizing Jenovas goal in the game you’ll come up with something like, „Jenova wishes to destroy the planet and ‚converge‘ with its Lifestream energy to become a ‚God.'“ (Square sure did put some intense planning into this game, didn’t they?)
- There are 241 species of monsters spread through- out this game (not counting the final battle). Multiply 2×4 and then add 1 and you will get 9.
- The first Cait Sith is destroyed in the Temple of Ancients and is replaced by another. Add another 1 (Reeve) to this 2 and you get 3.
- In the Mural room in the Temple of Ancients, there are nine pillars in the room, eight on the wall and one different looking pillar, characterized by a sphere at its top, that is located on the altar on the right side of the room. There are eight torches in the room with another point of light represented by the Black Materia illusion float- ing above the pillar. The Black Materia illusion is a light color when we first see it, but turns dark after we touch it.
I’ve found other repititions of three in the game, but I’ve basically illustrated my point enough for the numerical pattern to become evident. Replay the game and look for yourselves. All of the charaters ages in the game are multiples of three with the exception of Aeris, Tifa, and Yuffie (all of which are potential love interest for Cloud, although it is very difficult to see the ‚date‘ with Yuffie, and I have never taken the time to get it). Aeris‘ age is 22, the same as the number of paths interconnecting the branches of the Tree of Life. Tifa’s age is 20, I’m not really sure what this means, but I think that zero in the number may be meant to somehow symbolize Tifa’s secret from Cloud. Yuffie’s age is sixteen, multiply 1×6 and you get six, which is still a multiple of three (Yuffie is also the sixth character found in the game, if you find her at your earliest opportunity, just before you first reach Junon.)
As I mentioned earlier, in Final Fantasy VII there are three character triangles involving Cloud and Aeris. These are:
- Cloud, Aeris, and Zak
- Cloud, Aeris, and Tifa
- Cloud, Aeris, and Sephiroth.
Add the numerical points of these character triangles and you will get 9, the number that always returns to itself. These triangles serve to illustrate various choices that Cloud makes during the game which are fundamental to his growth.
The choice between Tifa and Aeris is very obvious and is up to the player to decide. The choice between Zak and Aeris is personified when Cloud emerges from the Lifestream and vows to live without lying to himself. Zack represents the false past that Cloud constructed for himself under Jenovas influence. Aeris represents Clouds connection to reality („I’m searching for you.“) The choice between Aeris and Sephiroth is personified when Cloud refuses to obey Sephiroths command and kill Aeris at the end of the first disc. If Cloud chooses Aeris in the Tifa/Aeris triangle, then Aeris becomes the point of focus for all three triangles. Here is a visual illustration of these triangles.
(C=Cloud, A=Aeris, T=Tifa, S=Sephiroth, Z=Zack)
C A/T C
If you look at these triangles carefully, you will notice that there is a fourth, inverted triangle within the structure where Aeris is the three points of focus. Note that the points of focus are in the center, with Cloud being represented on the outside of the triangle. Aeris within Cloud. What does this mean? As Cloud puts it in his conversation with Tifa at the end of disc 2, „Everybody has an irreplaceable something their holding onto.“
In the Tree of Life, the first nine sephirot are grouped in threes. Each triad is comprised of a masculine element, a feminine element, and a combining element. The three triads represent 1. the world of thought 2. the world of emotions and morality and 3. the world of nature. Note how this parellels the above structure. Even Tifa can be determined as the masculine element as she is presented in the game as being somewhat of a tomboy with many masculine traits (she is a martial arts expert who wears mens clothes), whereas Aeris is more of an angelic waif and very, very feminine to boot.
Each one of the three triads on the Tree of Life symbolize a different element. The first represents the world of thought and is personified by the choice between Zak and Aeris, which occurrs inside Clouds head while he is in the Lifestream with Tifa. The second represents the world of emotion and morals and is person- ified by Clouds choice between Tifa and Aeris, his two love inter- ests. The third triad represents the world of nature and is personified by Clouds refusal to kill Aeris at Sephiroth/Jenovas command.
Everything in the ‚apparent‘ and ‚hidden‘ stories has parallel contrasts. There is also a second trilogy of character triangles in this story. These triangles consist of:
- Hojo, Jenova, and Sephiroth
- Hojo, Jenova, and Lucretia
- Hojo, Jenova, and Professor Gast
The structure can be illustrated like this (H=Hojo, J=Jenova S=Sephiroth, G=Gast, L=Lucretia):
H J/S H
Once again, each of these triangles is brought into focus by a choice Hojo makes. His choice between Jenova and Sephiroth (his son) is personified when he chooses to inject the cells of Jenova into Sephiroth while he is in the womb (the world of thought).
