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Life, Death, & The Sefirot: FFVII’s History & Remake’s Future in a New Symbol of Reunion

by June 29, 2020 6 comments

Sefirot Path Analysis: V – Sephiroth

STROKE V – Pillar of Mildness (Right) – Fire – Sephiroth’s Story

Sephiroth in flames Key Art

There is no question that just as the falling rain symbolizes the element of water for Zack, the burning flames of Nibelheim symbolize the element of fire for Sephiroth. The opposite of concealment, the Pillar of Mildness is about revelation – and everything about Sephiroth and his plans are always in the process of being laid bare in front of the entire world for all to see – even as the Whispers themselves are now revealed in Remake. The fifth brush stroke is perhaps the most complicated – because this is where we start to see Remake separate itself from the original game. However, we have the framework to understand how that would happen, and we can look at the path that it’s taking.

As such we’re going to go into a great amount of detail about this part, but it is going to have some speculative elements, since some of it involves things that haven’t yet come to pass in Remake‘s telling of the story, but that it has hinted at in Remake‘s ending. The brush stroke runs through Hokhmah to Hesed, but then from Hesed it moves out of the Pillar completely. It cuts between Tif’eret & Netzah – seemingly close enough to graze Tif’eret, but missing Netzah in doing so – and then it tapers down into Yesod. From a thematic sense, it follows these three points:

  1. Hokhmah “Wisdom” – An idea before it has any limitations, a revelation or creation from nothingness/male
  2. Hesed “Kindness” – Inspiring vision & loving grace of free giving
    1. Tif’eret “Beauty” – Compassion to balance grace & judgement
    2. Netzah “Eternity” – Perpetuity & victory through endurance
  3. Yesod “Foundation” – Coherent knowledge & connecting to the task set to be accomplished

The first point here is the core of Sephiroth’s ambitions in his wisdom – but now in Remake he possesses an even greater awareness of things like the Whispers & Destiny as well. It is here where the path meets second point of Hesed where things feel incredibly accurate for Remake – Sephiroth possessing an inspiring vision & freely giving things gracefully. Back in Advent Children, Sephiroth was most interested in what else he could take from Cloud & had a very antagonistic relationship with him. When Sephiroth emerges in Remake & absorbs the events of the future reality with Meteor from the original game, this is why he’s depicted floating in the eye of a storm over Midgar – it is exactly in the place where he was defeated by Cloud in Advent Children Complete, where he was told to remain a memory.

Sacrificing the Planet for a New, Shining Future – Or Remaining Just a Memory

Remake's & ACC's Sephiroth in the Eye of the Storm

Now instead of bringing Cloud despair – Sephiroth in Remake is doing the exact opposite & bringing Cloud hope. He wants Cloud to remain, to persist, and to join & defy destiny together with him. He’s even offering Cloud open opportunities when they clash in the scene that mirrors their final confrontation from the original game. In the end of Advent Children, Sephiroth still uses the personal pronoun 私 (watashi), whereas in Remake – in this end-game state of superconsciousness at the Edge of Creation – this new fourth Unknown Sephiroth uses the personal pronoun 俺 (ore) instead. This change is important to note, as the Remake Ultimania explicitly states that this fourth Unknown Sephiroth’s dialogue at the Edge of Creation reflects the speech patterns that he used before he encountered Jenova during the Nibelheim Incident. We can see this calm, cooperative, & superconscious perspective in his dialogue to Cloud:

“Careful now. That which lies ahead does not yet exist. Our world will become a part of it… one day. But I will not end. Nor will I have you end.” “The edge of creation. Cloud, lend me your strength. Let us defy destiny… together.” and then when Cloud refuses and tries to defeat Sephiroth, he disarms Cloud and says, “Not yet. Seven seconds ’til the end. Time enough for you, perhaps. But what will you do with it? Let’s see.” before vanishing and leaving Cloud standing and staring out into the vastness of space.

