What We Know for Sure
- a.“Overview and Basic Theory”
Throughout the game the player slowly becomes acquainted with something known as the Lifestream. When the player first starts his quest there is no mention of Lifestream - only Mako. In fact, it is not really until the player reaches Cosmo Canyon that they truly learn about the Lifestream.
But, like many things in Final Fantasy 7, the player may learn about Lifestream while simultaneously never truly understanding it. In general, the player never really has the concept explained to them. The Lifestream soon becomes not only an integral part of the story, but basically the key to everything - from Sephiroth’s quest to become a God to eventually saving the Planet from Holy and Meteor. What then is Lifestream? What is it made of? Who controls it, or does it have a will of it’s own? Or is it like a rock, an abiotic piece of nature?
Sephiroth wanted to become a God using Lifestream. His professed goal was to create a wound in the Planet so massive that all of the Lifestream energy would have to gather around it in order to heal it. He would then absorb the Lifestream and uses its energy to transform himself into a supreme being who had almost infinite power and energy. In this way he would be a God among men, and would be not only unstoppable but most likely immortal as well. Cloud and company soon learn that Sephiroth is planning on using the Black Materia to do this; for in the Black Materia lies the key to summoning the most powerful spell ever to be created - Meteor.
Meteor finds small drifting moonlets or asteroids and then forces them into a collision course with whatever the caster targets. Sephiroth planned on targeting the Planet with his spell and, eventually, did just that after obtaining the Black Materia in the Northern Crater. Meteor then began its collision course with the Planet, and nothing seemed to be able to stop it. This was, for all intensive purposes, the apocalypse of Final Fantasy 7’s planet.
However, Aeris found a means to stop Meteor; or so she thought. Sacrificing herself (albeit in all likelihood inadvertently and unintentionally), she managed to summon Holy which she believed would stop Meteor from colliding with the Planet and, in this way, save the world and prevent Sephiroth’s evil scheme from coming to fruition. This, however, would not be so.
At the last possible minute little jetties of Lifestream emerged from the Planet and coalesced from various points around the globe on Meteor and Holy’s position. Somehow managing to combine to create a wall or explosive or something, they destroyed Meteor and Holy and, therefore, saved the world.
Why is it that the Lifestream acted in this way? Was it being lead by Aeris? Was it simply acting on impulse? Was there some magnetic pull between it and Meteor that, in the end, managed to destroy the evil creation and save the day from Sephiroth’s dread destructive force?
Perhaps the most basic assumption about Lifestream is as follows: Lifestream is, essentially, the blood of the Planet. This of course makes a great deal of sense and offers a good start for beginners who wish to learn what exactly Lifestream is. While not perfect, it’s a very good approximation of the inner mechanics of both the Planet and of the green stuff itself.
This bloodstream hypothesis/explanation basically builds off of the principle that the Planet and all the things who live on it are essential constructs of earlier versions of themselves. The Planet’s Lifestream functions as a huge repository which serves basically two main functions under this theory. One, it heals the Planet’s wounds and keeps it alive. Two, it serves as an energy bank which can be utilized to give rise to new life forms.
Bugenhagen: “Lifestream... In other words, a path of energy of the souls roaming the Planet. ‘Spirit Energy’ is a word that you should never forget. A new life... children are blessed with Spirit energy and are brought into the world. Then, the time comes when they die and once again return to the Planet...”
Most of the player’s understanding of Lifestream generally stems off of this statement made by Bugenhagen when he first explains to Cloud and his party about what exactly they are fighting to protect. The Lifestream is shown as a renewable source of energy that all life requires to exist.
We also know the Planet requires it in order to exist. There are two reasons why the Planet needs its own Lifestream. One, if it is devoid of Lifestream it will wither and die. Two, if it is devoid of Lifestream it cannot heal its wounds.
We are shown in the very same scene as the quote above that the Planet will become barren and black, and, eventually, will shatter if the Lifestream is completely sapped away. This is independent of whatever wounds that the Planet may or may not have, and, as a result, Shinra’s Mako reactors are not only leaving the Planet susceptible to a major injury (due to the immunodeficiency they cause by sapping Lifestream) but are working to directly kill the Planet.
