Mythology in Final Fantasy VII

S and G

FFVII books and stuff
AKA
MJ Gallagher
#1
Hi guys. Anyone who has known me in the community for a while will probably be aware I have an obsession with the mythology and mysticism that appears throughout the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. I'd like to share some examples of my writings and just post more over time. I hope you enjoy them.


Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell

Eligor was a minor enemy that could be fought in the Train Graveyard during the original game. His role in the Remake has been expanded, however, and he has even been given his own little bit of in-game lore. In addition to the story of the Black Wind abducting children and trapping their spirits in the Train Graveyard, co-director Motomu Toriyama, revealed in an interview that Eligor has the ability to foresee events. Specifically, the ghastly fiend can sense the imminent collapse of the Sector 7 Plate and the deaths of thousands of civilians, knowing that this will cause a significant disturbance in the Lifestream.

The lore surrounding Eligor is not limited to the Final Fantasy VII universe either. In the old game, the monster’s design was very similar to how it appears here: a masked figure riding a hellish creature that was half-horse, half-chariot. In The Lesser Key of Solomon, a medieval book concerning Christian demonology, Eligor – also known as Abigor – is a Grand Duke of Hell, often described as a handsome man on a horse, wielding a lance, but occasionally he is depicted as a cloaked spectre riding a semi-skeletal steed. He is also able to see the future, and commands legions of demons.

And just in case that wasn’t enough to explain where the Remake’s developers drew their inspiration from, one of Eligor’s attacks in the game is the ‘Winds of Gehenna’. According to the Hebrew Bible, Gehenna was a cursed valley, where some of the kings of Judah had previously sacrificed their children. In other texts, Gehenna is likened to a sort of purgatory for wicked souls or, as in the Kabbalah, a waiting area for all those who have died, but not yet passed on to the afterlife. All this, of course, reflects the spirits of dead children being trapped in the Train Graveyard, stuck somewhere between the physical world and the Lifestream.

eligor.jpg


The Runes on Tifa's Gloves

As with many of the references to real world mythology that have been crammed into the series, the attributes of the Rune Blade and the location where the player first discovers it are far from random: It resides in a chest, tucked away on an isolated trail of Mount Nibel, and Cloud is forced to take a minor detour to claim it. While by no means exclusive to the Vikings, runes are most often associated with Norse culture, so it cannot be mere coincidence that this sword lies in close proximity to Nibelheim and the Odin Materia, whose connections to Nordic lore are well established.

A continuation of this theme exists in Final Fantasy VII Remake, but it is so subtle that some fans may not be aware of it. The detail is not detectable in the game and can instead be found in the high-resolution character renders for Tifa. An examination of the panels on her leather gloves and greaves will show they each bear a border of runes from the Elder Futhark (a Norse alphabet). Tifa, of course, was born and raised in Nibelheim, hence their inclusion in her updated design.

tifa.png


Final Fantasy VII Remake managed to sneak in a few mythological references that were not present in the original game, and the PlayStation 5 DLC, Episode: INTERmission, followed the trend. One of them relates to the Gozu and Mezu Drive accessories.

In some Far Eastern religions, the gates of the Underworld are said to be guarded by two demons, called Ox-Head and Horse-Face. It is believed that when a person dies, their soul must be judged in the Underworld, and their treatment in the afterlife is dependent on their actions while they were alive.

Some say the souls of the deceased are captured and taken to the Underworld by Ox-Head and Horse-Face; others say the pair are quite simply the first beings encountered by souls reaching the Underworld. In Japanese lore, their names are Gozu and Mezu.

In Episode: INTERmission, Yuffie can acquire the Gozu Drive and Mezu Drive by defeating the mini-bosses in the subterranean factory. The accessories are described as memory modules containing the data of demons of terrible ferocity and terrifying sorcery, respectively. What's most curious, though, is that they can only be utilised when combined with the Cthonian Armlet - where "cthonian" means "something relating to the Underworld".