This brings up where the stroke deviates from the Sefirot’s paths, because “That which lies ahead does not yet exist.” and the idea of the Sefirot itself is all about creation of the physical as a manifestation of the Will of the spiritual – hence Cloud & Sephiroth having their confrontation in a state of superconsciousness at the Edge of Creation. We know that Sephiroth has always been focused on immortality & victory – but the stroke that follows this Unknown Sephiroth’s story fails to intersect with Netzah where the divine aspects for immortality and victory are very clearly located to someone with this kind of superconscious awareness about reality. This is because if he’s carrying wisdom from his previous Reunion in Advent Children, his current existence in Remake means that his refusal to just be a memory is destined for failure at Cloud’s hands in the future that follows the natural cycle of life & death and the personal Promised Land that Will of the Planet sets out.

At present, this stroke isn’t following the direct path to Tif’eret, nor the one to Netzah. Instead, it’s cutting between either staying them with its end point focused is on Yesod – which represents: The task to accomplish, coherent knowledge, & wholly remembering. It’s a point of balance in the Center Pillar. This is Sephiroth’s knowledge & understanding of the Sefirot itself, as well as the bounds outside of all of creation, even as his own body is sitting in the Northern Crater absorbing the flow of the Lifestream somewhere. As the embodiment of Da’at he understands how that system of energy works – which is why he is positioning his goals in a way to get Cloud & the others to work with him to defy destiny. He’s providing an act of kindness in the form of a choice for Cloud – because without the Whispers & Destiny shaping the path… Sephiroth could actually succeed. The tail end of brush Stroke V for Sephiroth’s story exits Yesod & intersects the tail end of Stroke I which is Zack’s story – which means this Destiny-defying, Unknown Sephiroth offering kindness is telling the truth. He’s defying destiny, and this brush stroke is cutting a path directly through to the one of his old SOLDIER comrade Zack – which is exactly what we see occurring at the end of Remake …but why?

Sephiroth’s Divine Power – Bound by Mortals’ Altruism

Unknown Sephiroth's Future

Malkhut is the only Sefirah that exists outside of the aspects of God and exists solely in his creation, Humans. It is the part that Sephiroth initially manipulates through Reunion by puppeting Cloud’s motivations emotionally – because like the Planet’s Whispers he can’t just do it directly. The actions in Malkhut have to be performed by a human engaging in an act of Altruism. As Da’at for two opposed worlds of life & death, Sephiroth needs Cloud’s presence to keep himself in Balance – hence why he states truthfully, “Nor will I have you end.” …which still matches the selfish motivations of the other illusory version of Sephiroth also wanting to keep his connection to Cloud no matter what.

For the Sefirot to be in balance, and for Da’at to have the Divine Light, Sephiroth needs the role of the Giver & the Receiver to be fulfilled – even when it’s just in order to achieve his own ends. The original Sephiroth needs Cloud to obtain the Black Materia and willingly give it to him. He tests this at the Temple of the Ancients by forcing Cloud to give it to a Sephiroth copy to ensure that Cloud will give it to him again at the Northern Crater, where he has access to sufficient energy to actually summon Meteor. This is why the scene where it activates is as soon as Cloud finishes giving it to Sephiroth.

Cloud giving the Black Materia to Sephiroth

By that same token, the only path to achieving the activation of Holy from Malkhut is in altruistic action from a Human, or rather a Cetra – but Sephiroth doesn’t act the same way with Aerith, and she absolutely doesn’t trust him. When confronting Aerith at the end of the game, Sephiroth states, “Those who look with clouded eyes see nothing but shadows.” “All born are bound to her. Should this world be unmade, so too shall her children.” “Listen. Destiny comes.” – and Sephiroth slices a rift into the fabric of destiny itself before teasing, “I’m waiting, Cloud.”

Sephiroth is specifically interacting with Cloud for a multitude of reasons, but also because he knows that Aerith is trying to protect him, because she doesn’t want to lose Zack again. It’s only after she stops Cloud from following Sephiroth… and then sees his face – knowing that they both just witnessed Zack’s death, that she uses her magic to stabilize a path into Destiny’s Crossroads. Aerith knows that they both share that pain, but only she’s getting a chance to meet him again by being with Cloud. This is why Sephiroth’s first goal in Remake is all about breaking the bounds of destiny in order to create a path to bringing Cloud & Aerith something he knows they both want, which is connected to their roles in Malkhut being tied to performing acts of altruism related to Holy & Meteor.

