The Forgotten Lore of Sephiroth: Unraveling a Major Twist

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Death and sacrifice are as fundamental to Final Fantasy as chocobos, moogles, and tough individuals named Cid. With the demise of a crucial character at the culmination of Final Fantasy VII disc one, the series established a heartrending pattern for many sequels that followed. The same will probably be true with the forthcoming Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, but there’s substantial evidence within the larger tradition to indicate that another main character is fated to die this time around.

Why’s that? The broader Compilation of Final Fantasy VII (i.e., the original game plus all subsequent spinoff and sequel games, books, and movies) essentially establishes it as necessary if the party wants to truly defeat Sephiroth once and for all. All the support for this theory comes directly from the FF7 sequel movie Advent Children and its prequel novel On the Way to a Smile. Even if it proves to be incorrect, its impact on FF7 canon remains extremely significant.

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Image: Square Enix

Safer Sephiroth is the villain’s final physical form the party faces in FF7, an angelic mutation of Jenova cells controlled by Sephiroth’s consciousness, which has resided within the Lifestream ever since Cloud chucked him down the mining shaft in the Nibelheim Mako reactor.

“He is still…here,” Cloud says before having a seizure that sends his soul hurdling through the air and into a wormhole to what we assume is the metaphysical plane of the Lifestream. There, he defeats Sephiroth in a duel—the final, final showdown—before Tifa pulls him back out.

Interpreting FF7 as a self-contained narrative, we’re to presume that Cloud defeated Sephiroth once and for all, ridding his astral form from within the Lifestream. Advent Children, however, changes everything. The movie confirms that not only did Sephiroth survive this ultimate encounter, but he also persisted after Cloud defeated yet another physical manifestation of his nemesis.

“Stay where you belong…in my memories,” Cloud says after dealing the killing blow in Advent Children.

“I will never be a memory,” Sephiroth replies before dissolving into ash. A more accurate way to phrase this might be, “I will never be just a memory.”

Cloud stares in horror.

Image: Square Enix

On the Way to a Smile is a collection of short stories detailing what most of FF7’s core cast did from the time between the original game and Advent Children. The “Lifestream Black” and “Lifestream White” sections are easily the most important of the bunch, and they’re told from the perspective of Sephiroth and Aerith from within the Lifestream. These stories shed light on how Aerith was able to influence the Lifestream and Holy after death and also how Sephiroth manifested Advent Children antagonists Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo as remnants of himself. Sephiroth reconstructs his physical form toward the climax of the movie, and “Lifestream Black” explains how.

On the Way to a Smile emphasizes how vital memory is to the narrative at large. When the average person dies, all of their emotions, knowledge, and memories are dissolved into the cosmic energy that comprises the Lifestream. As an Ancient, or Cetra, Aerith is able to “retain the image of her past self” and perceive that the concept of time functions differently in a sea of memory. This detail is strong evidence that she can influence past versions of herself, like the one that exists in Remake. Sephiroth does not have this luxury.

Cloud swings his sword and leaps toward Sephiroth.

Image: Square Enix

A toxic memory

“The man could sense the Lifestream trying to erode his spirit, the memories of his former experiences, thoughts, and emotions,” reads one passage. “The man knew that if one could hold onto some core of their spirit, then one could remain a separate entity, independent from the planet’s system. Cloud. The man decided to make Cloud that core.” In an Aerith section, she describes it another way: “he had made his memories of Cloud the core of his being.”

“As long as Cloud remembers me, I can continue to exist,” he thinks. “Within the Lifestream and on the surface. Even if my spirit disseminates, even if just one fragment of a memory courses around the planet, in the end I can count on Cloud’s consciousness to bring me back.”

Whatever little humanity Sephiroth has left is stripped away as he “surrenders his inconsequential memories to the planet,” until all of his existence is wrapped up in a grudge against Cloud. He cannot even recall his own name or face, and is “not able to produce an image of himself.” This may explain why Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo have Sephiroth’s power and hair color but look totally different.

“As my servants are looking for Mother, if they come across someone who knows me, then from that spirit I can learn of who I once was,”

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