And this is where things take a REALLY wild turn. Not only are the drives collected in the caves below the Slums, but Yuffie's tale in the DLC involves Deepground, and specifically Nero the Sable. It's no secret that Episode: INTERmission hits many of the story beats of Dirge of Cerberus, the only other title in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII to feature Deepground. In that game, Nero co-ordinates the mass gathering of non-Geostigma sufferers, bringing them to the "hell" of Deepground to be be slaughtered. He also personally absorbs the souls of those he captures into the abyss of his darkness.

It could therefore be argued that Nero himself functions similarly to Ox-Head and Horse-Face of Far Eastern religion, who, in their capacity as guardians of the gates to the Underworld, share the function of Cerberus - the many-headed hound of Ancient Greek mythology - who lends his name to the title Nero and Deepground are best associated with.

nero.jpg


Vincent the Berserker

In the mythologies and heroic sagas of the Norsemen, the two most prominently attested spirit animals (totems) are the bear and the wolf, and the shaman-warriors associated with them were the berserkir (‘bear-shirts’) and úlfhéðnar (‘wolf-skins’). The names relate to the ritualistic practice of wearing the hide of their patron animal, be this for ceremonial or battle purposes; it represented their elevation to that of a venerated predator.

In legends such as Hrólfs saga kraka (‘Saga of King Rolf Kraki’), however, a berserker literally transforms into a bear, introducing the dimension of shapeshifting. Similarly, it has been speculated that stories of the úlfhéðnar losing control after ‘changing form’ into their wolf-skins have contributed to modern interpretations of werewolves.

During both Final Fantasy VII and Dirge of Cerberus, Vincent’s metamorphosis takes the form of Limit Breaks. He transforms into one of four pre-set creatures: Galian Beast, a ferocious bipedal animal; Death Gigas, an animated corpse similar to Frankenstein’s monster; Hellmasker, a chainsaw-wielding fiend; and Chaos, a winged demon.

It could be argued that Vincent shapeshifting into a monster when he reaches his Limit Break parallels the Viking berserkers (as per the general modern definition), who assumed their totem forms when they became frenzied, losing control in their trance-like state to unleash a barrage of superhuman strikes on their opponents.

The Galian Beast is of particular interest. Of its two abilities, one of is a physical assault that has a 70 percent chance of occurring: ‘Berserk Dance’. Therefore, not only does this monster have an artistic resemblance to the berserkir (‘bear-shirts’) and úlfhéðnar (‘wolf-skins’), its primary attack is also named after one of the rituals theorised to help the shaman-warriors achieve their supernatural battle frenzy.

(This one's actually lifted from my book Norse Myths That Inspired Final Fantasy VII)

FFVII-GalianBeast.png


The Many Versions of Cait Sith

In Celtic lore, Cait Sith were felines that were feared for their supernatural attributes, often thought to be witches or malevolent spirits. They were believed to dwell in the Scottish Highlands, and described as large and black with a white dot on their chest, very similar to the little robot of Final Fantasy VII.

Locals were afraid that the Cait Sith would haunt funerals and steal the deceased's soul before it could travel to the Otherworld, though one tale mentions a cat's funeral where the coffin has a small crown on top. Sound familiar?

An interesting translation note is that 'Cait Sith' is plural in Scots Gaelic - with its Irish equivalent being 'Cait Sidhe' - and means 'fairy cats' (pronounced as "caught shee") while 'Cat Sith' is singular. This may explain the name being used for multiple robots throughout the FFVII Compilation, not to mention Cait Sith's Scottish accent in Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus.

cait-sith.jpg


Leviathan's Symbolism

The inspiration behind the many versions of Leviathan across the Final Fantasy series does not come from any one particular mythology. Instead, it draws on aspects of several, mainly the Far East and Ancient Near East. In Final Fantasy VII, Leviathan is a great serpent considered to be the water god of Wutai, a culture heavily influenced by China and Japan. In Chinese tradition, water deities are typically wingless dragons which rule anything from the rain to sea patterns, including floods and tidal waves. Such abilities have long been thought to represent power, and historically symbolised the Emperor of China. The sacred Leviathan Materia being in the possession of Godo Kisaragi (an authoritative figure in Wutai) during Final Fantasy VII reflects this.