At the end of Remake, Sephiroth is opening a path to defying destiny & saving someone that they both love – Zack, he can’t actually choose to fully realize that future that on his own. This future saving someone they care for being an act of kindness is likely how he’s positioning to justify expecting their altruism in return – granting him the power over both Meteor & Holy. Sephiroth’s actions to defy destiny specifically with Zack’s fate means that he also has absolutely enormous leverage for emotional manipulation towards the actions of both of Aerith & Cloud – which is dangerous, depending on which version of Sephiroth we’re dealing with when that choice gets made. You can’t tell definitively… until you actually choose.

Conflicted Desires of the Heart & Mind

Aerith talking about the future

Sephiroth’s path from Hesed to Yesod brushes through Tif’eret – because I think that he knows he’s not going to get Aerith to comply unless Cloud’s present – because in order to be kept in balance, they’re always ever-so-slightly on opposing sides of the goal. In experiencing Jenova’s Reunion by meeting Cloud, she knows how much that experience means to her… –but now she also can’t forget that the possibility of Zack being brought back also means her losing all of those memories with Cloud. This is what’s eventually going to further motivate Aerith to leave on her own go and activate Holy to stop Sephiroth without Cloud & the rest of the party there. She wants to have Zack back again, but she doesn’t want to lose Cloud, and she knows that Cloud wants Zack back again too… As the last Cetra she can’t ignore Sephiroth obliterating an entire reality and all of the experiences of those who lived on the Planet. Every moment matters, and those ones will vanish if he creates a different future.

This matches her & Sephiroth’s argument at the Temple of the Ancients in the original game, with Sephiroth saying, “I became a traveler of the Lifestream and gained the knowledge and wisdom of the Ancients. I also gained the knowledge and wisdom of those after the extinction of the Ancients. And soon, I will create the future.” and then Aerith objecting, “I won’t let you do it! The future is not only yours!” All of this dialogue still perfectly matches Aerith’s portrayal and the context of Destiny in Remake – but adds in deeper emotional stakes for her & Cloud – because now this is talking about a future where Zack is alive – which is something that they don’t want to have to fight against.

It’s also why as soon as that confrontation happens in the original game, we see Sephiroth whispering into Cloud’s mind, “Hmm… She’s thinking of interfering? She will be a difficult one, don’t you think? We must stop that girl soon.” It’s also ultimately why Sephiroth is still going to have to kill Aerith. The portrayal of death is the most critical part of Final Fantasy VII‘s story, with Aerith specifically it also serves to further manipulate Cloud emotionally towards accepting a path to a future where Zack survives. Aerith’s death is removing the one thing that would make Cloud doubt him, and it also gives Cloud the critical emotional moment where he expresses the emotions of wanting to have her back in a real world“The cycle of nature and your stupid plan don’t mean a thing. Aerith is gone. Aerith will no longer talk, no longer laugh, cry… or get angry…. What about us… What are WE supposed to do? What about my pain? My fingers are tingling. My mouth is dry. My eyes are burning!”

Additionally, Sephiroth’s plan offers Cloud a way to bringing them both back as leverage to ensure that he gets Cloud to still give him the Black Materia, in order to ensure that he has both Holy & Meteor in balance – which is why Remake‘s track “Seven Seconds till the End” is a rendition of “You Can Hear the Cry of the Planet” which plays during the entire journey leading towards seeing Aerith alive for the last time. That lingering promise will hold true, even after Cloud no longer believe’s that he’s just an empty puppet & he chooses to face down Sephiroth in the North Crater, after which he’ll have one last confrontation… & a choice at the Edge of Creation – fighting to preserve a life of overwhelming struggle & precious memories, or to create a different future where those life-altering horrors & moments of joy never take place.