Assuming the Planet is wounded, however, before its Lifestream is reduced to zero it can still be killed. Like a living thing it requires its blood to clot and stop the bleeding around its wounds. Blood also functions by facilitating the reconstruction of damaged tissue in a biological organism. The same is true of the Planet. Not only will it be unable to stop the damage it incurred as a result of the initial injury from spreading and increasing (there will be more talk about this in part d of this very section: “Lifestream’s Role as Holy’s Replacement”), it will also be inhibited to such a degree it cannot hope to regenerate and heal itself from the initial wound.
These curative properties are evident in a number of places. Notably among them are the Mideel incident and the Northern Crater. In Mideel, Cloud and Tifa fall into the Lifestream and, as a result of this event, Cloud’s mental confusion is finally sorted out. This, however, may not be attributable to curative properties but instead to the assimilating properties of the Lifestream (more on this in part b of this section: “Individuality”). The Northern Crater, however, provides undeniable truth to the claims made above.
When the player arrives at the peak of the Northern Crater, just outside the Whirlwind Maze, they are literally shown the Lifestream curing the wound Meteor caused when it was last summoned (over 2000 years ago, by JENOVA most likely; refer to D-II-a “Why Holy Failed” for more information).
But how then is Lifestream replenished? If it is used by each living thing as it is created shouldn’t the Planet eventually be eliminated anyway, despite AVALANCHE and no matter how many Mako Reactors are built? This is, of course, not necessarily so:
Bugenhagen: “Ho Ho Hoooo. Yes, it is something, isn't it? Well, let's get to the subject. Eventually... all humans die. What happens to them after they die? The body decomposes, and returns to the Planet. That much everyone knows. What
about their consciousness, their hearts and their souls? The soul too returns to the Planet. And not only those of humans, but everything on this Planet. In fact, all living things in the universe, are the same. The spirits that return to the Planet, merge with one another and roam the Planet. They roam, converge, and divide, becoming a swell, called the ‘Lifestream’.”
Bugenhagen explains to Cloud and his friends that the Lifestream is continually being recycled and never truly leaves the system as a whole. So long as the entity does eventually die, the Lifestream will be returned to the swell, or Lifestream repository, that is housed inside the Planet’s mantle. This is of course both efficient and self-sustaining and therefore presents the player with the idea that the Planet is in perfect harmony, a common assumption when it comes to talk about nature in real-life as well.
Thus, whenever somebody is born they take a handful of Lifestream with them. When they die, they give it back. That same handful is then incorporated into the swell, and, eventually, used by another life form to facilitate its temporary existence. It is then returned and the cycle continues unto infinity, so long as this is uninterrupted.
The Lifestream, however, has other applications. Mako and Materia are two forms of refined Lifestream, which will be discussed in parts ii and iii of this same section (“Mako” and “Materia”). Barring the individual forms, raw Lifestream itself can be used to augment physical bodies. Apparently, there is no limit to how much Lifestream a life form can absorb. It is because of this that Sephiroth’s plan to become a God through using Meteor develops.
When stricken by something or hurt in some way, the Planet’s Lifestream automatically coalesces around the injury to stop the “bleeding” and begin repairing the damage. This is, as said earlier, seen in the Northern Crater. However, when this occurs it is apparently possible to draw on this energy and, in some way, use it to augment the strength and energy of an already living organism. Such is Sephiroth’s plan.
There is of course one fundamental flaw with this idea. If this is so, why does Sephiroth not simply drill into the mantle and submerge himself in the swell? What is the true need to call upon Meteor and bring the Lifestream to the surface when he could simply go to the swell itself? Would this not be both more efficient and less time consuming, not to mention being immediate and out of Cloud’s - and Holy’s - ability to prevent?
The only possible explanation (because Sephiroth obviously would have known about his ability to simply submerge himself in the swell) would be attributable to Sephiroth’s (or JENOVA’s) greed. When Meteor hit countless lives would be lost; a meteorite of that magnitude would be certain to wipe out 65-75% of all land life on the Planet, similar to the one that destroyed the dinosaurs in real-life. In this way, billions of “handfuls” would be added back to the swell as humans, trees, bugs, even blades of grass were killed. This would be a significant boost in the swell’s Lifestream energy and the amount Sephiroth would absorb would be tens or maybe even hundreds of times greater than that if he had penetrated and absorbed the swell alone.