The second choice is personified when he chooses to give Lucretia, his lover who is carrying is child, to Professor Gasts Jenova Project and then doesn’t allow her to see the child, thus creating the illusion for Sephiroth that Jenova is his real mother (the world of emotions and morals.)
The third choice is made when Hojo has Professor Gast killed (the world of nature.) If you add the number of characters in these two trilogies together (5+5) you get another 10. If you subtract Sephiroth, who appears once in both sets of trilogies, you get another 9 (damn, this is gettin‘ trippy!).
The inverted triangle, which is highlighted in these structures by the three connecting points of Aeris and Jenova, is an important symbol in Celtic Mythology. It is called the Triangle of Manifistation. This triangle symbolizes the creation life through three points:
- God (Masculine Element)
- Goddess (Feminine Element)
- Manifest Creation
The three triangles of Hojo illustrate the choice Hojo made that ultimately lead to the creation of the „false“ Sephiroth, who never had any real choice except to become a slave of Jenova. The three triangles of Cloud seem to symbolize that Cloud somehow keeps Aeris alive, but how is this possible. Let’s take a look at some of the hints regarding this that are spread throughout the game.
When President Shinra dies, we see Sephiroths sword shoved through him in exactly the way he kills Aeris later on. He is immediately replaced by his son, wich could forshadow Aeris‘ rebirth.
When Aeris speaks to Cloud in his dream before taking off to the City of the Ancients the last thing she says is:
„The secret is just up here. At least it should be. I feel it. It feels like I’m being lead by something. Well, I’ll be going now. I’ll come back when it’s all over.“
This line implies that Aeris knows that she is being protected by something far greater than herself and that she will be safe if she prays for Holy, no matter what happens. After all, she knows that Sephiroth is going to be after her. She probably also knew that Jenova was the real threat because her mothers voice would have told her. Also remember that Holy is „the Ultimate White Magic,“ which is the magic of Healing. If any magic could perform a ressurrection, it is Holy. When Tifa and Cloud are on their way to revisit the City of Ancients to find out what Aeris was really doing there, they have this exchange:
Tifa: I wonder what Aeris felt when she was on that altar.
Cloud: I’m sure she wanted to give her life for the planet.
Tifa: Really? I wonder? I don’t think that’s it at all. I think she didn’t think she would die at all., but that she planned on coming back all along. She always used to talk about the ’next time.‘ She talked about the future more than any of us…
When we re-enter the church at Midgar, we see a spectre of Aeris that disappears if we get too close. Aeris has not returned to the Planet yet, but why not? What is she waiting for? When Aeris runs away from Cloud in the Sleeping Forest dream, we see her run into a white sphere of light, symbolizing Holy. If you look closely as Aeris falls through the waters during her burial, notice that she falls into a sphere. As the fade out occurrs a circular light surrounding the sphere, grows smaller and smaller as she falls, as though it is absorbing her body.
In the games ending, there are two appearances of Aeris. The first is the hand reaching from the the white light of Holy out to Cloud, as though Holy is creating a new body for her. This could also symbolize Aeris reaching out to Cloud to pull him into Holy and back into the Lifestream with her since, when the scene shifts back to reality, Cloud is about to fall off the ledge he is stand- ing on and die.
In the first scene of the game, we see Aeris‘ head facing straight at us, her eyes already open (life). When Sephiroth draws his sword from her body we see her eyes close (death). In the final scene we see Aeris‘ head nodding upward and her eyes opening (returning to the Planet or ressurrection).
We have already established that many major truths in this game are illustrated in the places where we are most likely to notice them.
The most fundamentally absurd scene in the game is the show at the Gold Saucer during Aeris‘ and Clouds date. The scene is so goofy that we are totally encouraged to play it as mischeivously as possible (another way the game diverts us from its truths). Let’s look at the entire scene through the path to the happy ending. I will add what I think to be the secret references to the story and what they mean in paranthesis.
Narrator: Long, long ago…An evil shadow appeared over the peaceful kingdom of Galdia (Jenova, „the winged one of the lower reaches,“ who started reaping her destruction upon the planet 30 years before the game begins) Princess Rosa was just kidnapped by the Evil Dragon King Valvados (Aeris was killed by Sephiroth/Jenova) What will become of her (what is Aeris‘ true fate?) Just then, the legendary hero, Alfred, appears!