Remake‘s Opposing Futures – “Boundless, Terrifying Freedom” Vs. “The Steel Sky”

Sephiroth Vs. Cloud Edge of Creation

When Cloud’s superconscious projection lands at the Edge of Creation to face off against Sephiroth, there are two different nebulae in that space. The one behind Cloud is deep crimson, with a dark meteoric structure in the center. If there is anything that very obviously represents the future that lies ahead in the story in Final Fantasy VII – it’s a crimson sky with meteor just like the one that this Unknown Sephiroth absorbed inside the Singularity. This also matches the red lifestream that bursts forth from Sephiroth upon his defeat in the original game. The nebula behind the Unknown Sephiroth shines out with a bright, welcoming light & multi-colored stars. It matches the light that shines out and dissipates the Whispers so that Zack survives and continues onward towards Midgar. It is this second future that the Unknown Sephiroth, who still speaks like the heroic one Zack was comrades with, looks up towards longingly.

Just as much for fans of the original game and newcomers – we really don’t know if this means that there’s a chance that a story where Zack lives will be presented, like Final Fantasy XV‘s Episode Ignis shows an alternate timeline to that game’s tragic conclusion. When Kitase stated in the Final Fantasy VII Remake Ultimania that, “From here on out, we’re not drastically changing the story and making it into something completely different than the original. Even though it’s a Remake, please assume the story of FFVII will continue as FFVII always has.” which matches everything we see indicated here. Even if Remake allows us more moments to understand Zack’s past & connections to Aerith & Cloud – which I expect that it will, as he’s one of the 5 original characters linked to the original game’s core story – that path doesn’t become available until Cloud chooses it at the VERY end of the game. Sephiroth might tempt Cloud with visions, but that’s all still just the same as it’s always been.

What’s most impressive is that despite everything new here – all these elements show that they really, genuinely haven’t changed things that will impact the story. On top of that, everything new in the game is still adhering very strictly to the core guiding framework that the original game’s story was built off of. The reason that they’ve added a meta layer of context in the story is because that is going to make these very human decisions just as difficult for returning players as it does for new players. Final Fantasy VII‘s story is centered on how to cope with this loss, which is why this change to the game’s moment upon exiting Midgar was established to emotionally align the player with the party’s motivations about everyone deciding to chase down Sephiroth… but for different reasons. The choice needed to be established from earlier on in the start of the game, so that understanding what creating a Remake means in the context of the story of Final Fantasy VII. That emotional attachment needed to be a part of the continual development of the story that would evolve and persist all the way up to the final confrontation – where Cloud & the players are going to be faced with the same choice at the ultimate end of the story in Remake.

Stardust & Sephiroth – Redemption & Alien Psychological Self-Destruction

David Bowie & Unknown Sephiroth

This is where understanding Sephiroth’s existential madness being connected not having a mother, being an alien on a strange world, slipping from the place of a hero and falling further into a dark spiral, and understanding the external context of the haunting existential & personal struggles that David Bowie portrayed in his half-alien personas really pays off. It makes it abundantly clear that Remake really digging into Sephiroth’s psyche & motivations aren’t just a simple surface-level deception. The flaws with The Man Who Fell To Earth‘s Thomas Jerome Newton is that he always succumbs to his own temptations, and never keeps his promise to return to his homeworld with water to save his family – which directly matches the moment in Remake where Aerith describes Sephiroth to the party, “He’d tell you that he only cares about the planet. That he’d do everything in his power to protect and preserve it. But this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. There’s no greater threat to the planet than him.” The classic Sephiroth matches in stride by being like Bowie’s own description of the the Thin White Duke by, “spouting a lot of poetic neo-romance, but still truly having no emotion at all” since the original Sephiroth is stuck being solely self-interested in securing his own fascist supreme authority by literally any means necessary.

David Bowie described the period from 1974 – 1977 where he was focused on fascism & occult magic as, “the darkest days of my life” given how heavily influenced they were by his use of drugs & his precarious mental state. He claimed that he couldn’t even remember the late-1975 recording sessions for Station to Station, where he mentions the Sefirot. When peaking about that time he said“It was a dangerous period for me, I was at the end of my tether physically and emotionally and had serious doubts about my sanity.” additionally referring to the Thin White Duke as, “a nasty character indeed.” which is very true for Sephiroth as well. Now that we’ve lived through the future of those events, we also know that David Bowie did eventually recover from his time as the Thin White Duke. It’s why the intentional change of this Unknown Sephiroth to use the self-reflective speech patterns from when he was the legendary SOLDIER hero Sephiroth, and not the one he used as villainous angelic alien Sephiroth being explicitly differentiated matters.