Contrarily, however, some may argue that Sephiroth could simply have absorbed the swell first and used the power gained from that to dispatch Cloud and cohorts easily. This is flawed, however. If Sephiroth were to absorb the swell he would have eliminated the Planet’s Lifestream energy, killing it (in accordance to need one, as explained above). Therefore he needed to wait. To absorb only part of it would be dangerous as well because then the Planet may not have been able to send Lifestream to coalesce around Meteor’s impact, making the impact irrelevant (due to a general lack of Lifestream due to his absorption and Mako Reactors already depleting it to unacceptable levels). Therefore, the only way it would have worked would be for Sephiroth to do exactly as he did.
If Lifestream can be used as an augment to increase the physical/magical abilities of an organism why then doesn’t Shinra use it? Or Cloud? Perhaps it is because they do not know they can. Perhaps it is instead that they do not know how, even though they know it is possible. For whatever the reason, however, it isn’t relevant and not of true importance. I simply felt it irresponsible to leave an argument such as why only Sephiroth seeks to use the Lifestream to strengthen himself unaddressed, especially when it can be answered so easily. After all it is fundamentally contradictory to AVALANCHE’s ideology to utilize Lifestream for one’s own purposes.
Lifestream can be refined, however, as Shinra Electric soon discovers. The first level of refinement is known as “Mako,” and has a variety of industrial applications.
In order to harvest Mako, reactors are built that drill into the mantle of the Planet and harvest Lifestream from the swell. They then process the Lifestream they sap and refine it into a readily usable form of energy known as Mako. Mako energy is what powers much of the world in Final Fantasy 7, with the Shinra building twelve known reactors world-wide: eight in Midgar, one in Nibelheim, one in Corel, one underneath the waves outside Junon, and one near Gongaga (however this one is destroyed in an accident).
This of course highlights the idea of the Lifestream’s inherent energy. Sephiroth’s absorption of the Lifestream makes use of the same principal that the Shinra Mako reactors do, although in a more primitive and pure way. Sephiroth intends to use the Lifestream for his own energizing, while Shinra first processes the Lifestream into a form of electrical energy. This follows the basic physics principal of conservation of energy: energy may not be lost or destroyed, simply transferred.
Interestingly, it is hinted that the Cetra utilized Mako energy some 2000 years before Shinra’s reactors were ever created.
Hargo: “The Promised Land is the resting place of the Ancients. The life of the Ancients is one continuous journey. A journey to grow trees and plants, produce animals, and to raise Mako energy.”
Hargo is one of the elders in Cosmo Canyon, who specializes in the Cetra belief in the Promised Land. It is very important to note that he says the Cetra “raise[d] Mako energy.” This seems to be in complete contradiction with the vast majority of the game’s underlying back story. It is almost explicitly stated that the Cetra represent all that is good in the world of Final Fantasy 7 (conversely, JENOVA represents all that is bad).
Bugenhagen: “Everyday Mako reactors suck up Spirit energy, diminishing it. Spirit energy gets compressed in the reactors and processed into Mako energy. All living things are being used up and thrown away. In other words, Mako energy will only destroy the Planet...”
Now note that Bugenhagen says, quite clearly, that Mako energy will destroy the Planet. We know Mako energy is a refined type of Lifestream - in fact, it cannot be converted back into Lifestream. The process used to refine Lifestream into Mako creates a loss in the swell’s net Lifestream amount and, over time, these losses supposedly add up. Such is the fundamental flaw in the Mako reactor set-up. Shinra, of course, is portrayed as evil and uncaring about this fact. However, note that what Hargo says directly contradicts one of two things (or both). Either: One, the Cetra were not as Planet-loving as once believed, or Two, Mako energy is not as Planet-harming as once believed.
Both of these points are very plausible. Let us examine the latter before the former, however. I will discuss the former in section E-VI-I, “The Cetra,” “Motivation”). It is entirely understandable that Mako energy is not as bad as it is cracked up to be.
