#SquareEnix recently revealed a new piece of key art for the upcoming #FinalFantasyVII Remake. One of the stand-out features of this piece of art is our villain, Sephiroth, looming over Midgar in the background, his now-iconic wing in full display.
Sephiroth was widely lauded as a great villain back in his day, but has since become a divisive character among the fanbase; many find him to be a product of 90's "edge," while others still cling to the idea that he was one of the greats. In honor of Final Fantasy VII's 20th anniversary, let's take a look back at what made #Sephiroth stand out and stick in the minds of so many people.
Spoilers for Final Fantasy VII follow. Since the game is super popular and has now been around for 20 years, there's probably nothing in this article you don't already know, but consider yourself warned, nonetheless.
The Fallen Hero
SOLDIER is made out to be a bunch of freakishly strong people, and Sephiroth spends his life being the best of the best, only to find out that he's only that way because he's a genetic experiment. This sends him down an emotional roller coaster as he tries to unravel the mystery behind his past, and the conclusion he comes up with leads him to hate all humans because he thinks he's part of a superior race of people - The Ancients.
While still a bit contrived, I think that's a nice spin on the fallen hero trope. It makes for an even greater plot twist because Sephiroth is actually misinformed about Jenova—she's not an Ancient, she's a parasitic alien life form. In fact, she actually wiped out the Ancients!
By the time we see Sephiroth in the present, he's become much more than the man he was. He's merged with Jenova, taken over her consciousness, and is using her body to traverse the world. That's a really cool plot point. He's half fallen hero, and half terrifying horror movie parasite. I think he definitely gains points for originality.
Our Hero's Foil
Sephiroth also serves as a good juxtaposition to the hero of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud. You might think this is shallow, but there's something really appealing about a well done rivalry. Think back to Dante and Vergil from Devil May Cry, Red and Blue from Pokemon, or Mega Man and Bass from Mega Man. They're very similar, yet very different.
On a surface level, they're both former members of SOLDIER who wield giant swords. On a purely visual level, Cloud's sword is big, while Sephiroth's is long. This sounds like a dumb little detail, but it's a nice visual nod. On a deeper level, they're both haunted by a past they've misinterpreted.
Sephiroth is set up really well as a powerful villain to be feared. You hear about "the great Sephiroth" from others, he attacks the Shinra building and frees Jenova, he kills the president... and then you get the flashback. He's level fifty and kills a dragon like it's nothing, when Cloud, who is level one, can't even touch it.
Sephiroth, who is in your party throughout the flashback, is not controllable by the player despite this. His overwhelming strength when compared to Cloud helps to cement his status as a powerful other; he is an almost unreachable entity, which is exactly how others describe him before you finally see it for yourself in this segment of the game.
He uses powerful spells. He shows he's knowledgeable about the world, such as when he stops your group on the mountain to explain how materia is made. He's able to burn down an entire town. Then, you chase him across the swamp in the present, narrowly avoiding a powerful serpent that your party is unable to defeat at this time, only to see this, which remains one of the most chilling moments in gaming for me:
A Dent in the Silver Armor
However, there are some contrivances in the development of Sephiroth as well.
The reason for his initial insanity is pretty thin - it's justifiable, but he switches from calm and aloof to totally crazy at the drop of a hat. Once he merges with Jenova it becomes more believable, since, you know, he's now fused with a hostile alien life form and likely wouldn't be thinking like a rational human being. But his initial reason for turning to "the dark side," could have used some more time in the oven. While the PSP prequel game Crisis Core did help a bit with this, you have to judge VII on its own merits.
Sephiroth's beef with Cloud is also sort of weird. They don't share any real history together (once you realize Cloud's memories are false), and Cloud is theoretically not even his biggest threat. There's Shinra who wants him out of the picture, and Cloud and his ragtag band of friends don't really prove themselves as a threat other than chasing him from place to place (and frequently failing to catch him or even stop him from what he's doing). The writers wanted us to feel like they had a personal connection considering Cloud's imagined history, but from Sephiroth's perspective, they really don't.
A Masterful Perfomance
That said, I feel the positives strongly outweigh the negatives.
Sephiroth's real forte is stage presence; his impact is felt from the moment you see him, and subsequent encounters with him become increasingly creepy and surreal—right until the end. Sephiroth, like Vader in the cinematic world before him, is sold to the player through powerful iconography, such as his outlandishly large weapon, memorably haunting theme songs, and key scenes depicting his wickedness.
His presence is felt even when he's not physically on the scene, as characters begin discussing him long before his first real appearance. The ripples of his actions are felt throughout the game, whether it be in the creepy cloaked figures scattered throughout the world that struggle to mutter his name, or in the giant meteor that hangs ominously in the sky during the game's third disc.
When Sephiroth steals the show, he doesn't only do so by his presence alone: he also offers a mystery for the player to solve, adding an extra bit of intrigue to each of his appearances. How did he survive the battle five years ago? What is his connection to Jenova? Who's really in control?
The man even manages to make the player hate him on a personal level by killing off Aerith. This is not only impactful from a story-building perspective, but a gutsy move by developers: Since when does the main heroine die? And so unceremoniously so to boot. Aerith's death gives Cloud and company extra incentive to take him down.
By the end of the game, you're not just fighting Sephiroth anymore. He's become a symbolic representation of evil, an amalgamation of the planet's past woes and the heroes' current problems. He is the fallen hero, the alien parasite, and the enemy of the planet. There's a reason one of his theme songs in Crisis Core is titled The World's Enemy.
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While it's true that many villains in RPGs eventually come to fill a similar role, Sephiroth gradually escalates into a more dangerous threat throughout the game. Most villains transform towards the end, or even during the final battle itself. Sephiroth does this, too, but it's the escalation of evil we see before his final transformation that sets him a head above most of the rest.
Despite how much he's been flanderized in popular culture since his original appearance, I feel as if Sephiroth was a very effective villain. I can't wait to see how the upcoming remake treats his character. I can only hope they stay true to his more grounded, original incarnation, and not the watered down version we've seen in Advent Children, #KingdomHearts, and #Dissidia in the years since.
Be sure to check out the teaser trailer for the remake below!
What do you think of Sephiroth as a villain?