Knight: Oh…you must be the legendary hero…Alfred! Hey, it’s your line! (It’s your decision to make) Yeah, you. Ahem! Oh, you must be the legendary hero…Alfred! I know in my soul. Please…please save princess Rosa (In your soul you can save Aeris) On the peak of a dangerous mountain…dwells the Evil Dragon King, Valvados (In the Northern Crater dwells Jenova. Note that both Jenova and Valvados have three syllables in their names) who’s kid- napped Princess Rosa (who has killed Aeris)…But you can’t beat the Evil now (Cloud is still too confused about himself to fight Jenova) talk to the one who can help you (Talk to Tifa Lockheart, who holds ‚locked‘ within her ‚heart,‘ the key to Clouds true past)…
Cloud has two choices
1. The knight (a symbol of force)
2. The wizard (a symbol for wisdom)
Let’s have Cloud choose the wizard.
Wizard: I am the great wizard, Vorman (I am truth) What do you wish to know?
Cloud: The evil dragon kings weakness (Jenovas weakness)
Vorman: Ahh, the weakness of the Evil Dragon King. It must be, it must be..Yes! It must be True Love (Truth and Love)! The power of love…Is the only weapon that can withstand the fangs of the evil dragon king (Only love can save Aeris from death) Oh, what is going to happen next! (Only Cloud can decide Aeris‘ fate) Oh…legendary hero…look!
EDK: Aaah! I am the Evil Dragon King….Valvados (I am Jenova) I have not harmed the princess (Aeris is being contained inside Holy, which has been sealed) I have been expecting…you!
Aeris: Please help me legendary hero! (Please save me from Jenova, Cloud!) psst… like that?
EDK: Gaah! Here I come legendary hero…Alfred! I already know your name (I have been controlling you all along).
Vorman: And now legendary here…Here is what will happen… to your beloved…A kiss! The power of True Love!! (Aeris will return through Clouds love)
Aeris: Cloud, I mean Alfred!
EDK: Arrgh! Curses…The power of…love!!!
King: Oh, look! Love has…triumphed (Clouds love has brought back Aeris) Now let’s all return and celebrate!
Narrator: Oh, how profound the power of love (profound means ‚within,‘ Holy is contained at the center of the planet) And so the legendary hero & our story live happily ever after (Cloud defeats Jenova and Sephiroth and finds Aeris in the Promised Land)
All this stuff here is based on choice that Cloud (the player) makes. Every important element in this game means something different that what it seems to mean on the surface. If you choose Tifa over Aeris, it breaks the points of focus that symbolize Aeris and the Triangle of Manifestation. I think that Aeris‘ ressurrection is determined by whom Cloud chooses in the love triangle. If Cloud chooses Aeris, he completes the Triangle of Manifestation and brings Aeris back, through the power of love, when he is touched by Holy (Note that Aeris hand appears immediately after Cloud is touched by Holy and this scene immediately shifts to a shot of Tifas hand reaching towards Cloud).
If he chooses Tifa, Aeris goes back into the Lifestream. After all, any good RPG will often let you decide something fundamental to the fate of your protagonist. Remember what Aeris says about the Promised Land, „You don’t ‚know‘ where the Promised Land of the Ancients is. You search and travel until you feel it. Like you just know, ‚…this is the Promised Land.'“
The Promised Land is not a place, but something you find in your heart. When Cloud is snapped back into reality at the end of the game, he says to Tifa, „I think I’m beginning to understand. An answer from the planet…The Promised Land…I think I can meet her there.“
Cloud somehow knows that he can bring Aeris back by keeping her alive in his heart. If Cloud loves Aeris then she is his Promised Land, thus providing the explanation for her ressurrection when Cloud is touched by Holy. But Aeris loves Cloud no matter how he feels. If Cloud chooses Tifa over her, then she has no real reason to come back. She is better off in the Lifestream with her own race. This resurrection/lifestream return riddle is somewhat ambiguous. But, when you understand the mythological references in the game, the choice between Aeris and Tifa steers it to a more likely possibility, which is why I think this determines Aeris‘ fate.
I think Square put this riddle in the game as a sort of ‚reward‘ for people who take the time to read about the mythology on which the game is based. They wanted to encode something in the game which could only be understood by understanding the most subtle levels of the game.
I can really see why Square of Japan translated FFVII themselves. There was just way too many symbolic elements encoded into the game for them to risk it all being ruined by having someone else translate it. FFVII touches a level of depth in both its dramatic story telling and in its symbolism that has never been approached by another RPG. I’ve never played a video game which has challenged me more in it’s requirement of the player to think about it’s story in order to understand it. This is a very confusing story and I hope that I’ve done a good job of explaining the tale and its intriguing mythological basis. If I’ve done my job right, then may this FAQ serve as an affirmation of appreciation that inspires the many FFVII fans to play the game once again, with new eyes…