When you farm obsessively you destroy the land, depleting its nutrients and making it difficult to grow anything else on it. The same can possibly be said about the Mako reactors. Energy can never be lost or gained, only transferred. That is basic physics. When Mako reactors draw Lifestream and compress it into Mako, the Mako is then transferred as electrical energy instead of spirit energy. This energy then goes through filaments in light bulbs or heating irons in a stove, producing both heat and light. Therefore, the electrical energy has become thermal and light energy (it was original spirit energy). The energy is never truly lost. This functions much in the same way the spirit energy would function even if Mako had not been created from it. It would instead go into creating a new life form who would then create his own thermal energy upon friction with air molecules every time he took a step. The energy he spends when he takes those steps comes from the food he eats, and the food he eats gives him energy because of the spirit energy it contains. The light energy from the sun transfers energy into the plants that then photosynthesize it and therefore create spirit energy that can be used to feed the human. It simply must be this way; otherwise it wouldn’t make sense to eat. Where does the energy come from to move the muscles in the human’s leg? It must come from somewhere. In the end, it must come from the Lifestream because the Lifestream is the source of all biological energy on the Planet.
Therefore, we know that the energy must be replenished from another source because the thermal and light energy created does not (at least not all of it anyway) return to the swell. Some of it most definitely goes off into space and is lost through the atmosphere. Therefore, the system would be inefficient and would kill itself off rather quickly.
We know that the plants around the reactor wither and die off when it is operational. Their handful of Lifestream is, therefore, being returned to the swell. Or so you would think. This spirit energy is in actuality what the Mako reactor uses to make Mako energy. It is, metaphorically speaking, its food. This must be so because otherwise there is no reason why surrounding organisms would die off.
The only counter-argument to that is to propose that the plants require access to the swell in order to photosynthesize properly. This of course is entirely plausible, but goes nowhere in the way of discrediting the above point. To draw from the swell is the same as feeding and therefore goes even further in supporting the idea that something else, probably the sun, must support the swell in order for the system to be balanced.
Therefore, the true issue isn’t that Mako energy is being used, period, but rather that it is being used in excess. If only one Mako reactor existed it would draw less from surrounding organisms and as a result would not kill off as many. Those that die from natural causes would replenish the swell enough to keep the net growth/decline rate zero (when coupled with the sun). This is obviously a necessity (to leave plants alive) because the sun apparently cannot replenish the swell fast enough with spirit energy. Thus, the Lifestream is becoming weaker and weaker.
The Cetra found a way, somehow, to compensate for this. Perhaps they had a more organic way to harvest Mako energy - refining, for example, the sun’s rays into Mako energy (they, after all, must carry the building blocks for Lifestream if they can effectively replenish the swell); this is otherwise known as Solar Power. Solar Power Mako reactors would be much more efficient because the Planet’s life forms could stay as a closed system and replenish the swell as they died off. Only thermal energy would be lost from the Planet’s swell (for the life forms eaten originate their spirit energy from the swell), but this eliminates the light energy lost. As a result, the gross loss would only be 50% (with a net probably somewhat lower), a much more controllable number. And this, of course, is only one way to do it. Perhaps the Cetra combined Materia usage and some other means to lower the gross loss so low that the net became 0% or even a negative % (indicating growth in swell size, which would be good).
When Lifestream is compressed further it takes on another form. Beyond Mako compression is Materia. In a nutshell, Materia is another form of energy that allows direct interaction with the swell and the Planet. Lifestream’s original form is spirit energy. When compressed it becomes Mako, which is electrical energy. Then, finally, after full compression, it becomes a pathway for energy. It acts as a type of energy that amplifies ambient energy and channels it according to the whims of the user of the Materia. In this way, people equipped with Materia are able to manipulate their surroundings to create “spells.”
Any person can use Materia, but their ability to do so varies greatly. The Cetra were able to utilize Materia much more effectively than Humans can, as evidenced by Aeris and repeated allusions to the fact that Materia’s powers seem to be drawn on the “knowledge of the Ancients.”
Each type of Materia has a special kind of ability. Some allow manipulation of fire or lightning while others offer more radical abilities - ultimately, Materia is what can be used to manipulate surrounding planetoids and force collisions, in what is known as the spell “Meteor.”
We know that Materia doesn’t actually “create” its own affects. It, instead, draws them. This is talked about at several points in the game.