This source of inspiration in David Bowie’s life vs. his performance personas provides a perfect framework for Remake to ensure the player feels even more weight to the Unknown Sephiroth’s temptations of a new shining future. He’s a perfect version of a character who portrays slipping into darkness. You’re meant to connect with him emotionally and feel sympathetic for him, but also be completely aghast at his actions. It’s why Sephiroth is the entity being used as the untrustworthy, sympathetic villain – because he literally lost himself. Moreso than just that, in the rules that are dictated in the very structure of creation itself, because of Malkhut – even with a superconscious awareness of the very fabric of reality itself, Sephiroth can’t just choose to save himself… because that’s not a mortal act of altruism. His salvation has to be something someone else chooses to give him – and if you do that, you then give up control of how he uses that power, which means that you have to be certain that this is the path that you want & that it’s worth the risk.

The Two Diverging Paths to The Promised Land

Zack's Survival

The Destiny-defying future that the Unknown Sephiroth’s tempting the party with is clearly spelled out in the Remake Ultimania which confirms that the game’s reality and this one don’t co-exist. There’s a real potential future where both Zack (& Aerith) might survive – but the path to this new future also involves Sephiroth achieving victory… and we don’t know what that actually means, because you can’t tell if you can trust Sephiroth to make any decisions that aren’t selfishly motivated at their core. What Remake has done is that even without “Destiny” from a predetermined story forcing their hand, they’re making the player actually own the decision that either results in the lingering deaths of the characters they love – and that’s the pain that Cloud has to eventually overcome in Advent Children, or if they’re comfortable overwriting everything that they experienced just for that chance. That’s at the core of the theme that’s central to Final Fantasy VII about life & death, and why it’s necessary to make the players choose that path for themselves – a normal life… or power…?

You can’t have it both ways. You don’t get to just relive everything exactly as you remembered it but also new again. You have to find the Promised Land that you’re looking for, and you have to be willing to give up the other path to have it. It’s why the risks and rewards have to be real, and the stakes to both paths have to be genuine. This is why despite all of the clear reasons to stand in defiance of Sephiroth, there is one lingering point clearly mapped out on this symbol. – This fifth brush stroke doesn’t follow the outlined path of the Sefirot. If it did, it would have to go down to pass through Netzah, which we know is Sephiroth’s biggest singular obsession, as it represents everything he wanted in Advent Children even as he vanished: “victory, perpetuity, & eternity.” Nor does the brush stroke just move across diagonally through Tif’eret, which would cause it to intersect with Zack’s story in Hod, which represents “Withdrawl, surrender, & sincerity” would likely still result in failure for him. Instead – this Unknown Sephiroth’s path defies destiny & cuts across to meet Zack’s path just after passing through Yesod which is, “The task to accomplish, coherent knowledge, & wholly remembering.” So our new pre-Nibelheim-incident-speaking, AdventChildren-wholly-remembering, Unknown-in-the-context-of-the-original-game Sephiroth seems to just be telling the truth. We don’t yet know if he’s the same Sephiroth who Cloud will meet up with at the very end of the game, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be. That’s why there’s a final confrontation after defeating the Bizarro Rebirth Sephiroth, and the ascendant angelic Master Sephiroth.

The original game had that moment play out automatically. There was no choice – but everyone begged for a Remake. Those people you loved were brought back, just as they used to be, and you get to live through it all anew. That’s why now, you have a choice to make – Is that the same thing that you’re going to fight to give those characters, despite everything that it means?

The Two Opposing Futures

The fate of an entire world’s reality and everyone who exists within it now rests on how you view this Unknown Sephiroth’s promise for the future he’s trying to bring about by defying Destiny – since he clearly warns that it will erase everything that the party experiences together – forever erasing that Planet’s mother and her children, “All born are bound to her. Should this world be unmade, so too shall her children. That which lies ahead does not yet exist. Our world will become a part of it… one day.”