The term ‘Leviathan’, however, stems from the Hebrew Bible, in which a terrible oceanic serpent is described. This, in turn, is derived from Ancient Near East myth, where cosmic sea monsters generally represented the chaos in nature. Many Mesopotamian tales involved a creator god or hero figure battling and overcoming such a fiend to forcefully impose order. A prime example would be the Babylonian legend of the conflict between the heroic Marduk and Tiamat, often described as a primordial goddess in the form of a great serpent, herself the cosmic saltwater sea and mother of the earliest gods. From the perspective of the Shinra Company, their defeat of Wutai (who bore Leviathan as their emblem during the war) could be said to parallel the victory of order over chaos.
 
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Makoeyes987

Listen closely, there is meaning in my words.
AKA
Smooth Criminal
#2
The lore for the Gozu and Mezu Drives specifically states that they're the digitized consciousnesses of demons housed within each USB-like device. So yeah, it's quite the intentional mythological reference.

This was such an interesting post, I always love seeing the mythological references FFs like to make in their settings.
 
AKA
The Engineer
#4
I have a love/hate relationship with these kinds of things. On the one hand, it's cool to see SE looking into this kind of stuff. On the other hand, so much other stuff with mythological names are cultural appropriation at *best* and is nothing like the actual source material.

I tend to mostly ignore it unless world-building details actually mention what is being referenced *in-universe*. Otherwise it tends to lead to wild speculation and trying to draw comparisons where there likley is none. Other than "cool concept leads to cool name and visual design".

And this isn't even bringing up localization of enemy/skill names which can... vary *a lot* from Japanese to English, etc.
 
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S and G

FFVII books and stuff
AKA
MJ Gallagher
#6
I have a love/hate relationship with these kinds of things. On the one hand, it's cool to see SE looking into this kind of stuff. On the other hand, so much other stuff with mythological names are cultural appropriation at *best* and is nothing like the actual source material.

I tend to mostly ignore it unless world-building details actually mention what is being referenced *in-universe*. Otherwise it tends to lead to wild speculation and trying to draw comparisons where there likley is none. Other than "cool concept leads to cool name and visual design".
That's fair. I'm quite the opposite. Even knowing that most of the mythological references are surface level only (especially those not written by Nojima), I find a lot of joy in investigating the possible connections, then speculating on the likelihood that they are deliberate. There's a lot to be unravelled.

Have you done or do you plan to do any exploration of Gnostic themes in FF7?
I have only scratched the surface of FFVII's Gnostic and Judeo-Christian influences, mainly because my current interests and expertise lie in Norse and Greek mythology. I intend to turn my attentions to Gnosticism when my Greek myths in FFVII book is finished.
 
AKA
The Engineer
#8
That's fair. I'm quite the opposite. Even knowing that most of the mythological references are surface level only (especially those not written by Nojima), I find a lot of joy in investigating the possible connections, then speculating on the likelihood that they are deliberate. There's a lot to be unravelled.
It's not that I hate it... I just find it... *really* annoying when I'm trying to figure out the actual... "mechanics" of how the setting works. And all too often any real-world mythology terms/symbolism ends up being a distraction from what the game/story says is actually going on. It's a very different mind-set than what you're doing I think.

The only link I've found that every really felt like it went anywhere was with John Carpenter's the Thing. Not because of how anything was *named* mind you, but because of the mechanics of how both Jenova and the Thing seem to operate.

I think you're more focused on what "could" be happening while I'm more focused on what *has* to be happening.
 

Odysseus

Ninja Potato
AKA
Ody
#9
If Evangelion taught me anything, it's that many mythological references in Japanese media outside of Japanese mythology tend to just be there for the sake of "rule of cool" and sounding interesting and foreign. Not saying that's always the case, mind you, but it is the reason I never really pay attention to this stuff when considering the history and mechanics of the setting.
 

S and G

FFVII books and stuff
AKA
MJ Gallagher
#10
If Evangelion taught me anything, it's that many mythological references in Japanese media outside of Japanese mythology tend to just be there for the sake of "rule of cool" and sounding interesting and foreign. Not saying that's always the case, mind you, but it is the reason I never really pay attention to this stuff when considering the history and mechanics of the setting.
Normally, I'd totally agree with this observation. One of the most interesting things I learned from my research into this, though, is that Nojima had a background in scripting games about Greek mythology (Glory of Heracles) before joining Square. When comparing the mythology that is referenced in FFVII against earlier FF games, there are many examples where it's clear the actual real-world lore has been tapped into rather than the diluted Dungeons & Dragons variant that Sakaguchi had earlier relied on.

In other news, I've added another piece to the first post regarding Vincent Valentine's connection to the Viking berserkers.
 
AKA
Mr. Ite
#11
Firstly, epic return, S and G. Welcome back ^_^

Secondly, I suppose we’re talking about two ways to engage with worldbuilding as audience members. Obsidian Fire nicely put into words my default happy place, where things feel internally consistent and autogenous. The other way, which Odysseus is describing, is unimmersive but strives for maximum impact with a poet’s approach. I feel at arms length from the world, I’m not “transported” but there’s a level of groundedness and appreciation when I look at a work that way. The appreciation is colder, more academic, but that’s just a different kind of fun — and S and G’s analyses are top tier.

FF has no idea where the line is between these two types of audience experience, and never much cared. Calling FFIX’s famous playwright Lord Avon is right smack in the middle of the two methods, imo. It’s a cheeky wink, to be sure, but if you were immersed (or missed the reference) it still feels endemic to the world.

I can’t really say the same for summons. I’m gonna disagree with S and G here and say it’s worse than Evangelion, which mostly stays on brand for spooky Christian panic imagery. FF summons would have you believe that the third god in the Hindu triumvirate is a mid-tier ice monster, on par with the sea monster leviathan, chilling with the chief of the Aesir, an Islamic demon, and King Arthur. I… am not immersed.
 

S and G

FFVII books and stuff
AKA
MJ Gallagher
#12
Firstly, epic return, S and G. Welcome back ^_^

Secondly, I suppose we’re talking about two ways to engage with worldbuilding as audience members. Obsidian Fire nicely put into words my default happy place, where things feel internally consistent and autogenous. The other way, which Odysseus is describing, is unimmersive but strives for maximum impact with a poet’s approach. I feel at arms length from the world, I’m not “transported” but there’s a level of groundedness and appreciation when I look at a work that way. The appreciation is colder, more academic, but that’s just a different kind of fun — and S and G’s analyses are top tier.

FF has no idea where the line is between these two types of audience experience, and never much cared. Calling FFIX’s famous playwright Lord Avon is right smack in the middle of the two methods, imo. It’s a cheeky wink, to be sure, but if you were immersed (or missed the reference) it still feels endemic to the world.

I can’t really say the same for summons. I’m gonna disagree with S and G here and say it’s worse than Evangelion, which mostly stays on brand for spooky Christian panic imagery. FF summons would have you believe that the third god in the Hindu triumvirate is a mid-tier ice monster, on par with the sea monster leviathan, chilling with the chief of the Aesir, an Islamic demon, and King Arthur. I… am not immersed.
Cheers dude, it's good to be back.

And in true Ite fashion, you have perfectly articulated the importance of enjoying this type of content in our own way, but never losing sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, it is all fantasy and conjecture.

I am motherflippin' here for it.
 

Odysseus

Ninja Potato
AKA
Ody
#13
Oh yes, don't get me wrong, I approve of your efforts, by all means, keep doing what you're doing, I was just saying why I don't usually think so hard about it lol.
 
AKA
Mr. Ite
#14

S and G

FFVII books and stuff
AKA
MJ Gallagher
#15
Oh yes, don't get me wrong, I approve of your efforts, by all means, keep doing what you're doing, I was just saying why I don't usually think so hard about it lol.
Don't worry, I didn't take any offence at all. I'm on board with all opinions.

Except Chocobo Sage's. Fuck that guy.
 
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