Stroke V

Onward to: Sefirot Path Analysis: VI – Tifa

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6 comments

  1. Schrodingersbabyseal
    #1 Schrodingersbabyseal 2 July, 2020, 20:03

    This is absolutely incredible and I’m sharing it everywhere. Great work X- Soldier.

    Reply to this comment
    • X-SOLDIER
      X-SOLDIER Author 3 July, 2020, 14:17

      I’m really glad that you appreciated it, and thanks much for sharing it as well, Schrodingersbabyseal! Hope ya have a good weekend!

  2. X7Strife
    #2 X7Strife 4 July, 2020, 16:49

    Very impressive article as alwyas X-Soldier. Tbh, I still don’t like the whole concept of fate and the meta elements for how overbearing they are. The whispers, specifically, are insanely invasive and not subtle at all. Nonetheless, this was a very interesting read and I especially enjoyed your interpretation of the perspectives of Cloud, Aerith and Sephiroth for the upcoming parts.

    Reply to this comment
    • X-SOLDIER
      X-SOLDIER Author 6 July, 2020, 18:37

      Thanks much, X7Strife. Honestly, I felt exactly the same way about them at first, but the more time I’ve spent looking at them, thinking about the original game, and considering what Remake means to the team who’s actually doing it, the more I’ve come to really appreciate what they mean to the story itself. They feel more valuable and less like some slapped on addition to make things new like they did at first.

      Fate seems like an odd thing to examine at first, but when you’re talking about life & death… it’s an even more odd thing to ignore. It’s invasive because that’s what it’d be like going back & reliving events you want to change with your whole being, but not being able to. I can’t guarantee that they’ll nail the execution once it’s all said & done, but at this point I feel very confident in what they’re presenting with them & why.

      Personally, I’ve found that it’s best not to think of the Whispers as being purely meta concepts – even though they do also serve that purpose in Remake. It helps a lot to view them just like the Planet’s other existing spiritual defense mechanisms like the Weapons & Materia. In the original game they would have been completely invisible to us, since that game just follows the Sefirot’s paths, rather than knowing things about the paths in order to try deviating from them. Everything about what they are matches with the original game in their overt physical presentation, as Final Fantasy VII has never been subtle with the presentation its spiritual concepts once you know what you’re looking at, which is what I wanted to do a lot of in this article.

      There’re actually a lot of ways that the Whispers have already been adhering to the in-world mechanics with the the Planet & Shinra’s Science experiments, too. Despite being new and feeling a bit strange, they’re still perfectly aligned with spiritual core of Final Fantasy VII, as well as a lot of the in-game lore as well. I briefly mentioned some of that on Page 7 (in the bit about Stroke II) that I’ve been planning on breaking those things down in a future article, and this is all sort of why I wanted to cover these things first before poking around at some things about the Whispers from a purely in-game-world perspective.

      I hope that whenever I get to dive into a bit more detail on them from that perspective that maybe that’ll help ya find them a bit more appealing & less invasive. Either way, I’m glad that you found some things to enjoy from all of this despite not being to hot on the Whispers! Have a good week!

  3. Sunny Oracle
    #3 Sunny Oracle 8 July, 2020, 06:06

    Thank you for this thoroughly researched article!

    I’d seen the joke(?) before that David Bowie is in every video game, but this really spells it out as far as Sephiroth. I could never quite get into Bowie’s art rock but now I want to see “The Man Who Fell to Earth”!

    I wonder if Seph’s silhouette (fashion-wise) was also inspired by Bowie’s dress + boots for the cover of “The Man Who Sold the World”?

    Reply to this comment
    • X-SOLDIER
      X-SOLDIER Author 8 July, 2020, 20:40

      Glad to’ve provided it!

      I saw a lot of those while I was doing research, and it was amusing that I was adding yet another example to that list. “The Man Who Fell to Earth” is quite an abstract Sci-Fi film and there’s a ton of nudity in it, but it’s SO very interesting looking at it as something with links to the themes in Final Fantasy VII.

      I think that Sakaguchi had some input about Sephiroth’s & Aerith’s designs (they have similar hair because they were initially going to be siblings in the game), but I wouldn’t be too surprised if there were even more Bowie influences than I managed to pick up. 😀

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